Monday, April 26, 2010

When Parents Screw Up

I don’t care how you add it up, trying to function on just three hours of sleep is not very doable and really not a lot of fun. You would think that by the time the boys are teens, all those sleepless nights would be a thing of the past, but then you forget the dreaded, the awful the monster with the hydra head, homework. Actually this isn’t so much about homework as about the lack of my boy’s ability to organize and successfully navigate their long-term projects. Executive functioning is all well and good on a daily basis, but it is knowing how to project the time necessary to prepare, facilitate and create a multi-week assignment that gets the boys right now.

Truthfully this is more about collegeman than HSB. I also think it’s not just about his executive functioning deficits either. He was organized and had everything he needed, too much if you want to know the truth. He was supposed to find five sources for his paper. Of course, he had a page and a half of sources. He was supposed to use the thesis statement that he and the professor agreed upon. Of course at the last moment he decided to change the thesis statement. He was supposed to keep a rubric replete with some grades that had appeared on it, which of course, we could not find, so we had to use an empty one. Of course, collegeman basically decided that he did not need all that much time to write an eight page paper. In truth he usually doesn’t need that much time, but he had major issues with this topic.

So what was collegeman’s topic? He is taking a course on Leaders and Leadership. It’s a wonderful examination on what makes someone a good leader. Now those traits are explored through exploring the history surrounding some very unique individuals in history. He studied Bismarck, Napoleon, Mussolini, and Elizabeth I to understand what made someone a leader. The interesting point of the course is that these qualities do not always make the leader a good person. I think it’s a fascinating dichotomy; needless to say, collegeman picked up on that issue right away. So which leader did he decide to research for his paper? He was given a list of thirty leaders alive today or in history. There were wonderful persons for him to choose from. He could have decided upon anyone from George Washington to Golda Meir, to Ronald Reagan to Indira Ghandi. So without skipping a beat, he chooses Mahmood Ahmedinejad. How much fun is that (she asks sarcastically)?

Much to my surprise there are dozens of books written about that man. I had thought it would be a ridiculous endeavor to try to find out information for the paper. There was so much information; collegeman just didn’t know when enough was enough. . Shocked the hell out of me. He was reading books, and articles and op-eds. He found a new article yesterday when he was finally supposed to start writing the paper. I guess collegeman isn’t the only one fascinated by that evil lunatic in Iran.

But the problem for collegeman is not knowing when he has enough information. I suppose that is the problem for everyone, but when you have a child with obsessive compulsive disorder (here, here), one that is afraid to make a mistake or leave anything out, then it becomes a different kind of issue. He just doesn’t know when to quit. Lately it has not been this bad. In fact, this semester has been the best yet in handling his anxiety over midterms and exams. He gets to a point that he says, well I’m done and decides it is what it will be. I was so proud of him when he would come to that conclusion I can’t tell you how much I praised him for being able to stop himself. Bu this was so totally different. Not really used to writing such papers, he just was afraid to not put in the proper amount of information that the professor wanted. He is so dedicated to trying to get an A that he almost just didn’t get the project done.

Finally, yesterday afternoon, hubby had to take him aside and say stop. It is time to write. Hubby helped collegeman stop and think to organize the paper around the leadership qualitities that were written into the thesis paragraph. Each quality was thoroughly discussed, analyzed and expounded upon; replete with references, class associations and text book allusions. It is probably a good paper. I don’t know because I am never allowed to read anything collegeman writes.

Finally at three in the morning he went to sleep. We, of course, were still awake. OK, truth be told, I fell asleep for a few hours, but woke up and rejoined the vigil. Then when collegeman finally fell asleep for a few hours neither hubby nor myself could sleep so we watched an Entertainment Tonight rerun. You know you are very desperate for something to do when you watch inanities on television at three and four in the morning. Finally we did fall asleep for a few hours, but then HSB had to get up for school, hubby had to go to work, and lo and behold collegeman really wasn’t done with the paper.

So everyone woke up, very reluctantly, and off to their regular days they went. I took HSB to school. Hubby went to work; Collegeman sat at his computer finishing off his paper. I then had to help him with the list of items needed in the paper or to be handed in with the paper that the professor required. It was very specific, but there were some questions about placement of page numbers and name, and cover page, and rubric. But hey what are you supposed to do. So we just took a shot, made a decision, and decided that it is what it is. Now onward and upward. What will be with the paper is anyone’s guess. He has been doing rather well in that class, so hopefully it is not bad enough to hurt his grade tremendously. Or who knows, maybe as with everything collegeman does, he will have pulled the fat out of the fire and proceeded on his merry way to “A” land nirvana.

One good thing did come out of this and no it’s not the fact that I still kept my mani-pedi appointment, (even though that was a good choice on my part) but collegeman recognized that the way he handled the paper assignment quite frankly was a huge fiasco. He did not handle it well at all. The professor, knowing that the students needed guidance with organization, timing and structure of such a project actually gave them step-by-step instruction on how to accomplish such a paper. He gave them dates that each part of the step-by-step was to be handed in. Collegeman did do those assignments without fail. He handed in the thesis statement, and outline. He handed in a preliminary list of sources. I tell you it was terrific. I wish someone had done that for me when I was in college instead of saying go write. The professor even said in his instructions do not wait until the last night to begin to write, and gave them an idea of when to begin to write the paper so that they could do rewrites, find more information and hand in something truly good. I think next time; collegeman is going to pay more attention to the professor’s advice.

On the other hand, we, the parents knowing that we have an obsessive child and one lacking in executive functioning skills should not really have left him so much to his own devises. Yes, I know that if he were away at college, the paper probably would still not be done. But one of the reasons that collegeman lives at home, apart from the overwhelming transition, medical and social issues that he just couldn’t handle right now, is the fact that we would be able to help him in situations like this. The college does have a tutoring program that students who live at school can access certified teacher to help them with long term projects, but we never signed him up, because, well we are here. Well we are idiots.

We really thought that child could organize himself and figure things out on a much more sophisticated level then he obviously can. Is it wishful thinking on our part? Possibly. Or the fact that he is organized enough to have gotten a 3.5 GPA last semester and similar GPA’s every semester since he started college. If I was to be truly honest with myself, I would have to say, we really missed the boat on this on. We forgot who he was and we forgot what his disabilities are all about. Next time we will be more strident in dealing with him and set dates above and beyond what the professor sets. We should know our child by now. Shame on us. (OK I won’t tell him that. He needs to understand that there are consequences for waiting until the last minute too, so that when we implement the stricter schedule next time, he won’t give us a hard time). Don’t be so hard on yourself, you say. Nah. Sometimes when you screw up too you have to take a step back, reevaluate what you did not do and what you did do, reorganize, review and redirect your energies.

Yes, we will all survive. Yes, we will all live through this. Yes, we will all figure out how to fix it the next time. But for now, I am looking forward to seven o’clock. Time when no one has to go anywhere. Time to kick back. Put our feet up. Have a glass of wine and watch Entertainment Tonight. Yes, I know, I need to put the wine off until bedtime; because with how tired I am I will take two sips of wine and pass out.

Until next time,