I returned this week to Parenting the Hurt Child, an incredibly insightful book by Gregory Keck that I think every person should read regardless of who or whether they're parenting. His honesty and tolerance for complexity relax me.
Lately, it is more or less impossible to get T to go to all his classes, or to go to all of them without first stopping off to smoke marijuana. We do substance abuse counseling. We've tried escorting him to school. We talk to the administrators. We restrict privileges. We offer incentives. Nothing works.
Last night, we decided to take a night off. We made dinner, left it on the table (he was awol at dinnertime) with a note explaining our whereabouts, and went out. When we came home, he was asleep on the sofa in front of the front door. I tucked him in with our own quilt and went to bed.
This morning I heard footsteps. I opened my eyes and it was T. "Shhhh!" he said sternly. He bent over and kissed me on the forehead, patted the top of my head, and tiptoed out.
Sometimes his adorable gestures mean "Aren't I charming? Give me what I want!" (money, a ride, some slack). But in my half-awake state, it came to me immediately that this particular kiss on the forehead meant "I love you. I do this. I'm sorry."
That could be a tragic apology from a certain point of view, meaning something like: "I have a compulsive drug habit and no impulse control and I feel badly about it." Certainly we're up against one of those moments when you're just not sure the child is yet capable of changing old habits and destructive modes of thought. But from another point of view, he has made progress.
His responses to caring adults used to tend more toward silent statements like "I don't know you, who cares what you think?" From that point of view, "I love you, I do this, I'm sorry" is profound. In fact, it occurred to me that in this recent period of escalated misbehavior and delinquency, I've now received three gentle kisses--the first he's ever delivered.
He used to try occasionally to kiss me on the cheek - not at my request, but of his own volition (he arrived extremely physically reserved and we have always let him determine whether and how we share physical contact). When he began trying to show affection, he'd get close to my face and then he'd purse his lips and squint his eyes and say "Ew! Can't do it!" (I did find this totally hilarious.) But two weeks ago, I got a sudden peck on the cheek one day, out of the blue. About a week later, on a day when we were relaxed and had spent some time together, I got a tiny kiss on the tip of my nose. And this morning, a farewell peck on the cheek.
This is in marked and dramatic contrast to some of the other "feedback" we get from him, just in case it sounds like it's all sweetness and light at our house. Indeed, two nights ago, I asked him to work with me on his homework to get caught up in a class he's been cutting. He flatly refused to even try. I said, "what are you doing instead?" and he said, "I'm doing me. What the fuck does that have to do with you?" Obscene, yes.
I said as calmly as I could, "Wow I'm very sorry to hear that you feel that way," took his iPod, and closed the door. The next day I left a simple note on his door. It said, "The legal consequences for truancy are..(x,y,z). After 3 unexcused absences the court may place you on juvenile probation. You have more than 20 unexcused absences. This is your problem and you'll have to deal with it. We will withhold all privileges until you do. Love, Your Parents."
God bless Keck and others like him. Before bed, I re-read the sub-chapter "Children for Whom Nothing Works." I expected to see a description of our situation. T has none of the behaviors on that list, which begins with "injuring, mutating or killing animals on multiple occasions" (page 156, for anyone eager to check it themselves!). I rejoiced. We're not even there. T rocks our pet kitten in his arms and sings lullabies to her. Phew. His range of available behaviors is extremely broad, extending from frank delinquency to tender loving compassion for all the world's small creatures. That's the wonder and the challenge of him, the risk and the opportunity as he moves toward adulthood.