Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Friday, September 15, 2006

When Smart Kids Go Stupid

My kids are smart. I think I've mentioned that a time or two, but I don't go on and on about how smart, because's annoying. Both of my children are considered gifted and both have issues that are often associated with very smart children. My oldest child has ADD. My youngest child is Spirited.

After a lot of soul searching, information gathering, and the advice of a good therapist, we decided to medicate the oldest for his ADD. He takes Strattera. I will not put him on stimulants, and thankfully, he has a relatively mild case of ADD without the hyperactivity, so it's unlikely he will need them. The medication does alleviate many of the problems that made reaching his true potential almost impossible. He can now focus and stay on task quite well.

But what medication can't do, is make him care. It can't motivate him to strive for excellence. He is so smart there is absolutely no end to what he could achieve. But he is lazy and apathetic. I am at my wits end with him.

Today he received progress reports and his were all dismal. Missing and incomplete assignments, quizzes with barely a passing grade, comment after comment from his teachers about how he is not living up to his potential. I wanted to shake him.

I don't even know how to convey how frustrating it is to know that your child is capable of so much, but just will not put forth the effort. I don't know how to make it important to him. I don't know how to make him understand that if he screws this up, he will end up working at a minimum wage job, or doing manual labor. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But there is nothing quite as disheartening as being stuck somewhere you don't belong and knowing that you could have been and done so much more. I know.

Because 25 years ago, I was the same way. And I remember my Mom and Dad sitting me down time after time, telling me how smart I was, and how I could be anything I wanted to be, and how they wanted me to have the kind of life they couldn't because they didn't have the resources to obtain an education. And I remember just tuning them out and telling myself how DUMB they all were and how they just didn't understand. But understand what? I didn't know. I didn't know myself why it didn't matter to me. Why I didn't want their approval. Why I absolutely hated school. I still don't.

I could do the work. Easily. I just didn't want to. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy learning. I did. I devoured books and I wrote like crazy, and I thirsted for knowledge about certain things. Art. Drama. History. Mythology. Each week I had a new interest, a new yearning. I could learn more on my own than I could in a whole semester of class, and I did. But they don't put that stuff on your permanent record and it doesn't help you get into college. And it doesn't keep you from flunking out because you were too apathetic to hand in any homework.

He is me, and I can't help him. Because I never figured why I did what I did.

But I know what happens when you do what I did. A person ends up bored and frustrated and full of regret because they realize what they've missed out on and what they could have been. And they castigate themselves for being so stupid and shortsighted and for not listening to people who just wanted the best for them and who knew a hell of a lot better than they did how life would turn out without education, without opportunities. Without OPTIONS.

How do you convey to an 11 year old the regrets of 37 years? You can't. And that's the tragedy I'm facing right now. I see where he is going and I can do nothing to stop it. I can do nothing to make him SEE.

Oh, I can do all the same stuff my parents did. And we do. We remove privileges and we lecture and we reinforce how smart he is and how he could be the next Bill Friggen Gates if he put his mind to it. But it didn't work for them, and it's not going to work for us. My kid is on the path to ruin and I can only watch him stumble blindly down it. When he was a baby, I could simply pick him up and remove him from harm's way and then set him back down on his sturdy, dimpled little legs. And he would simply toddle off in the direction I chose for him, safe and content. But it's not that goddamned easy any more.

I don't know what to do. I can see the distance in his eyes when I'm talking to him. I can see him mentally lalalala-ing. So do I stop trying? Do I let him suffer the consequences? I suppose that would be the logical thing to do but HOW can I as a parent allow my child to squander all the potential he has been given?? HOW can I in good conscience let him waste his gifts, knowing he will end up unhappy and disillusioned?? On the other side fo the coin, I wonder how much I can push before I push him away forever. The day I turned 18 I left home, tired of being reminded of all I had not accomplished. But Jesus, they were just trying to help. They were just trying to help.

The other day on the phone I poured out all my frustration to my mother and when I was finished, there was dead silence. In her silence, I heard her trying to formulate a response that wouldn't make me feel even more despondant. When she spoke, finally she said..."You're doing everything you can. The rest is up to him." And I took that to mean that she finally realized that she hadn't failed me as much as I had failed myself.

I hope that someday, when my brilliant son is working at Taco Bell, I can be that kind to myself. I hope I can remember that.

In the meantime, I guess I put myself in the enemy camp. I will be the uncool Mom, the slavedriver Mom, the you can do better Mom. But I hope one day he will see that I was the you can do anything my beautiful, brilliant child Mom. The I love you no matter what and only want the best for you Mom.

It's all I can do. It's all I have. Hope.


  • At 7:15 AM, Blogger wordsonwater said…

    Perhaps he hears a different drummer, a lot like you seem to, and doesn’t want to be chained to the oar of the school system and be made to row in time. I reared three gifted children and the middle one, my brightest, made A’s and F’s, depending on how the teacher approached the subject and how much it interested him. Imagine the surprise of his school counselor when the child with a C average took the SAT’s and scored 1540.He picked his own path after two years at university and took a job with a small company as a systems administrator for their computer system. He’s recently decided to go back to school for the piece of paper, now older and more motivated. There is hope. Believe.

  • At 7:47 AM, Blogger Bea said…

    I come at this from the opposite angle: I always tried very hard to be a super-achiever, and a lot of that came from a sense of insecurity - my sense of self-worth was invested in always winning and being the best. My mom tried very hard to counteract that aspect of my personality, and I was joking to her the other day that my lacklustre career is her fault because I know I lost a lot of that drive as I've become a happier, more satisfied person. I've got a healthier personality for it, I think, but not a very healthy bank account!

    And I see that trait so much in the Bub. He gets so upset if he gets the "wrong" answer at anything - and needs hugs of reassurance, as if he's unsure that he's worthy of love if he doesn't always count up his blocks correctly.

    It sounds to me like both you and your son must have a healthy self-concept to focus so fully on your passions rather than on external definitions of achievement.

  • At 8:08 AM, Blogger Lisa said…

    I want to commend you, first, for being able to dig deep down inside and admit that there is much of you in him and how you now see what your parents were trying to do. So many cannot see that perspective. That alone will help both you and him handle this.

    I think I was like that as well. I always heard "you have so much potential if you would just put your mind to it". Yet, I didn't. If I liked the subject (english) I excelled of my own motivation. If not (math), I floundered.

    I sit here, at 45, seeing that I found my own way in my own time. As did you, as will your son. Not having a child, it's hard for me to truly understand how you must feel. I don't want to be one of those childless people who feel they know better how to do things, because I don't. What worked for me was that my parents generally gave me space to work it out on my own. When I needed help (math), they got me tutors. When I did something well, they applauded. But they always gave me space to be who I was while being supportive along the way.

    That helped me immensely. Yet, I imagine as a parent, it's one of the hardest things to do.

    I love your blog. You are really very open and honest about your struggles and willing to look at your part in them and how to move forward. I respect that quite a bit.

  • At 9:50 AM, Blogger Chicky Chicky Baby said…

    You just put one of my biggest fears into words. I was that kid, too. I remember the feelings of "why won't they leave me alone?" alternating with "why can't the find a way to help me?" and "why don't they understand?". I'm going to do everything in my power to keep my daughter from getting to that point, but it's not that easy is it?

    Can I offer my take on it? Find something he loves (like your interests in all things non-school related, the mythology, art, etc.) and encourage the heck out of him to learn everything he can about them. Maybe if you do that now when it comes time for him to be in high school he'll have a leg up on certain subjects. Does that make sense?

    Good luck. Don't give up yet!

  • At 11:07 AM, Blogger Foofa said…

    I have to agree with many of the other commenters. I went to an open school with no "real" grades and did well until Jr. High when I rebelled and started hanging out with the "bad" kids. When I went to HS I started out with a C average and by Sr. year had pulled it up to an A-. I just had to grow into myself and realize what I wanted. Choosing a college where things focuses on papers and ideas vs. tests, facts, and figures was a lifesaver. The only way you saw your grades was to go to the registrar's office and request them. I had the best grades in my life that I never saw. I guess what I am trying to say is your son will come into his own when he finds the subjects and style of learning that motivates him. At 11, truly smart kids are usually not at their best. The "book smart" kids do fine but that is different. Just keep encouraging him, but in a way where he understands his intelligence is his own and you will give him things that interest him and then leave him to enjoy. He will find his passion.

  • At 2:58 PM, Blogger MrsFortune said…

    Okay okay ... coming at this from a teacher's perspective, I have taught many students like this and have repeatedly hoped (without saying so, of course) that the parent would pull them out of the factory model school that just isn't right for so many brilliant kids and put them in Montessori, Waldorf ... ANYTHING besides the one size fits all public school because one size does NOT fit all, and while I hope his teachers are doing what they can, with 28 other kids to deal with there just isn't that much s/he can do! Especially with the availability of public charter schools you are likely to find something that suits him. Maybe you've considered it or maybe not but please do. It doesn't have to end up at Taco Bell. (sorry for writing a novel)

  • At 7:42 PM, Blogger Blog Antagonist said…

    I want to thank everyone for their kind words and advice.

    In answer to Mrs. Fortune's comments, yes, I am looking into alternatives. Both of my children learn best by doing and experiencing and manipulating. They are "out of the box" thinkers and they are bored silly with rote memorization and worksheets. They get nothing from most of the "conventional" teaching methods and simply tune out.

    Unfortunately, the one school that I think fits his needs to a t, is way beyond our means and is way too far from our house to make it feasible. But I'm still looking. There is a charter school reasonably near our home that I am going to tour next week. I will have to drive him everyday (I know for some of you, that's not a big deal, but Metro traffic is a huge pain in the ass. It's roughly five miles each way and the round trip will probably take me an hour or more in rush hour) but if it means an environment more tailored to this his learning style, I'm willing.

    I considered homeschooling, but I have to be realistic about my own suitability for such an endeavor. I simply don't have the patience, and I think it would end up being more stressful for both of us than the current situation.

    Thank you again for your thoughts. They are *all* truly appreciated.

  • At 8:08 PM, Blogger nina said…

    I have no words of advice for you.... I am a mother of a son similar. It started young. He has habitually been so lazy that if he puts on his underwear backward he will leave it rather than take the time time to fix it. That's my son... He is 16 and still doing this... I worry. I wonder. I wring my hands. I don't have a happily ever after story. I am living on hope as you do.

    Co-misery loves company mama!

  • At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Look into homeschooling. Unschooling, to be specific. Or a Sudbury School. It's no more of a challenge than any other parenting challenge, and you're facing some high stakes here. You either tax your patience one way or another; at least look into it more, the realities, the different ways to homeschool. There is no one size fits all. You may surprise yourself with what you can do for him.

    Read John Holt's "How Children Fail" and "How Children Lean". Read Alfie Kohn.

    Good luck.


  • At 1:31 AM, Blogger kevin black said…

    I hesitated whether to write this but the story came to mind after reading what you wrote, so I'll just say it.

    When I taught high school English for the Living Dead several years ago there was this one kid in my class who came to class everyday, said nothing and read his fantasy novels from bell to bell. He never bothered anyone, but he never participated in class beyond just showing up. Why he didn't just drop out I didn't understand but the administration frowned on suggesting this to kids so I never did.

    Finally I looked on his transcript and noticed what teacher he had the semester before. I went to her for advice. I explained that the kid was no problem but he did absolutely nothing for me. I asked her what his story was.

    She claimed that he was one of those people who either would settle down with some girl exactly like him so that they both could sit in their living room reading their fantasy novels day in and day out or he would wind up wearing a trench coat and shooting up his school or the post office. Then she paused and said, "Let's just hope for the former."

    The fact of the matter is school just isn't designed to bring out the best in everyone. That's not to say its lackluster design is a valid excuse for laziness, but some of the most wonderful kids just suck at school.

    I could say more but who is the parent of a four-month-old to offer advice to an experienced mom?

  • At 4:13 AM, Blogger MommyHeadache said…

    I can relate to your son's problems. Like you and him I was very bright but didn't do much work at school, but still got to college.

    I'd like to advise you to just take the pressure off him for a while, and maybe you should, but I also know a woman who, when her thirteen year old said he hated school and wanted to stay home, agreed, and he never finished high school and now lives at home at 21, doesn't go out and plays computer games all day. On the up side, he does seem very happy!

    I don't believe that academic success is the be all and end all of life. For the bright child, school is boring, there is no getting round it. People always make it out to be the kid's fault that they aren't motivated to study. But would you want to study in the school environment your son finds himself in? Sorry, I'm not being very helpful, am I, all I'm saying is, take the pressure off him to perform for a while, and maybe he will find the motivation within himself??

  • At 7:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Some people just aren't motivated by success markers - grades, awards, money, titles. Some people have to, and even like to, learn things the hard way. It is harder for us.

    I was a lackluster and indifferent student all through HS. I didn't start college until I was 30 and then I was a straight A student.

    I missed out on some of the typical life experiences of going off to college and living in a dorm, Spring Break -- but I don't care. This was the path I chose. And it was a bumpy one because my parents weren't at the ready with the lifesaver and I knew it.

    And hey! Look at me now! I write a blog! Feel better?!

  • At 7:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wanted to add that working at Taco Bell and other minimum wage jobs is an education in itself. I think every kid should.

  • At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I know it's hard, but give it time. He's not a failure at 11, B.A. Really. Nor are you, as his mother. Convey the obvious while his fingers remain in his ears. He hears you. Show him the world while his hand covers his eyes. He sees all. Teach him what you know while he sits on his hands. He's aching to join you. Sometimes it just takes time. And like with everything, you are doing your best, and there's no better a parent can do. Perhaps let go for a bit and see what happens? Oh I see you got a zero on a quiz. Huh. And move on. An 11 year old cannot grasp the long-term. He will though, be immediately effected by a lack of interest and attention. Just a strange suggestion. I'm rambling. I have a moderately unmotivated Freshman. Charming, no? College is around. the. corner.

  • At 1:59 PM, Blogger Mom101 said…

    I rarely know what to say in situations like this and fear I end up saying something totally stupid (at best) and unhelpful (at worst). But you are describing my own brother to a tee. I can only assure you that his 11 year old lack of motivation would never in a million years prepare you for his current wild success as an adult with his own company, two kids, and a house I covet.

    You're entering the tough years. Hang in there, and know that not every action now foreshadows the future. Sometimes, rather the opposite.

  • At 3:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It would be simple at my house - failure to turn in assignments would result in my failure to pay the fees etc. for baseball.

    I would care far less about linking allowances with household chores etc. than I would linking allowances with enduring school work and doing his part.

    If this is a battle over control, you wil lose. Let him control his destiny. If he wants money, recreation etc. he can have it - but he has to complete his assignments at school at a level of acceptability that you and his teachers can agree on.

    I am friends with a family who made the very, very difficult choice to move their extremely talented (and scouted) son out of a top tier level of sport because he wasn't keeping his grades up. It was difficult because this decision may cost him a potential professional career - but academics comes first for them - no compromises. He knows they are serious and he knows he is loved.

    Good luck

  • At 5:18 PM, Blogger Sandra said…

    I read your post and the comments with great interest. Especially Mrs. Fortune's. My son is gifted and I fear this outcome for him. He is in a Montessori school now and could stay there until grade 6 but it is so expensive. We've been debating public school for weeks and you just added another point to this side of our debate.

    Wishing you much luck with this.

  • At 5:47 PM, Blogger Ruth Dynamite said…

    I'm with the others who believe an individualized approach might work best with your son.

    That said, maybe, while you continue to pursue alternative schools, you should back off completely. Be honest with him, in as calm a manner you can muster, and tell him about your experiences in school. I bet he'll hang on your every word (though he might not show it). Ask him what he thinks might help.

    He might surprise you with his answers.

    I wish you the best of luck.

  • At 6:19 PM, Blogger Blog Antagonist said…

    More great input! Thank you so much for the thoughtful responses.

    Some additional thoughts from me...

    We did consider not allowing him to play baseball. In fact, it was my very first reaction. But, husband and I sat down and talked about it and we decided not to take away baseball for several reasons.

    First, because he is reaching an age where negative influences begin to come into play. Kids who are involved in sports or other extracurricular activities are less likely to become involved with drugs, gangs, and criminal activity. I'm not willing to take action that could result in even more serious repercussions than failing grades, such as jail, or ummm...death.

    Secondly, I think it's pretty clear that acadamia will never be the feather in his cap. Every kid needs something that they are really freaking great at and baseball is that thing for my son. It gives him a sense of accomplishment and makes him feel positive and self confident, which is especially important because he feels like a failure in the classroom. Taking away the one thing that gives him a sense of pride and accomplishment is only going to further demoralize him, and could very well cause him to rebel and withdraw from us even further.

    Thirdly, baseball is an activity that we all enjoy as a family and it is a way for us to spend quality time together. It's time that would otherwise be spent vegging out in front of television and video games, separately.

    In short, we decided that we weren't willing to risk a host of potentially serious adverse results from a course of action that doesn't really address the root of the problem anyway.

    Punishment didn't work with me, and it's not going to work with him. I need to work at finding the source of his problem and do what I can to fix it. Today I bought a book called "Bright Minds, Poor Grades; Understanding and Motivating You Underachieving Child" I've only skimmed it, but I can already see that many of the issues that they identify and address fit my son to a T.

    I have shared some of my struggles with my son. It seems to help some, but I don't think he thinks that I really experienced the same thing he is experiencing. I will continue to let him know though, that I understand.

    Again, thanks for all the very helpful and well reasoned comments. I appreciate them enormously. Especially those who have shared their own experience and success, or that of someone they know. It helps to know that he could still have a very fulfilling and satisfying life.


  • At 6:44 PM, Blogger Rachelle said…

    Well, you certainly aren't hurting for advice here!

    I emphathize with your struggle. I watched it happen with my younger brother. He could not care less about school. He didn't go to college, but he turned out to be an entrepreneur, owns several businesses and is a millionaire. So I guess the story could go in many different ways.

    My daughter hears a different drummer, too. She's only in fourth grade, and I want her to stay in public school because she needs the discipline whether she decides to follow it or not. But we're plannng to take her out by the time she gets to high school (maybe sooner) and put her in a more appropriate school that focuses on individual interests and aptitudes, or we'll let her homeschool. That way she'll be able to follow her passions and hopefully discover some area of study that captures her enough to make her want to put in the effort.

    Hang in there! Your mom is right... you're doing the best you can!

  • At 7:12 PM, Blogger Her Bad Mother said…

    I had a similar experience in my teens, bracketed by a frenzy of over-achievement in childhood and in young adulthood. But that brief period made my parents crazy with anxiety, and I can only now (with a ten-month child who is clearly spirited) begin to understand how they felt during that time...

  • At 4:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Like others have said, your son sounds a lot like someone I know - my younger brother.

    I don't have suggestions for motivating him, but I did learn a few lessons myself from mistakes my parents made. My brother still really doesn't understand personal responsibility and consequences of actions. My parents were never consistent with him - if you do X, Y will happen...but Y never did happen - and I believe that contributed to his spiral.


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