This afternoon – and I don’t recall how it started – my foster son and I got into a heated discussion (not angry, just intense) over the issues of states’ rights, large central government and its boundaries, the American Civil War, property rights, “rule of law” vs. “might makes right” ideologies, the United Nations, politics, the threat of Iran, public schools, and a variety of other however-loosely-related (or not) topics. We went on for hours. I sometimes get frustrated at how darned argumentative he can be. Not that it isn’t interesting to have conversations with him, but he is relentless!
Now, I should mention that I’ve been really stressed out lately. Really stressed out. My hours at work have been cut, my online sales are way down, my ex-husband has stopped paying child support, and I’m not even sure how we are going to pay the bills this month. The dog needs dental work and he’s in a lot of pain. Our house has mice all of a sudden (great). Our roof needs to be fixed. My car started overheating, so I have nothing to drive. My son and I have not been getting along, which causes me so much lost sleep. My grandmother was recently put into a nursing home with Alzheimer’s, the family is all tense about handling her business matters, and everyone is at each other’s throats. I have prescriptions that I’ve been out of for weeks because I can’t afford to refill them. Our dryer is broken. I’m preparing for my daughter to leave for an internship in California, and although it is a wonderful opportunity for her, it’s going to be expensive to get her there. I could go on, and on and on. Stressed.
So, I started to get a little cranky during our discussion. He seemed like he wanted to go on forever. I was getting tired. This was getting on my nerves. Did he think I had nothing better to do? Did I care about the American South’s point of view during the Civil War right now, when I have so much to take care of?
I left the room to go get some work done. When I’d had a few moments alone, grumbling to myself about how irritating and opinionated that young whippersnapper could be, I suddenly remembered and was hit with a cold splash of perspective to the proverbial face.
I remembered when I first met this young man, when he first came to my home back in 2006. He was a high-school dropout, having barely completed his sophomore year, and not having even attended school for the early elementary years of kindergarten through second grade. He spoke street slang exclusively, and I couldn’t even understand half of what he said. He was a drug addict – heavily dependent on cocaine. He sold drugs to support his habit, and he also burglarized homes and stole cars. Although never really actively involved, he had been “jumped” into a gang. He came from a severely abusive home and trusted no one. He admittedly came to our home with the intention of continuing his “street thug” lifestyle, and using us for a place to live for as long as he could get away with it. When I tried to speak to him back then, he openly stated that he could not really trudge up any sympathy for the victims of his crimes, and he didn’t feel he had the capacity to care about people other than himself. He acknowledged having absolutely no ambitions for his life. In keeping with that goal – or lack thereof – he managed to get himself arrested on a fairly regular basis, and calls from the police became part of my daily life.
That was 2006. Now it’s 2010, and this young man is entering his third year at Arizona State University. He’s taking summer classes right now, wanting to stay on track after missing some credits his freshmen year. He has lived with us for four years (still here at the age of 20) and has been “clean” for over three years. There was one exception – a relapse in early 2008 – at which time he called me within minutes to come and get him, scared, not wanting to fall back.
He is respectful and helpful in our home, he writes letters to his former “homies” in prison, encouraging them to turn their lives around. He packs sack lunches with me and helps distribute them to the homeless, often being the “front man” for that sort of project because he is bi-lingual. He bought his own car, which he’s very proud of. He works with me at my cleaning job. Wanting to eventually be accepted to the Herberger School of Music, he takes music lessons – which he pays for on his own – from the best teacher he could find, and drives out to Grady Gammage Auditorium (across town from our house) each week for those lessons. He studies hard, practices hard, and is one of the most driven and motivated people I’ve ever met. He reads books – tons of books. He even reads the newspaper every day.
I thought about all of this, about the changes in this young man from then to now. Amazing changes. And I thought about how I could listen to him argue all day and I would not complain. He has opinions on Congress, foreign policy and whether Plato was a Sophist! How could I forget that at one time he had no opinions about anything? How could I have let it slip my mind that once he had not cared whether he lived or died from one day to the next, nor whether anyone else did? Once he owed a drug debt, now he owes the occasional late library fine.
If an opinionated and stubborn afternoon argument is the worst I get from this kid, I think we’re doing very well. I vow never to grumble about it again.