Month: October 2014
“Mom,” Dylan groaned. “I have something to tell you.”
We had just been sitting down to discuss his plans for staying organized in school.
“Yes, Dylan?” I said.
“This school is really hard. Like three of my friends are failing, so it’s not just me. Is there any way I can go back to my old school?”
“No,” I said. “You are staying at this school for the full year. And it’s not the school. You went through this same thing last year at your old school.”
“But everything is so different,” Dylan said. “They expect me to remember stuff like four days after I learn it. It’s really hard.”
A friend had just reminded me, earlier that day, that it is Dylan’s choice, not mine, how his life will proceed – and that he is responsible for his own choices and behaviors.
I owe my thoughtful response – and everything that followed thereafter – to that friend. Even one day prior, I might have started jumping through hoops to fix all the external stimuli so that Dylan’s world would be easier.
But instead, I thought, he has to do this himself.
“It is hard,” I told him. “Maybe you’ve reached the point where you can’t just get by on your intelligence. You’ve been doing that for a lot of years. There comes a point in everyone’s life when they hit a wall. And maybe you’ve reached that point. You can keep ramming into the wall and complaining that it’s hard, or you can choose to do the work that you need to do to succeed.”
“I am doing the work,” he grumbled.
“You are doing some work,” I told him. “But I know you can do more. You are brilliant, and it’s not your ADHD that’s making you fail. It is your choice – and you are welcome to keep failing. It’s your life. But if you want to succeed, maybe now is the time to starting opening books at home and studying before you take a test, so that you can remember what you’ve been taught.”
I used his algebra homework as an example. “Remember when we found the chapter in your algebra book for your homework, and there was a bunch of crap for four pages, and then there were the exercises?”
“Yeah,” Dylan said.
“That crap between the chapter title and the exercises is the stuff you study!”
“I know how to study,” he said.
“I know you do. You’ve studied more in your life than I ever did. Even when you were really little, you only wanted to read nonfiction books because you wanted to learn about things. You’ve been studying Lamborghinis for three years. You just need to study other things, too.”
I swear, I saw a light bulb go on above Dylan’s head. It had a halo effect, and I saw my angel so clearly underneath its light.
That night, he got out his social studies classwork, and studied for a quiz. The next night, he did all of his homework with no complaints, and then did extra (not-yet-due) homework later that evening.
The following morning, he came downstairs early for school. That afternoon, he did homework in the car. He did more homework when he got home. And after he pounded out his third homework assignment, he went upstairs to create digital music for an hour or so.
He stepped up.
I am afraid to be hopeful, but I can’t help myself. I’ve always known he could do it – and now he’s doing it.
He’s doing it!
The boys said, “Let’s go to the park!” And so we did.
On the way out the door, Shane said he was hungry. “Can I have a mint?”
A mint didn’t seem like a sufficient snack when we were about to walk a couple of miles. And I thought we could all benefit from a small snack.
“Why don’t you get a granola bar and split it?” I suggested.
“Okay,” he said. He got a granola bar, split it in half, and gave half to Dylan, which was gone before the boys walked out the door. Shane took a huge bite out of his half and almost nothing was left.
“What about me?” I said, still a bit hungry.
“I didn’t know you wanted any,” Shane said, pulling off a few crumbling chunks and trying to give them to me.
And this is when I discovered my quandary. My baby was hungry, and he needed that granola bar. But I was hungry, too.
Worse than my hunger was the feeling that I had been forgotten. Overlooked. Neglected. Like I wasn’t worthy, in my son’s eyes, of getting a piece of the granola bar.
I certainly wasn’t starving, and I could stand to lose a few pounds anyway. And if hunger were the issue, any reasonable, rational person would have gone back into the house and gotten another granola bar to eat, or split again.
But I wasn’t feeling rational. I was feeling neglected.
So instead of getting another bar, I stormed away with the dog in tow, walking 15 feet ahead of the kids all the way to the park, grumbling the whole time.
“It’s like I don’t even count,” I said. “I spend all day, every day, making sure that you’re happy and fed, but when you get a granola bar to split, it never even occurs to you to give me a piece!”
Shane apologized at least eight times, but it didn’t help. I didn’t yell, but I certainly wasn’t a pleasant walking companion.
When we got to the park, I sent the kids to the playground and took a solitary walk through the fields without them. I stopped to watch some softball, which helped me to separate from my anger and see it in better perspective.
By the time we got home, Shane was holding my hand and we were almost joking about it.
But these are the moments that keep me awake at night, feeling guilty – when I let my emotions get the best of me, and take out my personal issues on my innocent children.
So as I was tucking in Shane I asked, “Have you forgiven me for the granola bar incident?”
“Have you forgiven me?” he asked without hesitation.
I hugged him. “Of course I have,” I said. “And I’m so sorry for my behavior. It wasn’t your fault; I was just feeling sad.” I kissed his head. “And I will always forgive you.”
Dylan is taking Algebra I again.
After a month of pre-algebra, he told me about his 8th grade math quiz:
. -7 x 5 =
“Are you serious?” I asked him. “Was that really one of the questions?”
“Yup,” he said, being his usual enthusiastic teenage self.
I went home and asked Shane, who just started 5th grade. “Hey Shane, what’s -7 x 5?”
“We haven’t done negatives yet,” he told me. Shane is very concerned with sequential order and rule following.
“I know you haven’t done negatives yet, but what do you think would be the answer?”
“Negative 35?” he guessed.
“That’s right!” I said, thrilled for my 5th grader and mortified for my 8th grader.
So after a lengthy meeting and a lot of juggling, we managed to do two things:
- put Dylan back into Algebra I, where he belongs; and
- save Dylan’s guitar class, which he wanted to keep above all else.
Dylan lost two periods of art, one period of P.E. and a period of drama – but he will be learning Algebra I in only four classes per week. On Tuesdays, he will play guitar instead.
Now that is something the public schools wouldn’t do! But wow, he lost art, P.E. and drama.
To make up for all the losses, he “gets to” take Physics. There is simply no other option in the entire school available for him, unless he wants to take Algebra I and pre-algebra simultaneously.
“That would be death,” Dylan said about the option of back-to-back math classes.
So, Physics it is!
If he does well in Physics, and passes Algebra I, he will have two high school credits. If he doesn’t do well in Physics, he can “audit” the course – so it wouldn’t count against him on his transcript. (I think he’s going to do just fine.)
Meanwhile, and completely unsurprisingly, Dylan loses focus at the end of the day. His last two periods – English and Spanish – are suffering considerably. Or, I should say, his English and Spanish teachers are suffering. They have emailed me to let me know that Dylan is unfocused and disruptive in class.
Hah! I thought. Dylan? Disruptive? He hasn’t been disruptive since preschool!
But yes, indeed, Dylan is being disruptive. Now that he’s in private school, where they are not so strict about staying in a seat, Dylan is up and around and probably singing and dancing. He is not staying focused.
He is also not on medication. And he is tired at the end of a long school day.
So, our only attempt at changing this behavior – besides a long talk with Dylan – is that Dylan goes to school with a big bottle of iced tea to drink before English class. It’s caffeinated, so we figure it’s the junior version of what my husband does to stay focused. My husband lives on coffee – so maybe iced tea will work for Dylan.
And maybe it won’t.
Shane and I were driving home from the library one fine Sunday, windows down, sun shining, enjoying the breeze. Suddenly a motorcycle with two passengers roared past me on the left, swerving barely in time to avoid being hit by oncoming traffic.
The motorcyclist thrust up his middle finger and roared on.
Huh, I thought, he must not like the Steelers. I have a huge Steelers football magnet on the back of my minivan.
We drove several miles, and came to a light behind the very same motorcycle. The driver glared into his rearview mirror. Then he gave me the finger again.
Oblivious, I thought, maybe he’s just talking to the woman on the back of the bike. Some people gesture a lot when they talk.
The road was two lanes now, and I was inching past him to get to another stoplight when he gave me the finger for a third time.
This time, I was sure that finger was meant for me. I had no idea what it was about, but I felt sure that I should be standing up for myself. So I shrugged and, since I already had my arm out the window, I gave him the finger right back.
So he snapped.
He marched his motorcycle up between the two lanes of traffic so that he could bellow right into the driver’s side window.
“You f*@$in’ f*%@!” he screamed at me. “You f*%$in knew that I was f*#$in passin’ you and you f*%$in sped up, you f*%$in a%$*hole!”
“Really?” I asked, incredulous. “That’s what you think?” I was dumbfounded.
The woman on the back of the motorcycle was saying, “shhhh…” and trying to cover his mouth. He nearly bit her.
“You’re f*#$in right, you f@*#in f@&^!”
“Let’s just go!” the woman pleaded.
Cars honked behind us. The man revved the gas and roared away, having said his piece.
Shane was in the back seat. “That was interesting language,” he said.
As a mom, I try to plan for every eventuality. I am learning, every day, that one can never plan for any eventuality.
I drove very calmly for another three miles. I didn’t want Shane to be afraid, so I didn’t even let my voice waver.
“Some people just don’t have any other way to express their anger,” I told him. “Anger comes from fear, and he was afraid that I was trying to kill him with my car.”
But I also wanted to make sure Shane knew that I could handle the unwarranted attack. I wondered what I should have said, besides “really?” I was calm, but didn’t really get my point across.
Then as luck would have it, at another light, I pulled up right next to the motorcycle.
If it hadn’t been for Shane, I would have likely slunk away without another word. But the boy needed a positive role model.
“Hey,” I yelled at them.
The driver stared straight ahead. The woman in the back said, “Yeah?”
“I honestly never saw you,” I told her.
“Oh, that’s okay,” she assured me. “We aren’t wearing bright colors or anything.”
“I mean, I wasn’t paying any attention to you,” I said. “I was just driving.”
“I know,” she said. “He just thought you did it on purpose.” She patted her man like he was a trained monkey.
I aimed my next comment at him, and said it loud. “Not everyone is out to get you.”
“He just didn’t know,” she said, still patting him. “I’m sorry.”
She probably spends most of her life cleaning up after this man’s idiocy.
“My 10-year-old didn’t appreciate the language,” I told her.
She looked in the back of the minivan for the first time. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry, Honey,” she said to Shane.
Then the light changed, and we went our separate ways.