Month: July 2014
Dylan’s Gifted and Talented (GT) program ended after 5th grade, so I spent the entire year exploring middle school options.
These are the same options I will be exploring for Shane starting this fall. This time, though, we already know what the options are.
First, there is the option of GT for public middle schoolers. If a student is lucky (and smart) enough to be accepted into the GT program for middle school, he has to take a bus ride of nearly an hour – both ways – to attend the program. One of the schools is so far south, it’s almost at the Washington, D.C. line. The other school is the same distance north, and a much better option in my opinion, because I would rather drive away from rush hour traffic.
The northern school has a strong emphasis on writing. Dylan does not excel in writing, especially thanks to what is called “developmental coordination disorder” or – possibly – dysgraphia.
My understanding of this disorder is that for every word Dylan tries to get from his brain onto the paper, 7,000 other things are jumping around, distracting him, so that it takes every ounce of concentration he can muster to get the word onto the piece of paper. It is sheer agony for him to write.
He can – and does – type easier than he writes. But it is still not an enjoyable experience for him. So we nixed the GT programs without even applying.
Then we explored the GT/LD program for middle school, which – in my opinion – was a perfect fit for Dylan. We went in for a visit, to see what it was like.
The classroom was full of long-haired boys (only one girl) who were jumping around, talking and laughing – and all obviously quite intelligent. Their discussion of the book Hoot, which happened to be taking place during the day we observed, was beyond any book discussion I’d had, even in college.
Dylan would have fit right in. The option was to mainstream the GT/LD kids for most of their classes – P.E., art, music, science and social studies – and stay in their own classroom for language arts and math. It sounded perfect.
“Those are the bad kids,” Dylan told me. “I don’t want to be in a classroom full of bad kids.”
He’d never met those kids before. But he already knew the stereotype, the judgmentalism and the cruelties he’d be facing as part of that group. So we didn’t apply for that, either.
Then, there were the three magnet programs in public school: aerospace, computer technology and performing arts. These middle schools were further “downcounty,” meaning that the populations were more urban (with more issues) than I would have liked.
But Dylan was a singing superstar, and loved the idea of going to the school with the greatest choral teacher in any middle school, anywhere. The chorus had won numerous awards – and Dylan would have fit right in.
So he applied, and was accepted into the performing arts school.
But none of his friends were going to that school. So he didn’t go there, either.
Had we known then that his friends were going to desert him in middle school anyway, we would have maybe reconsidered his decision. To be honest, I don’t think it would have made much difference where he went to middle school. It was going to be a disaster anyway.
But we did apply to one other private school, just in case.
We’ve actually done this whole private school thing before … sort of. Twice.
In 3rd grade, Dylan suffered through a year with a teacher who could have easily been the spokesperson for the Really Bad Teacher Association. We were warned about her by other parents, but gave her the benefit of the doubt.
She didn’t show up for Back to School day, so none of the parents could meet her before the school year began.
Two weeks after third grade started, Dylan reported that the not-yet-met teacher was keeping him inside during recess to finish his morning work.
So I made a point of meeting the teacher to explain how badly Dylan needed recess. I met her in the hallway, only briefly, during the third week of school. And I explained Dylan’s special needs.
“Has he been diagnosed with anything?” she snapped. “I’m not giving him any special treatment if he hasn’t been diagnosed with anything.”
That was our first interaction. I spent every day of 3rd grade either emailing the teacher, stopping into the school, giving Dylan a “mental health day” or fighting with the principal to get him into a different class.
That’s when we started the IEP process… and the first private school search.
We found a spectacular school for grades K-8. We stopped in to visit, and saw kids sitting on their knees in their chairs, waving their hands to answer questions. Class pets and artwork were everywhere. Students were engaged and active. Best of all, the school offered ten minutes of recess between every class, and kids went outside to learn – often.
Dylan would have loved going to school there.
We applied for financial aid, since the price tag was – well, like college tuition. One year for one kid (sorry, Shane, no private school for you!) was going to cost us about $28,000. I just checked online today, and the same school’s tuition is now $32,470 – per kid, per year.
Where do people get this money?
I needed a job. I have a teaching certificate, so I applied immediately to teach at the school. But with only one year prior teaching experience and no formal teaching in our county, the administration kindly told me to first, get some experience substituting for the school, then apply again.
So while our financial aid package was being processed, I read up on the school and found an article by a journalist whose children had gone to that exact school for a few years – but then they had to put them back into public school because they couldn’t continue to pay the hefty tuition.
It had never occurred to me that we might have to take Dylan back out of private school. But with Dylan only in 3rd grade, that was a distinct possibility.
Soon after, a letter was released to all applicants: the financial aid pool had run out for the year. Anyone who was dependent on financial aid for school acceptance was allowed to take back their application, and get their $100 application fee back.
We jumped at the chance, saving $100 – and thousands thereafter.
Then, as a great bonus, Dylan was accepted into the GT program in public school – getting away from his miserable principal (who retired after the following year amidst a stream of controversy) and far, far away from the teacher who treated him like garbage.
Two years later, when the GT program ended, we were looking for private schools again.
With Shane home (FINALLY!), I am realizing why things were so incredibly … different when he was gone.
When Shane was gone, there was no one for Dylan to strangle, wrestle, or tackle. There was no one for Dylan to humor, entertain, prod or cajole. There was no one for Dylan with whom to be utterly goofy and absurd – and no one who laughed at repetitive jokes about dry-witted, slightly obscene YouTube videos.
But most importantly, when Shane was gone, there was no one for Dylan to interrupt. We held normal, one-on-one conversations, almost like adults. Dylan was capable of waiting until I was done talking before he spoke.
With Shane back, he interrupts me, while I’m talking to Shane. He interrupts Shane, when he’s talking (to anyone). And he interrupts anyone else in the room, if it means being able to say what’s on his mind immediately.
Shane will say something like, “Remember that time when we — ”
And Dylan will burst in with, “Animals are elastic!” or some such nonsense, usually in an exceptionally high-pitched squeal, as if he’s uncontrollably compelled to fill the air with his voice.
Then I will ignore Shane and say, “Dylan! Shane was talking!”
And Dylan – also ignoring, rather than apologizing to Shane – will say, “But animals are elastic, you know why?”
And I will say, “No, I do not know why. I do not care why. I wanted to hear what Shane had to say, and then I would be happy to hear what you have to say. Go ahead, Shane.”
“I don’t know what I was going to say,” Shane will say.
Dylan’s mission – if it was this – to grab back any shred of attention that might have been aimed at Shane will have been accomplished.
So I will try to remind Shane: “You said, ‘Remember that time when we…’.”
Shane will shrug.
A dead silence will ensue for maybe 8 seconds before Dylan will burst back into the conversation.
“Hey Shane,” Dylan will say, “do you want to know why animals are elastic?”
“Sure,” Shane will say. And then they will talk and laugh and carry on until the next time Shane tries to tell me something.
And I will sit there seething.
This happens 800 times every single day. I worry about Shane, that he’s not getting enough attention. Sometimes Shane repeats something multiple times, and no one even realizes he’s talking. His dad is the worst culprit. Bill almost never hears Shane speak, even if he’s looking right at him.
We know Bill has ADHD, too. But he’s not the only culprit.
Last week Shane said to me, “This is the third time I’ve said this, and you still haven’t heard me!” I’m not sure (now) what Shane said three times, but I sure did tune in for that fourth time!
And I worry about Dylan. I worry that whatever is compelling him to interrupt constantly is the same thing that is going to cause him to lose friends later in life. I wonder if he’ll ever have any self-control.
And then I think back on those four days, where Dylan – alone with us – was truly fun to have around. He was easy to talk with, mature, responsible, polite and kind. He was an absolute delight.
So I don’t know, really, why the dynamic changes so much with Shane around. I do know that everyone is happier having Shane here, so I guess we will learn more as we go.
I just wish it were possible to have both the good, mature Dylan along with the crazy, fun Dylan – and the ability to hold a rational conversation with both of them.
So I talked to Alex’s mom – a lot – about the school.
As legacies, her children could go to the private school tuition-free.
“So why don’t your kids go there?” I asked.
“How would I work?” she said, without hestiation. Her kids don’t go there because Alex’s mom works, and she would have to give up her job to shuttle the kids back and forth to school.
It is a 45-minute drive, one way. That’s three hours a day of driving. She just doesn’t want to make the trip.
Her daughter, Alison, who is now graduating from high school, went to the school for a year. She lived with her grandmother (the school’s founder) during the week, and enjoyed the school – but not the living arrangements.
Alison was Dylan’s age when she went to the school. She had the same experience as Dylan – a horrific public middle school experience.
So Alison went to the private school – and liked it – but because she lived with her grandmother, Alison ached to be at home.
“I can’t separate her living situation from the school situation,” Alex’s mom told me. “It was very intertwined for us. She liked the school. She didn’t have any problems at all with the school. But she wanted to come home.”
Alex’s mom is possibly the most honest person on the planet. She is a very God-loving woman, who actually lives by principles of kindness. Unlike much of the modern world, this woman believes that it’s all about God and love – and she lives that.
So when she says her daughter liked the school, I believe her.
She also said that if Shane ends up at the private school for middle school, “it would be a no-brainer.” Alex would go there, too.
That’s something we’ll have to consider later.
She recommended, too, that I talk to the administrators about working for the school. Given my background in marketing and education, I am hoping to help with the school’s marketing efforts.
If (Alex’s mom says “when”) Dylan gets accepted, I’ll see if I can get some tuition help from the school by working for them. And of course, I still have my public school job to help pay that private school tuition.
It’s going to be work. The drive, the money … a lot of work. I am taking it one day at a time.
Our “dream school” suddenly feels like … reality.
When my parents offered to take Shane to Chicago for some “special Shane time,” I thought exclusively about how much fun he would have, and how some special time would be great for him. And indeed, he is having a wonderful time.
Beyond missing Shane, I didn’t think about how losing Shane would affect our family dynamic – particularly, how it would affect Dylan.
With Shane gone, Dylan spends all of his time texting his friends. He spent the entire first day alternatively texting and reading Shane’s book, Adventures in Odyssey: The Official Guide – a huge paperback about the radio show that Shane adores. Dylan has started listening to it, too, and he studied that guide in one day more than Shane studied it in a year.
Bill and Dylan have had time to do some go-kart racing – something they’ve been meaning to do for six months at the new indoor karting place. And as a family, we all went to see Dylan’s friend’s dad play music with his band – which was a real treat, except that Dylan’s friend didn’t show up.
Mealtime is rather lame. Bill and I have been sitting in front of the TV with our slices of toast or whatever we throw together, since Dylan is either still sleeping or busy texting. We don’t have our happy family meals. Shane isn’t sitting there asking us to play a game – which he often does – so no one has even bothered to sit at the table.
I am getting a glimpse of what it would be like to have had only one child. Before we decided to have a second child, I was so worried about what it would do to Dylan – to his whole life – if we took away our individual attention from him, and added a baby to the mix. After I was pregnant, I remember sobbing, afraid that I would somehow be losing Dylan by having a second child.
It is so clear, now, that having Shane has brightened everyone’s life. He has helped to make us a real family, and has brought so much joy to all of us. He’s such an integral part of everything we do.
Shane is funny. He makes us all laugh. He has a wit so dry, sometimes even he doesn’t know why he’s funny. And his calm is infectious. The rest of us are a bit more relaxed with life, just because he is near.
When his favorite song comes on the radio, we look at each other with sad faces. There is no one here to do magic tricks for us. We didn’t realize how often we asked Shane for advice, until he wasn’t here for us to ask. When anything comes up in conversation that reminds us of him – and many, many things do – we just can’t enjoy it like we do with Shane.
We miss him. We can’t wait for Shane to come home, and make our family whole again.
Today, Shane flies off to Chicago for four days – without me.
He’s going with my parents, so he couldn’t be in better hands. (Actually, he’s probably better off with them than with me.) But all of my anxieties are hitting me full-force, with vengeance.
I’m not worried about whether or not he has everything he needs. He does. I’m not worried about him making it to the plane on time. He will. I’m not even worried about him getting sick, or being unhappy, or not having a good time. He won’t get sick, or be unhappy, and he will have a good time.
My anxieties go right for the jugular. I’m worried that the plane is going to crash.
I don’t need to go into the horrific details that come to mind with a plane crash. Everyone who has ever been afraid of anything knows what it’s like to fear. My fears are never small. They leap right past “I have a cold” to “I’m going to die.”
This isn’t the first time it’s happened. As a matter of fact, it happens every single time I’ve taken a trip, or my kids have taken a trip, since they were born. (Before that, I apparently didn’t care that I might die.)
It doesn’t matter if we are driving or flying – although I know that flying is safer than driving. What matters is, someone is going away. I have tremendous abandonment issues.
What if they don’t come back? What if he doesn’t come back?
Some of this is my protective mom’s instinct, I suppose. But most of it is just plain fear. I’ve heard that fear and faith can’t coexist – and have found that to be true.
So what am I so afraid of, really? I’m afraid that I can’t control the uncontrollable.
So it’s a justified fear.
For a control freak like me, this can cause great anxiety. I can’t control anything really, but I always run around with the illusion that I can. So sending my baby on a plane trip is the antithesis of control.
It’s letting go of control.
And that is very, very hard for me to do.
But today, since my baby is still home and I have several hours to spend with him before he flies away forever (or for four days), I am going to make the most of our time together. I am going to be with him, and play with him, and love him for every moment of the day.
I suppose in that way, it’s like any other day – or at least, I try to do that each day. Sometimes I slack off and spend the whole day on the computer. Those are the days when I go to bed thinking, Wow, what a wasted day. I could have spent time with my kids.
So today, I am going to spend time with my kids. And I am letting go of the illusion of control. Just for one day. So the anxieties won’t eat me alive, and my whole world will be just a little brighter.
In spite of the fact that we’ve fallen in love with the second school we visited, we went to see another ADHD-centered school. Instead of 9 total pupils in grades 6-12, like the first place we visited, this one includes grades K-8 and has a total of 16 kids.
All 16 students have ADHD (or some variation) so the school is specifically geared toward learning like Dylan does.
“The kids meet in the gym in the morning,” said the headmaster, “where there is an obstacle course set up, so the kids can run first.” The headmaster had to describe the school in great detail since, once again, there were no students to observe.
She stood up as she talked about the obstacle course, and walked around, indicating activity. “Then for half an hour,” she said, returning to her seat, “they have social time. They enjoy that, and they can get it out of their systems before Language Arts.”
Classes then commence – but only in 30-minute blocks. “Every 30 minutes, we have what we call Wiggle Breaks,” she said.
During Dylan’s third grade, I went to his elementary school every day, pulled him out of his class, and let him run around (literally) for five minutes. Then I gave him a handful of almonds to eat on his way back to the classroom. (Almonds have loads of great brain nutrients.)
The principal of the public school put a stop to this as soon as she saw me doing it.
But here in this specialized ADHD-kid school with 16 kids, they take breaks every 30 minutes.
“Some kids even get extra breaks,” she said. “And we make sure anyone who needs extra breaks gets them.”
Their small class size allows each student to use his/her own computer software for studying – and that includes doing math online. All students use computers with great frequency – and P.E. happens every day. The grounds are beautiful – 20 wooded acres – and the church that houses the school has been very accommodating.
Sigh, I thought. If only I’d known about this school years ago.
But years ago, it didn’t exist. It’s only been around for three years.
And years ago, it was substantially more perfect for Dylan than it would be now. Dylan is 5′ 8″. He barely fit into the small classroom chairs. And while he particularly adored the chair called “The Cadillac” – a bouncy exercise ball with wheels – Dylan is way too old for something called a “Wiggle Break.”
There is a strong possibility of a high school coming the following year – which, actually, we didn’t want. We just wanted him to have a place to catch his breath for the year, and develop some solid executive functioning skills.
I’m not sure that having Dylan at this tiny school for one year would teach him how to succeed. It would teach him that there are more kids like him, and that his needs could be met for a mere $17,000 per year. But it wouldn’t really prepare him for high school, or college.
In fact, she even said, “This is like homeschooling.” And quite honestly, it is like homeschooling: individualized attention, a style of learning perfect for the student, and plenty of breaks and fun time built in for sanity.
But I could homeschool for free.
So when we got in the car, I asked Dylan, as nonchalantly as possible, “What did you think of this one?”
“Definitely my second choice,” he said.
So, since we were (almost) in the neighborhood, we drove out to look at the Quaker school again. We got out of the car.
Dylan looked around and said, “I would be honored to call this my school.”
And I feel the same way. So I guess it’s up to God now.
While waiting to hear from the school of our dreams as to whether or not Dylan will be accepted, I sent Shane on a playdate with one of his very best friends.
Alex is an incredibly intelligent boy who also has a vision processing disorder. Shane met him on the playground just before second grade started. Unlike all the other second graders, Alex was the only boy Shane really liked. Alex is bright. Prodigy bright. So I was very interested that Shane was interested in someone so smart. The boys weren’t in the same second grade class, but they played together at recess every day.
Alex’s mom and I both went to the school administration – unbeknownst to each other – and asked that the boys be put in the same third grade class. So for third grade, they were inseparable. They talked about the Bible, and numbers. Alex has mastered calculus; Shane’s interest is in statistics. They created “time machine,” a game where they travel back in time and relive history.
Then Alex got into the GT program for fourth grade and Shane didn’t, so they’ve grown apart a bit. But they still have fairly regular playdates.
Alex’s mom and I have become friends over the years. We’re not as close as we might be, but we always end up talking endlessly, even when we don’t have time. So today, when she dropped off Shane after the playdate, I told her about applying to private school for Dylan.
“What’s the name of the school?” she asked. And I told her.
“My mother founded that school,” she said, as casually as if we were discussing the weather.
Her mother founded the school. Alex’s grandmother founded the school we found for Dylan!
The found is the legend everyone loves, even though she retired (after decades of running the school) at the age of 72. She started the school, moved it from a church room with only 13 students to another campus, and then bought 54 acres and built the school where it stands today.
I’d read all about her, the story behind the school, the interviews for the news. By the time I found out that Alex’s mom’s mom founded the place, I knew “the legend” almost as well as I knew the school. I knew she was responsible for all that was good about the place, all the things I loved about the school, all the reasons I wanted Dylan to attend.
My overriding thought after hearing “my mother founded that school” – the thing that reverberates through my brain even hours later – is:
Coincidence? No way.
I felt like God gave me the gold-star stamp of approval! It was like someone affirmed that the place is genuinely the loving, caring place it appears to be. I know that no school is perfect – but at least I know now that they mean what they say, and that their mission is truly to “seek and speak truth and love.”
I told my husband and mother about this miracle “coincidence.”
Neither of them responded with the thought I had: the gold-star stamp thought. They both said, “Well, why don’t her kids go to that school?”
They both are relatively pragmatic. I have no idea why Alex and his siblings don’t go there, but I will ask her when I see her next.
Meanwhile, I just think it’s a sign from God that whatever is meant to be, will be.
Eventually, we are going to have to deal with the extremely significant question looming on the sidelines, waiting for an answer.
What about Shane?
Shane starts middle school in one year. When Dylan started middle school, it was like throwing him into a pit of snakes. While some of them were harmless, many of them bit him. Most of them were poisonous.
Shane is currently happy in his public elementary school, with his little group of friends – who are wonderful – and the teachers who are incredibly kind.
He has an option to apply for the public gifted program. Shane wasn’t accepted into the elementary school gifted program, but he has skills and interests that might make him eligible for the middle school’s gifted program. If he gets in, it might be wonderful for him… except that it would mean an hour-long bus ride, both ways, to get there and home.
The public school also has a magnet program, for kids interested in aerospace, computers and/or the performing arts. We went through the process of learning about these programs when Dylan was in fifth grade – and he was accepted into the magnet program for performing arts.
But Dylan decided he would rather go to the school where most of his friends were going – his home school. The snake pit.
And that’s where Shane says he wants to go. Shane is willingly and knowingly requesting the snake pit.
He doesn’t want an hour-long bus ride, and he’s not interested in aerospace or computers. And while performing arts holds some interest for him – he likes taking acting classes – he really wants to be a magician. There are no public middle schools for magic.
To be fair, all middle schools are snake pits. Even Dylan’s Quaker-value-filled middle school still has middle school students. The students are the snakes. They are learning to find themselves, trying to figure out who they are in relation to others, and trying to “fit in” and “stand out” all at the same time.
Middle school isn’t going to be good, no matter what happens.
But what if Dylan’s school is really as good as we believe it will be? What if it’s so good, in fact, that we want Shane to go there, too?
How the heck are we supposed to afford the tuition for two kids?
So. We will research our options in depth, but it looks like it’s the snake pit for Shane.
Shane is laid back, knows the system, follows the rules. He gets his work done, turns it in on time, knows what’s due and when. He may really enjoy the nuances of having seven classes in one day, with seven teachers and all the different kids in his class.
He won’t enjoy the crowded hallways, the swearing, the pushing, the punching, the malicious ways students invent to hurt people.
They will hurt him, and I know it. But I think he can survive, so we will probably keep him in public school, and see how he does.
Does this mean I’m a terrible mom?
Applying to a private school is like shining an enormous spotlight on the problems with public school.
it is summer, and I don’t expect much from public school staff. But I need two completed teacher recommendation forms, and a transcript mailed to the private school. So I took all of the appropriate paperwork to the school and asked around to see what I could do.
The sole staff person on front office duty is a friendly, hardworking woman who gets paid nowhere near enough to do all she does. I realized this while I was talking to her, but it didn’t make her answers any easier to swallow.
“I need two teacher recommendations,” I said. “But since it’s summer, I have a list of ten teachers we might try to contact.”
“The teachers aren’t here,” she said. “It’s summer.”
“I know,” I said, “but I was hoping you could still contact them and see if there’s anything they could do. It should only take a minute to fill out the form.”
“Well, we can’t do that,” she said. “They are all on vacation. I guess you could email them.”
“Don’t you think they would respond more quickly if the email came from the school?” I asked.
“Oh no,” she said, as if the school has no influence whatsoever on the teachers. She fingered the neon green papers in my hand. “And I don’t know how you would get them these forms,” she added. “I guess you could come back in the third week of August.”
“But that’s too late for the application,” I said, whining a bit.
“Sorry,” she said, shrugging and smiling at me.
“Right,” I said, giving up. “So I will email the teachers and hope someone responds, and then I will try to figure out how to get these forms to them.”
“Okay,” she said, clearly pleased that I understood her utter helplessness.
“I also need a transcript mailed to the school,” I said.
“Oh,” she said, sighing. “That will cost $3.”
“Okay,” I said.
“And you will have to have that done through the counseling office.”
I went into the counseling office.
In the counseling office, I found another tremendously underpaid hardworking staff member, with the neatest, most organized desk I’d ever seen. She smiled at me as I explained my plight.
“It won’t go out until next week,” she said, disappointed in herself that she couldn’t do it more quickly. (More quickly, by the way, would have been mailing it within an hour of my request.)
This woman obviously had more power and ability to help than the other one. I gave her $3 for the transcript and said, as an afterthought, “And I just have to find two teachers in the middle of the summer who will answer emails.”
She looked at my list of teachers. “Oh, she lives in the neighborhood,” she said. “I could call her today. And he is easy to reach. Do you want me to get these to the teachers for you?”
I almost fell over with gratitude.
“That would be awesome,” I told her, giving her the forms and my contact information while thanking her profusely.
Then I headed out, thanking God and the great staffer for their hard work on our behalf, and went home to fill out Dylan’s application.