Life in our household has been full of stress and strife lately. I’ve been having terrifying nightmares, which continue to haunt me in my waking hours. Migraines keep grabbing me in a vise-like headlock. The pain, always concentrated in one throbbing eyeball, makes me clench my teeth as I wait out the four hours until I can pop three more Advil. To tell you the truth, lately there have been moments when I have wallowed in self-pity and dark despair. I’ve asked myself, “My God! What have I done to deserve this?”
Here’s the thing. I have a beautiful child, who is intelligent, creative, talented, funny, sensitive, generous, and kind. He has always marched to the beat of his own drum, and I admire and respect him for it. To be honest though, I have to admit that I’ve also regularly engaged in epic battles with him because of this. We all have to function and live in a world of rules and deadlines and norms, I reason to myself. And so I try to coax and cram and bash my square peg son into the round hole over and over again. I do this out of love and concern for his future happiness, but all the good intentions in the world can’t transform it into a pleasant experience, or even a reasonable endeavor.
In school, children are assessed in ways that may make sense for most, but not for those who do their homework, and then routinely forget to turn it in or lose it between home and school. They don’t work for kids who can’t remember to bring home their textbook to study for the quiz they have to take the next day. The standard assessments simply can’t capture the abilities and gifts of children, whose minds crackle with intelligence, but shut off when confronted with boring, routine tasks. It can be exhilarating to parent such a child, but truth be told: at times it can also be thoroughly exhausting and demoralizing.
A couple nights ago, my son managed to finish his homework, take his shower, and practice his piano pieces at a godly hour. At the beginning of the school year we had optimistically stated that his bed time would be 9:30. Lately, bed time has been whenever we tell him he simply can’t work any longer on whatever paper, project, problem set, lab, or translation is due the next day, because it’s already 10:30, 11, or past midnight. On that blessed night, all of these tasks were done and there was a still a little time to spare before bedtime. It was a miracle.
My son and I looked at each other awkardly, uncertainly, not quite knowing how to handle this unexpected turn of events. This usually would be about the time when I would trot out a fist shaking “You can do it! Shake it out!” lecture à la Bela Karolyi, or a “Pull it together and FOCUS, kid!” lecture or the: “My head is going to explode if we keep having this same argument” lecture or the “Just crank it out, please, I’m begging you for the love of all things holy: just. crank. it. out” lecture, or the “Think, really think if there’s anything else you’ve forgotten that you need to be working on right now” lecture. You get the picture. That night, there was no need for any of those lectures.
“Well…are you heading to bed then?” I finally asked.
“I think I’ll stay down here and just talk with you a little, if that’s ok with you” he replied as he settled himself on the couch at my side. He hastened to add, “NOT about school or homework or anything like that. Let’s just chat.”
We did just that. When he finally did head to bed, I heard him say as he rounded the corner, “Oh, I forgot something.”
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! My heart sank and I tensed up as I waited to hear him tell me what important assignment he had forgotten he had to do. And then he came back into the family room where I was sitting, because what he had forgotten was to give me a goodnight hug.
As I hugged this extraordinary child, I thought to myself, “My God! What have I done to deserve this?” These moments of grace remind me why I would walk through fire for this boy. We’ll walk through this Inferno together and there will be love and light at the other end. Amen.