It’s the end of the quarter. It’s the end of the semester. And once again, Shane is teetering on the edge of straight A’s even in his high school classes (and getting tons of accolades for it).
But for Dylan, it’s more serious. This time, it’s the end of the first semester of his junior year. This is the year he was going to “prove” to colleges that he could, indeed, get good grades. Instead, Dylan is struggling to finish the 47 assignments he never turned in.
Forty-seven may be an exaggeration. Having not counted, though, maybe it’s not.
With only three days left to finish everything, Dylan came downstairs last night and gave me the same speech he gives at the end of every quarter.
“Mom, I figured out my GPA and the worst it could possibly be for the semester is three A’s, three B’s and one C. That’s the worst it could be. I could probably get four B’s once everything gets graded and turned in. But even if I fail every assignment, I will still get B’s for the semester because of my really good first quarter.”
It’s always the same speech. It’s the last-ditch effort of a man dying of thirst, trying to convince himself that there is water just over the next sand dune.
He doesn’t see the grades from last quarter, which were exactly the same as the prediction he’s making for the whole semester. And last year, he had two C’s each semester instead of one – which, I suspect, will happen again this semester.
With three days left to pull himself out of the gutter, Dylan has three A’s, one C, and three failing grades.
And this is the year he was going to “prove” to colleges that he could, indeed, get good grades.
I’ve been away from my computer for a long while, and subsequently away from my passwords which would have allowed me to post anything new.
I apologize to those of you who have been checking for new posts. I am back now – and will get right back to blogging again next week! Thanks for your support.
“Do your work and have everything turned in at the end of the week,” I said. “Or you will not do anything with friends on the weekend.”
“That just makes me more anxious,” Dylan said. “It’s better if I have something to look forward to, like a reward for getting everything done.”
“Okay,” I said. “Get everything done every week for the rest of the quarter, and we will buy you a new shirt.” I handed him a really cool catalog from a company that makes a thousand different rock band t-shirts.
The rest of the quarter is only three weeks long. And it started with a holiday, then a snow day.
So, after a mere two-and-a-half days of school last week, and with Dylan failing two classes, he stayed after school on Friday. He worked and worked and worked, finishing all the stuff he hadn’t done yet. He stayed until 5:00 p.m.
Then he called me.
“Mom, nobody’s here,” he said. “I can’t turn in all this stuff I just did because my teacher’s door is shut. And the office is closed and I can’t put it in her mailbox. But I can prove to you that it’s done!”
“Maybe nobody’s there because it’s 5:00 on a Friday,” I told him. “Maybe you would have had everything actually turned in if you’d done your work yesterday during the snow day.”
“But Mom, I can totally prove that I did everything! I have evidence!”
Sigh. I went to pick him up at school.
“Here’s a thought, Dylan,” I said. “And I really don’t care what you do. But maybe – just maybe – instead of catching up on everything after school on Friday, you could try catching up on your work every day. Then you would not only have everything done, but you could actually turn it in on time.”
“I know,” he said.
He knows. He’s heard it all before. Still, he doesn’t change his behavior. He still misses deadlines. He still doesn’t turn in homework. He still doesn’t finish classwork. And he still panics at the end of the week – or the month, or the quarter – and tries to get everything done that could have easily been done on time, had he just chosen to do it.
It turns out that the two friends he wanted to see weren’t able to see him this weekend, anyway. So much for punishment. And he’s on track to get a t-shirt, too.
“But I really did this just for my own soul,” he said. “I didn’t do it for you.”
Well, I thought. Maybe he’s getting the point after all.
But who knows?
Shane brought home a giant piece of paper from school and put it on our table.
This was different. “What is it?” I asked.
“It’s my history homework,” he said. “I have to finish a poster about the Stamp Act.”
I have never heard of the Stamp Act – or had forgotten it long ago, since I never had much interest in history. “Have fun with that,” I said.
Later, with the poster still on the table, I looked it over. I learned a little about the Stamp Act. Well, I learned a lot about the Stamp Act. In fact, Shane’s poster looked like it was done already.
“Did you finish your poster?” I asked Shane later.
“Not yet,” he said. “I still have to add one more sentence to the paragraph on the bottom.”
And later, he added one sentence to the paragraph on the bottom. Then he was done.
It seemed to me to be a lot of trouble, carrying the giant piece of paper home on the bus, carefully getting it inside (in spite of the rain) and having a spacious spot to finish it.
So I asked Shane about it. “Why did you do all that?”
“Well, I knew I still had more to do, but we didn’t have any more class time. So I did it at home.”
“How did you know you still had more to do? It looked like it was already done when you brought it home.”
“I checked the rubric,” Shane said.
“You checked the rubric,” I repeated, somewhat stunned.
For the uninitiated, a rubric is not a cube made of colored squares. A rubric is a list of exactly what is graded – and how many points it’s worth – on a big project.
Dylan had been ignoring rubrics for years. In fact, I had spent years trying to get Dylan to look at rubrics, so that he could stop losing dozens of points because he didn’t answer an important question, add a drawing, or put his name on the paper.
“Yeah,” Shane said. “It’s pretty easy. I mean, it basically tells you everything you need to put on the poster, and then you just have to put it on there.”
“Yeah,” I said, still a bit stunned. “Rubrics do make things a lot easier.”
Shane’s first morning of the new year was not as bad as Dylan’s, but it wasn’t great.
Shane spent most of winter break playing video games and hanging out in his bedroom. So it wasn’t really a surprise that he didn’t remember to put his lunchbox out for the first day back to school.
But he also didn’t remember to wipe the table after breakfast. This has been Shane’s job for about five years, and he almost never forgets to do it. On Day 1 of 2018, though, it wasn’t at the forefront of his mind.
So after dinner, we had a little talk, along with Dylan. I reiterated the expectations about time and cleanliness.
“And if you come down more than five minutes late for breakfast,” I said (mostly to Dylan), “you will be paying for a breakfast from the school cafeteria, even if you don’t eat at school.”
No one cared for this new rule, but I was tired of watching Dylan’s breakfast get cold every, single day. He has more money in the bank than I do, so he can afford $1.50 for every day that he’s late.
“And if you don’t have your lunchbox ready when I start packing it,” I said (mostly to Shane), “you will either have to pack it yourself – if you have time in the morning – or you will have to pay for a cafeteria lunch.”
No one cared for this rule, either, and I sensed sheer panic from Shane. He was already plotting to come down early every day, so that he wouldn’t have to eat the cafeteria food. He didn’t care about the money; he sure didn’t want to eat any industrialized entrees.
The next morning, there were two lunchboxes ready for me to pack, and no one was more than five minutes late for breakfast.
As the winter break approached, Dylan assured me that, when January rolled around, things were going to be different.
He was going to start getting more done in school, staying after school more often, and making sure things were turned in on time. He was going to get up and get ready on time, always catch his bus, and make sure he was awake in plenty of time to do all of it.
Yesterday was his first day back at school. He came downstairs ten minutes late, as usual. He raced off to catch the bus, as usual. He left his breakfast sandwich sitting on a napkin on the foosball table. He also forgot his coffee.
I suggested that he find some breakfast meat in the school cafeteria so that, at least, his vitamins would help. (L-Tyrosine is only effective when combined with animal protein.) Dylan didn’t do that, either.
He texted me at 10:30 a.m. “Mom I’m like miserable I can’t focus on anything I’m like dying.”
This broke my heart. Unfortunately, I was substitute teaching all day and couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t provide him (again) with a healthy breakfast. I couldn’t drive over with a bottle of iced coffee. I couldn’t do anything.
Dylan spent some of his morning with his counselor, which helped. By the end of the day, though, he was a wreck. He came home grouchy and mean. He hadn’t eaten for hours (after not eating breakfast) and I thought he was hungry.
He barely ate dinner, probably as some form of “food protest” to prove that he wasn’t really grouchy because he was hungry. Then – since Shane had had a rough morning, too – we went over what is expected during the school year.
“Be downstairs at 6:45,” I started – knowing that while Shane was listening intently, Dylan had heard it all too many times before.
Then Dylan fell asleep. Suddenly, he was like a human again. He wasn’t happy, but he was better after his unscheduled nap.
At 10:30 p.m., though, just 12 hours after his misery text, he was wide awake. He was on his laptop and his phone, and I had to actually say – for the four millionth time – that he needed to put away his electronics and go to bed.
Then I went to bed. I don’t know what he did.
But this morning, when I got up to reheat yesterday’s breakfast sandwich for him, there was a siren noise blaring inside Dylan’s room. The door was shut, so I opened it. Dylan’s alarm was going off loud enough to wake the neighbors and Dylan was sound asleep.
Without thinking about allowing him to have the consequences of his actions, and with his “plan” to “do better” in January ringing in my brain, I screamed at him.
“YOUR ALARM IS GOING OFF!” I screeched. “And you’re supposed to be downstairs RIGHT NOW!”
It was 6:45. Dylan came downstairs late but he actually ate his breakfast. Since it was 7 degrees outside, I drove him to the bus stop.
“Have a better day today,” I waved as he was leaving.
“Anything would be better,” Dylan said. And then he was on the bus, and off to school.
Happy New Year! It is time to make resolutions, which are always tough. But I keep thinking about the year I completely gave up candy – which was incredibly hard, but I did it.
So this year, since I went back to eating candy the following year, I resolve to lose 30 pounds. I have re-joined the gym and am also giving up processed sugar (raisins are allowed) for the first 20 days of January, so this should not be as extravagant a goal as one might think.
The fact that I have no working thyroid, however, may hinder this process.
So I need to focus my attentions on other things, too. Since there is no earthly way that my boys will come up with their OWN New Year’s resolutions, I have decided to come up with some resolutions for them.
Obviously, since they are quite different from one another, they will need different resolutions.
- Resolve to turn in all overdue classwork within 24 hours of its due date.
- Resolve to put down the cell phone for at least 30 minutes per day. (Anything more than that would be impossible.)
- Resolve to wear a retainer once a week, whether or not I think I need it.
- Resolve to put all CDs and DVDs back in their cases when not in use.
- Resolve to stop playing video games for at least one hour per day, even if homework is done.
- Resolve to clear a path from the bedroom door to the hamper every day, so Mom can get laundry done.
One of my other resolutions this year is to stop trying so hard to control the actions of others.
That said, I really hope the boys read this and use some of my brilliant ideas in 2018.
In early November, as the first quarter ended, Dylan discovered that he was supposed to read a book every quarter for “independent reading” – and do a related project. Since he’d joined the AP class three weeks late, he didn’t know about the assignment.
I joked with his teacher via email. “Maybe he could read two books next quarter!”
She said he could. “But both books have to be nonfiction.”
“He loves nonfiction!” I assured her.
So, during the second quarter, Dylan had to read two books and do two projects. I got a whole slew of choices out of the library for him: funny books by comedians, musicians’ autobiographies, behind-the-scenes books about movies he likes, rock band bios, acting game books, sports books, and books about the meanings behind famous songs.
Dylan didn’t choose to read any of those.
I was reading a book myself that I thought he’d enjoy, so I brought it along on one of our college road trips. Dylan read 10 pages.
“It’s not awful,” he said.
“Good!” I said. “You can finish it on this trip if you try!” Dylan never picked up the book again.
Over the next five weeks, I talked to him about his reading project at least 30 times. I brought home more books from the library. I piled two dozen choices from my personal collection on his bed. I bought him a Marilyn Manson autobiography for his birthday, and set it aside – assuming it could be the second book of the quarter. And I pulled out books he needed to read anyway, things to prepare him for college, that had been shoved to the back of his shelves. And still, Dylan read nothing.
In early December, I asked about the book venture again.
“I’m going to read Marilyn Manson’s autobiography,” Dylan said. “My forensics teacher is going to bring it into school for me. I’m just waiting for her to do that.”
I almost croaked. I went upstairs, dug out the book I’d bought for his birthday – which was only two weeks away – and put a bow on it.
“Here,” I said. “Read it now. Finish it before your birthday.”
So much for the element of surprise, or for the excitement he would have had if the book hadn’t been required reading. He tore the cover a bit removing the bow.
But Dylan kept the book in his room, right next to his bed.
And a week later, it was still bookmarked at the beginning of Chapter 1.
I spent the next two weeks encouraging him to finish the book before his birthday – which came, and went. Another week went by, and Christmas came and went. Dylan had read some of the book – but not much. In fact, he’d read only enough to get in trouble in class for reading when he was supposed to be paying attention. Then he’d set it aside again.
This is still the first book. And there are only 23 total days left in this quarter.
So he wants to go out with friends, which is fine with me. I want him to see his friends, have a good time, enjoy his break.
He can do that right after he finishes the book.
I gave him 48 hours written notice. I told him that I expected to see the finished independent reading project before he goes anywhere with friends.
“That’s not fair,” Dylan said. “I didn’t get any advanced warning at all!”
I’ve presented him with 648 possible books, and reminded him about the project every day for eight weeks.
“I didn’t get any advanced warning at all,” he said.
When Dylan was sick over the weekend prior to Halloween, he missed four days of work that he’d been waiting for since 2016. It was sad, but he was so sick that even he thought it was okay.
None of us were happy that we never found out what was wrong with him; all we ever learned was that he had some sort of virus.
So when Christmas Eve arrived and Dylan said he was feeling weak, we kind of shrugged it off. He doesn’t drink much water, so we gave him some water and told him to eat something healthy. He did.
When, on Christmas morning, he said he felt shaky – even after eating a healthy breakfast – he made himself a hot dog to quell the shakes. Then he had a relatively normal Christmas day.
But when, on the day after Christmas, Dylan claimed to be not feeling well – and he said he wanted to go to the Smithsonian with the rest of the family – we knew something was wrong.
Dylan had a fever of 99.8 when the rest of the family left for the Smithsonian. When we came home, it was 101.3. Last night, he fell asleep on the couch around dinnertime and woke up with just enough energy to crawl into bed.
Now it’s nearly noon, and he is still asleep.
Perhaps even more oddly, Shane is still asleep. He is nearing those sleep-forever teenage years, and I would not be terribly surprised if he just stayed up too late after a whirlwind holiday.
But when I came home from the gym and saw that they were both still sleeping, with their bedroom doors both closed, I actually thought: they’re dead.
I have no logic filter on my brain. None. I immediately jump to the most catastrophic concept. This does not make me a good mother. In fact, it makes me substantially too anxious. And this comes out in repeatedly spewing my fears onto my children, making sure they know everything that they should fear.
Today, there is nothing to fear. There is a light snow falling outside. My boys are tired, and one is sick, but they are both fine behind those closed doors.
(Revamped from my annual Christmas letter for the blog, since I’m too tired to write anything new today):
Christmas came upon me like a freight train. We were late getting our tree. And I wasn’t even sure if I should write a Christmas letter. Some of my friends and family members have “unfriended” me due to my presidential preference, and others have moved and not sent me their new addresses.
So I wasn’t quite sure what to do about the whole Christmas-letter-palooza. But then I remembered: I used to be in a pretty bad place. At one point, I lived in a deplorable hotel with one twin bed (for four people) and a smelly room with a toilet but no door. But I lived in a squalor of my own making. Thanks to (I believe) a loving upbringing, a benevolent God and the power of prayer, I clawed my way to a semblance of normalcy.
And now, 25 years later, my life is – if nothing else – comfortable. With much thanks to my husband – who just came home from work trilling, “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” – I have a real home and family. Sure, Bill and the kids drive me crazy, but I still go to bed feeling grateful. Sometimes I am scared, but I am always grateful.
I hope that you, too, will have lots of love and gratitude this holiday season. Have a glorious season!