When he was a baby and we had company I would have to nurse him in a dark room. Everything overstimulated him. He would flail and kick and boy could he ever make some noise. By the time he was ten months old he could climb onto the kitchen counter. I ran after him for the next several years. As soon as he got up I would feed him and get him out the door so we could run. The year he was four my mom made him a Batman costume for Halloween. He was Batman for two years. When he outgrew the first outfit she made him another. At Hannah’s christening, wearing an adorable little suit for a change, when the minister mentioned Hannah’s big brother Benjamin he stood up in the pew and called out “I’m not Bendabin I am BATMAN!”
Later the school years were tough. He literally couldn’t sit still. I didn’t know what ADHD was. I was in my twenties when I had this wild child. I didn’t know anything. So I volunteered. I was in the classroom a couple of days a week. In first grade he asked me why the puddles weren’t white when the snow melted. He was brilliant. He just needed to MOVE his body.
I told one teacher in second grade that I lived with him 24 hours a day, and if I didn’t need to yell at him she certainly didn’t. She yelled because he couldn’t sit still. She yelled because his handwriting was illegible. I asked her if she would yell at a crippled child to get up and walk. It was the same thing. He was crying in his sleep. He didn’t want to go to school. So that year a trip to the school board and about 20 phone calls got us a new teacher.
That same year he got a new bike. We couldn’t really afford a new bike in the middle of the year, when it wasn’t even a birthday or anything. But Benjamin had given his away. He came home sweaty and late from the playground without his bike. I figured he’d forgotten it like so many times before. But no. He gave it away. WHAT? Well, his friend Andre, ” has never had a bike, and I’ve always had one. So I thought he should have one for a couple of years too”
Oh. Well, come on honey let’s get cleaned up for supper.
Of course there had to be a new bike. Only then it got stolen. He’d forgotten and left it in a the front yard. We really couldn’t afford another one right on the heels of the other one. We called the police. Miraculously they called an hour later. Could we come to the ice cream stand? They had a kid and a bike. It wasn’t ours. It couldn’t be. This one was missing all the parts and it was white. The fancy handlebars were gone, the brakes, the standing things on the back. Stripped. But the serial number matched. It was awful. No longer lime green with racing stripes. It had been covered over in dull white. The young mad said he’d bought it “off a kid”
Sure he did. Uh-huh. He worked at Pizza Hut. We took Benjamin in that night when he was working. We asked the manager if we could speak to him. I said, ” This is the little boy whose bike you stole. We bought it for him because he gave his old one away to a friend who didn’t have one. I won’t press those charges if there is a new bike just like the old one on our porch by Friday”. I told the police I was doing it. They were skeptical. Friday came and went. Benjamin said “Well at least Andre has a bike. Maybe I can ride that one sometimes. I can’t ask for it back mom. It’s okay”
It wasn’t okay, but no honey I wasn’t going to say you should ask for it back.
Then it happened. On Sunday morning, there it was. Lime green, and on our porch with a long note saying he was sorry. Bingo. Benjamin learned that people will often do the right thing if you give them the chance. And he said “Oh good I am so glad I gave Andre my bike. See everything works out”
In fourth grade the principal called to tell me he’d gotten in a fight. We always talked about and practiced non violence. Sure he was wild. Yes, when other kids sat in their seats he leaned way over sideways and sometimes fell out. By now I was amassing books on learning styles and ADD. I knew what I had. But this..this would make all my strides with the teachers so much harder. Always before I could get them to see how sweet he was and that the moving and impulsivity were part of his physiology. They weren’t bad teachers. They just were ill equipped. But this was sure to set us back. I was upset. I couldn’t understand it. I asked him to explain and to tell us what had happened.
“A mean kid called Stephen a nigger. I told him to shut up and he started singing it. So I hit him. He hit me back and before you knew it we were in a big fight with kids and teachers all around”
Okay honey, let’s go wash your face.
By the end of the elementary years we could afford fancy private schools. The one we picked had lofts in the classrooms with couches and bean bags. Nobody had to sit at a desk if they didn’t want to or couldn’t manage it. The teachers were highly skilled and trained. Benjamin thrived.
But then came middle school and changing classrooms was tough. We found a hip hop urban private prep school with tiny classes and he trudged through. Luckily by now at 6’3″ he was gorgeous and athletic which made things a little easier socially. He played soccer and basketball and won all city at both. He became something of a basketball star, so he had success, just not in the classroom. School still came hard. I remember when we got his ACT scores back. They were high. His headmaster kept saying, “Wow this is great. Just unbelievable”
I was on the Board by then. No, not unbelievable. He’s brilliant. He just sort of hides it really well.
And then college. The first one didn’t work out. He felt bad. When would it all get better? He took a semester off and worked with the Dean campaign. Eventually he found a hippie little environmental liberal arts college closer to home. It worked…mostly. Although the level of discourse was disappointing. But he could manage the work. It was also dis-spiriting to see so many kids with less natural ability doing better. And he still drummed and paced and it was incredibly hard being in a small room even with only 20 other students. It’s hard to know you are smart when you still struggle to get things in on time, and even to sit still at 21. There were dark days of worry and depression. His feelings of self worth plummeted. But he kept going. I wondered every day if we were doing the right thing in encouraging/pushing him. But where does a kid who is young for his age spend his late teens and early twenties if not college? Developmentally it was where he needed to be. And a college degree is so necessary in our global economy. He trusted us. He hung in. He took fewer classes and knew it would take longer. He wanted to quit at least once every week. But he was brave. He persevered. Some kids and some teachers were judgemental. I couldn’t just call the school board anymore. But he understood and mostly forgave their ignorance.
He was kind.
And yesterday….yesterday he finished…No make that FINISHED COLLEGE!
In May he will graduate in their annual commencement.
We knew you could do it Benjamin and now you have. You are smart and brave, kind and strong. You know more now than if this had been an easier journey. I am so lucky to have gotten to be your mom. You have taught me more than I could ever teach you. All those games you played with blood and guts, skill and luck brought me hundreds of hours of pleasure. I am as proud in this moment as I have ever been. It has been an honor and a privilege to share this journey with you. I love you honey….