Dawit is smart.
We have known that since before he could even communicate with us when he came to live with us from Ethiopia five years ago.
In his first soccer practices, he would take a spot at the back of the line and watch what other kids did so he would know what to do when it was his turn. He had spent a year in a home with 26 other children who didn’t speak his language. He had learned to get along even when he didn’t know all of the words.
I have often said his language is like Jurassic Park dinosaur DNA. If you remember the movie, they didn’t have complete strands of the species of dinosaurs so they used frog DNA to fill in the gaps. Dawit’s language has a lot of frog DNA in it even five years later. In our final soccer game just a week ago, I was yelling at him to go forward and he got frustrated and yelled back, “I don’t know what forward is, you have to point!”
Even with some lingering language issues, his grades are improving. He has had a string of great teachers and he takes advantage of every tutoring program or extra help he is offered.
But sometimes, being smart isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Last weekend, my wife and I left Dawit in the care of his big brother for 65 minutes. After running one quick errand, we came back to a house that was a bit different than we left it. Apparently, our 12-year old confused “babysitting” with “sitting in your room watching television.”
Dawit knew the rules not to kick balls in the house, but he trusted his own judgment more and decided to kick his soccer ball in the house anyway – mom and dad would never know.
That might have been true if he hadn’t knocked a big print off of the wall. Instead of asking his brother to stop ignoring him and help fix the problem, he decided to fix it before anyone noticed.
He dragged the print up and down the wall marking and scratching and scarring the paint and sheetrock up and down the wall. When he couldn’t get the frame to stay up, he had an idea, he would take the posters off of his bedroom wall and use the sticky tack that holds them up to hold up the frame. That didn’t work and now his bedroom was missing all of its posters and the picture was still wedged behind the loveseat. But he wasn’t finished. He had another idea.
He went back into his room and pulled his art set out from under his bed and got a glue stick and applied it liberally all over the wall where he wanted the frame to hang.
Somehow, even glue sticks and sticky tack had let him down. Even though his brother never knew that there had been an issue at all, we came home to find a sticky, blue-spotted, scratched up wall.
I would love to report how well I kept my cool and explained nicely to Dawit how he could have avoided this problem and how he should have solved it after it happened.
That would be a lie. My voice was raised. My words were unkind. I didn't break any laws, but I might have dented a few commandments.
When I was telling Dawit how he had ruined the walls in two rooms of the house in less than an hour. I asked him if he understood that it costs money to fix these things.
“Why don’t you just sell me and use the money to fix the house?” He whined trying to play the victim and make me feel sorry for him. He tried that with the wrong guy at the wrong time.
“Who would buy a kid who is going to destroy their house in less than an hour?” I said in the nicest way possible.
Thankfully, my joke brought me back from the dark side. After a few minutes of cooling off, I told him to put his shoes on and come with me to the store.
Dawit and I have been store buddies for five years. He used to drive his mom crazy when we first got home. It was frustrating for him to be unable to communicate and it was frustrating for her to spend all day hearing the same words and never knowing for sure that she had understood him correctly.
So when I got home from a day’s work, I would put him in the truck and we went to a store. We might buy one thing, but we talked about colors and counted things and played with toys. We spent an hour out of the house to give him new scenery and give his mom a break.
So after “the incident” going to the store just felt right.
We talked about how that should never have happened in the first place because he knows better than to kick balls in the house. But even if he is to make a mistake, trying to fix it without getting help from his brother or his parents is only going to make things worse – not better.
We had a good time and we were laughing in the store. I did my best to put things back in order when we got back home.
Luckily I won’t have to sell him after all.