Wednesday, October 25, 2006


It's been a bad few weeks, aside from the lift I got from hearing from my son. I just haven't been able to sleep. I'd sleep for an hour, then pop awake and be up until I got a final few fitful hours. Well, that's been going on for months. Dawg, that's wack. Didn't help that I've had chronic back pain -- just a tweaked muscle between my shoulder blades, but it will not go away.

Well, more pain than just that. Let's see, I'll make a list. Both my big toes, one jammed a year ago and still iffy, the other swollen from a month ago. My left heel -- I went running last week for the first time in a month (and me a runner) -- just an easy couple of miles, and woke up with a nasty pain that's still giving me a limp sometimes. Both my ankles -- three separate new clicks and a pain, compliments of an overly enthusiastic purple belt, taking advantage of a poor innocent little white belt like me. Both my knees, one from when I was 17 -- every morning I pull it in and there's a huge pop -- the other getting better, from a loud bone grind (like a gunshot) and a long limp from March. Some sort of tweaked tailbone, right side -- 'nough said. Both wrists, left, from a few months ago -- a little nerve compression... nothing permanent; right, from a couple days ago -- it'll be better in a week. Stiff fingers -- almost like I suppose arthritis is, but it's just from holding on too tight for too long (I have calluses on the backs of my knuckles -- what's up with that?). A bit of tendonitis inside my right elbow -- from the one-armed chinups -- effectively gone, but I'm mindful. A weird pain on the outside of that same elbow -- back after ten years -- the doctor said then it was arthritis ... after all, I was in my mid 30s -- ha! it went away ... but now it's back. And it's not arthritis. My left collar bone, and my right shoulder. A perpetually stiff neck, just from muscular exertion. Achy back, for the same reason -- sometimes it takes me a while to stand up straight. And a constant systemic achyness, from being 47 and exerting myself vigorously for 15 or 20 hours each week in a sport that's meant for young guys to learn.

That's what's going on now. No complaints. None at all. Just a little discomfort. If it gets to be too much, I'll take some time off to heal. Really, I will. Of course I'll do strength training, but that's different. And I'll run, great distances. But that's different too.

Why do I drive myself so? It's almost as if I'm compelled, operating under some grim and desperate directive. Too bad I'm not more introspective, so I could figure it out.

None of these petty pains and minor discomforts is what keeps me awake. Just that back thing. But I realized a couple of days ago what it was. I had a similar insight in March -- these moments of self-revelation are important to us. We're all anthropologists of ourselves. So. Something horrible happened in March. And something horrible happened in the middle weeks of October, some few odd years ago.

Just about ruined me.

I had a boy once, a foster son. I moved to adopt him. But that's another story. He came to me when he was nine. He'd been in a gigantic foster home -- read "orphanage" -- since he was four. He could not read at all. He knew three "sight words": the, little, and children. Hm. I guess that's a sort of reading. He couldn't tell me what two plus three was, without using his fingers. Really. He tantrummed every day, so violently that he had to be restrained. Literally. Headbanging. The tears would shoot from his eyes -- actually leapt from his face. Projectile crying. Truly. I'd never seen such a thing. Or heard of it. Or dreamed it was possible. He had an alphabet of labels attached to his file -- ADHD, ODD, SED, EH.... Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Severely Emotionally Disturbed. Educationally Handicapped -- whatever the hell that is.

So. The lad was a mess. But I'm the guy who takes in strays (here for the end of that story, and here for the beginning). So after the two weeks of "honeymoon" -- supposed to be six weeks, but reality trumps theory -- he showed me a bit of his soul. It was beautiful and joyful and bright, and full of pain. This is kind of hard to write.

He sobs into his hands, sounding like a man learning how to speak. What great distance has he run, to breathe so hard.

It took me a couple of months to figure out what to do. Despair? Never. Never never never. Never. No. Patience, and love, and more patience and more love. Then more love. And patience, and love.

But that's not enough.

The key was math. Give this boy a skill. Math is a "concrete," a measurable and highly incremental skill. Smart kids are good at math. Self-esteem is founded on accomplishment. I'm smart because of what I can do. So if you ever have to tutor someone in math, do yourself a huge favor and use the Saxon series. Anyone who doesn't should be poked in the eyeball. In four months, over the summer, he moved from testing at kindergarten to fifth grade level -- 5.1, actually. Above grade level.

When we started the lessons, it would take him hours. We'd sit at the kitchen table and he'd rummage through his big bag of dysfunctional behaviours, and I'd wait him out and he'd get the lesson done. Hours and hours, sometimes. Later, he'd get done in twenty minutes, on his own. I remember I had the nickel jar. Nickels are big. Big silver nickels in a tall skinny jar. Get it? Every minute or so (variable schedule) that he was on-task, he'd hear a nickel dropped into his jar -- bonus money, don't you know. A bribe. I paid him to be good. Positive reinforcement. The American way. Don't leave home without it. He'd trade them in every week for bills, and squander it all on Pokémon cards. Well, it was his money. He earned it.

He learned his times tables in about a month. I invented a way of teaching cursive -- skipped right over manuscript writing ... it's a baby skill, and why waste time with letter-reversals? He learned it in about six weeks or so, as I recall. Bright boy. Not Educationally Handicapped at all. Why would they say such a thing? Stupid Incompetent Fucks. Oh, was that me? How uncharacteristic. There must be some emotion involved on my part. I'm usually so staid. The adults involved in his previous educational career and general maturation process could not possibly be faulted in any of this.

And I had him in Scouts -- Arrow of Light. And I had him in Hapkido -- four or five belts up -- there are so many I don't remember the color ... white, yellow, orange, green ... I think green ... maybe blue. And so on. It was about symbolic and real accomplishments. Look at what I can do.

After about nine months the tantrumming behaviour became utterly extinct. He'd learned to recognize it, and he learned some coping skills. Humor helps. He was partially mainstreamed from the non-public school into the public school after one semester. He was totally mainstreamed the next semester. He was ready for algebra in seventh grade.

And so on.

That's the end of the story.

And here it is, another October already. How time flies. Such a bracing time of year. I love this weather. You know Jewish tradition has it that the world was created in October? I can believe it. For these few weeks, the sky scintillates. Like looking into a baby's eyes. You could fall in love.

What? Oh, you think I can't sleep because of something about Joe? No, not at all. Nothing horrific happened regarding Jojo in October.

But you know, now that I think of it, Joe did have a brother. But that's another story.


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