Part 2 of my perhaps misguided attempt to describe each of my kids in less than 1,000 words. Luckily, I only have two kids.
Today’s topic: Mark.
To get the obvious out of the way: Mark is a figure skater. This statement covers about 75% of his reality. For at least the past three years, he has faithfully gone to the downtown Oakland ice rink, every day, for two or more hours after school. On Mondays and Fridays, he also goes for two hours before school. And for good measure, he tacks on three hours on Saturdays. Starting at 6AM. Needless to say, the day Mark got his driver’s license, the quality of dad’s weekends increased exponentially.
Mark has advanced six skating levels (out of eight) over this three-year period, for which the technical skating term is “wow.” In 2013 he came within three spots of competing for the national title for his level, and after a disappointing finish in 2014, he’s putting the pieces together to achieve this goal this year.
As I say, he’s a figure skater. (When people ask me how he got into skating, there’s a funny story I like to tell. I’ll write about that later. The real answer is, I have no idea.)
Mark lives in a world of what I like to call “cheerful self-centeredness” coupled with a healthy dose of obliviousness. Whatever scars he has from his early experiences—and I know they’re there—they don’t seem to cut very deep. Until a few years ago, in fact, he thought that the last foster mom was his actual birth mother—never mind that she was his fourth placement.
In many ways Mark and his brother could not be more different. He is a big, strapping kid—at 15, he hit my height, and he wears a larger shoe than me—and he lives much more in his body than in his head. He plays the violin and is addicted to game, reality, and cooking shows (plus, more recently: zombies)—very highbrow stuff indeed. I used to say he would spend all his free time in front of the television if I didn’t make him get up once in a while, but since his school began requiring all students to have iPads—a sin for which I will never forgive them—he now he spends proportionately less time watching TV and proportionately more in his room with his Wi-Fi-connected tablet. Exclusively doing homework, I’m sure.
One way Mark and Daveon are definitely alike is that they share an absolute terror of being in trouble. Neither boy can remember anything “happening” to them in their past in terms of abuse, and the records don’t contain anything specific. But it’s clear that, whether as the result of specific incidents or just the accumulated effects of trauma moving homes so often, “doing something wrong” is a scary place to be avoided at all costs. For Mark, this first revealed itself one weekend morning when I went to wake him up, and couldn’t find him. He was five and had been in the house a few months only, and all my alarms went off. Where was he? What if he wandered off? What if he was too scared about this new living situation and ran away?
I’ll never know what prompted me to look under the bed. But there he was, still asleep on the floor (carpeted, fortunately—we sleep downstairs, and those floors are cold). I asked him what happened, and he told me he wet the bed. I was curious why he didn’t just come get me, and then one of those “inspired parent” moments hit.
“You used to get in trouble for wetting the bed, didn’t you?”
“Did you get spanked?”
So hiding—and probably freezing—was a better alternative than whatever “being in trouble” might bring. More subtle, teen-appropriate displays of this aversion continue to this day.
Another way this anxiety used to reveal itself was Mark’s obsessive need to know exactly what was expected, what was coming up, what would be happening, and when—a total clampdown on the unknown. One of his recurring questions was, “After we are done [whatever we are doing], what are we going to do next?” Never mind the fact that the thing we were doing was going to take three hours, and we were only five minutes in. Inquiring minds needed to know.
This has lightened up quite a bit as Mark’s gotten older, maybe (hopefully) as a result of understanding that we can kind of go with the flow and make things up as we go along, and nothing bad is going to happen.
Or maybe he just got tired of my sarcastic answers, which usually involved some variation on, “After this, we’re cleaning all the rooms in the house. With toothbrushes.”
Mark can be kind of monotone and withdrawn in new situations, especially around adults. But put him in an environment where he feels safe and happy, and he completely lights up. His passion and focus are remarkable to see, and however big he gets he will always be my lovely little boy.