Month: June 2014
Dear Private School Admissions Person,
Thanks so much for your request for more information about Dylan. He’s a very bright boy, who had a wonderfully enthusiastic attitude about life for the first 12 years. He’s incredibly bouncy, which we attributed to boredom until 3rd grade. He had a teacher that year who refused to accommodate his inability to finish his work – and kept him out of recess, which he needed almost like he needed air. So we had him tested, and he was diagnosed with ADHD.
We started looking at private schools when we realized that he was going to struggle with sitting still – and with teachers like his 3rd grade teacher – but he was accepted into the Gifted & Talented program for 4th and 5th grades. He suddenly loved school, except for math and homework. He fell behind in math and was in four different math classes before finding one with a paraeducator who spent the entire class period saying, “Dylan, do your work. Dylan, do your work.” With her guidance, he was not only able to stay on task, but he could excel.
He still had a great deal of trouble staying focused. We tried all kinds of natural “cures” for him, eventually trying stimulants in 4th grade. They worked miracles, and we kept him on the same medication until the beginning of 7th grade. We never medicate him on weekends or over the summer because, quite frankly, he doesn’t need it if he’s not sitting still and trying to concentrate.
Classes that allow him to move – P.E., chorus and engineering – also allow him to succeed. When he’s interested in something – music and building particularly – he can focus for hours and hours and hours, and learn more about one subject than most people learn in a lifetime. He has an easy time in social studies and science, and is an excellent reader, and can be an excellent writer – as long as he has a computer. His handwriting is much like that of a kindergartener. He also struggles with capitalization and punctuation but is an excellent speller.
Dylan took algebra in 7th grade, but is required to repeat it because he didn’t get a B in the class. His grades suffered immensely because he was unable to complete and turn in his work on time. We tried every trick in the world – and he does have an IEP – but even when he would actually DO the work, he never seemed to know when it was due, or where it was in his binder, so that he could turn it in. He almost never turned in his homework – ever. We’re hoping he can learn in 8th grade how to study and be the brilliant guy we know he is.
Lately, we have also discovered that Dylan is being bullied by possibly every peer group in his school. He is an absolutely fantastic singer, and starred in the school musical. He also sang phenomenal solos in the school talent shows through the years. Among other interests, he has a deep love for the environment and once staged his own Save the Rainforest campaign.
But middle school has drained the life out of him. He is stunned by how heartless people can be, and even his friends from the GT program have deserted him. He has found a few friends from the school musical who are nice, but has also found some who have not been so nice. At this point, he is begging for anything other than 8th grade at that school – and is considering homeschooling, even though the thought of hanging with his mom all day makes him crazy.
ADHD is a real issue for him, but he is a great kid otherwise. It would be nice if he could learn how to manage his painful emotions without angry outbursts – although they are few and far between. Mostly, he sings ALL DAY LONG EVERY DAY when he’s not on medication. Even in 2nd grade, I remember his teacher saying he was fine, except that his humming was a bit distracting to the other students. And he doesn’t know how/when to turn in his work.
He needs some loving, caring teachers to get him through what has become the worst time in his life. Please let me know if you think we are looking in the right direction.
Just for me, my dad recorded an episode of Our America with Lisa Ling called “ADHD Explosion.” Our America is an Oprah-network version of 60 Minutes – and this episode explored ADHD and its many facets.
When they got to the part about the Hunter School in New Hampshire, I started to cry.
At the Hunter School, kids are taught to self-regulate, self-advocate and be who they are. They not only learn to handle their emotions, but they learn how they learn and are able to take control over their own lives. Josh, the boy who resided at the Hunter School, went from being an incredibly obnoxious child on tons of medication to being polite, calm and responsible – and now lives entirely without medication.
Dylan needs that school so badly. He needs to learn how to self-regulate and self-advocate and handle his emotions and learn how he learns. He needs to take control over the way he does what he does.
Which is why I was crying.
I knew the school would cost more than I could afford. Plus, it is more than 500 miles away. (523 miles, or 543 miles, depending on which route you take. I checked.)
In looking at the school’s website after watching the show, I learned that Dylan would likely not be accepted into their program, even if I were willing to send him off to live in New Hampshire and sell my house to pay his tuition.
He still couldn’t go. Dylan isn’t enough of a “problem.” He isn’t disruptive enough in school. He is still succeeding – according to all standard standards – because he isn’t failing (enough) in school, using drugs, or trying to kill anyone.
So I started searching for other schools, closer to home. Again.
This is my fourth go-round looking for schools for Dylan. We started searching for private schools when Dylan was in third grade. We skipped a year, while he was in the GT program, because he thoroughly enjoyed school that year.
We actually applied to a private school for 6th grade, but Dylan was not “offered a place” at the school. Their reasoning for this was unclear, but it was obvious to me: we couldn’t afford to pay the $26,000 per year tuition.
Dylan didn’t want to go to school with a bunch of rich snobs anyway. I was glad we applied, to learn the valuable lesson that we do not want to be lumped into a group who cares more about money than educating my absolutely brilliant son.
So now, for this round, I am looking at high schools. I have discovered – again – that Dylan isn’t “bad enough” to get a free, public education at an alternative school. There are actually several free public alternative high schools. One of these is for middle schoolers only, and is almost walking distance from my house. (I had no idea it existed.)
However, the alternative schools are reserved for pregnant moms, drug abusers and severely emotionally troubled youth. The school has to recommend placement. But just in case he wanted to go, I asked Dylan about it.
Not surprisingly, Dylan decided he would rather not go to school with those kids – even if I fought to get him in.
So this time, we are looking at private schools with a religious component. Those are slightly (only slightly) cheaper than the snobby-rich, private schools. Better yet, they have the God Thing included, free of charge.
I have pegged three schools as possibilities for Dylan’s 8th grade. School is over, but we are going to talk to these folks and tour the facilities.
We shall see what happens.
Dylan has been out of school (and therefore, off of medication) for more than a week now.
He is doing great.
I don’t mean, he’s doing fine and he’s better than he was before. I mean, he’s doing great. He is happy. He hasn’t had a single bout of depression or rage. He’s been angry with me when I’ve imposed rules he didn’t like, but then he went back to being Happy Dylan.
He is bouncy, yes, but not so much that it’s interfering with his life. Dylan does a lot of ball-bouncing and singing, which gets louder as he gets more tired throughout the day. He’s been this way since he was old enough to sing and bounce balls. It can be aggravating if you’re trying to watch TV or talk on the phone, but mostly it is just fine.
This is the Dylan I have always adored. He is creative and funny and fun to be around. He is silly and great with Shane. He is caring and conscientious and brilliant. And he is really, really interesting.
This happens every summer – even before medication – that I rediscover Dylan’s beauty and uniqueness and awesomeness. When left to his own devices, and not forced to live in the box that is school, Dylan is perfect and wonderful and – most importantly – content.
I don’t want him to go back to school.
A few houses down the street lives a boy in a wheelchair. He is a teenager, like Dylan, but that’s where the outward similarity stops.
The other boy has short, dark hair. He’s very thin, and his bony legs protrude from under the blanket or coat that his parents have thrown over him as he’s wheeled outside. His head hangs down and to the left, as if he is checking his blanket, but his eyes are vacant. His stick-like arms are stuck in an upright position, crooked like tree branches, wrists limp.
The other boy always looks like he is reaching for something, but he never is.
Sometimes I come racing home from dropping off Dylan at school, worried about Dylan and his social issues and his grades and his rude behavior, and I am abruptly stopped by the school bus sitting outside the other boy’s house.
The bus sits there for so long, preparing the wheelchair ramp, getting the boy inside and into the right place on the bus. For one second, I am irritated that I have to stop driving. And then I remember.
The other boy’s dad pushes the wheelchair outside. Sometimes Dad goes back inside, hurrying to be where it’s warm and dry. Sometimes he stays outside just long enough to check the mail. He doesn’t talk to the bus driver, or wave to the cars who are waiting.
He doesn’t sit with the boy, or say “goodbye.” He doesn’t give him a hug or a pat or even a nod. The other boy’s head doesn’t look up, or acknowledge Dad. He just sits in the wheelchair, arms and legs poking wherever they will, no words uttered on either end.
On days that I am stopped by the school bus – and sometimes on days that I am not – I think about the other boy. I don’t know whether he was born like this, or if an accident or illness caused it.
But I always think about that day when I was pregnant.
After an ultrasound in month four, the doctor said, “We found a spot on your baby’s brain. We don’t know what it is, but you might want to have an amnio so that you can be prepared.”
I remember sitting with Bill and wondering: Would we still have this baby if he had special needs?
We deliberated for awhile. Bill logically decided that we should wait until we knew the extent of the baby’s special needs before making any decision.
After several agonizing days, we found out that our baby probably didn’t have any of the genetic disorders normally found on the amniocentesis. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I called my parents from the doctor’s office. “We’re naming him Dylan Keith, after you,” I told my dad.
I think now about Dylan’s ADHD, his special needs. Every day is fraught with some new challenge – which is, apparently, the case with all parenting. I think about the many, many friends I have with loving, wonderful, special needs children – some like mine, some not. I think about how difficult – and how rewarding – it can be to deal with Dylan.
Then, and again, I think about the other boy.
On the last day of school, Dylan was invited to go ziplining with a friend. The night before, I was still awake at midnight – panicked.
What if my son doesn’t keep his carabineer hooks latched? I thought. What if he wants to stand on one of those tiny ledges, 200 feet off the ground, just for one second? What if he is tapped just slightly during that nanosecond and falls to his death?
These are the thoughts I have at midnight.
I could see the headline: BOY, 13, FALLS TO DEATH FROM ZIPLINE. I could see the lifeless body of my teenaged redhead, sprawled in the dirt. And in spite of my anxiety challenge and all the faith I could muster, I couldn’t think of anything else.
I decided to read my daily affirmation from my nightstand book, Each Day a New Beginning, one day early. Technically, it was after midnight, so I wasn’t really cheating. Plus, I needed some wisdom desperately, or I wasn’t going to sleep at all.
The wisdom from the book went something like this: If you act like everything is going to be okay, maybe everything will be okay.
So I said another prayer. I reminded myself to give Dylan a kind reminder the next morning about not dancing around on any tiny ledges in the trees. Then I acted as if everything were going to be all right, and I went to sleep.
And of course, everything was all right. Dylan not only survived the zipline course, but he had a wonderful time. His friend had a wonderful time. The rain even stopped just before they embarked on their tree-climbing adventure (causing me to briefly worry about slipping, but not for long.)
Everyone enjoyed the day. And all I had to do was pretend that I thought everything would be fine.
I am really trying not to worry. I mean, what control do I have? NONE.
The only control I have is control over my attitude – which is a reflection of my thoughts – which are usually worries.
If I worry, my attitude is one of fear. If I act like everything is going to be okay, my attitude is one of confidence.
I wish I knew what is holding me back from maintaining an attitude of confidence. My life is absolutely glorious. I have been blessed with gifts – especially friends and family – beyond my wildest dreams. Yet, the fears keep me up at night, still – as if worrying will keep bad things from happening.
And as much as I know that isn’t true, I can’t train my thoughts to go in any other direction. But I am trying. God knows, I am still trying.
Shane’s 4th grade dance finally happened.
About a week ago, the most beautiful girl in the whole class – who’s said she’d go with Shane – told Shane she did not want to go with him after all. “We’re just friends,” she said, “so we shouldn’t go together.”
So the record was: two girls asked, two accepted, two changed their minds. But instead of making a deal and/or blogging about it, I decided, this is ridiculous. This kid is in FOURth grade! And I tried to forget all about it.
A few days ago, Shane announced, “Guess who I’m going to the dance with?” He had a mischievous smile. Then he said he was going with his guy friends – and that the whole “group” was going to hang out together.
So when one of the other parents asked if I was going to volunteer at the dance, I jumped at the chance. I went in and started opening boxes of pretzels and setting up juice boxes, as if serving snacks were my life. I just wanted to see my boy.
At 3:10, the classes filed in like they were going to an assembly. I didn’t see either of Shane’s original dates the entire time – and there certainly weren’t any “couples” filing in.
No one “went to the dance with” anyone.
The whole fourth grade was just there to have a good time. Best of all, the music was jumping. They started by playing “Cha Cha Slide,” a song and dance that all the fourth graders learned in P.E. class.
Nearly all the kids started dancing – and they barely stopped for the entire hour.
Shane did the line dance, then pulled some of his awesome dance moves, and took part in a snake-like formation that slithered 30 people through the crowd. The DJ never stopped the dance music and there wasn’t time to “ask” anyone to dance.
The cafeteria became a simple swarming mass of 10-year-old dancers. Kids bounced up and down, red-faced and laughing, with arms waving to the beat. Some kids sat out, but even the sitters seemed to have a grand time, too.
Best of all, Shane smiled and had a great time for the entire hour.
He danced with his friends, he danced with his class, he danced in celebration of the end of 4th grade – and then he danced some more. What a way to celebrate the end of the year!
I’m just so grateful I was there to see my happy dancer, having a blast at his first dance.
Thanks again, God.
Now that he’s not forced to make Honor Roll, Dylan seems content with his abysmal grades, even the dreaded ‘C’ he’s possibly getting in science.
He’s so happy, in fact, that he didn’t bother to do – or turn in – his 10-page forensics review packet before the day of his final science exam. Instead, he called me from school.
“I left my review packet at home,” he said. “And apparently I have to turn it in today.”
After finally locating it among the rubble of his science exam study materials, I discovered he’d only completed two of the 10 pages in the packet. I screeched at him over the phone.
“I can do it in like eight minutes,” he assured me calmly – since he was standing in the school office, using their phone. “It’s really not going to take that long.”
“It is going to take long!” I screamed. “It’s completely blank!”
“I only forgot to do a couple of pages,” he said.
“NO!” I yelled. “I’m standing here looking at it!” I counted out loud. “EIGHT PAGES! You didn’t do EIGHT PAGES!”
So much for my 30-day Conquer Anxiety Challenge. My anxiety beat me to a pulp – and Dylan along with it.
Eventually, I told him I wouldn’t bring it to school since he hadn’t completed it anyway. I agonized over allowing him to live with his consequences when he’d actually studied so hard for his science exam.
Then I called my husband and yelled at him because he was studying science with Dylan and didn’t tell him to finish his packet. And I called my mom, to whine about my husband and my son. “I don’t know how they can live like this!” I wailed.
Then I got my hair cut, and I told my hairdresser about Dylan’s unfinished science packet. After that, I went to the dentist, and told the hygienist about it.
I wanted someone to say that it would be a good idea for me to take the packet to Dylan, who will already be living with those disastrous consequences starting on Day One of 8th grade. Everyone just nodded and listened. In spite of my babbling, no one told me what to do.
It really was my decision.
So, two hours later, I broke down and took the science packet into the school. Dylan was in the middle of an exam and, I told the secretary, he should only have the packet if he finished his exam early enough to get it done.
I left feeling hopeless, drained, and not sure I’d done the right thing.
Dylan called me after school. “Thanks for the review packet,” he said.
“Did you get it done?” I said, my voice still too shrill.
“Yeah,” he said, still calm. “And I turned it in. Can I go to Safeway with Mabel and Alia?”
“Sure,” I said.
Later, I picked him up as if nothing had ever happened.
Dylan and I went to a Skrillex concert. No one I know (other than Dylan) knows who Skrillex is – even the coolest of my friends. Skrillex is actually a top-notch EDM DJ. EDM (also unknown to everyone I know) is Electronic Dance Music and a DJ is not just a disc jockey, but a creator of music mixes.
It’s an incredible little subculture of music that’s either just up-and-coming in this decade, or it’s been around since the eighties and Dylan has just discovered it. I can’t tell, quite honestly. The concert looked like Woodstock but with lots of bright pink clothes and short (and sometimes blue) hair.
So Dylan is really into this music, and Skrillex is – as announced last night – “the most awesome guy in the world” for EDM.
But the most awesome guy in the world to me during the concert was … Dylan. Like many of the 2014 hippies, he was cool and relaxed and enjoying the scene when we arrived. There were no seats – just a huge, grassy field – and we threw ourselves onto the ground along with the rest of the folks who weren’t immediately dancing.
Dylan taught me about what the DJ on stage was doing – since it was hard to tell from way in the back. I had no idea. (You’ll have to google that one yourself – it’s too hard to explain!)
It was early in the day. “Notice how not very many people are dancing,” Dylan told me. “When the music gets better, more people will dance.”
I couldn’t tell if the music was good. To me, the music all sounded the same – until the end of the evening, when the top two performers took the stage. Then I understood. Indeed, the better songs made even me dance. And I was 30 years older than most of the audience.
Little by little, we worked our way up toward the stage. Dylan eventually stood in the front row, leaning on the tiny fence they use to control the crowd, me befriending the woman who guarded “backstage” in this open arena.
It started to get dark, and it even rained a tiny bit. But the show never stopped – not for one, single moment. The bass pounded and the crowd never stopped moving. It was like having a strobe light on our little microcosm of the planet.
When Skrillex came on stage, I had a quick surge of instinct to protect Dylan from the sheer joy that overtook him. He was so excited – and still, oddly, so cool – that he just smiled and smiled and smiled. By the end of the show, he was dancing with the best of them – and even I (with an injured leg) sat wiggling my other appendages in time to the music.
The six-hour concert and the three hours in the car were complete with no arguments, no grumpiness and no concerns of any kind. We were just two people, hanging out on a sunny day, and enjoying the music until well into the night.
And it’s a day, and a moment, I will never forget. Thanks, God.
Dylan has not seen his girlfriend all week. So when he had four things to finish last night in order to see her for a few hours on one day, I thought for sure, he’d get them done.
He studied his science with his father. He studied his social studies with me. He planned to finish his science project during lunchtime today.
But where was his missing English paper? It’s worth 25 points and exams start today – so he’s out of time.
“My teacher took it,” Dylan said. “I told him there was nothing on it, and he told me I had to give it to him anyway. I am so mad at him!”
It turns out that Dylan’s teacher – after a full year of chasing after him to turn in every, single assignment – finally showed Dylan what 8th grade is going to be like.
It’s not done? You turn it in anyway. It’s totally blank? You turn it in anyway. You lost it? You get a zero. No retakes. No late fees. And no begging Dylan to get it done and turn it in.
When I told him he couldn’t see his girlfriend again, Dylan fell to the floor, writhing in agony. My heart ached for him. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scoop him up and say, “Forget it, Son. Go see your girlfriend. You don’t need school. You don’t need to go to college. Just please, be happy again!”
But I didn’t. Instead I said, “This is what it’s going to be like for every day of 8th grade, if you don’t learn to do your work and turn it in.”
He went to bed furious at me because I enforced the consequences of the rules. He went to bed mad at me because I made the rules. It never occurred to him that all of this could have been avoided if he’d just done his work in the first place, and turned it in on time. So he went to bed mad at me.
I went to bed with a pit in my stomach, wanting to make everything all right and having no idea how to do that.
On the way to school, I said, “Next year, all of my nagging will magically disappear, like fairy dust in the wind.” I wiggled my fingers to show him how it will dissipate. “All you have to do is turn in your work. I won’t ever have to think about it again!”
I tried to sound like Scarlett O’Hara for that last part.
And off went Dylan, who will hopefully finish his science article and turn it in, so that he can finally see his girlfriend over the weekend.
And off I went, to give my emotions a much needed rest.
Dylan has failed algebra.
He didn’t get an ‘E’ exactly – but because it’s a high school class, and will be the first grade on his transcript for college, they recommend that he take it again if he’s not getting at least a ‘B.’
And Dylan is not getting at least a ‘B.’
The packet he completed that so impressed me – the night he stayed up late and worked diligently into the wee hours – was rewarded with excruciating red pen marks everywhere. He not only got wrong answers, but he didn’t appear to understand even a smidgeon of the material.
Back in January, he was able to pull himself out of this mess with a few tutoring sessions. Obviously, that was insufficient in this case.
So at his IEP meeting, it was recommended that, for 8th grade, Dylan should take “double period” algebra – meaning not one, but two 48-minute periods per school day for the entire year. He would be required to give up one of his favorite classes – the electives (either chorus or engineering) in order to spend more time on a subject he detests.
We didn’t think this would go over well with Dylan, so we asked for other options.
And, for the third year in a row, they recommended “resource room.” This is essentially a special-ed-only option for kids who need a tad more help in getting their work completed. Dylan would still be required to give up one elective, but at least he wouldn’t have to sit in algebra for two full periods.
Most interesting of all, the resource room teacher just happens to be the same person who teaches “double period” algebra. So, should Dylan require a bit of extra help with algebra, he would have an algebra teacher right there who could answer his questions.
No other options were presented. This year, we have tried everything we could try to help Dylan organize himself – and he didn’t do any of the things we suggested. He refused the technological accommodations, the extra time at lunch with teachers, the voice recorder to keep track of assignments, and the free notes from his teachers.
So for 8th grade, where there will be no leniency, Dylan is out of choices.
We called Dylan into the IEP meeting and told him he had two options: double period algebra, or single period algebra with resource room.
He said, “Anything but double period algebra! I want to spend the least amount of time as possible in algebra.”
Then he had to choose which elective to delete: chorus or engineering?
We gave him the option of, at the end of the first quarter, evaluating how resource room worked for him. And, if it isn’t helping him, he will be allowed to transfer out of resource room and into a different class at the end of the first quarter.
He can transfer into chorus mid-year – but he can’t transfer into engineering because so much is taught in engineering during first quarter. So Dylan, who has the voice of an angel, dropped chorus from his schedule.
And now he is ready for 8th grade.