The Lady Gaga song, “Applause” blared through my speakers as I pulled away from the curb at my youngest’s elementary school yesterday morning. This song is the antithesis of this son’s demeanor. When greeted by the front office and asked about his summer, this child could only gaze away with a deer-in-the-headlights look. In the primary grades this would be considered cute. But upon entering his fourth grade year it is just plain rude.
My usual parental reaction is to prompt a response or to apologize for his behavior. The secretaries easily filled the silence, teasing he was probably still asleep. I say aloud to this son that this is our goal in this coming school year; communication and socialization.
It is my mission to instill social skills to my sons. To learn how to build networks of people. I am not talking about the social networking engines of: Instagram, KiK, Twitter or Facebook with “like” buttons and hashtags. I want my sons to learn the basic skills of oral , in-person, communication. To be present in conversations.
Humans are created to communicate and find meaningful relationships. To build social networks.
After work I find myself perusing articles on teaching kids socialization skills. This topic is not new to me, by any means. I, too, was extremely shy in my formative years and I pondered if shyness is hereditary. I arrived at an article by Dr. Jerome Kagan, and associates of the “Biological Bases of Childhood Shyness”published in the journal of Science in its April 9, 1988 publication. Dr. Kagan finds that shyness is hereditary but can be overcome. Nonplussed by the inability to maneuver through the journal of Science’s “classic” online library I start to laugh out loud. I am left to stare at information which will require me to go to a local library and find the article on microfiche. I mean, seriously, WHO USES THIS METHOD THESE DAYS!? Isn’t the ability of the worldwide web supposed to put this information at my rapidly clicking fingertips?
The researcher within makes me dig a little deeper. While working in a neurogerontology lab, during my undergrad years, I read countless articles regarding neuroplasticity. Our brains are truly amazing! But parenting isn’t based on black and white facts; my left-brained tendencies. I am learning to trust my right lobe, the emotional-intuitive side. I want to integrate Broca’s area (location of speech production) in the left frontal lobe, to the right lobe’s processing of nonverbal cues and emotional responses. I need these neuronal pathways to network!
This morning the younger boys and I watched the eldest slam doors and grumble beneath his breath. None of us knew why he was angry but as we quietly drove the short distance to the high school I observed his nonverbal cues. Instead of interrogating with rapid fire questions I thought to the short morning routine; attempting to piece together the puzzle. Teenagers! I have adapted the fact-finding stance as a researcher would in a case study. I am integrating the words spoken with the body language conveyed. As he exited my vehicle, grumbling, I chirped, “Have a nice day!”
Two hours later I found myself in the school supply mega store slowly walking each aisle; deciphering my older son’s angst. I purchased a small spiral notebook and attached a pencil. During his one hour lunch break he was surprised to find me amongst the throng of parents; awaiting their teens with fast food or warm lunches. A 3 X 5 index card spiral notebook brought a quizzical smile; although I did feel bad that I didn’t think to bring this son a fancy lunch; his soggy sandwich probably still at the bottom of his backpack. As he walked away I sang, “You’re welcome!” and the teen had the decency to turn back and sheepishly respond, “thank you” as the parents around me smirked. And with one last wave he grinned and was gone.
My life would have been much easier had this son said the following:
“Mom. I’m tired and I got yelled at for not doing the drill right. I need an index card notebook to write down notes and figure out where I’m supposed to be on the field.”
Instead, what I got were the following short sentences with attitude.
“I need index cards that flip.”
“Why do girls hold grudges? I don’t think she likes me.”
“My feet hurt.”
One day soon, Mommy is not going to be able to pick up the pieces and figure out what this son is trying to say. One day, he will be left to communicate his needs to others on his own. Respectfully. Tactfully. Clearly.
Last Friday our group of nine women had touched on this topic. If/when our children leave our homes (whether it be college, work, travel, etc.) will they know how to cross a busy street? Will they know how to organize their time? Budget their money? Do parents today hover so much that we leave our kids incapacitated to think their own thoughts; only hearing the parental monologue of to-do lists running in their heads?
I sincerely hope not.
With the tragic passing of Robin Williams I am reminded that life isn’t about the things amassed, the applause and fame that defines a person’s happiness. It is the connection with others that brings value into our lives. To believe we can contribute. To belong, just because. If my children cannot communicate their needs, their pain..will they choose the following?
To play video games or technology to tune out.
To partake in drugs to feel good.
To seek drink to find peace.
To self-medicate to numb the pain.
To cut wrists for attention.
To hang alone in depression.
To wield guns to exert control and power.
To pretend to be something, to please someone else.
To find solace in abuse, to belong.
If a beloved extroverted comedian, with a personal assistant, a wife and kids, and more than enough money to be comfortable, could not share his inner pain; how can we hope for the rest of society to follow suit? Again, the conversation returns to mental health. And again, people look the other way.
And so my hope is to empower my children to speak. To network.
My biggest fear, as a mother, is that I will fail my children in this regard. That they will not feel comfortable asking for help. That they will feel disconnected and incapable of making choices unless someone or something else pushes them to. That they’ll choose the path of least resistance; disconnection. If you don’t make ties, there are no expectations or disappointments. You don’t have to answer to anyone else. If you don’t allow anyone in; you can be surrounded by people and be very much alone. I don’t want my boys to be misunderstood.
It is my role, as a parent, to model this for my sons; above anything else. I want them to sing it LOUD and CLEAR. No applause required.