31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Things Aren't Always As They Seem

Single with Children: Mom tries to nip son's behavior in bud

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 02/23/05

I must admit I was impressed. My son had been going off to school every morning without his usual litany of complaints and protestations.

His daily "Top Ten Reasons I Don't Need To Be In School Today" had been forsaken and finally, finally I thought, after 12 years of school, he finally gets it.

You can imagine my shock and surprise when I received a phone call one morning a few weeks ago from his second-period teacher inquiring to why my son hadn't been in class in well over a week.

"Of course he's been in school. I've seen him leave here every morning.

"I've even heard him go into detail about how much he enjoys his broadcasting class and doing the camera work for the morning announcements. Please tell me you're kidding," though by this point my heart began a descent, and my stomach started knitting a knot.

"Well, Ms. Parker, I don't know what has been going on between first and third period, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that Justin has not been in his computer applications class. I take the roll every day."

If you're a parent, you know the feelings. Anger, frustration, disappointment and concern all swirled around to create the brand of angst I work so hard to avoid. I didn't know this man, this instructor who identified himself as "Mr. G," but given that he sounded reasonable and worried, I could hardly dismiss his question. I told him I would most certainly find out what was going on and call him back as soon as I had some answers.

When Justin ambled in later that afternoon, I asked how his day had gone.

"Fine. Same old stuff. Nothing too exciting."

As he was walking out of the kitchen, I asked him how his classes were going. He paused and looked at me, detecting that this was more than an idle question.

When Justin's eyes met mine, it didn't require a flashing neon sign to confirm why Mr. G had called. One word: BUSTED!

I filled him in on the phone call, then cut to the chase and asked for some honest answers. I told him the truth would be nice. His excuses were lame and empty and not even particularly creative, which led me to realize that this was a case of senioritis run riot.

Just like my hero Barney Fife, I had to nip this in the bud and nip it good.

My son is 18, and I know there aren't too many dangling carrots left in my crisper, but two of the ones I do possess are pretty powerful: Both of them have speakers and an antenna and they work in tandem.

One of them helps decide where to go and the other one says, "I have arrived." Until further notice, both of these things, along with their user, are grounded. I may not be able to make the horse drink the water, but I can keep the saddle locked up, hide the keys and turn off the transmission of both the cell phone and the Mustang. I also handed Justin a copy of the bus schedule, which conveniently stops right around the corner from our home.

This didn't result in immediate success and a couple more second-period classes were skipped. My son isn't naturally confrontational and has never been involved in any incidents of risky pursuits, but I know that doesn't mean he never will. As painful as it has been to impose such severe restrictions, the risks and potential for disaster to my son by not taking such action scares me even more.

This is just one area where being a single parent can be a lonely, confusing and difficult business. I will openly admit to feeling overwhelmed. As my children have grown, so have the stakes. Business is a lot more serious these days.

Fortunately, I am not alone. I have my parents, who remain amazing role models, and an adult male friend who generously shares his time with Justin. I have also come to rely on and give sincere thanks for teachers and school professionals, like my son's principal and the ever-vigilant Mr. G, who go beyond what is required and care enough to alert me when things aren't going as they should. They receive no additional pay for noticing whether my son is where he is supposed to be, when he is supposed to be there.

When I see my son walk across that stage later this spring to pick up his diploma, and yes, I'm being optimistic, it will be the result of a collective effort and a day I will spend leaking a few tears and spreading a lot of thanks. Hopefully, I'll still have some hair left that I haven't managed to pull out, and if some of it is gray, I will have earned every single strand of it.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at SusieWrites@gmail.com, write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166 or visit her diary at www.susiewrites.blogspot.com.

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