16 March 2014

The Long Sulk

I have a 14-year-old boy Donnie (not his real name) and his father living in my house. Jan Grape’s written about her ‘alien’, her grandson, but presumably to have a grandchild, she must have had children. I haven’t had that experience.

If you’ve ever seen the Greg Daniels / Mike Judge television series, King of the Hill, Donnie bears an uncanny resemblance to the cartoon character Bobby Hill in looks and personality. At least he looked that six months ago, he’s shot up another few inches since. The comparison to Bobby is so strong, that his classmates tease him with the name, which naturally he hates. But Bobby, er Donnie, is a gentle, kind boy. At heart, both lads are decent and both find it difficult to lie. The London Free Press claims Bobby Hill "arguably was the most interesting, complex and in some ways 'real' kid in TV." I can't argue otherwise.
A shock came learning about today’s modern school system. It’s no longer drop below 70 and you fail, then repeat until you get it right. Failing is now defined below 50, but not even that: So that we don’t bruise the fragile egos of our most important children (student athletes), even grades of 0 are awarded 50%.

If enough classmates fail Spanish, then the tests are considered defective and the class passes automatically though they can’t translate ‘Buenos dias’. (There's a joke there.) Politicians rather than educators are
meddling in the system.

Intestinal Fortitude

As you might imagine, a teenage boy eats a LOT. McDonald’s rolls in an extra supply truck when he visits. More than once we've had conversations that run like "Where's the frozen dinner pack I just bought? The package said it serves eight." "Oh, I had that for after school snack." "What about the roast beef?" "It was only two pounds, but great on rye."

Like Bobby, Donnie’s a surprisingly good cook although his only acceptable vegetable is French fries. Oddly, he despises leftovers, which is a problem because his dad deliberately cooks food in advance to eat when he's not around. Donnie calls leftovers “old food” and won't touch them. Think I’m kidding? I have found five opened jars of peanut butter and a sixth about to be violated.

Likewise, he’ll use a third of a tube of toothpaste or half a bottle of shampoo and refuse to use any more. What’s with that? His dad compounded the situation when he added ‘old shampoo’ from a pink (yes, pink!) bottle into the new Brut Shampoo for Men. Horrified, Donnie switched over to using my shampoo, not as Brutish, but still masculine.

Back to food: The downside of his gastronomical adventuring is breath-stopping biogas production. Here we come to another peculiarity: He doesn’t like to visit any ‘facilities’ other than his own bathroom. That means all through the school day, he stores and composts everything from the previous 24 hours.

I don’t know what organic chemistry goes on inside his large intestine, but ever been around construction sites with large, belching earth-moving equipment? Recall the rumbles, the growls, the grinds, explosions and fizzles? All that occurs before the kid's load of a dozen fragrant water buffalos empties into a straining septic system.

There could be a positive side. His dad won’t let him near girls at this point, but I think his concerns might be mitigated if he considered potential on-line personal ads: “Likes candlelit dinners, long walks on the beach, and frequent flatulence.” So much for romance.


I know parents who think boys need to be toughened up, not shown affection and not comforted when they're hurt. I'd like to smack such parents. His dad's long-term girlfriend constantly calls Donnie a liar and a loser. She doesn't like Donnie… at… all. Lying isn't something Donnie does easily or well. It tears him up. Like Bobby, he has a strong sense of honor and lying doesn't fit that image, which the lady doesn't grasp.

The dad's girlfriend dotes on her own, very pretty, talented daughters, but she disdains Donnie often to the point of omitting him from extended family events. When one of the girls recently won an award, Donnie wasn't invited– not cool enough it seemed.

When Donnie was excluded from another event, I shoved him in the car and took him to a new neighborhood Japanese restaurant. It wasn't the same as spending time with the family unit, but he tried Japanese food for the first time and loved it. He tested something new instead of sitting in his room pretending he wasn't crying his heart out. So far we've tried Greek, Chinese, Mexican, and Cuban foods. When shut out, eat out.

Mood Machine

Like Bobby Hill, the lad's not athletic although he's a good shot, as his ROTC instructor learned. Nonetheless, Donnie excels at certain olympic events, such as the Long Sulk. I switch to my sportscaster voice:
“Donnie represents team USA this week, going for the record now held by the young Russian, Uvreli Pismiof. Uvreli’s record is 42 days, 14 hours and 10 minutes, but young Donnie has positioned himself as the current challenger. His patented scowl in place, Donnie hunches over his bowl, glaring at the wildly cheering crowds. Wait… We thought we saw a quiver of his lip… yes, there it is again… It doesn’t qualify as a full-fledged smile… but hold on… While the judges are reviewing the tape, the seconds continue to tick… 8, 9, 10, 11… YES! Ladies and gentlemen, a new world record!”
Those of us who’ve worked in offices have noticed women knowingly roll their eyes and whisper about some colleague “It’s her time of the month.” Let me tell you folks, they haven't experienced a 14-year-old boy. Around here it’s his time of the minute. Emotions erupt faster than a sour-tempered Tasmanian tantrum.

Donnie's unusually prim. He avoids sexual topics with his friends and won't look at nekked photos. (It's been suggested he was exposed to sexuality when he was quite young and this may be a reaction.)

I’ve never before heard Donnie swear, but the other day over the most minor incident, he told me “ƒ you.” Whoa! I didn’t tell him I was more amused than angry, but I superseded parental authority and confiscated his new bicycle, Play Station, pellet gun, newly purchased hunting/fishing knife, and NetFlix. It’s taken him a few days to apologize, but last evening he wrote me a contrite note. So far, only his bicycle's been returned, but good for him.

Death Threats

When upset, he tries a ploy that may have succeeded with his parents, slamming doors, punching walls, and shouting, “I'm going to run away.” I said, “No kidding! Do you want dessert first? Mmm mm, chocolate mousse. We'll give your room to a little girl named Ruthie who smells like strawberry candy floss and will replace your Call-of-Duty posters and baseball caps with pink pony decorations.” “Seriously?” He looked stricken.

Then he upped the ante. “I’m going to kill myself.” The first time, I dryly said, “Okay, just do it quietly. This is a no-wake zone.” He looked at me in disbelief, then burst out laughing.

So far, my other responses to that challenge have been:
  • Wow, like Moaning Myrtle. You’ll have to live in a loo where kids barfed in the sink and peed on the floor and the walls turned slimy green.
  • Not again! Shouldn’t you plan something new this week?
  • Sticking your head in an oven won’t work. If you can survive your own flatulence, nothing will do you in. Besides, our stove is electric.
  • Really? Leave a note on the fridge so we can identify the new odour in your room.
  • Man, you’re so lucky! You won’t have to worry about that first kiss thing with Abbie or Leona or Ishtar. And who’s that other girl who liked you since forever and her mother told her to marry someone like you? They’re so cute, but they might get annoyed.
  • Don’t make a mess. We’ll have to stop dinner to clean up and the garbage men complained recently. Can you pass the peas?
  • Cool! We could turn you into a mummy. The Egyptians did really neat things with bodies. They stuffed your innards in Canopic jars and they used special tools to pull your brains out through your nostrils. Their funeral guys preserved bodies with natron, which made them flammable. Not a lot of firewood could be found in the desert, so when trekkers needed a fire at night, they dug up a mummy and lit it. That would be so cool to try. Wait until we order natron from K-Mart.
  • No! I hate it when bits and pieces of body parts lie around all sticky with blood dripping from the walls. The pancreas and gall bladder are slimy, with so much gall your mother will have to clean up.
  • In this Florida heat, intestines rot from the inside out, your belly will expand and bloat, and you’ll explode all over the place causing squirrels to run for cover. How stinky and messy that is. When your friends visit and ask where you are, we’ll have to say everywhere.
  • EPA will come with biohazard suits and pick up pieces with tweezers they’ll stick in blue plastic barrels to bury in hazardous waste dumps in Bithlo. Can you imagine having an address for all eternity in Bithlo? Since no one can visit, they’ll mark your barrel on GPS. Other than that, how’s school?
  • Wow, that’s exciting. Death by peanut butter is really sticky. Jelly might be better if you remember to wash afterwards. A friend told me about death by sugar. If you fall into a huge pile of sugar, you sink to the bottom and as you try to breathe, you suck in nothing but more sugar until you choke, gag, and literally drown in it. One guy wasn’t discovered for more than a week when the rats found him, but not before most of the sugar was used in Kool-Aid.
I dramatized this last with my hands around my throat, gasping for breath. Nothing like a crime writer to turn a kid green, although I think he now threatens to see what I’ll say next.

Don’t criticize me– I’m winging it. Parents out there… what’s your advice?

Series created by Mike Judge and Greg Daniels. Production: Film Roman, 3 Arts Entertainment, Deedle-Dee Productions, Judgemental Films. Distribution: 20th Century Fox Television. Copyrights and trademarks property of their respective owners. Blue barrels from Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom, Allentown, Pennsylvania; photo credit: Theme Park Review.


  1. Politicians rather than educators are in the system meddling.

    I'm not quite sure "who" is meddling with it, but in my experience -- that is: from what I saw while taking a class at the College of Education at ASU, and from what I've learned by speaking with many of my kids' teachers -- the system is being "meddled with" at the university level, where future education personnel are being taught these ideas. As a parent, I certainly find it frustrating.

    I understand your approach with the kid vis-a-vis his suicide threats. And it sounds as if that approach is probably working, since you say he laughs at your remarks. I'd suggest you might temper this by also providing some occasional mentoring, designed to make it clear that you see very positive aspects within him.

    It sounds as if you have already been doing a bit of mentoring, as well as providing a mentor's role-modeling that he surely finds useful. I suggest that you hook this mentoring to masculine activities such as a trip to the shooting range, hunting, fishing, etc. From what you say, he gets a lot of negative feedback (rejection) in his personal life, and the male role model who should be protecting him from this doesn't seem to be doing so.

    In my experience, positive feedback from a mentor who also doesn't sweep negative behavior too far under the rug, works wonders with young guys in tough situations. I've done that with young guys in the scout troop I worked with, who had trouble at home and at school, and it seemed to help a lot -- particularly when, in divorced households, they saw that I didn't take the side of one parent or the other, and that my focus was clearly on the boy's interests instead (i.e.: helping him decide what was best for his future life when both parents were busy trying to convince him to do opposing things, primarily to "get back at" the other parent).

    Not sure this is what you wanted, but hey, "Keep your stick on the ice; we're all in this together!"



  2. When my daughter (older of the two) and son were in Middle School, the first thing they’d do when they got home was rush to the bathroom because, like Donnie, they wouldn’t use any other facilities except their own.

    As for my grandsons (I have only boys), their parents do the parenting. When they visit grandpa, they spent a few hours playing video games and talking to me, and I relax knowing their mother will pick them up in a little while.

    Sorry, I don’t have any good or bad advice.

    Welcome to the world of raising teenagers.

    The politicians here in Tennessee are now arguing over and considering bills to allow students to express their religious beliefs in school assignments and crafts. I don’t know exactly what the Come Core Standard are, but our state lawmakers are trying to stop them from being implemented, which makes me believe they must be or would be effective in helping kids learn.

  3. Working with kids- people in general really - requires a big sense of humor.
    You've got that nailed- and so does your young friend.
    Good luck

  4. It's been a while since my wife and I had any close experiences with teenagers--our three kids are adults now and our six grandchildren are all under eight years old. I do remember, however, that raising teenagers is an inexact science. Good luck!

  5. Dixon, those are great observations and suggestions. The lad does get an inordinate amount of negative feedback, partly from the distaff side of his dad's relationship, but also when he pulls Ds and Fs in classes he should be acing, which I've attempted to counter with tutoring. His grades are coming up. He's also suffered occasional bullying from some of the school toughs.

    The good news is his dad takes him fishing and shrimping. At the moment, they have three watercraft behind the house. I've attempted to teach him canoeing and gunnel-jumping.

    Louis, I haven't looked into Common Core, but like you, I have no confidence in the political side of education. What is it with teens and restrooms?

    Janice, the good thing is 'Donnie' has a good sense of humor and likes to tease me. I think he understands he can say things to me that he can't to others.

    Thanks, John. I'm not so sure successful parenting is science or witchcraft!

  6. For me, parenting a male teen alone (I'm divorced) took constant prayer...."God, kill me." "God fix him, keep him safe, show him his path....back to God, kill me again."

    Instead of using listening skills with my son, I let most of what he said bounce off me. The rest I handled with humour and an occasional margarita night with other moms in the same predicament.

    At nineteen, my boy began to resurface. Hugs came back as did the "love you." He is making up for his lack of academic success in high school at a community college as he works at bussing tables.

    I envisioning him living up to his potential in the future after the rocky road of teenage hormone levels evening out. Teen age years suck for all involved but cAreful footwork, prayer of any kind, and a bit of relaxant with others in the same boat makes those years pass quickly. Good luck, Leigh and God bless for taking an interest in this young man.

  7. Teenagers go through a stage where EVERYTHING grosses them out, and they know that anything weird and gross will happen to them. Thus, when I was subbing in a science class at the high school 20+ years ago, I held up a jar with a tapeworm in it, and two girls in the class started hyperventilating, and then went hysterical, because they knew the tapeworm would get out and into them, and they were not kidding. I think this is behind the whole use only your own bathroom thing. Plus it's very embarrassing, when you're that age, if someone else can hear you pee, or hear/smell your bowel movements. No, it's not embarrassing - it's the END OF THE WORLD.

    Meanwhile, I think you're handling it pretty well. Congratulations, God bless, and I'll be praying for you.

  8. Congratulations, Claire. It sounds like you did a good job.

    Thank you, Eve. I know what you mean. I still try to be 'polite' in a bathroom.

  9. Leigh, I'm late getting to my computer today and Dixon has already said a lot of what I would have. Sad that some men (not all) put women who are jealous of their kids in front of their children. My son has been the single parent raising my fourteen-year-old grandson since he was eight, and he has encountered several women who tried to treat my grandson like that. My son, however, has enough sense to dump females who don't realize that any family he has includes his son.
    The suicide threat bothers me even if Bobby reacts well to your humorous responses. I'm glad Donnie has you in his life, but there are lots of underlying causes for his moodiness and his eating habits.
    A really good professional counselor might help him.
    Back to the suicide threat, more American teenagers take that final action than most people realize. I once had a student in the classroom beside mine sitting in the window threatening to jump all three floors. His teacher called me over. What brought him back in off the window ledge was when I told him how bad he would hurt after he jumped if it didn't kill him including gory details of broken bones and internal injuries. Maybe Bobby would benefit from a less humorous talk letting him know the serious consequences.
    Meanwhile, not only is Bobby lucky to have you in his life, you are fortunate to have him in yours.

  10. Ditto to everything Fran said just now. I think you could give the kid back one more of the things you confiscated from him ... my parents used to confiscate things from me for much lesser offenses than the one Donnie committed.

    Best of luck to Donnie and you.

  11. One more comment - I agree with Liz that you can return some more of what you confiscated. Keep some leverage. If you take everything from him for one offense, you've left yourself powerless. My grandson sometimes lets slip a bad word (though not at me) and follows it with, "Ooops! That was inappropriate."

  12. Leigh, thanks for being there. That boy needs you.

  13. Thanks, Fran, for your observations. More than once, I’ve obliquely suggested the dynamics, particularly with the distaff side, would greatly benefit from counseling. I see the logic in your suggestion to explain exactly what might happen in an attempt. So far, I haven’t sensed he was that serious about it, but I’d hate to be wrong.

    Elizabeth, that’s an excellent idea and about the right time, too. He’s managed to slightly pull up a couple of grades and he needs a reward. I’m pretty easy going most of the time and sometimes share a forbidden root beer or get him a little gift ‘just because’.

    Thanks, RT. I needed to hear that.

    Everyone, I value your advice. I’m especially glad to have both feminine views and masculine opinions. If I didn’t believe it before, I’ve become convinced it takes both a mother and father to parent a child, and sometimes a boy or girl is lucky enough to either get both, or get both in one person.

    Thank you very, very much!

  14. What do you mean exposed to sexuality? What does that even mean?

  15. Anon, I apologize I missed your question way back when. Without going into detail, a nurse related she believed one parent had parties with multiple partners, and the child was exposed sex in plain view. To be clear, there was no insinuation of direct physical abuse, but the child witnessed unconstrained copulation at a tender age.


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