Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Brain Child

Our family has officially made the transition. We have unwillingly breached the barrier and found ourselves on the other side. Things are bad.

We have a middle schooler now.

Life was so much simpler last year when Son Number One was still a sixth-grader. For starters, he was still at the same school as the other two. The elementary school is nine feet from our house. School drop off and pick up was a breeze.

Now, Number One goes to school all the way across town. Besides the fact that we’re forced to actually drive the car there, the location presents a few other challenges. A long time ago, when they built the middle school, the Rocklin city planners decided that it would be good to bury it way back in a residential area on a small street. To add to the fun, the only reasonable way into the neighborhood is at an intersection with the world’s slowest traffic light and a six-foot-long left turn lane. I regularly sit in my car, a quarter-mile from the light, listening to five middle schoolers jabber and squinting into the distance to count how many green arrows I’m not able to take advantage of. It’s relaxing.

Then, a few years ago, for reasons unexplainable by actual reasoning, the city planners decided to OK the placement of a Dutch Brothers drive-thru coffee shack on a lot roughly the same size as Juan Valdez’s hat, AT THE SAME DAMNED INTERSECTION. If you are not familiar with Dutch Brothers, they are a coffee company with a cult following. At any time of the day, there are no less than seven hundred cars lining up to get coffee from this place. It’s not as if it’s free beer, so I can only assume they somehow infuse crack cocaine into the coffee during the brewing process. That’s the only logical explanation for the crowds.

Speaking of drugs, I imagine this is how the city planning meeting went:

City Planner One: “Dude, Dutch Bros wants to put a coffee place there.” [pointing to the map and exhaling a huge cloud of bong smoke]
City Planner Two: [taking a rip off the bong] “Cool. Wait. Doesn’t that intersection get kinda crowded sometimes, bro?”
One: “Yeah, man, ‘cause of the school. Have you ever had Dutch Bros coffee, man? I think they put crack in it.”
Two: “Sweet, bro. If we say yes, do you think they’ll give us free donuts?”
One: “Totally.”
Two: “Sweet.”
[more bong hits]

So, between the school traffic and the drug traffic, a helicopter is really starting to look like a cost-effective option for our middle school carpool group.

Unfortunately, the hassle of getting Son Number One and his friends to and from school now is the least of our middle school problems. The main problem is that we have a middle schooler. If you don’t have one, let me explain.

We’ve been noticing a change in Son Number One’s behavior for some time now. Initially, we chalked it up to him just being grumpy because he considered his two younger brothers to be annoying. That was an easy explanation, since they are very annoying. Very.

But the seventh grade orientation slideshow enlightened us to what was really going on. It seems he has something in his brain called a prefrontal cortex, which is Latin for “is this thing on?”. Most adults you meet have smoothly functioning prefrontal cortexes, but all middle schoolers have crappy ones.

Wherever and whatever the prefrontal cortex is, it’s the least-developed part of the adolescent brain. That is great news, since it’s apparently in charge of these things:

*Self control
*Setting goals
*Prioritizing tasks
*Making sound judgements
*Planning and organizing multiple tasks
*Control of moods and impulses
*The ability to reason
*Determining right from wrong
*Determining cause and effect

That list, and the fact that Son Number One’s brain isn’t good at any of it, make so much sense now.

1) Lack of self control -
Me: “Don’t do that again.”
Him: [immediately does it again]
Me: “Now, you’re in trouble.”
Him: “Why?”

2) Bad at setting goals – That explains why his only discernable goal is to eat.

3) Bad at prioritizing, planning, and organizing multiple tasks – That explains why I saw him make a sandwich, put it in the dog’s bowl, kick off only one of his shoes, try to take a bite out of the remote control, and then put his sock in the fridge.

4) Bad at reasoning and determining cause and effect – See Number 1.

5) Bad at making sound judgements – Can’t wait for him to get his driver’s license!

6) Little to no control over moods and impulses – This explains why he’s like living with a schizophrenic spider monkey.

7) Determining right from wrong –
“Please don’t grab your little brother by the ear and neck and try to fling him down the stairs.”
“But, he breathed on my arm.”
(Also see Number 1, 4, 5, and 6.)

Unfortunately, just because we know why he’s so weird right now, doesn’t change the fact that we have to live with it. I guess all we can do is ride it out, and hope all the parts of his cortex, prefrontal and otherwise, start working correctly as soon as possible.

One thing, however, I’ve already learned from middle school – If things go south and his brain never gets any better at operating properly, all hope is not lost. He can always get a job as a city planner.

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen


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