Month: September 2015
While wandering the halls of middle school, I ran into a student I recognized. I couldn’t quite place her, and I assumed it was because she’d grown substantially since I last saw her. In middle school, people range from tiny to monstrous, so I figured that she’d grown at least a foot.
And then I remembered her name.
“Are you Tina?” I blurted, incredulous. She’d grown maybe two feet since I’d last seen her, at least two years ago.
“I am,” she said.
“Oh my gosh!” I sputtered, like I was in the presence of greatness. “You played the guitar in the talent show! And you practically ran the show! You’re the most responsible and mature person I ever met!”
Upon saying this, I realized two things. First, I probably embarrassed her – although no one else was around to hear me – except a teacher who chimed in, “Yes, she is!”
Second, I also know two girls from another family who are equally mature and responsible. So I may have exaggerated a bit to Tina.
But the whole experience gave me reason for pause.
I remember meeting Tina when I was a supervising parent for the elementary school talent show. She played the guitar, which was nice, but she also had a real take-charge attitude backstage. She was in charge of making sure all the other students were ready when it was their turn, sending them on stage and shuttling them off.
Tina handled the show like an old pro – like a Broadway old pro. I asked Dylan about her later. “Do you know that 5th grader, Tina?”
“Who?” he asked.
“The one who makes sure you’re on stage. Tina – you know, she plays guitar?”
“Oh her,” he said. “Yeah, but she’s in third grade.”
“No she isn’t,” I said. “She was practically running the show!” Tina is a full year younger than Dylan.
“Yeah,” he said. “But she’s in third grade.”
Stunned, I had to wonder how someone can be that responsible at the age of 8. And now that’s she’s taller, I recognize that she’s related to a girl in Dylan’s grade – her sister Vivian, who is also quite responsible.
And since that long-ago talent show, I’ve gotten to know another family with two girls who are also wise, mature and responsible beyond their years.
And that’s how I learned that parenting matters.
I realize that girls are more inclined than boys to be mature. But I’ve noticed, too, that the most responsible and mature children come from responsible, mature adults.
Parents who show respect for their kids teach respect. Parents who trust their kids can trust their kids. Parents who allow their kids to be independent thinkers and doers, who don’t correct and change their kids’ choices, who guide but do not demand … those are the parents whose kids grow into wonderful adults.
Best of all, the kids learn this from Day One – so they mature early.
Unfortunately, I am realizing this way too late to fix what I’ve already messed up. I’ve been correcting my boys since they came out of the womb. I’ve been instructing and changing and demanding the entire time.
(This comes from a deep sense of insecurity, which causes me to try to control everything.)
In other words, I realize I haven’t done it all right. In fact, I’ve done a lot wrong.
But I can try, today, to respect and trust and guide. I can work on that for myself. At the very least, maybe I can become a better role model for my kids, who are maturing at their own pace.
I knew Dylan would be busy in high school. I did not, however, realize how busy he would be – or how fast it would happen.
Dylan has volunteered to work at the local Halloween attraction (scaring the wits out of people) for two months. He will work six to eight hours, twice a week. In addition, he got a small part in the school play, so he will be staying after school for hours, at least a few times a week.
In addition, he has decided to try tennis. For some odd reason, I thought this would be his only extracurricular activity this fall – so he is scheduled for tennis once a week, all the way through January.
And in case some time accidentally got leftover in his schedule, he started with a new church youth group last week, and they need a guitar player for the Praise Band. Dylan volunteered. He did, after all, take guitar once a week at school last year.
So I decided to get him guitar lessons.
I texted his voice coach – the highest-notch teacher he has, who is honing his exceptional singing skills. Dylan sounds like a full-grown man when he’s with his voice coach, and possibly a full-grown man who sings at the Met.
“I think we’re going to have to take a break on voice,” I said. “With all the other things he has to do, I just don’t think he can squeeze it in.”
The voice coach called me.
“Who’s teaching him the guitar?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, having Yelped the situation, “I’m emailing some guy named Billy.”
The voice coach was very calm. “I’ve been teaching guitar for 55 years,” he said. “So some guy named Billy could do it, but…”
“We’d love to have you teach him!” I practically screamed. “We could combine voice with guitar!” This teacher is – to put it mildly – incredibly musically gifted, Peabody-educated and a true artist in his field. Plus, he’s a great teacher and Dylan likes him.
“I can do that,” he said. “We’ll work it out. I think if Dylan sticks with me for four years, when it’s time for him to apply for scholarships, he’ll be ready for that.”
“When that time comes,” I said, “you will have to point me in the right direction. I didn’t even know there were voice scholarships.”
“There are for the kids who are exceptional,” he said. “They aren’t there for everybody. But I think you know that your son is special.”
I almost fell over when he said that. In all the hoopla over Dylan’s schedule, I had forgotten that Dylan was special. I had forgotten that he was musically gifted, incredibly brilliant, sweet, kind and funny.
I had forgotten that my own son was special.
When I got off the phone, Dylan was playing the piano. He’d taught himself something by Lincoln Park – a phenomenal piano version of an otherwise electronic song. When I walked in, he started playing one-handed and without looking at the keys.
I told him what his voice coach had said, and gave him a hug.
“I don’t want you to forget how special you are,” I said.
I’m not sure exactly which emotion caused my tears.
Shane wrote a song, which he decided to sing for me at about 9:20 p.m. In spite of the late hour, I listened intently. Shane had written a very nice song – good lyrics, catchy tune.
“That face you are using makes me think that song isn’t any good,” he said.
“Sing the first part again,” I said.
He did, and I sang it back to him – hoping I was slightly more in tune than he’d been. I didn’t do a very good job.
Dylan came in from the room next door.
“Are we singing?” he asked.
“Have him sing it,” I said to Shane. “Sing the first line for him. Dylan, you repeat what Shane sings.”
Shane sang a line, slightly off tune. Dylan repeated it with perfect pitch. It sounded spectacular.
After singing the song through once, Dylan said to Shane, “I can’t write songs at all. This is the last song I wrote…” Then Dylan sang something, and rapped something, and the lyrics were about a tire in the woods and a kangaroo and they really didn’t make much sense.
“You guys need each other desperately,” I told them. “You make a fantastic team.”
Shane went to bed, and I put some laundry in the washer. When I came out of the laundry room (maybe three minutes later), I stopped to say goodnight to Dylan. He asked if I wanted to hear the song he’d written on his iPad.
“Sure,” I said. It was 9:45 p.m. And again, in spite of the late hour, I listened intently. It was electronic music with a catchy tune, no lyrics.
“That’s really nice,” I said. “It sounds familiar.”
“It’s background music,” Dylan said.
“Background music for what?”
“For Shane’s song,” he said.
I almost fell out of the bed. Now that he mentioned it, indeed it was Shane’s song.
“You have to play this for Shane,” I told him.
We went into Shane’s room, where he was supposed to be sleeping. In the dark I said, “Listen to this.”
The music started to play. Both boys started singing the beginning part of the song.
“Sing when I point to you,” Dylan said. The music continued. Dylan pointed. Shane started singing his song.
It was a perfect fit. Dylan started harmonizing a little. The song wasn’t quite finished, but the two of them, together, with the background music – they sounded like a boy band, right there, in Shane’s twin bed, just before 10:00 at night.
In less than an hour, they’d created a pop hit.
I just stood, and stared, and listened, and cried.
In my dream…
I don’t know what city I’m in, but I know that I have overstayed my welcome. I’m out of money, out of time. It is time for me to go home, and I need to hurry.
I run outside into a city I’ve never seen. And like in many of my dreams, I realize that I’m on a college campus.
I want to find the Metro – the D.C. area subway – but I have no idea where there might be a Metro station. I keep running and looking, but there is nothing to see. There are no signs, and no helpful strangers. The city is shaded gray and black, and I am looking for a big, red “M” for “Metro.”
I hear a train, so I run to a platform. It is an Amtrak train, but Amtrak would take me too far away. In spite of my confusion, I think I am closer to home than that. Then I see a Metro train pulling into the station.
I decide to get on. I walk up to it as the doors open, and start to step on – then I realize that I don’t know which direction it is going. I read some signs, but don’t recognize any of the stops. And I don’t know which way is home. I take a step back, off the train.
Another train pulls up. It is the tiny, open-air, ride-on train from a farm where we vacationed with our kids a few years ago. The train is so small that only elementary-school-aged kids will fit in the seats.
I can’t take that train home either.
I suddenly realize I’m at the wrong platform, maybe the wrong station altogether. It is late, getting dark, and I’m still in some unfamiliar college town. I’m even more lost than I was before. So I start running, hoping to get to the right train before it gets dark, but I am running aimlessly with no hope of finding what I need.
Then my alarm goes off, and I wake up worried. I think I still need to find my way home. But I am home, in my bed, safe and sound.
And apparently, I am subconsciously very, very lost.
Dylan wanted to be an engineer when he was younger.
We bought him every building kit known to man: blocks, train tracks, marble tracks, hydraulic kits, electronics kits and Lego robotics. He built amazing structures with all of them. And when he wasn’t building inside, he was building things outside – mostly “rides” that Shane would be forced to test drive.
Dylan had plans to go to MIT – (“Mom, what’s the best engineering college in the world?”) – and took two engineering classes in middle school. Dylan gave up his engineering dream when he realized it required math and forethought – two things he didn’t enjoy using.
Meanwhile, Shane wanted to be a magician. But after three years of obsession with magic tricks, he suddenly stopped performing, almost overnight. He didn’t turn to anything new, really, but Shane started fiddling with stuff that he found around the house.
At first, he built marble tracks with his friends. Then he built marble tracks with Dylan. Now Shane is building marble tracks every day. They are long, complex, jumping-over-stuff marble tracks. They are combination tracks, sometimes where the marble transfers mid-track to a completely different track. Shane has made tracks that I couldn’t have conceived in my wildest notions. I had no idea marbles could do such things!
Often, the marble tracks fall down, or get knocked over by a dog, or just collapse in mid-build. Shane – who used to give up easily – doesn’t give up. He sighs. Sometimes he complains. But mostly, he just starts over and builds a new track.
I am awestruck by his patience, by his imagination, by the complexities he’s both developed and conquered. Whereas Dylan’s multitude of tracks explored speed and distance, Shane’s tracks tend to favor curves, drops, tricks, and veering up or around before dropping down.
So I said, “Shane, you could actually do something like this for a job when you grow up. You could design roller coasters and then ride them!”
“I like to ride roller coasters,” he said.
“I know – but maybe you could design your own. STEM starts next week.”
Dylan was in STEM for two years, so Shane knows that the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics club is a place to design and build robotics with friends.
“Would you be interested in joining STEM this year?” I asked.
“Not really,” he said, never looking up from his track.
“Are you sure you don’t want to try it? Wouldn’t you like to build a robot with a team?”
“No,” he said. “Why would I want to work with a team? I just like building tracks by myself.”
And that was the end of Shane’s engineering career.
I am looking into American Coaster Enthusiasts instead.
The kids make their own lunches, but I make their sandwiches (fresh!). Last year, they also made their own breakfasts, but now I make breakfast, since it gives me a tad of time with them before school.
One morning, I attempted to do too much. In addition to making breakfasts and lunches, I decided to hard-boil some eggs. I had French toast already cooking, so I filled up a pot with water. I walked across the kitchen with five eggs.
Oops! I dropped an egg on the floor. The dog was still asleep, so I left it there while I put in the remaining eggs to boil – and went back for a fifth egg. I turned on the heat and walked around the demolished egg for awhile.
With two burners going, I washed some grapes and put the (all natural! no caramel coloring!) syrup on the table. I finished Dylan’s French toast, put it on a plate and grabbed a fork. The water started to boil, so I pushed the pot off the heat and set a timer. Then I cleaned up the runny egg mess from the middle of the floor.
Dylan came downstairs as I was finishing on my hands and knees. He walked over to get a fork.
“I have a fork for you,” I told him. Now where did I put that fork? “Oh, here it is,” I said, reaching for it.
“HHHHHUUUUUUUAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!” I gasped in pain.
I’d somehow left the fork on the still-flaming-hot electric burner, where the boiling eggs had been only seconds before.
And then I’d tried to pick up the (stainless steel!) fork.
I’d burned the heck out of at least one finger, maybe more. The pain was so extreme, I didn’t know how many fingers were injured.
I raced for ice and started begging Dylan to do everything. I asked him to turn on the computer so I could find out what to do for a burn. I asked him to drain the water from the eggs when the timer started dinging.
Shane came downstairs in the middle of the hoopla. “Something’s wrong with my alarm,” he said. “The radio won’t go off and it says ‘0:59.'”
“Sorry Shane,” I said. “It sounds like you hit the sleep timer. It will go off when it gets to zero.” He wandered away.
I checked the internet. “Do not use ice,” it said. Oops. “Use cool running water until it the pain subsides.”
The pain did not subside.
Using a spatula, I carried the offending fork to the sink, where Dylan “killed it” with cold water.
“I want to make sure it never happens again,” he said. (This was my favorite moment of the morning.)
Dylan had three minutes to get out the door and I still hadn’t made his lunch. I painfully slopped peanut butter on bread and screeched at him to put it in a (reusable!) bag so I could get my fingers back into cool water.
Dylan finished making his lunch and raced out the door. Shane came downstairs and complained that his French toast was cold.
I was amazed that it was even cooked. I was soaking my fingers in a bowl of cool water, which I carried around while looking for aloe vera.
“Just put it in the microwave,” I told Shane. I explained the burn, whined a bit, and threw his lunch together with one hand while he ate.
Long story short, I have a minor, second-degree burn on one finger. And the kids got to school just fine.
Shane hand-delivered his letter to the Morning Show supervisor.
I’d walked him in, to show him where the studio is located, and we waited so that I could show him which adult was the Morning Show teacher.
Meanwhile, one of Dylan’s old teachers saw me – and came up to me with arms outstretched.
“How is Dylan doing?” she asked excitedly. “Is this his little brother?”
Shane smiled shyly but politely. I said, “It is – this is Shane! And Dylan’s doing great! We were just talking about you yesterday!”
At about the same time, the Morning Show teacher appeared in the hallway. I pointed him out to Shane. Then I started yammering on with Dylan’s former science teacher, forgetting the entire reason that I’d come into the school. We chatted like long lost pals.
Next thing I knew, the science teacher was headed to her room – and Shane was headed off with his backpack down the hall.
“Shane!” I called. “Come here!”
“Okay,” Shane said, hesitantly coming back to me.
“Did you give him the letter?”
“So what happened?”
“Nothing,” he said. He seemed anxious to go.
“Okay. But you gave him the letter. So where are you going?”
“He said I could stay and watch,” Shane said. “I have to put my backpack in my locker.”
“Oh!” I said. “Okay, go! Have a great day!”
Shane had taken care of everything. He was allowed to stay and watch!
That evening, I asked him how it went. “Fine,” he said.
“Did you ask the teacher if you should come back on Tuesday?” (All this happened on the Friday before a three-day weekend.)
“No,” he said.
“Well, what did he say when you left?”
“Nothing,” Shane said.
Three days later, over breakfast, Shane suddenly asked if I could drive him to school so that he could go to Morning Show.
“Sure,” I said, astutely aware that Shane had not been officially invited back. But I wasn’t going to keep him home if he wanted to try again.
On the way to school, I reminded Shane to do the right thing. I said, “You need to ask your teacher if you are part of the show or not.”
“Okay,” Shane said. “But last time, he just told me they needed more help in crew, so he told me to go in there and work.”
“So you’re on the crew?” I asked. How did he not tell me this?
“I guess so,” he said.
And that – I think – is how Shane joined the Morning Show.
Dylan stayed with his grandparents for the weekend and I had a “special” vacation weekend with Shane. During this time, I went to visit my husband during a work conference near the Bay. We got there late on Friday and left on Sunday morning – and it rained nearly all day on Saturday.
Here is what I have learned:
- Shane only wants to watch TV. He would be fine sitting in a hotel room, watching TV for 16 hours.
- When Shane finally decides to do something other than watch TV, he is perfectly happy with whatever it is – a game, a walk, a snack. The trick is to get him to agree to do something different.
- Sleeping with Shane is much more difficult, now that he is 11. He takes up way too much space on the bed.
The day after I arrived home, we needed to pick up some concert tickets that Dylan won. So I drove the boys to D.C. in the car. It’s not a long drive, but it’s long enough. Having not seen Dylan for awhile, I was out of practice. Here is what I learned in the one-hour car trip:
- Dylan’s normal teenage sense of humor is always on my nerves. I spent the entire trip reprimanding Dylan for being rude to me and Shane.
- There is nothing, nothing, nothing I can do to change Dylan’s need to be right all the time.
- Shane will never not defend Dylan – and even if he is hurt by Dylan’s words, he will not fight back. Whatever Dylan says or does to Shane is okay with Shane.
When I came home, I whined to my mother about how she “put up with” Dylan for two days while I was gone. She said he was wonderful – kind, polite and mature.
I said that I left the kids at the park because I couldn’t stand them anymore.
So she reminded me Dylan needed a Job.
I had forgotten that getting Dylan focused on something of importance for an hour can keep him focused for up to three consecutive days!
So when Dylan comes home, he will be creating a restaurant for the family, complete with a menu, and making lunch for us. This is something Dylan loves to do – and he is quite good at it – so it should be a rollicking success.
Shane’s middle school has a wonderful, student-run program called “The Morning Show.” In lieu of standard principal-fed announcements over an intercom, they have a TV broadcast that goes into all of the classrooms by way of each room’s Promethean board.
Dylan worked on the morning show. He ran graphics and credits, and sometimes put the announcements into the teleprompter. Students also run the teleprompters in the studio, where students also anchor the news and run the giant TV cameras. Other students do mic checks, record the program and yell “cut” when they go off the air.
It’s a great opportunity and a lot of fun for anyone interested in the inner workings of television. Unfortunately, sixth graders can’t take part until after the mid-January auditions. It was hard to wait for Dylan – and even harder for Shane, who has been longing to be an announcer, and who is extremely interested in videography.
So it came as a complete surprise when, once again, three of Shane’s best friends suddenly appeared on “The Morning Show” during the first week of school.
For anyone following the blog closely, these same three friends were all patrols last year, too. And Shane – who was oddly overlooked for patrol duty – sat alone outside every day, waiting for the doors to open, while every single one of his friends “patrolled” their elementary school.
Now, with no warning, three kids who’d never even mentioned an interest in the Show were pulled from the vast pool of 300+ sixth graders, and plopped into the Show, four months early and without so much as an audition.
Shane came home from school and told me about it, his eyes glistening just a bit.
“So I guess they’re all on ‘The Morning Show’ now,” he said. He tried to act nonchalant.
I was on the computer so fast, it made my own head spin. I emailed the man in charge – a really nice guy – and begged for an explanation. Whether or not he appreciated it, I even told him the back-story about Shane’s frequently getting overlooked for things for which he is perfectly suited.
The overworked teacher responded very quickly:
“Please encourage your son to write to me directly about the sorts of jobs he is interested in doing (reporter/anchor, camera, sound, captions/teleprompt, etc.), if I have an opening, I will consider taking him in early instead of waiting until winter.”
So, there’s hope that, this year, Shane will somehow be … well, not as overlooked. We shall see.
After day two of school, I found Dylan in his room, awake, with his light on. “School” means that he’s got to get up at 6 a.m. Plus, he seemed to be doing something quite hastily when I arrived.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m just turning off my lights to go to bed,” he claimed.
“Okay,” I said. “What were you doing before I got here?”
He seemed to realize his error – but still wanted to cover it up.
“I was just saying goodnight to my friends,” he said – meaning “I was using electronics after 10:00.”
“You were on electronics?!” I asked, astounded. He’d done so well, all summer, putting away the gadgets at his assigned time. And now, only two days after the school year started, he was back at it again.
“Um, yeah…” he stammered. “What time is it?
His red-LED-light skull clock glared knowingly in the corner: 11:36.
“Seriously?” I said. “You expect me to believe you have no idea what time it is?”
He glanced at his clock. “Oh, yeah, well I don’t really look at the clock.”
Long story short: Day Two and Dylan has already lost his electronics privileges for the week.
We will try again during Week Two and see how it goes.
Meanwhile, I wonder what it is about the school year that creates so much stress, so much angst, or so much excitement that the kid who broke almost no rules this summer is suddenly breaking them again.
Is it the influence of his friends, again?
I remember in preschool when I blamed all of Dylan’s problems on Nick. I couldn’t wait until Dylan got out of preschool, so he could get away from that darned troublemaker, Nick.
Midway through the first month of kindergarten, I realized that Dylan was the one causing the trouble. Poor, blameless Nick hasn’t done a thing wrong since.
Maybe it’s just the sheer freedom of being away from parental rules all day – and being back with a group of kids whose rules aren’t quite so strict.
Do I change the rules? Do I change the consequences? Do I get stricter, or more lenient?
As with everything else, I just have to guess. And then I have to take the next step forward.