Wednesday, January 11, 2017

High school isn't for everyone.

     I received a series of angry emails and text messages from Gage's bio-dad's girlfriend one day (he stopped talking to me at all, even in email, once he got his new girlfriend, now fiance), about what a terrible mother I was for "letting Gage drop out of high school". They told my son they were disappointed in his choice. That they knew he could do better. That maybe living with them in California  is just what he needed to succeed in school. And so on. My reaction was deep, heartfelt hysterical laughter. Those two, bless their hearts, had zero experience raising a teenager, and were not the best examples of how essential and important a high school education is. Life was still beating the crap out of them and neither had ever held a job for long enough to get anywhere. They both love Gage very much, I do not doubt. But bio dad has not attempted to co-parent in a meaningful way ever, so any input from that direction was just noise, to be honest.

     Why would I laugh at such a thing? Because I was EXHAUSTED. So tired of fighting with Gage to do his classwork. Tutoring. Long nights of studying. We tried online public school. Failed. Back to independent studies. Meh, that was okay by the skin of his teeth. Non stop struggle with his apathy toward anything school related. Academics, social stuff, anything. He had been grounded, rewarded, distracted, engaged, prodded, begged, encouraged, and lectured to do just the bare minimum, and he couldn't even consistently do that. I had long talks with our friends, family, even strangers. I read blogs, articles, and research on everything from disciplining teens to learning styles to childhood trauma that might have effects on school performance. I had grilled Gage for information over and over...WHY??? Why cant you do this? Why won't you? Is it me? Is it your dad? What do I do with you?

     I felt like a failure and I blamed myself for everything he did that was "wrong". Yes that is in quotes, because I have since concluded that high school is fucking stupid and the American model of it is antiquated and structured like shit and I hope I can find a way to avoid it with my youngest kid. But at the time, it caused such a strain on the whole house that it was easy to blame it for whatever stress was going on in any other capacity of life.. Gage's school career was fucking up our peaceful, fun vibe in the house. It was tearing us up as a unit. We didn't talk as much.
     Shawn and I couldn't take it anymore and we started to analyze our intentions, and asked ourselves what the point was for all this. Is all this struggle worth it? What was the end result we wanted for Gage? What expectations do we have, and did they make sense and apply to Gage, or were they wrapped up in our own failures? How much does a diploma matter versus a GED, realistically? Will an extra year of school help or hurt him? And once we answered ourselves it was pretty clear that the best thing for him was to get out and get a GED. Our boy was not cut out for the extracurricular bullshit that goes with high school. Some people are able to navigate it and benefit from it. But some are not. And he, was not. We didn't tell him we wanted him to do it, but we did present it on the table of options after Sophomore year ended.

     Then he hit his Junior year, and he suddenly decided he wanted to graduate. He got better grades. He regularly worked with his counselors on plans to catch up. He did extra classes. Senior year arrived and he bought the senior sweatshirt and we reserved his cap and gown. But at his Senior exit interview they told us he couldn't graduate on time. He was devastated. First real life lesson about consequences...achieved. It sucked. But wow did he get it. If you ask him now, he'll say he regrets not trying harder, but also that back then he was anxious, depressed, and high school just wasn't for him.
    We told him it was okay, that Shawn and I didn't graduate and we turned out to be productive members of society (how long that took wasn't mentioned). I pointed him in the direction of GED classes and he navigated most of that process himself. That's when I got that hilarious email from bio-dad's girlfriend. Gage waited until the last second to tell his other parent what had happened. He hates confrontation and didn't want to hear their opinion. And I did not blame him one bit. I don't even remember if I responded...that's how seriously I took it.

      Hindsight is a bitch though, amiright? In hindsight, my oldest baby boy was chugging through adolescence like molasses in January. He entered that phase of life stunted from childhood strife. Yes, he is the more reserved kid in the group, but he will shine where he feels safe. And he did not feel safe.
We have always been close, but adolescence alienates you and forces you think you want to figure it out alone. The emotional gymnastics required to get through a day in the life of a teenager is enough to floor an adult. On top of that, Gage inherited the family panic disorder. And he was homesick for California. He had more than enough to deal with and then the pressure of a school model that didn't work for him and a new culture and set of friends, severe acne, a new brother, an intense little sister, a still new family dynamic, etc etc etc much more did I want from him? What is reasonable? What is necessary? If I had it to do all over again...I don't know. I still feel like I failed here and there, but it's not useful to pick it apart anymore. There wasn't one moment or even five that could have changed everything. And honestly it doesn't matter. He is a good person, and he is progressing and learning and becoming a good man. That is all that matters.

     So yeah. I "let" my son drop out of high school. Ha. I have no regrets.

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