Monday, June 25, 2007

Old Challenges

As I watch the seasons make a feeble attempt at changing--solstice passed and still it rains and rains and rains--I am faced with some old challenges. Again I am stuck in the middle of something that it difficult for me to deal with. I'm going to go out an a limb here and hope that a certain someone is not reading. Or maybe I'm hoping she is because, obviously, I don't have the cajones to say it to her face.

The saddest thing about it is that it directly involves my son...

I should begin with some recent history.

As some of my "readers" may remember, part of the reason I took a hiatus from school is that my 16 year-old son was hell bent on trouble. He was doing things that, although I did them when I was his age, I had hoped that he would take a different path. This child was born when I was still a child (see one of my first posts, called "Tibial Tuberosities and Trivial Tubers" on January 25, 2007). The truncated version of that story is that my father's brother and sister-in-law adopted my baby when he was 2 and so began a whirlwind cycle of love and anger that continues to this day.

My son, Zack (for some reason they changed the spelling of his name to Zach even though it's a "k" on his birth certificate), has been a troubled child for most of his life. It seems that, for my aunt and uncle, when he was a cute baby he was the cat's meow, but as he grew older and his issues began to surface he wasn't so cute anymore. He was an angry child. Given what he'd been through as a baby and toddler, there's not a question about the origin of those anger issues. He started getting into trouble at school when he was in kindergarten. He was very forward about his anger and had a lot of difficulty controlling it. He has never done well in school and is one of those kids who gets caught for every little thing he does--even when it's really not his fault. Other kids will pick fights with him and he gets in trouble for it because he can't control his anger.

The other side of this is that he has an older brother through his adoptive family. The brother never got caught for any of the mischevious things he did and thus was treated as a saint. There was a lot of inequality between the two of them. The brother is definitely "the golden child," and Zack is clearly "the black sheep." One example of the brother's nastiness comes about when I was pregnant with my second child. I was at a family function, about 8 months pregnant, and the kid walked up to me and said, "You're not going to dump that one on us, too, are you?" My jaw about hit the floor. I couldn't believe he said that. He apologized at the demand of his mother, but there were never any other consequences. If Zack had done something like that, he would probably be banished from every teenaged leisure and made to work in the yard for a week. That might be an exaggeration, but as I watch things unfold, I see that it's not all that far from reality.

To the brother's credit, he has, in the recent past, been trying to make up for all the shit Zack went through while growing up in that house. Because, frankly, the brother wasn't very nice to Zack, either.

It seemed that, as Zack began to cost more money in therapy and lost work time, my aunt and uncle began liking him less and not being shy about showing it. I can't remember the last time I witnessed my aunt being nice to him. It's like a war between Zack and his mom. Things are very tense and cool and she's begun dropping bombs.

Fast forward:

Zack began his high school career in 2005-2006 with a reputation for trouble and quickly found the crowd that he fit in with best. He began skipping school and never turned in his homework, even when he did it. Before long he was gone from class more than he was there and he was failing in all his classes. It took summer school last year for him to make it into his sophomore year, and even then he was still behind by a credit or two. By the end of fall of last year he didn't care at all about school and was using the school bus merely as a means to get into town from his county home, only to run off with a group of friends to get high and walk around town.

My aunt and uncle went to court and had Zack declared "Youth At Risk," and he then had a legal obligation to stay in school and behave himself. Having been a wild child myself, I knew that this would only give him the opportunity to brag to all his friends about going to juvenile detention. When you hang with that particular crowd, going to "juvy" gives you status, makes you cool.

Of course he went to juvenile detention.

Twice. For a week each time.

At this point there had been talks about Zack going to Job Core (Corps?) as a way of helping him get on the right track. I have always felt that putting him with a bunch of kids that are also troublemakers would be a bad idea because it's what he wants. He wants to be the bad kid at this point. It's attractive to him. One evening while he was hanging out here at our house, talking about how cool all those kids are that live on the street and have nothing, the kids who live in Compton and South Central L.A. and Long Beach--gangsters whose only way of living is selling drugs and staying with their gangs. So I told him that I know people in Long Beach and Compton and if wants to go there I put him on a train. He thought that was a great idea. He actually thought I would do it. I tried to explain to him what it's like. To walk down the street with you eyes to the ground, hoping that no one asks you what the fuck you're doing there. The streets might look appealing until you're looking down the barrel of a gun (which, yes, I have been in that situation).

Anyway, he went to Job Core. He was there for 6 weeks or so before he got booted. He fell in with a group of like-minded kids and so began his downward spiral. Ultimately, he found himself in the parking lot of a grocery store on a day pass from campus, asking people to buy beer for himself and a friend. When finally he got he alcohol, he decided he wanted some candy and entered the store with no money. He got caught shoplifting and tried to run, but in the process he knocked down a female employee at the store and was subsequently apprehended.

So he's been home now for a few weeks. He's been working, doing random landscaping jobs that my uncle has set up, until my uncle got fed up with trying to get Zack to do the job the right way. Now he has to be babysat, which is why he's here at my house, weedwhacking my sizable yard. When he was dropped off, the instructions my aunt left were that Zack was to be outside all day, rain or shine, working, doing whatever I want him to do with only one 15-minute break so that he can "learn what it's like to be in the real-world work force."

Um, auntie, we live in Washington State in the USA, which means that there are labor laws. Allow me to explain:

1. Any child under the age of 18:
a. has to be in school (I think)
b. cannot work more than 20 hours per week

2. The law states that, for every four hours worked, there is one 10-minute break allowed; for every eight hours worked, there are two 15-minute breaks and one half-hour break allowed.

Anyway, things are coming to a head. He's going to be 18 in 1.5 years and he will be able to leave for good. Do I hold my silence about the things I disagree with? I am afraid that they won't let me see him anymore if I speak my mind--I know they won't take it well. It is my honest opinion that they are mistreating him by taking away all priveleges indefinitely--he isn't allowed to play video games or watch movies or TV and isn't allowed to go anywhere. He's basically supposed to sit in the house doing nothing unless he's outside working, which it sounds like he has to do a lot.

Ok, this rant is officially over. Please, PLEASE send me some advice. I don't know what to do. Let me know what you'd do ideally and in reality.

I've decided not to edit this post for content or spelling because it has exhausted me. It's not complete--there is a lot more that I could say about it, but I'm hungry and upset.

Thanks. Love.


Niki said...

(hug) I have no suggestions, but lots of love for you and Zack.

Ericson said...

As a bit of a wild child myself I can say that all being grounded ever did for me was force me to sneek out at night, which is when I really got into trouble. I guess even though I was young I never considered drugs and delinquency the right path for me, and thought of myself as more of a tourist. As soon as I was 18 I moved away from everything and started over. Does he know any guys well that he could talk to? Gabe, Cary and Nick all had a similar experience with authority and achool. Any relatives or friends he could stay with out of town. I know more than one of Nick's cousins has spent a summer at Kerron's house. Heck she might have some good advice she's been through it 3 times.

knitbot said...

He actually only has to go to school until he's 16 to my knowledge. Is there any way he could get his GED and just get a job? Would he do it? You and I are friends with a million guys who did just that.... late bloomers. Do you think he could pass his GED? He might actually not mind making real money. Even if it's a crappy Pizza Hut job... I don't know Zach at all.

Kriss said...

I think all of us come to light in our own way and own time....some take a lot longer than others. I'm no parent but like many of us who have been there-be there for him, keep your heart and mind open to him. Hopefully, in (less than) 10 years from now he'll be telling stories of all the lessons he learned and who he's become because of them. I love my mother for always being there but not being in the way of me discovering myself, my shortcomings and the obsticals that would shape my life.

addie said...

I can't add much to what's already been said here... getting his GED might be a good place to start. Don't get too discouraged, it's amazing how much a few years of maturity can change a troubled kid. My sympathy goes out to all of you in this struggle.