A couple years after my dad died, my mom and I moved from Alaska to California where her sister and mother lived. I hated California. I didn’t want to leave Alaska; I loved Alaska! I lived in California for four years before my sister came up with a scheme to get me back to Alaska.
When I was around 15, my older sister (who still lived in Alaska) told my mom she needed me to visit “for the summer” so I could babysit her four-year-old. She told me that once we got me there we’d try to talk my mom into letting me stay.
Our plotting turned out as I’d hoped and I returned to my beloved Alaska and lived with Susie (she’s 12 years older than me), her husband (David), and their daughter (Kimi).
Once it was established that I would stay, David got down to brass tacks about what I needed to do to continue living there. In that discussion, he told me, “You can tell me to f&#* off but the first time you do you’ll find yourself on a plane back to your mother.” Obviously that got my attention. For one thing, I’d never heard that word before (but somehow knew what it meant), and, the worst thing you could do to me at that time was to make me go back to California. Groundwork laid, we had a fairly smooth couple of years. By life-with-a-teenager standards anyway.
Little did we know then, we were beginning what has become a bit of a tradition in our family: something I now call “Adulting 201.” I know this isn’t a new concept. Distributing children to other family members has been used for generations – sometimes because of financial circumstances, sometimes because of troubled relationships, sometimes for problem children. Our version has tended to be more a kind of “Finishing School.”
Since that time, my family has been sending our teenagers to each other to grow up a little more before launching into the cold, cruel world. In each case, there was the expectation that the sub-adult would earn room and board, get a job, go to school, buy their own stuff. There are several benefits to doing this. The parent knows the child is with someone with similar values, who cares about their welfare, who will provide a safe landing spot while the teen is learning to fly. The child feels like they are supporting themselves yet understands it can all be yanked away with the wrong behavior. You know: Adulting. I went to my sister, my niece came to me, my oldest daughter went to my mom, and now my grandson came to me.
Being a typical, modern day teenager, Oscar resisted all attempts to get him to grow up and be responsible for himself. He didn’t get a job when his parents told him to, put forth minimal effort at school, and showed every indication he believed the roof over his head, clothes on his back, and food in his belly was always going to be due him with no effort on his part. In an effort to nudge a response out of him, at sixteen, his mom told him, “eighteen and out.” He continued to resist all stimuli intended to motivate him until the issue was forced on him the beginning of his Senior year in high school when his mom got him a job. He discovered he liked having spending money and a little freedom. He still didn’t believe they would follow through with chucking him out of the nest after high school was done though. He certainly was not going to be ready to launch at that time. So, we started discussing implementing Adulting 201.
So, Oscar came to live with me in May when he finished high school. He was to earn his keep by doing some of the heavy duty projects I had put on hold because they were too much for me to do on my own (like the chicken coop). He was to get a job. As a member of the household he was expected to participate in the household chores.
Now, don’t be fooled into thinking I’m handling this gracefully. There have been times that I have completely lost it with him. Raising daughters more than thirty years ago did not prepare me for the lack of motivation, the complete disregard for what I say, and the lack of care for anyone but himself that I’ve experienced the past several months.
For the first few months we even had to do basic lessons. One was, you don’t eat a whole loaf of bread in two days when you aren’t paying for it. I was used to a loaf of bread lasting for two weeks so I figured that, with two mouths, one loaf of bread a week was sufficient. Silly me. My expectation that, come Saturday, there would be toast for my breakfast was destroyed by Monday. So, then I had to set the rule that once this week’s loaf of bread was gone, he had to make bread. I have to say, I got really tired of his homemade bread. Now that he has a job, if he wants bread, he buys his own. (His response after his first grocery store trip was “Do you know how much peanut butter costs?!” Hahahaha)
Telling him what he could eat from my cupboards, and then to not eat my snacks, followed by defining what a snack food was, didn’t work. I had to show him a particular foodstuff and say, “This is Mine, you can’t have it.” Otherwise I would go looking for my bag of potato chips or cookies a week later and find a bag with crumbs, or nothing.
I’ve rounded on him in front of my co-workers and chewed him out, complete with my finger shaking in his face, “When your granny tells you to do something, you do it!” I have unpacked and used all my swear words on him (I added quite a few to my repertoire since starting my current job). I’ve even had to pull out the statement, “If you are going to continue down this path (not doing chores, watching TV all day, etc.), you’d better start thinking about where you’re going to live because you are about to be homeless.”
One of my friends asked if I would really kick him out and was shocked when I said I would. I hope I never have to find out if that’s true.
Now that he has a job, he is responsible to buy all his snacks, his breakfast stuff, and his lunch stuff. Of course, then a new crop of issues came up. He was shocked to find out that his day off from his job did not mean one gets to lay around the house watching TV/playing video games all day; it is the day you catch up on everything else you didn’t do while away earning money. “You don’t eat snack foods (soda and cookies and potato chips) for lunch.” Telling him that didn’t work, so, now I take him to the grocery store and guide his buying so he occasionally gets reasonable food in his body. Telling him repeatedly “Don’t eat in your bedroom and leave the garbage in there, it will attract bugs and mice,” didn’t work so I established a $10.00 charge for any time I come home and find garbage in his room. Funny how he listened when I did that (drat, I was kind of looking forward to an extra $300/month).
Things have smoothed out over the months. It has helped that he now has a job so he’s paying for his expenses (like room and board) with money rather than tasks that I have to push, push, push to get him to do. There are fewer episodes of Raging Granny as time goes on. Though sometimes, still, that seems to be the only way he catches on.
Don’t get me wrong. He really is a good kid. He was well raised by his parents. He’s just immature and self-centered and oblivious as one would expect of an 18/19-year-old. I’m just trying to drive home these last few lessons about the need for self-regulation, that his new-found freedoms still come with responsibilities, that his actions in this adult world have even bigger consequences (like, if you spend all your money on Legos, you won’t be able to buy that truck you want), and trying to get him to recognize that “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Maybe I’ll even be able to throw in some hints on critical thinking and communication skills.
Wish me luck.