Life with My Teenager: TALKING TO RAY [Archives:1999/19/Last Page]

May 10 1999

The final examinations for high school graduation are less than a month away. They are taxing my relationship with my son – Ray, short for Raydan. Raydan was the man who founded the dynasty which established the Sabaean kingdom, 2000 years ago. We may have asked for too much from our son, giving him that name. However, I have a feeling that Ray will surprise us by attaining greatness.
Over the last few weeks, I have been trying hard to explain how important the coming exams are for his university education and for his future career development.
The boy has a different set of priorities.
“You know, you should trust me,” he says. I back off, only to discover that none of the things we talked about have sunk into his brain.
My message is simple. “You have to focus on your studies for this short time,” I have been repeating for the last several months. Just when I sometimes feel I have reached him, disappointment strikes.
My wife and I have raised three other kids before Ray. He is the last of the gang, and thank God for that. She thinks we are partly to blame because we both were overwhelmed by our own careers and paid less attention to Ray than we did with his elder siblings. That may be true, but we did give him the guidance he needed, and we provided him with better schooling opportunities.
The boy is hooked on cars. He thinks it is fine to spend hours reading car magazines, which he buys regularly. He has all kinds of car pictures hanging on his room walls. “Son, I know you like cars. But maybe you can, just for this short time, focus on your studies,” I often urge him. He gestures and moves as if trying to tell me to get off his case. He then calmly explains that he has enough time for his studies and for his “hobby”. He wants to pacify me by talking slowly, making it look like he is explaining nuclear physics to an oyster. I yield.
Now that he has turned 17, he recently got himself a driving license. Not that one needs to wait that long to get it in Yemen. But I insisted that he wait, for my own peace of mind and sanity.
In our multiple-car family, he often gets his hand on our small Suzuki, which the family now refers to as “Ray’s” car, since he has managed to keep other users away from it. Besides, he has redecorated it to the extent that the more mature adults in the family no longer want to be seen driving it.
In my efforts to re-focus his attention, I have taken away the car keys from him. Among his valuables that were in the car was a collection of loud music. When I brought up the subject, I was told to wake up to the times, and appreciate the head bangers. They are, I believe, skinny people with long, and often dirty hair, who stomp around the stage, shrieking angrily to impress the public. Well, no matter what, I put away all that music. Ray can retrieve the whole thing in one month.
My main problem with him, outside of his strange priorities, is time organization. He does occasionally listen. Here is a case where we have made progress. We have had this conversation so many times. I kept on adding incentives to my arguments. Now, I can say we have succeeded in this area.
“Ray,” I used to tell him, as he wakes up in slow motion with his drooping eyes asking for time-out, “I want you to go to bed earlier.” He mumbles. I can’t make out what he says. “Did you say something, son?” More mumbling. We have come a long way since we have had such talk. Now, he has made it. He goes to bed early, and is able to wake up by 6:00 in the morning.
Organizing his room is another impossible task. My wife keeps pleading with him to bring some order to the room. “You know, just remember to put the books here. The dirty clothes over there,…” No dice! She has given up. “I don’t think I will ever win this battle.”His teachers tell me something I already know. “He is a good boy.” They mean, he doesn’t break any laws. “He has never violated school regulations…” That is fine.
But, I am not interested in the negative side. I want to know how productive and useful he is.
The next few weeks and months will bring more challenges in our relations. Parent-children relations have never been easy. But it is more turbulent with our teenage children.
My wife and I have tried to read a little more on the subject, but it has not been very helpful. Apparently parents have to find out the hard way – through direct experience. No self-help books will do the trick!
I love this boy and I sincerely feel, he will have a successful life. But I can’t help but worry! It is part of parenting!
Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf,
Chief Editor, Yemen Times.