Month: August 2014


Everyone Just Keeps Smiling.

Back-to-school events are not all the same.

For Shane, fifth grade back-to-school day meant running up the cement stairs to read the class roster. He got the teacher everyone wanted (yay!) and has several very close friends in his class (yay!)

We went to meet his teacher, who is quite wonderful. He has been teaching at the school for so long that we found his picture, complete with hippie hairdo and beard, in the school picture from 1975. We are thrilled with Shane’s good fortune.

But the rest of back-to-school day consisted of seeking people Shane knows among the masses. The school population is 683 this year, and many of the students brought two parents. We went up and down the stairs like cattle, waving and yelling, “Hi Jordan!” and “Hey! Rory!” as we went.

We combed every inch of the school, tripping over each other and apologetically smiling. We stood in line for 10 minutes to buy an agenda book for $5, being pushed and jostled the entire time by kids filing past. Finally, Shane found a handful of friends to hang with on the front steps while a small group of parents talked, until we all went home.

Dylan’s back-to-school event this year took the form of a picnic. Instead of “dropping in,” almost every family arrived right at 3:30. It was an odd time for a weekday picnic, but no one in the group of about 50 people seemed to have any trouble getting there.

The headmaster introduced the school staff, including a new teacher who has five kids and brought vegetables and fruits from his organic garden. We all sat around in a circle, smiling and golf-clapping when necessary. Some of the parents hooted, and the applause felt quite genuine.

Then the headmaster went out to flip burgers, hot dogs and veggie burgers, while we mingled and met teachers and other parents. Everyone was smiling. They all seemed to know one another. The cattle-drive feeling was nonexistent. Instead, we all just sat around and talked.

While I dug a bit deeper into what goes on during a typical day, Dylan ran off with his new friend – a boy he met this summer, thanks to the admissions counselor. The two boys get along beautifully. They played for two hours before we corralled them to head home.

Meanwhile, I talked to the administrators, the admissions counselor, and the music teacher. I met Dylan’s social studies teacher, who also teaches language arts and expects students to call her by her first name. And I met Dylan’s math teacher, who might be the best of them all.

A great math teacher is a good thing, because we are still struggling with how to keep Dylan in his arts/P.E. classes while re-taking Algebra I. It doesn’t seem possible, but everyone just keeps smiling and reassuring me. I wonder if I will continue believing them for the entire year, or if I will explode with frustration before the end of September.

The administration has decided to test Dylan and see how much he knows about algebra – a good first step – and then we will all decide what to do about his schedule, which is incredibly loose.

I’m not going to worry about it for now. We are in full-force, back-to-school excitement mode. And I’m sticking with that until some new feeling comes along.

I Am So Exhausted.

So things aren’t going so well, five days before Dylan’s new adventure at private school.

First, there is Shane’s bus. Shane started school on Monday, and is very happy.

But after school, every single one of his friends is a patrol. They all work for 20 minutes after school lets out – and then they all go home.

And THEN Shane’s bus comes. It is 20-25 minutes late every day. It is so late that Shane’s teacher, who is (ironically) in charge of the patrols, takes Shane (who would otherwise be left in the classroom alone) downstairs and outside so that the teacher can release the patrols from duty.

This means that my brilliant plan to pick up Dylan, then drive 35-40 minutes to get Shane and still be home by 4:15, is greatly hindered by a 30-minute wait at a bus stop. Thanks to the lateness of the bus, we haven’t been home before 4:45 yet – and Dylan’s school hasn’t even started!

I would talk it over with the bus driver, but he doesn’t speak a lot of English and I can’t understand him at all. We did talk to each other, but I am still not sure what he said.

On the other side of the coin, with only five days left before Dylan’s school starts, his schedule is in great flux. Because he will be taking Algebra I again – and because Algebra I is an “upper school” class – the school has taken him out of art, music and physical education in order to fit Algebra I into his schedule.

Their email suggested that Dylan had to give up the arts, and take physics or a study hall instead.

Private school, apparently, cannot provide teachers for every subject during every period. We knew this, going in. But no one ever mentioned that Dylan would be losing all the creative, fun classes in order to take algebra.

I sent an utterly panicked email last night, which likened Dylan’s scenario to “a day in prison, rather than an engaging educational environment.” And at midnight, I got the nicest email from the private school. They were incredibly reassuring that Dylan would not have to miss music and P.E., and that they would do some “creative scheduling” to be sure that Dylan’s needs are met.

I am so exhausted, trying to be sure Dylan’s needs are met. I wonder at what age Dylan will start making sure his own needs are met?

Finally, today is my 50th birthday. There is nothing like a 50th birthday to ensure the onset of emotional exhaustion.

The whole WORLD is being nice to me, and I’ve gotten lots of delightful birthday messages from loved ones (and, thanks to Facebook, even strangers). So I’m not as concerned about my birthday as I am about Shane’s bus and Dylan’s class schedules.

50th birthday or not, it’s all just another day in the life of a mom.

The Bears and Dogs Just Ramble On.

With the first day of school looming, I put the boys to bed. We cuddled together for a quick bedtime story. Then, it was time for our “show.”

Nearly every night, the kids get a story from the book I wrote, followed by a stuffed-animal extravaganza of sorts. Both Bill and I do “shows” for the kids. It’s just a fun thing that started when the stuffed animals started “talking” to the kids when they were younger.

The shows I do have evolved into tips and advice (from bears and dogs) about things that are relevant in the lives of the kids. For example, tonight’s show was going to be full of tips about surviving the first day of fifth grade.

The animals always give some very good advice, along with some absolutely terrible advice, which is hysterical to the kids. I hadn’t lived until I saw them imitating the stuffed animals’ bad advice. Some nights, I’ve laughed so hard, tears were streaming down my face.

But tonight, the kids didn’t want to see my show. They wanted – again – a show from Daddy.

I’d like to say that my feelings aren’t hurt, because my husband is a wonderful man. And bedtime is practically the only time they have together.

But Bill’s shows are drastically different from mine, and not nearly as composed. He picks up the animals and waves them around without any real purpose. How is he going to teach the kids anything with that kind of insanity? The kids call his shows “random” – and I must agree.

Often, the bears and dogs just ramble on about nothing. Or they recite song lyrics from 1967. Or they do remakes of old TV game shows. Often one animal has an Australian accent, another one is British, and another just got off the bus from Alabama.

Okay, now that I think about it, Bill’s shows are probably funnier than mine.

And they definitely last longer. Sometimes the kids just pile the animals on top of Daddy, then wait until he’s used every one of them. It can take 45 minutes to get through all of that plush.

So instead of tips and advice – no matter how funny I had planned to be – tonight the boys wanted a randomly funny show that lasts a long time.

I guess I can accept that.

Bill and I do different kinds of shows. We play differently with the kids. We have different personalities, so it makes sense that we would create different types of shows.

And while we may not agree on everything (since nobody agrees on everything), Bill and I definitely complement each other in our parenting skills.

The kids won a stuffed banana last week at the amusement park. As I’m writing this blog, I can hear that the new toy is “talking” with a thick, Southern accent in Shane’s bedroom. It just said, “Did I tell you that I’m a banana? I have a lot of appeal!”

Bill just comes up with this stuff on the fly.

So I guess it’s okay that he literally stole the show tonight.

I Am Really Just Sad.

With summer vacation drawing to a close, I spontaneously whisked away the children for one grand, final adventure.

Since we had season passes for an amusement park and we were running out of time to use them, we headed for Busch Gardens in our hastily packed car. The trip takes 3-4 hours, depending on traffic, and I wanted to get ahead of the traffic to have extra time for fun.

But with so much to do, we left too late to do a drive-thru breakfast. We left even later so that I could splatter peanut butter on toast, and toss some water bottles into the car. We had to stop at the post office, and my heart was already beating with anxiety.

We were 15 minutes from home when Dylan announced: “I forgot my shoes.”

“You forgot your shoes?!” I shrieked. “How could you have forgotten your shoes? Were you not planning to WALK at the amusement park?!”

“Should we go back?” he asked, sensing the shriek.

“NO,” I said, beginning to rage. “We are NOT going back for your SHOES! You can walk in the flip-flops that I packed FOR you!”

Then I really lost it. I threatened to turn the car around and go home. “Why am I even bothering trying to do something fun?” I spat. “No one is even acting excited!”

I raged on and on and on and on – all the while heading slowly toward our destination with a pit in my gut.

Dylan said, “I’m really fine with wearing flip-flops.”

And Shane added, “We really do want to go.”

Finally, I shut up.

I fumed silently for several minutes. I was so angry with the whole world, I didn’t want to do anything fun ever again. So I continued to fume silently.

And suddenly, ZAP!

I realized what was happening.

Summer was over. I wanted to destroy our final trip before it happened – because if it didn’t happen, then maybe summer wouldn’t be over. Or maybe if I ruined our last trip, it wouldn’t be so sad when the kids go back to school next week.

I didn’t say it was logical.

But I knew – quite suddenly – that all my raging and fuming was not anger. It came from a place of sadness – and love.

Many parents are happy when summer’s over. There’s a relief at not having to entertain their kids anymore. But I love having them home. I miss them dreadfully when they are at school. They are my favorite part of the entire world, and I sincerely and deeply grieve when the school year begins.

So in the car, I took a few deep breaths and explained to the kids what had happened.

“I am really just sad,” I said. “And I’m sorry I yelled at you. I really just want to be with you and have a really great time together, okay?”

“Okay,” they said in unison. It was quiet for several minutes.

Then Shane said, “You know what’s funny?”

“What?”

“Right before you told us that you were just sad,” Shane told me, “I said a little prayer for you to change your attitude.”

Happy Summer!

In my quest to be a good mom, I waited until the last minute – then surprised the kids with a trip to Busch Gardens, Williamsburg.

It’s a last-ditch effort to capture all that is summer, and put it in my memory bag for the great summer of ’14. The kids are running around like crazy folk, trying to get ready before McDonald’s closes its breakfast doors.

Last night, the weather forecast a 50% chance of rain in Williamsburg. But today, it’s dropped to 0%!

I am taking this as a sign that we’d best get going, forget the blog, and have a great time. So we are on our way. Happy Summer!

Want to See a Magic Trick?

Shane had a hugely successful debut yesterday as a magician. It was Chapala’s “Magic Sunday” – a local restaurant’s way to promote the magic community. Once a year, kids run the whole show.

Shane was recruited to do some “close-up” magic – which, in magician’s terms, means any trick that you can do standing next to a small group of people. Card tricks are a favorite in this category.

Shane walked around the room in his black cape and top hat, his pockets stuffed full of cards and coins and such. He went from table to table – friends, family, strangers, and some professional magicians – and performed beautifully.

When Shane was in preschool, we were alerted that he might have a social issue when he spent his entire playtime lying on the floor with his head inside a dollhouse.

Like an ostrich in the sand.

Since that time, I’ve been more conscious in my attempt to discover Shane’s passions. Unlike Dylan, who likes everything and is eager to explore, Shane has always been very cautious in selecting an interest.

So when he was 8 and asked for a magic kit, we handed over Dylan’s old, unused one, allowing Shane to try out the idea. When I was a kid, I had a magic kit and got bored after a couple of weeks. But Shane studied the tricks for months and learned how to do them.

Then he started reading magic trick books. Every few hours, he would say, “Want to see a magic trick?” Then he would try his (often unpracticed) trick on me.

I got to see a lot of tricks.

By age 9, he performed a short show at a home for seniors. Dylan sang songs, and Shane did a “halftime” show.

And now, at age 10, he just finished magic camp, and I’ve seen at least half a dozen magic shows in the past three months. And now he’s performed close-up magic for an hour – and even did a brief stage show – at the biggest magician’s gathering spot in the area.

Over the past few years, I’ve met a lot of amateur and professional magicians. None of them are “mainstream” folks. They have a social rhythm that seems to be a step around the rest of society.

They are generally quiet, for example, which I didn’t expect from a group of showmen. They’re all a bit shy. A handful even have severe social challenges when holding regular conversations. They are all fairly serious.

Then they get on stage and become very funny – or at least, fascinating. I’ve learned that magicians communicate best through tricks.

These men – almost all of them are male – have been doing magic since they were Shane’s age, and still love it. They are all, still, totally obsessed.

And Shane fits right in.

There Has to Be Some Way to Fix This.

It’s not often that I hold a check for more than $15,000 in my hands. I’m not hugely interested in money, but it is a bit terrifying just to hold a check that large.

It’s even harder to give it away.

But this week, along with a contract and an IEP, I handed the full year’s tuition to the admissions person at Dylan’s new private school. It was the miniscule savings we’d had for college, plus a small loan. And it was all crammed into one tiny piece of paper that I gave away.

And that’s when I started to panic.

It started with the discussion about Dylan’s Spanish class, which I don’t want him to take. I don’t know how he will handle verb conjugation and endless memorization since he can’t even remember to wash his face.

So I had asked (long before signing the contract) if we could get him into sign language class (movement! yay!) instead. Now, we were revisiting the issue, with my money gone and no promises yet made about Spanish.

“I’m not sure what they are planning to do with sign language,” said the admissions counselor politely. “I’m not sure if we have someone assigned to teach that.”

“But your website says that you have sign language!” My voice was starting to sound shrill.

“I know. And they should take it off if they’re not going to offer it. Either way, I think that is going to be an upper level class,” she said.

“Can’t he take sign language with the high school kids, like he’s doing with algebra?” I asked, as calmly as I could.

“I will have to ask them about that,” she said. “The people who can answer that are on vacation this week, but I’ll let you known as soon as I know.”

“Okay,” I said. Then we talked for another hour about all kinds of irrelevant stuff. (I really like the admissions person.)

And then I went home and wrote an insanely panicky email:

It is daunting to hear, as I hand over $15,000, that not only could Dylan be left IN Spanish, but the alternative (sign language) mentioned on your website does not actually exist. Also, the language program web page says that Spanish is ‘offered’ at every level – but it does NOT say that it is ‘required.’ There has to be some way to fix this.

I swear that I am working on my anxiety issues. But sending an email, for me, is sometimes the equivalent of dumping all of my anxiety into one big lump and saying to someone else: What are YOU going to do about it?

And I know this. Yet, there, I did it again.

At 9:01 the next morning, the admissions person called me, as panicked as I had been the day before. She wanted to assure me that she would do everything in her powers to get Dylan into sign language, if a class exists.

“I just really don’t know yet,” she said, as hopefully as she could.

Then I spent the next hour apologizing for my own anxieties, and being reassured that everything was okay.

Sigh.

I should have been able to do that for myself.

Just Do a Different Trick.

Shane wants to be a magician, so he enrolled in a week-long magic camp. This morning, he was showing me a trick he learned.

He fanned out a deck of cards on the floor. Then he waved his hand dramatically over them. “Tell me when to stop,” he said.

“Stop,” I said.

He kept moving his hand until he got to the card he wanted to pick. “This one?” he asked.

“No,” I said, “I told you to stop back here.” I pointed to a card 20 cards away from the one he’d picked.

Shane started to cry.

Shane doesn’t wail or even sob. Tiny tears form in the corners of his eyes and his mouth turns into a slight frown. He sits very still and makes no sound.

It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.

I had no idea what I’d done wrong, but if Shane was crying, something must be seriously bad. Or – and this was also true – Shane might have been hungry because he hadn’t eaten breakfast yet. Even when he was a baby, he cried more readily when he was hungry.

“What’s going on?” I asked him. “Why are you crying?”

“I can’t talk when I am crying,” he said.

“Okay,” I told him. “There are two reasons why people cry. One is because you’ve lost something you had. The second reason is because you don’t have something you want. Are you crying because you lost something?”

Shane’s face pinched, his eyes got scrunchy, and he nodded. Visible tears fell and he got up to get a Kleenex.

“Can you write what you have lost?” I asked.

“I think so,” he said.

I gave him paper and a pen. He wrote, in his child-style printing:

            Lost

1. the secret of the trick

2. my appricciation for the trick

Then he went to get another Kleenex. And we talked about tricks, and how sometimes they don’t work out the way you want them to work.

“Luckily,” I said, “you are in magic camp this week with a magician! Let’s ask him what you can do if a trick doesn’t work. Because in your show, if a trick doesn’t work, you will need to know what you can do!”

So we went to camp. “Go ask your teacher,” I said.

He went over in the same general area as the teacher, and stood stock still about 20 feet away. “I don’t know what to say,” he muttered. After much prodding, Shane wouldn’t even open his mouth. He was considering crying again.

Finally, I explained the situation to the teacher. “So what can he do if a trick doesn’t work out?” I asked.

And the teacher very kindly said, “Then you just do a different trick.” Then he showed Shane what to do if something doesn’t work out the way he has planned.

I never know what will stick, and what will be forgotten almost instantly. But I am hoping that this will be not just a magic lesson, but a life lesson.

I Don’t See Anything to Worry About.

One of my few faithful blog readers told me last week, “I think you worry about too many things.”

And indeed, I agree, I do. I don’t worry (anymore) about world wars, nuclear attacks and the end of the world. I don’t worry (much) about car crashes, kidnappings and murders. I used to worry about these things all the time, as if worrying about them would stave off the inevitable. I’ve spent my summer doing Kirk Martin’s “Anxiety Challenge” and it’s helping some – but it hasn’t yet changed my generally pessimistic personality.

For now, I am practicing this theory: Fear and Faith cannot coexist. This means that as long as I have faith that everything is going to be okay, I can’t be afraid – at least, not simultaneously.

But I still manage to have way more fear than faith on most days. I spend my time flopping back and forth between the two, trying desperately to worry less.

But then, for two days, Shane had a headache.

“My head hurts a lot,” he told me, gripping the back of his head with his left hand.

Knowing that a large percentage of headaches are caused by dehydration I said, “Drink some water.”

He got a huge glass of water and sat down at the kitchen table, still gripping his head. He drank three sips.

“It’s making it worse!” he said.

Shane had never had a headache before – except once the previous week, at the beach. For that one, water helped.

For this one – and the subsequent dozen that followed – water didn’t do a thing to help. So I studied everything I could find on the internet and compared his symptoms to a variety of causes.

He either had a tension headache (very common in children) or a brain bleed. To check, I had Shane sit down in a chair and take deep, slow breaths. He decided the floor would be more comfortable, so he threw himself onto the floor and closed his eyes.

“Mom,” he said, when the timer went off two minutes later, “it felt like the floor was moving and the carpet was spinning and I was on a platform that went like this.” He waved his arms up and down, to show the jerking motion of the imaginary platform.

So now he had a headache and dizziness. I called the doctor.

After all the neurological tests – which I recognized from Dylan’s frequent visits to the neurologist – the doctor said, “Well, I don’t see anything to worry about. The dizziness could be an unrelated ear issue, since he doesn’t have any fever or vomiting. I don’t see any inflammation of the brain. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for you. Since you already have a relationship with your neurologist, you might want to do a phone consult, just to get her thoughts.”

The pediatrician told Shane to keep a “headache log,” which he meticulously did for the next two days. It included time of day, what activity he was doing, and how much pain he felt.

Shane read the log to me at the end of Day 2, after nine more headaches.

Along with his list of headache occurrences and severity of pain, he listed the following activities: Nexus (his tablet), Wii, Nexus, computer, Nexus, Nexus.

More than half of his headaches had happened during or after he was playing video games.

So now he’s been off of video games for two days, and he hasn’t had a single headache. He is still occasionally dizzy – but only with his eyes closed. I’m hopeful that it is, indeed, just an ear imbalance issue, which runs in our family.

I’ve just got to have faith.

He Can’t Ride That Bus.

For the coming school year, Dylan will be getting out of school at 3:15, and Shane will be getting out at 3:30.

But they will be 25 miles apart.

If I pick up Shane first, Dylan will have to wait for almost an hour for me to arrive. But if I pick up Shane first, no one would get home before 5:00 – every day. If I pick up Dylan first, we can be home by (hopefully) 4:15.

It seems unfair to ask my 10-year-old to just stand there after school (in the heat, sun, rain, sleet and/or snow) until I get there. I hear what you are thinking. Why doesn’t Shane take the bus home?

Well, that does seem like a great idea – except that three years ago, we took Shane out of his “home” school (from which he could have taken a bus) and put him into a different school, which requires us to shuttle him back and forth to school every day. There is simply no bus transportation from his school to our house.

But, because Shane’s school has the GT (Gifted & Talented) program, they do have a bus to Shane’s former school. Shane may still have to wait a few minutes there – but hopefully, the bus and I would arrive at almost the same time, and Shane would be comfortable, dry and with kids his own age until then.

So I called Shane’s school to find out how to get Shane onto the GT bus.

“You have to call the transportation depot,” said the school’s summer secretary. “We can’t get involved in bus activity.”

So I called the bus depot. The bus lady told me, “If your child is not in the magnet program, he can’t ride that bus.”

I explained my situation in much greater detail than she required. I went on and on and on. Then I pleaded, “Isn’t there some way we can get him onto that bus?”

She put me on hold for a long, long, long time. So long, in fact, that I got distracted and wrote an entire email to Shane’s principal, reminding him that I am interested in setting up a magic program for Shane after school in the fall. About the time I hit “send,” the bus lady returned to the phone.

“We don’t encourage ride-hopping,” she said, “and we can’t encourage him to do regular ride-alongs.”

I had no idea what she was saying to me.

“I don’t understand what you are saying to me,” I said.

“We can’t encourage him to ride that bus,” she said, “but if he gets on it ….” She stopped without completing her thought.

At first, I was a complete moron. “So what should I do?” I asked.

She sighed. “We can’t encourage him to ride that bus.”

“Right, but how can I …?”

Then I understood.

So, that’s one resolved logistical nightmare. We can move on now, to number two – whatever it may be.

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