Meet my wonderful dyslexic son, Keanu

That’s the phone msg I got: ‘Hi mum. It’s Keanu here. Keanu Hoi, your son’. My son is dyslexic and my reason for working with dyslexics. I think the words CONFUSION – COURAGE and CREATIVITY sum him up very well.

He was always as different as his name, which he chose himself as soon as he could talk, dropping his first name “Marcus” in favour of his middle name “Keanu”. When he was young and different, we just thought he is rather confused, to put it mildly.

He’d always had a hard time remembering names; he’d mix up his shoes, putting the right shoe on his left foot and the left one on his right foot. Of course the labels of his clothes were always showing and he’d get quite upset if we’d ask him to put on his T-Shirts in a normal fashion – as normal was never a word he took to.

One morning I remember him opening the door, looking out thoughtfully and then turning back to us, with a sad expression and a sigh, telling us the reason for his dismay: “I hope God isn’t dead.” …and by the way, we didn’t have a dog, that could have created a confusion.

When asked what he wanted to be one day – his first answer was a ‘chairmaker’. ‘A what?’ I asked him. A chairmaker, because they make a lot of money. After more quizzing we found out that he had heard of Bill Gates, the CHAIRMAN of Microsoft.

When we cleared up that misunderstanding, he wanted to become a CANADIAN. A Canadian? It turned out that he wanted to be a COMEDIAN and thought that sounded just like it.

We used to speak German to our older children to raise them bilingually, but it soon became apparent, that Keanu had trouble understanding both English and German – so for his benefit, everybody spoke only English from then on.

So by the time Keanu went to school, his confusion and challenges multiplied – and it was not really a surprise that he was a part of the troubled ‘Banana Group’, when it came to his English lessons. Apparently it helps children to put them into fruit groups instead of labelling them with letters or numbers. Needless to say, the banana group came after the oranges, apples and grapes.

Luckily there was no potato group, or he would have been a part of that. So struggling Keanu, together with all the other troubled ‘banana’ kids in the class never got any good grades – until one day, when we were invited to Assembly as our Year 1 child Keanu was about to receive his first ever award. Imagine our surprise when the award was for the best improvement in ESL – English as a Second Language. Obviously the school had not been aware that he only spoke and understood English.

In a way I cannot blame the school. Recently I found one of his essays and I can just imagine what must have gone through his poor teacher’s mind, when she read ‘he raped her into a blanket’ (which obviously should have been wrapped into a blanket) and hoped she has a ‘genital night’ (which I am sure was meant to be a gentle one).

So much CONFUSION from such an early age either crushes a young person – or leads to great COURAGE. Correcting his dyslexia may have also contributed to it, but Keanu’s CONFIDENCE and COURAGE grew with each year.

When he came home from school with a big poster that read ‘Life is a daring adventure – or nothing!’ we kind of knew what we are in for.

I remember during his last year at Primary School they asked for someone to represent the school in tennis – against all public primary schools in the North Shore. To my horror, Keanu was the only volunteer and I gave him a really hard time about it. He had never had a single tennis lesson at that time and had only played a couple of times for fun when we went camping! I dropped him off at the Northbridge Tennis Club and immediately left to go shopping, trying to avoid the big embarrassment. When I came back, thinking, he’d be ready to be picked up since round one, he was in the SEMI-FINAL! One boy who came off the court, looking very professionally with his three rackets and all geared up, was crying. Watching Keanu play, I soon realized why. They were not used to getting back his ridiculous lolly-pop shots, which got them out of rhythm and they returned them in anger well beyond the lines. Keanu on the other hand was having fun, smiling kindly at them and flopping every ball back at them. He was not at all upset of losing at the Semi-finals and he had taught me a lesson too.

He was always good in Soccer and played it all during High School too. Sometimes he even volunteered to train in his younger brother’s team when they were short of players for their evening training. Their coach is a friend of ours and told me this story of Keanu just recently. After running around for 30 min, Keanu collapsed.

The coach asked him if he’s ok. He just gasped – “Ramadan”. We hadn’t been aware that he had been fasting all day in solidarity with his Muslim school friend.

To everyone’s astonishment, Keanu finished High School on a high note and not realizing that his Extension English paper would get published, he never thought we’d read his play, where two old people called Barbara and Josef were giving the hero of the play a hard time. Barbara was called an ‘oxygen thief’ and ordered off the stage! Keanu explained that he just couldn’t think of another name than his parents’?!?

I decided to believe him, knowing his memory for names and that he seems to really like us – even though not always getting us:

One day he looked at my extensive library and I was rather pleased that he took some interest in reading and hopefully one of my inspirational books. Yet, he just went ‘Find Peace Now’, ‘Embraces by the Light’, ‘Quest for Life’…and said, “Mum, if people didn’t know you, they’d think you are the most depressed person on the planet”.

I am not a rebel when it comes to authorities and follow rules. I always tried to instil that in my children too – so I explained to Keanu when he wasn’t 18 yet, that he is not allowed to even carry alcohol in his bag, let alone be caught drinking it. He of course knew all of that and he had already carried beers in his bag like all his older friends – and the police had asked him to open his bag. ‘Did you get fined?’ I asked him. ‘No, of course not. The police asked me politely if they could look into my bag and I politely told them not to. I know my rights, mum. They didn’t have a search warrant!’

Now Keanu is following his dreams, attending film school (AFTRS) in Sydney and living in Newtown with his girlfriend. Every now and then he tells me a story from his life that he finds rather ‘normal’, like the ‘slab shot’ story:

Keanu told me that he took the ‘noble slab shot to a new level’. Ignorant me asked what a ‘slab shot’ was. Well, apparently at parties you get some cheap shot of wine after a gentle slab as a welcome to a party. Keanu had reinvented this, by asking the guest first if they wanted a red- or a white wine. If they chose red, they had to tell him what they wanted to add to their lives, but if they chose white, they needed to rid themselves of a problem. After listening for as long as it took to the issue at hand, he’d hit them really hard, then gave them a hug and the wine and they felt absolutely amazing. Only problem was that after about 5 people he’d feel rather depressed, having taken all these issues on board himself.

So maybe this new level of creativity will make him a Canadian – oh, Comedian, one day. Sometimes I feel like calling him and say, “Hi Keanu, it’s your mum here. Barbara Hoi, the depressed oxygen thief.”…but instead I just tell him the truth: “I am so proud of you and love you”.