The summer of my son's 13th year, I really had trouble liking him.
Too soon? It's that summer now, while I'm trying to write this, so it probably is too soon to say such a thing, right? Also, it's not entirely true. It's not that I'm having trouble liking him, per se -- it's just that he's driving me crazy. Let me try to start over.
Dear Future Partner of My Son G,
I'm trying. I really am. But I'm beginning to suspect this absentminded professor thing is neither an act nor something he's going to outgrow. The other day at the lake, I handed him a bag full of water bottles, saying, "I need you to make sure this bag stays upright so the water bottles don't leak."
Two minutes later I found him sitting on a bench, under which the bag was lying on its side, dripping water. "I couldn't make the bag stay up," he explained. I will admit I found myself once again wishing he was just a really dumb person so I could justify these sorts of actions, being able to sigh to my friends, "Well, you can't blame him. He's just always been kind of stupid."
But that's not the case. He's brilliant when it comes to things that he cares about. He might not remember which of his frequently seen cousins is which, but he could answer Star Wars trivia so obscure it would baffle George Lucas. He can astound comic-book-shopkeepers with his arcane superhero knowledge, but once forgot how old he was when he was still in the single digits. I don't recall ever having to assist him with his homework. He spends a few minutes on it at night and then makes the honor roll.
At the end of that lake visit, I asked him to show his younger brother where the changing area was in the men's restroom. "Actually," I said, "don't just show him. Please stay with him." When I emerged from the women's room, I was immediately informed that he did not stay with his younger brother. "I didn't hear you," he insisted. Nor, of course, did it occur to him that perhaps a child who isn't allowed to go into a public restroom by himself yet should maybe not be left alone to undress in front of strangers.
Later at the library I ran into a friend, a teacher of gifted students. I complained to her about his behaviors that day. "Gina," she said, "That's what all of the gifted boys in my class are like." "What can I do?" I whined. "Can you try giving him more responsibility?" she asked.
The funny thing is that that was the approach I had already been considering. So the rest of that week, he was put to work: weeding, picking vegetables and walking the dog. I made him repeat instructions to me to ensure he really heard me. It's exhausting to have to keep treating him this way -- the way I treat a much smaller child -- especially because I do still have three other, smaller children at home. But for you, his Future Partner (OK, and fine, for the rest of the years he lives with me), I will continue to treat him this way.
His older sister never needed this kind of handholding. She, too, sails through her homework on her own, but she's always known which cousin was which. At the start of last school year, I asked them both if they'd signed up for Newspaper Club. My daughter had -- for both of them. And had gotten two permission slips for me to sign. "Stop it!" I told her. "You'll be at high school next year, and then what is he going to do??"
That night they asked if they could "Futuramen" together, which is their preferred shared activity of eating ramen noodles and watching Futurama on Netflix. My husband is disgusted by how frequently I let them eat ramen, and I admit it's a bit out of character -- the mom who swaps organic garden-grown spinach for local eggs to bake her kids granola bars allowing frequent consumption of these six-for-$1.00 hypertension noodles -- but I just love that they bond this way.
G insists he cannot figure out how to make them, and my daughter gets so frustrated trying to explain it to him that she just does it herself. I get it -- I once talked him through making a box of macaroni and cheese, and it was the most difficult thing the two of us had been through together since I had pushed him through the birth canal. So I understand her actions, but of course that does you, Future Partner, no favors whatsoever.
What I'm trying to say to you is: Please, don't blame me. I'm harping on his sister to stop enabling him (blame her!). I'm trying, every day, to get him to stop being so dependent and oblivious. He's been doing his own laundry and making his bed for over a year now. I hold on to hope that one day he'll be able to master making macaroni and cheese.
Because here's the thing, Future Partner: I really want you to exist. He has a sharp wit, a great smile, an astounding love of babies; he is an amazing cartoonist and an excellent writer. I want him to have a full and happy life. I love him so much -- and I don't want him to live with me forever.
Future Partner, I'm trying. But if he still has shortcomings when he's grown, I hope you can learn to live with them, and love him for the wonderful person that he is.
And always remember not to blame his mother.