Monday, May 24, 2010


Oh what a funny duckie is T.

After a rough week and some rather steady decline in behavior since last month he came to family meeting tonight in a gentle mood. We wrote out an agenda. He grabbed the pen and added his two cents but kept his agenda item covered up. When it came his turn, he looked down at his notes and read his agenda item in a bashful voice: "Apology."

Apology is a concept he learned recently. Last week I wasn't being my best parent self and I let an argument with him go unresolved - I cut short a conversation and didn't return to finish it before bedtime as I try to do. I was just too exasperated with his escalating behavior at school and the chaos of it all. So the next day I texted him "I want to apologize. I should have come back and talked out our disagreement. Please forgive me. Let's make up later."

I saw him after school and he looked at me so oddly and said "I don't understand why you are apologizing?" I said, "Because we try to talk things out before bed and I left you hanging. I shouldn't have done that." He gave a surprised laugh.

So tonight he came with his own apology. He's sorry that he has been getting high after school. He wants to do what we ask, but he's having trouble resisting temptation. Consequences aren't really working for us right now - our life was turning into an unholy mess of consequences upon consequences. So I just probed for a little more information.

"Do you know why you smoke marijuana?" (we talk about this all the time, but it never hurts to see what today's answer is going to be.)

Awkward silence.

"Do you enjoy the way weed gives you a chance to hang out with certain friends and be cool and have a certain image?"


"Is it the effect it has on your thoughts?"


"Can you tell me a little bit about why you started smoking more frequently? You were doing really well getting that under control since you moved in with us. It seems like something changed."

Tentative, "I don't know. I guess I just like it."

"Oh really? That's interesting. It seems like something changed around spring break."

Here we got some adorably bad acting - totally fake gesture as if to suggest a new thought had just occurred to him. Then he said in a very soft voice, "Oh, there is this one thing. I think maybe it was when my mom stopped talking to me. She won't call me back anymore."

And there it is. I know kids can be manipulative, but sometimes you just know in your gut that the kid just spit out a kernel of pure truth and things suddenly make more sense. We have been struggling to figure out how to explain his recent spate of unusually angry behavior. Of course!

Mom is mad at him because around spring break (at his request) we took him to see the cousin who raised him for several years, and his mother found out and felt jealous. Complicated. I won't go into the whole backstory. Suffice it to say his mom has five kids who all grew up in foster care and none of them have ever spent a single night with her.

I told him that I respect his mom, because he came from her. And that I know how much it hurts when your mom isn't talking to you. And that I wanted him to know that it isn't his fault that she's angry. He listened. I asked if I could do anything to help. He said no. Then he squealed "This is like therapy! Don't ask me any more questions! Can I go play video games?"

The change was immediate. His eyes are warm. He's more relaxed and playful. He asked to go back to the gym - one of his coping strategies that he's been dodging lately.

We'll go through cycles like this for as long as he's with us, I'm sure, and substance abuse is a bitch. But I sure do appreciate the tiny bit of self awareness he's achieved.

On on unrelated note, here's another funny and some recommended reading.

My dad gave me Nurture Shock for my birthday. A short while later, T. and I were having an argument. I said, "I don't want to argue with you." He freaked and said "I hate it when you say that! I'm not arguing - I'm trying to talk to you!" I said, "You know, you're right. My dad gave me this book for my birthday. There's a chapter in the book about teenagers and it says that teenagers' brains are different. Sometimes what adults think of as an argument is just their way of saying something important. So the book recommends that you hear them out." Moment of stunned silence, then a HUGE grin spread over his face. "YES!" he yelled. "Thank you! And now Tim needs to read that book too!"

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