Will He Continue To Do It?

After a few weeks of his “last chance-last semester” contract, Dylan is still working hard to make sure nothing is missing.

He checks with his teachers every day. He does homework at home. He tells me what needs to be done, sometimes, almost as a way to remind himself. (I don’t remind him.)

Dylan gets up for school on time, except for one day – mentioned in a prior blog – when he didn’t. None of his teachers are complaining. I am still getting emails from them, saying he is doing well.

He missed a class because of Ski Club one day, and his classwork was “missing.” So he did it, and turned it in right away. He even made sure that the teacher emailed me to let me know that it was in.

We have an IEP meeting scheduled for Dylan soon. I am wondering what to discuss at that meeting. Do I judge his behavior by the past seven years, or by the past 20 days?

Dylan’s case manager said, “We’re probably not making any changes to his IEP this year, so we can spend some time discussing his schedule for next year.”

We surely won’t need to make any changes to his IEP this year. In college, there will be no IEP. There will be extra time allowed for testing, probably, but his professors aren’t going to allow for “extra time” to get things done. Now that I think about it, maybe we should explain the concept of “extra time” to Dylan now.

Dylan obviously can do it. He knows how to do it. He is able to do it. At this point, it’s just his choice. Will he continue to do it, to ensure his own future?

I am just sitting on the sidelines, like I’m watching a really close-scoring game, and holding my breath.

I Walk Through the Familiar Front Door.

Sometimes I work as a substitute teacher at my kids’ former elementary school.

In a way, this is fun. I know my way around the school, because I volunteered there so frequently. I know a lot of the staff and teachers, some who have been there since long before Dylan started kindergarten. The school has a lot of good teachers, and it’s a generally positive environment.

But in another way, working at their old school is not fun. In fact, it sometimes strikes me as devastating.

On the short drive to the school, I don’t have to think. I drove that path so many times, I know it by heart. It was a drive I treasured, because I had chattering kids in car seats in the back of the van. There were sippy cups with chocolate milk strewn about, and purple-crayon-scrawled pages on the floor amidst stray Goldfish snack crackers.

Now the car is clean. The ride is silent.

Turning on the radio doesn’t help. There’s nothing to replace the sound of little kids being little kids.

So I get to school, and I park in the lot. I used to drive through the drop-off line, along with the other parents. I see the other parents now, and I remember the time I dropped off Shane on Dr. Seuss day, dressed as “Thing 2.” Except it wasn’t Dr. Seuss day at all, so six-year-old Shane felt completely out of place and rushed after my car in the parking lot – but he was too late. I got a call from the office asking me to come back and talk to my sobbing child. He was the saddest “Thing 2” in the whole world.

Then I walk through the familiar front door. I walk into the office and greet people I know so well, who don’t remember me at all.

Day after day, I would walk into that office and call Dylan out of class. I’d feed him a handful of almonds and go outside while he ran around the perimeter of the entire building. Exercise and Omega 3s, I’d read, were helpful for kids who needed to focus. I did this for a few weeks, until the principal found out what was going on and put an end to my “ridiculous” behavior.

“We can’t have parents coming in here and disrupting the school day,” she reprimanded.

Once, she appeared in a BMX bike show in the school gym. I took toddler Shane; Dylan was in kindergarten. The principal sat on a raised wooden platform while a BMX bicycle literally flew over her head. Everyone was awestruck.

That principal was all about test results and government funding. She retired way, way, way too late.

But now they have a new principal – a great one, who was the vice principal when my kids went there. I remember turning to her when we had real problems, and she always got results. She doesn’t remember me.

I can’t count the hours I spent pushing a breakfast cart for staff appreciation days, chaperoning field trips, running back and forth from the stage during school talent shows, volunteering at lunchtime, and watching school assemblies. I helped with so many room parties, I can’t count them all.

Now my boys are teenagers, and there are no room parties. Assemblies and field trips are rare. My boys listen somewhere while a teacher lectures. The good teachers find ways for the kids to actively learn – and my kids still have some good teachers.

I try to be a good one, too, even as a substitute.

Even though I am sad.

Do You Have the Dogs?

Since Shane was very small, he’s been a pug fanatic. I don’t know how it started or why, but he absolutely loves those pudgy, google-eyed dogs.

I don’t want a pug, but I found a way to (occasionally and temporarily) get some pugs for Shane. We transport rescue pugs for a local pug rescue organization.

Recently, we had the opportunity to drive three pugs from a small town in Virginia to a foster home in Maryland. To make Shane happy, I volunteered. We would be picking up the pugs about an hour from home, from another driver, and taking them to their final destination – a foster home, about another hour away.

According to Mapquest, the entire trip should have taken less than three hours.

But it was dark and raining, so the traffic was awful. It was like rush hour (on a Saturday evening) and our “highway” speed averaged a mere 30 mph.

We were only a few miles into the trip when I had a quick flash of flu-like symptoms, and determined that I was having a heart attack. What I actually had was a little wave of nausea, probably since I’d had a slight fever the previous day. But I went into a full-blown panic attack and started teaching Shane how to drive, in case I should suddenly pass out behind the wheel.

After a quick stop and some fresh air, I felt perfectly fine.

We arrived only 15 minutes late for our pug pick-up.

I picked up my phone to text the first driver, and got a barrage of group chat messages:

My GPS won’t work. Can somebody email me directions?

I sent directions.

Where are you now?

I am still here.

Do you have the dogs?

I don’t know where I am.

Uh-oh.

There was no explanation as to why the first driver wasn’t at our meeting place – or if/when the dogs would arrive.

We would have to wait.

So Shane and I had dinner and waited – a substantially longer time than it would have taken for us to pick up the pugs at their original location. We stood in the rain for almost two hours.

The first driver never arrived.

We eventually drove another 20 miles to pick up the pugs in a completely random location. There, the first driver offered no more than, “Sorry.”

We loaded up three pugs’ worth of stuff. Shane got in the back of the minivan with the dogs; then we drove them another 70 miles to their foster home – and then another 40 miles back to our house.

All of this happened in a steady rain, on unfamiliar roads, with huge patches of fog that never lifted. But we helped the dogs.

They hadn’t had any water, so we pulled over – in the downpour – and tried to get them to drink. Holding three dogs is no easy task, and these three constantly pulled and snorted and snuffled about. Only one of them drank water.

The dogs smelled so bad, we had to open the windows while we drove. They obviously hadn’t been bathed – maybe ever, and the smell was amplified by their wet fur. When we finally dropped them off, we raced to a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts to wash.

I’d left the windows open so long that I had to mop the door wells, which had collected half an inch of water.

So it wasn’t a perfect evening.

But when I looked in the rearview mirror, as we were galumphing down the road with three pugs, Shane was smiling amongst those smelly dogs, utterly elated.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

I Am Not Afraid Right Now.

One morning, during the new semester in which Dylan had been doing so well, Dylan didn’t wake up in time to catch the bus.

I left his breakfast on the table, and packed his lunch box. I fed Shane, and packed Shane’s lunch box. We both waited patiently for Dylan to suddenly leap out of bed and come thundering down the stairs, but it didn’t happen.

Usually, I go straight to the gym after I drop off Shane at school. Instead, on this day, I put the dog in the car so that I would have to drop her off at home before the gym.

So I came home. Dylan was still asleep. I left him a note, and I went to the gym.

Before I even got to the gym, Dylan woke up and started texting me. He expected me to blow up, to be furious, to tell him how irresponsibly he was behaving.

“You’re just going to tell me I’m not responsible and take back all you said about how good I’m doing aren’t you” – he texted.

But I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t even think it.

I thought, He really should use that new alarm I got for him a month ago.

“No,” I texted back. “Get yourself a backup plan. This is not the first time this has happened, but it doesn’t change what you’ve done so far. In fact, you should get up and get ready for school, feed yourself … and then start working on pre-Calc because you are going to miss that class.”

“Yeah I totally blew it you don’t think I’m responsible anymore” Dylan responded. He shot me three more texts, beating himself up even though I wasn’t berating him for anything. “I really hate myself right now,” he said.

“Stop hating and start doing,” I texted. “You only have to worry about right now.” I was in the locker room, just waiting for him to relax.

“If I do this with a job it won’t matter what you think they’ll just fire me,” Dylan said. “You always told me the future is the main thing I should worry about. You told me I’d never get into college or keep a job.”

He’s right, I thought. I did say that. And there’s a pretty good chance that I’ve been completely wrong with my approach. I was just so afraid ….

So that’s what I told Dylan: “Yep. I did. That was my fear. I am not afraid right now. Get up and do math. Read half a book. Be ready to go when I get there.”

Then I went to the gym. An hour later, I wrote a quick, truthful note to hopefully excuse him from missing his morning classes. Then I took him to school.

“Why did you excuse this?” he asked me. “Why are you being so nice about everything?”

“Dylan, you are old enough now to handle this on your own,” I said. “You’ve missed three classes, and you will have to face the consequences of that. You will have to make up that work. And you should figure out an alarm system that actually works. But it is not my job to worry about this. It’s your job, and you’re doing great.”

I kissed him on the head, like always, and told him I loved him.

Then Dylan went into school, just as the bell rang for fourth period.

I Wish I Could Remember All of Shane’s Quips.

One day, I whined about something via text to Shane. He texted back to me: 2bad. He was being funny – I mean, he wasn’t really being cruel and saying “too bad” because he didn’t care. But he was also being clever in using the number “two” for “too bad.”

The next morning, on our way to school, Shane said, “Three bad.” This was at least 14 hours after the initial text, which we’d never even discussed.

“What?” I asked, completely confused.

“I said, three bad,” he told me. “I thought you would recognize it after my text yesterday.”

Later, I was trying to get the germs off of my hands. “I need some serious hand sanitizer,” I told Shane.

“Well, I didn’t think you wanted the sarcastic hand sanitizer,” he said.

Both times, I laughed – because sometimes Shane takes me completely by surprise, and whacks me with this weird Shane lingo, that only Shane would invent – like sarcastic hand sanitizer. And I can’t help but suddenly wonder, without even a moment’s hesitation, what the personality of hand sanitizer might be.

I wish I could remember all of Shane’s quips, because it is very consistent fun. His taking things literally plays out in such interesting ways! I find myself laughing out loud more at Shane than I ever expected to – especially given his serious facade.

But sometimes, I am honestly confused. I can’t figure out how he got from one thing to another.

So one morning, when I was contemplating all of these crazy little quips, I said, “You know, Shane, sometimes you can be really hard to follow.”

“Hard to follow?” he repeated with a drawl. “I ain’t even going nowhere.”

Great News!

The first week of the semester is officially over.

Dylan started with a bang – being downstairs for breakfast on time almost every day, and doing work at home even though he’d been at school all day. He worked on assignments early, finished homework and turned it in when it was due, and finished at least one paper a full week early.

We were all rather astounded, although we’ve known for awhile that he could do it. We’d just never seen it happen for any length of time.

By the end of the week, I’d received not one, but two emails from his teachers. One said:

“I just wanted to let you know how much more organized Dylan is this quarter. He is asking me for assignments before they are due and turning in work early! I’m so impressed.”

The other one said:

“Great News! Dylan has been AWESOME during class.  He has done all his work. On Monday – he did his homework due Today, Tomorrow, and Friday!  3 homeworks were done early!!! WOW! He looked up the formulas and did it on his own. Nice Job Dylan!”

I nearly fell out of my chair. The promises we’d made in the contract were already coming true! Teachers are getting a new respect for him!

By Friday, it seemed as though he’d worn himself out. And maybe he had. He went skiing with the school ski club and slept long and hard Friday night. He had a long day singing on Saturday, and a full day with a friend on Sunday.

On Monday, I was worried that he might start off the week with a slump and a whine.

But no… on Monday, he got up and went to school ready to do it again! As usual, we shall see….

I hate to even admit it, but I am seriously hopeful. I feel good about this semester. I think he’s actually going to stick to his plan, and follow through, and do what he needs to do.

And we’ll be there praising and supporting him the whole time.

I Purposefully Don’t Know Anything.

Dear Science Teacher,

Shane came home from school today and told me that his scientific question for today was, “How was the solar system created?” On his paper, Shane guessed “God.” Then he said that you told the class that the people who guessed “God” just didn’t know how the solar system was created, and that you would tell them how it actually happened.

This concerns me – but maybe not for the reasons you think.

I am not a scientist, and I don’t even pretend to know the current theory on universe development. In fact, I purposefully don’t know anything. The more I know about the way the world works, the more terrified I am that it’s going to end. I prefer to remain ignorant for my own sanity.

That said, I can’t possibly contradict whatever scientific explanation is trending today. I also don’t know the TRUTH. Quite literally, I was not there when the solar system was created. But maybe God had a hand in that creation. Maybe whatever scientific thing happened was actually caused by God. Or maybe it happened completely without the assistance of God, and whatever you taught the class was dead-on accurate.

I have no idea.

Obviously, you have touched on the biggest controversy of our time. No one knows what happened, even though we ALL believe something.

And while I am not the kind of person who wants to quash any discussion about such matters, you are teaching in a public school. If other parents get wind of this teaching – and believe that you actually said, “God did NOT…” – you could end up being quashed in terrible ways.

To me, it is the equivalent of having a Catholic school teacher say “God DID create the universe.” That’s part of the reason my kids will never go to Catholic school! But I believe 100% that there is a God, even if I have no idea who/what “God” is… and I am raising my kids to find their own way and determine for themselves if a belief in God is going to be a part of their lives.

So when a teacher says “God didn’t create the solar system,” and the Bible says “God created the universe,” the teacher directly contradicts Christian and Jewish teaching. (Again, I was not there for the writing of the Bible, so I have no idea how that came about, either!)

I am not sure what you can do at this point – or even if you want to do anything – to remedy whatever statement you made, so that those few kids who still believe in God can – at least – make up their own minds about the creation of the universe. If you were teaching at a college level (which you would probably do very well), this would be a prime opportunity for some serious philosophical discussion.

But for now, I would appreciate it if, at least, you would consider being careful when you talk about God – for your own sake, so that the evangelistic parents don’t come down hard on your head, even if you are 100% right.

Signed… Kirsten

PS-The teacher emailed back and said that Shane completely misinterpreted what was actually said… and Shane said, “Yeah, I was afraid that happened.” (Sigh.)

We All Want the Easy Way Out.

On the last day of the semester, Dylan climbed into the car furiously.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

He didn’t speak for a long time. Finally he said, “I had one exit card to do for Forensics. One card. I needed a 3 out of 4 to get an A in the class. I was going to get an A in Forensics! I got a 2 out of 4. So I missed getting an A by POINT-TWO PERCENT! And she wouldn’t give it to me. All because of one question! You were going to be so happy with me, for once, that I’d actually gotten an A. But instead I did all that work for a B.”

“You were failing that class this morning,” I told him. “I think a B is pretty good, since you had 12 missing assignments the last time I checked.”

“But I could have gotten an A!” he wailed. “I worked all the way through lunch and stayed after school. And I didn’t go see my history teacher so I will probably end up with a C in that class because I still had stuff to do in there!”

I winced. He gave everything he had to one class, on one day, at the very end of the semester. And he was mad because he missed one question…?

What if, I wondered, he had put in that much effort for longer than a few days? What if he’d put in that same kind of effort for – say – the WHOLE SEMESTER? Then what would have happened?

Dylan wanted his teacher to “give” him the A, because he was so close. And I am so, so, so glad she didn’t! An A student is someone who works on his assignments every day – someone who gets his work turned in when it’s due. Dylan only needs to do one thing: complete and turn in his work. He’s plenty smart. He just chooses not to apply himself on a daily basis. He chooses, instead, to SnapChat and FaceTime and watch YouTube. He applies himself to that.

A few hours after this conversation, I was reading a book. One paragraph stood out to me:

“Life is not always pleasant (but) you, and only you, become the author of your destiny. When you take a personal interest in every choice you make and every step you take on this path of life, you will feel more confident and unafraid. We all want the easy way out, but if we take the easy way out, we shut ourselves off from growing, learning, and understanding. By taking responsibility, we give ourselves a place in the world.”

I only wish Dylan would see the same paragraph, and that it would stand out to him. He is a responsible person. He just chooses not to apply that to school work.

And I am watching him, helpless, as usual.

It Is Dylan’s Last Chance.

I worked for days on Dylan’s new contract. Since this is quite literally Dylan’s last chance to raise his GPA before applying to colleges, I wanted it to be simple to understand, but adequately convey the seriousness of the situation.

It was two pages long but fairly simple. It covered the three things he needed to do, and the logical consequences of doing – or not doing – those three things.

  1. Be on time.
  2. Do your work.
  3. Turn in your work on time.

There was more to it – taking up half a page – but the gist is that he only needed to do those three simple things to reap the rewards.

At school, Dylan will earn the respect of teachers, raise his GPA, have opportunities to get letters of recommendation and enjoy his extracurricular activities. At home, Dylan will be treated like a responsible adult and enjoy the privileges he will have earned, like going out with friends, driving the car, and going out on weeknights.

We also clearly outlined possible negative consequences. This semester, since it is Dylan’s last chance and it is absolutely vital that Dylan get his work in every day, rather than at the end of each quarter, we wanted to make sure he knew that we would not be co-signing his college loans, or paying for his college applications, if he doesn’t exhibit college-worthy behavior. We also said that for each missing assignment, he will lose phone and electronics privileges until that missing assignment is turned in.

Gone are the days of, “Oh, I’ll just turn it in next week or whenever” – unless he wants to live until next week without his cell phone.

And hopefully, arriving instead, are days of, “I have to study tonight for history, but I finished my math test early today and started working on my AP paper!”

We sat with Dylan and explained the importance of this final contract. There is no point in giving him a contract during his senior year; by then, it’s too late to gauge whether or not he can handle the work load. We made sure he realized that this is his last chance – that this is quite serious, but that it only lasts until June. For such a short time span, we know he is able to stay on top of his school work.

We talked about our expectations and how sure we are that Dylan can do it – and that really, we just need to see – for sure – that he can do if he wants to move forward after high school

Then we gave Dylan the paper, specifically outlining our expectations. He read it through. He took his time, and took it seriously.

When he was finished, he didn’t say anything. He just sat there, fidgeting.

“Do you have any questions, concerns, comments?” I asked.

“Not really,” Dylan said. He fidgeted a little more then said, quite earnestly, “So what’s different about this one?”

I wanted to say, “This one guarantees that you’ll actually change your behavior!” But I did not.

I am not sure what I said, but I doubt if it makes any difference at all.

We KNOW That He Can Do It.

For the second semester of his junior year, Dylan has a new contract.

This contract explains – in very positive terms – that we know that Dylan CAN complete his classwork and turn it in on time. It outlines the very positive outcomes that will happen when he does this, all of which are natural consequences: respect from teachers, better grades and GPA, letters of recommendation for college, driving privileges, support from family, and overall respectful treatment befitting his maturity.

 

The expectations are simple:

1 – You are expected to get downstairs on time (6:45 – not 6:50), to catch the bus on time (7:00), and to get to school on time (7:45). You are also expected to get to your classes on time, which means that we should never again get a notice that says you could fail a class because you have three or more unexcused “tardies” in any class. It is also your responsibility to get to play practice, voice lessons, and other activities on time. ALL “on time” expectations will be much easier to achieve if you get 8+ hours of sleep per night.

2 – You are expected to listen and do your classwork whenever you are in class. The only excuse for not doing classwork is your physical absence from the classroom (which means you will finish that work later). You are never expected to use your phone or electronics in class, not even to check the time, no matter how tempting it may be. If you are done with your class work early, immediately check with your teacher to see what else needs to be done – and do it. If there is no written work to be done, you may review notes and prepare for upcoming tests (called “studying.”) If there is no work and no studying, you may do independent reading. If there is no reading, you can do SAT practice. There is never “nothing” to do.

3 – You are expected to turn in every assignment on the day that it is due. If something is not finished in class, you may stay after school and finish it, or you may finish it for homework. You are then expected to turn it in immediately. Your IEP allows only for time-and-a-half, so anything that is two days late is unacceptable. You may use your signature sheet to keep track of every assignment, or you may find another way to keep track of assignments, but it is your responsibility (not your teachers’ or your parents’) to figure out what’s due and when, and then to turn in everything – including homework – on time. All assignments matter; you are expected to complete them and turn them in.

 

Since this is Dylan’s last semester that “counts” toward getting into college, and since it is our last chance to be sure that Dylan really can do the work on his own, the contract also outlines the very real, natural consequences that will occur if he does not meet these expectations: NO college application fees paid and NO parental co-signatures for college loans, NO cell phone or computer use whenever he has any missing work, NO financial assistance for a gap year or moving expenses – but sufficient food and shelter after high school, as long as he goes to a community college or works diligently to save money for his own place.

We know that he can do it. Though we have often questioned his choices, we have never doubted his abilities.

Now we’ll find out if he believes he can do it, too.