Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Blue in the Face

Recently a cloud of self-doubt, angst and apprehension has hung over our home, followed by some winds of change. Yesterday we informed the head of Dylan’s school that she won’t be returning and instead Dylan will be heading to a local middle school, if not by next week, definitely for 8th grade. Change for most people is pretty tough—we learned that lesson big time when we opted for the ultimate change, chucking it all to travel the world—changing a kid’s school has got to be up there with the lifetime biggies like divorce, death etc… or at least it seems.

Eight years ago when Dylan was still a tiny fresh-breathed pre-schooler we started the search wide and far for where she would go to school. Unlike the days when we were kids and you automatically went to the geographically closest school, there are so many choices for kids. Language immersion, arts focused, parochial, environmental, private and yes, the always handy neighborhood school are just a few of the options out there to mess with parents’ heads; the kids are mostly fine so long as they have a consistently (good) home life. We stumbled upon a school set in a rural setting with a lovely campus, with a very exciting curriculum, and a wonderfully small student/teacher ratio. We looked at the school and said, “Wow, if only every kid was so lucky to get this, but jesus, it’s 20 miles away!” and decided on the school 2 blocks from our house. Dylan loved school. She made some fast friends, seemed to be learning, and there were no complaints from the peanut gallery. But mom and dad were dissatisfied. Seeing their kid in a class with 30 kindergartners and one overburdened teacher, turned off by what seemed like pretty unchallenging and uninteresting work, and pissed off by the local/state/fed budget constraints that kept the school at risk for losing something extra (i.e., PE, music, art) every year got old.

So we schlepped back down to that happy school and applied. Long story short, Dylan got waitlisted and then we headed off into the world. Upon our return, a space was made for her and we thought, well wasn’t that perfect timing? The transition to a new school was rough for her. We chalked it up to coming back from what was essentially a tour of duty and made plenty of excuses for her behavior and attitude about school. Fifth grade was a bit easier, but still general grumblings of discontent popped up—more than other peoples’ kids it seemed. And then at sixth grade she really wanted to leave. We said “Hell no, you wont go.” And that was that.

In February, while chatting with a very wise friend about Dylan’s attitudes, she said “You know, if you don’t listen to her on this [her desire to leave school], she’s going to stop talking to you because she realizes that unless she toes the party line, her voice doesn’t matter,” and that stopped me in my tracks. We come from a culture that says parents know best. We are doing things for you that you may not like, but it’s for the best. Our culture also says that kids this age are a mess, are you really going to listen to them, they’re negative about EVERYTHING. Andy and I were on a fast train with Dylan towards high school and we realized we needed to put on the brakes and really think about this. Did we really like the things we liked about the school? Yes, we did. Were there still problems at the school just a few blocks away? Countless. So what changed? We’re not sure. Maybe our kid is not the kid we envisioned her being, who would want to do the things offered at her school. Maybe her cohorts, while perfectly fine to work alongside, were not the group she would find to be her soulmates. Maybe carsickness on her 40 mile daily commute got the best of her. Some reasons changed, some stayed the same. After we said, “Okay, we get it. You’re not happy at school, and if you understand the consequences of leaving, you can change,” if she were a cartoon character, you would have seen dust trailing behind her, she was leaving so quickly.

And yet, every two days—or was it twice a day—I would check in with her and say, “Do you really want to do this? Leave the school? No more Senior Play or Senior Project? You know, the better things?” her answer was a resounding yes. Finally, after talking to a friend about my methods, I realized I was waiting for Dylan to change color or something! “Listen kid,” I thought, “could you just turn blue or pink or green when you really are feeling to your core about something? Could you just SHOW me? “Oh I get it,” says the friend. “You want your kid to be a mood ring.” “Damn right I do!” And why not? When they were babies we thought it would be a hell of a lot easier if they could just tell us what’s wrong instead of crying on about it, and now that they can talk, wouldn’t it be easier if we knew they really, really, really felt the way they did? That it wasn’t hormones, friends, fatigue, or the climate causing their angst, but something less ethereal, more substantial?

A couple days ago I laid out my mood-ring experiment. Okay, Dylan. If you were to use colors to describe your feelings with light pink/white being happy and hunky dory to deep dark magenta being in the worst of places, how to you feel now. “White” was her response. This was the moment where I got out all of our audio visual equipment to record said mood. Okay, I asked, and if we were to tell you that we’ve reconsidered and you’re going back to your school next year no matter what, mood please?” “Black.” No different results came from the mood ring theory, but I guess I’ve got to settle down and just believe her, once I’ve decided to listen to her.

People say parenting is hard. Pushing a bowling ball out your butt is hard. Climbing Everest without oxygen is hard, getting rid of everything and cutting all ties to travel for a year is hard. Parenting—well, good parenting—is the Bataan Death March over glass, with lemons and salt being rubbed into your wounds on an hourly basis hard, at least when you feel like you’re failing your kid. But the rewards when things turn out okay—man, that’s sweet ambrosia: whichI guess is supposed to fuel us during the worst of times.