I see a boy. He is sad. Failing school. Challenging to adults. Sometimes quiet and uncommunicative. Bored. But mostly the F's slap me in the face. Something is wrong here.
So I ask him if he willing spend Thursdays with me - on his short school days. "I guess". I'm sure The Kid thinks it's punishment to have to spend his free time with me. But he is willing. His dad agrees. Dad is a little in the dumps himself, after some family tragedy.
We go out to eat. We talk. I ask him questions about stuff. And I tell him stories. Many are the same stories I told my daughters - the ones that prompted this from one of them "I love that I can relate any life lesson to some story from your past, because you always teach through storytelling."
We talk about Moms and his rocky relationship with his. "You will never change other people. You can only change yourself. Let's talk about what you can do differently, and how you can react differently. Let's see if that helps."
We talk about kids at school, and making friends. I think that kids who have a solid friendship base, and get along will do better at every part of life. I imagine his life may be lacking in this. Just for this week, try not criticizing kids at school. Instead say something nice, and see if you get a different reaction. No one like to be criticized. In fact, instead of being impressed at the person who criticizes, we hate them.
I asked him how it went the next Thursday. "Well, I didn't get around to being nice to anyone. But I did stop being mean." Yeah, what happened? "I got invited to a skating party..." Really? Hmmm....
We work on the other principals from How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Be nice, compliment, make eye contact, ask questions of other people. Be more interested than interesting. Ask about other peoples interests and be willing to learn from them. Say thank you. Show gratitude. You know... the basics of social grease.
Next Thursday we are in the kitchen making chicken drizzled with a raspberry vinaigrette. Someday you will make this for a sweetie and rack up uber points! The iPhones in our house keep buzzing. What is that - it's getting annoying? "It's me. I'm getting Facebook friend requests. I got 3 today." A smile, chin down, eyes peering at me sheepishly. A happy boy.
Yes. This stuff does work.
I email his teachers. Give them a little background, and let them know I am working with him. They enthusiastically respond back, yet I am not really seeing results in his grades. Homework is still a challenge. It's all still boring.
His dad agrees to counseling. He goes. He tells me he has been depressed - a big admission for a young kid. I tell him it will only work if he is willing and will answer her questions with blunt honesty, and tell her the truth - whatever that is. That he has to dig deep, and use her. Otherwise it's a waste.
After the second week (3 sessions) I go with his dad to the school's open house. Math Teacher: "I have seen a change in him the past two weeks. He is sitting up front and is engaged. He even is taking notes. But he is so far behind there is no way he will pass the state exam and move on. He will be repeating this class." Bummer. What if he works hard and passes, will he advance? "Yes, but that's impossible. He is too far behind. It won't happen." His other teachers report a similar change in attitude and attentiveness.
So we talk about life and how the choices he makes today will create his tomorrow. He chats with my daughter's friend, who is an engineer of gizmos that fly in the air. Stuff like Ghostbusters might use to fight aliens. You know. THAT stuff. Heat gain is an issue. The Kid is engaged. "Why don't you install a transistorized fan to help with the heat gain? You could...." He starts trying to solve the engineering problem. I tell him he has the mind for engineering. That HE could design gizmos for futuristic outer space stuff. But he needs math.
I take him on a walk on the river and talk about the water flow. Where the water goes. And where it comes from. He doesn't really know. He is bored. I offer to take him to San Francisco and see where the water dumps from our river. He wants to play on the computer instead. "Maybe another day." I want to slap him. Doesn't he recognize what a gift I offered him? He has never been there. I tell him this is the background knowledge that every person needs to be able to enjoy life. To be able to understand things later. To be able to have a good life. Ya gotta know the basics.
His dad and I both tell him that if he can get crackin and learn a years worth of Pre Algebra, and can pass the state exam with a 70%, he won't have to take it again with the punky little incoming baby brats. We believe he can do it, but it's up to him.
Mid June I wait for the notice of how he did on his state math exam. He thinks he passed. His teacher says impossible. His Dad calls me... "76%. He did it!" Unfrikkenbelievable. But it shows what he is capable of. And it shows him how easy it actually is. You just have to do it. I'm proud of you! More importantly, he's proud of himself.
Last week, he texted me. He was on his way sailing with my husband at Folsom Lake. "I know where we are going. It's where the water comes from that feeds the river by your house. ;)" Then he thanked me.
We were walking the other day. He kept calling me to come see a smiley face he found - a pattern on a tree, sticks and rocks on the trail, wet patches on asphalt. Not again... I'm not turning around again. "No, really. This one's good! It's the best." I look. It IS unbelievable.
Why do you keep seeing so many smiley faces?, I ask. "It's because I am so happy" The Kid reports.
I could have been showing houses. Or shopping. Or going to a movie. Or cleaning my house. But instead, I made a difference in the life of a child. My flip response is that it is cheaper than bail money later, but it is the truth. Kids can get waylaid by the simplest of things to fix. Some lessons on social grease, knowing someone cares, spending time with someone who is vested in you having a good life, and teaching you how to get it.
Life IS good....