Month: June 2015
Many weeks after Dylan finished his year at private school, his report card arrived.
Dylan got 7 B’s, an A (in P.E.) and a C (in Spanish). For his high school transcript, which will eventually be sent to colleges, he has some hard-earned B’s in Algebra I and Physics.
When Dylan saw it, he could hardly contain his excitement or his disbelief: “I got a B average?!” In public school, this would have put him on the honor roll – again.
And he did it without the aid of any medication (except vitamins and amino acids). He pulled himself up – out of a deeply dug pit – with only two months to go, and brought up all of his grades – including what was a D in Physics and an F in Algebra I.
Not bad for a kid with raging ADHD who was, at one point, a major behavior problem!
The comments that come with Dylan’s report card are always interesting. We had two big surprises from the teachers this time.
First, and what kept me awake at night after we got the report card, was Dylan’s drama and music teacher. While he had all A’s and high B’s for three trimesters, she clubbed him in the knees and gave him a B for the year.
As usual, this comes from a teacher who has no patience for, or understanding of someone as bouncy as Dylan. By the end of the year, in spite of Dylan’s extreme talent in both music and drama, Dylan’s teacher simply couldn’t stand to be around him. (We know this because, during the last week of school, she sent Dylan to the office for beat-boxing only five minutes after someone else threw and smashed an apple against the wall and got only a minor warning.)
So when Dylan was paired with two other ADHD-diagnosed boys for the performance of one final Shakespearan scene, the teacher nearly lost her mind.
“Although he learned his lines, he would not rehearse the scene with his peers as needed. Unfortunately, that resulted in a lackluster final performance. He is very talented, but effective dramatic performances are developed through rehearsals.”
In other words, he knew what he was doing, but wouldn’t do it her way. Her seething came through loud and clear. She gave him a C on Shakespeare – and he thereby earned a B for the year.
But it was his 8th grade English teacher’s comments that shocked me most of all. Dylan had serious trouble turning in his work in English. It was last period – a deadly time for Dylan – and focusing was all but impossible. We’d had many meetings, and the teacher had not said a single nice word about Dylan all year.
So the English teacher’s final comments spoke volumes:
“Dylan has so much potential. His academic success is so dependent on his investment. He’s smart, talented and insightful.”
And that about sums it up.
Dylan – my ADHD-afflicted parenting challenge – is a singer.
When I say that Dylan sings, I mean he always sings. In second grade, one particularly permissive teacher said, “The only time I ever have a problem with him is when his singing gets too loud.”
“He sings during class?” I asked, knowing he sings at home constantly.
“Sure, all the time,” she said. “But I don’t mind unless it distracts the other students.”
So we’ve always known Dylan was musical. He got a starring role in the second grade musical. He started taking voice lessons in third grade. He performed solo at church and school talent shows and county fairs. He auditioned for the prestigious Children’s Chorus of Washington and went directly into the top tier – meaning he sang in some world famous venues, including six in China. He also performed O Mio Babbino Caro to a standing ovation at school.
One night, during a particularly high note of Panis Angelicus at church on Christmas Eve, Dylan’s voice cracked. Once.
It was starting to change. And that’s when Dylan determined that his singing career was over. He hopped on YouTube and learned to play piano. He took guitar class at school. He created digital music for awhile.
After two years of hiatus, Dylan took his guitar to audition for the high school choral director – who also teaches guitar class. Dylan said if he couldn’t sing, he would at least audition for Guitar 2.
But he could still sing.
The choral director was quite excited, hearing Dylan sing, and selected him for the traditionally upperclassmen’s Chamber Choir. Then he suggested that Dylan take a few lessons over the summer, to get reacquainted with his new, lower voice.
So we scoured the earth and found a voice coach we liked. Later, we learned that this voice coach – whose own singing voice has the power of a locomotive – is a Peabody graduate with 40 years of musical experience. This man is one of the most impressive musical talents I’ve ever met.
After Dylan’s first lesson, the new voice coach said that Dylan had “perfect pitch” – a term I’ve yet to understand. Apparently it is unusual. Then the coach said that most people with perfect pitch don’t have Dylan’s talent for singing.
“I’m really looking forward to working with you,” he said on our way out. “And I don’t say that about everybody.”
After his third lesson, the voice coach asked Dylan to sing a few operatic-style lines for me.
It was astounding. Dylan’s new, lower voice had a strength and power that I’d never heard come from Dylan before. My little boy sounded like a full-grown man, with an absolutely incredible range – nearly two full octaves of awesome perfect-pitch power.
When the voice coach looked at me, I had tears in my eyes.
He said, “Yeah. All the way to a B flat. You won’t find many 14-year-olds who can do that. In my 40 years of teaching music, I can tell you that it is very, very rare.”
I see Dylan every day, struggling with school work, homework, remembering simple things like shoes and a lunchbox. I know that everyone is given their unique set of challenges and gifts.
And sometimes, it is nice to just sit back and be awestruck by the gifts.
The family went camping this weekend – urban camping, I call it, with a chlorinated pool and not many hiking trails. Within the first hour, Shane and I went to a playground – a great one, with a fast slide, plenty of swings and a real merry-go-round.
“That’s not a real merry-go-round,” Shane told me. “Real ones have horses.”
“No,” I assured him. “Real ones are made of wood and you have to hang on tight while I push you!”
There aren’t any merry-go-rounds without horses in our area, so Shane had never seen one. And since I’d driven to Pennsylvania when Dylan was young, just to push him on a real merry-go-round, it had been a very long time since I’d pushed one, as well. Pushing a merry-go-round is utterly exhausting.
Anyway, while we were there, a girl who looked to be about Shane’s age, maybe slightly older, popped out of her camper and walked quickly down the hill to the playground. I noticed that while she walked, she never took her eyes off of Shane. Then she sat on a swing and stared at him. When she caught me looking at her, she halfway smiled and averted her eyes.
That girl is checking out my baby! I thought. Being female myself – and the kind who always admired her conquests from afar – I recognized the behavior immediately.
Shane was utterly oblivious.
Later, in the pool, I told him what had happened.
“I’m not sure if you’re old enough to understand this,” I said. “But when we were at the playground, there was a girl who came rushing out of her camper as soon as we got there. She was really looking at you. She sat on the swings and just stared. Do you know what I mean?”
“I guess,” he said.
“I think she thought you were really cute,” I said. “You are really cute, of course. And she was kind of checking you out.”
There was a long pause. I wasn’t sure if he understood the ramifications of what had happened. Maybe he had questions about why a girl would do this, or wondered about crushes. Maybe he’s shy himself, and has done this sort of thing before. Maybe he’s just overwhelmed by the whole boy-girl thing.
The silence seemed to last forever. I could almost see his brain processing the information. Finally, Shane spoke.
“Was she hot?”
I didn’t expect to get through Shane’s elementary school graduation without sobbing.
After all, I cried through the entire thing when Dylan graduated. My baby is going to middle school! I thought, worried sick that the three years ahead of him were going to be brutal. And they were.
But at Shane’s graduation, I felt almost upbeat. (Yes, I am still taking my amino acid.)
My baby is finally leaving elementary school! I thought. Instead of worrying about the upcoming three years for Shane, I recognized that this is an opportunity for him. He gets to choose some of his classes now. He’ll have seven different teachers, and he’ll be exposed to all the different teacher personalities. He’ll be able to sit where he wants to sit at lunchtime, instead of at an assigned table.
After school, he has the opportunity to play a variety of intramural sports: softball, baseball, basketball, football, even ultimate frisbee. If he’s not feeling up to sports, he can be in the school play, drum in the jazz band, help the school recycle on Green Team, write or take pictures for the school newspaper, or be on the Morning Show.
I guess it helps, having watched one son go through the process already. There are good points about public middle school.
It also helps that, since Shane is my youngest child, I am stepping out of my PTA role. I tried to join the middle school PTA before, but it was a lot of debate and discussion, without much else going on. There were many bake sales – and I don’t bake. I helped with the book fair, which I still intend to do. But for the most part, my PTA role is going to shrink.
When my kids were in elementary school, I did a lot. I helped with class parties. I coordinated movie night – including a school-wide poll and marketing campaign. I was the teacher appreciation person, and took in breakfast for staff every month for a year. I volunteered at book fairs, and spent hours xeroxing for teachers. I helped run the school talent show. I coordinated magic classes, sat through cultural assemblies, wrote letters for staff files, volunteered at holiday events and on field days. I chaperoned dozens of field trips. I wrote, designed and edited the school newsletter for two schools and eight years! I even designed the t-shirts for the school graduation.
I’m not even sure that’s everything.
I can’t count how many times people asked me to be PTA president – a job I would have hated beyond measure. I am a follower, first of all – not a leader. I hate PTA meetings. And I’m NOT even really a devoted PTA parent.
I’m actually quite selfish. Most of the things I did were just things I wanted for my own children – and no one else stepped up. I wrote the newsletter, for example, because I always got the dates for upcoming school events before anyone else did. It helped me to plan my own life.
So when I was watching – with awe and indelible pride – as Shane walked across the stage to receive his 5th grade diploma, my feelings of sadness were overwhelmed by a somewhat stronger emotion:
Yes, my baby is leaving elementary school. And I am, too.
“So, Dylan, are you glad you went to private school this year?”
“Why?” I asked. “I mean, what makes you glad you went there?”
“But you complained about it all year: ‘Mom, can I please go back to my old school?’ You even went and sat in a geometry class, remember?”
“Yeah, but that was before I realized how good it was at private school.”
“So what is so good about private school?”
“Well, I do have a lot of freedom,” he said. “I can get up and walk around in class. And really I can do whatever I want, instead of just sitting there.”
“So you’re glad you went because you had more freedom.”
“No, I’m glad I went because now I know it’s not the school that was the problem. I mean, I just had a lot to learn and I’m glad I learned it.”
“So that’s why you’re glad you went to private school?”
“No,” he said. “I just used to care about a lot of stupid stuff that I don’t care about anymore. And I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t gone to private school. I think it just made me who I am.”
I had to pause, and think about this.
Because it is, truly, the sum of our experiences that make us who we are – and my 14-year-old knew it intuitively.
There are a few things I would have changed about our private school experience:
- I would have found out that Dylan couldn’t take sign language before we paid the tuition, rather than trusting the admissions officer.
- I would have budgeted for the extra $400/month in travel expenses.
- I would have figured out a way to spend more time with Shane – even if that meant taking him with me in the car.
- I would not have bothered to attend the homecoming festivities.
I wish I’d had enough forethought to visit the school before it closed for the summer – but it wasn’t until the year was over that we made the decision to move Dylan from public school.
I don’t regret the decision, or the absurd amount of money we spent. I’d spent Dylan’s entire life wondering if he needed a special school to meet his special needs. And now I know that – NO – he doesn’t need a “special” school.
In fact, he mostly just needs to socialize and learn to find his way in the world – just like every other young person.
Shane is all about numbers. He likes lists and statistics and categorizing things based on numeric value.
Every Sunday morning, Shane rushes to turn on the radio. It plays twice (thank goodness) so if he misses something because of church, he can hear it on the second run-through in early afternoon. He tries hard not to miss it. The radio plays for six hours straight on Sundays.
But this is not quite enough for Shane. The countdown only happens once a week! Shane needs more. So he spends the rest of the week making his own lists of favorites: Shane’s Top 10 Favorite Modern Pop Songs, Top 14 Favorite Bands, Top 13 Favorite EDM Songs, Top 10 Favorite Country Songs, Top 15 Favorite New Modern Pop Songs (when the old list is defunct). The possibilities are endless.
And all of this is fine with me. I’m happy that he’s happy. But sometimes he expects me to choose my favorite songs, too. So I try desperately to keep up with today’s music, so that I can relate to my children.
I am a child of the seventies, who devoured pop, country, heavy metal and new wave through the eighties. I have a jukebox that plays 45 rpm records. So to say I am not “modern” would be an understatement. When the kids were born, I turned off the radio and put on Toddler Tunes instead.
So it’s a bit difficult to answer Shane’s questions sometimes.
“Mom, what’s your favorite modern song?”
“FourFiveSeconds!” I practically shout, because I adore this song as if it came from my own era. Indeed, Paul McCartney, who is 72, plays acoustic guitar on the song – which explains a lot.
“It’s way down in the countdown,” Shane tells me. At six months, this song is too old. “What’s your second favorite song?”
“Oh, I like All About That Bass,” I say.
“Well that’s really old. Do you like Dear Future Husband?”
“I do!” I say, excited to recognize Meghan Trainor’s follow-up hit. Both songs sound like they were written in 1958.
“Well it’s been out for like three months. What are your other favorite songs?”
“Yeah, but it’s going down on the countdown. What new songs do you like?”
I was feeling so proud that I’d chosen songs from this century. I had to think hard, but I finally remembered a new song I liked. I could hear the tune in my head.
“I like Bagdad!” I said.
“What?!” Shane asked. “What’s Bagdad?”
“No, sorry. It’s Bangladesh! I like Bangladesh a lot. Is that still on the countdown?”
“What’s Bangladesh?” Shane asked. Clearly, he had no idea what I was talking about.
I sighed. “You know, that song? It goes like this.” I sang a bit of the tune for him.
“You mean Budapest?” Shane said.
“Budapest! Yes! That’s it! I like that one. Is it still popular?”
“Yes,” he said.
There was a short pause.
“What other modern songs do you like?”
During the last week of school, Dylan went to bed a bit late. He was still taking his L-Tyrosine, and following a behavior chart, and supposedly maintaining a high protein diet and getting plenty of rest. (The protein and rest is essential for the L-Tyrosine to work.
But my idea of “plenty of rest” and Dylan’s idea are different. In order to get a star on his behavior chart, he has to go to bed before midnight. And he did. He went to bed at 11:45.
My idea of a reasonable bedtime – especially on a school night – is much closer to 10:00. Even 10:30 is sometimes okay. He seems unaware – but Dylan’s ADHD symptoms flare up like actual flames when he doesn’t get enough sleep.
He came downstairs late to go to school. He seemed confused about what he should be doing, even before we got in the car. He started beat-boxing within five minutes, a sure sign that he was tired. (That’s when I asked what time he went to bed.)
“I’m not really that tired,” he said – several times – during the car ride. Two minutes later, he’d go right back to beat-boxing or humming or tapping his foot against the car door or drumming on his leg.
By the time I picked him up, I wasn’t sure how he would make it through the evening. I played music in the car, which helped stop his random noises. He went straight to the piano and started playing. When I asked him to go study, he decided to do voice exercises instead.
The sounds of Italian opera over my garage never sounded so beautiful.
But really, he needed to study. He had both an algebra and a physics exam coming up – and only four days of school left, to pull both grades up for his high school transcript.
“Please, Dylan,” I begged. “You are going to be too tired to study tonight, and you only have one more night to study for both tests!”
“I’m really not that tired,” Dylan said for the umpteenth time. He wandered over to the keyboard and started playing it. (Yes, we have both a keyboard and a piano. And it’s impossible to keep him away from either of them.)
Eventually he wandered downstairs to get his book. Then he put it on the floor and walked away. He announced loudly, “I’m going up to study now!” and went all the way upstairs before he realized he didn’t have his book.
This was beginning to look like the “old” Dylan – pre-L-Tyrosine. But I saw him take it with my own eyes!
He did settle down to study then – for a little while – although I’m not sure how much he retained. And then, a few hours later, after more rambunctious behavior and spit-singing and bouncing balls all over the house, he finally decided to try to get some sleep.
“I’m still not that tired,” he said.
And then he fell asleep … in three minutes flat.
When Dylan was in kindergarten, he sat on the floor watching his school talent show.
“I want to do that,” he said without blinking.
“You want to be in the talent show?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
I thought he was out of his mind. “Okay,” I said.
So the following spring, barely 7, Dylan got up on the stage and sang. Then he did it again in second grade – the year he also sang solo in the musical.
By third grade, he hired a little backup singer. Shane, who was in kindergarten, donned sunglasses, stomped, clapped and sang with Dylan, We Will Rock You. (The video still makes me laugh.)
Dylan continued singing and acting. Shane acted in a never-released movie. Then Shane became an amateur magician, and started performing everywhere.
When I was a little girl, I barely spoke above a whisper, and I didn’t have the confidence to perform anything.
Still, I tried out for the school talent show in sixth grade. My friend Margaret and I walked in a dizzying circle, playing a tambourine and bongo drum. We sang Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman: “I am woman, hear me roar…”
We were 11.
In an act which, I now realize, could only be described as merciful, we were rejected and never performed in the show.
I was so quiet, in fact, that the chorus teacher couldn’t hear me when I auditioned for the high school chorus – and I was sitting right next to her on a piano bench. So I was rejected for chorus, too.
And my husband has always considered himself to be shy. He spends a great deal of time speaking in front of audiences, but he’s always nervous about it.
For whatever reason, though, our kids do fine on stage.
Dylan’s English teacher – who had not one single positive thing to say about Dylan all year – sent me an email that said of Dylan, “He’s so talented in speaking to a large crowd.”
This came on the heels of a note from Shane’s teacher, who also does not dole out easy compliments. Yet he has asked Shane, on more than one occasion, to present to not only his own class, but other classes as well. And Shane has also been writing a book, and reading it to the class as he finishes each chapter.
Shane’s teacher said, “He has a real talent in the whole process of creating and implementing presentations to an audience. He is so calm, cool, collected and has a presence where kids are silent and really pay attention. It has been so much fun to witness his growth.”
Then – in case that was insufficient to bring me to tears – the teacher said Shane has “great character with real depth combined with a sense of humor and an ability to get along with everyone.”
So my kids are both great on stage. What a terrific attribute to have! Presentation skills can be useful no matter what profession they choose. And being comfortable in front of an audience? Most of us would give anything just to be able to stand there without humiliating ourselves.
It brings briefly to mind the “Nature versus Nurture” debate.
In this case, I believe Nurture has knocked out Nature with one punch. And I am just so glad about that.
After Dylan’s success with L-Tyrosine as a daily supplement, I got a book called The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. I wanted to double check that Dylan was taking the appropriate dosage – which, happily, he was.
But The Mood Cure wasn’t only about L-Tyrosine.
It starts with a series of quizzes about the way a person might feel during any given day. The quizzes are titled things like “Are You Under a Dark Cloud?” and “Is Stress Your Problem?” The others asked, “Are You Too Sensitive to Life’s Pain?” and “Are You Suffering from the Blahs?”
I took all four quizzes, since I simply love to take quizzes.
I scored pretty high on the Dark Cloud quiz. I’ve always been a bit depressed, so I took the recommended amino acid – for two weeks. The book recommends stopping the amino acid if you have a hard time sleeping – which, after two weeks, I suddenly did. So I stopped. I can take it again if I get depressed again.
But first, I had to confront my real demons.
I scored very, very, very, very, very high on “Are You Too Sensitive to Life’s Pain?” Anyone who knows me will likely laugh out loud at the incredibly OBVIOUS FLASHING NEON LIGHT above my head on this one.
Am I too sensitive to life’s pain? Well, let’s see.
The first time I saw a dead dog on the side of the road, I cried for three days.
When Fonzie got a girlfriend on Happy Days (when I was 12), I became rageful and cried for another three days. I know, because I wrote about it in my diary. (For the record, I watched a movie with Henry Winkler in it last week, playing a happily married man, and I didn’t cry once.)
When a guy I liked – but barely knew – suddenly enlisted in the army and left, I crawled onto the floor of my closet, shut the doors and cried in the darkness for three days.
Actually, most of my life has been spent crying in three-day jigs – or raging at some imagined injustice – so scoring absurdly high on this quiz didn’t surprise me.
But the “essential amino acid” that was recommended tremendously surprised me. I wish I could tell you what it’s called, but I can’t pronounce it or spell it. You will have to read the book.
I took one tiny little tablet at 9 a.m. By 9:30, I felt … I would say I felt… I felt kind of …
I called Bill at work. I was scared. I’d never felt normal in my entire life. These words came out of my mouth:
“I feel like I’ve had a screw loose for my whole my life, and someone just tightened it.”
I’ve never felt normal before. Ever. I don’t mean “high” on life, or happy or even calm. I mean NORMAL.
I suddenly didn’t feel like killing everyone who cut me off in traffic. I didn’t feel like I had to be doing something at every redlight. I didn’t cry when I remembered that the dog is 7 and she might die in seven more years. I didn’t even feel like I needed a nap or a chocolate bar.
I just felt like, Hey, this is life. It’s not as bad as it usually is.
And, like Dylan with his L-Tyrosine, the effects lasted all day – with no side effects. Interestingly, the amino acid I’m taking assists my body in producing … drum roll, please … L-Tyrosine.
So apparently, I’ve had an amino acid deficiency for my entire life. Too.
I still have emotions. But I don’t feel like crying all the time. I don’t feel absurdly anxious. And I am awestruck by my own ability to function like a human being.
I think I’ll try this “normal” thing for awhile.