Thursday, December 30, 2010

From Boychick to Man

"In a place where there are no menschen,
you be a mensch."

In the past several years, the boy I called Boychick here on my blog has been busy growing up.

After acquiescing to his request to go to high school, I have not featured him here very much, preferring to give him his privacy as he went about this business of learning to be a man. In the process, he went from being my Boychick--my favored (and only) boy-child, to being the Rasta Jew--who was quite enamored with Reggae music and then with trucks and the Dukes of Hazzard.

From the beginning, high school has been a challenge to my young man, who has found great difficulty with academics, and who's talent lies in hands-on subjects such as music, art and sports. And yet he has perservered, and despite finally receiving a formal educational diagnosis of Autism and Specific Learning Disability, he has also made numerous friends who accept his ways as a given. Kids these days do seem to be much more accepting of differences among themselves, even as they navigate a world that seems less and less accepting of them.

From last March until now, as the Engineering Geek and I have been putting into place our plans for Going Galt, the Rasta Jew has been considering his own future as well. It took a good deal of courage to tell me, his scholarly mother, that university studies were not part of his plans.

And it has taken some work on my part to let loose the apron strings and let him dream his dreams. And yet, at the same time, it is immensely satisfying for me to see the changes that his choices has wrought within him. On his IEP in the spring of his freshman year, he said that he wanted to be a Rock Star when he grew up. This seemed like the same kind of starry eyed ambition as the first grader who wanted to be an astronaut or a fireman. But in the past six months, the obsession with trucks has become an obessession with engines and now they work--an obsession that includes a great deal of work and study to understand them in great detail.

When we closed on the ranch in Catron County in August, we began to plan in earnest for the EG's retirement, and for the move. At that time, I gave the Rasta Jew a choice. He could either stay at East Mountain High School and we would make arrangements for him to stay with his sister or friends, or he could move down with us to the ranch. At the time this choice was presented, our young man had seen the ranch just once, and although he loved it, the whole project was not real to him and he seemed inclined to stay at East Mountain. But starting Labor Day weekend, we began spending two or three weekends a month at the ranch, and he began spending time with a genuine Cowboy, Mr. H., and learning some of the skills we all needed to know. He repaired fencing, put in line, chopped wood, built fires, and learned to rope. And his plans began to change.

At the same time, the Junior level curriculum at his college prep high school was becoming quite a challenge. A month in to school, it was recommended that he drop German Language and add a Structured Study Hall in order to focus on two academic courses, as well as his beloved music class, World Rhythm. He still struggled both with the kind of writing that was being demanded in his humanities, as well as with the pace of the work, as well as in math. He began to realize that his talents and the skills he was developing did not lie with academic work in the classroom, but with his ability to take things apart and put them back together in order to get them working--whether it was an electric guitar or a drive-shaft that fell out of his truck.
So in October, when we visited Quemado High School in Catron County, he was far less interested in the Calculus class being taught to students in classrooms in three different schools across 100 miles through the magic of technology, than he was in the fact that the school has an excellent wood shop, metal shop and welding program. Such opportunities are now almost non-existent in the urban schools as kids are pushed toward college whether they have the talent and the inclination for it or not. A discussion of the FFA program and 4-H, both of which take place during the school day, got the wheels turning in his head, and a few weeks later, with the help of his very special Special Education coordinator at East Mountain, he announced that he was going to move with us to the ranch.

Since then, we have seen remarkable peace and purpose descend upon him; he has a vision for his future, and it is very specific. He wants to learn welding and auto-mechanics, and plans to attend a trade school for those skills, and then he wants to open his own business in Catron County, and live at the ranch. A rancher needs to be a master of many of the trade skills, plus animal skills, and the Rasta Jew's ambition is to take over the ranch from us one day. He loves working the cattle, and gets up without complaint of a snowy morning to bring them feed and get wood ready for the fire.

He has begun to study the things he will be learning to fulfill his plans. He has been reading up on horses, to better care for his horse, and he spends as much time working his saddle as he does playing his guitar. He keeps Faye E. Ward's The Cowboy at Work by his bed, as well as the Horseman's Almanac. And he pores over the technical manuals for his Jeep, and has developed innovative ways to replace parts that can no longer be found. Thus has the Boychick cum Rasta Jew become the Cowboy in Training (CIT).

It has been a wonderful transformation to watch, as his purpose unfolds bringing with it a new maturity and sense of responsiblity.
No longer a Boychick, he is becoming a man, and is beginning to show the purpose and the promise that comes when a boy puts away childish things, in order to create a life that satisfies his own desires and understandings. For to be a mensch--a real man, a real human being--is to become a person who does not do what is expected, but what is right. And he chooses his own path, putting away the childish desire to do what he thinks his parents want, or to be like others. And with that choice comes a new sense of purpose and a new responsibility to make of his life something he can truly love.


HaynesBE said...

Fabulous post. Isn't it wonderful to get to that stage of parenting when you can stand back and watch with awe as your former-child creates the person-man he wants to be.
What a journey! Thanks for sharing it.

Jenn Casey said...

I absolutely LOVED this post. I'm not at this point in my parenting journey yet, and part of me dreads it a little to be honest. But this is the kind of thing I hope for all of my children, and it must be so exciting to see him discover for himself what his passions are.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thanks, Beth and Jenn:

1) There is a sense of awe about this stage. And some trepidation, particularly because my own kid is taking the road less taken, and as a parent, I have some trepidation about how I counsel him in these next steps. I have heard from many acquaintances and family members--as well as the CIT's teachers-- about what I should do: urge him to go to college, urge him to take the road more often taken. Although schools teach the Frost poem, they do not really want the kids to be independent in that way!

2)And yet it IS exciting! In a sense, I feel vindicated because my choices have helped produce a young man who is going to follow his passion not matter what others say.

penelope said...

You know, this was wonderful to read. It gives me such hope that there are still programs and schools available for kids who walk different paths ... I know so many teens and folks in their twenties who have spectrum disorders and special challenges who are just lost in the mainstream education and social teen world, and the expectations placed on young adults. I am so happy for you all that such a clear path is opening.

~ Ellie

Kelly Elmore said...

This is so inspiring to me. As a scholar with a (probably) hands-on kind of child, I really needed to hear this, to see how purposeful and happy he could end up doing hands-on work. I was worrying today because of my 7 year old's complete lack of interest in working on reading, and after reading this, I am able to take a bit of a breath and remember that she is not me. If she is moral and happy, I will have been successful. The road less taken is a good road for some people.

Anonymous said...

Only 30% of the populations completes college so it's hardly the path most taken. Just sayin'...

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...


I have no idea who you are, but "just sayin'" are weasel words. Not knowing who you are makes it difficult to know if you just want to nitpick--and since the main point is not the percentage of people who attend college it sure seems like nitpicking--or if you just need to find something to say.

In any case, although it is true that 30 % of Americans finish a four-year degree, much of the perception about the normal path has to do with the hype that all Americans should finish a four-year degree--something that the high schools push rather relentlessly these days, as do the politicians (another reason they are out of touch?).

Further, much of the perception of what is or is not the road less taken depends upon the circles one moves in. My son has been attending a college prep high school, and both parents and his step-parents have college degrees at various levels. Two of those are professional degrees. So, this is very much the road not taken in this situation. His sister, too, has a college degree.

Perhaps you'd like to comment on the point of this discussion rather than nitpick stats?

Tullia said...

Congratulations to you and your son! Colleges are full of people marking time doing what someone else has told them is necessary for happiness and success. What an outrageous imposition and waste of time!

Your son will escape that dreariness; he has goals and a plan to get the credentials he needs. I'm not against scholarly endeavors, but there are other worthwhile ways to spend one's life. I understand the college prep expectations and the pressure to follow the accepted path. Our questioning began when my son decided that community college was a better first step than a private college or "State U". Lucky Neo; he only had to take the red pill once.

Tullia said...

Congratulations to you and your son. There are too many people in colleges who are there simply because someone has convinced them that it's the only road to success. What an outrageous imposition and waste of time! Your son will escape that dreariness. I do understand the college prep expectations, though. My son disappointed some of the family by deciding that community college was the best next step for him after finishing high school. I wasn't sure it was a good idea at first, but it's been a good decision. I should not have been surprised that after doing what I could to teach my son to think for himself that he'd actually do so.

Tullia said...

Oh my, another double post. Blogger sometimes does strange things; I'm still trying to find a pattern to see if/how I'm causing multiple posts. Even with two versions, the last part disappeared. As best as I remember it had something to do with my promised but as yet undelivered rant on education--about the differences between a process of granting credentials and education. During the past several years I've met people in the different building trades who have told me about how difficult it is to find good workers who are able to think through problems. Their general impression is that people who once considered trades now go to college; they also tell me that it's all but impossible to find summer workers.

I'm thinking that my ideas will have to keep for a bit longer, though. You're going to be busy with sorting and packing. I do want to thank you for pointing me to The Fourth Turning. I expected to learn some interesting things from the book, but gaining insights on ways to help aging parents and counsel my college student was an unexpected bonus.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...


Not to worry. I have the same problems off and on! I am so happy you got something out of the Fourth Turning. I found it very helpful for thinking about events, but like you I also found that the perspective it offered gave me a basis for understanding the differences between me and my parents ( both Silent), me and my husband (I am a first cohort X-er or Generation Jones, he is definitely a Boomer), and me and my children (both Millenials).

Thanks for stopping by!