The Adventures Of Fatherhood – January 26, 2024

There was a time when I thought something was the matter with my kids if they were quiet.

In my household it’s a bit unique with our two teenage sons. We have one son, Carson, 14, who is nonverbal with Autism. Therefore, the expectation is different as far as sharing details about his day and being talkative. It’s a unique family dynamic. We also have our neurotypical Beckett, 15, who for many years was overly talkative and uncomfortable with silence. As Beckett has gotten older, he has changed and is quieter by nature.

This week I fully realized the quiet Beckett was largely due to him being stressed over school and feeling the pressure of a week of exams. He had five mid-terms to wrap up the first semester of his sophomore year. On Tuesday, he had Biology and English. On Wednesday, he took Geometry and Spanish exams. On Thursday, he wrapped up his week with World History.

The timing of the exams also came at a time when the entire house seems to be dealing with illnesses. Over the last couple weeks, the sickness bug has worked its way through each of us to varying degrees.

Carson came down with the flu a couple weekends ago. Pam had been sick with something else the week prior. I feel like I have been dealing with something for the last week or so, too, because my energy level has been way down. It was only a matter of time before Beckett picked up something. I joked with him it’s a good thing he’s 15 years old, meaning he practices social distancing from his parents on a regular basis.

Nonetheless, I could tell each day picking Beckett up from school after his exams that he was not feeling well and exhausted. During some small talk over how the exams went, he offered up, “oh and I coughed up this huge loggie during Spanish, so I guess it was just a matter of time.” In typical dad fashion, I then asked whether he spit out and if so, what color it was. We had a candid chat over the specifics.

The good news is he now has a full week off to recover. We usually would be taking a vacation this coming week, but some work responsibilities prevented us from getting away.

As far as how he did on the exams, we will find out next month. For me, I know he put in a lot of effort studying and was prepared. It’s more about the effort than the result to me, though I do hope his hard work paid off.

When I told him a few weeks ago we would be canceling our plans for next week, Beckett took it all in stride, saying he just wanted to sleep in and chill. He never even asked why. There are daily signs of maturity with our kid, and they are super to see.

While this week’s silence seemed to be rooted in the pressure of school and not feeling well, I probably spend far too much time agonizing over my kids’ various moods.

Though Carson does not talk, his feelings and thoughts are easily deciphered by Pam and me. For instance, when we reminded him he had to study for a science test one night this week, we didn’t need to hear any words to know he was upset. Though strange to say with his special needs and Autism, life with Carson is currently simpler than with his older brother. We know Carson’s needs and they are met.

Though sad on one hand, Carson does not have a social life outside of his family and school. Carson is not interested in a lot of the things that seem to cause Beckett anxiety. Unlike his big brother, Carson does not have Snapchat and see a group of his friends somewhere together and wonder why he was not included. Social media is not something Carson understands or participates in so his life is a bit simpler.

For Beckett, social media seems to be the cause of much happiness at times and bewilderment at others. I have learned there is a fine line between showing him we care about how he is doing and prying. I have also discovered our reactions – if too judgmental or critical – can also result in less sharing of information.

One surefire way to lead a teen away from sharing details is to pepper with questions. It’s a temptation that must be resisted because firing off questions and demanding answers for a teen is exhausting. In Beckett’s case, he just can’t always verbalize what’s on his mind because he doesn’t know how to articulate the thoughts or simply doesn’t want to at the particular time. Even if he does know how to talk about what’s on his mind, the last thing he often wants to hear about is a story about my childhood and a life lesson.

I have also learned if something is bothering him about friends he will not disclose it. Parents have a way of not forgetting when their kids are perceived as being mistreated. Phrases like “don’t judge” and “you always overreact” come to mind from previous talks.

The biggest takeaway I think I have learned from my teen is to not overreact. I recall a previous mistake he made some time ago. He came to us, admitted to a bad move and Pam and I evidently took it in stride. It was a big error in judgment. He was punished but he remarked later how he appreciated us not losing our minds over it.

About a week later, he questioned the irony of how we didn’t get upset over that bad judgment, but we always lose our minds over the pile of dirty cups accumulating in his room.

It was an interesting observation.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.