My oldest just started fourth grade. He’s always been such a good student and seemed to enjoy learning, but something has gone terribly wrong. All of a sudden, he’s always talking about how bored he is and how much everything sucks. He plays, he has fun with his friends, but if you ask him what he did today, he snarls “Nothing!” and stalks away.
He used to be proud of his good grades. His grades so far have been mediocre at best. When I ask him what’s wrong, he says he doesn’t know what’s the point of taking all these tests, they’re stupid, and he doesn’t care if he fails. He wants to know why I make him go to school at all. He wants me to homeschool him, but I can’t.
I’ve talked to his teacher and she says she’s not seeing anything out of the ordinary. But I’m his mother and I know something’s wrong.
Worried Sick Mom
Fourth grade was the worst. We started out with a great teacher, but she was very pregnant and left in the first month. The nun who replaced her walked in the door with her hair pulled back in a celise, an crucifix made of staples and nails clutched in her claw. She wore a metal ruler in a scabbard on her right hip, which she drew like a Roman centurion. Sister Anne pretty much ruined me as a student. I still made decent grades in order to avoid the weekly edification, but I definitely flew on autopilot until the day I climbed the razor wire and fled that coop.
Anything could be going on here. He could the victim of bullying. His tough-guy shtick might be a cover for his fear. Question him about it. Let him know it’s okay, it’s not his fault. If he won’t talk to you, get him to talk to someone. Ask his teacher. If you suspect it’s happening, tell him you want to help make it stop in a way that won’t look like his mom is protecting him. To a fourth-grade boy, running to Mommy is almost worse than the bullying.
He might have fallen in with a bunch of fourth-grade hipsters. Let him invite his friends over, so you can see who he’s hanging out with. If they are too cool for school, point out how negative they are, and how their negativity is only going to make his life more miserable than it already is. Watch out for gangs. Yeah, even in fourth grade.
He might honestly be bored stiff. Every parent thinks their kid is brilliant, but let’s be honest, being bored in school is not necessarily a symptom of hidden genius. Either way, you need to find ways to fill up his day. Get him involved in things – sports, arts, music, dance, or my personal favorite, the martial arts.
Getting him involved will help with the other possible issues, as well. Activities create well-rounded, confident and assured children who are less likely to be bullied. Activities surround kids without other positive, goal-oriented kids, among whom he will hopefully make friends. Sure, filling up his day with soccer, taekwondo, and filmmaking classes also fills up your day, but that’s too bad. You only get one shot at this, because he won’t be nine forever.
However, I suspect is your issue here is that he’s a typical fourth-grader. When you’re in fourth grade, everything does suck. You’re nine years old, going on 14, you already know everything you’re ever going to need to know, and you’re smarter than just about everybody you meet. Patience and understanding are in order, but no coddling. Precocious fourth graders turn into unmanageable teenagers faster than you can say eyebrow piercing. Again, the best solution is getting him involved in something.
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My wife and I married when we were right out of high school, but not because we had to. Her family was not exactly happy about it, but we were old enough to make our own decisions. Her family is pretty wealthy; my dad never had any money.
We made it on our own for about a year but it was tough. My wife decided she needed to go to college. She couldn’t qualify for any scholarships, and we made barely above poverty line, so we couldn’t qualify for a Pell grant. The advisor told her that to qualify, she’d either need to have children or get a divorce. We started looking into a student loan, when her dad said he’d loan her all the money she would need to go to school, wherever she wanted to go.
It sounded like the perfect deal, so she picked her school, applied and was accepted. Every semester, her dad would deposit money into an account that she used to pay her tuition and books. She got her degree and a job.
When her dad gave her the loan, he made her sign a loan agreement. She thought it was just another one of his stupid gimmicks to make her be responsible, like when he made her sign a contract when she was 10, detailing her chores and what she had to do to get her weekly allowance. To make a long story short, her dad’s charging us interest on the loan. It’s been 10 years now and we still haven’t paid half of it off. It’s killing us. We’re stuck in a financial hole and can’t save any money. We’ve both spent months at a time out of work. Sometimes we’ve had to go to him for money just to pay our regular bills. We would like to buy a house and start a family, but not with the way things are now.
If we had got a regular student loan, it would have already been paid off. It’s not like he needs the money, but my wife won’t confront him. She’s afraid he’ll disown her. As nice as it would be to inherit that money someday, sometimes I think it’s not worth it. Do you think I should step in and tell him what he’s doing to us?
Deep in Debt
Dad already knows exactly what he’s done. That’s why he gave her the loan in the first place. It’s called control. He couldn’t stop her from running off and getting married, so he found another way to control his daughter. He couldn’t care less about the money. All he cares about is knowing that she dare not piss him off. You could refuse to pay him back and let him try to sue you, but I doubt your wife would ever agree to that.
So he’s a bastard. But he couldn’t control her (and you) if you didn’t let him. You say that if you had had a regular student loan, it would have already been paid off. So why haven’t you paid off this loan? Is the interest rate that high? Or have you only been paying what you could comfortably afford, when you paid at all?
I bet dear old Dad never complains, he just sends you an occasional reminder of how much you owe, and that number never seems to get any smaller, does it? The longer he can drag out this loan, the longer he gets to control his daughter. He’s just like a credit card company. Easy money whenever you need it, and a lifetime paying it back. The more in debt you are, the more you need that card, and him.
If you want out from under his thumb, confronting him isn’t going to help. You have to stop taking his money. You have to pay the maximum, every month, until it’s paid off. That means you have to get rid of whatever other credit cards you have, too. No more credit, anywhere, from anyone, until your debts are repaid. It’s scary as hell, I know. I’ve been bankrupt half a dozen times, thanks to my wives and their lawyers. It means years of ramen noodles for dinner and broadcast television for entertainment. But when you’re free of his debt, then you’ll be free to decide whether or not you still want the bastard in your life.
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I recently celebrated my 40th birthday with a large group of friends. It was a surprise party. We had a really good time, but at the end of the evening I went home alone, as I usually do. Most of my friends are in relationships. Many are married or have been married, some have kids. A lot of these people I’ve known since high school. It’s been a long time since they stopped trying to set me up with dates.
That’s not to say I’m always alone. I’ve had a few relationships, though I have friends who have had more spouses than I’ve had girlfriends. The longest lasted three years before we broke up. We met on the internet. It’s usually years before I find someone who interests me.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve been told I’m fairly good looking, though I am shy. I take care of myself. I make good money. For a long time it really bothered me that I couldn’t connect with anyone. I was desperate to find that special person in my life. I had a list of what I was looking for in a mate and I targeted my searches to places where I was most likely to meet someone who was interested in the same things.
Then I sort of grew contented. You might even say I gave up and focused on myself. I learned to be happy living alone, to not depend on others for my happiness. I didn’t feel like I had to be part of a crowd anymore. A few close friends was all I needed — and my cats. My cats have helped me through some tough times.
But now that I’m 40, something has changed. I’m no longer content. I wonder what I’ve missed out on. I see my friends and their families and I want to be a part of that, to share in that, but I don’t know how. I still have my list and I’ve started searching again. I feel desperate to meet someone who shares my interests, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone out there who does. The odds are, she’s out there somewhere, but she’s already in a relationship with someone else. The odds are, we’ll never find each other, and even if we did, I’d never be able to pry her away.
I don’t know what to do. How did you meet your wife?
Desperately Seeking Someone
It’s lonely out there riding those fences, ain’t it, partner?
How did I meet my wife? Which one? The question is, how am I going to meet the next one?
The same way I met the first four (or is it five?) — it just happens. The best ones just happen. You never find what you’re looking for, but what you’re looking for sometimes finds you. It’s a Zen thing. The more desperately you reach for it, the quicker it slips from your grasp.
You need to let go. Throw away that list and just live your life. Be open to any possibility. Don’t look for someone with the same interests. Where’s the fun in that? If you go around trying to find someone just like you, you might as well date your hand.
Surfer Dude says, the sea of life is bigger and stronger than you, and all you can hope to do is pick your wave and ride it. But just like a wave, you’ve only got a moment to decide if it’s the gnarliest. You have to seize the moment — carpe diem, baby. You have to be willing to take a chance, the make the best of the wave while it lasts. There have probably been a dozen women in your life over the years that you let slip by while you weighed the pros and cons and looked around to see if there was a better one on the horizon.
You’ve been trying to control every aspect of finding the perfect mate, but I’ve got news for you: There are no perfect mates, and you can’t control anything except yourself. So allow yourself the freedom to make an emotional train wreck of your life. You sound like the kind of guy who has never taken a chance in his life. And that is why you’re still alone.
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A couple of years ago, I hurt my back. It wasn’t a bad injury. It wasn’t really an injury at all. I just did something to it and it has bothered me ever since. I’ve been to my doctor but she can’t find anything wrong. The pain isn’t horrible, but it’s there, all the time.
So I finally started seeing an acupuncturist a few months ago and have finally found some relief. My boyfriend, who is a very rational engineer-type (though he isn’t an engineer), says that only proves there is nothing wrong with my back. He says I am wasting my money. He wants me to see his back specialist instead, but I already know what his doctor is going to say. I like my acupuncturist and the relief he provides, but my boyfriend won’t leave me alone about it.
Pins and Needles
Dear Pin Cushion,
You say your boyfriend has a back specialist? That must mean he has back problems, too, but of course his pain is real while yours is all in your mind, right? You should do whatever makes you feel better, and tell your boyfriend to get off your back.
I’ve been married almost 10 years now. Over the past eight or so years, my husband has been slowly but steadily gaining weight. Lately, his weight has begun to affect his health.
On the advice of his doctor, I’ve been encouraging him to start some kind of exercise program. He has looked into a number of different things, even started a few only to quit after a couple of weeks. When I try to talk to him about it, he says he is still doing research. Meanwhile, he continues to gain weight.
I’m afraid of what will happen to him if he continues to do nothing. What can I do to motivate him? He doesn’t seem all that concerned.
Wondering What to Do
Doing more research is his excuse not to start doing something. The longer that goes on, the harder it will be to get started if he ever makes a decision. My guess is he’s shy and self-conscious about his body. It’s been a while since I went to a fitness club, but most of those classes are filled with women. Maybe he feels those exercises are too girly. It could be he’s looking for something where there are more men involved. But of course, when he does find that manly fitness class, it will be filled with buff dudes strutting around flexing their muscles and making the fat boys feel like junior high turds.
I suggest finding something you can do as a couple. Maybe at first that’s just walking around the block a couple of times every night. The most important thing is to stick to it, no matter what he decides to do. Home fitness takes tremendous willpower. It’s too easy to skip a day. One day becomes two, two becomes a week, and before you know it you’re starting all over again. At that point most people give up and sell the rowing machine in the garage sale. That’s why I recommend taking a class.
He might give the martial arts try. They are a wonderfully manly activity, and when you first start out, you are usually in class with other people who are also just starting out. All the fat boys will be together. You can help motivate him to stick to it by taking the class together. It wouldn’t hurt you to learn to kick some ass, too.
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