Saturday, January 7, 2012

a walking enigma



You would think that one of the greatest joys for a parent would be having their three year old child pick up the newspaper and read aloud. A child who has not been subject to early pounding of the alphabet into his head. A child who spends his days covered in mud from his escapades chasing the hens around the chicken coop, with no other love in the world except his older brother. You would think that this moment would be exhilarating, and for me it was, in a certain sense. My son did just that, with an Italian newspaper, at the age of three. This was followed by surprise mathematical calculations based on the car odometer, which I still cannot even imagine without a calculator, as well as an ear for music, a hand for art, a knack for languages. You would think that this would be a thrill for a parent, imagining this child with his straight A's, his prowess on the debate team and the science club and in the math Olympics. His ├╝ber achieving. Imagining the road rising up to meet this child, who not only possesses a brilliant, lightening fast mind, but is exotically beautiful, with broad shoulders and almond shaped eyes, and huge dimples.

But the reality is something else all together, and the road to the present with my younger son has been nothing but potholes and detours. Perhaps the problem with a mind like his is that he sees the superficiality and inherent wrongness of the system that surrounds him, and often totally refuses to play the game. Boredom has been his worst enemy, and injustice of any kind, even the most mundane, like being forced to sit through a lesson when he got the point in the first five minutes, has been his biggest challenge. My son was expelled from the last few months of middle school. Albeit a sort of voluntary expulsion, jointly agreed that he had gotten all he could get out of the school as far as learning went, and that he could no longer torture the science teacher by asking her to explain quarks, or the theory of everything, if she could (she couldn't). When we went to the hearing to remove my son from the school, the president of the school board at the time, a church lady bouffant of a woman still in 1980s shoulder pads and frosted blue eyeshadow, who is now in the state house of representatives, asked my son what his vision would be of the rest of the year at school. Basically expecting an answer explaining that he would stay out of trouble, stop badgering the teachers, blah blah blah. With his mother squeezing his thigh under the table to inspire the right answer, my son looked church lady in the eyes and in the most respectful, polite tone, told her he envisioned himself at that school bored out of his mind, learning nothing, being forced to conform, staring out the window. And eventually getting right back into trouble. He was 12. His mother let go of his thigh then. If you have seen the movie "Social Network", there is a scene where Mark Zuckerberg tells the fancy lawyer exactly why he is not paying attention to him. That is my son. Anyone who knows him and sees that movie can't believe it. I sent him to private math lessons for the rest of the semester.

My son is now a sophomore. The potholes and detours are still there, but becoming less and less frequent. He has a math teacher who is the ultimate nerd and the most feared teacher of the school. My son loves this teacher. He recently told me he is inspired by my son's mind and ability to ask "scaffolding questions"... um, OK. About calculus. Now if he would just do his homework... My son thinks English is basically "stupid" and Shakespeare was a loser. His grades are average. He is taking college statistics next year and still can't figure why anyone thinks Biology or Spanish or Physics are even remotely hard. The hardest thing he has to do in school is shut up.

If you meet him and don't know any of this, you might think he is a bit of a turd. A dude. An effortlessly beautiful teenager at six feet tall with a bit of smirk and a skulk, whose family probably loves too much and spoils, until you get close to him and he smiles, genuinely and beautifully, and he asks you how you are doing and really means it. Really wants to know. Tell him the truth if you are not so great, if you thing the world is shitty and meaningless sometimes, if you thing things really need to change, if you think you are miserably misunderstood. He will look you straight in the eye and nod and smile. He will understand. He will get it. He will listen.

And for a moment you will see the ticker that is his mind, spinning so much faster than everyone else's. How tired that must make him most of the time. And how grateful I am that he is ever closer to his future, which I can only hope will be filled with people just like him, as smart or smarter, people who get it. Or understand why he doesn't get it. He is my greatest challenge and mystery, and the barometer of my days. He loves me and his father and brother unconditionally, and is loyal to a fault. He doesn't lie and doesn't fake it. He is not lucky, but he is special. A walking enigma.

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