Nolan came to live with us when he was 14. Prior to that he lived on the other side of the country with his free-spirited mother. By the time he was 13 he had moved 14 times. While he was in no-way abused as a court would define it he did have a destructive combination of spoiling and neglect the effects of which were very apparent. Not only was I the custodial step-mom of a teenager but my husband traveled a lot....so I was the primary care giver as well.
I realize there are much worse step-parenting stories out there. We weren't dealing with a kid who was violent, drug addicted, yelling "Shut-up, bitch, you aren't my mother". No, In fact, Nolan is rarely surly or cross like most other teenagers which I greatly appreciate. Mostly he's a very pleasant and engaging person. But he's sneaky and manipulative. You know you are NEVER getting the full story and you have to ask 1 million questions 1 million different ways to find his angle...becasue there is ALWAYS an angle. It's exhausting and really disconcerting and frankly makes me dislike speaking with him becasue I know it's all bullshit. Most of what he says is embellished, pertinent facts are omitted, and there is always such an arrogance and know-it-all-ism.
Here is an example of the type of lie he tells continually and why I was so concerned from early on. For weeks he was planning a big debate at school on the death penalty with the Republicans (his side was anti-death penalty...I gotta say the kid has great politics). The morning of the debate I said, "Oh the debate is today. Good luck Nolan. I can't wait to hear how it goes". And he says, "Thanks". Just making conversation I asked him, "Is it at lunch or after school?" After hemming and hawing for a bit (which clued me into the fact that something was up) he finally admitted the debate got canceled.
Most normal people would have said, "It got canceled" first without my digging deeper. The fact that he would knowingly let someone operate under a misunderstanding...a misunderstanding that he created...is weird. Why does someone do that? Power? Status? Image? There is no reason to lie here so why the lie of omission? I find it to be even more troublesome than a teenager who outright lies to stay out of trouble. At least they have a reason for lying. Nolan does not. He simply lies and manipulates. All the time. To everyone.
To me that kind of behavior reveals an underlying contempt for people. A need to have control over other people by hiding facts from them...even facts of no consequence. In the end I think Noland likes people to the extent that they are useful to him or to the extent they do his bidding. He sees himself as the smartest, most creative, and only person that matters.
Given his mother and his life you might feel sorry for him and I do have a certain amount of empathy for him but his continual choice to lie, manipulate and never accept responsibility makes any empathy quickly fade away. Even more so now that he is 19.
His first semester of high school he got on the honor roll. After that his grades slipped. And by slipped I mean he was continually in danger of failing multiple classes. Furthermore, he insisted on taking all the Advanced Placement courses. He always managed to pull out a c- so he could move onto the next level. Why the AP courses if you can't handle them? Status. Image. He loved to say he's in AP English, AP Physics. It's all about image but not effort or truly earning esteem.
His dad would tell him "No more AP courses" and Nolan would big-fat enroll in them anyhow. Mr. Peeveme went to the school and the counselors insisted that he let Nolan try AP courses again. Both he and I were pissed. We know our son. What in his transcript makes you think he can handle this? Mr. Peeveme caved into the pressure. Mr. Peevme, not being manipulator, was less convincing than Nolan.
In his senior year Nolan upped his antics to include the habitual cutting of classes. As in he never attended class. He would even ditch the course he liked such as choir and photography. At one point the kid had 8 out of 65 points in his econ class. And since he was 18 and could sign himself out of class, we didn't even know he was cutting. Not that we could have stopped him.
Surprisingly, during this time, there was no angry door slamming (on Nolan's part...Mr. Peeveme slammed a lot of doors). There was no disrespectful attitude. When we'd eat dinner every night we'd have lovely conversations about politics, technology, copy-right law. Nolan was positively delightful...especially when he was in trouble....which was really troubling. Again, it's manipulation. What kid gets grounded for the entire Summer and 1 hour later is cheerfully chatting up his father about his views on Net Neutrality? Poor Mr. Peeveme fell for it most of the time. Which made me mad at Mr. Peeveme most of the time. "I think Nolan is really ready to make a change this time. I think he's really serious and gets it", he's say. I would wonder out load and to myself, "When is Mr. Peeveme going to catch onto the fact that this is all manipulation?". It was maddening for me. Not good times I tell ya. Most of the time I was more angry with Mr. Peeveme than with Nolan.
When it looked like he was going to fail high school his mom was all over Mr. Peeveme saying, "You can't let him fail" and Mr. Peeveme was all, "I can't stop him". Besides, Mr. Peeveme and I felt that Nolan SHOULD fail; that he SHOULD understand the idea of consequences.
Nolan always found a way of wiggling out of the situations he got himself into. Either by begging, borrowing or doing just enough to pass. He'd make deals with teachers who, becasue they'd look bad with the administration if the failed a student, would "help" him to pass with extra credit assignments. Everyone bent over backwards for Nolan and he screwed them all by never living up to his side of the negotiated and renegotiated bargain. Teachers, parents, bosses. 2nd Chances, 3rd chances and more. Time and time again this was the pattern. All promises and talk. All manipulation. And it was never really his fault don't cha know.
He did finish high school over the summer at a continuation school to make up for the course he failed. Most of his other grades were D's.
During his Junior year he become enthralled with R.I.T. (Ro.chester Institute of Technology). Many times we told Nolan that we could not afford a private school. California has some of the best public institutions in the world and we could neither afford nor we were willing to pay for a private education when low-coast, high quality education was near-by. Additionally, given his tract record we weren't going to give him one red cent for college until he proved that he could be serious. No matter. The summer after he finished high school he moved out to New York (with the encouragement and the assistance of his mother) and deferred enrollment for a year. Of course, he had a "solid" job lined up which, of course, didn't pan out which, of course, was not HIS fault. Of course.
Within six months he had gotten fired from two jobs (actually he quit before he could be fired), pissed off his roommates who put his possessions on the porch, ran his credit into the ground. Crash and burn in 6 months.
So now he is back but not living with us. He is staying with a friend. But a 19 year old with ruined credit, two jobs in 6 months and probably bad recommendations from his former bosses doesn't bode well even in a good economy.
Mr. Peeveme and I sincerely hope that this is truly humbling for him, that he understands this is his fault, that these were HIS bad decisions. We hope he changes while he is still young enough to change.
I'm not seeing good signs though. Statements like: "My roommates were all crazy" (really all four of them?), "I was smarter than my boss", and "Ro.chester isn't a good place to live if you don't have money" make me think that, again, he feels nothing is actually HIS fault. It's Ro.chester's fault after all. DAMN YOU Ro.CHESTER!
Next: being a step-mother to a difficult teen while infertile.