Month: April 2015
Dylan called, shortly after noon.
“Mom,” he said, “something happened.”
The land line started to ring.
“Hold on,” I said. “The other line is ringing.”
“Oh NO,” he wailed. “Mom, that’s going to be the school calling and they’re going to tell you something that happened that I don’t even remember doing…”
“What happened?” I said, a bit wary. The other phone was reaching its hang-up point. “Hold on, Dylan,” I said.
Dylan did not hang on. He hung up.
“There’s been an incident,” said his teacher, a calm and kind man who has never done harm to anyone. He speaks very slowly. “I just found this out today. Yesterday, apparently Dylan kicked another boy in the groin area.”
I was stone silent. Dylan is the single least violent person I’ve ever known, except for Shane.
The teacher continued. “Then he took the boy’s papers and threw them around in the hall.”
Dylan sounds like a bully, I thought. Why would he DO this?
“It was physical contact,” said the teacher, “so we have to suspend him from school for the rest of the day.”
“I can’t believe this is my son,” I said, knowing full well that it was, indeed, my son. At the same time, I wanted to say, But that’s it? One day? Shouldn’t there be more of a punishment?
Dylan sat in the office while I drove 45 minutes to pick him up.
Only yesterday, I had mentioned that his behavior could get him expelled – and that he might have to completely re-do 8th grade.
“You’ve been asking to go back to public middle school,” I’d said. “This could be your chance.”
“I’m not going to get expelled,” Dylan had spat, as if he had a crystal ball.
He seemed to be genuinely surprised by the suspension. I must admit, I wasn’t terribly surprised. He’s gotten in trouble for so many impulsive, physical things, it was just a matter of time before something he did really hurt someone.
Today, on the way home, he said, “I guess I really could get expelled.”
DUH. I wanted to say. You’d think you’d listen to your mom once in awhile! Your parents COULD be right, you know! You might just want to start doing what we say instead of doing everything the way YOU think it should be done!
Instead, I said, “Yep, I guess you could.”
He says he was just “playing around” with the boy. He always says he was just “playing around.” Dylan isn’t malicious. He doesn’t like to hurt people. He seems sincerely remorseful when someone gets hurt, whether or not it’s related to something he did.
I can’t help but think back to third grade, when he was tapping his pencil maniacally on his desk, and it flew out of his hand and hit a little girl in the back of the head.
“You could have hit her in the eye,” I told him. “She could have really gotten hurt.” He seemed to understand.
He always seems to understand. He always feels awful about what’s happened.
But until he learns to control himself – because I can’t do it for him – there’s nothing anyone else can do. Except, of course, to suspend him from school.
Dylan had a bad day at school.
First, he had a cold. He didn’t get enough sleep and went to school anyway. He had a strike against him going into the building.
He was supposed to have a test in first period, but for some reason it was delayed. Instead, he was supposed to write an essay – which he didn’t finish. In second period, he didn’t finish his algebra test and in third period, he didn’t finish his physics test.
By the end of the day, he had already been in the office once, though I’m not sure why. He had passed out post-it notes to other kids, and texted me to tell me he’d be late because he had to go around the school finding and removing all the post-its.
When I found him, he was standing by the outside door. There was a post-it on the exit sign above his head.
“What about that one?” I said, pointing. He jumped like an NBA player and got it down.
“I didn’t even put that one there,” he said.
We argued all the way home. I was trying to be helpful – again. My mistake.
“I don’t need you to tell me what I did wrong,” he said – repeatedly.
“What do you expect me to do?” I wailed, at a complete loss.
After much useless discussion about goals and screaming and other assorted irrelevants, he said, “I don’t know why you can’t stop telling me what to do!”
I screeched the car to a literal halt in the middle of the road. Luckily, it was a side road.
“I AM NOT TELLING YOU WHAT TO DO!” I screeched, completely out of control. “I AM TELLING YOU WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOURSELF! BUT I AM FINISHED! DO WHATEVER YOU WANT!”
I started driving again, with meticulous calm.
Four minutes passed. Then I said, “Every morning, I get up and make you a high protein breakfast. I make sure you have a water bottle and something special to drink for the car ride. I make sure you have the right vitamins. I give you fruit so that you can get some nutrients with your meal. Then I make your lunch. I pack it full of high protein snacks and today, because you were sick, I put in extra pineapple juice and organic strawberries, because I thought it would help you, and make you happy, because you are sick.”
Dylan said nothing. Of course.
“Tomorrow, I am not doing any of that. I am going to get up and go downstairs and get in the car at 7:10. If you are not ready to go at 7:10, you will not go to school.”
“That makes me happy,” he said, oblivious to the fact that we tried this before and he was not only incapable of being ready on time, but he also had nothing but crap for breakfast and in his lunchbox.
In other words, here we go again.
After discovering that Dylan was failing all of his academic classes, we took away the privilege of using electronics.
Dylan’s behavior at home – for a week – had been phenomenal. He’d been kind and pleasant and polite. He wasn’t spinning like a wild top all the time. He’d been paying attention to his diet, taking his “brain vitamins” (no medication) every day, and really trying to respond like an adult when people talked to him. Almost as important, he hadn’t been getting in trouble at school.
So it was an incredibly difficult decision to give him any consequences for his actions.
I called Bill beforehand. “We can’t just keep allowing him to spend all night playing video games and chatting with people all over the country,” I said. “He has C’s, D’s and F’s in every subject.”
“Well, here’s what we need to do,” Bill said. “We need to present it in such a way that we recognize all of his good behavior. Point out what he’s done, how well he’s done, and then just ask him to apply those behaviors to school work.”
Bill had an after-work meeting, so I was on my own with this conversation.
But I was determined for it to go well. I pulled out the list of responsible behaviors I’d itemized for Dylan. I highlighted the many, many positive behaviors he’d already been exhibiting. And when we sat down, I explained that he’d been doing wonderfully – that he had almost all of the behaviors showing that he could be a full-blown responsible adult.
And then I dropped the hammer.
“Until you apply those behaviors to school work, and get your grades up, we can’t allow you the privilege of using electronics. You can keep your phone, because we’re not trying to cut you off from your friends. But you need to show some real improvement at school before you can use the computer or the iPad again.”
Dylan started to cry. It was horrible.
“So basically what you’re saying is that even though I’ve done everything right, you’re punishing me.”
I remained calm. Thank you, Kirk Martin. “No,” I said. “I’m saying that because you’ve done everything right, we know you can apply those behaviors to your school work and we want you to have the opportunity to do that.”
It didn’t go well after that. There was an hour-long discussion that, on my end, made no sense at all. Dylan seemed to be talking around in circles, while I spoke jibberish back to him. We were both trying to make a point – but the points didn’t seem to be related to one another.
Finally we gave up on talking, and Dylan went outside to jump on the trampoline with Shane.
When Dylan came back in, he was like a new person. He ate dinner, laughed with everyone, and went to bed at a reasonable hour.
The next day, he woke up like an adult. He did everything right again. He had a horrific milk-box-explosion in his backpack at school – and cleaned it up by himself. When he got into the car with his backpack in one hand and his “stuff” in the other hand, he was still doing well.
“I have my work all figured out,” he said in the car – for the first time ever. “I’m going to fix one paper from social studies, which will bring my grade up from an F to an A. Then I’m going to do my physics homework and my algebra. And I’ll read the chapters for English before I go to sleep,” he said.
And that’s what he did.
So, Dylan is no longer failing.
Sometimes I go a whole day without spending any time with Shane until bedtime.
It never occurred to me, when selecting a private school for Dylan 45 minutes from home, that Shane would somehow suffer. And I’m not sure, really, that he is suffering. But he does spend a lot of his day with other people.
His grandparents have been unbelievable – picking him up at school nearly every day, so that he doesn’t have to ride a bus. The bus that would have been Shane’s bus is always the last to arrive – and Dylan and I would have ended up waiting 30 minutes for Shane, every day, who didn’t enjoy the bus ride at all.
Shane’s friends’ parents have also come through for us – many, many times. Shane gets to have playdates with some of his very best friends quite frequently now. And their parents take him not only willingly, but happily. It’s awesome to know that other people like Shane, too.
But for me, I miss him. Sometimes I miss him all day long.
I am thrilled to have the time in the car with Dylan. He’s growing into such a nice young man, and it’s a pleasure talking to him, finding out about his day, whatever. I will sincerely miss the car time with him next year – although I won’t miss the equally long rides alone.
Meanwhile, Shane doesn’t care at all. Last night, I crawled into bed with him and read him a story. Then it was time for his “show.” (The stuffed animals briefly come to life and perform.) Apparently, Bill does better “shows” than I do, because once again, Shane asked for his dad to do the show.
“I haven’t seen you all day,” I whined. That morning, I had been late getting back from Dylan’s school because of rainy day traffic, and we only had five minutes to play with Fisher Price little people – our morning routine.
“You didn’t?” Shane asked.
“Not since the little people did five minutes of bungee jumping this morning,” I said. “You went to school, then you played chess with Grandad, then you worked on your book, then you planted tomato plants with Daddy and then you jumped on the trampoline and watched a video with Dylan!”
“You can do a show if you want to,” he said. He always tries to be accomodating.
“That’s okay,” I said, leaning in for a big hug. “I just miss you.”
“Okay,” he said. There was no dramatic pause. “You can get Daddy now.”
Sometimes I think we did so well making sure Shane was happy, that he’s a little bit happier without me.
I checked Dylan’s grades on the computer.
I probably shouldn’t have done it, but I wanted to know if he was still failing Spanish. (He is. I’ve been trying to get Dylan out of Spanish since before he ever started.)
Dylan is getting C’s, D’s and F’s in every academic course.
Everyone says I need to let him fail. I’ve backed off and stopped telling him what to do. And every day, he comes home from school declaring that he has nothing to do. And so he does nothing.
And so he is failing. And I am standing by, watching.
Meanwhile, I discovered that he didn’t have a book to read for English. He’s supposed to have read 23 chapters – but he hasn’t had a book.
“The teacher said he didn’t have any more,” he told me. (The teacher did not verify this statement.) I thought it was important that he figure out a way to get a book, and then actually read the thing.
Surprisingly, he was able to bring a book home when threatened with losing his weekend fun time.
In the midst of all this, Dylan wanted to go for a walk. He hadn’t done his algebra (again) and he had read only the last two chapters of the book he finally brought home – but not the first 21 chapters.
“No,” I said. It was almost a reflex.
“Why not?” he whined. “I just want to go for a walk. I’ve done everything I can do already! There’s nothing else I can do today!”
It was raining and cold outside, and getting dark, too.
“No,” I said, digging in deeper. I knew I was supposed to let him fail, but I was furious. We argued for awhile (my mistake) and he fumed away, believing me to be the core of evil.
He came down later and said, “Mom, I would really appreciate it if you just wouldn’t say anything at all to me about school. I was all like, I’m going to do this! and was going to do my work. And then when you said that stuff to me I just felt like, What’s the point? And now I don’t feel like doing anything at all.”
Somehow, his apathy was my fault.
I got sucked in, of course. I went into a full-blown lecture about how this was all his choice – the grades, the book, the things he chose to do instead of school work. I talked about how I’d given him all the tools he needed, and he was just dancing around the tool box while it sat on the floor.
I knew I was in trouble when I said, “You don’t dance because someone tells you to dance. You dance because you enjoy the music.”
I understood it. But I’m not sure anyone else did, so I just stopped, then and there. I turned around and disengaged.
In Algebra, Dylan has done quite well on most things. But when he took the Chapter 7 test, he flunked it. He got 20 out of 40 right.
Against my advice, his teacher gave him the test to take home and correct during spring break. And he did something with it over spring break, but I don’t know what.
She emailed me the day after spring break ended, and told me he was getting another chance.
I told her to stop giving him chances, but thanked her for her concern. Then I talked to Dylan when he got home.
“You are really lucky to get this chance,” I said. “She’s giving you another day – so I suggest you actually use that time to do the work.”
“I know,” he said. He got out his algebra book and some papers and went to his room. Ten minutes later he said, “I’m done” and put the book and papers in his backpack.
Two days went by, and I got another email from the teacher. “Dylan needs to show his work,” she said. “I’ve given back the test for him to do that. I’m concerned that he doesn’t understand the material.”
When Dylan came home that day – a full month after he’d taken the test originally – we had another talk.
He got out his book and his paper and went to his room. Ten minutes later, he came downstairs.
“I don’t really understand how to do it,” he said. “I have to ask her.”
“Can’t you look it up on the internet?” I asked. “Or better yet, use your algebra book. That’s what the book is for.”
“It’s just easier if I ask her,” he said. “It’s just one simple question and then it’ll only take, like, five minutes to do.”
“You’re sure you’re going to ask her tomorrow?” I said. “Because I do not want to see this test at home again tomorrow. It’s already been three weeks.”
“I’m sure,” he said.
The next day Dylan said, “Um, she wasn’t there. But I’ll look it up on the internet this weekend.”
On Monday, I got another email from the teacher.
“I asked Dylan for the test this morning and he told me that he really did not understand it. I am going to walk him through a few of the problems on the test during his lunch today and then he is supposed to finish it tonight for homework. And if he does not have it fully completed by tomorrow then his grade will stay as it is.”
I emailed her back (four long paragraphs). I told her that Dylan had really had enough chances, and that the next time he fails a test, he needs to just fail the test. I explained that we have been encouraging this behavior by allowing him to continue not doing his work – and not studying for tests – and having no consequences for his actions. I assured her that not only did I want her to leave this grade as it is (20/40) but to leave the rest of them, too.
“There are no do-overs in high school, or in life,” I told her.
Then I called Bill, to decide what the consequences would be at home. Consider the ipads, video games and computers gone until the grades come up.
And if they don’t come up? Well, that’s okay, too. It’s no longer my job to fix him.
But it is my job to give him realistic consequences.
The high school IEP meeting was far less … structured and worrisome than those from our past.
For one thing, Dylan appears to be in good hands. His counselor is absolutely wonderful. He’s very laid back, calm, professional and kind. He knows what he’s doing, and seems to actually care about the students.
Better yet, Dylan’s special education coordinator is awesome. Unlike those we’ve met before, he is way laid back. He never seems to think anything is a problem. He’s not just reassuring – he’s there. In the moment. And he is there for Dylan.
We spent an easy hour together – parents, Dylan, counselor and coordinator.
We discussed Dylan’s schedule. They were a bit surprised to see that Dylan needed both an IEP and a four-year plan to get an IB degree. But they studied it, and determined that it was in keeping with what was needed to graduate.
They even decided that Dylan’s taking both video production and computer coding would be fine – in spite of our last-second decision to do so. If the IBCP offers a computer pathway in the next year or two, Dylan will be able to hop on board. If not, at least he gets to take a class he will really enjoy.
I’ve still got my concerns about Dylan taking Spanish, but he has 21 days to decide – and drop out, if need be. We’ll just have to deal with the colleges when it’s time to deal with colleges.
My favorite part of the meeting, though, was when the special ed coordinator interviewed Dylan. It was hard to keep my mouth shut, but high school is obviously different than middle school. Dylan answered the questions. Dylan made suggestions for himself. Dylan talked about what he liked and didn’t like.
Dylan talked about how it was sometimes difficult for him to deal with certain people.
The coordinator listened. This may be his best attribute, even though his other attributes are so good.
“If you have a problem with any person,” he told Dylan, “a student or a teacher or anyone – you come and talk to me about it. And I will work with you to fix that problem.”
“You see, Dylan?” I blurted. “You go to him. You don’t come to me, and then I go to him. You’re in high school now!”
“That’s right,” said the coordinator. He looked at me, all-knowing.
In spite of my glee at the teachable moment, I should have kept my mouth shut.
Then he took Dylan on a brief tour, and told us about orientation.
As an aside, each of my children have a half-day orientation – Shane in middle school, and Dylan in high school. Probably not coincidentally, orientation takes place on my birthday.
I’m not sure if that’s a gift, or a horrible joke. But I am learning to be open, so I will just wait and see.
While Bill and the boys played laser tag, I went to see a movie. Given that my options were Home in 3D, The Gunman, Get Hard or any one of eight sequels, I opted for a movie called, Do You Believe?
The movie profiled twelve characters from different walks of life, whose lives intersect in meaningful ways. The underlying thread is that they are all trying to find meaning through a belief in Jesus Christ. Normally, this is not the kind of movie I would choose. But honestly. Get Hard? The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?
So I sat through the movie with the other ten people in the theater who were also desperate, and I watched. It was sad and violent and wildly inspirational. By the time the end credits rolled, I was nearly bursting at the seams to run out and do something meaningful. Volunteer, help the homeless, become a Big Sister, devote my life to missionary work….
I was ready to save the world.
Then I got in my car and pulled out of my parking space. I could hardly wait to get home and search all the volunteer positions at our local center. I pulled out onto the main road.
A minute or so later, I needed to get into the left lane. I turned on my left turn signal and looked over my shoulder. There was a van in the left lane – the driver of which saw my turn signal.
So he sat on his horn, sped up, and cut me off so that I couldn’t get into the left lane. The light changed to yellow as I pulled behind him – and he raced through it.
I thought, This is how it happens. This is why I do nothing to save the world. The people – some of whom were portrayed in the movie – the people are just so heartless. No one wants to GIVE one single thing. They’re out for themselves, trying to get ahead, move faster, be better, get richer. No one seems to remember that it’s actually all about love.
The American quest is not for peace. It’s for money and power.
And how am I supposed to teach my kids to give, and to be kind, when so much of the world is barreling through like bulls in the proverbial china shop? How do I let them be free, and make their own decisions, and watch them be stomped upon like garbage by so many half-crazed, selfish people?
I was thinking about this when the light turned green again. I moved forward to the next light. And there was the white van, sitting at the next light, stopped. Waiting for the opportunity to barrel forward again.
I looked at the driver and thought, He doesn’t know anything else. He doesn’t know better.
But he does know better. I bet his parents raised him to be kind and giving and unselfish. And then he learned, by living in this world, that speed and power and greed would provide him with “more.”
I can teach my kids by being a role model. Maybe I am not Mother Teresa, but I can be kind. I can give, whenever I am able. And if that just means letting people get in front of me in traffic, then so be it. At least it’s something. It’s something I can do.
When the light changed, the van went straight ahead. And I turned left.
For spring break, I took Dylan on a road trip to start looking at colleges.
I know it’s early, but I couldn’t wait. (Note that Dylan probably could have waited a decade.) But thus far, Dylan’s college experience had been limited to the handful of colleges around our home – and there are so, so many more out there for him to see!
So we headed out with a very brief itinerary. Over the course of three days, we saw 5 colleges.
During our first stop, at a small college of about 1,300 students, we hiked all over campus. We saw students carrying instruments, and followed them into the music building. We saw a classroom where the musicians were all blowing – and chasing – bubbles. It looked like a lot of fun, in my opinion. Then we walked through the student union.
Dylan kept fixing his hair. “I feel like we shouldn’t be doing this,” he said. But he seemed interested.
It was a nice place, and it gave Dylan a feel for the smaller, liberal arts world. Then we visited an enormous college – much larger – which Dylan said was okay. He was much more interested in the football stadium than any of the other buildings.
And there were lots of other buildings.
We saw another large university, and stayed overnight. Without really much thought, and without much discussion about its attributes, Dylan really seemed to like the third college.
“I just feel like I should be here,” he said, quite sincerely. He was at peace in a way that I rarely saw, except when he became obsessed with watching a fish in water.
He practically became that fish in water.
We saw a few more schools, but after that one, the others were a let-down for him.
He started asking questions about how he could get into that college. What did he need to do? What were his chances of getting in?
Dylan would gladly give up if I told him he had no chance.
But he does have a chance – a good one.
“You’re lucky,” I told him. “You’re brilliant. You’ve got an IB program in high school. And you get pretty good grades. All you have to do is do your work and turn it in.”
And now he has a mission. He has a focus – a goal – a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Can I apply now?” he asked. “Like after 8th grade?”
“You’re not a prodigy,” I said. “You’d have other problems if you were – so just relax and enjoy high school. And just turn in your work. Besides, we have lots of other colleges to see before you apply.”
We had a great trip, just the two of us. Dylan is funny and kind and delightful to be around. He’s got a super heart and a wild wit. And I adore him – for those reasons, and so many more.
It’s wonderful, just being able to relax and enjoy that for a change.
On the day of the big revelation – the day I realized I’d finally let go of controlling Dylan, for real, I came home and started writing. There were a lot of blogs to be written, to keep up with my racing and wildly uncontrolled mind. Everything was swirling around in my brain, while the rest of me felt empty and raw.
As I was sitting at the computer, trying to compose but mostly just sobbing, Dylan came in.
“I know you’re mad at me,” he said, “but I’m going to hug you anyway.” The boy is an angel. He gave me a hug and knelt beside my chair.
“I’m not mad at you,” I blubbered. “I’m mad at myself. I spent all those years trying to do what was right for you, learning about you and taking care of you, that …”
“You didn’t spend any time taking care of yourself,” he said – extolling wisdom beyond his years.
My voice escaped through the choking sobs. “Right,” I said. “And now I just don’t have any idea what to do with myself. But it’s not your fault. I’m really not mad at you. And I think it’s a good thing. I think this is going to give me time and space to let God run things for awhile, instead of me having to be in charge of everything all the time. It’s just hard right now.”
“It’ll be okay,” he said. He hugged me again and – probably not coincidentally – went off to finish his algebra.
Later in the day, Shane and I went to the library. Since I’d stopped reading and listening to Healing ADD, I needed something else in the CD player for those long drives to and from school.
And there it was, on the shelf, screaming my name: Melody Beattie’s Make Miracles in Forty Days: Turning What You Have Into What You Want. I grabbed a number of other books, too, but this was the one that nearly leapt off the shelf at me. It may as well have had actual feet for the leaping.
The next day, after I dropped off Shane at school, I hit the “play” button on the CD player. And these are the words I heard:
“When I stop trying to keep everything and everyone in neat little packages and allow myself to let go of illusions of control, God’s vision for my life miraculously unfolds.”
So I don’t know what’s next.
I just know that it’s not what I’ve been doing for so long. I know that all of those feelings of control are illusions – and not ones that work anyway. And I know that letting go is the only way to get anywhere.
I know there will be setbacks. I know this isn’t what I intended to write about in this blog. And I also know that, in spite of all of my fear and anxiety and emptiness, this is the right direction.
I just don’t have any idea where it’s taking me.