Today my 12 year old dyslexic son taught me what it means to be a mother. No, there weren’t any Hallmark moments of mother and son bonding, where he thanked me for all the effort and time I’d invested in him over the last twelve years. In fact, it was just the opposite: him arguing -bitterly if I might add- that he never got anything I promised him, that I always try and find a way out of getting him what he wants/needs. He finished up his tirade with a promise to do everything that I didn’t allow him to do as soon as he grows up.
Of course, in writing this it sounds laughable; this is teenage behavior at its best. Hardly unusual, perhaps not even remarkable, except in his usual maddeningly persistent fashion I merited hearing his ranting for the better part of an afternoon.
Very briefly I fell into the trap of explaining myself, since he appeared to so intensely want the real answer. Of course I realized quickly that would get me nowhere, and so I resorted to ignoring him. A half hour of that and I began to see why his grandmother, grandfather, aunt, and father, are all lawyers.
Somehow he has a way of mixing a huge slice of baloney with just enough truth, logic, and conviction to introduce just enough doubt into the case. When I began to wonder if I could qualify him for early admissions to law school, I finally decided the time had come to send him to his room. Permanently.
Okay, so he didn’t stay there permanently, but at least when he came out I heard no more of that argument. Of course he did pick up the remnants of a days-old discussion about whether or not I would let him put videos on his music player, but somehow I felt better equipped to deal with that (I confess, I told him to ask his father).
But while he seemingly went on to bigger and better things, I was left reviewing the effects of our little discussion. I didn’t feel guilty about his assertions of never getting what he needs or wants. I generally don’t fall for guilt trips, and don’t plan to start anytime soon. I didn’t even care that he wasn’t thankful for all the time, energy and effort expended on him. A child can never fully appreciate how much effort a parent puts in for them until they themselves are parents.
It bothered me I was seriously considering home-schooling him part-time. Where we live there is really no appropriate educational system for him. After intense discussion, my husband and I were finally at the point that we were able to accept that fact. Unwilling to condemn him to a life of mediocrity, we had finally looked at homeschooling as theoretically possible.
With this on the table, I imagined having arguments like today day after day, week after week. I knew he was fully capable of spending every available moment arguing his position. Having spent several months with him at home until he was accepted into an appropriate school, I knew exactly what he could do. It wasn’t a matter of discipline; since I knew he was reacting to years of failure in a school setting. He has trouble reading, he can’t write for beans-why should he enjoy anything that even remotely smacked of learning?
Of course if the greedy little teacher’s side of me had all the money I wanted at my disposal, I knew I could create a curriculum that would have him begging to get back to school work. But knowing that money is really tight, I knew this wouldn’t happen; I would again be trying to create a fantastic curriculum with very little funds and a lot of imagination.
So, I argued with myself: “Is it worth it to go to all that trouble, knowing from the beginning he would not only be unappreciative, but would actively fight me, at least in the beginning?” I honestly couldn’t see how it was. He not only wants to play all day; he is convinced he was entitled to doing what he wants when he wanted, for however long he wants. To me, that felt harder to be beat than the crowd at the Apollo theater.
It was the next morning , as I took two little ones to the school bus, that it finally hit me: if he had a terminal disease G-d forbid, wouldn’t I do whatever it took to save him? Even if he fought me every step of the way? I knew that even if I felt there was a reasonable chance the treatment would succeed, I would give it all I had.
I realized that this isn’t any different. I have a chance to help him progress in the world, to help him get to a better place than he would otherwise be. The effects of that choice, and the effort I would expend, could have an effect not only on him and his children, but even his children’s children. My great grandchildren. Even if I were no longer living, how could I not try?
That’s when it hit me: this is what motherhood is all about. Beyond the sweet kisses of a toddler and the bear hugs of a preschooler, over and above the moodiness and temporary insanity of the teenager, lies a mother. I was willing to undergo the intense, painful experience of labor and birth, since the benefits –and inevitability- of the process were obvious. Why should now be any different?
I pondered this as I kissed my littlest, waved good-bye and good luck to his older brother, and stood aside to let the bus pass. Turning aside, I headed home.