Monday, November 1, 2010

Punishments (or What to Do?)

Michael has been a handful lately. Now, this is of course a Michael handful, which is not that bad at all. However, he's been a pain in my rear for the past few weeks, hence the lack of updates.

Michael's environment has changed to the extreme since he moved in with me. One of the biggest changes is that he has free time in which he can CHOOSE what he wants to do! This is a new concept to Michael that he has a difficult time grasping. There is no longer a father yelling at him to do something every second. There is no one riding him to do this, to do that. Instead, he now has choices, which he has never had before.

Therefore, his new found freedom has been thoroughly enjoyable for Michael. He has been having a lot of fun and his grades have suffered because of his poor choices. Michael has not been calling when he is supposed to. After my last post, Michael was, for the most part, put on lock down. I allowed him to participate in future volleyball activities because I refuse to take away something that he has worked so hard for. However, I have stuck with the no football games, which has been hard for him.

More than anything, Michael has had a very difficult time understanding non-physical punishment. This is a child who cowers when you put your hand too close to his head. I thought that not getting beat up would be lovely. I just cannot get through his thick skull that he is in trouble for his actions. The day after volleyball season ended, he asked if he could join a rugby team! I reminded him that he was not allowed to go out and do stuff that was "fun" as his punishment for never calling, ever. A few days later, he asked again. And again. And again. Then, after I sternly told him that I didn't care how much he asked to join, that I would not let him, he went to sulk in his room and fell asleep. I went to Trevor's house to pick him up to get ice cream and then oka (raw fish with coconut cream). As I'm sitting in the KS parking lot, waiting for Trevor to come out, a familiar black truck pulls in next to me.

I think I'm about to have a heart attack.

I have never felt so much like beating someone to a complete and utter pulp.

Michael hopped out of the black truck and stands next to my window.

I am at a loss for words and feel like I would shoot him if I had a gun. In my head, there were gruesome pictures of me beating Michael to a blood stain on the ground. I never understood how a person could just lose it and hurt someone like that until that moment. It took every bit of self control that I had to not get out of the car and beat the everliving shit out of him.

"What the fuck, Michael?" was all I could think of saying that could express my anger without me killing him. He was as disrespectful as Michael could be; that is, he wouldn't look at me, and he made loud sighs and rolled his eyes when I spoke.

When Trevor and I got back to my house, he held me and told me it would be ok, which was exactly what I needed. I asked for him to speak to Michael when he got home, because if I spoke to Michael that evening, I knew that I would say things I would regret. When Michael came home, I immediately got up to take a shower. After my shower, I went to bed.

Trevor woke me up the next morning and had me take him home. I came back with a bottle of orange Fanta, a peace offering of sorts for Michael. He apologized for his behavior the night before and then mentioned his talk with Trevor.

"He's really nice and honest, Rachel. I'm glad you're dating him."

Michael has still not fully grasped the idea of a non-physical punishment. I will not hit him. What can I do to have him understand the consequences of his actions?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Teach Your Children Well (or Learning a Lesson)

Michael is a wonderful kid. Really and truly, he is. I trust him. Therefore, my slight rant seems fairly insignificant when you think about it. I could have a kid who is drinking, drugging, and doing poorly in school.

However, Michael has a problem. It has to do with communication. It is using a phone.

Michael had a cell phone. I bought him one to keep in touch with him, so I could call and see where he was and what he was doing and he could call me easily. The phone is kaput now since he got it wet while walking in the rain. Phones here are not like ones in the States. There are no contracts, so they are pay as you go phones. They cheapest is around $60. I don't want to have to shell out another $60. It makes me mad. I digress.

Most parents in American Samoa are members of the "ignorance is bliss" club. If they didn't see it, it didn't happen. Therefore, when Michael lived with his parents, when he wanted to do stuff and was already out, he would continue doing whatever and return home, his parents none the wiser since they did not really care about what he was actually doing. This presents a problem.

I care about what he is doing.

I let Michael do things that I don't plan on doing with my own children, simply because I have not raised him for 17 years. I indulge him in many ways because I want him to experience some sort of childhood. However, one thing I'm a big believer in is calling. I blame it on my Mom. When I went to hang out with friends in high school (which didn't happen often at all), I was under strict instructions to call my Mom at the beginning of each destination. "Hey Mom, just got to the movies. We're watching blahblahblah." Movie ends. "Hey Mom, the movie just ended and we're going to Waffle House. Is that ok?" Get to Waffle House and sit for a long long time. "Hi Mom, we're still at Waffle House. Can I hang out longer? Ok then, I'm on my way home." This was how I had to be in high school.

Michael nearly always forgets to call me to ask permission to do things. I will almost always say, "Yes, Michael, you can do that." Unfortunately, he still has the thoughts of being with his parents, knowing they would never let him do things. Therefore, Michael has a terrible habit of not calling for permission to do something, but calling when it's done to get a ride home!

I've had enough.

At this exact moment, I am still waiting for Michael to get home. I know that he went to his school's football game after his volleyball practice. He called a few times when the game finished, presumably to ask for a ride home. That was 2 hours ago. I have spoken with his girlfriend, Grace, so I know that he is with his volleyball coach dropping kids off, so I at least know he's safe.

I've parked my car in the back. I've turned off all the lights. I am sitting in my room in the dark. I'm hoping that he will get nervous about where I am and maybe get to experience the reason why I want him to call me so damn bad. Whoever said it is easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission may have been true, but not when it comes to me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Talk

I now understand why parents have years and years to prepare for THE TALK.

I have not been a parent for long; less than 2 months to be exact. However, as the mother of a handsome teenage son with a pretty girlfriend he's been with longer than I've been with my current boyfriend, I knew that this all important discussion would occur at some point.

Michael's girlfriend came over to the house and I allowed the two of them to go to Michael's room under the condition that the door be wide open. I occasionally peeked in, to see them laying on the bed, on their backs, side by side, simply talking. As I walked away, I could no longer hear them talking. Wanting to slightly embarrass them, I yelled out, "If the two of y'all are making out in there, Grace is never allowed back in this house again!"

A few minutes later, Grace went home. Michael came and sat next to me on our living room bed that functions as a couch. As a child who experienced little affection growing up, Michael craves physical touch. When we watch tv at night on our bed/couch, I usually sit with my back on the wall while Michael lays down, using my lower thigh (knee area) as a pillow. I usually lay my arm on his arm or run my fingers through his hair. To some it may seem inappropriate considering his age. When you grow up with your main source of physical touch being physical abuse, you seem to crave it as you age. Michael never experienced the typical signs of affection from parents growing up, so he is getting it now. Please excuse the tangent; back to the regularly scheduled blog.

We resumed our usual spots on the bed/couch. Michael turned on the tv with the volume on low. "Why'd you say that, Rachel? It was really embarrassing." Little did I know that these words would lead to THE TALK.

Before I became a mom, I always told myself that when I did become a parent, I would tell my child the truth about my past as well as the truth about sex in general. I told Michael that I worried about him because I knew what I was doing in high school and it certainly isn't what I want him to do. I told him the complete and total truth, including all of the things that I wish I hadn't done.

I then told Michael that I wanted him to know the truth about sex and began to tell him about rumors and old wives tales that are spread about sex.

1. A girl cannot get pregnant the first time she has sex. A guy cannot get a girl pregnant the first time he has sex. DEBUNKED.
2. A girl can get pregnant from swallowing during oral sex. DEBUNKED.
3. A girl cannot get pregnant when she is on her period. DEBUNKED.

Myth #3 then led to a discussion that I didn't think I would need to have with Michael. I told him this myth and he looked at me and asked, "What's that?"

"What's what," I asked.

"A period. What's that?"

Deep breaths, Rachel, deep breaths.

Thus began the scientific explanation of menstruation.

Michael's response was classic. He was shocked beyond words. After I explained everything, he looked at me and said, "So you're telling me that you bleed every month? From down there?"

"Yes, Michael."

"And Grace, too?"

"Yes, Michael. Grace bleeds every month, too. Pretty much every girl does until they are in their 40s or 50s."

"Wow. I cannot believe this!"

Holy sweet goodness! Here I am giving The Talk way before I thought I ever would. But it wasn't over.

Michael looked up at me and said, "Can I tell you something?"

My heart stopped. I expected the worst.

"Yes, Michael, you can tell me."

"I really really really really really really really wanna have sex with Grace, but I'm really really really really really really really scared."

Thank you dear sweet baby Jesus. I was worried about becoming a grandmother at age 26.

I explained to Michael that what he was feeling was totally normal. I explained how teens have hormones that are making them sex crazy. I told him that it wasn't just boys that felt this way, but girls, too. I mentioned how humans are, technically, animals, and that, like most male animals, men want to spread their seed as much as possible, and that's why his hormones were running wild.

What I really wanted to tell him was that as long as you are in a loving, caring, committed relationship, that sex is a perfectly normal thing. However, considering that he and Grace have been dating for 2 years, I did not want to give him permission to have sex.

I told him how sex is a natural way of showing love and affection, but that it can also be used in a purely physical way, that many people have sex simply because it feels good. I explained that sex was a million times better if you did it with someone that you love and care about than someone you just kinda like.

I also tried to tell Michael that sex completely changes a relationship. I mentioned that sex was like pringles, because once you pop, you can't stop. Once you've started having sex, you'll never want to stop. I explained that sex changes the dynamic of a relationship as well. I told him that I hoped he would wait at least until he graduated from high school. I also told him that no matter what I told him, I could not stop him from having sex. All I could do is hope that he would take my advice and wait. At the same time, I also said that if he did decide to start having sex, that I hoped he would tell me so he could learn to be a responsible sexual partner.

I really hope that I didn't screw him up with my version of The Talk.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lou Tina (or the Best Feeling Ever)

Yesterday, Michael, his girlfriend Grace, and their friend Phoenix (who is also on Michael's volleyball team) got together to work on a group project for one of their classes. They went to Moana o Sina nearby to record stuff. They went swimming in our apartment's pool when they finished. Grace had to rush home and I went with Michael to drop Phoenix at home.

On the way back from Phoenix's house, my phone rang for Michael (he doesn't have his own phone anymore because of rain & forgetfulness). Now, my Samoan is by no means excellent, but I can typically piece together the gist of conversations as long as I hear both sides of the conversation. When I only hear one side, I pick up bits and pieces.

Michael was talking and I hear him tell his friend that he just dropped off Phoenix and that he was on the way home. His friend must have asked who he was with and who answered the phone, because Michael said, "blah blah blah i le ta'avale blah lou tina blah blah."

Translation: "blah blah blah in the car blah my mom blah blah."

I thought I misheard him. He got off the phone and I asked, "Michael, did you just say you were with your mom in the car?"


"You just called me your mom?"

"Well, you take care of me, you pay for the stuff I need, you do all the things that a mom does, so you deserve to be called my mom."

It took everything I had to not stop the car and start crying.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Volleyball (or the Most Annoying Thing in My Life)

When Michael lived at home, his father would not allow him to participate in any extracurricular activities. So, when Michael asked if he could play on the school volleyball team, I immediately told him to go for it.

How stupid I was.

Now, don't get me wrong; I think it's great that Michael is finally getting to represent his school for something. He starts on the team and is the captain! However, his volleyball coach is, in one word, ridiculous.

Michael came home shortly after joining the team, and informed me that he and his teammates were fundraising for new uniforms. New uniforms became new uniforms and new shoes. New uniform and new shoes became new uniforms, new shoes, and a matching bag. The total? $160. "Don't worry, Rachel. That's why we're fundraising."

A pickathon and a car wash later, Michael tells me that he is $60 short. I thought, "Wow, he raised 100 bucks; not bad," and gave him the cash.

Not too long after, he came home with his new uniform. It was not was I was expecting. It was not worth the amount we paid for it. It didn't even have his name on the back and the coach changed his number. I asked where his shoes were and he informed me that the coach won't let them take their shoes home because "they might lose them." Ummmm, those kids fundraised/paid for their shoes, so they should be able to take their shoes home. Not cool.

His coach also likes to have practice at his house instead of at school. They have practices at 6am on Saturday mornings. Their practices on weeknights ends at dark. At least he provides transportation home. Thank goodness Michael does most of his homework at school, because as soon as he is home, he is exhausted. He does his chores, eats dinner, and falls asleep at around 9pm.

The things that have killed me the most about his coach:

1. One time, his coach got mad that the kids were late to practice at his house on a Saturday. So, he called another practice that afternoon. The kids got there on time. The coach did not. One and a half hours later, the coach showed up, drunk, and told the kids to go home.
2. When I drop Michael off for Saturday morning practices, the kids are cleaning the coach's yard! I asked why, and it's supposedly because it's "payment" for the coach providing drinks during practice.

I would complain to the school, but I am afraid that something will be brought up about me not legally being Michael's guardian.

I cannot wait until volleyball season is over.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Registering for School (or Only in Samoa...)

In the United States, registering a child for school requires a plethora of papers of both the parent and child. Here in American Samoa, this is also true.


The biggest fear I had when Michael came to me was registering him for school. His father is a high ranking chief with many connections. I may not be any kind of chief, but, as a teacher on an island with a population of approximately 65,000, I have many connections in the educational community. This includes the principal, a counselor, and many teachers at Michael's high school.

I went to Michael's principal, Lentoy, to explain the situation. I explained the situation, including the fact that both Michael and I were scared of his father. Lentoy expressed concerns over legalities, which I completely understood. It was at this moment that Seira, a former English teacher turned counselor, overheard the conversation. She said, "Michael L? Junior's brother?" I nodded.

"What did his father do? That man is not a father, he is a dictator." (<3 Seira!)

Lentoy asked Seira if the situation was bad. Seira confirmed this. Lentoy then asked for me to write her a letter stating everything I told her in regards to Michael so it could be placed in his file.

Michael was successfully registered without a single paper.

There is now a note in his file stating to not contact his father in regards to any school matter, but to contact me, his guardian, instead.

Only in Samoa.

Back to School

Michael moved in with me 2 weeks before school was to start. His father had burned nearly all of Michael's possessions. The WorldTeach paycheck I receive for doing orientation, which I was originally going to use to buy an ipod and external hard drive as well as start a savings account, became the Michael fund.

Since the only clothes Michael came with fit in 2 plastic grocery bags, I needed to purchase clothes immediately. His traditional school uniform and his National Honor Society uniform needed to be sewed. Sheets for his twin bed, toiletries, and school supplies all needed to be bought. Michael did not even have underwear when he came to his new home. As I began to freak out about buying a complete wardrobe for Michael, a prayer was answered.

The week Michael moved in, I was in training to learn how to teach an SAT prep class. I came to class on my birthday and mentioned that I was now a mother and began asking other teachers where they found cheap, but quality clothes. Donna, whom I have known since I was in utero, is the assistant director of OCIA, the office hosting the training, asked for Michael's clothes sizes.

The next day, I received a call from Donna, asking me to stop by her office. Donna greeted me at her office with a giant black trash bag. I was confused. Why was she handing me a bag of trash? Then, I looked inside.

Clothes. The bag was filled to the brim with name brand clothes, all in Michael's size. Other than, "thank you," I didn't know what to say.

It turns out that every year, Donna has her children clean out their closets and gives their clothes to Goodwill. When she heard me talking about Michael, she thought of her 3 different sized sons, and realized that her youngest son's clothes would fit Michael perfectly. Donna's family does not lack for money, so most of her son's clothes were name brand clothes that most families here only dream about owning.

That night, Michael looked at his new clothes with such excitement, it felt like Christmas morning.

That night, Michael slept on top of his new clothes, clutching some in his hands.