The Last Time I saw an F, I was in high school.

img_2035“The last time I saw an F, I was in high school,” I told my son.

“It was only an F for two days,” he replied.

That was true. His science grade had gone up to a D-. Seemed as if for him that was a cause for celebration. Or, at least noteworthy.

“And, there it sits,” I said.

“Should be a D+ soon,” he said hopefully as if that was something for us to look forward to.

At the start of the school year, Juan and Crystel sign a sheet of paper stating that if they drop below a B- they lose their phone privileges. I tack this agreement on the refrigerator where it stays throughout the school year.

Not as much to remind them, I found out, then to remind me and Jody.

ParentVUE is a wonderful tool. I click on it daily to check on my children’s grades. I watched Juan’s drop to a C+ in science but it wasn’t until it went to an F that I woke up.

“Jody, Juan should not be having his phone,” I said to her. We were at the YMCA in the dressing room. I’m not sure why that was the place it struck me.

At 14, the phone is the most important personal item to Juan and Crystel. That makes it the most important motivating tool for me and Jody.

When I was in school what was most important to me was how my hair looked draped over my arms in class while I slept. On my report card, next to the D’s and F’s was has the ability but lacks initiative. Sometimes, Juan and Crystel bring home a note from a class for a parent to sign. It will have the question, how have you helped your child in this subject this week. I write, I threatened to take their phone away if it drops below a B-.

My children are very capable of getting A’s. At times, Juan lacks the initiative.

16387422_10210598873182208_1856781610126200938_n1I’ve told them stories about my middle and high school experience: smoking around the corner outside of school, throwing eggs in the hallway, dead mouse on a teacher’s chair (she went into rehab after that), jumping out of a classroom window, getting an F in typing (who gets an F in typing?), etc….. I quickly remind them that the stories are for entertainment purposes only and that they don’t have the same parents that I did.

Of course, they have learned this, because I’ve followed through many times on joining Juan in his classroom when he was tardy. “Just trying to figure out what the problem is, Juan”.

He hasn’t been tardy yet this year. I keep looking at ParentVue under attendance, waiting for the invite.

Darn. It’s almost like I get to do a do-over when I’m sitting there next to him observing him and his classmates.

Love those kids. They’re attentive, respectful to the teacher. I keep looking for that one kid who has his/her hair draped over their arms sleeping. The one that lacks initiative. The one who is getting F’s, that reminds me of me. One time there was such a girl who came storming late into a classroom. Juan whispered to me, “That’s a bad girl.”

Hmmmm, I thought to myself. Sometimes all you can do is grow up and get out.

At last look, Juan’s grade has moved to a C+, inching ever closer to the required B-.

 

 

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No Merit Badge For This

davannis“After Penn Fest, Ryan wants me to come over and hang out and then we’ll go to the Mall of  America”, Juan said.

Juan would be finishing up his shift at Davanni’s. His second job. He was a line judge for soccer over the summer. A fellow cross-country runner told him that Davanni’s hired 14-year-old’s. His cross-country coach introduced him to the hiring manager.

I gave him a sideways look. “Who else are you going with? Who are you going to meet up with? I’ll need more information.”

“Just us,” he said.

I gave Juan the usual response. “I’ll have to check with his parents.”

We were driving home from Boy Scouts. Juan had hoped to have his final three merit badges checked off. (I was, too. If he’s in scouts, I’m in scouts.) He’s aiming to get his Eagle Scout by the end of this year.

Turning on Penn Avenue from 50th Street, I asked him. “What would you do if there was a fight in the food court?”

Eagle Project, Antiqua Guatemala

Eagle Project, Antiqua Guatemala

He dodged, displaying a typical defensive teenage move. “Ryan and I won’t be in the food court.”

I persisted. “Still, what if you were and a fight broke out?”

Juan described some superhero ninja moves he’d make leaping over railings, running faster than the speed of light. Then he paused, “Ryan isn’t as fast as me, though.”

I didn’t tell him that Ryan was white and didn’t need to be as fast as him.

Instead, I said, “You’re Hispanic. If you’re running from a fight, police could think you were a part of it. If the police ever stop you, you stop. You don’t argue, you lay down, and when you can, you call your moms.”

I went on to tell him that there were at least 10 teens arrested at the Mall of America the day before. All were juveniles, ranging in age from 12 to 15.

Juan is 14.

He doesn’t have any fear of the police. He shouldn’t. I’m a volunteer Police Reserve Officer, Jody is currently going through orientation to be a Police Reserve, and he’s never been in trouble.

He’s known to the Richfield police because he’s helped me with police patrol, vehicle maintenance on police cars, and wrapping gifts with the police at holiday time for Heroes and Helpers.

After his eight grade school year, he’s planning on becoming a police explorer.

Juan has no thought of being concerned. He’s an A/B student and active in three sports. All of his interactions with police have been positive.

Still, when there’s a melee involving 200 juveniles, he’s just another Hispanic. I thought of him getting thrown to the ground, kneed in the back, his arm twisted behind him.

I repeated, “If you’re ever told to stop, you stop, you don’t argue, you lay down, and when you can, you call your moms.”

I left him with these words, “What the police see is a Hispanic running away.”

 

Packing Your Teenager

Juan took this rainbow photo in Alaska

Photo by Juan Jose’

I thought I had Juan packed for life.

In his backpack were all the essentials for his Boy Scout trip to Alaska. He would be Denali hiking and animal watching, Kesugi Ridge backpacking, whitewater rafting, glacier exploring, salmon fishing, sea kayaking and camping by the Columbia glacier.

Inside his internal frame pack, Juan had base and middle layers for upper and lower. He had all the must haves: whistle, bowl, spork, insect repellant and water bottle. I even made sure that he had the optional items: foot powder, matches/lighter, compass, and pocket knife.

Of course, Juan helped pack. He picked out his stocking cap and gloves, sleeping bag, tent, and sleeping pad and all of the items that went into his backpack.  I was along as his advisor.

Photo by Juan

Photo by Juan Jose’

Juan would be gone for 12 days. His emancipation from his parents, I thought. And, to that end, Jody and I didn’t initiate contact while he was gone. Of course, this was also made easy because he was out of cell range.

There were times while he was gone that I felt smug. I had followed the packing list to a tee even though I’m not one to follow rules. I had helped him bag his items into gallon Ziploc bags so he would be organized and his clothes dry.

This packing had gone so well that I was starting to feel that this is all one had to do for their teenager.

Follow a list, not do the work for him but with him, and then drive him to the airport.

Photo by Juan Jose'

Photo by Juan Jose’

Now it was up to him to dress to stay warm … or not. To stay dry … or not. To brush his teeth … or not. He had all the essentials. He would make the decisions.

I figured when he came home we could follow this pattern in his teen years. Give him the information he needed—like a packing list for life—and then let him decide what to do.

That was until Jody told me that being cold in Alaska … or not and being dry … or not, didn’t equate to other decisions that he’d have to make as a teenager. That those decisions could have a life-long effect.

Juan Jose' Antonio Sol di Grazia

photo by Juan Jose’

I thought about my teenage years and realized she was right. I was pregnant at age 14 and 15. Juan could have a room full of packing lists, all the guidance in the world from friends, teachers and parents, and still make decisions that could alter the course of his life.

Even so, all there was to do when I saw him at the airport was hug him tight and welcome him home.

We’d be walking these years together.

 

If he’s Juan, Am I still his mom?

Crystel and Juan Jose

Crystel and Juan Jose

Though I supported Juan changing his name, I was worried, too. I thought he’d feel adopted. All of his life, all 13 years, Jody and I had known him as Antonio. If he was now Juan, did that wipe out all the years he was Antonio, our son? I was worried that he wouldn’t feel a part of our family or our son anymore. I was worried about the distance that would organically occur from having been Antonio to now being Juan.

I changed my name in 2002. I used to be Ann Smith. I wanted to shed my past. Antonio, on the other hand, wanted to claim his past.

Maybe it was because I had changed my name and knew how important it was to claim one’s identity that I was able to temper my fears. I didn’t speak of them. Instead, I took Antonio out of school and drove him to the Hennepin County Courthouse to put his name application in. On the way, I spoke to him about how people would still call him Antonio just like they still called me Ann after I changed my name. Call me what you want, I thought then. I’m changing my name for me. I told him that he could decide to not care whether people called him Antonio or Juan and it might be less stressful. I explained that in time what name people called him would change and at some point when someone called him Antonio, he would know that they knew him from that part of his life. All the new people he met from here on out would know him only as Juan.

To ease my name change from Ann to Elizabeth I decided to tell people that they could call me Beth Ann. Beth Ann felt like a stepping stone to Beth. Even before then I had to ask myself what I wanted to be called. Did I want to be Elizabeth, Liz, Lizzy, or Beth?

When Antonio and I stood at the window the clerk taking our information was confused. He became even more confused after he asked me what Antonio’s name was changing to and I looked to Antonio for clarity.

After I turned back to the clerk, I read the furrow that had developed between his eyes: How could this mother not know the answer to what her kid’s name is going to be? How could she be allowing him to make the decision? Wouldn’t this have been figured out before this moment?

The clerk pushed pen and paper towards us. “Write it down. First. Middle. Last.”

I slid the paper over to Antonio. He wrote, Juan Jose – first name. Antonio Sol – middle. di Grazia – last.

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Until then I wasn’t sure that Antonio was going to keep any of his name. Maybe he would just want to be Juan Jose and drop the Antonio Sol.

In the coming days I stayed attentive to see if there was any distance between Juan and me. Any sign of rebellion now that he wasn’t Antonio but this new guy Juan Jose. I worked to call him Juan Jose, correcting myself when I said Antonio, remembering how respected I felt when someone called me Beth after I changed my name.

The distance didn’t come. I’m sure it was helped by still needing to be this 13-year old’s mom and asserting my momship. Juan Jose was tardy to his sixth hour class. This was his 13th tardy of the year.

“You don’t understand, Mom,” he’d say to me. He’d go on to explain the difficulty, the impossibility of getting from one class to another on time.

“I want to understand,” I’d say. “That’s why I’ll walk you from one class to another to experience it first-hand.” I added, “ And since I’m there, I’ll just sit next to you in class.”

This wasn’t new to Juan. When he was Antonio, I had already done this twice before during the school year and a number of times during sixth grade.

But, it appeared that I needed to up the ante because I wasn’t understanding his difficulty. After spending his sixth period together, I followed him to his 7th hour class. All the while he kept telling me to go home—none too quietly.

“Oh, no. I took the afternoon to be with you, Juan,” I replied.

He ducked into a bathroom. I waited in the hallway for him. Leaned against the wall, said hi to kids and teachers. Shook the principal’s hand.

It took Juan about 15 minutes to speak to me in his 7th hour period. He realized that I wasn’t going to go away.

No, I’m his mom. He’s my son. His name change didn’t change that a bit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dead Cat is Out of the Freezer

IMG_0493Seasons change, and so it is time.

We have a small window to perform our ceremony – in between the comings and goings of teenagers.

A line forms and we sing “Amazing Grace” while walking to the burial place in the corner of the yard. Our daughter and her friend dug the hole earlier. To make sure it was big enough they placed Trouble the dog in the hole but he quickly jumped out.

Seasons have changed for the children as well. A Cub Scout is now a Boy Scout who will be doing his Eagle project on Saturday. A small girl, who was always the first to jump into the swimming pool, is still the first to try most things in our house.

Our procession takes us underneath the flowering crabapple. The sweet scent follows. I lay down the paper bag holding our beloved.

There is a discussion about whether to bury Angel in the shirt that he is wrapped in. I kneel, gently cover his black and white face with the fabric so dirt won’t fall into his eyes. My stomach constricts. I straighten. Jody hands the girl the shovel.

There was a day when the children were ten months old that I thought they would be that age forever. I could not see past that day to this one. Parenting was hard work. Parenting was demanding. It still is, but in a different way. Now I need to stay attuned to who they are, what they are doing. I can’t be any less present. Because I need to be there if only to say, I see you. I am watching you. Give me your phone.

After our ceremony, as they are rushing off, I pull down the branches of the apple tree and smell the white flowers that within days will fall off the branches.

I want to shout to the children’s departing backs that I’ll never give up. No matter how hard parenting may become, I’ll never give up.

Angel our cat is gone. He had a good life. I have a good life. And, you are worth it.