I have a kid who I worry about, maybe more than the others. My middle child. My Jake.
He had such a hard time in school. I’m talking about Kindergarten right through his high school years. We did everything we could to try to help make it easier for him, but he was just one of those kids who didn’t do well in a standard classroom setting. I think back to those years and I remember “lost” or forgotten homework, battles at the kitchen table over homework, worrying … constant worrying. I think about the years of summer school and the expensive tutoring we paid for. Could’ve paid for a year of college with that tutoring money. There were compassionate teachers who loved him and encouraged him through the tough times. There were teachers who I still can’t think about without getting furious all over again. They made my son feel as if he was worth less than his peers. There were times that my child told me he “knew” he was stupid. It broke my heart to see him struggle the way he did. But he worked hard. He found the drive within himself and in the end, he put the push on and graduated from high school. On time. With very acceptable grades. I was so proud of him, especially because he had to work so hard to accomplish it.
After high school, Jake took a little break. We agreed to let him take a breather from his education. He worked and allowed himself to relax for a while. But after one semester at home, I reminded him that he had to pick some sort of direction and work towards it. He registered for classes at the local community college.
Let’s just say that didn’t work out so well. And he hasn’t been in school for the past year and a half.
Jake is a hard worker. He has a job at a bowling center. Not a bad job for a 20 year-old guy. They rely on him there. He’s one of the “go-to” guys. They know if they need someone in a pinch, Jake will drop everything and be there for them. He’s moved up a little bit and earned a little raise. He started out in the arcade and laser tag area. He’s moved up to the bowling desk. He helps manage some of the leagues. He does a little maintenance on the lanes. Sometimes it’s after 1:30 a.m. when he comes home, tired, with oil from the pin-setters staining his uniform shirt.
I still worry about him. A lot. People are always telling me, “He’ll find his way.” He’s a good kid. He’s polite. A little introverted. Charming when he wants to be. People tell me, “Not everyone figures out their direction in life right away. Give him time.”
I know. But I still worry.
Lately Jake’s been wanting to buy a car. He already has a car. He doesn’t want to get rid of his car. He just wants another one. A ’99 Mustang.
“… to work on,” he tells me.
“We already have three vehicles here,” I tell him. “We don’t have the kind of garage or enough driveway or yard to keep so many vehicles.”
The bottom line, I told him, (and I hated having to say it, but it needed saying,) is that he is twenty years old. He is living at home. People who have two cars to their name don’t live in their parents’ houses without a plan for the future.
“And besides,” I asked, “What kind of work do you plan to do? You don’t know enough about cars to do work on them.”
“Well, I might want to take some auto-mechanics courses,” he said. He has a buddy whose dad is completely into cars and he’s spent some time hanging around there, getting a feel for what it’s all about.
I wondered if he could see the hope welling up inside of me. I latched onto that sliver of possibility and went with it. He has always loved cars. When he was nearing his high school graduation, I had tried to get him to consider going into auto-mechanics. He thought he needed to pursue a college degree and shunned the idea at the time.
“Well…,” I said. “If you’re serious. Maybe this is something we could talk about.”
His face lit up, but I cautioned him that there would be some give and take in this deal if his dad and I agreed to consider it. I told him that he couldn’t just say he was going to enroll in classes, then get the car, then fail to follow through with enrolling in a program. I told him I wanted to see him make the effort. Research schools. Find out costs and when he could register.
It’s been a couple of months since the Mustang discussion first came up. Yesterday afternoon, Jake called me to say he was on his way to take a tour at a school. He had spoken with a guidance counselor about admissions requirements. He was taking charge of this. I was impressed!
When I came home from work, he wanted to talk about things. The first thing he wanted to talk about was buying the car. Red flags went up for me.
“Jake,” I said. “I don’t want to sit here and be convinced that you should buy the car. Tell me about the tour and your plans for enrollment. Tell me about school! I don’t want you thinking you can run out and buy a car just because you toured a school. And if you do get the car, you need to know that the agreement comes with stipulations. If you fail to enroll, or drop out, the car goes.”
“I know this isn’t just about a car. I work with a guy. He’s 41 years old and he works at a bowling center for nine dollars an hour. He rents a place because his parents won’t let him live in their house anymore. He can’t afford to do anything fun. Mom, I don’t want to be that guy.”
(I think I heard angels singing at this point.)
“Okay, honey,” I said. “Tell me about the car.”
I don’t know if he’ll get the car. It’s been for sale for a while and is still available. Not a great sign. I still don’t know where we’d put it. But if this car is the link to helping my son make a future for himself, we’ll figure it out.