Lezlie Bishop is an Open Salon Blogger who writes under the handle L in the Southeast. She blogs about politics and social issues, among other topics. She describes herself as “born and raised in suburban Chicago to a multicultural family of hard-working, working class people. I was given every available tool to make me a contributing member of society–Catholic school, Girl Scouts, lessons in several of the arts, even a debutante bow at the ball. I wasn’t having any of it.”
Lezlie graciously offered to let me re-post a multimedia piece of her writer’s den that ran on her Open Salon blog last year. Click on the “Play” button below to check out her gorgeous and sumptuous Blogger Space.
After breakfast, Luca wanted to watch Planet of the Apes on TV, so we went back to my hotel room. He kicked off his Vans and crawled in bed, under the covers. I crawled in next to him, and we watched the rather dopey remake of the classic film, in which scientist James Franco brings a lab ape back to live with him. For awhile, the ape is happy hanging out with James and his doddering dad in their glorious Craftsman house in Berkeley.
But the ape, being an ape, is too wild to live in the suburbs, and winds up caged in an animal control center. Franco goes to visit him, and the ape is furious at his “father,” refusing to communicate with him. Eventually, the ape commandeers an ape mutiny, and legions of apes storm the Golden Gate Bridge, waging war with SWAT teams. Franco and the ape survive the massacre, and Franco takes his “son” into the forest, where he sets him free.
I looked over at Luca, who was clearly enraptured by the film. I wondered if he was wrestling with the irony of watching a primate being freed from captivity, when he was headed back into it. He didn’t seem to be.
But I was.
I liked his boarding school. I liked his therapist and the staff, all of whom seemed like members of that proverbial village, the village that it takes to raise kids. Especially kids who are challenging to raise. Kids who can’t be raised in a regular home, or learn in a regular school.
Before Luca went to boarding school, when he was living with me the majority of the time, and the house was a battle ground, I used to fantasize about having a grandma, or an aunt and uncle, who lived on a farm. I’d heard stories, generally from bygone eras, about parents who sent their unruly kids to live with a relative on a wide open space, where they had to rise when it’s still dark and milk cows, or muck barns, or do whatever you do on a farm at dawn.
Ever since he was a toddler, Luca’s outsize energy has seemed almost to burst through his skin. He was not a kid who could tolerate any down time, ever. The last two turbulent years before he went away, Luca chafed inside my house, and his dad’s house, pacing frenetically, calmed momentarily when presented with an activity he enjoyed — paintball, riding those stomach-curdling flippy rides at carnivals — only to plunge into a dark, restless funk when the bells and whistles went away. The park-your-butt-in-a-chair demands of homework and tutoring invariably crescendoed in screaming fits and head-banging. Luca took to bolting out of the house, sometimes shoeless, roaming the streets, for hours at a time.
These were the moments I longed for an Uncle Fred who would offer to take in my too-big-for-city-life kid and plunk him down on a ranch where he was free to roam. In my fantasy, Uncle Fred, with his Alpha-male calm and his calloused hands and pot belly, would intuitively know how to settle down Luca, because he’d had years of practice settling down wild animals. After a summer of non-stop physical labor, but labor that translated into tangible results — eggs, milk, corn — Luca would emerge with a sense of self-agency, and the ability to regulate himself, something no traditional therapy, or social skills group, might ever succeed in teaching him.
Isn’t this what ADHD meds aim to do? Create enough stimulation that kids thirsting for high-octane action calm down and focus on school work? What would happen if “hyperactive” kids were sent to farms instead of loaded with stimulants? Would it be easier for them to learn?
My hunch is that the equine therapy utilized at Luca’s boarding school is modeled on the “send ’em to the farm” theory. Paired with horses, the kids quickly learn how their energy affects the animals. If they want the horses to move a certain way, they need to focus intently, calming themselves in order to gain their horses’ trust so they can work together.
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