I walked in the door and he was slumped in his seat watching a Khan Academy video. The tutor looked exasperated and took me aside to tell me so. Later there was a temper tantrum where phrases like “I hate my life!” and “I’s so stupid!” were flung at me in an accusatory way. The day before had been a similar episode with a different kid. And so I lost it. I had to walk out. I grabbed the dog and drove to the lake. I was a failure. I hadn’t pushed hard enough, I was too lax on screen time, I hadn’t set clear enough consequences, or expectations, or… I didn’t know what. “He” should be here to deal with this. “He” would know how to do Algebra and Pre-Calc. I had a good sob. And then I got a text.
And I got mad. I was incredulous. The gall.
“Can you go shopping. We have no food.”
I sobbed some more. Until I calmed down. I went and got food for dinner.
I talked to them both separately, but the message was the same.
“I have done everything in my power to help you. I have nagged you about homework, hired tutors, written 504 plans, gotten you tested, paid for therapists, psychiatrists, meds, whatever it took. I did it. And now it’s your turn. You have two choices: If you want to get into (college/higher level math/fill in the blank), you are going to have to work for it. And work really hard. It will be hard and frustrating but you can do it because you are smart and you have everything you could possibly need to succeed. I have made sure of that. The only thing standing in your way now is yourself. So you need to get to work. If you don’t want a tutor, then fine. That’s your choice too. The consequence of that choice is that you may not get what you want. If you are OK with that, then so am I.”
I’m sure I blathered on for quite a bit longer but a while later I got another text:Â “I want to stay with the tutor.”
The tears stopped. The books were cracked. The tension dissipated and I had angelic kids on my hands.
A few days later I met another single mom who had raised her kids alone from an early age. She told me about her daughter’s failure to get into college. “She just kind of lost her way in Junior and Senior year and now I think she’s going to have to go to community college or something to get her marks up. But really I want her to get a job, so she can learn to have a work ethic. I’m hoping that through working she will learn about working hard to get what she wants.”
I told her about my temper tantrum and subsequent speech and she commiserated. “I’ve made that same speech many times!”
It felt good to know I wasn’t alone. The pressure on our kids is so intense, I think many wind up feeling hopeless and simply give up. I’ve seen it first hand and so I am learning to be a motivator. State things bluntly, get to the point, give the tough choices. I felt stronger somehow, more confident that we were headed in the right direction, that I was teaching my kids to cope with the hardships that life constantly throws our way andÂ that my kids might not wind up as homeless people.
We had gotten through my temper tantrum a little wiser.
At least until yesterday when I discovered three charges on my credit card statement for a tanning salon that weren’t mine and a computer screen was smashed for the second time in three weeks.
Two steps forward, one step back.