Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Worker

I rarely speak of it here, but my third child, Oliver, has some significant learning disabilities and despite astounding perceptive abilities and an intelligence that can be jaw-dropping, he struggles mightily in school. He's in sixth grade this year, and I wouldn't be exaggerating if I told you that he despises school. Despite going to an excellent progressive charter school with a wonderful resource team, the acts of reading, writing and doing math are agony to him, and the last couple of months have been miserable. I'm not exaggerating, either, when I say that he is having literal existential nausea. He is able to articulate all of this to me and does so, all the time, every single day which has, to say the least, taxed my capabilities as a mother and -- honestly -- a human being. Sometimes it's like living with a glummer version of Jean-Paul Sartre, which is hard to imagine. That being said, Oliver's talent to make me laugh also seems to grow each year, and I am often helpless with it. This morning, he and I spent a few hours at a distant baseball park in Encino, watching Henry play. I talked for quite some time to another parent of a kid on Henry's team who told me about his older son, now a freshman in college, who struggled with learning disabilities as a kid and who reminded me, in the describing, of Oliver. I asked this man to tell Oliver about his son, which he did while Oliver listened.

Oliver: Yeah, I hate school. I wish I could just have a job.

Nice Man: Well, school is your job!

Without missing a beat, in the blink of an eye:

Oliver: Then, I wish I could get fired from my job. I wouldn't care and could probably get a better one.

As my father would say, He's a real piece of work.


  1. School is easily hate-able. Especially if you keep getting the wind knocked out of your sails. Sorry that's such a medusa-headed obstacle. Chances are, he'll catch a spark for something someday and there'll be no stoppin him.

  2. also, i was all existential nausea? and i found this quote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

    — C.S. Lewis

    …and if we were made for another world yet put in this one, the most probable explanation is that God is a sadist. Oops. Maybe don't tell Oliver the last part.

  3. We were thrilled when my youngest graduated from high school. Despised school. Sixth grade on was a struggle. We got his final grades. A's in all his "hard" classes. Three AP tests passed. PE: D-. I was so happy for him when it was over. Hopefully that sense of humor will buoy you through.

  4. This, too, will pass--someday.


  5. I wonder if part of Oliver's existential angst isn't his age -- he's at a difficult age by any standard. I can certainly identify with him regarding the math struggles. I hated math and had a terrible time with it all through school, and as I've mentioned here before, it was a source of family drama and conflict for years (since both my parents are mathematicians!).

  6. That's great stuff! I learned quite some time ago that the "school is your job" thing is a non-starter. As my own have pointed out... they don't get paid, would never have accepted a job in a place where rules consistently change every 45-50 minutes, and they have to ask permission to go to the bathroom. It's hard to argue with them.

  7. I love to hear about Oliver. Probably because he reminds me the most of my own boy. So difficult as a parent to make your kids do something you know they hate. What do you think Oliver will do when he finishes school? Just curious, really...

  8. Hank hated school. Hated it. Graduated high school, scrambled and scratched his living this way and that, got a state job and kept it forever until our governor eliminated his position. Now he's in college, studying like a fiend. Making all A's, of course.
    I don't know, baby. I do know that I heard yesterday that they've showed that doing math actually activates the pain receptors in our brains. So...existential nausea may not be quite so existential. It may be just purely be nausea.

  9. (As usual) I have a son who shares the exact(!) same sentiments and learning difficulties.

    He had a teacher once, named Mr Chute, a quirky man who made classtime fun by employing teaching techniques that were outside-of-the-box. W's best class ever!

    Anyway, Mr Chute told me that my job as W's parent was simply to get him through school. That my son would be one of these children who would struggle in the school environment, but would be extremely successsful in the real world due to his untapped intelligence, his quick sense of humor and his incredibly big heart. (I suspect that Mr Chute was also one of these children.) As was my husband!

    In exploring Mr Chute's philosophy further, I have decided that if I ever win the lottery, I am going to create a school that is designed specifically for boys with executive functioning difficulties. I expect I will make a fortune since many boys for some reason, seem to struggle with this deficit, and most schools seem to employ the absolute worst techniques for reaching this type of learner, not because the school doesn't care, but because it requires a complete reworking of the school environment, teaching methodology and schedules. More outdoor hiking and nature walks and less unstructured gym, lunch and recess time will do wonders to improve a true nature boy's peace of mind!

    You and Oliver are not alone! Just get him through, he will shine in the real world!...easier said than done, I know!

  10. School has always been difficult for my younger daughter. Helping her pass those required high school math classes left all of us, including her tutor, with PTSD. She is almost 21 years old now and looking back I wish I had been more aware of how stressful school was for her. I was so focused on keeping her healthy and having her pass those classes. I don't think I listened enough to how she felt about school. As difficult as it might be to hear, the fact that Oliver is able to articulate his feelings might be his most wonderful attribute and his saving grace. And the fact that he feels free to talk to you about how he feels says much about your parenting, Elizabeth.

  11. i do love that boy of yours. As the mother of a boy who also struggles, I can tell you, Oliver is going to be okay. What Lisa says above? So deeply true.

  12. I am with Noan. That Oliver has you to rant to (and laugh at his jokes), is a precious gift. Lola struggles with 'traditional' learning as well and there are weeks when I feel like throwing my hands in the air and giving up. Except I don't know what then - I would kill us both if I homeschooled and I know that I wouldn't be doing her any favors. In the meantime, as Oliver struggles, your enthusiasm for his other, preferred pursuits like lacrosse and baseball are, I'm sure, his saving grace. It is these kids who learn to work for everything they get who end up more grateful than those who don't have to.




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