Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My conversation with Charles Darwin or I used to be a what??

As I was writing out the check for my stepson’s tuition recently, I started to think about the relationship that he and I have. I met… well let’s just call him Charles, more for your safety than for his, almost seven years ago. He was a young lad of thirteen, smart, shy and not entirely sure who he was yet, but as eager to soak up information as I was. Na├»ve to a fault, but innocently so, as are most children.

Over the years, we have talked about a great many things, including his coming out to me (this was not too much of a surprise) and asking me to tell his mom for him. I have been his friend and his confidante in important matters and ones that weren’t as serious. We have always talked and he even used to listen…a little bit. There are a few topics that I steer clear of as he is much like his mom in that his sign is Gemini and sometimes the evil twin comes out and wants to duel to a verbal death. He will harangue and cajole and whatever other means he can muster up to prove his point and change someone’s mind. He will start conversations about hot-button topics because as he puts it, people tend to say what they really mean when they are angry. I am not a fighter and I refuse to be pulled into his verbal shenanigans, but I understand his youthful exuberance and his eternal belief that he is right about everything.

I call him Charles in jest, but it is somewhat fitting. One of the conversations I refuse to have with him is religion, the other is the eternal debate between creation and evolution. He stands hard and fast on his belief in evolution and I respect that he is as sure of himself at twenty as he is. I, however, consider myself to be an enlightened adult also and feel there is a place for God and for science. I won’t try to push this on him or anyone else, but I won’t debate either just for the sake of showing my true feelings.  I prefer not to waste my time talking to a brick wall who doesn’t listen to counterpoints. There are times when I wonder if he will ever listen again.

He called the other day to tell me his latest plan of what he wants to be when he grows up and ask what I think about it. For as long as I can remember, he has talked about being a doctor and I’m proud to say, he has the mental capacity to be one. He is quickly learning that he doesn’t have the mental fortitude.

His mom works in surgery and sees everyday how miserable the doctors are that she works with, so her worry in this career choice was his unhappiness. He worked this past summer as a transcriber in an ER and got to see firsthand just how unhappy and incredibly smug most doctors are. Don’t get me wrong, there are a handful that have managed to keep the job separate from home and still manage to have a life, but the majority of them are miserable and exhausted, but can’t quit because this is all they know and they’ve grown accustomed to the lifestyle that money affords and don’t know how to give that up. As much as Charles believes that he is right, he isn’t smug or nasty about it and he realized that he didn’t want to grow up and be like that.

He then decided to change from being a doctor to being a Physician’s Assistant. Still a very good job, but without the time, debt and mental weight of being a doctor. We support him and encourage him in this endeavor. He works hard and we know that whatever he set his mind to he will accomplish. He’s also a hard worker and a bit of a perfectionist, which only fuels his goals.

Last month, he changed his mind again. He has decided he wants to be a social worker. This idea was so radically different and I couldn’t figure out how he picked social work. He isn’t a bad kid, but selfless and giving are not terms I would use to describe him. I finally realized that he is lost and not exactly sure what he wants to be anymore. He’s finally realizing that he is indeed fallible and it’s altered him in such a way that he isn’t so cocksure anymore. So he gravitates towards ideas that he hears around him, looking for direction.

He called me the other day, after his announcement that he was no longer going to go into medicine and he wanted to pursue a career as a social worker. He asked me if I thought his mom would be disappointed that he was doing that since we were paying for his school and would we think he was wasting his education. Granted, he has scholarships that cover a lot of it, but at least he is realizing that what we pay is a pretty hefty chunk and he’s at least thinking about that. I said that no matter what you choose to do as a career, as long as you work hard and do your best at it and you’re happy doing it, your mom will be fine. She just worries about you. As hard as being a doctor is, social work is no walk in the park. I asked him if he knows the types of people he would be helping. He said yes, but I don’t know that he understands how tough it will be. I don’t think he grasps the hardships that he will run across and the heartbreak that will be in every face that he looks into.

He has a big heart buried under all that bravado and he’s going to meet people that are going to break it without trying. His mom worries about that and probably worries a bit about him getting hurt. But I assure him that no matter what, we love him and it’s his decision.

He jumped right in, applying for a job as a tech at a mental facility for adults with mild disorders. He loves it! As a matter of fact, last night’s big news was that he got to drive the transport van. He still shares his stories because he’s happy, but also because he wants his mom to be proud of him. I told him I loved him before I hung up and I was proud of him too. He will probably change his mind a couple more times, but he will always look to us for guidance.

The thing that touches me most is that in a world where kids don’t worry about disappointing their parents anymore, I have been blessed with a stepson who despite his desire to argue, still calls to tell us he got an A, or makes sure that he’s making the right choice. He still worries about what we think and listens sometimes, even when I think he doesn’t. What I hope is that he will come away from it with the same values that we did. My mom always said that she just wanted to raise us so that when we ventured out in the world, we were responsible adults who made responsible choices and could support ourselves. We do our best to instill that in him, even if he does think we used to be monkeys!