Friday, August 21, 2009

Guest Blog: From Freeways to Flip-Flops

I’m honored to be a guest blogger on “Blogging’Bout Boys.”

My name is Sonia Marsh and I write the blog Gutsy Writer. In 2004 we left our comfortable life in Orange County, California, and moved to an island in Belize. WHY? We had 3 reasons:

1. To rescue our 16-year-old son from some bad choices he’d made in high school.

2. To escape the OC rat race.

3. To teach our kids gratitude instead of entitlement. We moved from a large 5 bedroom house, to a hut on stilts. We learned to live with less and to appreciate each other more. ( We stayed in Belize for one year.)

I’m currently working on my memoir: From Freeways to Flip-Flops, and would like to share an excerpt from the middle of Chapter One, when I started noticing defiance in my oldest son, Spencer. He was nine at the time, and his two younger brothers: Austin six, and Jordan, almost three. My husband’s name is Duke, and our rat terrier is Cookie.

Photo taken in January 2008, Austin 18, Sonia, Spencer 21, Jordan 14.

When Spencer turned nine, his assertiveness no longer seemed attractive. “Wake up Spencer,” I said placing my right hand on his back. Spencer remained flat on his stomach. “It’s time to get ready.”

I figured he’d get dressed in a minute, so I headed upstairs to wake Austin up for Kindergarten. I found him dressed, sitting on his bed struggling to turn his sock inside out. “Can I have waffles for breakfast?” he said.

“Not today, sorry, we’re running late. Maybe tomorrow.”

During school days, I let Jordan sleep until it was time to strap him into the car seat. One less child to deal with, while the other two got ready for school.

Austin liked school. He was a morning person like Duke.

Austin followed me downstairs and I poured him a bowl of honey-nut cheerios. The TV was already on a cartoon channel with Spencer gripping the remote in his hand.

“Spencer, get dressed, we’re late.” I jogged down the hallway, opened his drawers and flung a set of clothes on his bed to speed up the process. “I expect you dressed by the time I get my shower,” I said. “Your cereal bowl’s on the counter.”

After my shower, I could hear Austin brushing his teeth. I headed back down and found Spencer, still in pajamas, wiggling his bare toes on the coffee table. “Why aren’t you dressed?” I asked in a firm tone.

“I’m not going to school,” he said with teenage attitude.

“Well then,” I said, trying to remain calm like they recommended in parenting magazines. “I guess you’ll have to explain to your principal why you’re wearing pajamas today.”

I grabbed the remote from his tight grip and turned off the TV. Spencer stared at me with such cruel eyes, that for one second, I hated him. How could my baby do this to me? He refused to get off the couch, and I felt Austin’s eyes peeking through the staircase railing, scared to come down, yet interested in the unfolding scene.

I yanked Spencer off the couch with both hands under his armpits, and started dragging along the floor backwards. He already weighed more than I could lift. He wrestled himself out of my grip and stampeded down the hallway and hid under his bed sheets. “Are you going to dress or not?”

Spencer didn’t move. I hauled him out of bed and towed him to my van. He tried negotiating a compromise which involved letting him skip school, but I refused. Spencer finally caved in and changed clothes, but not without shoving me into the van’s side mirror first.

Grabbing his wrists, I dug my short nails into his pulse points and stared straight into his angry eyes, “Don’t you ever do that again. Do you hear me?” He continued showing no remorse. An alarm went off inside me. If I can’t get him to respect me at nine, what will he be like at thirteen?
This prompted my first ever appointment with a therapist. Duke had a thing about therapy. He believed it was a waste of money, and that people should be capable of solving their own problems.

“Well I need advice from someone other than you,” I said. “Go ahead,” Duke said. “I’m not stopping you.”

I longed for reassurance from a professional, that all boys go through aggression at some point, and that as an early bloomer, Spencer started showing defiance sooner than most. Instead the therapist warned me, “Respect isn’t automatically given to you, it’s earned. You have to be more firm and consistent. You also need specific consequences with kids like him.” What did he mean, kids like him?

I didn’t understand why respect had to be earned by being firm. Why couldn’t it be earned through love and caring? That was how I’d learned to show respect towards my own mother and father.

Our life changed two months after Spencer turned thirteen. The day after Christmas, a large truck pulled up on our driveway. It was a typical Southern California winter day, the kind of day when December gets confused with August, and you end up wearing shorts and a tank-top, with a decorated Christmas tree in your living room.

I had just opened the garage door, leaning down to clip the leash onto Cookie’s collar, when I saw the man. A short, dark-haired male with tattooed biceps stepped down from one of those cranked-up trucks with oversized tires. Cookie hurled her body towards his ankles, and I managed to reel her in on the retractable leash, inches before she could nip at his sneakers.

“Are you Spencer’s mom?” the man asked, angling his neck upwards, so we could make eye contact. This did not feel like the start of a pleasant conversation and I debated whether to say, “No,” just to get rid of him, or at least postpone the rest of the conversation until Duke returned from Home Depot.

“Yes,” I said followed by a quick, “Why?”

“Your son broke into my house at 2 a.m., on Christmas Eve to see my daughter.”


  1. wow, I want to know what happened!!! LOL When does the book come out?

  2. Well Sonia, you have done two things with this little post. One, you've got me caught up in drama. I want to know what happened next!! Two, you've made me want to buy your book. How do we get it? I think this story, and the book, is going to be fabulous. Thanks.

    And Jennifer, thank you for hosting Sonia. I read her blog and enjoy her writing and subjects. I just posted an article about spending time with the kids at Family Fountain entitled, "Dad, Can I Come to Your Office." I'd be honored if you could look at it. Sonia - thanks for your comments on it.


  3. I'm with Warren and Anonymous -- I want to see the rest of the book! And Warren, thank you for sharing your post. I blogged about something similar - trying to find/make time for those important moments with your kids when life swirls aroudn you -- yesterday.


  4. Good use of suspense, Sonia. Great place to end the first chapter.

  5. Very compelling. Without question, we want to read more. It took me back to a 2 a.m. knock at the door that I opened to find my 16 year old daughter and a policeman standing on the porch.

  6. Isn't it though, Shirley? Of course, Jeanie's pretty good at it too! What happened with your daughter?

  7. Jeanie, Please tell us more. It sounds like you have quite a story. I wonder if this was the start of something, like ours was. Anyway, the good news is when things end well and our kids become responsible adults. I hope your daughter is doing well.

  8. @Warren
    Thanks for the wonderful boost you gave me. I know you're a writer and hope to hear about your publication too. I'm attending the La Jolla Writers conference in California, from November 6-8, and have schedule 3 meeting with agents. Hopefully something positive will come from that. I love attending all these conferences and networking and learning more and more about the craft and the business of writing.

  9. Yikes - every parent's nightmare! Love the suspense and small details in this, Sonia!

  10. Lovely exerpt, Sonia. I am dying to read the book now....

  11. Very compelling read. I wish your book all the success.

    Raising kids is problematic but when society acts against good parenting it is even more difficult.

  12. Love the post, can't wait for the book! Isn't it interesting how some parents see a confrontation like this as an opportunity to find out what is really happening and make changes, and others see it as an invitation to go down a very long and difficult, authoritarian and in my opinion, sad road. I really want to know about the year in Belize, as that is something I want to do regardless of my boys behavior!

  13. I'm going to be one of the first to read your book. Our son, 17, is a late bloomer, but going through a bit of a difficult and challenging (for us) time. it helps to see how others deal with difficult, moody, defiant boys.

  14. That night turned out to be a curfew violation,(she was spending the night with a friend, but had been known to sneak out of our house) and it was near the end of a pretty rough few years. As with your son, things turned out very well...she is a beautiful young woman, wife and mother, a former kindergarten teacher and an all around joy. You can meet her here:

  15. Sonia,

    In my "other" life, not the Miss Footloose one, I also experienced serious defiance from a child. It is very hard to deal with, no matter how capable a parent you might be. You found an amazing solution/cure and my hat is off to you! Lots of success with your book!

  16. The premise is inriguing. I find myself wondering, among other things, how you supported yourselves down south.

    Just found your blog today. I'll check in again...

  17. Wow. That excerpt hits home. But for me...double it.

    My oldest sons are 10. We started seeing issues with them in second grade already. It has taken a lot of work, pain, and tears to bring their behavior into check.

    I fear for them at times. I fear for the teen years.

    But we do not give up and we continue to work with them. They are brilliant kids. (Both are in Gifted/Creative/Talented programs at school).

    Unfortunately, living in a hut in Belize isn't really an option.

    I can't wait to read the book when it's out.

  18. Welcome, everyone! I'm sorry it took me so long to post and approve your comments. I was out of town and off line -- and it was wonderful!

    As great as it was, though, I'm glad to be back and look forward to getting to know you better. Sonia will also be popping in to respond to your messages. Thanks for visiting!

  19. Quick comment -- Sonia is out of town at a writer's conference, but will try to respond to comments when she returns.

  20. Sonia, I'm hooked! I'm looking forward to reading your book. I can relate to a few of those moments--not with my son--but my daughter,Jen.
    She was fiercely independent and strong-willed from 10-15. She was so unlike me or my husband in attitude and personality. We had some good go-arounds,and I, at times,reached the end of my rope. I remember my husband spanking her at 14 for mouthing off and attempting to hit me.
    We made it through the teen years. I prayed a lot, and I know that was my saving grace.
    She is the most loving and sweet daughter.

  21. First,thank you Jennifer for hosting Sonia. I have had her on my blog list, but for some reason was unaware of the posts from the previous week(s).

    I know why this is hitting home so deeply right now. I just had an incident with my teenage daughter not 24 hours ago. I guess I have some catching up to do!

    Thank you Jennifer and Sonia. I will follow both of you much more closely from now on.

  22. Noexcuses -- I hope that whatever happened with your teenage daughter, you've now had some to regroup. I don't know about you, but sometimes I think the most draining part of parenting is being face, daily, with dilemmas I don't know how to handle. Best of luck to you and your daughter.

  23. That's quite a drastic change.. Best of luck to you..