No, we are calling it "Dropping Into Life!"

I don't want to give too much away because while I want you to understand where I am coming from and the context in which I am living, I want much more to show respect for my son and where he is. Koa is curious and contemplative, and like most sixteen-year-olds he is deciphering which paths he'd like to explore. He has read Emerson and Thoreau, questioned God and Man and his faith in either, created worlds where he is King and walked in worlds where he was nothing more than stardust. The kid is deep, and external and internal pressures have pushed him to the depths for a long time now.

I want you to really understand what it feels like to send your child into the world looking heavy, like the weight of ten men sits on his shoulders as he slugs into the rainy dark morning before most of your neighbors have even turned on their lights. I remember the way hopelessness set in when I was a teenager and I remember the way my parents chose to respond. I remember the adventures I imagined, daydreaming about places I had only seen on television and the new identity I would assume once I arrived. And then, like some sort of sick joke, the next day would come and try to suck the life out of me. Sometimes I would end it crying myself to sleep or in an argument with my Pops about some menial task I managed to fuck up, or maybe glaring at myself in the mirror and biting down hard as I scraped layers of my skin away with the sharpened tine of a fork and bled a better place to be. Sometimes I crouched in the dark of my closet with a flashlight writing shitty poetry that bordered on plagiarism, eventually falling asleep on a heap of laundry or, not. Koa's nights are long like that sometimes; though filled with other sorts of agonizing, he's trying to reconcile all the information and emotions and thoughts and reflections of his days.
The difference in what I experienced and what I do for my own kid exists in the way he is treated for his state. Instead of bearing down on the fissures hoping to squeeze them shut we have decided to fill in the gaps with unconditional love, guidance, support and grace. All that stretching and reaching he's doing is an opportunity for immense growth, and not just for him.
Turns out Tuesday was the last day we let our son go to high school. Turns out none of us knew that it was what we needed to do for him all along. Turns out we probably just saved his life.

While I know my partner and I will face judgment for our decision to create a "drop out" of our son, I would submit that it likely comes from people who live in insulated places far away from the fierce biting and gnashing of anxiety and panic attacks, perhaps even safe in places where they can ignore the symptoms of it in themselves or loved ones. I might even ask someone judging me right now to consider whether or not they believe children are, in fact, people who deserve to self-actualize. I do. I think that everybody deserves to be the best versions of themselves they can be, living the most fulfilling life they can, and doing the most good in the process. Children are not excluded on my list of people who deserve to live that way because, well, they are people. On his first day as a dropout my son researched the local volunteer center process, scoured local agencies in need of help, and reached out to a senior center to fill a position leading art activities with people who have likely not seen their own grandchildren in ages. He left voicemail for the teachers who have impacted him, who respected him and earned his respect and who inspire him, to let them know that he was leaving and to appraise them of his registration for the upcoming GED orientation at the college in three weeks. He wanted to thank them for showing him ways of looking at the world differently, for supporting him, and to give them closure he thought they deserved as people who care about him. He talked with me openly about his life and friends, assisted me in delivering donations to the local men's shelter, laughed with me for the first time in days, bonded with each of his little brothers, went on a run up the mountain, helped clean our home, uncovered infinite opportunities that are now within his grasp since his schedule has opened up considerably, and looked like a kid again instead of a man in the middle of an existential crisis. What did you do Wednesday to help the world, strangers, your family, your community, and yourself?

If your kid told you that he or she didn't believe there was anything more before or after this life, that he was plagued by apathy and feelings of inadequacy, that he swam in anxiety and couldn't stop thinking of dying... wouldn't you choose to hold your child close too? To show them the beauty of the world and help them access it in a way that kept them both alive and stitched to you in a positive way? My parents were either unable or unwilling to do that and I ended up out on the streets making every statistically predictable misjudgment possible. Eventually I found myself pregnant with Koa at 16, his age now, and threatened with depressing patterns of poverty and estrangement. Fast-forward to now to find me deep in the throes of therapy figuring all this shit out--living the paradoxical dream, as it were--and vicariously healing my childhood wounds through gentle parenting and unconditional love for my child as he suffers. I know it's not a competition, and this particular scenario wouldn't lend itself to much of a winning feeling if it were, but I am so grateful to know my kid will have to sink significantly less time and money into therapy due to parental misgivings than I have had to. Earning my degrees was cool and all, as was pulling out of destitute poverty, birthing two sons naturally, and moving to a house with skylights, but knowing I'm doing right by Koa right now is the biggest success I've had to date. That's right folks, suggesting my kid drop out of high school is the biggest success I've had to date.

"You don't have to go back. There are as many different ways to do it as there are people that want to."

"Really? Yeah, sure. Anything sounds better than what I'm doing. I'm in."

"Good. I believe in you and can't wait to see what amazing things you do without all the extra bullshit!" 

This is love in a way that only a teen Mama could love her now-teen-baby. I am so proud of the way he is dropping in to life--he's choosing a path he can see himself on AND that does not include teenage parenthood, juvenile detention centers, hitch-hiking to Rainbow Gatherings, or cocktail waitressing like my path did. If I did all that and still ended up here, trust me kid, you're going to be just fine. I'll see to it myself.


Morgan said...

I was the same sort of teenager. I only knew what I didn't want for my life, because it was what I had. I couldn't conceive of what kind of life I would like to live because I hadn't been introduced to enough of anything else. I asked to drop out of school my Junior year, but my mom couldn't be alright with that. (I am very good at school, but I hate it...people don't really get that this is a possible combination.) I moved away almost immediately after graduation. I spent 18-20 shedding the bits of Smalltown, PA that I had disliked for so long and 21-23 trying things and living in different ways in different places and figuring out what kind of people are the best people with whom I can spend my time.

I think I would have done better to leave school, get a GED, and start learning about the world a bit earlier. It is going to be a great advantage for your son to not have to wait until he's 18 to start picking off the pieces that have been forced onto him and finding which pieces should stay.

a palpable paradox said...

Oh man, I totally understand the process you describe. Thanks for sharing your story, Morgan, and for having the moxie to trudge through and make those meaningful connections. I appreciate the affirmation from awesome people the most!