Month: December 2014

I Told Them That.

I’m starting to feel a bit … angry about the Quaker school. Not that I want to take Dylan out, but I’d like the people to be a bit nicer to my son. I realize he’s not a model citizen, but …

In the past few days, I’ve gotten a complimentary email from Dylan’s Spanish teacher saying how well he behaved in class last week – which was awesome – and a report from the office stating that Dylan has been turned in for “excessive tardiness.”

When I asked Dylan about the “excessive tardiness,” he said that he was talking to his music teacher – which I specifically asked him to do – and then he had to clean up his stuff from algebra and make sure he had all of his work turned in – which I also specifically asked him to do – and then he had to walk from a building on one side of campus to get to his next class on the other side of campus.

And gosh, he couldn’t do all of that in the allotted five minutes.

“Did you tell your teacher that you were doing those things?” I asked Dylan.

“Yeah,” he said.

“What did she say?”

“She asked if I had a note from Ms. B, and I didn’t, so she turned me in to the office.”

So now he has this on his “record” – and have to step in, again, and make sure his needs are being met. The number one thing that I’ve been advocating for is extra time after class for him to talk to teachers, to make sure he’s doing – and turning in – everything he needs.

And now he’s being “reported” for it.

Then Dylan told me – a few days later – that I need to send in a note to allow him to drink Mountain Dew. The school has allowed me to send iced tea because of the caffeine content, which is somewhat helpful for his brain – and we are using it in place of stimulant medication.

One day, since I knew Dylan was going to need extra help that day, I sent extra caffeine, in the form of a can of Mountain Dew.

“Ms. E was very upset,” Dylan told me. “She said I had to get written permission from my mom and the headmaster before I could drink Mountain Dew again.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “But I put it in your lunchbox myself,” I stammered.

“I know,” he said. “And I told them that. But they still said you have to write them a note.”

If I had the ability, the knowledge, and the patience, I would now be homeschooling my son for the rest of 8th grade.

Instead, I have to email the teachers, again, just like I did in public school.


Can I Go Back to Public School?

Dylan has become a discipline problem at his new school. All of the teachers have emailed me and two of them are incredibly frustrated.

One teacher emailed, “He is consistently coming late to class. Walking in screeching or doing something else of a disruptive manner. Last week, I took the ‘stress’ ball from him because he was throwing it so high that it was banging against the ceiling tile.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard from this teacher. But now Dylan is admitting that he has a problem with self-control in the classroom.

“There’s so much talking that it’s impossible to focus,” he whined. “I have to work so hard just to ignore all the noise that I can’t get anything else done!”

Then he dropped the mega-bomb: “I wish I could go back to my old school.”

Fifteen thousand dollars and three months of private school, and he’s begging to go back to public school.

So … I let him go back to public school. For one hour.

I arranged for Dylan to sit in on a geometry class at the public middle school. On a day that he didn’t have school, he got up early and went with me – and Shane – so that he could sit for an hour in public school, and remember how he’s supposed to behave – and why he didn’t want to be there.

But that didn’t happen.

Instead, he came out saying, “It was so fun!”

I thought maybe I’d misheard. After all, this is a boy who cried, in incredible angst, last spring: “Please, just get me OUT of this school!”

So when Dylan said an hour of public school geometry was fun, I inquired further.

“Well first, there were like 40 kids in the class,” he said. “It wasn’t just 26 kids or whatever, it was like 40. And nobody was talking, so I could really pay attention to the teacher. And they only did, like, two worksheets. And everybody did them and we had plenty of time to go over them. In private school they do, like, five worksheets and it just goes way too fast. Please, can I go back to public school?”

“You begged me to go to private school,” I said. “You begged and pleaded and said you hated public school. All you wanted to do was go to private school. You have to be kidding me.”

“Why?” he whimpered. “I can really handle it now and it’s way easier to focus there!”

“We spent $15,000 on private school for you. We spent all of your college savings and Shane’s college savings just to get you into the private school. You begged and pleaded to go to private school. You are NOT going back to public school after three months!”

“But I like it way better,” he said, as if that made a difference.

“If you were in public school,” I assured him, “you would be flunking 8th grade. You would not have teachers who let you turn in your assignments late. You are doing better, but you still had seven zero’s for missing assignments in three different classes!”

“But I wouldn’t do that,” he said. I laughed out loud. I felt queasy, dizzy and a bit faint.

“NO,” I said. “You are going to finish this year at private school. You are going to learn to turn in your assignments on time. You are going to advocate for yourself. And you are going to get through this year.”

After some real screaming, I ended the conversation as I so often do:

“You are going to start doing what YOU need to do for YOU,” I said.

Is Carnegie Mellon a Good School?

We got a hand-me-down shirt from my parents with “Carnegie Mellon” emblazoned on the front. It was a little too big for me, and a little too small for Bill.

So I called Dylan in to try it on. It fit him perfectly.

“Is Carnegie Mellon a good school?” he asked.

“One of the best in the country,” I told him.

“Then how did you get this shirt?” he asked, as if I were some slouch.

“Granddad used to work there,” I told him. My dad was a superstar vice president at Carnegie Mellon, if truth be told, for more than a decade.

“Oh,” he said. “Okay, I’ll keep it.” He meant the shirt, not the school, but he only accepted the shirt because the school’s a good one.

“Do you want to know what Carnegie Mellon is famous for?” I asked.


“Engineering, drama, music and computers,” I told him.

“Okay!” he exclaimed. “Then I want to go there!”

“That sounds awesome,” I told him. “It’s one of the hardest schools in the world to get into, but we can take a look at it.”

Whichever way Dylan leans, I start leaning with him. When he wanted to go to MIT, I figured it was worth a try. Now, if he wants to go to Carnegie Mellon, it’s worth a try. He’s only in 8th grade, after all, and there’s a chance he could get through high school with an amazing resume, spectacular grades and awesome test scores.

By next year at this time, it should be easier to see how it will all play out. Meanwhile, I am reading a great book about liberal arts colleges that are much lesser known.

I’m learning that there are small colleges across the country that are experiential, offering hands-on learning in place of written tests. There are places that specifically enhance their teaching with semester-long projects, internships and study abroad – and offer substantially fewer classroom-based courses.

There are places that offer a full year of transitional “thinking” classes before students have a choice of subject-based classes. There are also colleges that offer a ton of different subject requirements before students have a choice of major-based classes.

For many parents, this might mean, Yes! My child can get in somewhere! 

But for me, I’m so excited to look at the schools. I want to learn more about them, find out the real deal, get a feel for the campus. I want to wander the country looking at colleges – and can hardly wait (although I will!) to do it.

I don’t care where Dylan ends up going to college – as long as it’s a great fit for him. I just want him to know that there’s more to life – and that there are more choices – than the big-name places, or the big state places that everyone knows.

But we’ve started with Carnegie Mellon – a place that might be an exceptional fit, if he decides to self-advocate and become a champion of his own stuff.

And if he goes to Carnegie Mellon, great. As long as he knows, when he makes a decision, that there are thousands of other choices.

Stop Swinging the Saw!

Getting a Christmas tree is usually a highlight of our holiday season. We put on our warmest gear, pile into the car with our ecstatic mutt, and head out to the tree farm. We usually end the visit with at least one kid sitting on Santa’s sleigh and everyone drinking hot cocoa.

This year was a little different.

We got to the farm, excited as always. Then Xena, our dog, started a fight with another dog at least twice her size. I pulled her away just as Dylan got one of the farm’s complimentary saws and started swinging it around next to Xena’s head.

Dylan had been feeling happily helpful because he got the saw and the tree carrier without anyone asking him to do so, but we crushed his joy in a flash. We suddenly reprimanded him severely for swinging the saw. He became sullen before anyone could figure out why. Looking back, I see that this was the turning point in our day.

We should have said, “Dylan! Thank you for getting all that stuff for us!” Instead, Bill and I jumped on him: “Dylan! Stop swinging the saw!” and “You almost hit the dog in the head!”

Then we headed off through an old vegetable patch, where Xena stepped in a briar bush of some sort and we spent 10 minutes pulling prickly black balls from all four paws. By the time we got to the white pines, Dylan very loudly declared that he didn’t care what tree we got – that he hated all of them. He was still swinging the saw, although I have yet to understand why Bill gave it back to him. As we wandered through the trees, Dylan unzipped the hood from Shane’s jacket and ran a hundred yards away, with Shane chasing him.

Bill and I yelled at Dylan again. “Give him back his hood!” and “Why would you do that?!” There wasn’t a lot of positive reinforcement for either child as finding the right tree suddenly became a chore. We started marking our favorites. Thankfully, we used the saw to mark one of the trees – so the swinging finally stopped. But Dylan still refused to choose a tree – or even express an opinion other than, “They’re all bad.”

Shane, Bill and I chose three different trees and then we voted that we liked number two. The kids and I stood next to it, waiting for the chopping to start, but Bill wandered aimlessly away. Nearby was a much larger, fatter tree that, for some reason, seemed appealing. It was at least nine feet tall and quite plump.

I have no idea how it happened, but we ended up getting the tall, fat tree and forgetting our first choice. It took substantially longer to cut it down than it usually does, since the trunk was twice the size of most of our trees. It turned out to be crooked, too, so it leans dramatically toward the window at home.

Dylan never did vote for a favorite, and he acted like it was a real pain to help saw it down – which, last year, he did happily. He cheered up considerably when we gave him some chili and hot chocolate.

Shane sat beside Santa for a picture and, without complaint, answered Santa when asked what he wanted for Christmas. Shane is almost as tall as Santa now, so it may have been our last stop at the sleigh.

The Christmas season – with a teenager – has officially begun.

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