Month: March 2014
When Dylan was two years old, we came home to our two-bedroom, garage-less rambler. Our rental home was tucked away in a wooded yard – oddly also on a very busy street.
I unbuckled him from his car seat, and he said, “Can I go in the back door, Mommy?”
“Okay,” I told him. “The back door is locked, so I’m going to go in the front door. I will go through the house and unlock the back door so you can come in.”
“Okay, Mommy,” he said.
I went as fast as my feet would move, as I watched Dylan toddle around to the back of the house. I unlocked the front door, went inside, and raced to the sliding glass “back” door.
Dylan wasn’t at the door. I didn’t see him on the porch, either. I raced out the back, calling his name – “Dylan!” – but he didn’t answer. He wasn’t anywhere near the back door.
We didn’t have a backyard – just a little porch and a shed. Screaming now, “DYLAN!” – I ran to the locked shed, ran around it, looked in the neighbor’s yard, desperately searching for my little boy.
No answer. How could this have happened? I thought. It only took me 30 seconds to get in the front door and through the house!
I went back into the house, hoping he’d somehow gone in the back door after all. “Dylan?!” I tried. The one-floor house was achingly empty.
I ran out the front door. “DYLAN!” Still no answer. But through the wooded front yard, I saw something move.
Right next to the street.
It was Dylan. He had his back to me. Cars were roaring by him, not three feet from where he stood. He looked like he was waiting for an opening in the traffic, so he could cross.
In his right hand, he held the handle of his little red wagon. And he was just standing there, staring at the cars.
“DYLAN!” I screeched, running full-force through the trees to stop him from stepping into the rushing traffic.
I fell to my knees next to him. I tried to take a breath. I probably cried. I probably said, “Why didn’t you go in the back door?” but I don’t remember saying anything at all.
I just knew my baby was safe. I thanked God. And we went on with our lives.
This morning, I dropped off Dylan at middle school. And every time I do, I feel like I’m putting him back where I found him at age two: standing next to the roaring traffic, with his little red wagon and his back to me, watching.
And waiting to take his next step.
In all my angst about Dylan’s seventh grade experience, I took it upon myself to learn about our options for high school. I emailed the IB coordinator, and set up a meeting.
“What’s IB?” you are saying – because who ever heard of an International Baccalaureate program in high school?
Sure enough, that’s what it is. Kids who complete the IB program in high school get 30 college credits upon entry. They are the ones who apply to Harvard and Yale and Princeton – and even though they graduate with a 6.2 GPA, they still may not get in.
But they definitely won’t get in without an IB diploma.
This is what I learned at my meeting.
If a student doesn’t have the required work ethic or the ambition for IB, we also have the option of AP classes – which means Advanced Placement. These kids are top-of-the-heap – or at least, they were until IB came along. But supposedly, AP is the hardest type of class.
If you can’t hack it in AP, though, you can still take Honors classes. Basically, this is the third level of “smart.”
I’m not even going to get into Pre-IB, because I still don’t understand that.
Then, since there are no “dumb” classes, because all kids are brilliant, we have the choice of taking Grade Level classes. For example, in Grade 9, you would take Grade 9 English.
So – since my children are top-of-the-heap in brilliance (as all moms believe), I learned more about IB. It is a fantastic program. Students take specific classes in a variety of areas, and they expand on the subject matter by discussing topics in depth. It’s like GT for high school, really – which would suit Dylan perfectly.
Sadly, it requires Dylan to take substantial amounts of a foreign language which, because of his ADHD, may be difficult to manage. Or, it may be incredibly easy for him. But who knows? And do I want to doom him to three years of French if it’s going to be agonizingly dull for him?
Worst of all, though, every class includes an in-depth, incredibly lengthy written essay.
And that’s where Dylan is left out in the cold. Because of his issues, writing is incredibly difficult for him. He can express himself in a thousand ways, but sitting and writing in depth would absolutely kill him.
But wait! There’s more!
This year – this year! – our high school started a NEW IB program! It’s called the IBCC – the IB Career-related Certificate – and it’s absolutely made for Dylan!
He can take sign language instead of a foreign language – something he’s already partially learned and likes. He can choose more classes, rather than having them prescribed for him, including the five engineering classes he would love.
And best of all, while they do still learn to write well, his written essays in each class are replaced by “projects” of the students’ choosing.
IBCC is quite literally the best thing to happen to school (for Dylan) – ever. Except possibly the Montessori method, which we can’t afford. So we’ll go with this.
Of course, it doesn’t really kick in until 11th grade. But at least I can sleep at night for the next 3 years, knowing there is – finally – hope.
When Dylan was in first grade, I went in for Open House to observe. The kids were on the floor, the teacher on a chair, and she was asking questions that were so simple a bedpost could have answered correctly.
But six-year-old Dylan never raised his hand. Later I asked him, “Why didn’t you raise your hand? I’m sure you knew all the answers.”
Dylan said, “Because she only calls on me about once every three hours. I don’t know why I should make my arm tired if she’s not even going to call on me.”
And he was right. In trying to be fair to all 28 students, the teacher rarely called on anyone more than once or twice a day. As a result Dylan, who was re-learning things in first grade that he’d known since preschool, was beyond bored.
The boredom lasted for years.
Finally, in fourth grade, Dylan was accepted into the Gifted and Talented (GT) program. He was able to fully express himself. Dylan not only raised his hand often, he spent his days stimulated and engaged. There was true brilliance in the room. He and his classmates discussed topics like global warming, marketing strategies, alternative energies. Their “play” time was wildly creative, and they built their own toys, wrote their own books, and invented … everything.
And Dylan wasn’t bored anymore. In fact, he loved school.
But he doesn’t love middle school.
Today, I chaperoned a field trip, where we sat on benches and listened to a man talk about industry in 1863. He tried to personalize it, but for most of the audience, it was just plain dull.
The kids wanted to be doing things, experiencing the wide variety of hands-on tasks they could try at the museum. But instead, for all but 20 minutes of a 3-hour “tour,” we just sat on benches.
I found myself staring out the window at the harbor. I looked at the factory next door, and wondered if we could take a real tour of industry there. I watched stationery boats and thought about sailing. I saw a duck – and wished I could show it to the kids, who would have so preferred a duck over anything related to industry in 1863.
It reminded me that I spent my own school days entertaining myself while teachers droned on and on about things that didn’t interest me. I had some good teachers – I learned a lot in 7th grade English, for example. But mostly I wrote stories in my head, pondered philosophical questions, and decided which boys I’d rank as cutest in the class.
Life is hard as a middle schooler. And for someone who’s as smart as Dylan, classroom time needs to be a bit more … interesting. So later this week, I’m going to talk to a high school staffer to find out about future options.
I think Dylan is mind-numbingly bored with school. It’s not that he needs more medication. Duh. He needs mental stimulation.
Just like he did in first grade. I can’t believe it took me this long to realize it.
Tomorrow is Shane’s rescheduled, rescheduled-again field trip. With all the snow days we’ve had, I can no longer remember the originally scheduled date. And I am supposed to chaperone.
“Tomorrow is the last day for the whole school year that we can go,” Shane told me. “There are no other dates they can have us there.”
And – SURPRISE! – they are calling for snow.
Shane really wants to go on this trip. Field trips are fun. I want him to go, too. I’m not sure I want to go myself, but I want him to be happy.
Unfortunately, I still have control issues.
Weather – and the decision to cancel/delay/open on time – are completely out of my control. There is absolutely nothing I can do about it. Yet I sit here, worrying about it. I wonder, What if…? What if…?
As if thinking hard enough, wondering long enough, would change the outcome. As if I have any say in the matter at all.
Having kids – and living life – is frequently a matter of letting go.
My sister had kids before I did. When Dylan was so young he couldn’t even walk yet, she said, “Having kids is completely about letting go. As soon as they’re born, you start letting them go.”
I didn’t believe her. To be fair, I had no idea what she was talking about. How can I let him go? I thought. I just got him!
But she was right. And what she was saying is a lot deeper than the weather – and can help me in every aspect of my parenting.
I need to let go when they are learning to tie their shoes, to wash their hair, to button their shirts. I need to let go when they make poor decisions, when they forget things, when they choose things I don’t like. I need to let go when they argue – with each other, and with me. I need to let go when they moan and groan and complain because I did something they don’t like.
And for heaven’s sake, I need to let go of the weather.
Last night, I told Dylan that I’ve missed him in the mornings. I do. He’s been getting up early, while I sleep, and making his own breakfast and lunch. He’s been leaving for the bus without so much as a “good morning,” let alone a “goodbye.”
But last night, after just a mention of my missing him, he asked if I could come downstairs in the morning. I jumped at the chance. I made him eggs with cheese and faux bacon. I threw a slice of banana bread on his plate and a handful of ripe, organic strawberries.
“This is the best breakfast I’ve ever seen,” he said.
It was possibly the greatest compliment I’ve ever received.
I guess there are going to be moments when Dylan is Dylan again – basically just a nice person to have around. He has always been a kind person. He had empathy for other people when he was born, and he’s such an enthusiastic, optimistic person in his soul. It’s been hard to watch middle school squash that light – but sometimes it comes back.
This morning was wonderful. He was bright and funny and a true joy.
He even complimented the breakfast again. “Usually when I eat breakfast, I save my favorite for last. But today I want to save everything for last!”
I am no cook. And I don’t expect that he’ll ever compliment anything I do, ever again. But it sure did make my day to spend the morning with him, knowing he felt well-nourished and happy.
I wish I could do more for him, but he needs me to back off instead – and let him do what he needs to do. So I will.
And I will also – cautiously – enjoy today.
There are days when I think, I quit. I want to pull my kids out of school, throw them into an RV, and wander aimlessly around the country – just me, and them. (My husband will have to stay home and work, because someone needs to pay the bills.)
It’s the schools that I want to escape – the world of rules, and authority, and being told that my child just doesn’t matter that much to anyone in the school.
For example, I visited Shane’s principal today to ask if Shane could take pictures for the school yearbook. Shane is an awesome photographer, and one of his photos has already been published – a great picture he took of our dog, Xena, which was used in a nationwide, syndicated feature story.
So I thought it would be nice if Shane could contribute his talents to his school. The principal, however, talked about things like “lost instruction time” and the many photos “already taken by a professional.” He said he would think about it and get back to me “sometime next week.”
But it sounded to me as if he’d made up his mind already. And rather than cry, I walked out on the principal, mid-sentence. I went straight to the cafeteria and told Shane that he probably wouldn’t get to take pictures for the yearbook.
Shane said, “I’m fine with that.” And he was.
The principal, who was not pleased by my behavior, followed me into the cafeteria and told us both, “I haven’t made a decision yet.” Then he went back to his office, and I went home and cried for the sheer unfairness of it all.
I had to email the principal and apologize for my rudeness, and the principal suggested starting a photography club next year – a brilliant idea.
But it didn’t keep me from crying all afternoon.
It just seems to me that Dylan, who already gets the vast majority of the attention, also goes full-force into his passions and becomes a superstar at whatever he tries. Not only has he sung solo and in choruses worldwide, but he’s a musical genius, a creative engineer and he excels at every sport he tries. (He doesn’t play sports, but only because he’s too busy because he got the lead in the school play.)
When Dylan was in fifth grade, he created his own Save the Rainforest campaign and raised hundreds of dollars to help protect the Amazon. The principal wasn’t overtly thrilled with the idea, but he arranged for Dylan to present his powerpoint to the entire student body.
Same principal, different son.
Shane is passionate about magic, and learns every trick his little hands can master. He plays the drums – quite well – and he, too, is awesome at every sport he tries. But for Shane, there is no limelight. He is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, and he’s okay with that. He’s a different person – with a different attitude.
But he really is an excellent photographer. Shane has a knack for capturing the right image in the right moment – something I’ve never been able to do. I take a million pictures and hope one is good. Shane takes one picture, and it’s good.
I’m just so afraid that I’m letting him down, that I’m not doing enough for Shane. But rather than crawl into a hole, I’ve decided to “go bigger.” I’m going to find a photographer, someone who would be willing to spend some time with Shane, maybe teach him a few tricks of the trade.
The heck with school. Maybe Shane will have to take a few days off to explore his passion. And maybe we won’t need that RV after all.
Shane was in his first “huddle” last week.
“A huddle is something the group does when they want to talk about something serious,” Shane said.
Shane is in fourth grade. I didn’t realize groups started in fourth grade. He’s referring to cliques – the groups that made me feel like a loser for every waking moment of every day from fifth grade until I left for college.
Being an outcast myself, I didn’t know how the group process worked – until Shane told me what the four boys did.
“They had a huddle about me,” he said. “All the boys got in a huddle to decide if they would let me into the group. Nick didn’t want me to be in the group. I could see them in there talking about stuff. And then Andrew and Nick did Rock-Paper-Scissors and Andrew won, so I got into the group.”
I almost vomited. They decided on Shane’s social future with Rock-Paper-Scissors?!
And THAT mentality is what kept me an outcast for my entire young life?
Nick still doesn’t want Shane in the group. I don’t know Nick. But Nick hit Shane in second grade. And as a result, I hate Nick. I’d like to have my own huddle and throw Nick out of the group.
“He’s just a little rough,” Shane told me today.
Luckily, I’m not making the decisions for Shane or his peers. These are tough lessons that have to be learned without my input.
The group built itself during half-hour increments, at recess, over the course of several months, and I realize that it’s not likely to stay congealed for very long. But Shane is happy today, and I’m hopeful that no one in the group – even Nick – will hurt him in the near future.
Without my asking, Shane told me about his first huddle. “We had to decide what to do about this guy in our class who said two curse words. We decided we should go talk to him.”
So the group is trying to make the world a better place. I’m proud that Shane is a part of it.
Dylan wants to go to the graveyard after school with his new friends.
“Gee Dylan,” I said, “I think I would need some more details before I agree to something like that. Where is this graveyard? I don’t know of any graveyards near your school, and I don’t like the idea of you walking on busy, six-lane roads with no sidewalks. How are you going to get there?”
He texted for a day or two, then answered me.
“Well it turns out,” he said, “that we’re all just going to ride the bus home with Mabel. And she lives right next to the graveyard, so we’ll just walk there from the bus stop.”
“That doesn’t sound like a good idea,” I told him. “I don’t know her, and I don’t know her parents and I don’t even know if they’ll be home when you get there.”
“It doesn’t matter because we’re not going in her house; we’re just going to the graveyard,” Dylan told me.
“I don’t even know where she lives, Dylan,” I said. “It does not sound like a good idea.”
“BUT…” Dylan said, and launched into a raft of reasons why it certainly would be a good idea.
“The answer is no,” I said with finality.
The finality, unfortunately, was followed by three hours of excuses, whining, complaints and accusations. Sometime in the midst, Bill came home and backed up my original “no” with his own, lower-voiced and more wordy “no.”
Then Dylan really went off – talking about how I have to be right all the time, and how I don’t trust him to make his own decisions, and how I am the only parent who won’t let her child go to the graveyard after school tomorrow.
I don’t know Dylan’s new group of friends. One of them has purple hair, but that’s all I know. Another one was Dylan’s first girlfriend (a two-week relationship) who played a giraffe in their second-grade play. It’s possible that the other parents are working and aren’t home after school, so the other kids have no restrictions.
After talking with Bill, we decided it would be a good idea to lay out some guidelines as to what kinds of things would always be a “no.” We called in the teenager.
“If there is no adult supervision,” I said, “the answer will always be no.”
He stormed away, without hearing the rest of the “always no” options. I yelled to him.
“Dylan, would you prefer that Daddy and I get a divorce so that I have to work all the time and no one is here after school, so that you can do whatever you want?”
“No,” Dylan called back. “I don’t want you to get a divorce. I would just like it if you were gone.” He meant me, the MOM, the doer-of-all-evil, the nay-sayer, the disciplinarian.
“I would just like it if you were gone.”
They say not to take it personally when a teenager lashes out.
There is a truce, of sorts, between my teenage son and me.
Dylan has a great heart and is capable of thinking for himself. He’s growing up, and separation from Mom is an essential part of that. I don’t want to keep him under my wing forever. After all, isn’t that the point of parenting – to teach him how to fly all by himself?
My insistence that I be told everything comes from a deep-seated need to control everything. And not only do I not need to be in control of everything, I simply can’t be in control of everything.
I realized that my worries were fairly limited. So I made a list of (hopefully) all of them:
- shoplifting or stealing
- smoking cigarettes
- sniffing/inhaling legal products
- any kind of legal or illegal drugs
- non-consensual sexual activities
- unprotected sex
- cutting or otherwise harming yourself
- feeling like you want to hurt yourself
- feeling like you want to hurt someone else
- doing anything you know is wrong
- any other kind of immoral behavior
Then I gave this list to Dylan.
I said, “You don’t have to talk to me, but I want you to be safe and happy. And I don’t expect you to do any of these things, because I think you’re a good kid and you know right from wrong. So if, at the end of the day, you have not done any of these things, just give me a ‘thumbs-up.’ And if you have done any of these things, give me a ‘thumbs-down’ and we will need to talk. Can you agree to that?”
Dylan agreed. I told him I am still there for him if he needs me. Then I asked him if he wanted me to drive him to school in the morning and he said, “No, I’m doing fine.”
And this morning, for the third day in a row, he got up, made himself breakfast, packed himself a lunch, and made it to the bus right on time.
For weeks now, Dylan has been saying, “I don’t want to talk to you.”
I’ve been reading books. I’m simultaneously reading How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, The Five Love Languages of Teenagers and Enter at Your Own Risk! 8 Secrets for Parenting Through the Middle School Years. Bill and I even went to see Kirk Martin again – my fourth time – to get some new insights into the teenage years.
We were doing okay, or so I thought. I allowed room for independence and growth – while still drawing the line when the cell phone came to the dinner table. I thought we were doing pretty well.
Then last night happened. I was downstairs and the kids were in the shower. Suddenly I realized, It’s too quiet! I raced upstairs as Shane was opening the bathroom door and I heard Dylan say, “Do you have any questions about that?”
I looked at my baby’s face, as Shane walked slowly out of the bathroom. Something serious had transpired.
“What were you and Dylan talking about?” I asked Shane, genuinely concerned.
“Nothing,” said Shane, for the very first time in his life.
“Nothing?” I repeated. “You were obviously talking about something!”
Shane stammered, “He told me not to tell anybody. It’s a secret.”
Normally, I would be thrilled that the boys were so close that they could share secrets. But Dylan is in a stage where nothing is off-limits, and Shane is too young to understand a lot of what Dylan says and does.
I went back to Dylan and asked him to tell me the secret.
“No,” Dylan said. When pressed, he cried, stomped his feet and had a mini-meltdown. “I don’t want to TALK to you!” he yelled – as he had many times in the past few weeks. All I can think, when he says that, is What have I done to ruin our friendship?
It’s a thought that, thanks to the ex-30-year friend, hasn’t left my thoughts for weeks.
“You ALWAYS have to know EVERYTHING!” Dylan screamed at me. “Why can’t you just let me have MY LIFE?”
“Fine,” I said, and stormed into the laundry room. I started throwing laundry – Dylan’s laundry – into the washer. Then I stormed back and said, “You want me out of your life. You don’t want to talk to me. That’s fine. But I don’t need to do things for you, either. You can do your own laundry from now on.”
“I can do that,” he said.
“And tomorrow, you can make your own breakfast, make your own lunch, and catch the bus to get to school. I’m not getting out of bed at 6:30 to drive you to school if you won’t even talk to me.”
“That’s fine,” he said.
I did put his pills on the counter, in the hopes that he’d remember to take them. They were back on the kitchen table this morning. The peanut butter was sitting on the counter, along with an empty plastic bag.
And Dylan was gone.