Carlos may be as extreme an ISTP as you are likely to encounter. From babyhood on he was simply on the move, doing his own things. He crawled early, walked early, and seemed determined to get around on his own with no help from anyone. Even before these accomplishments he was never still in a parent’s lap. He wiggled, he stretched, and if you would hold his arms he would brace himself against you and try to stand. His well-informed parents would place him down to sleep on his back and return only to be amazed by the fact that their infant son had turned himself over. From the very beginning, keeping him safe was a pressing issue in their daily life.
From the time he could crawl on his own, hugs and kisses were just downtime for him. He had places to go and things to do! Not surprisingly his parents found him to be the most untidy of their three children. He had an older sister, and eventually a little brother, just two years younger. Neither of them shared Carlos’ strong Perceiving trait, and the little brother (Juan) was a small Judging neatnik. By the time Carlos was five and off to kindergarten, he and Juan were already arguing over their room. Juan loved everything to be tidy, even lining up his shoes in the closet, just for the fun of it. He thought his big brother’s messes were just gross (a word he learned from Carlos). Carlos, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate to call him a stupid little neat freak. Often, before one of their arguments was over, Juan would be in tears and their mom would be totally out of patience with Carlos. Juan was a very warm, affectionate little boy—pretty much everything Carlos wasn’t. When Carlos wasn’t calling him a neat freak, he was calling him a big mama’s baby. More tears, more trouble.
It was terribly hard for the parents to see Carlos’ side. He wasn’t remotely neat. He was endlessly disobedient, often saying “okay” to some parental order and then just wandering off and ignoring it. Finding effective ways to discipline him was extremely difficult. They were much too kind and thoughtful to spank him, but sending him to his room was worse than useless. He would go in, find something interesting to do, and completely forget that he was being punished. They also tried over and over to reason with him about being more careful about his little brother’s feelings, but it was like talking to a Martian. His major rebuttal was that Juan brought it all on himself by being such a fusspot about the room (some truth there, of course). Secondly, he would say repeatedly that it was stupid to get all teary-eyed over getting your feelings hurt. He would very seriously add that, “He needs to toughen up, and not be such a big baby.” Lecturing him again and again did have the effect that he called his brother names out loud less often, but there was eye-rolling, and other faces, and a good lip reader could easily have noted the many times he mouthed, “Baby, baby, mama’s baby.” Juan was no lip reader, but he knew his brother’s moves by heart, so he saw it, too.
Kindergarten was so-so. He didn’t get into any big trouble, and actually enjoyed being away from his crybaby brother. First grade was a downhill slide, though. He was restless whenever he had to work quietly in class; he wasn’t interested in most of what he was learning, and he found basic reading to be a real pain. His teacher’s report included serious warnings to his parents, and the suggestion that they might want to think about holding him back a year. Because he was tall for his age and very advanced in his physical skills, his parents hated to do that. It is tough to fail first grade, but he just barely escaped that fate. This was just one more area in which his family seemed deeply disappointed in him. Although he was not one to complain about his feelings, let alone to cry about them, Carlos had begun to feel like the family reject. It made him angry, and this, in turn, increased his natural tendency to spend time alone, and to keep his feelings in the background. It didn’t make much sense, but he felt particularly resentful toward Juan, as if the little guy were the source of all his troubles.
That summer, his parents, who were financially pretty comfortable, decided to install a swimming pool, in the hope that water fun might reduce family tensions. They also enrolled both boys in a beginning swim program in their neighborhood. Carlos took to swimming with remarkable grace and enthusiasm. It was the first good thing that had happened to him in a long time. This was not so for Juan, who initially liked the water about as much as Carlos liked reading. By the end of summer Juan had warmed up to it a little, but was far from waterproof. Carlos, on the other hand, was spending hours a day in the family pool. He competed in an age-graded swim competition at the end of his summer swim program and won top honors. Things were looking up for him just a little. Then something else happened that turned him into a minor hero. It was just before the start of school again in September, and the family was enjoying a backyard barbeque. Carlos was trying simple dives, while his brother was having nothing to do with swimming, but was running in circles around the pool. His dad was cooking and keeping one eye on the pool, and his mom was fetching some food from the kitchen. Just then Juan slipped. He banged his head on the edge of the pool and fell in at the deep end. Before their dad could get there, Carlos had dived in, swum to his brother and begun to pull him toward the shallow end using a sort of lifeguard carry around Juan’s neck and chin. By the time his dad had jumped in, clothes and all, Carlos had already reached the shallows and was holding Juan up. He was dazed, but awake and shaking from his ordeal. Except for a lumpy bruise forming over one eyebrow, he was fine.
For the first time in his young history, Carlos had been the only one in the family who was in the right place at the right time and had done exactly the right thing. The family was amazed at his presence of mind. Everyone wondered how he had known how to swim back with Juan, keeping his head up out of the water. Carlos could only say that he had seen a lifeguard pull someone out that way at swim class. As was always true for him, what he had seen and experienced went straight into his memory banks. Chances are his dad would have reached Juan in plenty of time, but this took nothing away from Carlos’ wonderful deed. He didn’t say much, but he did bask in the approval and warmth from his family.
Perhaps the neatest thing about it was that he became an instant hero in his little brother’s eyes. As a peace offering, Juan offered to let the room be just as messy as Carlos wanted it. He even pulled his shoes out of the closet and tossed them around to add to the ambience. This didn’t warm the heart of Carlos’ mom, but it softened Carlos’ own attitude. Although he didn’t become anyone’s model of neatness, he did make some effort to keep track of his things, even putting clothes away once in a while just to please Juan. When no one was on his case about it, picking up wasn’t quite so bad. And with his newfound awe of his brother, Juan allowed Carlos to give him swimming lessons, and made more progress in a month with Carlos than he had made all summer in class. This was one more feather in Carlos’ cap within the family.
School, of course, started again in the fall, and Carlos was once more on a slippery slope to nowhere. This time, though, his parents found a lever to supply some motivation. Winter would soon put the family pool out of use for months, but there was an indoor swim club (a costly one), that they could join. With Carlos’ understanding that his continued membership was dependent on satisfactory grades, they enrolled him. Not long after that a swimming coach from the summer program saw how much progress he had made on his own, and recommended him for a serious training program. The family agreed, and Carlos found that he both loved and hated it. He turned out to be even more talented at diving than he was at swimming, and he found that diving, with its concentration on bringing everything together for one great moment, fit his natural disposition wonderfully. On the negative side, all athletic training involves many, many repetitive practice sessions. On his own, and in his own time, Carlos loved to do this, but when commanded by his coach to do it from 3-5 PM in exactly the order the coach laid out, it stirred up all of his resentment of regimentation. He wasn’t the first stubborn boy the coach had dealt with, and he managed to find strategies that were a compromise between what he wanted and what Carlos preferred. Carlos would do a specified number of dives the coach’s way, and then have a break to try his own ideas. They alternated this throughout the practice sessions, and Carlos’ abilities blossomed.
School work, homework, family chores, personal organization—none of these would ever be Carlos’ strong points, but he had found a passion that would stay with him and delight him. His family was firm about the fact that all the swimming activities depended on decent work at school, and grudgingly, Carlos has complied. He and Juan have become pretty good pals—so much so that their mom sometimes feels outmaneuvered in her efforts to keep order. Inwardly, though, she often smiles about it. After getting off to such a rocky start the two really seem to like each other. Today, at eight, Carlos has secret thoughts about being an Olympic swimmer some day. He doesn’t confide this to anyone (well, maybe to Juan), but there is a certain gleam in his eye when he mounts the high dive at the swim club.
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