Wednesday, February 11, 2009

guest post: daffodylic the terrific

my narcissistic friend is here again. enjoy.

Sometimes we take on more than we can handle. By "we" I mean we human beings, and by "take on more" I mean adding so much to our plates that "biting off more than we can chew" becomes an understatement. Examples of this can include parenting (come on, did we ever know that it would be this challenging?!) or deciding to glue together 500 pieces of a broken figurine made of porcelain. You know, those moments when you are in the middle of a project and you think, Oh. This is harder than I thought it was going to be. I don't feel very qualified….

Several months ago, an old friend of mine (read: ex boyfriend) sent me a text message asking me if I would be available to tutor his client's son. I sent a text back indicating that he could pass on my contact information and I would scope out the opportunity. (For what it is worth, the message did not read "lol omg txt my # 2 doc" though my friend would have found that hilarious.)

I did take the gig - partially as a favor to an old friend, partially for the money and partially shits and giggles. The boy is fifteen with muddy red hair and Coke-bottle glasses. He is skinny and acne-prone. Oh yes, and he's an Aspie. The first few tutoring session with him went surprisingly well. We had one enormous success with a baking soda and vinegar science experiment that ended with a monotone declaration of his love for me. And that's the problem with successes: We get comfortable. Confident. Pretty damn sure we can waltz in and take the challenge blindfolded with both hands tied behind our backs.
Until we are blindfolded with both hands tied behind our backs.

A couple sessions ago, I hit a brick wall with my young student. Several times during the hour, he put his head down and groaned. He ended our session by saying he had to poop, and he got up from the table never to return. I chalked it up to a bad day. I left, discouraged but still overall confident from the prior successes whispering monotone affections in my memory.

My last tutoring session began with a sleeping teenager, who rapidly morphed into a groggy, grumpy teenager. I had brought color-coded word games for him (surely he would love that). He played 30 seconds with the stack of cards and then put his head on the table. I brought out my clip-art-enhanced writing prompts with graphic organizers. He looked, groaned, and laid his head down.

I leaned close to him and said very softly, "Give me a word. Any word."


Clearly he wanted me to take a hint. Instead, I pulled out my thesaurus and looked up "leave." On my tablet, I wrote down abscond, escape, exit, travel, depart. He tried not to let me see him watching me. I flipped over to the E's. Evacuation, exodus, expiration.

"What are you doing?"

I flipped the pages purposefully and answered, almost like an after-thought, "I'm looking up words."


I smiled at him, "So I can find exactly the right one...." He picked up the tablet and looked at the list of words.

"Give me another word, and I'll show you," I said encouragingly.

"Depressed." He tossed the note pad down. Then his head went down. Uncertain, I slowly flipped toward the D's. His mother chose that moment to come in.

"You are going to FAIL your writing test tomorrow if you don't GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER and let your tutor HELP you. Do you WANT to fail? GET UP NOW AND WORK."

His eyes nervously focused and unfocused. "Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," he groaned and breathed rapidly. His mother wasn't quite finished. "You know, she's being really patient with you, and you're being mean to her." She left the room and I flipped to the P's. Patience, forbearance, perseverance, long-suffering. He was watching again.

"Suffering, all right," he snarled at me angrily. I looked in his eyes. He hated me at that moment. He was terrified. He was frustrated. And nothing I was doing was reaching him at all. I touched his shoulder and he jumped back growling at me, peering down and over the tops of his glasses and baring his teeth.

I had one last project tucked in my bag. A list of 21 sentence starters. I pulled out the sheet, and read the first one off to him: This morning I got out of bed, and I.... He groaned. I read off two more. More groans. That's when the moment really hit me. I'm not qualified to do this kind of work. I have a measly little degree in Creative Writing, earned from a less-than-stellar university over eight years ago. Just because I work with college prep students and teach grammar in an unorthodox way obviously doesn't mean I can come into this home with no experience and reach this boy.

The hour was almost over. My head throbbed right in front, over the forehead. I was hungry. I was embarrassed that I had even pretended I could take on this project. Unqualified was an understatement.

Number 20: When I need a quiet place to think, I go...

"...To bed."

I looked at him. He looked at me. His eyes are a pretty shade of blue and I bet no one ever notices that about him.

"Write it," I said, shoving the tablet and a pen toward him. "Write 'when I need a quiet place to think, I go to bed.'"

He wrote it, and said, "Sometimes my brain wants to stay awake longer than my body."

"Write it. Write exactly what you say."

He wrote five sentences, saying them out loud and then copying his words onto the paper. Midway through the last sentence, he looked at me.
"You know, you're right - it is easier when I say it out loud first and then write it." He finished writing the fifth sentence. It was time for me to go.

"Tomorrow, on your test, talk to your paper, ok? Just talk to it. It's ok to do that. Then write what you say." I wrote in all capital letters on a blank sheet of paper: "TALK TO THE PAPER." He drew an outline of Yoda on his hand. His hand said, "Do or not do, there is no try." And he said back to it, "I will talk to the paper."

On my way out the door, his mother asked me if there was anything else he needed to do before I cam back the next time. I mumbled something about the sentence starters... five sentences for each one. She paid me a little extra.

Sometimes we take on more than we can handle. Sometimes we learn a little something about ourselves in the process. Our boundaries, our limitations, our fallibilities. Humility. Perseverance. Long-suffering.


  1. No one will take me seriously with that picture, you brat.

  2. Yeah, how could we take you seriously when we can still see your entire fingernail? That's not REAL nosepicking!

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