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"You’ve been drinking,” he whimpered.
"I’ve only had one beer Sean. That’s all I ever have on Wednesday night. Why does that matter, and why are you pulling away from me?”
"I don’t want you to hit me,” he said as he was now softly sobbing.
I was really puzzled at his comment and said, “Why would I hit you Sean?”
"Every time Mom’s creepy boyfriends got drunk they usually hit me and beat me,” he said between sobs.
"Sean, this is pop. I’m not drunk and even if I was I don’t hit kids,” I said.
Before he could react I quickly reached down and pulled him up into a firm hug. He resisted for a few seconds, but finally relaxed but he was still quietly sobbing.
"It’s alright Sean, please trust me. I would never do anything to hurt you,” I said as I cupped the back of his head and held him tight to my body.
Finally he calmed down and I released him and wiped the tears from his face with a Kleenex.
"Do you think I can kiss that forehead of yours now and say goodnight to you?” I asked.
He nodded his head yes. I kissed his forehead, laid him down and tucked him in and left his room.
'My goodness, one step forward and 2 back. When will we be out of the woods?’
He was feeling better the next morning and was able to tell me what Rickie and he had done the night before. They had a great time, and went through 2 bowls of popcorn, a bag of chips, a bowl of dip and a few drinks. These were healthy snacks, as the chips were multigrain and the drinks were juice. I was adamant about maintaining decent nutritional choices for Sean, much to Rickie's chagrin.
“So do you think you’ll be Ok on Friday night when Rickie comes over again as Uncle Rick and I play hockey?” I asked him as we were eating breakfast.
His eyes opened wider and he said, “Yeah pop. Cool!"
We finished up breakfast, cleaned up and headed to the den to plunge into the day's tutoring. The math session went well, and I was able to give him some exercises to work on while I made a few calls.
One of the calls was to Diego Mendez, one of my tutors in my Homework Club program I ran for the Board of Education. He was a fourth year university student who had just been accepted into teachers college. He was going to make a fine teacher, and his area of expertise was English and foreign languages.
I decided I would have Diego come up twice a week in the mornings for the next couple of weeks to tutor Sean in literacy. Part of the reason for that was I was losing my patience a little with what I perceived was Sean's lack of progress, and Diego was better at this area than I was. The second reason was that Diego was a fine role model for Sean, and I knew that they would get along very well. He was willing to start the next day.
We finished our mid morning snack after our math session, and went to work on literacy. It didn't take too long for us to hit a road block, and Sean and I ended up having words. He certainly had a typical Irish temper, and I called a timeout before we said some things we would both regret. We packed up the session early and went into the kitchen and had an early lunch.
"My goodness, someone is really cranky today," I said.
"You expect so much out of me, and I can't do writing like you want me to," he said with an air of frustration in his voice.
"Sean, I'm sorry I lost my temper at you. I guess I'm frustrated that you aren't progressing as well with your literacy as you are with math," I said apologetically.
"I'm sorry too Pop."
"Sean I expect you to show your true capabilities, which you are with math, but in my opinion you aren't in literacy. You are a smart boy who should be sailing through those writing exercises we are working on. It's always bothered me when one of my students wasn't performing up to their capabilities," I said with my true teacher's voice.
"I'm not smart pop, and I'm doing the best I can," he said with a touch of anger in his voice.
"Sean you are smart. That's what frustrates me the most about this. Your reading and comprehension are as good as any grade 9 student I've ever had," I snapped back at him.
I could see that if we continued it would escalate again, and I didn't want that. I told him of the change of plans tomorrow with Diego coming to tutor him in literacy, and that I would continue with math and science.
"I don't want anybody else to teach me Pop. I'll be good and try real..ah..really hard. Please," he said pleading with me.
"Sean, Diego is a great guy, and you'll really like him. He's really good at teaching literacy, and all the students in our Homework Club think he's great," I said trying to reassure him.
He calmed down, and eventually accepted the idea as a good one after I filled him in on Diego's strengths.
Later in the afternoon, I got my hockey gear out to pack up and get ready to go to play. Sean came into the unfinished part of the basement where my stuff was to see what I was doing.
"Wow Pop, your goalie stuff looks real professional, especially your mask. Who designed it?" he asked.
My mask had a big Toronto Maple Leafs logo on the front, my nickname 'Burgs' on the bottom and my number on the head piece on the back along with other 'adornments'.
"You like it eh. I designed it and sent it off to a guy who did the painting," I proudly said.
He looked over my equipment as I was packing it with a sense of awe. I asked him if he had played hockey and he said he had. He played house league hockey when he was 7 and 8 years old, as his mother was going with a nice guy at that time who took an interest in him. He signed him up, and went to his games. Unfortunately after two years his mother dropped the guy for a loser who viewed Sean as an inconvenience. This piece of news gave me another piece of the plan I had in mind for Sean's summer vacation. We had an excellent hockey school for kids that ran all summer in one week blocks.
Dana arrived early before I had to leave to go play. She gave Sean a big hug and kiss, which caused Sean to turn red. When I left them Dana had moved him into the kitchen and they were planning what they would make for dinner. Sean was delighted he was going to be able to help, and started to assemble the ingredients Dana told him she would like to use for the meal.
When I arrived home about 6:30 after hockey I was hit by a wonderful smell as I entered through the door. Sean excitedly greeted me in the hall.
"Pop, we waited for you before we ate. You're really going to like what we made, and I helped!" he said.
I could see Dana in the kitchen behind Sean, and she was beaming from ear-to-ear. I knew that they had had a great time while I was playing.
We sat down at the dining room table, and Dana told me that Sean had set the table. She had taught him what cutlery was needed, what dishes to put out, and how to fold the napkins like they do in restaurants.
We had a wonderful meal of pork tenderloin done in a Dijon mustard and honey sauce with garlic mashed potatoes, sautéed green beans and almonds, with a wonderful mixed greens salad with craisins, grated carrot, celery, and goat cheese on the top. For dessert we had fresh strawberries and blueberries over frozen yogurt with her home made chocolate sauce on the top. Dana apologized that it wasn’t raspberries that she used, but she couldn’t get them. It was hard to get raspberries this time of year from the U.S., which is where fresh produce and fruits come from in the winter in Canada.
"Did you like the meal Pop? I made the mashed potatoes and the salad. Dana taught me how," he said excitedly.
"It was great Sean and Dana. I'm stuffed though," I said.
Dana left shortly after dinner, and Sean and I cleaned up. We spent a quiet evening on the computer and watching TV. We both turned in early and had a good night's sleep.
It was now Friday, and I thought that it was time that I gave Sean a math test to quantify my assessments of his ability, and also to see how he would handle the stressful situation.
“I think it’s time that we do some assessment of your math progress buddy,” I said.
“You mean a test don’t you pop?” he said with an air of anxiousness in his voice.
I reassured him that I was going to give him about 15 minutes to review the material and I told him exactly the type and content of the questions that would be on the test. This was a practice that I always employed in the classroom, which had only recently become standard assessment practice in the province.
He seemed to calm down, and I went over the material with him and left him to prepare. When I returned he seemed ready, and I gave him the test paper I had made up from the examples I had picked up from the school. He took about ½ hour to finish, which was what I thought it would take him. We spent the remaining 45 minutes with a new lesson and then it was time for his mid morning break, and of course his snack. Diego arrived at 10:15 just as Sean and I were finishing.
“Hi Diego, I’d like you to meet Sean,” I said as Diego held out his hand to Sean.
“I’m pleased to meet you Sean. Al’s told me a lot about you, and I’m looking forward to helping you. He tells me you are a smart young fellow who’s going to put me through my paces,” he said with a chuckle.
Sean hung his head down a little and said,” I’m not smart sir.”
Diego didn’t hesitate and said, “If Al says you’re smart young man, you’re smart; and please call me Diego, not sir,” as he gave him a big smile.
They spent about an hour and half, and when they came out of the den, they were both smiling and talking very easily.
“You were right Al, Sean is a very smart young man,” Diego said with a big smile on his face as he put his arm around his shoulder. “We worked through some issues and I’ve left him some homework for the next session. He’s going to write some paragraphs about what the Leafs need to do to win a Stanley Cup.”
“Yeah pop, I’m not worried about the writing stuff, but I don’t have any good ideas. I guess I’ll just have to write some fiction,” he said as we all laughed.
Diego said his goodbyes, and said he would phone me later to give me a more private assessment of what had transpired. I knew by Diego’s body language, that things had gone well, so I was very happy at that. I could also tell, that they had bonded, which was my major motivation in bringing Diego on board.
While they were having their session, I had marked Sean’s math and we now went back into the den so I could go over the results with him. He had scored 84%, and I was a little disappointed but not surprised given the errors he had made. I expected 95-100%, but I wasn’t going to tell him that, and I hoped that my disappointment didn’t show.
After we had gone over the errors, he was a little frustrated, and I could see his mood was turning a little sombre. I asked him why he was disappointed, and he told me he felt a lot of pressure.
“My heart was thumping pop, and nothin…..er..nothing would come out of my head
right…ah.. properly,” he said with a tinge of sadness in his voice.
It was as I expected, that he had test anxiety, and it was just probably a symptom of his overall mental state at the moment. I made a note to look up current educational strategies to deal with this, and work on it next week.
“Don’t fret Sean, 84% is a great result. Remember we’ve gone through a lot of Curriculum in the last week. I know you’re disappointed, but I’m not. I know you’ll do better next time, so just put this behind you.”
He seemed to relax, and I asked him about his impressions of Diego, and the session he just finished. He was very happy as he related how it went. I knew this was going to work out, and I was also a very happy person after he related his story.
We ate lunch and I noticed he was a little distracted, but I chalked it up to his nervousness about meeting the family tomorrow. When we were cleaning up, I finally decided to find out if that’s all that was on his mind.
“You seem to have something bothering you young man. Do you want to talk about it?” I said.
He answered that nothing was wrong, but he wasn’t very convincing. I asked if it had anything to do with tomorrow’s dinner, and he hesitated, which gave me my answer. However, there was a little more to it. After much probing I determined that he didn’t think he had exactly the right clothes to wear tomorrow, but he didn’t want to say anything because he didn’t want to ask me if we could go to the mall. I couldn't figure out why he was so fixated on his wardrobe, though. He like to look good, but, he hadn't given me any indication of being this fussy. Then it dawned on me. I had mentioned that one of people coming tomorrow was my grandniece Rachel, who happened to be 13 years old as well! Ah the joys of puberty. I was going to have to tell Scott that I think his low testosterone was resolving itself.
In particular, he liked Diego’s sleeveless sweater that he wore and thought it would go with the shirt and cotton twills he had already picked out of his closet. I chuckled to myself, that he was going to fit into the family very well, as both girls, and I loved our clothing. Needless to say, we ended up at the mall and were able to get the sweater. This brought a big smile to his face, which made me very happy.
When we got home there was a message on the machine from Diego. I gave him a call and we talked about the session in the morning and what his impressions were of how it went.
"You were correct in your assessment Al about his intelligence. He is a very smart and perceptive young boy. The mechanical issues in his writing will fade over time with constant reinforcement from the two of us. I really think his problem is that he hasn't had enough opportunities to write," he said.
We both were on the same page and I explained something about his past issues and lack of attendance in School. Diego had left a number of exercises that stressed writing and grammar mechanics, which he had found to be very successful in his tutoring sessions with other students. I was always astounded when I was talking to Diego about curriculum matters that he wasn't a practicing teacher. He was going to make a fine one when he graduated next year.
We finished up supper, and were watching TV when Rickie arrived to babysit Sean, while I played hockey in my Oldtimers league game. Rickie arrived once again with a couple of new games and a movie on DVD. I had already talked to Sean about the fact that I would be late and he should be in bed and asleep when I got home. I also told him I wasn't going to have more than one beer afterwards to avoid the problem we had had on Wednesday night, if it arose.
“Hey bro, let’s get the munchies out and head on down to the media room," Rickie said as the two of them brushed by me on the way to the kitchen.
"I'll see you guys later, and don't wait up Sean," I said to their two backs as they disappeared through the door into the kitchen.
After the game when Rick and I were at the bar, I updated him on Sean's progress over the last two days. He was glad that Sean was showing progress. He also told me that Rickie was enjoying having the chance to spend time with him.
When I arrived home after 12 a.m., Rickie was on the couch in the media room. I put my equipment in the back room of the basement and came back out to talk to him.
"How were things tonight Rickie?" I asked.
"We had a great time Uncle Al. Sean's a cool kid," he said as he smiled.
Again I paid him generously before he left, and went up to get ready for bed. I peeked in Sean's room to see if he was awake, and thankfully this time he was asleep. I paused and reflected on how different he looked and how different his situation was from a week earlier.