Month: April 2014


They’re Just Not Right.

We’ve recently learned that the caramel color found in most maple syrup is a carcinogen. So we’ve moved on to natural maple syrup.

With its natural sugars, it’s more like a fruit than a candy. Shane doesn’t love the syrup, but he eats it. Dylan, however, says the new syrup tastes like vomit and he’d rather have nothing on his pancakes.

“Fine with me,” I said.

“Isn’t there anything except this syrup that I can put on my pancakes?” he moaned.

“No,” I said. Then I went to the grocery store and discovered a natural strawberry syrup. Dylan loves strawberries, so I bought it.

“Ew!” he wailed. “It’s terrible!”

So we went back to nothing on his pancakes. And this morning, we were having leftover chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. I made a pile of three pancakes and sliced a banana on each one for added sweetness. It looked like a TV commercial for IHOP.

Dylan came downstairs for breakfast.

“I don’t want bananas on my pancakes,” he said.

“Dylan,” I said, “I worked very hard to make a nice breakfast for you. The only thing you can say right now is ‘thanks, Mom!’ Everything else is inappropriate.”

“But I just really didn’t want …”

“I don’t care if you didn’t want bananas. I was trying to do something nice for you and if you don’t like it, keep it to yourself.”

I left the room and came back a few minutes later.

Dylan was shoveling pancakes with bananas into his face. “This really isn’t bad,” he said with his mouth full, “except for the chocolate chips.”

“What?!” I said. “You’re complaining about the chocolate chips?”

“Well they’re all hard or something,” he said. “They’re just not right.”

I paused, only briefly, before continuing to argue with him about how to respond to the morning’s breakfast.

That pause was the moment that I realized: No matter what I say, no matter what I do, he’s going to be rude, and dislike anything I do for him. And nothing is going to be good enough.

But I can’t stop trying.

I truly wish I could stop trying. Life would be so much more pleasant if I just didn’t care about his well-being. But I can’t.

So next time, I’ll make sure the pancakes don’t have chocolate chips in them. I’ll add fruit, probably. Maybe I’ll add strawberries instead of bananas – a risky move, I know.

And I’ll hope against all rational thought, that he’ll sit down to eat and say, “Thanks, Mom. This is delicious!”

It’s Getting Pretty Lonely.

On Friday after school, immediately upon seeing me, Shane announced, “They announced the patrols today and I failed.”

The school patrols are the kids who help the little ones across the street. They are chosen after teachers score all of the fourth graders on their level of maturity and responsibility.

And Shane thinks he failed this little “test.”

To make matters substantially worse, of the 20 patrols chosen, seven of them are close friends of Shane’s.

And Shane only has eight friends.

It’s a status symbol, to be a patrol. They have patrol parties, patrol training, patrol lunches, and even a patrol camp. To do their daily jobs, patrols get to school early and stay late – which means that all of Shane’s friends – the ones he’s been running to see every morning for months – will be too busy working to talk to Shane.

Worst of all, Shane would make an excellent patrol. He is responsible, mature, polite, and professional. Shane follows the rules to the letter. He would have been a perfect fit for the patrol job.

But Shane was overlooked. Again.

Shane went through something similar last year, when his closest friends got into the GT program, or were (at least) waitlisted. Shane didn’t even get waitlisted. We weren’t heartbroken, because Shane really didn’t need the GT program, but it was a blow. Just like with the patrols, he watched as all of his friends wandered off into the sunset without him.

So this morning, Shane wrote a song. It’s sitting next to me here, in a notebook full of misspelled words by a 10-year-old boy who never says much about his feelings. I fixed the misspellings for inclusion here.

 

I walk to school every morning; same thing happens every day.

No one seems to notice me; no one even cares

Because I’m invisible, yeah; ’cause I’m invisible, yeah

Just plain invisible, yeah – and it’s getting pretty lonely.

 

I cried when he sang it for me. And now I just want to crawl into a hole – or jump up and down screaming for him to get some well-deserved positive attention.

But I don’t scream, and I don’t crawl into a hole.  I just write, and I pray.

Something HAS Changed.

When we took Dylan off of medication, I declared that nothing had changed. He is still very bouncy and unfocused. He sings all the time. His ADHD symptoms haven’t changed – which means the non-stimulant medication really wasn’t helping him.

But his emotional behavior has changed.

We have had a lot of stresses in the past week or so. Vacationing and coming home is – in spite of its fun – stressful. Going back to school after a long break is stressful.

Then Dylan got three teeth pulled to make way for upcoming braces.

And that’s when I realized that Dylan had changed. He has come through this strong, like an adult. In spite of what is surely incredible pain, he has had no emotional meltdowns, no tantrums, no lashing out of any kind.

He is still a teenager, and he’s back to texting his friends instead of talking to family. But he has been friendly and fun and calm and kind. One morning, he actually apologized because he’d been grouchy and tired the night before.

Kinda like an adult. And kinda like Dylan.

It’s been like having the “old” Dylan back. He’s not free of emotions, and puberty is still rearing its ugly head, but Dylan is now rising to the occasion instead of folding. He’s not whining and moping – he’s pushing through. He still complains, but in a more mature fashion.

In the adult world, when a drug addict gets clean, the same kind of thing happens. Taking the drugs out of the system leaves the addict with himself and his emotions. And if he’s lucky, after drugs, he learns how to deal with those emotions without drugs.

Basically, he grows up.

And I’m seeing it in Dylan now. It’s like we took away the barrier to his ability to grow emotionally. By not giving him drugs to “help” him, we’ve given him a chance to help himself.

I have no idea how I could have not known this before. We were doing the absolute best thing for him, we thought, by giving him drugs to help him through school. He was struggling and suffering – and the drugs helped.

Until they didn’t help anymore.

Yes, he’s bouncy and unfocused. And he really does sing all the time. And he’s still a teenager, which is plenty irritating all by itself.

But he’s Dylan again, and he’s maturing and growing beautifully. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But Disney World is Real.

Disney World is my favorite place. Everyone is so happy, and the “cast members” trip over themselves making sure we have a nice time.

After eight days of glorious treatment from simple smiles to free desserts, we decided to pick up some sandwiches at the Orlando airport.

There were four kinds of bread: white, rye, multi-grain and ciabatta.

The deli worker looked my direction. I said, “I’ll have a bacon and cheese on ciabatta.” (It was for Shane.)

“We don’t have ciabatta,” she said.

I looked at the menu. Yep, I’d read it correctly. “You don’t?” I queried.

“We have Italian.”

I looked at the menu again. White, rye, multi-grain and ciabatta. “I’ll take Italian,” I said. “And I’d also like a tuna salad on multi-grain, please.”

“We don’t have multi-grain.”

Over her head, I reread the four choices. “So basically,” I said, “you don’t have any of the breads on your menu.”

The deli worker stared blankly. No explanation, no apology. No smile.

“I’ll have Italian,” I said.

We were not in Disney World anymore.

When I repeated the story to Bill a few minutes later, I said we were “back in reality.” My 10-year-old overheard this.

“But Disney World is real,” Shane said.

And he said it with such sweetness, and such conviction, that I am still thinking about it.

He’s right, of course. Disney World is real. It’s a place that can be sensed with all five senses. It’s a solid, huge place just begging to be explored. And in that sense, it is entirely real.

But Walt Disney’s major goal for his parks is that they be magical. With the help of properly trained staff and attention to even the most minute details, Disney World has become a place where people can escape reality – and still be in it.

So why isn’t the world more like Disney World – instead of the other way around?

I wasn’t alive in the 1950’s, but I imagine that people were happier then – less stressed, more friendly, more in touch with neighbors and community. The population of our country has increased by 160 million people since 1955, so there are bound to be more grouchy ones.

But why does everyone have to be so grouchy now? Looking around at the red lights, I see nothing but frowning faces and self-absorption. No one is pleasant.

Why do have to be so grouchy? I am one of the least pleasant among the drivers on the road. I spend half my time just trying to pass whoever is in front of me. My kids have started talking to their friends about how I drive. That’s how bad it’s gotten.

But I can change that. I can change that one little thing. I can become a more pleasant driver. I can do things to make the world a little bit brighter. I try to teach that to my kids – when I’m not behind the wheel making an idiot of myself. And I can be a little nicer to folks around me, even if I’m hungry, tired or stressed out.

I surround myself with nice people. I have a great family. My husband is possibly the nicest man on the face of the earth – which drives me completely crazy – but I could take a few lessons from him. There’s a lot to be said for the Dale Carnegie books, written back when life was simpler and still pleasant – back when people were nice to each other just because they could be.

As always, the change begins with me.

I Was Open to Being Flexible.

Over spring break, we went to Disney World. Affording it is impossible, of course, so Bill worked through some of his “vacation.” And the crowds were unfathomable.

But with months of prior planning, we were able to pull it off and have a marvelous time. I spent hours on the computer, researching where and when to go, and how to traverse the parks for minimal waits. We had every minute of every day meticulously planned – although I was open to being flexible, which came in handy.

During one delightful Disney day, though, Dylan said, “Why can’t Shane and me just go and do what we want to do?”

I allowed the poor grammar. “That doesn’t sound like much of a family vacation,” I said.

“I’d be with my family,” he retorted. “Shane is my brother. But I wouldn’t have you pulling me where you want to go and making us go with you.”

I flashed back to several weeks earlier, when Shane so sweetly asked, “I know the answer is probably no, and that’s okay. But do you think that Dylan and me could kind of run around just by ourselves when we’re at Disney World?”

I’m not sure what they envisioned. I doubt it involved having the park filled to capacity with hot, sweaty bodies, noise in every conceivable direction, and sticky toddlers darting out at every turn.

But I told both kids – at separate times – that I would consider their requests. I talked to Bill and he said it would be okay, if we knew their general area and Dylan had his phone with him.

So on Wednesday, we did a little … experiment. The kids had been begging to play a game called Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, with Mickey Mouse cards and portals strategically placed throughout the park.

By noon, we were way ahead of our planned schedule. So I took a chance.

“All right, guys,” I said, “you have a little more than one hour. If you want to play your game, go. I’ll meet you at the Splash Mountain Fastpass entrance at 2:00. But don’t be late, or you won’t get this chance ever again!”

“But Shane lost the map,” Dylan said. So we went and got three more maps for the Sorcerers game.

Then, in the midst of approximately 80,000 people, I set them free.

I didn’t worry. I really didn’t worry. I crossed the park and went into Carousel of Progress and enjoyed my show. Exactly 21 minutes later I came out, checked the clock, and hopped on the nearby People Mover.

Just then, I got a text from Dylan: This game was a huge letdown. None of the spells did anything. So we just kept walking all over the place and ending up doing nothing.

Sorry I wrote back. I will be back on that side of the park in 15 minutes.

Then the People Mover stalled, and I texted Dylan saying I would be late.

The crowds were so thick, I almost couldn’t cross the park. I was pushing my way past wheelchairs and strollers (which tend to break up crowds) and shoving my way through with “excuse me”s until I finally got to Splash Mountain, where the boys were waiting, a bit sad about their wasted hour.

Dylan said, “You’re late. I don’t know if I can ever trust you again if you are going to show up late!”

He made his point.

Then he let it drop, and we went on with our well-planned day, avoiding the crowds and heading back to our hotel before 4:00.  To say we got the most out of our park time would be a gross understatement.

Plus, the kids had their “running around” time together – with, hopefully, a lesson learned about planning and crowds.

Well, actually, I doubt they learned anything at all.  But I wouldn’t change a thing.

Nothing Has Changed.

For a variety of reasons, we have taken Dylan off of medication completely.

We originally tried everything imaginable so that we wouldn’t have to use medication. We added and subtracted a hundred things to his diet, put him on morning exercise routines and gave him stress balls, bouncy pillows and texture strips to play with during class time.

Still, he couldn’t focus on anything the teacher said. He would just stare at the classroom fish. He took hours and hours and hours to complete just a tiny bit of homework. And he would go off to school sad, angry and lonely because he hated it so much.

Bill and I are not huge fans of medication, but I read somewhere that 80% of kids who have ADHD will medicate themselves if they don’t take ADHD medication. And that was the final straw. We put him on stimulants.

But if you’ve been following along… he can no longer take stimulants. So we had him on high blood pressure medication, which didn’t help anything. Then we moved to anti-depressants, which helped very little. Both medications were supposed to help focus (first) and secondarily help blood pressure or depression.

Neither medication did much for his focus, but a quick return to stimulants assured us that NO – he should NOT be on stimulants! But his teacher comments this quarter – they sounded exactly like the teacher comments in 4th grade – before he’d ever taken any pills.

So we’ve taken him off of everything.

And… here’s the best part: nothing has changed.

Dylan is still Dylan. He is brilliant but bouncy. He can be incredibly obnoxious. As I write, he is screaming, “Kick in the face!” and jumping around in the other room.

Oops, now he is spinning Shane around in the kitchen.

Okay, so nothing has changed since we took him off of stimulants. The new med’s have done so little, we are already used to Dylan this way.

There is nothing I would change about Dylan. He is who he is, and how he is, for a reason. But he is going to have a hard road ahead of him. Not everyone is ready for someone like Dylan. And while everyone mellows with age, I suppose, I doubt Dylan will ever be mellow.

He’s also going to remain unfocused, disorganized, fun, frustrating, anxious, beautiful, and simultaneously loud and completely spaced out to the point of silence. Heavy sigh.

We’re all in it for the long haul.

Today, I Am Going to Call.

Shane wears glasses.

For years, I’ve been leaving little notes in his lunchbox – now mostly cute pictures. But in third grade, he got a lot of Far Side cartoons.

One day when I asked what he thought about his cartoon, he said, “Oh, Alan read it to me.”

“Why didn’t you read it yourself?” I asked.

“Because I couldn’t see it,” he said, quite matter-of-factly.

And that’s how I learned that Shane was having eyesight problems almost a year after he’d finished his vision therapy.

I have great faith in vision therapy. It changed Shane’s life. Vision processing disorder is serious business – and with the letters jumping around all over the page, Shane simply wasn’t able to read – or do much else. The vision therapy exercises he did for two years completely changed his life.

Shane wore “non-corrective” glasses for years during vision therapy. The doctor insisted that they would help him focus when needed – like a back-up plan, since he was so young.

But after he couldn’t read his note, and I finally took him to a different eye doctor for a check-up, they said there was no prescription at all in the vision therapy glasses.

Yet I bought two pairs, at $389 each. Shane may as well have been wearing plastic rims with no glass in them. I have great faith in vision therapy – but I do not have great faith in those “prescribed” glasses with no prescription.

So now Shane is due for an eyesight check-up, but I haven’t made the appointment. Worse yet, I have encouraged him not to wear his glasses.

When I finally did get his eyesight checked, I was told that Shane had something very minor, and that he might grow out of it as he gets older. I can’t remember the specifics – something like one eye wasn’t fully developed yet. It sounded like a very minor thing, and his corrective glasses were only supposed to be used for reading.

But Shane reads a lot – and he also loves his glasses. So he wears them all the time. But they don’t fit his little nose, which means they are always sliding down his face. And no matter how often we have them adjusted, they sit on the tip of his nose. He looks out over them, like a stern librarian from the 1950’s.

So I’ve told him just to take them off, wear them sometimes, only wear them for reading, not worry about them today – blah, blah, blah. As a result, since I haven’t made his appointment for a check-up, I feel like a terrible mother.

I’ve no idea if they’re creating a dependence on glasses when he doesn’t really need them. And I’ve no idea if they are helping him read. I just keep ignoring the whole thing, hoping it will go away.

But today – and I’m saying this for all the world to hear – today, I am going to call the eye doctor and set up an appointment. It may take three weeks for us to get in there, but I am calling and making the appointment.

So at least I can stop feeling like such a bad mom.

He Becomes Content Like Gandhi.

There are exactly three secrets to living happily with Dylan. Without these three secrets, my ADHD-burdened child becomes something of a whirling dervish. I can remember comparing him, even at a very young age, to the Tasmanian Devil.

It’s still an accurate description.

So after 13 years, I am passing along all three secrets, just for fun.

1. Dylan must be well-rested. The more tired he is, the more exacerbated his symptoms. He becomes far more bouncy than most people enjoy. (“Kick in the face,” anyone? He is exhausted today.)

2. Dylan must be well fed. If he is hungry, waves of horrific sadness can overtake him in 10 seconds flat. And he won’t believe he needs to eat.

3. Dylan needs to be mentally stimulated – something that happens almost exclusively by allowing him to work with intricate moving parts … or music.

If he is building something, designing something, studying cars or robotics, he is completely calm. When he was a toddler, he was obsessed with trains for more than a year.

One day, he discovered a monster truck – and the obsession transferred instantly to monster trucks. We went to more monster truck rallies than I can count. Oddly, I now think monster trucks are incredibly cool, but no one in my family cares to go with me to the shows anymore.

Dylan graduated from trains and trucks to exotic sports cars. He knows more about Lamborghinis and Ferraris than I will ever know. But he can also talk shop about vintage Camaros, if need be. He’s a car nut – just like his daddy.

Also, if he does anything – anything – with music, he becomes content like Gandhi. Music is a miracle cure for anything that ails Dylan. And in turn, he is a musical genius.

He sings like an angel. He doesn’t miss notes – ever. Even in the midst of his voice changing, I’ve never heard a more beautiful singing voice. To be fair, I am his mom. There are lots of gorgeous singing voices. But my baby still sings like an angel. (He also gets that from his dad.)

But it doesn’t end there. Dylan plays the piano. He’s doesn’t take lessons, and I don’t know if he can read music – but he plays the piano. When I was his age, I could barely pump out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” with one finger.

Dylan plays the songs he hears on the radio. He figures them out in a few hours, in his head, and then he plays them.

Dylan also plays the drums, but Shane plays the drums. In order to keep my dream of someday having an Osmond-style family band, I try to keep Shane on the drums and Dylan on the keyboard. But Dylan could probably play any instrument he sees, given the time and inclination to do so.

So that’s it. That’s all there is to raising Dylan. Make sure he sleeps and eats. Then give him something to build or a song to play – and sit back and watch the fireworks.

It’s awesome.

These Things Just Should Not Happen.

The Pittsburgh area school stabbings that took place on Wednesday happened 10 miles from my own high school. My best friend’s boyfriend (later her husband) went to Franklin Regional, where the stabbings occurred.

After Sandy Hook, I was certain that nothing could affect me as profoundly again. But somehow, this stabbing incident has hit home hard.

When I took Dylan (and later Shane) to his first day of kindergarten, I bought him a new lunchbox and a pencil case. I made sure he had a jacket with his name in it, sharpened his thick, black pencils, and brushed his hair just so. He put on his sparkling new backpack and shuffled into the classroom with all the other kids.

Every day, I send my kids to school with the exact same feeling as I had that first day. It’s great that they’re growing up and learning to be independent. I’m hopeful that they’re learning things that will help in their adult lives. And every day, I’m just a little sad to see them wander toward the front door, looking around for their friends.

And every day, I recognize that I might never see them again.

I shouldn’t have to believe I might never see them again. I shouldn’t have to worry about stabbings and shootings and mass murders. Because these things just should not happen.

But they do. And the media never shuts up about it.

I try to remember that these things happened long before television. Worse than Sandy Hook (if that’s possible) was the Bath School mass murder in Michigan. But I’d never heard of it – because it happened before television was able to sensationalize it and broadcast it worldwide.

I stopped watching the news for years shortly after 9/11 because my son, who wasn’t even walking yet, sat in his bouncy chair and watched me stare at the TV for days. It didn’t seem fair to be so obsessive about the death and destruction when my baby didn’t understand what was going on.

Right after that, the D.C. sniper came around, shooting random people on the streets. We were in baby music class when the three-week rampage started – less than 3 miles from where the first victim died.

Baby Dylan and I sat inside the house for almost the entire three weeks.

I only ventured out once, with my mom, to get gas and groceries. We drove 45 minutes from home, thinking we’d be safer there – but were still so scared that Mom dropped me off at the front door – and we both ran into the grocery store as fast as we could. I remember ducking down while putting the gas pump in the tank, terrified that I’d be shot any second.

And now, 12 years later, I want to grab my child (300 miles from where the stabbings occurred) and run screaming to … where?

Where would we be safe? Sitting in the house may have been safe with a sniper about, but there are “snipers” everywhere. We can’t go to the movies without a mad gunman coming out and shooting us. We can’t go to school without an agony-filled teenager killing us. We can’t get in an airplane or we may end up at the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

And God knows, we’re more likely to die in a car crash than anything else. So we should probably all just sit inside our houses, never venturing out, never risking our safety for the right to live in this society.

I always thought we were better off here in America than anywhere else in the world. We have better resources: jobs, healthcare, education, freedom. We aren’t (yet) being attacked by another country. We don’t have to stay inside and pray that a bomb doesn’t hit the house.

Although we could.

And if we’re going to live life terrified about walking out the front door to go to school, we may as well just sit at home all day, every day. And pray.

He is One of God’s Angels.

Dylan has let it slip that there are kids in his school who are … well, bullying him. He doesn’t call it “bullying” because that’s become such a trendy term. To Dylan, bullying implies something much worse than what’s happened to him.

A guy – we’ll call him “Dave” – punched Dylan in the stomach as he was walking down the hall. He’s been tripped, slapped and smacked.

“It’s just random,” he says. “It doesn’t really matter.”

Another day, “Dave” tried to slam Dylan’s head into his locker – something that Dylan had seen happen before.

“But I pulled the top pin out of my locker door,” said Dylan – the future engineer. “So the locker bounced back and hit him in the face.”

I’m so proud of my boy for standing up for himself – even if it just meant not having his head slammed into his locker.

I never stood up for myself. I was an incredibly shy wallflower who almost never spoke. I guess I was an easy target. So I quickly became a victim of my own personal bully.

Mindy started in fourth grade by sending me a Valentine that was signed with – instead of ‘Love, Mindy‘ – ‘Hate, Mindy.’ To this day, I have no idea what inspired her to hate me so.

She didn’t let up for three years. I got nasty notes. She threatened me constantly. She’d slap my notebook out of my hands, throw books at me in the hall, and sneer “QUEER-stin” anytime she got within range. Then she would do something really odd, like treat me with incredible kindness. And I’d think, Oh, she likes me now!

One day, after being nice for a few hours, she borrowed 15 cents from me so she could buy ice cream. I can’t even imagine why I had 15 cents – but I gave it to her, in hopes that we were actually becoming friends. I actually believed it when she said she’d pay me back.

I was a naive child.

Eventually, Mindy beat me to a pulp after school. I walked out the door and she jumped on me. She’d hired someone to hold my arms behind my back – someone I’d really thought was a friend – while Mindy punched and pummeled me until I couldn’t even stand up anymore.

I don’t remember any bullying after that. I believe that’s when I shut down, and stopped trusting people for the rest of my life.

Mindy has had the chance to apologize to me, since we are both on Facebook. Oddly, she hasn’t come forward. I sent her a note that said, quite simply, “Do you remember me?”

I never got a response.

I can see from her Facebook pictures that she has two tween/teen girls. And I can’t help but wonder if they are victims or bullies themselves.

But they’ve probably been trained to crush anyone who crosses their path. Because God knows, I simply breathed the same air as Mindy, and I was mercilessly abused for it.

I try not to compare my son’s experiences to my own – but given my own experiences, it is incredibly hard not to compare.

I only hope he never gets to the point of shutting down, like I did. I hope he stays true to himself, and knows that he is good, and true, and beautiful – inside and out – and that no one has a right to hurt him.

He is one of God’s angels. I see it clearly and know it with every fiber of my being. Dylan is perfect as he is, and he’s here for a reason.

Maybe someday, I’ll realize that I am one of God’s angels, too.

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