A fucking “F.” Can you believe that shit? An F! Remain calm Marla. You must remain calm. You must quietly walk toward the living room. Step away from the backpack. Step away from the backpack. Take a deep breath. Go to the balcony. I’m going to go to the balcony. In my head. Find my zen place and be the man. The saint. The change. I’m going to be the change. This too shall pass.
I watched him from across the living room, trying to become one with my inner child. He was suppose to be typing a paper, on my laptop, a memoir project. He wasn’t.
“Maximilian.” I said.
He didn’t look up. He was watching Watch Dogs videos. Xbox nightmare. Headphones in, pretending to type. Be the change. Be the change. I crossed the room and closed my laptop. I set the progress report on top of my computer, underneath his eyes. He took a moment. His eyes scanned. Neurons scrambling in his head. Worried. Not knowing if I would start yelling. My baby, I thought. What would we do now?
“I have this one in my backpack.” He said, talking quickly. “This one too.”
His finger moving down the list of missing assignments, too many to count. He started to get up. It didn’t matter. It was too late. He’d hidden the Progress Report for a week. The grades were in. It was too late.
“Sit down.” I said.
I wanted to tell him it would all be okay. I wanted to tell him it didn’t matter. I wanted to tell him I could fix it, but I was done fixing. I was done making it better. I was done. He’s 12, and I’m done.
“Max. Stop. It doesn’t matter what’s in your backpack. It doesn’t matter. Stop.”
His apprehension was palpable, like a mouse frozen in the middle of a large room waiting for the cat to pounce. Hoping it wouldn’t. Knowing it would. Normally, I would be angry. I would yell. I would send him to bed. Not now. Not today. Not anymore.
“I want to know what you think?” I said.
He stared at me, lost in the words of my question, wondering if it was a trick. He looked back at the paper. His eyes moving down the page, assignment after assignment. Classwork F. Homework F. Project/Tests F.
“It’s getting harder,” he said.
I wanted to cry.
“Do you think it will just go away?” I asked. “Do you understand what happens if you fail 7th grade?”
He didn’t understand. He didn’t care. He didn’t make the connection. It wasn’t part of his world. I knew he was different. Everyone else saw defiance, laziness, daydreamer, artist.
I hated when mom’s said
“It’s just boys. My boy is like that too.”
No, he’s not. I wanted to say. No, he’s not. Because he wasn’t like their boy. He wasn’t. He didn’t bully. He didn’t judge. He didn’t care about being popular. He didn’t care.
I was mad at myself for not seeing it sooner. I failed him. He was Peter Pan. An innocent boy lost in Neverland, floating through ethereal time and illogical space. Laughing, playing, experiencing his magical world of wonder, simplicity and joy. Younger than kids his age. Happier than kids his age.
I am his first Wendy. His anchor. His port. His safety net. I protect him. I ground him. Scold him and then remind him of the cruel world we live in where hopes and dreams are painfully intertwined with hard work, disappointment and loss. I wonder, does he need a Wendy? As I sat there watching his eyes dart back and forth across the paper, I tried to imagine what it must be like to live in his brain. A world where 13 year old boys discuss things he doesn’t give a shit about. Was his brain on fire? Was he exploring new worlds beyond our realm? I understood why Minecraft was easier. It was a world he understood. A world he could live in. A world he could thrive in.
“Maximilian.” I waited for him to look up. “The video games are gone. Your phone is gone. TV is gone.”
I hated punishing him. It didn’t work. It never worked. It sucked.
“Okay.” he said. His head down.
Fuck me if I didn’t want to rip up the progress report. Tear it to fucking shreds and yell “FUCK THEM!” They don’t know how smart you are. They don’t know how you think. They don’t know anything. But I held my tongue. I knew that day was coming, but not yet. I had to be patient. I had to be smart this time. I had to bide my time. I always leapt first, but not this time. They were going to help. They were going to give my child the education he needed. They were. Come hell or high water.
“I love you. You know that right? No matter what. You are smart. You think different than them, but, it’s a good thing.”
He looked at me confused, pausing for a moment before responding.
“It is?” He asked. Intrigued. “Why?”
“It just is.” I said. “You’ll see.”
His lips formed a small smile but his eyes spoke the truth of his soul. He didn’t think it was good. He didn’t understand. He didn’t believe me. Minecraft was a world he understood, but I couldn’t let him play. Or could I? What lesson would I teach him if I let him play? I was tired of lessons.
“I love you Maximilian.”
I smiled, trying to convince myself and him that it will be okay. He will be okay. He has to be.
“I love you too, mom.”