Month: December 2013


Who’s Got a Monopoly?

A few weeks ago, we had “game night” at our friends’ house – a wonderful family of four which, like us, includes two brilliant children.  The night was stupendous.  We played some fun games and, because the company was so good, there was lots of laughter.

“Why can’t we get some good games?” asked Dylan on the way home.  “They have good games!”

“We have good games, too,” I told him.  “Sometimes it’s just more fun playing with more people.”

Dylan complained about our board game selection – which is huge – for weeks.  When asked if he wanted to play anything, it never seemed like a good enough idea.  That family actually gave Dylan some great games for his birthday, and he sincerely enjoyed those.  He seemed to believe that if it came from them, it was better.

Then Shane got Monopoly for Christmas.  We had Junior Monopoly, which was fun, but real Monopoly came with the option to buy houses and hotels, to create a business empire, and to – quite literally – monopolize the board.

The kids can’t get enough of this Monopoly.  Shane asked me yesterday – before breakfast – if he could buy Mediterranean Avenue from me.  Dylan asks every few hours if we can play Monopoly some more.  They spend great chunks of time sitting at the table, studying their properties.

It’s awesome.

Dylan, as in life, has also monopolized the board.  He has four houses and a hotel on St. Charles Place, and those of us who are nearly broke can’t pay if we land on it.  I’m ready to mortgage several properties just to keep the game going.

Shane just sold Park Place to Dylan – who already owned Boardwalk – for $1000 plus North Carolina Avenue.  If Dylan doesn’t knock us out of the game on St. Charles Place, we will certainly be panicked on the dark blue side of the board.

We’re having a blast.  It’s interesting to me how they’ve taken to it so easily.  I loved Junior Monopoly for its simplicity.  I’ve held off for years on this version, happily riding ferris wheels and bumper cars instead.

But it’s obvious now that the boys are businessmen at heart.  I’m on my own in the amusement park.

Where Am I While My Boy is Alone?

Dylan got hermit crabs for Christmas – a whole slew of them, five in fact, with a crabitat and lots to learn.  The moment I woke up this morning, I found Dylan staring at his crabs with lots of questions.

An hour passed, then another, as Dylan and I made crabitat adjustments and got to know the little critters.

Shane popped in for a minute or two, then disappeared again.  For hours, he entertained himself.  He studied some magic tricks, looked at some of his gifts, read some books.  He got himself ready for the day, never complaining that it was 10 a.m. and he still hadn’t had breakfast.

In fact, he didn’t complain about anything.  He didn’t complain about being left alone for so long.  He didn’t complain about having nothing to do.  He didn’t complain about being lonely.  He didn’t even complain when he couldn’t figure out how to use his gifts.

I didn’t even know he’d looked at his gifts until tonight, when I stepped on one as I put him to bed.  I had no idea what he was doing – nor did I ask.  Occasionally, I yelled, “Shane? Are you okay?”  But for the most part, I totally ignored him.

In the back of my brain, I know that Shane’s independence is going to take him far.  His ability to keep himself entertained without getting bored or lonely is a big plus.

But I feel so bad about it!  I want more than anything to just be there for him.  I want him to have a sense of security, that if he falls, I’ll catch him.  If he has a question, I’ll answer it.  If he needs affection, I’ll hold him.

And yet, I am not there.  I am not standing next to him when he has a question, because I am often doing something else – frequently something to do with Dylan.  It’s not that I enjoy Dylan’s company more, although I certainly do love that time very much.  It’s not that I find Shane’s companionship lacking in any way.

In fact, I absolutely love spending time with Shane.  It’s a treasure.

So where am I when Shane is spending all that time alone?  I’m usually watching him from afar, letting him know that I’m there if he needs me, and hoping that I’m doing the right thing often enough so that when he grows up, he’ll still have a safe place to fall.

He doesn’t seem hurt by his alone time.  Sometimes, he actually prefers it.  He’ll tell me he doesn’t want to play a game, or do a puzzle, or read a book together.  He just doesn’t need me as much as I think he should.

Which is probably why I feel so bad about all that time that he’s alone.  My baby is growing up without me – and as okay as that is, it’s still sad to be the mom and realize that I’m just not all that necessary.

But it really is okay.  Right?

Merry Christmas – er, Winter Break.

So it’s Christmas.  Shane performed as a puppeteer in the family service, and Dylan sang Panis Angelicus at the candlelight service.  They both did fantastic jobs.

It is constantly amazing how, when they do something they like, the boys are superstars.  They have no trouble being motivated.  No one has to ask them to pay attention.  They don’t require constant prodding.  I say, “Time to go!” and we go.

I know school is an issue.  I loved school, and wanted to be a teacher.  But my boys don’t love school.  They don’t hate it, but they certainly don’t look forward to it.  They like the social aspects (the only parts I did not like) and would have all-day recess if given the option to do so.

So when it’s Christmas – I mean winter break and I want to read The Moffats to them, or I ask them to work on their homework – even if it’s just P.E. homework – they act like I’ve asked them to read War and Peace.  Today I had to beg to read to them and when we got through half a chapter, I asked if we could stop there and they raced off as if being let loose from a cage.

The good news is, they went back to being creative – filmmaking, mostly, and making up games to play together.  They’re being brotherly and having fun and doing generally wonderful things.  I have two absolutely amazingly beautiful, sensitive, sweet boys who are kind and smart and funny and adorable.  And what did I do to deserve them?  Nothing.

So this Christmas, I can honestly say I am blessed beyond my wildest dreams.  Of course, I knew that yesterday, too.  But today, I’m allowed to say it without fear of retribution.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Why Can’t We Celebrate Jesus?

I come from a long line of Christians, but I am not a big religious advocate.  I started taking my kids to church a few years ago, when I realized that they could have another social circle and, hopefully, some positive influences.

Shane, particularly, has become a bit of a Bible thumper.  He spent years listening to a wonderful Christian radio program, Adventures in Odyssey, and is a strong believer in the power of God.  So when he asked this weekend if he could be part of the church’s Living Nativity, I didn’t see any reason to hold him back.  I’ve been hoping he’ll make a good friend at church.  And I figured he liked seeing the animals anyway – this year, a donkey and three sheep.

Shane was a fabulous shepherd.  He wrapped a sash around his head like a headband and chose a real wooden walking stick as a staff.  Waiting for his turn on “stage,” he and some other boys used the staffs like swords and created drum rhythms on the brick walls.  But when the show started, Shane took his role very seriously, kneeling up front by the manger.  The donkey took a liking to Shane, and I have numerous pictures of Shane’s furry friend trying to nibble his hair during the birthday of baby Jesus.

Meanwhile Dylan, who had been rehearsing a song for Christmas Eve, put on a shepherd’s costume without even asking.  He just jumped in with a staff and became a shepherd for the evening’s remaining shows.  The boys had an absolutely phenomenal time.

They had such a good time, they asked if they could do it again the following evening.  It was 60 degrees outside, and Bill and I wanted to take the boys through the highly commercialized Santa-and-friends drive-through lights, preferably with the top down on the convertible so we could see every one of the 100,000 lights in the 3.5-mile drive.

The boys were given the final say in what to do that evening, knowing that it’s only four days until Christmas and that the lights won’t be there for much longer.

“But we won’t get to do the Living Nativity again for a whole year,” said Dylan.

“And we can celebrate Jesus, which is the true meaning of Christmas really,” said Shane.

“Yeah,” Dylan said, “why can’t we celebrate Jesus?”

They went back and did the Living Nativity for the second night.  They were shepherds again, keeping watch over their flocks, kneeling to the baby king, having the time of their lives.  I’m not sure when I’ve ever seen them both so happy.  I don’t really understand the appeal, but who am I to question it?

They were happy.

I was hoping to see that happiness on Christmas morning, with all its fine, fun presents and glittery paper.  But having seen it for two evenings straight – and for such a positive purpose – I think it will be fine no matter what.

Dear Algebra Teacher.

Dear Algebra Teacher,

Dylan and I had a long talk last night about algebra.  We talked about getting him a tutor, and how he had to spend his birthday lunch retaking an algebra test.  He was in tears – but not because he had to spend his birthday doing algebra.

He said some things that really concern me.  I think the biggest concern is that he believes that you don’t think he’s trying – and he’s starting to believe that HE is a failure because he can’t succeed in algebra.

You haven’t known Dylan for very long, and you saw him at the beginning of the year on medication and relatively able to keep up with the class.  When he started trying new medication, though, his ADHD symptoms flared up with a vengeance.  Having watched him since he was born, I can tell you that he has a very real, very classic case of ADHD. His processing speed is in the 9th percentile, meaning that when he hears something, it takes an incredible amount of time for what he hears to become actual information in his brain.

So when Dylan is in class, even if it doesn’t look like he’s paying attention, he is struggling with every fiber of his being to pay attention.  Sometimes he looks completely spaced out – which is when he is most overwhelmed with trying to process.  Because of the processing speed issue, he can’t digest information fast enough – which means he is likely getting only about a third of the information that is being transmitted.

Dylan is incredibly bright, and his sheer intelligence has pulled him through for years.  But I can promise you that when he looks as though he’s not trying, his brain is working overtime, desperately trying to focus.

When he raises his hand and asks a question, he is trying with all his might to understand.  It can be very frustrating, as a parent and as a teacher, to say something three times and have Dylan STILL respond with “What did you say?”  But I can promise you that he IS trying, he IS doing his absolute best and he IS still failing.

So when you say to him, “This is easy!” or “You should be paying closer attention!” – the only thing he hears is, You are a failure because you don’t understand this.  His self-esteem is plummeting every, single day that he hears comments like this from his teachers.  He has ADHD.  He CAN’T do any better. But he is really, really trying.

We are all trying.  And I know it’s frustrating.  He spent more than two hours on his math homework last night, having no idea what he was doing and giving it everything he had.  And because he is how he is, he may not even turn in his math today.  That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to do better.  It doesn’t mean that he’s a rebellious teenager.  It means he has ADHD.

Please know that some of your words, and the way you are treating him, are sincerely and deeply hurting him.  He’s giving it all he’s got, even if he’s failing.  That doesn’t mean he’s a failure in life, or that he doesn’t want to do better. It means he has a learning disability and he needs support and encouragement and positive reinforcement when he does something right.

It took me years of dealing with Dylan to learn this – and lots of outside help, too.  And it is HARD to encourage someone who has so much potential and doesn’t seem able to do such simple things.  But please, in the coming months, please try not to be so hard on him.  We will keep working with him, together, and maybe he will come out of this better and stronger – regardless of his grades.  Thanks much,

Kirsten

I Want a Pony.

When I was a little girl, I wanted a pony.  Horses are beautiful and I thought a pony, which is just a small horse, would be a great pet.

My cousins, who lived on a farm, had a pony named Rusty.  When we visited, my cousin Billy would lead Rusty around the yard with me sitting proudly atop like a princess.  Later, I would break out my copy of Misty of Chincoteague and imagine I was the girl who could tame the wild pony.

Oddly, I never did get a pony.

Now Dylan wants a go-kart.  He wants one with every fiber of his being, and he’s found them online (used and in terrible condition) for about $300.  A good go-kart is $1000 and would probably be ridden half a dozen times before it broke and/or got ignored in favor of some girl, or some other new hobby.

But, sadly for Dylan, we gave him our ten-year-old, used lawn tractor for his birthday.  We took the blade mechanisms off, and told him he can take it apart and rebuild the engine any way he wants, so that he can race the lawn mower in the summer.

I was a little worried about giving this gift, so I tasked my husband with figuring out how to enhance the engine.  I took the kids out of town for a whole weekend.  Three days later, Bill had done exactly nothing – leaving me with no new parts to wrap.  Just an old mower.

So I was a bit anxious about giving Dylan an old lawn tractor for his birthday when he really wanted a go-kart.  I spent half an hour with a spool of yarn, winding it around the house and out to the shed, so he would have a fun way to discover his gift.

Dylan opened the shed, sat on the tractor and said, “So I got something that I already had.”

This was not exactly the reaction I’d been hoping for.

Half an hour later, Dylan was sobbing for no apparent reason.  He swore it had nothing to do with the tractor and, instead, had to do with the overwhelming issue of not being a kid anymore.

Welcome to the world of adulthood, I thought.  This is where you get what you get, not always what you want.  You can no longer wish for something and have it magically appear.  It’s a place where you can’t stop time, or turn back the clock, or grab hold of what you used to have – because usually whatever you had is now gone.

With adulthood comes more responsibility, more work, less time for play.  But it also comes with the wisdom – hopefully – of being grateful for what you have, because whatever you have – like it or not – is all you really need.

I never would have learned this from getting a pony.

Do You Think I Don’t Know How You Feel?

My baby Dylan turns 13 tomorrow.  Yesterday, he hosted a party in which 5 friends (2 girls, 3 boys) came to his house, ate pizza and cake, hung out in the game room and played zombie tag outside in the mud.

In preparation, and in fear, I started reading a book called, It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success.  The premise is that kids with learning disabilities can misread social cues, and thereby end up having few – if any – friends.

It suprised me to discover that the person who most needs social help is Shane.  The book is great, though and I’m looking forward to finishing it.

Meanwhile, Dylan’s party was a huge success.

Both Bill and I noticed that Dylan was particularly mature during his party.  Screeching and Bouncing Dylan was replaced by Responsible and Content Dylan.

When all six kids wanted to do six different things, Dylan was the one who found compromises so that they could all be happy.  His ideas were valid, his attitude serene.  In some cultures, they say age 13 is when a boy becomes a man.  For the first time, I can see why.

The conversation at the table – a group of very intelligent kids, most from the elementary GT program – consisted of debate over welfare and  concern about racism.  Dylan also took in donations for the local animal shelter in lieu of “human” birthday presents – and everyone contributed.

Later, Dylan stood up for Shane, who (at age 9) was in the room for a relatively tame version of Truth or Dare.  He made sure the kids didn’t embarrass Shane or trick him in any way.

And shortly before the game of zombie tag, I heard Dylan upstairs with one friend who had, apparently, gotten upset and locked himself in a room.  I never found out what happened, but I heard Dylan say, in a quiet voice and through the closed door, “Do you think I don’t know how you feel?”

My son has the kindness of a saint.

And I didn’t realize it until I heard him say those words.

In all the hoopla over medication, good grades, discipline, blah blah blah – I’d honestly forgotten that Dylan is so incredibly warm, kind and caring.

He is, in fact, the child who was, at age 3, walking up the stairs behind my mother when she accidentally kicked him in the face.

Dylan – a toddler – said, in a matter-of-fact tone, “Oh I’m sorry, Mimi, that my face got in the way of your foot.”  He wasn’t hurt or stunned – just sorry that his face had gotten in the way of his grandmother’s foot.

And now his empathy has evolved into an ability to help his friends in a time of need.  I’m astounded, overwhelmed and so, so happy.  Nothing else in this world matters as much as human kindness.

And Dylan really has it.

Do You Want Me to Self-Advocate Now?

About 10 minutes into Dylan’s IEP meeting today, Dylan came in.  He sat at the head of the table, several chairs away from the adults at the long conference table: his parents, the 7th grade vice principal, his case manager, his guidance counselor and the special ed coordinator.

We spent more than an hour discussing Dylan’s issues.  We had two teacher reports from opposite ends of the spectrum: engineering (A+) and algebra (F).

Dylan sat politely through the entire meeting, making appropriate comments and answering direct questions.  The case manager and special ed coordinator outlined Dylan’s four main objectives – which, after 20 minutes of discussion, he could not repeat.  Come to think of it, after all that lecturing, can’t repeat his four objectives, either.

But one of the objectives had something to do with self-advocacy.  Dylan has had a great deal of trouble asking for help.  He thinks he knows everything already.  He thinks that, if he doesn’t know something, he should know it, so he flails along aimlessly, hoping he’ll figure it out in time for the test.

Sometimes I see Dylan as a Japanese beetle that’s landed upside down, waving his legs wildly and wondering why he’s not upright.

Dylan has hit a wall which, for him, means he needs to do some actual work to get good grades.  But since he doesn’t know what extra work he should do, what’s most important is that he ask for help.

“What does ‘advocate’ mean?” his case manager asked him.

“Getting what you need basically,” Dylan said.

YES!  He knows what it means!  We’ve only been discussing it since fourth grade – so now we know he really understands advocacy.

And yet, he doesn’t know what homework he should do.

“So you could ask a teacher to tell you what the homework is,” someone suggested.

It was around that point in the meeting that I noticed Dylan gazing off at a poster of snow-capped mountains.  He didn’t seem the least bit interested.  Apparently, an hour of discussing his needs is WAY too much time on one topic.

I think everyone agreed on that point.

So we sent him back to class, to self-advocate at will.  Hopefully, he’ll follow some logical progression toward order and organization.  Perhaps he’ll find out what the homework is and when to turn it in.  Perhaps he’ll even turn in some homework on time!  Miracles have been known to happen.

But I got the distinct impression that knowing the meaning of “advocacy” and actually acquiring what he needs are two different things.

I wanted to yell at him as he walked out of the meeting room, “Okay, Son, now is the time!  Advocate! Advocate!”  I considered leaping from my chair and doing a little cheer, “ADVOCATE!  ADVOCATE!  YAAAAAAAAAY!”

I always have such high hopes on the day of an IEP meeting.  I expect wonderful things to happen at the meeting, and spectacular things to follow.

But Dylan just wandered out the door, and his dad and I followed shortly thereafter.

Do You Like My Haircut?

When Dylan was 3 years old, he would occasionally lament:  “I wish I was a girl.”  At first, I wrote it off.  Then I thought, Gee, maybe he really wants to be a girl.  Finally, after several months, I asked him directly.

“Why do you want to be a girl, Dylan?”

“I want my hair to be like that,” he said.

“You want to have long hair?” I asked, both relieved and incredulous.

“I would like that,” he said.  At 3, he thought only girls had long hair.

“Okay then,” I said, “you can grow your hair long.”  And so he did.

His hair grew very long.  He was mistaken for a girl nearly everywhere we went – and the mistakes went on for years.  He would laugh it off, his long, wavy, reddish-blonde hair falling into his face as he laughed, “I’m a boy!”

About six years later, when we walked into the middle school GT/LD classroom, it was full of boys – all but one with long hair.  Long hair wasn’t in or out, really – but in that classroom full of 6th graders who all had issues similar to my son’s, it was an anomaly.  One boy had a crew cut.  All the rest had long, flowing hair.

A few more years have passed since then.  Dylan’s proven himself to be somewhat of a rock star at his school – although singing Italian opera is a bit classier than being a rock star.  His hair always stood out in a crowd, and he was easy to find.  The color helped – but the length really stood out.

But something happened in the past week – and Dylan decided to cut his hair.

It happened on International Night, he told me, the night he sang O Mio Babbino Caro in front of a couple hundred people, including many of his peers.

“I was just standing in front of the mirror and I thought, I really need a haircut.”

And a few days later, when we got to the stylist, he chose short hair.  It’s long in the front, but a good inch or two is showing on his neck – a neck I haven’t seen on a dry day in many years.

He looks awesome.  I’ve always loved long hair, but his new, short haircut is great.

For the past year, Dylan was forced to pull back his hair for every concert with the Children’s Chorus of Washington – a prestigious, uniformed choir that accosted Dylan with bobby pins in spite of his protests.

“Here’s the real test,” Dylan said to me today.  “Would I have to pull back my hair for CCW?”

I studied him thoughtfully.  His hair is a longish style, but there is nothing to pull back.

“Nope,” I said.

“Then I really do look like a boy,” he said.  He smiled triumphantly and walked away – my son, the boy.

It’s a Beautiful Day.

Our first snow of the year hit today – big, gorgeous flakes that fell lazily to the ground, followed by a blizzard of said flakes that bombarded the ground, followed by hard, freezing rain that turned the white blanket to squishy mush.

The kids were elated.  They spent all day working hard – pulling out Christmas things and decorating around the house, practicing puppeteering for the church performance, even doing the graphic art work on my holiday letter.

Then, just before the sun went down, they asked to go outside.  Stores were closing early, the roads were so slick as to be terrifying, and stepping into the snow sounded like stepping into mud.  But they said they’d get their own snowsuits (not an easy task) and boots – which they did.  With only minimal help (Dylan yelling from outside because he forgot his gloves and locked himself out of the house) – they went outside to play.

I watched them from inside.  They never just play.  First, they had an elaborate game requiring old tennis balls.  Then they got out the sleds and – in one inch of mush – created something like an obstacle course which somehow involved sledding across our perfectly flat yard and skidding down into the woods (ouch).  Then they proceeded to the backyard where they designed and developed roads – or rides, I’m not sure which – so that our yard now looks like we just finished hosting a monster truck rally.

Nearly two hours later, I called them in for a warm bath before dinner.  They were dripping and pink, but when I said, “How was it?” they both responded simultaneously – “IT WAS AWESOME!”

Good, clean, wholesome fun.  An education beyond school.  A life well-lived.

As long as I can remember that their success will stem from more than school – and it really will – we can all be happy.

Today was a beautiful day.

Next page →