As I write this, James, our only biological son, is 3 days away from graduating from high school. I think back to almost 18 years ago when we first moved to where we live, and what has transpired in our lives since. James was not even a year old, just beginning to walk when we moved into our home. It's the only home he remembers. That is significant because when I was a child, we moved ALL the time. Between the ages of 10 and 18, we moved every single year. For a shy kid like me, that was an excuse to blend into the woodwork and just get through until the next move. Forget making friends, joining clubs, sports, etc......what was the point, I thought.
So I made the vow when I had children, once they were in school, would never move. They would have the advantage of growing up with the same kids, having "roots", a place to call home even if they were exploring the world.
To say James is happy is an understatement. Just last night, he told me this last year was his best, between basketball and going to State, and having his wonderful girlfriend of seven months. And then in August, my baby boy will go off to the Navy to begin his next great adventure. I am both thrilled and anxious for him, scared and proud, and extremely happy that he'll be engaged in such a worthy start to his amazing future. We are proud that he is going to serve his country and follow in the footsteps of his Grandpa.
Now since this blog focuses on adoption and these last three years, on teen adoption specifically, James' graduation, while closing a chapter of his life, marks the beginning of a new and more intense battle for ME. No, we aren't adopting (have learned our limits the hard way), no exchange student next year, so things should calm down, right? No.....because the real battle ahead is the one for NingNing's future and part of that battle is with NingNing himself. He is almost 17 years old and LIGHT years away from being able to live independently in our society. He is not alone; there are many, many older children like him who have come from China with no thoughts of a future or how to get there. I've tussled with our school district for three years to get services for Ning that he needs to succeed at even the most basic level. This last year was probably the best in terms of actual academic progress. Yet he is still being allowed to "fail" some classes (his online ones), but will still be passed on to 11th grade. This is most public schools' answer to the difficult-to-teach, non-traditional student. Give 'em what the law requires without spending too much time or money and get 'em out seems to be the mantra. What makes this battle even more difficult is that Ning has realized that no matter what he does, as long as he shows a little bit of effort (not a lot, mind you), he will get by, much as he did in China. He abhors school and education; sees no value in it. He attends only because he doesn't have the option of staying home. He even at one point told his ESL teacher he didn't have to take finals because "it's me!". He believes everything he is being taught or has learned is useless, so useless in fact, he commits nothing to memory. His mind is like a sieve through which all things flow away. He claims no memory of his life in China, significant events in his life here, or even his own address and phone number.
The difficulty that lays before me is not in getting him to graduation, our school will see to it that he does, no matter what. He'll have about a fifth grade reading level (maybe), but that will be of no concern to the school; their "job" will be done. Then it's up to us to figure out how to launch a functionally illiterate 19-year old as a productive member of society, but who has no desire to become something more, no desire to use the tools now before him to give himself the best chance, who deems even his past tutors' teachings as "not important". We simply continue to pray that sometime, somehow, something will click, something will take hold, and spur him to the accomplishments we know he is capable of.
My point in this post is not to point out our son's faults or be purposely negative. It's just the TRUTH, harsh and unglamorous as it may be. This is our life and our battle. No sugar-coating, no embellishments, no cutesy blog post on home redecorating, kids' awards, warm fuzzies, etc. Whether our son gained his traits biologically or environmentally, what happens now is his choice. We have tried to encourage, cajole, reward, support, and love to no avail. Love is NOT enough (I naively thought the love of a good family could overcome a lot). I'm not the only adoptive mom with this battle either. I'm writing to educate those newly home, those still waiting, and those thinking about it. If you are lucky enough to adopt a child who loves to learn, likes school, and sees value in education, your particular battle will be that much easier. Your main battle will be with your school (unless you're homeschooling) and getting your child the education they need and deserve. But alas, if your child is like ours, and whatever circumstances have led them to see school as mine does, ah, then your battle may become one of epic proportion. If you are reading this and are getting scared, GOOD for you! Be scared, BUT be prepared. Gird your loins, hoist up your suspenders, dig in, and get ready for the ride.