Month: October 2014
In the past, I have had pets. Even the smallest has come forth with a large personality. For example, a fish has as much personality as a dog. Because of its confinement, it’s harder to discover.
But if you get to know your fish, you will find that it (or they, since “fish” is also plural) does things that show its likes and dislikes. It keeps itself entertained in specific ways, attacks (or nibbles) its food with specific force, and even mellows as it ages.
I had the privilege of chaperoning a field trip with the private school this week. I rode the bus with two teachers (one who drove the bus) and 12 kids. By the time the day-long trip was over, I had discovered the strong personalities in each one of those kids.
I would imagine strong personalities abound at every school. But on a larger bus with more kids, I spend so much time wildly searching and counting the kids that there isn’t much time to get to know them.
We started our trip with all 12 kids crowded in a cluster at the door. They had to be forced back to get on, and all of them piled on top of one another to get in. The talking never stopped, and no one wasn’t talking. There were iPods and phones blasting music the entire time, an occasional shriek that – for the first hour – I thought was a teenaged girl. It turned out to be a boy named Victor, whose random and unnecessary shrieks somehow usually made the rest of the group laugh. (These shrieks did not have that effect on me.)
While I got to know the various kids, I realized something that had never been the case on a public school field trip – even though it was a field trip. On this trip, with these kids, every, single kid was smiling.
There were no fights – although there were disagreements. The kids genuinely like each other and even after short squabbles, they settle back into niceties. They are kind to one another. They share their lunches. Their make sure everyone has a spot where they can see. They take care of one another.
I watched Dylan break up his brownie bar – something he thoroughly enjoys – and give two pieces away, just so his friends could try it. Actually, lunchtime – where I sat with the students and observed like a jungle cameraman – was the most enlightening time.
This was not a public school cafeteria. All the kids shared – food, ideas, photos, jokes. At one point, a girl told a boy to bring over another chair so someone else could fit at the table. I thought to myself, YOU get the darn chair. He’s eating! But the boy never thought twice about doing it. He jumped up, got the chair, made a space, and showed the other boy where to sit.
I think what startled me most was the genuine generosity of heart.
It was really like traveling with a small village. I was constantly reminded of the word “village” while being in that group. Everyone knew everyone else. They treated each other with respect. I thought of Little House on the Prairie and couldn’t help but see the way everyone worked together.
It was just a field trip. But to me, it was a small town on wheels.
Today I had a meeting at Dylan’s public high school, to see what we need to do in order to have him succeed in 9th grade. This is assuming that he passes 8th grade, which he seems to be on track to do.
The man with whom I met is designated on the school website as “RTSE.” I haven’t the slightest idea what that means, except that “SE” sounds like “Special Education” to me. After emailing a number of random people, this is the man who got in touch.
He is wonderful.
He introduced me to Dylan’s possible future guidance counselor, who was also wonderful (but stayed only briefly). We talked about Algebra I and Physics, and how to make sure the credits transfer from private school. We talked about the requirements for high school graduation, and what’s expected if we’re looking for a four-year university. We talked about the variety of math options for Dylan, whose struggles do seem somehow centered in math class – now that he mentioned it.
We put together a service plan which, surprisingly, designates that we are allowed to have Dylan attend one public school period per day, should we choose to follow that path.
I imagined, quite briefly, driving Dylan 45 minutes to school, driving 45 minutes home, taking Shane to school, then driving back up to Dylan’s school, bringing him back (another 45 minutes) to his public school, letting him work for one period at that school, then driving him 45 minutes back to his own school – then just sitting there for an hour while Dylan finishes his day at the private school, then driving him home.
It took longer to type the scenario than it did to deny it emphatically in my head.
But it was nice of the school to offer (as required by state law, apparently).
So we set up a plan, and we talked about registration options, and we looked a bit at Dylan’s old plan and his test scores and discussed the foreign language options in his case.
My job now – which is so funny, because I am already on it – is to contact them in January about how and when to register Dylan officially for 9th grade. And – my favorite thing! – to find out which colleges accept sign language as a foreign language requirement.
Given that he has an IEP, I learned today, Dylan doesn’t have to take any foreign language requirement – something that would have been nice to know when I was arguing with the school over the Spanish requirement at his current school.
Dylan, by the way, is getting an A in Spanish, in spite of the fact that he doesn’t know one single word in Spanish after two months.
Anyway, some of the class options for graduation are theater, piano, chorus, horticulture, forensics… I can hardly wait to see a full class description booklet. Dylan’s going to have a blast in high school.
Well, except that it will still be school.
Dylan has a lot of good ideas. And he likes to drive, too, so we’ve been letting him mow the grass – on a lawn tractor. It’s a win-win for everyone.
So this weekend, when he asked if he could give his brother a “hayride” by using the lawn tractor to pull Shane around on a little wagon-trailer-thing, I realized it had just been a matter of time. Bill had been pulling the kids around the yard since they were little, and now Dylan wanted to give it a try.
At first I vehemently said, “NO.” Bill wasn’t home at the time, and I didn’t think Dylan could even get the lawn tractor out of the garage without Bill. But he swore he could, and had no trouble doing so – as well as getting the wagon attached for Shane.
“Is it okay if I take this up on the road?” Dylan asked, as he was heading out.
“NO!” I said. “You need a real driver’s license to ride on the road, no matter what vehicle you choose.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“I am sure,” I said. I limited him to the yard – which is substantial enough to give a good hayride.
When I looked out the window, Shane was lounging comfortably in the wagon and Dylan was driving cautiously around the yard. It was so cute, I ran out to the car to get my camera.
As I got to the car, I saw Dylan on the driveway, stopped at the top of a cliff. We have a little creek on the other side of our driveway – about six or eight feet down a sharp-angled hill. Dylan had the tractor poised at the top of the hill, as if he were considering going over the edge.
Then, he went over the edge.
The tractor went down with one big clunk – about two feet down – and stopped. He’d ridden over a log.
The noise from the tractor was too loud for me to yell from where I was, but I yelled anyway. I screamed, “DYLAN, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”
Clunk! He went down another two feet.
He was actually considering taking that tractor down over the side of the hill with his brother in the wagon behind him.
At this point, I started running, screeching at the top of my lungs – wailing even – “STOP! DYLAN! STOP!”
He saw me coming and, common sense possibly returning, turned off the tractor. It hung halfway over the side of the hill, stopped by the two logs used by our neighbor as “steps” to go into that area. They certainly weren’t meant to stop a lawn tractor, but thank God, they did the job.
“I trusted you,” I said. “What on Earth would give you the idea that this was okay?”
“Shane looked bored,” he said. “I wanted to give him a more exciting ride, and I just wasn’t thinking.”
He wasn’t thinking. He is 13 and he just wasn’t thinking.
I left him alone to remove the tractor from the ditch – realizing only later that I could have left him to die under its weight. Someone happened by and helped him pull it out at about the time I realized what I’d done – and Dylan, remorseful, was grateful for the help.
I don’t think he’ll do it again.
And I thank God, sincerely, that no one was injured or died. This time.
Yesterday, the kids had dental cleanings scheduled, so I picked up both boys from school.
I went to Dylan’s school first, making the 40-minute-by-highway journey without Shane in tow. I parked the car in front of the office, left it unlocked with the window open, admired the fall breeze and the gorgeous landscape – then went inside.
The headmaster saw me, and called me in. We had a brief follow-up discussion about Dylan’s switch into Algebra I and Physics. It was an easy conversation, and we touched on Dylan’s focusing issues a bit. Within a few minutes, Dylan came dashing down the sidewalk with his backpack. I stopped across the hall, signed Dylan out, and we left.
Then I went to Shane’s school. I parked in front of the school, made sure the windows were up, got out of the car (with Dylan) and locked the doors. The two of us went up two sets of stairs and I pushed a red button to be let inside. We stood outside on the concrete, waiting to be buzzed in.
We went inside where two rather harried secretaries worked. One asked if she could help me, and I explained that Shane was at lunch.
“My older boy would like to get him, if that’s okay,” I told her. “He used to go to school here, and he’d like to see it again.”
The cafeteria was directly across the hall from the front office.
“Hmmm, I don’t know,” she said, glancing at the other secretary for some form of approval. We knew what she was thinking: He shouldn’t be wandering around in the school unsupervised The principal wouldn’t approve.
We were still discussing it when Shane appeared at the office door, his backpack on and ready to go.
The secretaries breathed a sigh of relief when we all left.
Private school – especially one so far away – has its own set of issues. It is small, and there are fewer teachers, and the social events are severely lacking because of the lack of people.
But public school – even so close to home – has its own set of issues, too. Safety and security (and the fear of lawsuits) are first and foremost in the minds of the administration. Even elementary school is not a coddle zone.
Dylan’s private school – unlike all private schools – is very much a coddle zone, even for the older kids. It’s one of the reasons it’s such a wonderful place to be. The teachers actually care for the kids. Safety is always important, but with only 90 kids in the entire school, it’s much easier to maintain a safe environment.
With all the tragedies in unsuspecting schools throughout the country, I do understand the reason I have to stand outside and wait to be buzzed in.
Still, I prefer leaving my windows open when it’s warm, and admiring the beautiful day, and being able to walk in and say hello to everyone.
It’s too bad our world has fallen prey to so much bad that we can’t keep kids both safe and happy.
Today, I feel grateful that Dylan’s school reminds me of the old days.
At Dylan’s most recent cross country meet, he had a difficult race. He had a cold, and walked much of the trail.
“I just feel sick,” he said. “I don’t think I should have been running today.”
Another student’s dad suggested gently to Dylan that he could work on his pacing. He said it with no malice, and only mentioned it because Dylan had been complaining about the tough race.
The dad said, “It might be easier if you pace yourself throughout the race.”
“I do pace myself,” Dylan said, as if the other parent were an opponent on the other side of a debate table.
Then Dylan went into a three-minute exposé on why that parent was probably wrong. It’s a behavior I’ve seen many times before – but this time, it wasn’t aimed at me. I’d love to quote here what Dylan said in response, but my jaw was dropping to the ground and I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying.
What I heard went something like this: I already know everything there is to know about running, and I usually do everything right but today I was just so sick that I couldn’t possibly do what I knew I needed to do. But I don’t want to hear what you have to say, or even think about running right now, because there isn’t anything you can tell me that I don’t already know.
I don’t know if Dylan’s behavior is normal for a teenager, since he is my first teenager. It’s quite obvious to me that he is trying not to get down on himself, and is justifying his behavior with the excuse that he knows what to do, but is sometimes unable to do it because (insert excuse here).
But it came across as arrogance. Dylan sounded like a know-it-all who wasn’t able to graciously accept advice – from a stranger or from a friend. His spiel was defiant and pushy and rude – although his words were gentle enough. Dylan just kept blabbering about why he did what he did.
The dad tried to explain his point further – which was interesting. Then Dylan drove the dad into the ground with more reasons why Dylan already knew what to do. There wasn’t even an acknowledgement of the man’s attempt at kindness.
I know that it’s not easy to accept criticism, especially after you’ve just come in 16th in a race. But as an adult, I realize that sometimes it’s easier to listen first, think later, and consider what’s been said – than it is to defend yourself against all attacks, no matter how small, while attempting to be perfect at all times.
So after we left, I suggested to Dylan that it might be best, when someone offers him advice, to just say, “Thanks for the tip,” and move on with his life.
Of course, mine was just another suggestion for Dylan to follow. And if I know Dylan, he doesn’t even remember that any of this happened.
Next time he defends himself instead of graciously accepting criticism, I hope to be far, far away.
Shane never had temper tantrums. His biggest flaw as a toddler is that he climbed up onto things, and I was afraid he’d fall. He has always been sweet, entirely angelic, speaking softly when spoken to, lost in thought much of the time as he grew. I’ve never had reason to doubt that he would always be angelic.
Before school one morning, I went into Shane’s room. We talked for a minute about something – I can’t remember what – and as I was leaving, he mumbled something.
“What?” I asked, not having heard him.
“Wrdmo,” I thought he said.
“What did you say?” I asked again.
“THE RADIO!” He bellowed at me with such a force, I almost fell back against the wall.
I was so stunned, in fact, that I actually left the room to get my bearings before saying anything to him. A few minutes went by before I went back into his room.
“Shane,” I said calmly, “you really screamed at me about the radio. It wasn’t very nice. In fact, it was almost rude.”
“Well I didn’t think you could hear me,” he said, a bit surprised.
“I’ve just never heard you talk like that to me, and I wanted to make sure you knew that it was not very nice.”
“Okay,” he said. And we went about our business.
He’s going to be a teenager soon, I realized. He’s going to get rude and unconsciously belligerent before my very eyes.
The truth is, and in spite of what I saw happen with Dylan, I am still harboring a hope that Shane, unlike all the other teenagers in the world, will be different. I know that friends will become more important to him – as they already are – and I know that he’ll keep more to himself, and not share as much with me.
But I kind of hoped he would never get mean, in that way that teenagers do. I hoped that he would just stay sweet.
After what I’ve already gone through with Dylan – some wild, horrible days – and seeing him come out on the other side, I am hopeful. I think kids can grow up to be – well, adults – without totally tearing apart their relationship with their parents.
I read somewhere that adolescence is bound to be more painful for parents who are exceptionally close to their children, because the children need to have that kind of huge and awful break in order to grow up. They have to break away harder if they feel too close.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t have been any closer to Dylan when he was a child if I’d tried. And with the exception of Dylan stealing some of my thunder along the way, I couldn’t have been any closer to Shane, either.
I am in for a very long ride.
Dylan is still going gangbusters with regard to schoolwork.
He does his homework on time, without any prodding from me. He puts it in his backpack the night before. He leaves for school completely prepared. He remembers to take his guitar on the right days. He remembers his lunchbox – both ways.
He checks his agenda book to make sure he is doing the right work. He talks to his teachers after class, to make sure he’s turning in the right things. And he’s having fun with his friends – from both schools, and from church – whenever he can.
He takes time to talk to me, to his brother, to his dad. He is still texting like crazy – all the time – but only after his homework is done.
Best of all, he smiles. He laughs. He is at peace with his universe.
In his spare time, he’s making digital music, and oh my – he is so good at this! He builds songs, quite literally one note at a time. The songs have four or five different tracks that, simultaneously, make an actual song. And he does all of this with very limited software (I think it cost $5) using – really – his incredibly musical brain.
It’s like someone removed the “teen angst” chip from my son’s programming, and replaced it with the “teen strength” chip.
He is happy instead of sullen. He’s acting the way he did this summer – mature, responsible and really, really fun.
Again, I hate to get my hopes up. But I simply cannot help it.
It seems as though my little boy is growing up.
I admit it freely: I have a dark past.
While I have a happy, glorious, ridiculously wonderful life now, my adolescence caused great angst in my immediate family, and it lasted for years longer than it should have. I continuously made poor decisions from the time I turned 15 until at least the age of 25.
In my earliest years, I was a mouse. I rarely, if ever, spoke at school before the age of 10 – which is when I also began to be bullied mercilessly by a girl who never explained her cruelty. I suppose I was an easy target.
The bullying went on for three straight years. During this time, I never made a sound in my own defense, got straight A’s, and obeyed the teachers and the rules without fail.
But I was a bit too sensitive. By 7th grade, I was somewhat of a basket case. When a random snowball hit me one wintry day, I assumed it was meant for me. I cried for a week.
We moved twice during my 8th grade year, and my shyness wasn’t helping me get through puberty. I was lonely and sad and way too sensitive for middle school.
So in 9th grade, I decided that rule-following hadn’t won me any friends, and went into full rebellion mode. My parents were great role models, so I decided to do anything they didn’t want me to do. I went from A’s to F’s in less than a year.
By the time I went off to college (having gathered my senses enough to graduate from high school with honors), my parents must have been thrilled to have me out of the house.
In college, I was such a trouble-maker that the dean called me into her office regularly. I was on “social probation” more often than not, and I was frequently blamed for things I actually didn’t do. Such was my sterling collegiate reputation.
So when I think back on myself as a youth, I don’t see myself in a kindly and forgiving way. Until I heard that one line in The Judge movie, I didn’t know how harsh I’d been to myself.
I thought of myself as a monster.
And my behavior then makes Dylan’s behavior now look like pixie pranks.
Dylan is sweet and sensitive and kind. He has a heart as expansive as Montana. He is trusting and caring and beautiful from the inside out. Plus, he’s brilliant and funny and wildly interesting.
I was all of those things, too.
And then I got bullied, and hit by the snowball, and moved out of my comfort zone one too many times.
So, in an attempt to avoid future pain, I turned myself into “a monster.” This decision didn’t actually keep me from future pain, and actually created more pain, so I do not recommend this path!
But I was afraid that Dylan would head that way, too. I was so afraid, I forgot to notice all that good stuff that’s still in him.
And suddenly, thank you, God, and whoever wrote The Judge script, I can stop judging Dylan as harshly as I’ve judged myself.
And maybe, for awhile, I’ll remember not to see myself like that, either.
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the movie, The Judge (in theaters now!) – and you want to – skip this blog post. I can’t tell my relevant parenting story without spoiling the movie – so don’t read on! unless you are okay with knowing all about the movie.
(I can’t believe I just asked my six loyal readers not to read the blog today.)
I went to see The Judge on Friday, all by myself. I took the day off, or so I thought, from the stresses of parenting. I got my bucket of popcorn at noon and plopped myself down in the dark front row.
The movie was about an old man and his grown son, who had unresolved relationship issues. The son had been headstrong and run a bit wild in his youth. The dad was a small town judge who took his job very seriously. Judge/dad raised his son with severe punishments for youthful indiscretions, and the son fiercely resented those punishments.
Near the end of the movie, there was a telling statement by the father/judge. The judge was discussing a horrific criminal he’d seen in his courtroom, a murderer with no conscience. And the judge said to his son, “When I looked at you, I saw him.”
When he looked at his teenaged son, he saw the murderer.
Upon hearing these words in the theater, I burst into tears.
Suddenly I realized that that’s what I was doing to Dylan. I have been looking at Dylan, with his “wild” ways – his bouncing around the classroom and forgetting his lunchbox and dragging his brother around on the trampoline – and I’ve been seeing someone else entirely.
Someone not entirely real, I thought.
I looked at my baby boy, doing those things, and saw a horrific criminal. A horrific criminal. A murderer with no conscience.
In my fear that someday Dylan would become such a monster, I had been treating Dylan like that monster.
I cried through the rest of the movie. It’s a good movie, not a great one, but that one line spoke so loudly to me that I was barely able to watch the rest of it. I could hardly function on the way home.
“When I looked at you, I saw him.”
And after the movie was over, it was nearly an hour before I made an even more startling realization.
The monster I thought Dylan would become … that monster was not a random, fictional character in a movie. That monster was not a murderer without a conscience.
The monster I really believed Dylan would become … was me.
I can remember parents of teenagers telling me that they felt like chauffeurs, so I vowed to cut down on activities and make sure we had plenty of family time.
But so far, with the private school 45 minutes away, this is ridiculous.
On Wednesday, I played softball with my dad. Playing softball is one of the very few things I do for myself, rather than for the kids, and I am not willing to give it up. So my dad took Shane to breakfast and then took him to school, so we could meet at the field after I dropped off Dylan.
But there was a major accident on the highway, which closed down traffic in both directions for a large chunk of the morning. I was caught in the traffic, shuffled off the highway, and made my way through the back roads and got to Dylan’s school only 20 minutes late.
I stopped at home to let out the dog, shove a piece of peanut butter bread into my face, and race to the softball field barely in time for the game. We played (yay!), then I got back in the car to drive BACK to Dylan’s school because Wednesday was, randomly, a half-day at Dylan’s school.
When I got home, I dropped off Dylan, took a shower, ate my lunch (at 3:00) and raced back out the door to get Shane.
I picked up Shane at school, took him home, gave him a snack, then drove him to church. On my way out the door, I yelled to Dylan to feed himself before we had to leave (in 45 minutes) to go back to the same church.
I got stuck in rush hour traffic both ways – so I got home from dropping off Shane, picked up Dylan, and drove back to the church. I picked up Shane from the church, left Dylan there for two hours, then drove back home.
That’s when I started thanking God that I have a husband who was on his way home from work, and would pick up Dylan at church.
Which he did. Thanks, God. Oh, and thanks, Bill!
On Thursday, I got up and did it all again – with the added bonus of having Shane’s friend’s mom taking care of Shane while I got Dylan after cross country practice – and then drove an additional 16.82 miles – and back! – to a birthday celebration for the boys’ half-brother.
So when my dad showed up this morning – miraculously and unexpectedly – to drive Dylan to school, I almost wept with joy.
Oh, and thanks, Dad.