Thursday, June 12, 2014

Temper, Avoidance, Lying, and Laziness

                  A hot temper is perhaps my most visible if not greatest weakness among many that include (to varying degrees) pride, vanity, lustfulness, fretfulness, lack of faith, lack of generosity, unforgiveness, and inflexibility. (Sorry to burst anyone's bubble: I'm not perfect.) It is usually born of impatience or irritability over small preventable things that don't resolve timely. (Yes, I can be petty: tsk, tsk, tsk.)
     An example of a recent flare up follows. At the time, Braden is already in the doghouse for having gotten a fourth quarter grade of C+ in social studies, not staying on top of his grades as promised, lying about it repeatedly, dumping his social studies binder, lying about why he dumped it, and giving me loud, disrespectful b.s. to confuse and steer me away from the evidence. After ascertaining the truth through diligent (angry) questioning, I make him retrieve the binder from the nearby dumpster, ground him for three weeks, and assign him nightly dish washing duty. This background does not exonerate me from my impatient rantings described below that were far from honorable or dignified. I have since (and once again) prayed for God's help to relieve me of this habitual sin because I can't do it alone.

My Impatient Rantings
 (Setting: one recent evening)

     “I read the other night something about someone saving the Natatorium,” says Braden.
     “Where did you read this?” I ask.
     “In the Midweek.”
     “Who's saving it?”
     “The government.”
     “Which government?”
     “Congress or...?”
     “Congress?” At this point, I know he's wrong. I question in disbelieving tone to get him to correct his error, for a man's word is important and he should always speak truth to the best of his knowledge and ability and not knowingly substitute convenient erroneous misstatement.
     “Oh, I forgot... The state house.”  
     He's close, but no cigar. “The state house?” I ask incredulous.
     “The state house and state senate.”
     “What's that body called?”
     “The state...lezijlature.”
     “It's not state lezijlature,” I mock because I'm the parent and that's what impatient parents with short tempers sometimes (always) do.
     “...The state...lezijhlature.”
     “Go look it up!
     He disappears for awhile and I later see him perusing a children's dictionary. I say use the regular one. “I can't find it,” he says. Since it's dinner time I say do it later.  
     But later, as is his wont, he still hasn't done a thing, instead settling into a state of near suspended animation. So from my room I shout to him to pronounce it.  
     He shows up hours later and says, “Legislature.”
     “Which legislature?” I ask because sometimes when he adds a word or two in front he gets tongue-tied and mispronounces.  
     “The state house and state senate.” 
     “Not the state house and state senate, the state what?” Legislature, I intone to myself soundlessly and without moving my lips, my face altering hues like an octopus in heat as I increase toward maximum amplitude my mental telepathy thought wave transmissions.  
     The oscillating fan on the floor, beside my bed rubs up against the drapes causing an irritating, vibrating, flattering–lips sound that goes: “ppppppstatepppplegislatureppppp...”
     “The Hawaii state legislative branch,” Braden says with conviction.
     “That's not right! What body makes the laws?” A long pause follows. “Well?”
     “I don't know.”
     “You don't? What did the article say?” Here I regain some composure, having given up for now my extrasensory communications powers because my internal omni-directional antenna transmitter is obviously malfunctioning, causing painful reverberations within my cranial cavity. The fan now sputters: “Ststststatelegleglegislaturenahnahnahnah...”
     “I don't...remember,” he says.
     “Then read it!”
     He leaves the room and returns thirty hours later. “I couldn't find it,” he says. 
     “What do you mean you couldn't find it?” We store billions of copies of each Midweek issue on our kitchen storage cart, which means they outnumber our unit's cockroach population by three.
     “I mean I found it, but just scanned it.”
     “Then read the whole thing”—this said at peak volume. I can't believe he's wasting my time, not having read the entire article yet.  
     “No! I mean the first time I scanned it. This time I read the whole thing but it doesn't say the body.”
     “It doesn't?” Here I'm bit cooler, but skeptical. His nonsensical non sequiturs reassure me that he's the linguistically challenged one, not me (or is it I?) 
     “Are you sure?”
     “If I read it now, I won't find it?”
     “I don't think so.”
     “You don't think so?”
     “No, you won't.”
     This takes me aback. “Okay. Then would like to take a guess?”
     “Then go to bed.”
     I later call him back. “What answer did you give me the first time.”
     “The Hawaii state legislature.”
     “Well why didn't you just say it?” I shake me head to test for loose parts. Clackataclackataclackata go the Chiclets inside. This explains what happened to those Chicklets I accidentally inhaled and swallowed whole. No wonder Mom told us never to swallow gum. “Go to bed,” I say.
     Later, as I'm brushing my teeth and feeling the need to extinguish the angry burn still in my chest, I remember my friend Norm telling me that shouting at Braden over his academic struggles won't help. I ask Braden are you awake?, then call him over when he says no.
     “What's the law making body?” I ask.
     “The Hawaii state legislature.”
     “Write it down on a sheet of paper. Include the pronunciation. Is that the same as the legislative branch?”

     “Get a portfolio. Keep it in there. Whenever you have a word you need to learn, put it in there. This isn't the first time you struggled with this.”  
     “Yes, Dad.”

End of impatient rantings
(resumption of normal (abnormal) narrative)
            Later that evening, I explain to Deanne that what bothers me most is Braden's avoidance strategy—hiding his grades, throwing away his binder, avoiding the phrase “state legislature”, avoiding taking the most challenging courses, dropping out of honorary chamber orchestra in order to avoid having to practice harder to master difficult pieces (I only learn about this “honor” after his intermediate orchestra's final performance because his name is erroneously included in the program's list of honor chamber orchestra musicians), and failing to earn a single merit badge after nearly three years in scouting because avoiding difficult requirements is easier than working hard to fulfill them.
     “I have no tolerance for avoidance because something's difficult,” I say. “He has to do it over and over until he gets it right. Whether its guitar, violin, math, social studies, or whatever, if he does it enough times, he'll master it. When I know he's avoiding something, I purposely drill him on it to force him to learn it. He has to do his part, too, by thinking and trying, not avoiding.”  
     “When he's nervous, he gets flustered sometimes. Maybe we should sit down when we're all calm—.”
     “You do it. I'm doing my best. Please do it yourself sometime—whenever you want,” I suggest supportively.
     All his life we've been trying to instill in him an attitude of excellence in everything he does because taking care of small things leads to big things taking care of themselves and by doing well in school, he keeps his options open. It's his slackadaisical attitude and dishonest attempts to cover up that I find so disconcerting: grave character flaws that have and will continue to come back and bite him. I've seen it countless times in friends, acquaintances, and coworkers. Though some have managed to get by, few if any have had thriving careers or have come across as peaceful or content. 

     Yet for some reason, Braden's failings don't seem to bother him, which only disconcerts me more. “If you try your best studying five hours every night, I'll go to bat for you and talk with your teacher and figure out what's the matter,” I tell him. “But you don't. You got what you deserved. So don't tell Mom anymore it wasn't my fault. Excuses mean zero.”
     Long-shot goals that I share with him the following evening in hopes of motivating him to try harder and making him realize that what he does now is important: Air Force pilot and chef graduate (from Kapiolani Community College). Either could lead to an honorable, fulfilling career, if and when he gets his act together. “It's your choice,” I tell him. “Cruise now and work hard with tough low paying jobs the rest of your life. Or work hard now, and cruise with enjoyable, high paying jobs the rest of your life. I can't force you, it's up to you to decide.” Part of me fears he's still too immature to “get it.” Perhaps I'll force him to get a job soon. Perhaps he'll turn things around and get all A's and B's from now on. Or perhaps he'll continue as he has and end up with a thriving career far more successful than mine—stable (stuck) in a white collar below middle management supervisory accountant position.  (My middling writing "career" with hardly a reader doesn't count.) But at least I'm peaceful and content. For now.   

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