Time Out

November 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

South-Africa-teen-RayBan-sunglassesI’ve taken a little break from posting here the last few weeks — haven’t had the time or the brain-space. The freelance writing world has always been a feast-or-famine dynamic… and after almost a year of scary, Sudan-like famine, I’m suddenly buried under a Bacchanalian bounty of work coming at me from everywhere. No complaints from me — the bill for Mtuseni’s last year of tuition just showed up this morning — but any break I can take from all these projects requires me to walk away from the keyboard… and the blog.

But that doesn’t mean there’s been a break in the story. The past month has been a particularly dizzying roller coaster ride of ups and downs, as is usually the case with my little buddy. The high point was an audio-file message Mtuseni sent, where he sang Happy Birthday, thanked me for being a father to him and said he loved me. It’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. I mean, what 20-year-old sings “Happy Birthday to you” without a touch of irony? And both verses! The kid is so sweet and good sometimes that I am often in awe of him.

And then, in typical fashion, the carnival ride plunged into the depths when Mtuseni sat on his laptop and broAsus-laptop-netbook-brokenke the screen — less than three months after I bought it! Our MXit chat line was full of some savory language that day, and we still haven’t come up with a solution. For now, he’s working on two-thirds of a screen — and I need to figure out if the cost of shipping and repairing it is the same as just buying a new one. (But, really, do I need to buy this kid a new laptop every three months? When he’s already lost two cell phones? The first pocket angel I sent him? And the Ray-Bans I bought him in Capetown — the same day he crushed the laptop?)

And the final straw has been our ongoing push-pull over allowance. Having never had a real job, he seems unclear on the value of money and earning it. I set him up with simple tasks — like sending me photos of his day or writing a new LinkedIn profile — to earn his $75 a month. Yet each month he resists more and more. (Passive-aggression makes me crazy!) I generally have little leverage on the issue; he needs the money to get to school and pay for lunches, so I always end up caving in. But last month, after I kept moving the deadline and simplifying the tasks and he still did nothing, he actually got zero allowance from me. Because school was off for study week and he only had to go there a few days for final exams this month, the money wasn’t so critical — though I’m sure it took a bite.

And yet this month, the same issue! He cannot, will not, or refuses to follow simple directions for his allowance. I’ve heard from his school administrator that he’s a star on the student committee, organizing major soccer tournaments. But for me, suddenly he’s incapable of a few lightweight tasks each month. Some people say he’s testing me, but I can’t figure out why. My theory, ironically, is that as our relationship has shifted from mentor-mentee to more father-son, he feels comfortable and secure enough to be resistant and disrespectful — as most kids his age are toward their parents. Do I really need that black fly in my Chardonnay?

So last week I took a rare time-out from Mtuseni. I was super-stressed trying to figure out how to work on three big projects simultaneously, and he was stressed about his final exams. Neither of us had the mental space to be battling. I told him I was logging off MXit for a while and wished him good luck on his exams. He took his last one yesterday, and his three-month school break starts today. (And he better be out looking for a Christmas/summer job as I write this!)

This is the last free stretch of time before he finishes school next year. I’ve got to get the train back on track. He needs to lose some of his immaturity (even if it is loveable). He needs to start prepping for internship and job interviews. He needs to decide on a major. And he needs to stop squandering mentoring opportunities by fighting me at every turn. So that’s my mission starting this weekend. I have a feeling it’s gonna be a long, hot summer ahead for my little buddy!

And although I dialed down the stress a bit by taking a time-out from him this past week, I miss the knucklehead. A lot. So give me another E-ticket, carny, and fire up the ride!


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