Keep it Real, but Celebrate the Good

K.J. tends to be a grumpy 15-year-old, and he’s not particularly goal-oriented. For the most part, he approaches life as if it were a dreadful, constant uphill climb. Only, he’d rather sit down by the side of the road and wait for a bus driven by someone he knows to pick him up. He appears energy-less most of the time.

K.J. dragged himself into the kitchen this morning for breakfast and, once again, I suggested he go to sleep earlier since he knows he can’t change the wake-up time. His response: “That won’t work for me. I’m always tired.”

K.J. looks back on his life and remembers little. What he does remember is the “bad.” I don’t know how much this is a product of his ADD and anxiety, but it is true. He remembers the car wreck he was in. (He wasn’t injured.) He remembers the haunted house and big costumed characters that scared him at Disney World, but he doesn’t remember all the fun he had. He sees only the negative in his siblings and rarely has a kind word to say about them. It’s sad.

Open adoption has affected the way I parent. It has made honesty and communication about all things – no matter how difficult – of greater importance. I’ve been reading “The Girls Who Went Away,” about the women who surrendered children for adoption in the period between World War II and Roe v. Wade. The painful consequences of secrecy, deception, and ignorance are palpable. Open adoption, on the other hand, advances the strange concept that all members of the triad: adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents should be fully informed before choosing this path and remain available to and honest with each other as time goes on.

I find that I’ve taken these principles to heart BEYOND the immediate relationships that define adoption. I find myself saying, “We are going to be honest about EVERYTHING. We are going to address issues head-on – whether they be learning differences, behavior, family conflicts, substance use and abuse, or sexuality.”

I embarrass my children. I know I do. Some other parents aren’t as direct as I am. But I believe: Knowledge- and Self-Knowledge, in particular – is Power.

For example, I said to K.J. the other day in the car, “When you become sexually active, whenever that is, I want you to have condoms. I may have an opinion about your particular situation, but nothing is going to stand in the way of making sure you are protected from the unintended consequences of your acts. You need to know that you can come to me about this and I will make sure you have condoms.”

He didn’t fall out of his seat. He knows his mother has always talked about sexual matters. He knows more than he probably wishes he knew about my past. He knows, for instance, that I was raped, that I’ve been drunk, that I never dated in high school because my peers labeled me a lesbian for my feminist activities, that I’ve dated men who hurt me, that I used to smoke and how hard it was to quit. K.J. may not acknowledge it, but he knows he is not alone in making decisions about his own sexuality or use of illegal or unhealthy substances. He knows I want him to be educated so he will have some measure of choice about his future.

It’s obvious that I worry about K.J. His dad does too. You can tell someone to “see the bright side,” but if that doesn’t come naturally to him or her, it doesn’t necessarily change anything. When K.J. said, this morning -“That won’t work for me. I’m always tired,” regarding going to bed earlier, I knew he meant, “I haven’t tried it, so I assume I can’t do it. I’ll always be the same.” That is the way his mind works. You either have to force him into situations so that he discovers his capabilities or wait and hope that some person he respects will lead him to discover the same thing.

One of the things we insist upon is that K.J. attend the choir and youth group meetings at church. He groans about it, but he goes. We know he needs the socialization in a “safe place.” He routinely comes home in better spirits than when he left.

K.J.’s youth choir director had asked him if he’d be willing to play the trumpet in church last Sunday. K.J. has not touched his trumpet since he left the band at the public high school last year. But K.J. said “yes.” John and I reminded him several times before Sunday to practice. He said he knew the piece, but I admit we were skeptical.

When the youth choir gathered at the front of the church to sing and K.J. lifted his trumpet to play, I held my breath. The music that poured out of his instrument was beautiful! I couldn’t believe it. I started to cry. It was amazing. He was amazing! Look at what K.J. is capable of! It had been too easy to forget – what with all the constant pushing and prodding to get homework and projects complete, with all the inertia he exhibited in most other things.

After church, I ran to find the choir director and thank him for believing in K.J. Then I found K.J. outside the church with other members of the family and hugged him, telling him how beautiful his playing had been. He was all smiles. As people drifted out of the sanctuary, a number of them approached K.J. and congratulated him on his fine performance. He stood tall and thanked them. I almost cried again.

On Monday, when I dropped K.J. off at school, I was more aware than usual that classmates in the courtyard greeted him warmly. He WAS making friends. He seemed happy.

With some children, maybe all you can really hope for is tiny baby steps forward and the sun breaking through the clouds for brief moments. The waves come again and crash down, but they withdraw and leave a slightly altered landscape. The changes are slow and barely perceptible at times. We “keep it real” at our house, but we also try to remember to celebrate the “good” when it comes – and it does come.

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