Month: September 2014
My baby has gone camping. So he’s just grown past 5′ 9″ tall, and I needed him to put the cereal on the top shelf yesterday. He’s still my baby. And I miss him.
The school has a two-day camping excursion where they stay in yurts, eat who-knows-what and commune with nature. I keep checking the schedule to see what he’s doing now.
As I write, he is on the climbing tower. He will love the climbing tower.
He will actually love everything. Except, possibly, the exceptionally rustic restrooms. But he’ll forget all about those, since he’ll be so busy hiking, climbing, playing and bonding with the other kids.
After a month of school, he really hasn’t made any close friends at his new school. I’m hoping this will give him an opportunity to get to know them better, and to realize that they are all, like him, just struggling to fit in.
Before he left, we had a talk about the cell phone. We allowed him to take it with him – even though it is strictly forbidden until times of rest – so that he could send us a text at the end of the day, letting us know all is well.
(Last year, we all went to China. Dylan was traveling with his chorus, and Shane, Bill and I were on the family bus. So I actually pre-wrote several short sentences for Dylan, already cut and stored in a baggie, so that he could just slip me a note and let me know how he was doing. In 10 days, I only got one note. I think it said, “I’m okay” and I got it on Day 2 of the trip.)
So while I’m not actually expecting to hear from him, Bill and I also told him to limit his outgoing texts to family and friends from his current school. I had this vision of the boys sitting around in their yurt, wanting to text the girls – and not having the right number for Dylan’s favorite girl because I didn’t let him take his cell phone.
So now he has his cell phone. And his sleeping bag, and his toothbrush and some soap and deodorant and other necessities that he will likely ignore for the next two days. And he has his iPod, which he adores and will probably lose.
But he has everything he needs. And I keep reminding myself that he is in the company of plenty of great kids, being chaperoned by lots of adults, and he is probably having a fantastic time.
I am the one, sitting at home, agonizing.
How am I expected to survive when he goes off to college?
I am beginning to believe that the curse of all school is, in actuality, just one simple thing: algebra.
Dylan has been in advanced math for years. Until middle school, though, he was in “levels” – which are all now defunct with the new national curriculum.
As an explanatory side note, Shane is coming through school with an entirely different attitude toward math. He, too, is in an advanced math class (which they purposefully invented in our county, thanks to loud parents with smart kids) but, thanks to the new curriculum, is learning it in an entirely different way.
Meanwhile, Dylan is still living under the old curriculum – which means that he skated along in math until he got to algebra, and then crashed, with a thud, into a wall. This wall also negated the mathematics careers of 58 of his classmates, who also took algebra in 7th grade and need to repeat it.
So Algebra I is essential for moving on to, gosh, Algebra II – right after he finishes Geometry. But in Dylan’s private school, which we essentially put him in to save him what seemed to be imminent self-implosion, taking Algebra I is reserved for only those who are willing to give up P.E., art, drama and instrumental music.
Dylan lives for P.E. and music. Music and movement are primary reasons why he loves his new school. He also loves drama. But the only time Algebra I is taught at Dylan’s school is during the “arts period” for 8th grade.
So Dylan chose to take pre-algebra this year, and take Algebra I again in 9th grade. But he didn’t count on doing 5th grade math in his 8th grade class. He is so bored.
The only option, they told me two weeks ago, is to lose those arts classes and take physics.
That’s what the other 8th graders in Algebra I are taking, along with their regular 8th grade science class.
How could that possibly be good?
So I’ve emailed the teacher, the person in charge of his special ed plan, the scheduling coordinator, the headmaster and the admissions counselor. I told them all that this is simply unacceptable. I tried to be nice about it, but I am not sure I was as nice as I should have been. I am too frustrated to be nice.
I’ve volunteered for Dylan to drop out of Spanish, take an online course, have a tutor after school or take algebra
I am tired of fighting for Dylan not to take algebra, then to take algebra, then to have algebra again. The way it stands, if nothing is done, he will basically be taking three years of algebra, his least favorite class in the world. Then he’ll have one year of Geometry, and hop right into Algebra II, which promises to be equally awful.
So, after one month of school, and in what I thought would be a school that – for a change – didn’t require fighting, I am on my way in to the school to see the headmaster and the scheduling coordinator to see if there is anything that can be done.
I am not hopeful. I think algebra is going to be the thing that, once and for all, breaks the spirit of my child and sends his engineering dreams into a tailspin.
We shall see.
Top 10 Things I Didn’t Consider Before Committing to a 45-Minute (four times a day) School Commute:
10. The news. Shortly after September 11, 2001, I stopped paying attention to the news. The angst was too much for me. Now, while searching for traffic reports, I often hear about turmoil, unrest, wars, murder, manslaughter, destruction and other horrors. The angst is back.
9. Commercials. Since there isn’t much to do during three hours of driving, I often resort to to scanning the radio. I search for songs – with very little success. Rush hour drive time is 90% talk and commercials. Yawn. I’d subscribe to XM, except I can’t afford it with my kid in private school.
8. Breakfast. Since we have such a long ride, Dylan eats breakfast in the car. He eats an egg sandwich almost every day. Shane, on the other hand, makes his own breakfast at home, so he eats a bowl of cereal every day. “Variety” is no longer on the menu for breakfast.
7. Traffic back-ups. Because I take back roads and go against traffic, I somehow believed I would be immune to rush-hour back-ups. In two days, I missed incidents that happened within minutes after I passed – so I now know I’m not immune. I also drove around a back-road back-up that cost me 20 minutes one morning. Thankfully, my dad was taking Shane to school that day, or he would have been late.
6. Other drivers. I was almost crushed by a box truck behind me (with loud squealing brakes). Half an hour later, an obviously blind woman pulled out directly in front of me. This doesn’t count the number of people I’ve seen texting while driving, including other moms – some of whom I know personally! This terrifies me above all else.
5. Gas. I used to fill up the tank once a week, maybe every 10 days. Now I am always in need of gas. Those 15-mile trips (60 a day) really add up – and I hadn’t budgeted the time or the money to cover it.
4. Dead animals. The number of dead animals I have seen in the last three weeks is absolutely astounding. In addition to the typical dead squirrels, groundhogs and raccoons, I have seen two baby deer, a cat and a kitten in the past week. I’m a sensitive soul, and seeing this breaks my heart.
3. Bathroom breaks. I don’t even get out of the car when I get to Dylan’s school, whether I have been drinking my morning soda or my tons-o-water in the afternoon. So I am always wishing I were home, and vaguely considering any porta potty I see along the route.
2. Time with Dylan. While Dylan and I have 90 minutes of time, per day, to spend together in the car, there are times when it’s tough to sit there together. Sometimes it is really fun – truly – but other times, we argue over having the windows down or turning on the radio or the post-school text-your-friend debacle. Exhaustion (see #5) seems to be a key factor.
1. Time with Shane. Last year, I had an hour a day to play with my baby before school started. This year, I am lucky to have 15-20 minutes each morning to spend with Shane. Next year, that “baby” will be in middle school and he will go to school much earlier in the day. I’m wasting his last year of elementary school driving in very large circles.
I am tired of driving in circles.
It isn’t often that a kid with ADHD gets an unsolicited compliment. It’s sad, too, because there is so much to be complimented!
It’s just that the wild whooping and leaping, and the sometimes exceedingly loud behavior is so obvious, whereas the exceptionally pleasant behavior is usually not as noticeable. Often I just screech “STOP IT!” without giving it much thought.
But Dylan has always been an amazingly sweet, empathetic, deeply caring and emotional boy. So it was a welcome – but not a huge – surprise when one of his teachers put the following in a “P.S.” at the bottom of an unrelated email:
“We just finished an appreciation exercise in morning homeroom. Dylan’s comments were sensitive, showed a depth of understanding, and were quite well-spoken. I was very impressed.”
I didn’t know what an appreciation exercise might be, nor could I imagine what would inspire Dylan to be so open after only a few short weeks at school – and in homeroom, too, which is ungraded.
But obviously, he was moved enough to speak. And the morning homeroom routine is one reason why I so wanted Dylan to be part of this glorious Quaker environment.
So I asked Dylan what it was all about.
“Basically, we just came up with a compliment for whoever was sitting next to us,” he said.
“That sounds interesting!” I said, not hiding my enthusiasm. “So what did you say?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know what you said?”
“I don’t really remember what I said.”
“So who did you compliment?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you remember what anybody said about you?”
There’s something about this age that makes teenagers leave home and light up the rooms outside of the house, wherever they go. They become mature and gorgeous and wonderful. Other people see their kindness, comment on how polite they are, extol their virtues and recognize how great they are to have around.
And at home, they only grunt.
So I don’t know what Dylan said that was so moving.
But whatever it was, it sure impressed the teacher. And it doesn’t surprise me one bit.
“Student government elections are coming up soon,” Shane told me.
“That’s exciting,” I said. “Do you want to be in student government?”
“I think I would like to try,” he said.
“What do you have to do?”
“You just say that you want to be in it. Then you can give a speech,” Shane said, “but you don’t have to. And then the class votes on who they want to be in it.”
Oh no, I thought. First he wasn’t accepted into the GT program. Then, every single one of his friends was chosen to be a patrol – but Shane wasn’t.
And now there was going to be an election.
The teachers and administrators had overlooked him for two programs which would have suited him beautifully. He is smart and mature and responsible – but he had watched while everyone in his small group of friends was recognized for those same qualities, while he wasn’t.
And now my dear, quiet, beautiful boy was going to have his peers vote for their favorite candidate in a class election.
Shane said he wanted to write a speech, so he sat down to start.
“Pick five things that you’d like to do for the school,” I said. “Then pick five characteristics about yourself that make you the right person to do those things.”
After about ten minutes, he said, “I have four!”
“Four is perfect,” I told him. And we went over what he had. Full of misspellings, his list was loaded with great ideas. To go with them, he considered himself “smart, careing, genarous” and “an animal lover.”
Then I suggested that he have an opening line that would catch the students’ attention, but not be too silly so that they wouldn’t take him seriously as a candidate.
“I have one,” he said. “This is Shane Hawkins, reporting LIVE from the front of Mr. B’s classroom!”
Simple, and serious enough, it sounded perfect – so he rolled with it. He put together a brief but phenomenal speech in less than an hour – and knocked the ball out of the park with his close, which included him raising his fist in the air, declaring: “… because I am part of the school community!”
It was all his, beginning to end. He put it on note cards, practiced it two or three times, then tucked it away in his backpack for two days later, when Shane would be giving his speech.
But speeches – and the election – happened the very next day. And thirteen students in Shane’s homeroom ran for student government.
Only two students could be chosen for the coveted student government position, and two “runners-up” were chosen as alternates.
When Shane told me all of this after school, I wanted to vomit. First, the election was a day earlier than expected. And half the class was running for only two positions. I could feel the sting of rejection – again – already.
But instead, Shane said, “I have good news! I was picked as one of the two main people. So I’m in student government now.”
I nearly leapt through the roof. They voted him in! My baby got into student government!
“Congratulations!” I shrieked. “That’s awesome!”
“Yeah,” Shane said calmly. “But I’m going to have to work really hard to make sure I keep all of my promises for the school.”
“Yes you are,” I laughed. “And you will do a wonderful job.”
Dylan has guitar class at school today. And he went to school … without his guitar.
Dylan had to practically leap over his guitar to get out the door.
I keep telling myself, This is the year he will do it on his own. He is old enough now. He has to train himself. I can’t keep doing it for him.
So, of course, I sent a note to the guitar teacher. But instead of begging forgiveness (which I did for the first five years of his schooling), I encouraged the teacher to be rough on him.
“Dylan has a long record of forgetting very important things,” I told her. “You probably have some extra guitars just for this purpose … but don’t make it easy on him. Maybe give him one that’s incredibly difficult on his fingers.”
I signed it with a smiley face.
Her note back was very kind, and said that she would remind the students again today how important it is to be prepared. She suggested a large note on the garage door to remind him to bring his guitar.
She doesn’t realize that we’ve tried the “large note” trick before. It works for a week, then – like everything we’ve tried – after a week, it doesn’t work anymore.
A few hours later, I got an email from his math teacher.
“Dylan has completed the wrong assignment the past 2 nights. But, I checked his agenda and he did have the correct assignment written down. I have talked to him about making sure that he checks his agenda before he begins his homework, instead of trying to remember it. It may be a good idea if you could check to see that he has his agenda out when completing homework for the next couple of nights.”
I almost laughed out loud. I tried to tell them weeks ago that the agenda book lost its usefulness after the first week Dylan used it in fourth grade but no one listened to me. And surely I am not expected to make sure my 13-year-old has his agenda book out when he is doing his homework.
So I emailed her back, as well.
“I think a ‘zero’ on Dylan’s homework is definitely in order when he does the wrong work. He has to learn to live with his own consequences (now, so that he won’t flunk out of college). If he were in public school this year, he would get a zero and there would be no second chances. I am okay with that at his new school, too! … I will do my best, but I feel pretty hopeless after seven years of failure in teaching him executive functioning skills. Thanks for keeping me posted – and please do what you think will be best for him in the long run.”
He is going to get a lot of latitude, and a lot of help, in his new school. Hopefully it won’t be too much help – since obviously, he isn’t taking charge of his responsibilities quite yet.
But he’s not feeling the tremendous pressure and anxiety he had last year, either. And I’m hopeful that that will allow him the opportunity to do exactly what he needs to do for himself.
But just in case, I’m writing up a new contract for the school year.
Dylan has joined the cross country team. It is his first non-intramural sports team, and I am very excited.
Best of all, the boy can run.
I learned a lot about Dylan’s new school from the week’s events.
We got an email on Sunday, announcing that the cross country team would be practicing on Mondays and Thursdays – effective immediately. This seemed to be rather short notice. Plus, their first meet was scheduled for Wednesday.
“Dylan,” I said, “your school has a cross country team. I think you would kick butt in cross country. Do you want to do it?”
“Sure,” he said. “I guess I could try it.”
I danced a silent jig.
So, with 7 hours notice, I began making the necessary schedule changes for our family, especially with regard to picking up Shane after school. Every day, I thank God for my parents’ help. I honestly don’t know how I ever imagined that I would do this without them.
We rearranged everything so that Dylan could participate. Dylan went to practice on Monday. I envisioned great bonding between his new classmates and Dylan – the whole slap-on-the-back kind of camaraderie that usually comes with sports teams.
“How was practice?” I asked.
“It was fine,” he said.
“How many people are on your team?” I asked.
“Four,” he said. “And one of them is in high school, so he’s really on the high school team.”
Then, on Wednesday afternoon, two hours before the meet, I got another email that the meet was postponed until Friday. Dylan followed up the email (thank goodness) with a phone call, for those of us who may not have been sitting at the computer getting emails.
We rearranged everything again.
Later, I asked the two coaches why the meet had been postponed. I got two completely and utterly conflicting stories. I have no idea which one was true. Both blamed the other school, so at least we were all clear on that.
I was the only parent who showed up at the meet to watch. Only three kids represented our school. One of them missed practice this week because he had to get a haircut.
At least 20 kids ran from the other school – also private, and about twice our size in overall population.
All the kids from the other school had orange shirts with their school name emblazoned. Our cross country runners wore whatever they wore to school.
“We’re going to get them some shirts!” said one coach enthusiastically.
I am already learning to doubt the promises they make. Ensuring that Dylan is taking all the right classes, for example, has been impossible. So he is simply not taking the right classes. This, after several promises to the contrary.
So the school is basically disorganized, doesn’t deliver much in the way of gifted academia, doesn’t plan more than a day ahead for sports… but they do everything with a huge smile.
And Dylan is happy.
Plus, he ran in his first cross country meet, even without a special shirt, and got first place for his school – and fourth overall.
I am very proud.
“So tell me about school,” I said to Dylan one morning, on our long drive to get there.
“It’s school,” he said.
“I was looking for a few more details,” I said.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Dylan said. “It’s just school with less people and more freedom.”
Hm, I thought. Less people and more freedom.
Since he explained it that way, I’ve realized where the beauty of this school lies. It is not, as I once believed, in having fewer people in the class. Instead, it is in giving Dylan more freedom.
Public school sucks the life out of freedom. I can remember having a meeting with the vice principal at Dylan’s public school when he was only in first grade. Dylan had come home from school rather distraught.
“I don’t know why they have to blow that whistle,” he said.
“Whistle?” I asked. “In P.E.?”
“No,” young Dylan explained. “At lunch. Whenever we hear that whistle, it means we are talking too loud.”
That’s when I started volunteering at lunchtime, to get an idea of how lunchtime really works.
Kids are forced (all the way through fifth grade) to sit with their class. They don’t get the option of sitting elsewhere. They were allowed to talk, but only if they are doing so quietly.
The lunch lady blew the whistle so many times, my ears were ringing. So I discussed my concerns with the vice principal. He was wonderful – listened carefully and nodded at all the appropriate times.
Best of all, he got rid of the whistle. They went back to “The Clap,” (too hard to explain) to get the children’s attention. It is a much more effective, less harsh way to do so.
The kids are still forced to contain their enthusiasm for life to a whisper whenever they are indoors. They aren’t allowed to sit on their feet, or swing their lunchboxes, or share food with another student. They can’t talk to the people at the table behind or beside them – even if their best friend is sitting there.
In middle school, the lunchroom changes – and becomes a different kind of nightmare. But the lack of freedom is still ever-present in the classroom.
Dylan isn’t going to succeed at his new school because he’s getting more one-on-one attention.
He’s going to succeed because he’s allowed to sit on his foot if he wants to.
On the fourth day of school, I came home from my 90-minute-round trip to find Dylan’s lunchbox still on the counter.
NO! I thought, I am not driving all the way back to his school!
But his school doesn’t have a cafeteria with other options.
For many years, Dylan has been regularly forgetting his lunchbox. I’m not sure how “lunch” doesn’t qualify as important in the ADHD mind. But other than homework, it is last on the list of things Dylan can remember to take to school.
So for years, I helped Dylan. When he was very young and forgot his lunch, I drove back to the school (a few short miles away) and called him out of class to come and get it.
I’d bend way over to talk to him. “Dylan,” I’d say to his six-year-old self, “it’s really important that you take your lunch to school every day. I won’t always be able to get to your school, and I want you to have food to eat.”
“Okay,” he would say, “I’m not going to forget again!”
Then we would go through the same thing the next time he forgot his lunchbox.
When he got old enough – sometime around 5th grade, I think – I told him, “Dylan, I give up. I cannot keep driving into the school with your lunch. It’s wasting my time and yours. If you forget it again, I am not going to bring it. The next time you forget your lunchbox, don’t even call me. You are going to have to eat the crappy cafeteria food, and I know you don’t want to do that!”
“No, Mom,” he said with such sincerity. “It smells bad and nobody who buys lunch even really eats their food so I know it’s not good.”
He was on permanent threat, from that day forward, that he would have to eat the cafeteria food if he ever forgot his lunchbox again. Luckily, money was not an issue. We put money in an account for him, and he pays with a pin number – something Dylan can remember.
From that day forward, Dylan was doomed to eat cafeteria lunches about once every two weeks. Eventually, he got pizza – and his opinion of the cafeteria food changed. (Mine didn’t.) So he wasn’t terribly upset if his lunch didn’t get to school with the rest of his stuff.
And he never stopped forgetting.
So when Dylan forgot his lunchbox on Day 4 at a school 45 minutes away, I very seriously considered letting him starve. I thought maybe starvation would guarantee that he would remember his lunchbox.
I waited almost an hour before I felt like a bad mom and called the school.
“My son forgot his lunchbox,” I said, “and I don’t know what to do! We live 45 minutes away. Is there any way to get food to him?”
“Don’t worry,” the office manager said. “We have hot dogs, peanut butter, applesauce and granola bars.”
“He’ll eat all of that!” I said, relieved. “And I’d be happy to pay you for it!”
“No, no problem,” she said. “I’m just glad he doesn’t have any allergies. We’ll be sure he gets something to eat!”
And they did. Later, I found out that the “peanut butter” was an Uncrustables, which has jelly in it. Dylan doesn’t like jelly. And he doesn’t like Uncrustables, either.
So I am thrilled. He didn’t starve, but he didn’t get nearly enough food, and he didn’t like the food he got.
I hope he has finally found a reason to take his lunch to school every single day.
But with his history, I doubt it.
About 15 years ago, I married a wildly entertaining man. Born with an overly kind heart, Bill is incredibly intelligent and brilliantly funny – two qualities that go so well together, and sold me on him from the first moment we spoke.
Although he is almost a decade older than I am, Bill’s enthusiasm for life and non-stop activity have always made it hard for me to keep pace with him. He’s constantly moving – doing some sort of project, working on something, taking care of something or someone. He’s a natural problem-solver and the way his brain works makes him incredibly handy.
But after 15 years of marriage, Bill drives me absolutely crazy. I thought he would mellow with age. No.
On the weekdays, he is up obscenely early, making tons of noise and shining bright lights everywhere. He rushes off to the gym on most work day mornings, mostly for the social aspect, rather than the exercise. I’ve been going to the gym for two years longer than he has, and I know maybe two people. He knew two people in the first day, and everyone in the gym by the end of two weeks. He’s a very friendly guy.
Again, that happy sociability in the morning drives me nuts.
Then there are weekends. This weekend, for example, we specifically had nothing planned. Bill got up on Saturday and hopped in the shower. We ushered the kids off to a buffet breakfast at church, then came home to (what I thought would be) a relaxing day.
Bill went to the hardware store. He went to the closest store, because he didn’t want to deal with Home Depot on a Saturday. He came home with a few items, including sarsaparilla.
I have no idea why he would buy sarsaparilla.
“It’s hard to find!” he exclaimed, as if that explained it.
Then he pitter-pattered around in the garage, followed shortly thereafter by another shopping trip. This time, he went to Home Depot. He came back with a bunch of potted plants – “for fall” – which he plopped on our porch.
After so many years, I realize that the “fall flowers” will live on our porch, in the pots, for the next few months until they wither and die. Then they will stay there, dead, for a year or more, until someone (ME) dumps them out of their pots. Then I will pile the pots in the garage with all the other old pots.
The pots inside the house never get any light, unless I open the curtains. Bill never opens curtains. During the years when we were dating, I just watched all the indoor plants starve to death.
But with the outdoor flowers safely on the porch, Bill partially mowed the lawn before asking Dylan to finish it. Then while Dylan was mowing, Bill went back to Home Depot to return something he bought earlier. He is currently fixing something in the kitchen (very loudly) which was not even broken. I don’t even want to know what it is.
Meanwhile, Dylan breezed around the yard in the sunshine. Dylan loves to mow the lawn.
And therein lies the crux of my real issue with Bill: Dylan is just like him.
So I am living with two absurdly sociable noise-makers who love bright lights and lots of activity. They never stop moving, except to sleep. They constantly start projects, lose pieces and hang onto garbage as if it’s the got great value. The hoarder mentality is quite prevalent here – and it’s my job to keep it under control.
And someone, someday, is going to have to live with Dylan, too.
I’d rather Dylan find someone, later in life, who doesn’t have to clean up after him. Perhaps Dylan could learn how to take care of himself now – without allowing the house to be overrun