Month: December 2014


We Could All Die!

I can remember believing that we weren’t going to survive, as a country, to see the year 2000. Somehow, we survived. In fact, January 1, 2000 turned out to be just another day, like the rest of them.

As a child, I believed that a nuclear bomb was going to wipe out our civilization before I completed elementary school. I lived most of my childhood in fear of death.

Now I’m 50. There have been no nuclear holocausts in my lifetime, and I’ve been alive for half a century. My parents are still alive. My husband is 60. And both of my kids have survived for more than a decade.

When my kids were born, I worried about everything. They could choke. They could be kidnapped. They could be murdered. We could all be murdered. I watched lots of crime TV. I discovered – and watched – the entire original Law & Order series in the middle of hundreds of midnight breast-feedings. Dylan would fall back asleep, and I’d stay awake in terror until fictitious justice was served.

So of course, I passed along these fears to my kids.

One day, toddler Shane announced, “We could all die!”

And that’s when we started our new family motto: It COULD happen… but it PROBABLY won’t.

We now use this motto on a regular basis. And of the people who have heard this motto, I have benefitted more than most.

A new year is beginning. There is still death, destruction, war and crime saturating the media. I still watch the crime shows – but stay away from reality television. I try to remember that they are different genres.

We are fifteen years past the time when I thought the world was going to end because of some oddball computer glitch.

I can remember watching the New Year’s 2000 celebrations from other parts of the world, where it became January 1st there before it became January 1st here.

I remember thinking, Gee, they did okay on that side of the world. Maybe we’ll make it after all!  I was so excited about our good fortune, after all the worrying I’d done.

I still think, maybe 2015 will be devastating.

It could happen. But I am going to believe the best this year.

In 2014, I learned some wonderful lessons that I can carry with me throughout the new year. I learned from Dylan that changing where you are doesn’t change who you are. My cousin’s son discovered – and beat – cancer this year, too, which reminded me what is really important in life. And if I can remember those two things for this whole year, I’ll be a better person by 2016.

I don’t want to make any resolutions, because I tend to rebel against them. But I do want to declare that I am aware, and alive, this year.

And I will … probably  live through today.

He Closed His Bedroom Door.

When Dylan turned 14, he was quite sick. He used a humidifier in his room, to help relieve some of the congestion. And to keep the humidified air inside, he did something he’d never done before.

He closed his bedroom door.

I haven’t seen Dylan a lot since then. He sleeps with his door shut, still. He does have a lingering cough, so perhaps the humidifier is helping. But it is also helping him to sleep well past 9:00, which is when the rest of the world is awake. Originally, I would leave him notes as I left the house – until I realized that I was spending a lot of time writing and exchanging notes that Dylan never even saw. He’d sleep till noon and I wouldn’t even know if he was awake in there.

“Can you leave your door open?” I asked the other day, in the middle of the day, when no one was around to disturb him on either floor of our house.

“I like the privacy,” he said, “but whatever. I guess I can leave it open.”

So sometimes he comes out during the day. Then he goes back into his room at night and closes his door, even before he takes a shower.

Besides his brand new music studio – a birthday gift for creating electronic music – Dylan has two iPads and a cell phone in there with him. All electronics are required to leave the premises (and alight outside the door) at 10:00 p.m. I’d hoped this would allow him some extra, earlier sleep. But last night, he was trouncing around at 11:30.

Why was up at 11:30 to see him trouncing is beyond me.

Anyway, I think this is the beginning of the end. I think turning 14 set him tumbling right off the precipice from “tween” to full-blown “teen.” Now that the door is closed, we never see Dylan anymore. He is a teenager.

And if I’m not mistaken, when Dylan fully emerges, he will only do so to go to college.

There Was No Santa Claus.

December 25th was winding down when Dylan said, quite seriously, “Today didn’t really feel like Christmas.”

“Yeah,” Shane agreed.

After a jam-packed day of presents, food and family, I wasn’t sure how to take this. So I just said, “What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know,” Dylan said. “It was nice and all, but it didn’t feel like Christmas.”

“Maybe you’re just getting too old to enjoy it,” I told him, only half jokingly. Honestly, it hadn’t felt much like Christmas to me, either. It was a nice day, and everyone seemed to enjoy their gifts. We spent some pleasant time with family.

But it didn’t feel magical.

At bedtime I asked Shane, “Why do you think it didn’t feel like Christmas? What do you think was missing?”

Shane didn’t hesitate. “Nothing was missing,” he said. “It just didn’t feel like Christmas.”

I thought back through the day. We didn’t do our usual dramatic filming of the walk down the stairs this morning. I didn’t snap a photo every time a child opened a present. And I didn’t videotape every moment of Christmas morning.

I enjoyed watching this year, instead of recording. Dylan even mentioned it later: “I really liked that there wasn’t a camera pointed at me all morning!”

Looking back, that was the only difference in Christmas this year compared to last year – with one exception.

This year, there was no Santa Claus.

Sure, the presents were labeled with tags that said “from Santa.” But Shane declared that he no longer believed in Santa. Still, I’ve never moved presents when a kid was awake – and I was willing to wake in the wee hours to keep the ruse alive.

At one point, I told my husband I wanted to go to bed, and that I would get up at 1 a.m.

“Why would you get up at 1 a.m.?” he asked. He didn’t seem to have a clue. I didn’t want to talk too loudly about it, since Dylan was still awake, so I stayed quiet.

But at 10:00, my husband suggested to Dylan that he close his bedroom door because “Santa and Mrs. Claus were tired.” So Dylan shut the door and lay there, awake, listening to us shuffling about.

Then that same husband, who so blatantly disregarded the magic on Christmas Eve, sat next to me on Christmas morning and repeatedly said “your mom” in place of “Santa” while the kids were opening their presents.

My husband made this decision alone – to toss Santa out the window. But the magic went right out the window, too.

I am 50 years old and my parents still haven’t taken credit for any of the presents labeled “from Santa” that were under my childhood trees. I don’t remember any revelation or any secrets. I just know that those presents always came from Santa.

So the presents I put under the tree are also “from Santa.” But this year, no one paid any attention. They gave Santa about as much credit as they would give to a passing stranger. The gifts just appeared, and people opened them and talked about them like it was just a big birthday celebration.

Which, of course, it is – after all.

Maybe now, we’re ready to move to the next phase: the one where Christmas is not so much about the magic of sparkling gifts under a lighted tree as it is about the magic of love and joy, spread through the world on this one special day.

Maybe next year, we’ll be able to celebrate Christmas.

I Wanted to Do New, Fun Things.

Christmas is going to be different this year.

First, the family grab bag tradition – my favorite – was kiboshed. So I decided to create a new family tradition and take the kids to the Bull Run Winter Festival – basically a summer fair in the freezing cold. Woo-hoo! I can’t wait.

Then I drove by our favorite walk-through Christmas light display: CLOSED FOR THE SEASON! They are remodeling the entire park. Who remodels a park during their biggest money-maker of the year? And there’s nothing I can do about it.

So I thought we’d add another new thing, and go to Baltimore’s famous 34th Street – a huge, light-filled extravaganza that is free and fun for anyone who ventures out that way.

I thought we were done with changes but then, wham! – another change. My sister stepped up and decided to have Christmas at her house, rather than at my parents’ house. Everyone at my house was flummoxed. We always went to my parents’ house after we opened our presents! Now we will be driving to West Virginia instead.

And just when we thought it couldn’t get any more different, my sister decided we will not be having our “traditional” Indian dinner, but Christmas tacos instead. Those of you who eat ham or turkey will not understand having an Indian Christmas dinner, let alone the tacos – but for me, it’s huge.

I decided we should eat Indian food on Christmas Eve instead. This works out well this year, because Shane will be singing in the early church service. Dylan, whose voice is in flux along with everything else, has declined his midnight mass performance.

Meanwhile, Bill declared that he would like to go back to the Mormon Temple – a tradition we once had that kind of disappeared after I got tired of doing it. But this year, I told him, we could do that, too.

Then the season got underway.

I am a bit excessive and obsessive, so I started shopping in May. I was done by Halloween, and then I bought some smaller stuff to wrap it all up. This year, I spent most of December selling things my kids never opened last year, in order to pay for the things they won’t open this year.

Then, on Christmas Eve, my sister decided not to have the Christmas day celebration at her house – but by then, I was actually prepared for the change, and it was just another change!

My plan was all set. I wanted to do new, fun things to make up for all of my beloved lost traditions.

But honestly, I am tired.

I feel like Christmas arrived way earlier than it did last year. We got our tree right after Thanksgiving and our house decorated shortly thereafter. (It is not impressive.)  And then, suddenly, it was five days till Christmas and we hadn’t tried out any of our new traditions!

The kids don’t seem to care. I sure don’t care. Of the things we have to do – Bull Run, 34th Street, Indian food on Christmas Eve and the Mormon Temple – we haven’t done a single one.

I did order Indian food for tonight. And we did, at least, put Bull Run on the calendar. So we are going to squeeze in Indian food tonight and at least one new tradition after Christmas.

And then I’m going to settle down for a long winter’s nap.

Every Inch of You is Perfect.

Now that we’re done with Toddler Tunes, I’m trying to stay current with the music my kids like. As a result, I discovered a song called “All About That Bass.”

The song is quite catchy, with doo-wop harmony that sounds like it was created in the 1950’s. But the subject of the song couldn’t be further from that era. It’s a song about a woman who loves and appreciates her body, even though writer/singer Meghan Trainor “ain’t no size 2.”

“All About That Bass” has become a sort of pop anthem for women of all sizes. The song skyrocketed to Number One on the Billboard charts and around the world. It’s got two Grammy nominations, for Song and Record of the Year.

The kids think I’m hysterical. When the song comes on the radio, Dylan dictates my car-driving dance moves as if he choreographed them himself.

“Then she puts up her pointer finger and waves it from side to side,” he says, laughing, as I dance with only my finger – for safety while driving a car.

And while it is fun and catchy, I discovered one horrifying thing when I tried to sing along with “All About That Bass.”

I can’t sing it without crying.

Meghan Trainor sings, “My mama, she told me don’t worry about your size,” and I burst into tears. Because I was taught that I should worry about my size. I learned it from everywhere.

Two lines later, when the song declares, “Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top,” I am sobbing.

I think the reason I cry is because I spent the vast majority of my life not believing I was okay.

I feel pretty good about me now, for the most part. But I always feel 30 pounds overweight which, like much of the population, I am.

This song promises me that I am okay anyway. So I cry. I cry for the sheer joy of remembering that I am okay, no matter what size I am.

And I cry with happiness that the woman who wrote this song is broadcasting this OK-ness to the rest of the world. I cry because people are listening – young and old – and because maybe, like me, it reminds them of their own beauty.

Dylan’s 7th grade girlfriend, who is naturally gorgeous, was on a diet for the entire four months they were together.

She was 12.

It was so sad to watch, to hear, to know that this gorgeous girl was constantly worried about her size. Most of the girls in Dylan’s school are worried about their size.

And this song stands out among all the other pop songs, which come with videos – gorgeous guys declaring their love to perfect, leggy blondes, and size-zero girls dancing seductively on the screen.

Meanwhile, “All About That Bass” says what no one has ever said before: “Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.”

And it reminds me – but it’s painful, too, remembering the years that I hated myself for not being perfect. For not knowing that I was perfect, at any size. (There were other reasons I was not perfect, too – of course.)

I love the song, for what it can do for the new generation. I love what it does for me, every time it comes on the radio.

And I hope its positive impact lasts – for our kids’ sake, as well as ours.

It’s So Nice to Be Needed.

Dylan was sick. He had that flu that’s been going around, the same one that I had a month ago.

It comes on – WHAM! – and hits with almost no warning, knocking down its victim suddenly with fever. Then it hangs around for several days until finally, one day, you can sit up.

At some point, if you’re lucky, the congestion that’s been sitting like a boulder on your lungs starts to move and you start coughing. Eventually, a few weeks after that, it’s gone entirely.

At the end of Flu Day 2 for Dylan, he came into my room and woke me up at 5:00 in the morning – something he hasn’t done in years.

“Mom?” he said in the darkness. His voice was so raspy and quiet, I almost didn’t understand the word “mom.”

I reached out instinctively for his forehead, checked his cheeks. Still warm.

“What’s wrong?”

“When I cough, it really hurts,” he choked. “I feel like I’m going to cough up blood or something.”

Dylan has something called Reactive Airways Disease – a rare disorder we discovered when he was very young. Basically it means that when he gets a cold, it stays in his chest and makes it hard for him to breathe. He never got a runny nose like other kids – just a deep, disturbing cough that lasted from September through April.

The thought popped up immediately: that Dylan might be one of the kids I’d heard about on the news. He might need to be hospitalized for respiratory issues associated with the flu.

But I shot down the thought, and leapt out of bed. “Let’s get you some medicine,” I said calmly. We measured out three teaspoons of children’s Motrin, since a sore throat makes pill-swallowing that much more difficult.

His voice, still barely audible, croaked out, “Is there anything else we can do? It really hurts.”

“Let’s try some honey,” I said. We went downstairs and heated up some honey. While he was sipping at the spoon, I hopped onto the computer.

I googled “natural remedies sore throat” – and was reminded what to do.

“I want you to gargle with some salt water,” I told him. And I made some warm, salty water to soothe his throat.

Then we headed back upstairs, quietly, still in the dark.

“Can I do anything else for you?” I asked. “Or are you ready to get some more rest?”

“I’m okay,” he croaked. “And Mom?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks for being the good mom,” he said. “A lot of people might have been a lot more aggressive in the middle of the night. So thanks.”

I almost cried. It’s so nice to be needed.

“Anytime, Buddy,” I told him. “It’s my job. Wake me up again if you need me later.”

And we both went back to bed.

He’s Not a Baby Anymore.

Today is Dylan’s 14th birthday. There’s no longer any doubt: he’s a teenager.

I spend every day thinking about Dylan. I think about his issues, his ADHD or whatever it is, his behavior in school, his grades, his future. He’s a frustrating kid. His gifts far outweigh his problems; his talents are extreme and beautiful, like he is. But I focus on the negative, rather than the positive, far too often – and I forget to remind him of his inner beauty, his brilliance, his inner light.

Then again, I worry too much.

I try too hard. I give him too much. I take away too much. I discipline him too often. I don’t discipline him enough. I take away his privileges too often. I don’t take away his privileges enough.

I am too involved. I need to step back. I want to be there for him. I want him to be independent. I want him to advocate for himself.

I advocate for him. I put him in a new school, a new environment. He gets new teachers, new friends. Did that work? No. Does anything work?

No.

And it’s his birthday. Today is his birthday. And all those thoughts – the thoughts that occupy every waking hour on any other day – those thoughts all go right out the window.

All I can think today is, He’s not a baby anymore.

I still see him so clearly, toddling in my direction with that huge, gorgeous smile on his face – running as fast as his tiny legs would move. Smiling all the time, beaming even, curious, excited, thrilled to be alive. Dylan smiled constantly.

I wouldn’t ever want that baby back, now that I know him now. I don’t miss those days, the exhaustion, the constant need to be on the lookout.

But on his 14th birthday, I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic for that smile.

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You’re Caller 107!

We’ve been trying to win Taylor Swift concert tickets from our local radio station for more than a week.

Shane sat in his room in the morning, when I was driving home from taking Dylan to school – and he dialed the number – over, and over, and over. Meanwhile, I called from the cell phone – over, and over, and over. We could never get through.

This past weekend, we had a list of times to call from the radio’s website. We called. And called. And called.

We wanted so badly to be Caller 107.

Once, it rang for so long, a recorded message came on to tell us, “Your party is not answering. Please hang up and try your call again later.”

We even got through a few times – I was Caller 29! Bill was Caller 101! That was a heartbreaker…

Until the phone rang for Shane. It rang, and rang, and rang.

“This should probably be your last call,” I told him. “I think they’ve probably got a winner.”

“I know,” Shane said.

We were used to losing.

Then he said, “Hello” – into the phone.

The entire family rushed into the room. “This is Shane,” he said.

“Well, Shane, you’re caller 107!” said the DJ.

“That’s great,” said Shane – without the slightest hint of enthusiasm. His normally laid back personality took on almost a zombie quality.

“Do you want to go see Taylor Swift?” the DJ asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I really like Taylor Swift. That’s why I’ve been calling.”

The DJ put Shane on hold saying, “Don’t hang up!” and we heard the whole conversation on the radio. Shane was so excited, I thought his eyes might pop out of his head. But he barely even smiled, let alone shrieked.

Later, when the DJ took our name and address, she said Shane is the most laid back winner she’s ever had.

“That’s how he is,” I told her. “He’s really very excited.”

“Yeah,” he said softly, his ear still pressed to the winning phone.

We finished our conversation with the DJ, the whole family stunned.

So we’ve got two tickets to Taylor Swift, a concert we could never, ever have afforded if we’d had to buy tickets.

Shane’s biggest problem is – he won two tickets.

Who should he take to the concert?

No One Felt Like Laughing Anymore.

Shane is a responsible, funny, quiet, bright, beautiful, quick-witted boy, and I love him with all of my heart and soul.

But he has never put away a single thing in his life without being asked.

When something leaves his hand, it just lands – plop! – wherever. And there it stays, for the rest of time. His room looks like a hurricane hit it. There are papers, Pokemon cards, books, coins, magic tricks, empty bags, broken necklaces and CD cases everywhere. When he plays with a toy and decides to move on to something else, the toy is dropped in the middle of the room and he goes to the next thing.

Not only does he not pay attention when he lets something go, he also doesn’t recognize the seriousness of his actions. When he and Bill were decorating for Christmas, they came across a dead light bulb. Shane held it up and asked, “Dad, what should we do with this?”

Bill said, “Oh, it’s burned out. Just toss it.”

And Shane tossed it – quite literally – a few feet away, onto the cement garage floor, where it shattered. They spent the next 10 minutes cleaning up millions of tiny shards of glass.

So when Shane was eating chicken wings and left his plate on a stool in the living room, it wasn’t really a surprise to anyone – except the dog.

Our beloved mutt couldn’t believe her good fortune. Four huge globs of meat, right at her eye level! She snatched a leg and swallowed it whole. She was working on a wing when Shane came back into the room and got the second bone away from her.

We were all pretty sure that the dog was going to die. Dylan had read a story about a dog that died after choking on a bone, and he announced this loudly. Shane started to cry. Bill remained stoic. I choked back tears. We all stared at the dog as if she would fall over dead at any second.

No one spoke. We turned off the movie. It was a comedy, and no one felt like laughing anymore.

I didn’t yell at Shane for leaving his chicken bones at doggie-eye-level.

I tried that tactic with Dylan years ago, when he left a pile of chocolate on a low table. The dog ate it all. When we discovered the shredded candy wrappers, I screamed at Dylan, “SHE COULD DIE!” – which, I think, was my attempt at getting him to understand the seriousness of the situation.

But what I did, instead, was cause my baby’s eyes to flicker from optimism and hope into sheer terror. I’ll never forget that look. There are some Mom moments that I’d give anything to change. I should have just taken him in my arms and told him it was going to be okay.

Maybe I was just too afraid that it was not going to be okay.

So I didn’t yell at Shane, but I didn’t hold him either. I called the animal hospital and scoured the internet for information. Then we all just waited to see if the dog would die.

Two days later, we called our vet – who told us that as long as the dog hadn’t choked, and as long as she hadn’t punctured her intestines, she was going to be fine. And the dog was fine.

The very next day, Shane left a bag of peanuts in his backpack. Then he dropped his backpack on the floor.

The dog tore the bag to shreds and ate every single nut.

Shane didn’t learn a single thing from this experience.

He Can’t Learn in This Environment.

To Dylan’s Teachers and the Headmaster:

I hope that the following will help you to understand Dylan’s behavior which, as we all know, has not been ideal.

Until this year, Dylan has always been well-mannered and, while distracted, was never a distraction. He was quiet in classes, and quite well-behaved. He had organizational issues but was never late, loud or annoying in school.

Dylan processes things audially – almost exclusively – and very, very slowly. So when kids are talking during class, he can’t focus on anything. He needs things to be quiet in order to focus at all – and since the classroom is full of tiny distractions, he has given up trying to focus and decided to talk instead. This doesn’t help anyone in the classroom, and it hurts Dylan more than anything – but he doesn’t have any idea what else he should do, since he simply can’t focus with noise.

In other words, he can’t learn in this wonderfully warm, receptive and free environment. And while I know he performs exceptionally well when given more responsibility – like a side job in the classroom or any kind of monitoring task – it does seem counterintuitive to give more responsibility to a student who doesn’t seem capable of self-control. But I can tell you that giving him something extra to do actually *increases* good behavior.

I think we’ve all figured out that he is trying to overcompensate by being “silly” – which, we also know, is not working. Since the new trimester started, he says that his behavior is improved – and I even got an email from his Spanish teacher saying how well-behaved he was last week! He is really trying to stay quiet in class – so please, if you notice any good behavior, now is the time to reward him! He wants to do the right thing – he just doesn’t know how.

Meanwhile, I am drilling into his head that he must stay after class and ask his teachers what was due, and what is due tomorrow. He knows that questioning his teachers daily is expected, but it has not yet become habit. Please, if you think of it, grab him after class and remind him.

Also, I insisted that Dylan talk to his teachers after class, and he was reported as being late to his next class because of it. While I know he was seen talking to other kids (and I have spoken to him about this!) – his intention was to get done those things that I’d asked him to do. I am not advocating that he hang out in the hall, talk to friends, etcetera.

But please, if he is talking to you after class, which I’ve asked him to do, send a note to his next teacher if he’s going to be late. Dylan has assured me that he will be doing only the right things with his time.

Finally, Dylan is not on stimulants anymore, and we do occasionally provide caffeinated drinks as a substitute. Most of the time, it’s iced tea – but on days when he needs an extra boost, I have given him Mountain Dew, which I bought specifically for school. Please know that any disgusting, sugary beverages I send to school are only substitutes for medication, and not something in which we indulge at home. My apologies for any confusion!

I appreciate ALL that you’ve been doing for Dylan and I hope that, while this email won’t change Dylan’s behavior, maybe it will give you some insights, and together we can find a way to help him succeed.

Kirsten

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