Fear of the Unknown

Teenage Boys of 1945 (2)

My son doesn’t get it.

After years of nurturing, suggesting, pushing and prodding, plus throw in a healthy dose of nagging and arguing, my son refuses to grow up.

Chrissakes, the kid’s 18. And a senior. You might think he’d have some idea of what his like should be looking life in four months.

Sure, a lot of kids don’t have the vaguest clue what they want to do with the rest of their lives. I get it. But at least he should have some kind of plan in place, no? Like getting a job at a grocery store or something?

Here’s a bit of background. My son is adopted. He came to us at the tender age of 10. His biological and previous foster families thought he was mentally challenged. A poor achiever. Non-learner. But we found out he was none of those things. He’d been neglected academically and in every other way imaginable. Kid was the family pet. Instead of teaching him to read, he sat in front of a TV, playing video games. Instead of teaching him how to speak properly, he developed this baby-sounding language. He had no idea how to tie shoes or wipe himself. Or shower. Nothing. There were no expectations of him, no challenges given. Instead of teaching him skills, everyone gave up and did whatever was required for him.

Once he moved in with us, it was a rough transition, but a successful one. We forced him to become more self-dependent, and progress happened. If it took him all afternoon to do a chore, or his math homework, or anything that required thinking, we let him figure it out. Eventually, he realized that no matter how hard he cried, we weren’t going to do his work for him.

See, in his former life every time he cried, someone stepped in. He’d bawl and complain he couldn’t do whatever. So he never learned. Parents and teachers slapped the stupid label on him.

We didn’t.

Man, I remember showing him how to use a fork and knife properly. Up to this point, he used his hands and maybe a fork. He cried after we showed him how to hold cutlery in his hands. Hold the fork down and saw the meat with the knife. Pretend it’s a log. It’s fun! More tears. My then-husband and I said you have to learn. Kid bawled. His shrill screeches drilled a hole in our brains. We stuck to our guns. Try. Just try it.  He’d cut a piece too big and shove it in his mouth, hoping we wouldn’t see. He nearly choked. We put down our own forks and watched him eat. Temper tantrum. This is stupid, he’d say. Every single meal, same thing. But he had to learn, and eventually he did.

Kid was placed in an individual education program, or IEP. Had physical and speech therapy. We had to reinforce his lessons at home. Again, the battle. You could set your clock by it. 45 minutes it’d take for him to calm down to concentrate. I’d ask to see his homework and a hurricane of excuses, tears, protests and curses ravaged the kitchen. During his first 10 years, no one ever cared enough to make him do anything. Now his life was filled with adults prodding him in every direction imaginable.

His first job came at 15. He’d volunteered at a summer camp, then at 17, was hired full-time. It’d been his first real taste of a paycheck. Predictably, he spent it all on video games and an expensive pair of sneakers. The summer went by and managed to pay off a loan to me and another to his father.

Now he’s a senior.

Though he’s spoken extensively about learning to drive and getting a car, he’s done nothing about it. His father dangled driving lessons AND a car in front of him. I told him to study up for his permit test and Google the DMV about testing times. He won’t do it. Oh, he makes a show of studying, but just quiz him on the difference between an interstate and a state road and you’ll see that deer-in-the-headlights gaze.

Kid toyed with the idea of joining the Navy, or becoming a carpenter, or even a mechanic. He sat with his guidance counselor and she gave him a whole batch of information on trade schools and apprenticeship programs to read, and included the number of a Navy recruiter. His father gave him an assignment to do the research on each field of interest, and I followed that up with asking him about what he’s discovered. “I forgot to call/read/look it up,” says Kid.

His father had enough. The other day, he put us on a three-way call. We asked Kid to explain what the problem was. Why he isn’t embracing adulthood. Why it’s appearing he might fail to launch. Kid had no real answers.

I stepped in. “I know what this is,” I said. “You’re afraid. It’s fear of the unknown.”

Kid said nothing, confirming my belief.

“See, this is why your father and I have been trying for the past eight years to get you to do for yourself,” I said. “To study hard. To read up on things. To push your limits. Make mistakes and learn from them. And there’s going to be massive failures. But we can’t pick you up and tell you it’s going to be okay. Because a lot of the time, it won’t be. That’s when you’re going to have to figure out what to do. And if you listened to anything we’ve been trying to teach you, you’re going to do all right.”

Kid still said nothing, but I know he’s listening.

His father added, “We’re not going to support you financially. We can’t afford to. And there’s no reason why you can’t get a job and budget your money. Save up for an apartment and a car. Don’t blow it on video games and useless junk.”

Kid chimed in. “I’m not afraid. I just forget to call the Navy recruiter. I tried the DMV once but it was busy.”

Both his father and I laugh. “Why didn’t you look up the DMV online?” his father asked.

No answer from kid.

Here’s the thing. Neither my ex or me are going to do my kid’s future for him. There comes a point where he has to decide what’s right for him. How he’s going to earn a living. Where he’s going to live. It might be painful to watch, but Kid’s got to grow up. I’ve seen him in action. He’s tended to kids like a thoughtful, caring young man. He’s made good decisions at his summer job. His boss told me so. Kid’s got brains and talents. But how do you reinforce that at home? Does he look to us as a crutch? Is it that instilled in him that parental figures are always supposed to do for him?

Time for Kid to embrace the unknown. It might be rough love, but we’re not going to be around forever. With a little persistence, all three of us might succeed in producing a loved, but independent adult, who lives on his own and thinks twice about that pair of expensive sneakers.

One can hope…




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