Month: May 2015
The algebra tutor visited three times in a week, for two hours each time.
Dylan had a test coming up on Chapter 9, and he wanted to be ready. Meanwhile, the class took three quizzes, so that the teacher could see if anyone was having trouble.
Dylan got a 1 out of 11 on the first quiz. That should have been a clue. His overall grade was a low D.
His behavior chart at home called for “No D’s or F’s as final grades” – a goal that Dylan had to attain in two weeks’ time. If Dylan didn’t get a star on every category on his behavior chart, he wouldn’t be attending the extremely fun church event at the end of the school year.
When the tutor first arrived, Dylan had very little knowledge about factoring polynomials. Near the end of the second visit, Dylan realized that he’d been doing something wrong all along – and knew that he had not (as he’d hoped) aced the second quiz. In fact, he got a 63%.
When the tutor wasn’t around, Dylan was still working on his problems. By the third quiz, Dylan had a grasp of the material. The third quiz was a binder check, whatever that means – and he got a 16 out of 17.
Then, the night before the test, he called the tutor at home – twice – to get some clarification on how to do something. The tutor’s patience was endless.
Meanwhile, his other grades steadily went up. He had to get rid of that D in algebra in only four days!
On Monday, Dylan took the test. He took it during algebra class, and worked on it some more during lunch time. He went back and worked on it again at lunchtime on Tuesday. And then he went in again and worked on it during lunchtime on Wednesday. Three days (five school hours) later, he finally finished the test.
On Thursday, I went out of town. It was Dylan’s last chance to raise his algebra grade – and I was almost glad that I wouldn’t be home when the deadline hit. If Dylan didn’t substantially raise his algebra grade, he didn’t get a star on his chart – and until now, he hadn’t missed getting a single star.
So I was more than 200 miles away when the call came. Dylan was calling on my husband’s cell – in a moving convertible with the wind whooshing. I could barely hear him. “Phlmbtpt bluk algebra!” Dylan yelled over the wind.
“What?” I asked. “What about algebra?”
The windows in the car went up. “I have a C in algebra – 73%.”
“Holy cow!” I said, finally hearing him. “How did that happen?”
Then he dropped the real bomb.
“I got a 94 on my test,” he said.
Did I hear him correctly?! He got a 94! A 94! I wanted to jump up and down screaming! HE GOT A 94!
Instead, I started to cry. I tried not to let Dylan know, since he was on the other end of a telephone.
“Oh Dylan, that’s great!” I said. Then I started to say, “I’m proud of you!” But long ago, I read a book that said you should not tell your kids how proud you are, and instead point out how proud they should be of themselves. It’s a good way to raise self-esteem.
“You should be really proud of yourself!” I said. “You worked really hard for that grade; congratulations!”
“Yeah, thanks,” he said, cool as any teen can be.
Aw, to heck with that book.
“And I am so proud of you!”
The following is not an advertisement. It is my real-life experience. Just like all these other blog posts. But there are links herein, if you have ADHD and want to try this. It sure beats the heck out of taking stimulants.
There is less shrieking at the dinner table. Dylan doesn’t spin as often when he walks. The incessant tapping isn’t completely gone, but he sometimes seems able to focus without tapping. (Sometimes.)
He is still quite brilliant, but less … bouncy.
Recommended dosage is 1 to 3 capsules daily. Dylan takes one per day, and we all agree that it’s sufficient. The bottle calls L-Tyrosine “neurotransmitter support” that you should take as a “dietary supplement.”
“L-Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid that plays an important role in the production of neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. In addition, because L-Tyrosine is necessary for the synthesis of thyroid hormone and epinephrine (adrenaline), L-Tyrosine supports healthy glandular function and stress response.”
In other words, it helps your brain produce dopamine and adrenaline.
My guess – from watching both Dylan and my husband (who has ADHD but has never been diagnosed) – is that they were born lacking in the ability to produce sufficient quantities of either dopamine or adrenaline, or both.
That’s why they spend so much time obsessed with fast-moving vehicles. But I digress.
L-Tyrosine gives Dylan just enough help that he is now able to do anything he wants without having to move, bounce, kick, tap, sing, hum or spin to stimulate his brain.
And best of all: he is on absolutely no other medication and there are, therefore, no side effects whatsoever!
Two things: Dylan needs to eat plenty of protein for the Tyrosine to be effective. And he produces less (but not significantly less) melatonin now – which means he wakes up (then goes right back to sleep) sometimes.
It’s a wonder to me that the pediatricians, the psychiatrists, the neurologists and even the school staff don’t seem to have any idea that this exists. We went through prescription after prescription of pills and more pills, all with horrific side effects. He couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, got too wired, became lethargic, got moody and irritable – and finally almost suicidal – before we finally stopped trying those “recommended” medications.
We’d gone through years of fighting the “controlled substance” law and desperately searching for a pharmacy that carried the right medication. We spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on pills.
L-Tyrosine costs about $10 for four months worth of “neurotransmitter support.”
So now Dylan takes vitamins instead.
They help. No side effects. And he’s able to function – finally – in a way that helps him to succeed.
On “Take Your Child to Work Day,” Shane went to work with his dad. Conveniently and somewhat coincidentally, Dylan was also out of school. So I decided to take the boys to see a movie.
At 2:15 on a weekday, we had the place to ourselves. “These are the best seats,” Dylan said, leading us to the middle of a row about ten rows from the back.
“We got here before the commercials!” Shane exclaimed, thrilled with our good fortune. The kids sat for about two minutes, then Dylan got up and went to the front of the theater.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen,” he said, standing on a pseudo-stage.
“Sing the National Anthem!” I bellowed from our seats in the back. Dylan made some lame excuse about not being able to sing, and was still yell-talking to us when the commercials started.
Within minutes, Dylan was doing shadow puppets on the screen. He’d gone to the back of the room and was creating some pretty convincing animals. Shane went back to join him, sitting on Dylan’s shoulders, making some shadow puppets of his own. Mostly I just saw the shadows of two heads and listened to the laughter.
They sat for the trailers – sometimes – and just before the movie began, Shane’s favorite part – the Regal Cinemas’ roller coaster ride – started. Before the launch, the kids raced down to the “stage” area and sat on the wall in front of the screen.
That’s when I had a moment.
It was the kind of moment I try to have often, but have less than I would like – where I am able to take a mental photograph. It was a moment when I could appreciate the incredible joy in my life, feel nothing but joy in my life, and not jump straight to worry because it’s so beautiful, I am overwhelmed by it.
It’s the kind of moment that gives my life real meaning.
I captured that moment in time, using only my memory, and was able to fully enjoy that on-screen roller coaster ride almost as much as the kids did.
The boys leaned and swayed as the coaster made its turns. And when it reached the giant popcorn kernel, Dylan “fell” off the wall, as if the popcorn had knocked him off. In the dark theater, he seemed to just disappear, making me laugh out loud. Then he jumped back onto the wall, and they “rode” to the end.
Dylan and Shane raced back up to their seats as the movie was starting, laughing and excited.
Then, the moment was over – for them. But that moment will last, for me, forever.
After Dylan started buckling down on his homework, and started diligently trying to bring up his grades, he seemed to be having a little trouble with one subject.
This is Dylan’s second year taking Algebra I. He took it in 7th grade and struggled mightily. His teacher kept telling him (the kid with the ADHD) that if he would just “pay attention” he would know the answer to his question.
She didn’t answer his questions, such was her frustration. If Shane gets this teacher, I will petition madly to move him.
So we got a tutor, and paid him for months to get Dylan through Algebra I. He passed the requisite exam for graduation, but only got a C in the class – and was therefore required to take it again in 8th grade.
And now, after another full year of algebra, under practically private tuteledge with only 8 kids in his class, and mostly B’s and C’s on tests, Dylan said he was having trouble with Chapter 9.
“What are you studying?” I asked.
“We’re factoring the square roots of polynomials or something,” he said.
“So specifically, what are you having trouble with?” I asked – as if I remembered any algebra from high school.
“Well first,” he said, “what’s a polynomial?”
It occurs to me – again – that Dylan’s issues with school have nothing to do with his inability to control his behavior – and everything to do with his personal frustration with school and learning. ADHD makes every class into a major challenge – unless it’s hands-on learning (which none of them are).
So we’ve hired a new tutor for Dylan. He’s an engineer by trade, a relatively recent college grad who has only ever tutored his 15-year-old brother in math. The new tutor’s email just sounded like he’d be a good fit for Dylan – the way he talked about working with his brother.
Probably not completely coincidentally, we later learned that the tutor’s brother has Asperger’s Syndrome, which falls right there in the autism spectrum next to ADHD in the brain. Three sides of the same coin.
So Dylan is learning. And he’s trying to learn fast and well – and bring up those grades.
After already spending hours on algebra, he was in his bedroom working on problems after 9:00 at night. I went in and kissed him on the head, and started to walk out.
I stopped, and turned around.
“You’re doing this because you’re really a good kid, right?” I asked. “And not just because you want to go to King’s Dominion?”
“No,” he said, although he clearly meant “yes” – and then explained. “I mean, it’s a good incentive, but that’s not why I’m doing all this.”
I knew that.
But still, it was nice to hear Dylan say it.
Dylan wants to go on the class trip – with his old, public school – at the end of the year. With the loss of electronics, the lying, the grounding, the suspension… we still think he could go.
If he earns it.
We went to a play at the old school, which Dylan earned by getting all of his zero’s “erased” from his record – and bringing up his grades substantially. We thought he earned the right to see his friends in their production of Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.
During intermission, however, Dylan ran off with Shane and one of Shane’s friends to the basement of the school – which was off-limits to the public.
“I just wanted to show them the rooms down there. I didn’t know there was anything wrong with that,” Dylan whined, after we finally found them.
Later, Bill suggested that we needed to be more specific about the rules. I am not sure how this would have stopped Dylan from going to the basement, but he suggested that I make a chart for Dylan, so that he could visually evaluate his progress toward the goal of going on that end-of-year trip.
The chart includes everything from taking vitamins in the morning and going to bed before midnight, to having no zero’s or final grades of D or F on his school’s online system. He has to bring his grades up in 10 days and keep them up until the end of the year.
It’s amazing how much homework he suddenly has – and how much more he is doing.
Best of all, I put a disclaimer at the bottom of the chart, which says:
In addition to doing these things for yourself, doing anything that shows incredibly poor judgment for the safety of yourself and others will immediately take away ALL of your rights and privileges.
While this currently includes using electronics, it also includes lying, cheating, stealing, cutting, smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs, breaking the law in any way, driving a car, bus or plane without a proper license, leaving home without permission, jumping off a cliff, diving out of a moving vehicle, touching or using a handgun or other deadly weapon, attacking, raping, molesting, abusing or murdering anyone, including yourself, or jumping out of a plane, off a bridge, off a cliff, or off the roof of any house or building.
Sad that we need to clarify, but this list is not all-inclusive and there are other things you could do that would be equally stupid that would cause you to lose your privileges. Suffice it to say, you know right from wrong. DON’T DO ANYTHING MORALLY WRONG – including anything STUPID, MEAN, RUDE, HARMFUL, HURTFUL OR ILLEGAL!
We have great hope that he will stay smart, be healthy, and follow the rules. He’s always been a good kid. But for teenagers, sometimes we have to be very specific in laying out the guidelines.
Once a year, our church scatters itself throughout the community, spreading goodness wherever we can. It’s not a promotional thing, since we don’t even mention where we’re from. We are told to “just give” and not entice people to our church.
The church provides materials for a variety of activities: a car wash, wiping windshields, collecting food for the homeless, cleaning up garbage, passing out flowers to people and dog treats to pets. We can choose to march in the annual parade, write letters to various people, do crafts and sing with nursing home residents, make crafts for local preschools or make goody bags for shelters.
It’s a big church.
Last year, Shane and I arrived late and we did the only thing left: handed out flowers in front of a grocery store. On our way to the store, Shane was very concerned about exactly how to give someone a flower.
He was, of course, the cutest flower boy ever.
Some people didn’t take a flower, but most were gracious and happy to get a flower.
One man almost cried. “Today is the anniversary of my wife’s death,” he said with tears in his eyes. “This means so much to me; thank you.”
It was a no-brainer what we would do this year. Shane wanted to hand out flowers. He also wanted to hand out dog biscuits, so we signed up for two shifts. Meanwhile, Bill and Dylan went to wash windshields – but their reception was underwhelming.
“We washed like ten windshields,” Dylan said, “in two hours!” Their customers didn’t believe it was a free service.
Meanwhile, Shane and I had similar issues. After the first few people rejected Shane’s offer of a carnation, Shane said, “Maybe I should say, ‘Would you like a free flower?'”
After he added the word “free,” a few people took flowers. But traffic was slow – so we went across the street to Starbucks. On such a nice morning, people were sitting at tables outside, and the place was hopping. We gave flowers to all five people outside.
But nearly everyone else rejected us.
Shane, his too-long hair in his eyes, walked right up to people with his arm outstretched. “Would you like a free flower?”
“Not right now,” some said.
“No thank you,” most said.
“Well at least they’re saying ‘no thank you’ and not just ‘no,'” Shane observed.
I’d estimate that two out of every three people said no. Some people offered us money – which, of course, we refused.
A woman who was sitting inside Starbucks saw how Shane was struggling to give away the flowers, and waved at me through the window. She wanted a flower! Shane went in – and I could see the woman reaching for her purse. I shook my head outside the window; Shane shook his head inside. She could hardly believe her good fortune – we gave her two free flowers. And all she did was ask.
She was Shane’s favorite customer.
Eventually, we gave away all the flowers. Those that took flowers were quite gracious and kind, and we were glad we’d done it.
But we had the same experience at the dog park. No one wanted free dog biscuits, either. It’s sad that we are so conditioned to feeling obligated that we can barely accept anything for free.
Not even simple human kindness.
I left Dylan alone in the house for 30 minutes while I went to pick up Shane at school. Our computers are password-protected and armed with tracking devices – so I was shocked to find that the cache (internet history) had been cleared when I got home.
“Dylan, were you using my computer while I was gone?” I asked.
“For school, yeah,” he said.
“Is that all?”
He knew I’d figured out something. “Oh, and I might have been reading your blog, too.”
Bill was calling him to help plant tomatoes. Dylan raced out as fast as his size 13 feet would carry him.
I started to seethe. He was lying to me again. And I was sitting, like a lump, knowing this and feeling stuck. My blood began a low, rolling boil.
I went outside.
Dylan and Bill were planting tomatoes, and Dylan was in the process of confessing everything to my husband. Later, Dylan told me, “He’s gentler to talk to than you are.”
This is, of course, quite true.
Dylan was explaining that he’d gotten up in the middle of the night and taken Bill’s phone out of his room. Then he’d started to search the internet – when he caught himself, and got off as fast as he could.
“I just feel like breaking the rules would be fun,” he said. “And I know that it’s stupid, but I just feel that way sometimes…. That’s why I said a prayer in the morning. I just wanted help so that I didn’t keep doing this.”
I could relate to wanting to break the rules. I have broken more than my share of rules – and while it cost me dearly in my life, it was – if nothing else – occasionally exciting.
I thought about it, though, and I realized that my way of breaking rules is lame. It’s breaking free from societal rules that can be both positive and a great investment in Dylan’s future.
“Most people lie, or cheat, or steal, if they want to break the rules,” I told him. “But the people who don’t want to get into trouble do the right things – and still do what they want to do, even if it’s not what everyone else does.”
I made a long list of people who broke all the rules without ending up behind bars: Albert Einstein, Matt Groenig, Jimi Hendrix, Oprah, George Lucas, Jackie Robinson, Eminem, Stephen King, Ghandi, Walt Disney and Abraham Lincoln – to name a few.
I’m hoping he gets the idea – breaking free from societal rules is different than breaking the rules.
A few days later, Dylan got into the car after school. He said, “This is like the third day in a row that I’ve been having a really, really good day. Back when I was thinking about breaking rules, I was like obsessed with it. But I’m not even thinking about it anymore. And it’s been like this for three days.”
I said, “Your prayer must have worked.” Dylan blinked, remembering that he had prayed for this exact result.
He said nothing, but I think he knew.
After a week without electronics, it was hard to remember why I’d grounded Dylan. I had to keep reminding myself that he’d done this terrible, dishonest thing.
Without Kik and Snapchat and Oovoo monopolizing his time, Dylan rediscovered his brother. He spends hours and hours and hours playing with Shane. They make up games and get creative and build things and invent things and talk and talk and talk. They hang out together.
His behavior has been impeccable. His teachers aren’t complaining. There have been no more suspensions or calls home. He studies and does his homework, and makes sure his work is actually turned in on time. He hasn’t had a new “zero” in weeks.
He is acting a bit like a young adult.
Sometimes he gets frustrated – like when he decided to make an electronic bird caller out of Shane’s Kindle, and was reminded that a Kindle is an electronic device, even if it belongs to Shane, and even if you’re using it to make bird calls.
But for the most part, he’s doing well. We allowed him to go to his church group (which doesn’t seem like un-grounding him, since it’s church). And we took him to see a play at his former middle school, since – long before the grounding – we promised several of his friends that we’d be there. (Those same friends went to see Dylan in his middle school play, too, so I felt justified.)
It’s hard, grounding someone I love so much. It would be much easier if I didn’t care about him at all, if I could just toss him into a corner for a few weeks and ignore him.
But he’s precious and wonderful and brilliant and fun, just like always. And it’s hard to suffocate that in favor of an age-old punishment.
Still, we are sticking to it. Mostly.
Shane and I had “special time” together one evening. I gave him choices of things to do, and he picked dinner and dessert (at separate restaurants) and two half-hour videos at home. It was a wild evening.
On our way home after dessert, Shane said, “I want to go to King’s Dominion.”
After all the fun we’d just had – although technically, it wasn’t amusement-park standard fun – I felt a bit … kicked. As if what we’d done wasn’t enough, and he was already projecting himself into a future, more-fun place.
It was an innocent comment, really. But I claimed that it was a federal offense.
“We just had a nice time, and you picked both the restaurants. We’ve done whatever you wanted to do. And when you said that about King’s Dominion, it made me feel like what we did just wasn’t enough.”
Even as I said it, I remembered.
For years and years and years, I did exactly the same thing to my parents. We would be coming home from a particularly delightful time – sled riding, perhaps, or coming home from a week at the beach. And I would pipe up from the backseat – something like, “I wish we could go to Australia.”
I don’t know if my parents remember this. But I remember thinking, this good thing is over and now I have nothing in the world left to excite me.
I have always had a tendency to depend on WAY TOO MUCH – externally – to “excite me.” I’ve always deemed something “out there” to be the answer – something far away, something just out of my reach – that would finally “make me” happy.
This was a particular problem with vacations. I loved vacations so much, I never wanted to leave. I always wanted to live wherever I went on vacation – so I would occasionally run away the night before we left. When I got older, I started fights with my vacation partner(s) the night before we were planning to leave, so as to “ruin” the vacation and (I thought) not be as sad to leave.
I nearly lost my boyfriend (now husband) after an especially good trip to Jamaica. We got into a fight so vicious, over something I can no longer recall, that I thought we might not even fly home on the same plane.
Then, one day about 35 years after it started, it stopped. I came home from a vacation and said the oddest thing.
I said, “I’m happy to be home.”
I can’t remember which vacation inspired this – but it wasn’t a bad one. I was just happier to be back home than I was to be on vacation. I think I was finally happy enough with my own real life that I prefered it to a temporary fantasy world. I know that I was at least in my thirties by then.
So I apologized to Shane since – once again – my issues caused an inappropriate reaction to his comment.
And then I said a little prayer that Shane would look inside himself more often, where true happiness is found.
We took away Dylan’s electronics for the rest of the school year – all of them, even his phone. This time, since we can’t trust him anymore, we are going to be certain that he has no access at all.
The day after the discovery, I didn’t know what to say to Dylan, who had kept his electronics hidden and still in use, and lied to me for so long. So I decided to say nothing at all. The ride to school the next morning – the long, agonizing 45-minute ride – drowned in the silence.
After 34 minutes, I finally spoke. “You have a choice,” I told him. “This can be a mistake that you made, or this can be who you are. And it is entirely your decision.”
“Won’t you want to kill me, either way?” Dylan said quietly.
“I don’t want to kill you,” I said. “You are my son, and I love you no matter what you do. I would prefer that you make good choices. But I don’t enjoy being around people who lie. I did too much of that when I was young.”
There was a pause.
Dylan almost whispered. “And now I’m young.”
I wanted to cry, scream, pull out my hair. I wanted to tell him, to show him – YOU DON’T HAVE TO SUFFER! You don’t have to CHOOSE the painful route!
But I said nothing at all. I’ve talked too much, over the past 14 years. He knows everything I have to say. I am in his head, becoming a part of his conscience, whether I said the right things or not. It’s too late now for talking. It’s too late now for fixing anything.
It’s time to just ride the waves, and see where we are when we hit the shore.
Meanwhile, there’s a pretty good chance that I’ve sunk myself into a real depression. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on with Dylan. I don’t want to write about it. I don’t want to admit that the glory days are really over, and that this is the life I will be leading from now on.
I don’t want to admit that Dylan is a typical teenager. I don’t want to admit that I couldn’t stop it from happening. In fact, I am fairly certain that it’s all my fault.
Or maybe it’s not. And maybe Dylan will choose to pull himself up, out of the gutter, start doing the right things.
So far, all he’s done is play on the trampoline with Shane. He’s lost contact with all of his friends because the electronics are no longer available to him. Parents are useless to him. Shane is all he’s got.
What this will do to Shane is anybody’s guess.