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Teen Roulette

April 4, 2013 — 2 Comments

I’m always fascinated by Mtuseni’s psychological contradictions. For example, the other day I got a very distressed email from him. We had a rough go-round last week over issues of allowance and responsibility. During our chat I mentioned that I’d spent the whole day baking cookies and putting together a package to send him. (Yes, I’m not above playing the parental guilt card.) As usual, he only reads half of what I write, so he seemed to miss that point. So on Monday I emailed him that his package had arrived in South Africa. He was “shocked,” because he didn’t know I was sending something and in the past we’d always discussed packages in detail beforehand.

The mail process has been going pretty smoothly, so there was no reason to walk him through it. Plus, I’d asked him on the phone two weeks ago if he wanted a different type of cookie. (I don’t have many options; they need to survive an 8,000-mile journey — and the kid doesn’t like chocolate. Weirdo!) And I told him I was including a dress shirt and tie to wear at his US visa interview. So he should have known a package was coming (if he paid attention — however that skill isn’t in his wheelhouse lately).

But evidently, based on our earlier argument and then not having a full-blown discussion about a package — Mtuseni felt we were becoming distant. He asked in his email what he had done to offend me and that he would do anything to not lose me in his life. He was truly distraught. I’ve received a few emails like this from him before. It pains me that he still can feel insecure about our relationship, that he still believes on some level that I will reject him. I imagine the abandonment issues come from his father leaving when he was twelve, though Mtuseni claims to have no feelings for him.

Any time Mtuseni is upset it just kills me inside, and he seemed particularly bothered, so I made it a point to call him and talk about it. I told him that no matter what happens — whether we fight or I’m angry with him or we’re both busy and out of touch — that he is always in my head and heart every minute of every day. And that I’m not going anywhere. I didn’t say that for effect; it’s the truth. He is the center of my world right now, and I love him and I love this experience with him… good, bad and everything in-between.

BMH jobSo once he was calmed down and reassured, we talked about things at school. His tenure on the student committee ended last Friday. He loved being the sports co-chair, and working with other students in a high-profile position really has helped him mature. It’s also expanded his social circle, given that he can be quite shy. And it’s a good little nugget for his resume.

So we discussed last month whether he would re-apply. I told him I was concerned because his third-year classes have a heavy workload, and last year he was crazy busy planning soccer tournaments and doing other committee stuff. He told me that, if he applied, it would be for a less intensive role. So this week they’re installing the new committee, and I asked him if he had applied.

Mtuseni said, “I’m still weighing my options.”

“Well, I thought it was a tough application process.”

“Nah, I get special consideration because of my work last year.”

“Hmmm, okay. So what role are you thinking of?”

“Vice-president.”

I laughed out loud. “You seem pretty casual about your campaign.”

He laughed. “Well, it’s not like not Obama and John McCain.”

This kid. One minute he’s wracked with insecurity that I’ll abandon him, and the next he’s brimming with the confidence that he’ll be elected VP of the Boston Media House committee by acclamation.

Last week I needed a crash helmet to blast through Mtuseni’s walls of resistance on career prep activities. This week I need a neck brace from the whiplash of his ever-changing moods. I never realized parenting was such a heavy contact sport. Maybe I should get a cup, just in case. I’m still weighing my options on that one.


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The Final College Lap

February 17, 2013 — 2 Comments

Boston+Media+House+SandtonThis week Mtuseni starts his third and final year at Boston Media House. Where has the time gone? It seems like he was just taking high school matric exams and feeling overwhelmed and lonely in his first semester. Now as a senior he’s finally set for the good stuff. All the theory and academic core classes are behind him, and he’ll spend a lot of time in the radio labs creating a portfolio of projects. This is what he’s been dreaming about since I first met him.

We’ve had a “ruff journey” these past couple years, as Mtuseni described it. Getting through college can be tough — particularly when you come from a substandard high school, your family and settlement offer no motivational support, and you’re studying with no electricity at home. There have been many moments of pride and satisfaction for me … along with a good deal of stress. But I’ve only been captaining from the bridge, guiding the college ship through calm and stormy seas; Mtuseni has been down in the engine room, sweating and grinding it out to propel himself toward the port of graduation. It’s 99 percent him and 1 percent me.

Finishing college is less common than I thought. I was surprised to read a recent Boston Globe article that noted the high college completion rates for graduates of the city’s public schools — which at 50 percent are on par with the national average. So even in the US, half of kids who start college never graduate.

MTU college 3rd year-2

The fact that Mtuseni is now two-thirds of the way through school and heading into the home stretch is cause for a little bit of celebration. Yes, we have one more year to go and I’m sure there’ll be some “ruff” patches, but he’s got the study rhythms down and is comfortable and well-established on campus. And as I recall from my own college days — that last year positively flies. We will get there!

More often than not lately, my mind focuses on the little, worrisome, frustrating things with Mtuseni — the allowance tasks half done, the South African slow-motion halfway culture, and the many hurdles still to climb so he is prepared to enter the working world. I feel like Dorothy in the Wicked Witch’s castle, nervously watching the sand pour through that hourglass. There is so much to do with Mtuseni, and the days keep slipping past. So every now and then, it’s good for me to step back and look at how far we’ve come.

My shy, naive, wide-eyed little polo shirt boy is starting his last year of college. Thank god, indeed!


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