Month: November 2014
We are not participating in Black Friday shopping, in spite of the many pleadings of my children.
Many years ago, long before I had children, I remember saying, “I am going to be part of this experience!” And I hopped in my car and headed out into the world.
I can’t remember what I wanted to buy, but with all the hoopla on TV, I’d thought Black Friday would be great fun. And as a 20-something with nothing better to do, I sure didn’t want to miss out.
I got onto the road and sat in traffic. Then I sat in more traffic. Then … I sat in traffic. The closer I got to the mall, the longer I sat. And I live in an area with lots of malls, so there were plenty of choices for our overpopulated county.
By the time I was close enough to see the mall, I sat at the same red light for at least 10 cycles. It was a left-turn light, and no one had bothered to set it for “extra traffic,” so the little green light would pop up, allow maybe two cars through, then disappear.
It was at about this time that I realized I didn’t really need to shop on Black Friday. I got out of the left-turn lane, drove past the mall and all its incoming traffic, and went home.
With the stores opening – geez – on Thanksgiving DAY now, there are commercials inundating every show on TV, every website, and the radio station – all of which Dylan and Shane have seen.
They’re intrigued by the thought of running out and buying something – anything – even though they have no jobs, little saved allowance money, and few people in their lives who require a gift from them.
Still, I have heard this regularly for the past few weeks:
“I want to go shopping on Black Friday! Can we go shopping on Black Friday?”
“No,” I said. I don’t bother to tell them why. Someday, I’m sure, they’ll learn this for themselves.
I was sitting at the computer one day, minding my own business, when suddenly I felt like I was spinning.
It felt like a cross between light-headedness and excess gas. I don’t know any other way to explain it. The spinning sensation lasted maybe a second and a half, and then it was over.
I was sitting still, not moving a muscle except in my hands, and there were no noises or other outside influences to cause what had happened. My eyes were probably squinting, since I should wear reading glasses but don’t. And I was sitting with poor posture, as always.
But it was not a seriously bothersome dizziness – just a quick annoyance, like a muscle spasm. It certainly wasn’t something that required a doctor’s care. It wasn’t even something I would normally notice.
I considered all of these factors before shrieking:
We’ve been taking Shane to doctors since August, trying to solve the mystery of his regularly occurring dizzy spells.
He came running into the office from the other room. “Yeah?”
“I was just sitting here, and all of a sudden, I felt dizzy!” I told him. “My head went ‘woooooo’ …” I made a whirly motion with my hand. “And then it stopped. Is that what’s been happening to you?”
“Yeah, pretty much,” he said.
“And it’s over in like one second?”
“Yeah, I think. It’s about one second or two,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s anything!” I said. “It’s just something that can happen – a little feeling that comes and goes once in awhile. I mean, it’s not really bothering you, right?”
“Not really,” he said. “And it’s not happening as much anymore anyway. I was thinking about talking to you about it because it doesn’t happen now like it used to.”
“And it only lasts a really, really short time?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“So let’s just say that it’s nothing, okay?”
“Okay,” he said. “That’s the end of that!” And he bounced out of the room to play.
Then I went into the online scheduling portal, and cancelled all of our upcoming dizziness doctor appointments.
Dylan went away for the weekend – for the first time – with his church group, and without either of his parents. I picked him up early from school, forced him to do homework before he left, and drove him to the church.
“Dylan!” yelled a girl from across the parking lot. “Hi, Dylan!” yelled a boy.
It was obvious that I was the only one who wasn’t enjoying the moment. Kids were running back and forth in little clusters. Two adults were throwing suitcases in the back of a huge van. Everyone was smiling.
It was hard not to smile, but I managed it.
I chatted with a chaperone, hoping for sympathy. “It’s his first time being away from home for this long,” I told her.
“For two days?” she said. She almost laughed, but then thought better of it.
“You have to sign in!” someone yelled, and we headed inside. Dylan signed his name and got his bus number (2 out of 2). He found his roommates – two boys he’d requested by name weeks earlier. He’d written, “…if he’s going” next to one name.
After dropping off his stuff and signing in, there wasn’t much else to do until the bus was leaving – 45 minutes later. So the kids were talking, hanging out, all excited to be together.
I said, “I’ll just go inside with you for five minutes.” I wasn’t quite willing to let him go yet – and I had tons of time before I had to pick up Shane from basketball practice.
“There really isn’t much for you to do in there,” Dylan said.
“That’s okay,” I told him. “I just like to watch you with your friends.” I didn’t tell him that I still see him, at will, as a three-year-old – and love watching him, all grown up, every bit as much as I did then.
It doesn’t help that this church is the home of his preschool, where I watched him every day for two years, beaming as he came out the door with a giant fingerpainting, or learning to make himself swing on the playground swingset.
So I went inside, to watch him with his friends. I was the only adult inside not going on the trip. I stood there for maybe 24 seconds.
“You’re right,” I told Dylan. “There isn’t much for me to do in here.”
“Yeah,” he said.
I hugged him one more time. “You have a great time!” I said.
“I think I will,” he said.
I flashed him the I love you sign and headed out the door. Going back to my car, the ancient song, “Take Good Care of My Baby” popped uncontrollably into my head and tears came to my eyes.
I do wonder how I will ever survive the days my boys leave for college.
On the second night, I texted Dylan: “Hope u had a spectacular day! Luv u.”
Half an hour later, he texted back: “I did! Love ya too.”
He had a spectacular day! And that is all that matters.
Now that I know how Dylan processes information, I understand a lot more about why he has trouble with the specific things that cause him trouble.
For example, being an audial processor explains why he can’t finish his algebra test – and why he has so much trouble with the subject. Imagine someone reading an algebraic equation once, and expecting an immediate solution.
When I look at an algebraic equation, I sort of absorb it into my head. I see, on the paper and in my brain:
2x + 5 = 13
Then I shift it around in my brain until I get the answer. (It’s 4.)
But for Dylan, who sees the problem on the paper, he can’t shift it around in his head, because he’s not absorbing it visually. He hears “2x + 5 = 13” – or, more likely, he hears “2x plus 5” – and then he forgets the rest. So he looks back down at the paper. “2x plus 5 … 2x plus 5 … 2x plus 5…” Then, when he thinks he has it, he adds the rest: “2x plus 5 equals 13.”
I can only imagine what the teacher is saying in the meantime.
Then Dylan has to hear the voices in his head, working out the problem. He doesn’t see the equation in his head, so he can’t shift the numbers around. He hears it saying “2x plus 5 … 13 minus 5 … um, 8… then what was it? oh yeah, 2x. So what did I say it was? 8, right. So 8 … wait, what was it again? 2x plus 5…”. It’s substantially easier for him to just guess, plug it in, and hope – which is what he often does.
I’m amazed that he’s gotten anything done at all, ever.
Scouring the internet for information on how to help him succeed with his extreme audial processing ability, oddly, has yielded one consistent result:
“VISION PROCESSING DISORDER.”
There are even many pages claiming that vision processing disorder mimics ADHD and that lots of people have been misdiagnosed with ADHD when, in fact, they have a vision processing disorder.
It says that people with vision processing disorder often have trouble with organization, handwriting and math. Six out of eight symptoms describe Dylan.
They say vision processing disorders are genetic – and we already know one important truth: Shane has one.
We spent $20,000 in not-covered-by-insurance vision processing “treatments” so that Shane was able to learn to read, write and understand what he saw. It took Shane two years of regular exercises to learn to properly process what he saw. As a result, he can read and write like a normal person now.
During Shane’s treatments, I considered having Dylan tested. But we’d spent so much money on Shane’s treatment, we couldn’t add another $500 evaluation to the mix.
But what if Dylan’s vision processing problem is what caused all of Dylan’s problems?
Since he’s not been tested, it’s hard to know what the $500 evaluation will say – or if it will turn into $20,000 more in vision processing therapy. And it’s hard to know if Dylan has a vision processing disorder, or if the treatment will actually help Dylan with anything.
So I just sit. And try to decide what to do.
On the way home from teacher conferences, Dylan and I were talking about how he processes information. As background, his psychological educational testing showed that his processing speed was in the 9th percentile among 9-year-olds.
In other words, he processes information very, very slowly. And it causes him to do most of his classwork very, very slowly. In fact, his last algebra test took him two full periods and one lunch period to finish.
So I asked him about what happens when he reads.
“Do you see pictures or do you see words when you read?” I asked him.
“No,” he said.
“What do you mean ‘no,’?”
“Yes?” he queried.
“Which one is it? When you read, do pictures form in your head as you go? Or do you just see the words going by in your brain, like they do on the page?”
“Neither one,” he said.
This floored me. I didn’t know what to think.
When I read, I see words. When I talk, I see words. When I sing, I see words. I see pictures, too, sometimes – but mostly I read my own thoughts.
Meanwhile, Bill sees pictures – and almost never sees words. He gets the gist of things – but almost always forgets the details because he remembers life via the pictures he creates in his head.
“So,” I asked Dylan, “when you read, how do you know what you’re reading?”
“I just listen to the voice,” he said.
Oh no, I thought.
“Oh no,” I said. “You process audially.”
“What does that mean?”
“That means, NO WONDER you are having trouble in school! The teacher is talking, and your voice is talking, and you can’t listen to them both at the same time. So you only hear half of what is said, and the other half of the time, you are too busy processing to hear what’s being said!”
The entire school system is based on visual processing. It starts in kindergarten: shapes, colors, letters, numbers. See the letter; hear the sound. See the number; count to it.
The older Dylan gets, the more he is expected to absorb the visual cues. Read the instructions on the worksheet. The homework assignment is on the blackboard. The equation on the Promethean board. Use the map for social studies.
It all makes sense now. No wonder he does so well in hands-on classes. He can work and listen at the same time. But when he’s expected to just sit and listen, he can only hear half of what is said – because he processes audially.
He’s not blind, I realize. He can see.
But he doesn’t process visually. He doesn’t see pictures. He can’t memorize things unless he hears them over and over again. It’s why he’s so good at singing – and why he remembers the words so easily. It’s why he can do every line in a play, no matter which character, but he doesn’t know to turn in his work.
So now I know.
What on earth can we do about it?
For the first time ever, I didn’t dread going to Dylan’s parent-teacher conferences. I chose to see three teachers, all of whom I’d been emailing for two months already.
In English, his teacher had called him “disruptive” at the beginning of the year, so we had to follow up on that. His teacher sat down and said, “Much better!”
I breathed an audible sigh of relief. “Oh, I’m so glad,” I said.
“But he still has an ‘F’,” his teacher said. “Most of that is due to missing work.”
I sighed again, this time less audibly. We’d been down this road before. This time, though, only two assignments were missing. He found one in his binder, and we found the other one at the bottom of his locker before we left the school. So maybe he doesn’t have an ‘F’ now.
His Physics teacher didn’t have the same issues. She kept saying, “He started class a month late, so …” and then explaining why he was missing so much on his grade report. But his work had rapidly improved when she’d put him in a different lab group, where he was not only able to keep up – but working quickly and staying on task during lab.
We moved on to the dreaded Algebra I, where the teacher has really worked with Dylan to make sure he has what he needs to succeed.
“He walks around, stands at the back of the room, and sits on the floor,” she told me. “And he uses the stress balls. He eats and drinks when he’s working and it does seem to help. But he’s still having a really hard time finishing papers.”
I didn’t know what to tell her. Walking, standing, sitting on the floor, using stress balls, eating and drinking – those are the only tricks I know. And he’s using all of them. His greatest success is when he comes in during lunch to finish his work.
So we talked to Dylan about it. “What’s going on when you can’t finish? And why does it help to do it during lunch?”
“No distractions, I guess,” he said. “I get really distracted when I’m in here.”
“Even with only seven kids in your class?” I asked him.
“Yeah, because there’s still a lot going on,” he said.
It is sort of the definition of ADHD to be distracted. It wasn’t until the car ride home that I learned – for the first time ever – what is really going on in my son’s brain.
Meanwhile, we vowed to give him a lollipop and put him in the office across the hall during class whenever he has paperwork to do in math class. He’ll be free from distractions – and we’ll see if that is the thing that will finally work.
Three conferences complete and, all in all, a good day.
Once a year, parents get to meet with their child’s teacher to check his progress. This annual conference lasts ten minutes and happens every fall.
Then, most parents don’t see the teacher again until … the following year. I don’t know how they survive without – at least – chaperoning a field trip, or volunteering at the book fair, or helping out during a class party.
I treasure the ten minutes like it is pure gold. Bill and I went together to Shane’s fifth grade conference.
Shane’s teacher this year is a man who has been teaching since I was in fifth grade. Experience is awesome, but this man also has infectious enthusiasm. I’ve learned more from him in visits to his classroom than I could have ever imagined possible. He is wholly engaging and passionate about his work, and absolutely brilliant. He loves history, and tells fascinating true stories to make history come alive in the classroom.
So when we talked to him about Shane, I had real respect for his opinions. He showed us Shane’s grades – a system I have yet to understand – and we talked a lot about math. Shane completed a survey before the conference, saying that math was his biggest challenge this year.
“It’s interesting that he struggles in math,” Bill said, “because he loves numbers.”
“You can have a great appreciation for art,” said his teacher, “even if you can’t paint a beautiful painting. How do you know he likes numbers?”
“Since he was a baby, he’s been interested more in numbers and statistics than anything else.” Shane’s favorite picture books were all numbers books – something that took me years to realize – with Bicycle Race being the one he loved best. “He still opens a book to see how many pages it has before reading it, and books with numbered lists are his favorites.”
“So he likes statistics. Have you tried giving him almanacs, books like that?”
“That’s a real GT characteristic,” the teacher said. And he went on to tell us how he liked statistics when he was a kid – how he’d read almanacs and newspaper sports pages, soaking in the numbers.
When I told Shane later that his beloved and brilliant teacher also liked numbers as a child and suggested that Shane had “a real GT characteristic,” the pride on Shane’s face was unmistakable.
Shane tried to choke it down, but someone had identified yet another piece of Shane that marks him as brilliant. He absolutely glowed. Quiet as he is, and different as he is from his loudly gifted brother, it’s wonderful for him to realize that there’s more than one kind of “smart.”
I love seeing that flash of pride in him. I hope he discovers it more and more often, all by himself, until the glowing is permanent and shines through everything he does.
I have this thing about parents talking on the phone when their kids are around.
I’ll see a mom chatting away, oblivious to the child reaching for her hand, and I’ll think, She’s missing it. She doesn’t even know her child is there. And that child will be gone in the blink of an eye.
I take my phone with me now, like everyone does in this age of cell phones, but I try to make the conversation brief when my kids are nearby. We use it together – to call Daddy, or the grandparents, to announce an accomplishment.
If the kids aren’t otherwise occupied and I get a call, I cut it short so that I can pay attention to what’s going on with them. I’m not perfect, but I really try to be there – not just physically, but emotionally – for my kids.
Not everyone feels like I do.
One morning, I saw a mom chatting away in the drive-through, drop-off line at school. She had her phone on her ear, one hand on the steering wheel. Not only was her behavior illegal, but her daughter got out of the car without even a simple “goodbye” from Mama. Mama never stopped her phone conversation even to wave.
The thing that really irks me is that that daughter – that child – is going to grow up to be just like her mom. She sees mom on the phone, so that’s what she’ll do when she grows up. She’ll be chatting on the phone blindly, not realizing that her child is leaving the car – and her life – before her very eyes.
Or maybe the daughter will be one of the statistics – one of the kids who learns from her parents that texting or talking while driving is “just something grown-ups do.” Maybe the daughter will think she can handle it, just like Mama. And maybe the daughter will get away with it, and go on to live a distracted but okay life.
Or maybe the daughter will kill someone else’s child.
Maryland, where I live, is one of only ten states where hand-held cell phone usage is illegal. Until now, I had no idea that the entire country isn’t on board with the cell phone laws.
Why on earth wouldn’t the whole country be on board?
Not that the laws are doing much good. I drive all the time, and the number of people I see talking and/or texting as they’re driving down the road is unfathomable.
And now that Dylan is nearing driving age, I am much more conscious than I was, even a year ago.
The kids will do what their parents do.
Mine will have other issues, thanks to me. But that’s a story for another day.
We went to a college football game on Saturday. It’s a small college, and we could tailgate and watch the game, all from the same great locale at the top of a hill.
Dylan and Shane spent the vast majority of the day rolling down the hill and climbing back up, to roll down again.
So Dylan took his phone out of his pocket – his $150 SmartPhone that he bought with his own money. And he plopped it in the grass on the top of the hill.
I saw him do it. I thought, Nah, he wouldn’t leave it there. He’s not that stupid. And then I forgot all about it.
Until around halftime – when Dylan came over and asked if I had his phone.
“Oh no,” I said. “You didn’t leave it on the ground, did you?”
“I left it right next to my chair!” he said.
He didn’t. It was a good three feet from his chair, in the grass. And any one of the dozens of people who walked by could have picked up that phone and walked away.
Then I watched Dylan go into a ritual walk that I’ve seen him do before – the panicked, I-have-to-find-it walk, where he basically just goes around in circles like a dog looking for a place to sleep, hoping against hope that he’ll find whatever he lost.
But it was gone. I was certain that it had been stolen. We were in a small town, at a small college. But coming from the D.C. area and two stolen purses plus a devastating car break-in, I have little faith in humankind.
I asked someone at the tailgate party if there is a “Lost and Found” – on the off chance that it wasn’t stolen.
“What did you lose?” he asked.
“Someone stole my kid’s phone,” I blurted.
“Well there’s security right there,” he said. He pointed to a security officer eating a hot sausage sandwich, at our very own tailgate party.
I interrupted the sandwich to tell him of my son’s woes.
“I think we have a phone,” he said. “What color is it?”
“Orange,” I said.
“Yep,” he said. “Let me call it in.” And sure enough, within ten minutes, two security officers delivered Dylan’s phone to him at the top of the hill.
Later, I learned that both my mom and Shane had been praying for the phone’s safe return.
I had almost wanted the phone to stay lost, to teach Dylan a lesson. It never occurred to me to pray. Still, I was tremendously relieved at the miracle of the phone’s return – and a little bit of my faith in humankind may have been restored.
Now I just hope that Dylan learned his lesson during that tense half-hour where he walked aimlessly, looking for something that was likely never to return.
Five days a week, I get up and look at my calendar. Some days, I drive Dylan to school. Some days, my dad drives Dylan to school. Some days, my dad drives Dylan home, too. Other days, my dad takes Shane out to breakfast and drives him to school, so that Shane isn’t alone in the morning.
After school, Shane doesn’t ride a bus. His friends sometimes take him home and they have playdates. Most days, my parents pick up Shane at school while I pick up Dylan. We all meet back at my house. Or, sometimes, Shane goes to my parents’ house and they have some quality play time.
Today, Shane has a field trip, so both boys had to be at school at the same time – 15 miles apart. My dad came over this morning, hugged everyone, and drove Dylan to school so that I could take Shane. My dad acted like it was no big deal to drive for 90 minutes at 7:00 in the morning.
“Thanks, Dad!” I yelled as Dylan and he left, relieved to concentrate solely on getting Shane to his field trip.
“Anytime!” he called back. It was like a scene from Father Knows Best. Sometimes it’s like living in Father Knows Best. Stranger still, my dad actually means it.
This afternoon, Shane is coming home from a field trip that I wasn’t chosen to chaperone. I can hardly wait to hear how it goes, what he did, what he learned. Those first ten minutes after school are so precious. So I mentioned this to my mom in an email, that I’d love to pick up Shane from school today.
“I’ll get Dylan,” she emailed back. Perhaps she hesitated, thinking about the long drive, but I’ll never know. And off will go my mom at 2:30, for a 90-minute drive into the country and back, shuttling a different kid today.
Just yesterday, she was at my kitchen table when I got home with Dylan, downloading a song for Shane on her iPhone. The day before that, she picked up Shane from school, fed him, and drove him to church for his weekly youth group.
My parents are not bored, nor do they lead boring lives. My mom plays tennis several times a week, and is a Stephen minister at our church when she’s not providing random acts of kindness elsewhere. My dad plays softball from April to October, volleyball when it’s cooler, and rides his bike 20-40 miles if weather permits. They both take long walks on a regular basis, have weekly date nights, keep their house up-to-date and beautiful, and keep up with the world and all its technical advances better than I do.
So it’s not like they have “extra” time. Yet they make that time, for me, for my husband and for my children. They are the grandparents every child wants, who love my kids unconditionally. And they listen to me talk about my day, and help me raise my kids far better than I ever could have done alone.
I know, every day and with every fiber of my being, that I am so incredibly blessed to have a mom and a dad in my city, in my life and in my kids’ lives, who are such a present part of our family. There are no words to thank them for all they do. Nothing can thank them for all that they do.
So I’ll do what I can – which is to pray that someday, I’ll be just like them.