Mr. Curry and I took Dakota to a therapy appointment today in the warm small evening of San Diego California, our little patch of Earth to inhabit, the place we hoped was safe for our children. When what you hope for your children is not what is, you can retreat into denial. You can thrust into rage and fear driven control. Or. You adapt and bend and wind and wiggle and do every damn thing you can possibly do to help your teenager make it through intact. And therapy is on that list.
Dakota is 15. He is the kind of complicated, introspective, intelligent competitive, aggressive, shining personality that attracts people and makes life very hard for himself at times. He is, I'm betting, going to be a person whose teenage years prove to be the most tumultous and painful of his life by his own hand, and someone who will, in adulthood, evolve into a particularly interesting, dynamic, soulful, large hearted person who will be a joy to everyone who loves him.
I remind myself daily: It is my job to know that this will happen for him, to believe it, and to show that I believe so in my dialogue and actions with my son. It is my job to know and to believe in the best of each of my children when no one else, especially not them, can see it.
Things have happened to someone that Dakota loves very deeply and who is irreplaceable to him. Bad things. And Dakota has suffered for it. When he was a little boy, we watched Star Wars over and over. He loved everything you would imagine a young boy loves about Star Wars, and we often discussed the characters and plot. He asked me ' Why is Darth Vadar so sad, Mommy? ' I told him that when a person has pain and keeps it all inside, they slowly hurt themselves over time, and that hurt turns to rage. Dakota responded, ' And that is why Darth Vadar is dark and black and doesn't show his face. ' Yes. And now Dakota has to find the way to express his darkness so that he does not become faceless and dark and lost in the galaxy.
So many boys do. It's a tremendous loss, when a young boy loses his soul to the incohate dullness of irony, apathy. The front page of The New York Times today broke my heart. A sixteen year old boy, walking with a look on his face I recognize from my own wild son, when his heart is broken and his spirit is battered and he just can't find solace, when the brute work of life is too much and he slackens into apathetic, bull headed shock. This young man had the lost shock hardened by repeated exposure to violence. He was flanked with serious eyed policemen, who I am sure looked at this young boy and thought of their sixteen year old selves, the boys they had been who had gotten through teenage years without murdering another human being. This young man did not.
More common is the slow subtraction of self esteem, when a young man does not fit in a comforting box, when he is not a sports fanatic or a math whiz or a computer geek or --. When, for instance, he has an IQ anyone would be proud of but cannot sit for six hours a day in a classroom taking in facts and discussions and correctly mark down the required two hours of homework and then return home to eat a snack and sit and struggle through the two hours of homework. When the natural and obvious intelligence that has been remarked on by every teacher he has ever had begins to crumble underneath the weight of the lack, the lack of fitting in the right boxes, the lack of successful learning in a school environment, the years of sitting and sitting and sitting and feeling a wild heart and energy and intellectual curiousity turn into bitterness and anger that is, of course, eventually directed inward, to the heart, to the core of self, where the answer rings out like a finger pressed to the doorbell: You are stupid, a failure, and will never live up to your parents expectations so why, why try? And before this you had been as close to your mother and your stepfather as any child could be, before you were convinced that you would fail them, and continue to do so. Before that certainty turned to despair.
Most teenagers who commit suicide do so before a report card.
Most teenage boys don't know where they belong or how to be men in this world.
Did you know that Dakota is offered drugs at least once every day in his high school? Did you know that most of his friends parents don't follow up to see if their boys are where they say they are or are doing what they say they are doing or engage them in dialogue about their friends and their lifestyle and their opinions, to the point where Dakota's friend's mother said to his friend ' I worry that you might know kids who do drugs? ' If you do not know that your child at age 15 knows other children who are doing drugs in a large public high school, then you don't want to know. That's what that is. I want to know. Even though knowing, at times, is literally heart breaking, and even though knowing what is real for my son and his friends, what they see and hear at school, has at times left me sobbing into Mr. Curry's shoulder for an evening. Because to see my baby boy, who I nursed until he was two, who I coslept with until age seven, who still holds my hand- to see this boy turn into a young man stepping into a world full of pain and drugs and loss - it is the hardest thing I have done so far as a mother.
We are not religous or living on a farm or a cooperative community. We exist in the bigger world, where all kinds of troubles mix with all other kinds of troubles. Dakota is coming of age in an America that is completely reinventing it's definition of manhood. Whatever adults speculate and pontifiate and study and research about teenagers, only they truly know what their insular teenage worlds are like. For boys, trying to understand themselves as young men, this is a combustive mix: confusion not only about who they are personally, but also about what society in general wants them to be, at a time where they desperately need guidance they are feeling left adrift. I set Dakota up to be a certain kind of man, and in many ways he has grown into this beautifully, with a caveat: when he left Montessori school, and entered public school in fifth grade, he felt tricked. Everything I had taught him was not valued, and the skills he had been left without were imperative. Not all adults listened to children, or cared about treating children well, or cared about children at all. Not all teachers were patient or good hearted. Not all adults told the truth or did the right thing. In addition, to his observing mind, he lacked social prowess, ' hardness ', and this combined with a lack of fitting in the before mentioned boxes, made him angry. He felt unprepared.
' You didn't prepare me for how the real world is, Mom, ' he said.
He still says this.
Nothing has been the same since he entered public school. I tell him about Bill Gates, Einstein, every male I can think of who is happy or successful and did poorly in school. I tell him my own story, Mr. Curry tells him his. We tell him about what success really means and is and more important we try to live that example in how we live, we tell him about the emotional consequences of choices we make and we tell him about holding your own even when it's lonely. And each day Dakota gets up and goes to school and turns down Oxycotin and Pot and Poppers and doesn't make out with girls for cred. and refuses to get into fights and each day he compares what we tell him to the world he lives in.
What if, I often think, Mr. Curry told me that I could go online and watch TV and see my friends and be happy only if I would go each day to a Computer Technican job and spend the entire day repairing computers?
I know I don't know anything about computers or have any instinctual understanding of their funcitoning to work with. I know math is my worst subject, in all the forms it takes. I know, deep in my guts, that I will never be truly successful at this job, no matter how hard I work.
I won't do this to my son.
One day he is going to be stopping by my home. Mr. Curry and I will be at home, maybe Lola will be around, and hopefully another child borne before Dakota moved out, playing on the rug. The dogs will bark. ' Dakota is here! ' we will smile. And his beautiful, broad smile will light up his face the way it does, his big blue eyes crinkle the way they do, and I will hug him so tightly that he will laugh, the way he does. And I will hold this tall broad man who is my son smiling into my arms, and I will not care that he flunked Spanish or barely made it through Science. I will not remember what grade he recieved in Junior Year Biology. I will remember how I loved him.
And Dakota will hold me and remember only that I did.