A fragile boy with learning disabilities transitions from home school to college.
From the time he was fifteen until seventeen, Jay was a sick kid. I’m talking “children’s hospital” sick. So, all the planning I had done to prepare for the “adolescent years” was put on hold while I worked my tail off to get him the medical care he needed to survive. What I didn’t realize is how formative those years were going to be.
While the biggest concern his peers had was how to get their hair just right, for Jay, all of his focus was spent dealing with a body that refused to work. When your child calmly says to you, on yet another trip to the emergency room, “Mom, I’ve been praying and I think I’m finally okay with dying,” you know you’re beyond the reach of most parenting books.
What I didn’t realize then, was that dealing with life and death on a regular basis, had equipped my son to deal with his adolescence in ways that I never expected.
A Caring Confidant
College for Jay was probably the high school experience most kids have but because of health issues and being home schooled, he had missed those years.
Asking him how he first made friends on campus he said, “It was nothing really complicated. I was sitting on a bench and this girl walked up to me. She said, ‘Hey, random person that I don’t know. I’m going to talk to you because that’s what I do.’ “
My once shy child apparently had no problems dealing with assertive women because from that conversation forward, he and Lucy were always together. Based on the stories he’d tell me about her, I believe he saw her as the little sister he’d never had.
Finding out Lucy came from a troubled home, Jay would offer wise counsel to help her deal with the stress of school and family life. Watching him teach a young woman how to respect herself by offering her care and support went a long way toward easing my fears about how successful he’d be not just in college, but in life as well.
Boys Will Be Boys
That’s not to say that there weren’t times when my stomach would clench as he’d tell me about his day. Hearing how he and his friends fit nine people into a Honda Civic to go get Korean BBQ when he should have been in class or that he’d been asked out by a 22 year old man who was into My Little Pony, I’d have to find a paper bag to breathe in. But, like my surprise with his friend, Lucy, there was another side to my son I had yet to see.
Stronger Than I Realized
For a kid who struggled with chronic pain and health issues, I think we both underestimated how strong his body had become since going into a period of remission.
The first time he told me he’d been in a fight, I calmly asked for details. I learned that his friend, Mitch, was being picked on for being gay. One day, another kid started hitting Mitch. Ignoring him, Mitch tried to walk away. That’s when this kid tackled him and started calling him a “faggot,” punching him over and over again.
Jay saw this, ran over, kicked the kid off of Mitch, then picked the kid up and slammed his head against the wall. Stunned, the he looked up at all 6 feet, 190 pounds of my son, and realized he didn’t stand a chance. He ran away, holding his head while Jay tended to Mitch.
I think Jay was stunned, too, because when he related the story to me he said, “I didn’t mean to push him so hard. I forget how strong I am sometimes; but I like it.” What I discovered about my adolescent son is that Jay knew how to stand up for others. While I didn’t care for the fighting, a part of me was proud that my kid could throw a punch.
His Own Hero
Paul, another teen attending college, thought he’d do a little hazing of Jay, just to see how “tough” he really was. Known for messing with kids’ heads just to get a rise out of them, Paul asked Jay to sit on his lap on the large leather couch in the student center.
In the past, upon hearing this, I would have intervened. I would have gone to the student center and calmly explained to Paul the way Jay related to others as a result of his learning disabilities: a difference that had led to him being home schooled for most of his life. This would have been my solution to prevent any more bullying.
But this time, Jay didn’t need my help.
Not fazed in the least by Paul’s invitation, he told me he promptly sat down, his entire weight falling on Paul. Letting himself get comfortable, while other people started to stare, Jay said casually, “Hey, you should join us.” A handful of people took Jay up on his offer and piled on top of him while he sprawled on top of Paul.
What could have been a painful situation was turned into a humorous one. My once reticent child had turned a potentially triggering episode into what he called “a campus wide bromance” that grew into more than just sitting on Paul’s lap at the LBGT corner of the Student Lounge.
And the role of “rescuer” that I thought I’d always have to assume became a part I realized I could relinquish. Jay was learning to fend for himself.
No fear about being seen as “gay” like many adolescents struggling to discover their sexuality, Jay and his friends would wrestle, punch, or even just say, “Hey, I love you, man,” whenever they felt like it. Acceptance was the norm at the student center. Anyone who had a problem with that knew they’d better not raise it while Jay was around.
Where most men I know struggle to express themselves or share their feelings and affection with physical demonstration, my son was completely confident that if someone needed a hug, you gave it to them. I realized that he not only knew how to fight, but he also knew when to use humor to diffuse things. Seeing him secure enough with himself to not care how others perceived him, Jay was modeling positive behaviors that others were following.
Far from the sometimes socially awkward and medically needy boy I had spent the last seventeen years raising, Jay was equipped to deal with life. He had become strong, both mentally and physically, while I was still holding on to who he used to be.
He displayed care for others, was confident enough to protect himself and could calmly handle even the most triggering situation. At the tail end of his adolescent years, Jay knew who he was and what he stood for.
He was becoming a man.
Image credit: slgckgc/Flickr