Just a Little Stubborn
- Tuesday, July 24, 2012
The temperature soared to 95 degrees, and it was only nine o’clock in the morning. Hailing from the North, these blistering temperatures challenged the very act of breathing. The beads of perspiration dripping from my forehead blurred my vision somewhat, but I was certain it was my son on the end of the third row standing among all the other sons and daughters dressed in familiar drab greens. The soldiers stood in perfect formation, even my Jim. It was boot camp graduation at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. There were many mothers assembled, but I knew I was one of the proudest. The journey to this time and place had been difficult for the both of us.
For many young people, the first few months out of college is a difficult transition. Some are fortunate to know they will attend graduate school or find employment in their field of education. Jim was one of the uncertain multitudes. When he announced his decision to enter the Army, mouths remained agape for several seconds. Of all the choices available to him, this was the least expected.
Jim’s developmental years were spent in passionate rebellion. According to pre-military Jim, authority was to be challenged at every turn. Learning to surrender unquestioning obedience to less than perfect human beings would prove to be Jim’s ultimate test of endurance.
My son was the author of The Art of Passive Resistance for Children. Like the mountain, he would not be moved. Because he refused to be born, labor had to be induced. I tease him that he was born stubborn and stayed that way. From the very beginning, Jim proved to be a parent’s answer to a prayer for patience. He was Defiance in the flesh. He challenged every form and creative measure of discipline I could invent.
Feeling that somehow Jim’s non-compliant nature had a direct relationship to some motherly deficiency, I set out on a course of correction. I had grown weary of the countless parent-teacher conferences ending in the insinuation that I needed to take parenting classes. I was a professional social worker. Certainly, I was smarter than a nine year old.
Believing that Jim might benefit from increased socialization, I volunteered to be a den mother. This solution was quickly sabotaged by the child’s fierce competition for my attention. The meetings benefited no one, and I resigned. Discouragement deepened as I continued to blame myself for Jim’s behavior problems and seemingly poor motivation.
School problems intensified with Jim’s refusal to complete homework assignments in spite of scrutiny. The more determined I became that Jim would complete his assignments, the more clever and manipulative the resistance. As a means of support, Jim’s teachers offered to assist him after school. My suspicions grew when it was discovered that Jim was successful in completing assignments for his least favorite teachers yet persistently avoided completing work for teachers he most favored.
I became desperate and tried grounding Jim from extracurricular activities with no improvement. I even resorted to removing the television from his room. Jim read comic books instead. Every consequence was met with little or no grief. Like Cool Hand Luke, he endured the penalty and played the game with aplomb.
The battles were endless and were not limited to the educational arena. Although a very intelligent young man, Jim seemed incapable of putting his shoes on the corresponding feet. I believed myself to be an educated and enlightened parent and attempted to utilize the latest behavior modification techniques even to the extent of labeling his shoes with the "R" and the "L" and placing them in proper order next to his bed. All Jim had to do was merely slip his feet into the shoes and all would be well. However, Jim continued to wear his shoes on the wrong feet until he connected his scraped knees and bruises to the frequent falls and the frequent falls to the fact his shoes were on the wrong feet. Eureka! Shoes miraculously appeared on the corresponding feet.
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