Month: October 2015

There Are Real, Live People Everywhere.

So I went to Target.

Target always costs me more money and time than I expect, but I love it. I got Halloween cookies, detergent, six bottles of hand soap, four giant bottles of shampoo (save $5 when you buy four!) and two bonus undershirts in my jumbo pack of youth classic white crew necks.

In my travels, I got behind a woman on her cell phone. She was pushing slowly and talking loudly:

“You are totally freaking out right now! Don’t freak out. This is totally not what I thought you would do. You have no reason to do this! You can’t say that. Seriously, no! Stop freaking out!”

She turned left into the clothing section as I was trying to pass her.

“Sorry,” I mumbled meekly as she rolled her eyes at me, as if were causing her angst.

In the checkout line, I was third in line behind a different woman on her cell phone. She was buying, among other things, organic cookies. She seemed to have no idea that there were any other humans within earshot:

“No, he has to deal with it! He’s never going to get anyone’s respect unless he deals. I mean, he’s got to raise those kids, you know? And it’s his problem. He’s the one who wanted a divorce, and now he has to live with it. I know! So if he doesn’t start taking some responsibility, he’s going to end up in worse shape than he is right now!”

She talked non-stop. She went on and on and on. As she took her receipt, the cashier tried desperately to tell the woman about a survey she could take.

“My name is at the bottom of the receipt!” the cashier said cheerily. The woman never stopped talking, not for one second. Finally, she checked out.

I stepped up to the register, my phone still safely in my pocket, where it had been for the entire trip.

The cashier and I had an actual face-to-face conversation. We discussed dipping different things in chocolate, which all sounded delicious. The cashier suggested that cheese dipping was also good – but not for cereals, or oatmeal.

“Oh, and not for pancakes!” I agreed. “Breakfast foods should not be dipped in cheese.”

“But they do work with chocolate!” she said.

I had a lot of stuff, so we had plenty of time to talk.

Meanwhile, the woman behind me, who had a large supply of 100-calorie pretzel packs, was fuming on her cell phone.

“This is just not going to fly. I will be there on Friday and everything had better be done by then. No, you tell him that there are no more excuses! It’s been way too long already!”

Then she rudely hung up, and dove right back into the phone with her face, checking messages. She never looked up at the cashier, even as she pushed her cart forward.

I guess this is nothing new in our techno-world, but it seems sad to me that no one can be bothered to get off the phone long enough to smile at, or chat with, the cashier – or anyone else in the store.

Or the world.

Even at Target, and even when you’re not paying attention to your surroundings, there are real, live people everywhere.

I Hate My Computer Class.

“Oh by the way, I hate my computer class,” Dylan said after school one day. “I have no idea what I’m doing in there.”

Computer class. This is the first class of the IBCP program. This is the class for which I clawed and gnashed and struggled and fought the administration. This is the introductory class, the base for all future computer classes.

This is the class Dylan begged to take. “I’d much rather take computers,” he’d said.

But he started the class late – since there was no computer science IBCP pathway until two weeks after school started. So he has no basic understanding of what coding can accomplish.

“We just put like parentheses and underscores and words and stuff, and I have no idea why we are doing it,” Dylan said.

He doesn’t know that those lines of code can create a game or a story or a picture. They can make things happen on your screen, or in another room, or on another continent. They can invent something spectacularly new, or re-invent something dull and lifeless to add new life. Those lines of code can create fun and beauty and order and chaos. Those lines of code are instructions for … well, for the whole world.

But all he sees are lines on a screen. He doesn’t know yet what they mean.

He went through something similar in engineering, though. He wanted to be an engineer, so he took introductory engineering classes in middle school. He wanted to build things that could fly, drive, swim; he wanted to make things move.

But he didn’t want to map out his ideas on a piece of paper. He didn’t want to draw a design first, or do measurements. He just wanted to take raw material and create.

And now he wants to create on the computer – but he doesn’t want to learn how to do it. He doesn’t want to stop and take the time and find out how to create.

He has no patience for details. And yet, he has a mind like Einstein. Except Einstein had the patience to – if nothing else – teach himself how to create.

Einstein never did well in school. But I can’t help but wonder if Einstein would have dropped out of computer coding class.

It Will Make All the Other Teachers Feel Bad.

With Homecoming-type festivities in full swing, both boys are experiencing new types of “Spirit Week” at school.

For Shane, middle school “spirit” is, sadly, nothing like elementary school spirit. In elementary school, kids trip over themselves trying to out-spirit the other kids. They adore spirit week.

In middle school, something … shifts.

The kids become suddenly way too cool to dress up – but the concepts are so tempting that a lot of the sixth graders still give it a valiant effort.

Pajama Day is always popular. School spirit is popular, too. And this week, Shane gets to wear his Halloween costume all day (without the mask – NO MASKS! is the rule.)

But Shane’s school has a new theme this year: “Dress Like Your Favorite Teacher Day.”


Most of the teachers just dress like people. They wear casual clothes, but not sloppy. And Shane’s favorite teacher is a woman.

“Should we email your English teacher and ask what she’s wearing on Wednesday?” I asked Shane, only half joking.

“I don’t think that day is a good idea,” he said. “If you dress like your favorite teacher, it will make all your other teachers feel bad.”

Somehow I never thought of that. Shane’s heart is always in the right place.

For Dylan, high school “spirit” is substantially less spirited than it was in middle school. Monday was Costume Day – and he had no idea if he should dress up, or not. So he shoved a cape and hat into his backpack and carried it around with him all day.

“Some of the kids really dressed up!” he exclaimed at the end of the day. “But most people just wore, like, superhero shirts and stuff.”

So now we know.

We got an email that mentioned the class with the most spirit getting some kind of reward. The email said that the freshman class always loses.

So I was surprised when Dylan said, “I think the freshmen dressed up more than any of the other classes this week.”

I wonder if this is because of the email threatening that freshmen would lose.

Either way, school spirit may not be what it was in elementary school – but it still exists.

When He Needs Me, I Won’t Be There!

gymWhen Dylan was two, and I was pregnant with Shane, we took a Fun Fit class. This gymnasium-based class involved a lot of running and jumping, and was perfect for my active toddler. Being rather fat, I didn’t do a lot of jumping – but wanted to make sure Dylan’s year was perfect.

I called it Dylan’s “last year,” because it was the last year I would spend with only Dylan. Soon, I thought, I would have another baby – and my attention would be divided. This concerned me – to say the least – and I was constantly aware of the fact that I would soon “abandon” Dylan.

One of the moms at Fun Fit had two children – one who was jumping around wildly with the other kids, and one who was brand new and mostly asleep in the covered stroller by the door. But one day, right in the middle of some serious toddler jumping, that covered baby woke up.

I watched the mom race toward the baby, cooing and soothing as best she could amidst the squeals and thumps of the class. Then I turned to look at her two-year-old son, in the midst of the chaos, still jumping and laughing.

Suddenly, while everyone else was still going strong, that little boy stopped. His eyes widened and he his face got very grim.

“Mom?” he called quietly – then louder. “Mom? Mom! MOM! MOMMY!” He had no idea where she’d gone, and was starting to shriek.

I glanced at the mom, soothing the baby 50 feet away. I glanced back at the child, still utterly panic-stricken.

And I started to cry.

I won’t be there when Dylan calls, I thought. When he needs me, I won’t be there!

I thought of that little boy often, of the mom soothing the infant while he panicked. Mere moments later, of course, everything was fine. But I was not fine. I remained hyper-vigilant that I would never do that to my first-born, who needed me as much as my newborn would – and did.

Then Shane came along and I had to tell Dylan to stop yanking the baby’s arm, stop sitting on the baby’s head – stuff like that. I had to quiet Dylan so that Shane could sleep – although it rarely worked, so Shane learned to sleep amidst chaos. And I showed Dylan how to help me teach Shane, as he grew.

“This is your sippy cup, Shane,” little Dylan would say. “And this is how you drink!” And Dylan would shove that sippy cup right into Shane’s shocked face.

And of course, there were moments that I had to tend to the baby when Dylan also needed me.

But mostly, the baby tended to himself. The older Shane got, the less he needed me. He was dressing himself at two. He was showering by himself at four. And he was getting himself entirely ready for school – and bed – by the age of 10.

I never neglected Dylan. In fact, if anything, I neglected Shane.

Dylan still demands – and gets – more than his share of attention.

“Dylan gets more blogs than me,” Shane will say, counting – always counting. Then, in gleeful discovery, he’ll say, “Oh here’s one about me!”

I think of this when I sit down to write.

I think of how worried I was, how tearful, that I wouldn’t be there for Dylan. Now I worry that I haven’t been there enough for Shane.

I think about the two boys being best friends now.

And I think about how beautifully Shane has developed – probably because I allowed him to grow.

The Quarter is Coming to an End.

After all summer with so few problems, it is surprising how much has gone awry in such a short first quarter.

Dylan is doing so, so, so, so much better than even last year, where they were still hand-holding him in private school. He’s also doing way better than he did in 7th grade, when he rarely finished his work, and almost never turned it in.

This year, Dylan is actually doing his homework. He takes a quick break and then gets right to it, sometimes taking three hours to complete everything. He is getting his class work done, too. And he’s starting to learn to study – or at least, attempting to learn to study – so he’s doing much better on many of his tests.

But sometimes he doesn’t know that a test is coming. Sometimes he knows that a test is coming, but doesn’t know that it’s a two-day test.

And many, many, many times, he simply has no idea what is due. So the missing work piles up – and his grades are suffering because of it.

At his brightest moments, which are many, Dylan gets 100% on his assignments. He does phenomenal work. He gets high B’s and A’s without much effort. So his grades are often very high.

Then, quite randomly and without any provocation, there’s a ‘Z’ or an ‘E’ or just a zero.

When I look it up on the computer, his grade for any one class often looks like this:

100      A

91.3     A

31.2     E (late)

100      A

100      A

0         Z (missing)

98.7     A

12.1     E (late)

87.6     B

100      A

0           Z (missing)

88.6     B

100      A

These are not his real grades, but the seesaw effect is very real. And I am getting a bit seasick from all of it.

Finally, after spending years following up on every assignment with every teacher while begging him to do the same, it is finally too late for anything to be done about this. I can’t help him anymore. He’s on his own. And when things are late, most teachers won’t accept it at all.

His biology teacher recently posted a slew of grades. Dylan was missing so many assignments that his grade plummeted from a very high B to a low C. He was missing a ton of things.

And she wouldn’t allow him to turn them in late.

And the quarter is coming to an end.

And he’s not going to get a good grade for the end of the quarter.

How, I think, oh HOW can we possibly remedy this situation once and for all?

The only thing I’ve told him for the past three years is to talk to his teacher at the end of class.

Please, I say. Just ask your teacher before you leave the room: what was due today? And then TURN IT IN. 

I have begged. I have pleaded. I have instructed. I have demanded. I have cried and yelled and screamed. I have been deathly silent and utterly mute. None of these things have worked.

We did medication, charts, stickers, rewards, punishments, consequences, consequences, CONSEQUENCES!  But none of those consequences – no matter how harsh, or how rewarding – have inspired him to finally say, “What was due today?” to his teachers.

So now the grades are (as they always have been) his consequences.

And all I can do is sit and watch. And wait. And see.


Dylan came home from his scarer job at Field of Screams with an interesting story. Apparently, he and his colleagues had been insulting the customers.

His boss – a woman who takes no crap – got complaints about their behavior.

Dylan’s colleagues – who are between four and ten years older than he is – were nowhere to be found when she decided to unload her wrath.

“If I ever hear of you doing anything like this again, you’re out of here!” she told Dylan, who was standing alone, as he often does.

The people who help him with his section of the trail often gallivant about, not doing what they’re told. So they weren’t there to be reprimanded – not that they’d care if they lost their jobs.

But Dylan wants to work at Field of Screams. He gives it everything he has. He puts his whole heart and soul into it.

Unfortunately, he is only 14.

“I thought I was allowed to say whatever I wanted, as long as I was in character,” Dylan said later.

“There’s no reason, ever, to be rude,” I told him. “Being negative and insulting might be fun for you, but even in a situation where you are acting like someone mean, you don’t ever have to actually be mean.”

I described the scariest thing that happened to me on that same trail – years earlier, when I dared to traverse it, squeezing Bill’s hand way too hard the whole time. “Some guy walked right up to me, looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘I LIKE YOUR HAT’ in this majorly creepy voice. It scared the crap out of me. But see? You can be nice and terrifying at the same time.”

Dylan took it to heart. He scared the heck out of people all night the next night.

“I complimented everybody the whole time,” he said. “I went right up to someone and said, ‘YOU LOOK LOVELY!'”

He sounded a bit creepy, just repeating what he’d done.

And he learned a valuable lesson: you can – simultaneously – be a perfect gentleman and a complete psycho.

The Go-lilla Kicked Da Gwass!

As I reflect on Dylan’s new job – that of “scarer” at the Halloween-themed Field of Screams – I can’t help but think about his interesting method for combating fear.

As someone who is utterly consumed by fear much of the time, I find Dylan’s response to be amazing.

I first noticed it when he was just a toddler – maybe three years old. One summer day, my parents took Dylan to the zoo, where he gleefully raced up to the gorilla enclosure. Indoors, the enclosure is entirely made of glass, and the gorilla was sitting up against the glass, so Dylan was able to stand right next to the giant, furry creature.

Quite suddenly, though, the 400-pound animal stood up and kicked its foot against the glass, right where Dylan stood, sending a terrified toddler running back to his grandparents with panic in his eyes. In addition to the sheer startle effect, little Dylan had no idea why such a darling furr-ball would do such a thing.

(This tempts me to write a lengthy expose on caging wild animals for our enjoyment … but I won’t.)

When Dylan got home, he wanted to tell me what had happened. He was breathless, with wide toddler eyes.

Still struggling with his R’s and L’s he said, “The go-lilla kicked da gwass!” His voice got very high on the word “kicked,” and he demonstrated with his little foot what that gorilla did.

Over the next few days, he repeated that phrase two dozen times, often out-of-the-blue. “The go-lilla kicked da gwass!” he would say, during his bath, over dinner, while running in the yard.

At our next visit to the library, Dylan asked if there were any books about gorillas. We’d read “Goodnight, Gorilla,” by Peggy Rathmann a hundred times. But he wanted non-fiction, too, so he could study the photos of real, live gorillas.

In September, he brought home a Scholastic book from his school book fair – about gorillas. And by October, for Halloween, he only wanted to be one thing for Halloween.

He went trick-or-treating as a gorilla.

Dylan took the fear that could have defeated him as a toddler and examined it – studied what he feared, got to know it, explored it in as much depth as any tiny person could possibly do. Instead of internalizing the fear and carrying it with him – becoming afraid of loud noises, or of animals, or of zoos perhaps – he chose to think about it and determine whether or not it should defeat him.

He decided, after much ado, that it should not.

And so, after maybe six months, Dylan went on his way, unafraid of gorillas. I’ve seen him repeat the pattern many times over, since he was three. And now he is working backstage at a place that is purposefully frightening – a place that has intrigued and alarmed him for many years.

He’s tackling it head-on. And he’s loving it.

We Just Don’t Have the Numbers.

After many, many months of my planning Dylan’s entire high school schedule for him last spring, we finally had a schedule that would allow him to enroll in the IBCP program for video production. This means he gets the benefit of the International Baccalaureate classes, as well as a special certificate focusing on one specific subject – in this case, video production.

The IBCP program is offered for engineering students (our original plan), culinary arts, justice, and video production.

At an orientation meeting in February, the IB coordinator guessed that there also might someday be an IBCP for computer science.

Dylan would have loved the computer science program – far more so than video production – so I started emailing her last February about it.

“What are the chances that my incoming freshman will be able to do the IBCP program in computer science?”

She responded politely that she didn’t know yet. So I pestered her for months, until I almost couldn’t pester her anymore.

With nothing resolved, we tried to sign up Dylan for the introductory computer science class, just in case.

The registrar said they only had enough students enrolled to offer the class for one semester. Even if we enrolled Dylan, half a class wouldn’t be enough if the computer science IBCP program became a reality. I almost gave up.

In June, just before school was out, I tried one last time. “Please let me know,” I begged again.

“I don’t have the numbers yet. Email me over the summer.”

This was her cryptic way, I think, of telling me to buzz off. So I did not email her over the summer.

Then, when the teachers finally went back to work in late August, I emailed her. Technically, it was still summer – but they had to “know the numbers” by that point. And indeed, she finally emailed me back.

“We just don’t have the numbers. It’s not going to happen.”

So I gave up on computer science for Dylan. Finally. He was stuck with video production.

Dylan came home from his first day of school and said, “Why did you put me in Journalism?”

“I didn’t put you in Journalism,” I said.

“I went to Video Production and they said I was in Journalism,” he said.

At Back-to-School Night, I discovered that his Journalism teacher had no idea how to work the equipment in the TV Production studio. “Don’t worry,” she assured the parents. “I’ll have someone else to help me teach during those two weeks.”

Video Production class had been squashed under a Journalism heading – even for my son, who struggles mightily with writing and desperately needed a hands-on class during that time period.

I wrote yet another email to the IB coordinator. My email basically shrieked that I was not happy with Journalism being the “only” Video Production option – and what were we going to do to remedy the situation?!

Two days went by.

I got another cryptic email.

“I would like to talk to you about this. Please call me as soon as possible.”

I called her maybe 45 seconds after her email came in, ready for a fight.

“Aren’t you the parent who is interested in the computer science IBCP?” she said immediately, ignoring my lengthy, shrieking email.

“Uh, yes,” I stammered.

“It’s a GO,” she said. “We’re starting that program this year. Would your son still be interested in getting the computer science IBCP?”


“Yes,” I said. “He sure would.”

And so, now, Dylan is enrolled – and having a blast.

Shane Always Seems Young.

I leaned over to kiss Shane’s head and realized, He’ll always seem young.

Kids have a certain smell, a sweet and darling and wonderful smell, that starts when they are born. I used to believe that it was the smell of baby shampoo, but then Johnson’s changed their formula and that theory went kaplooey. Then I thought it was the smell of clean diapers that I enjoyed – which is notably better than the smell of dirty diapers – but that wasn’t it, either.

It’s just … baby smell. And then it grows into kid-smell, which is just as pleasant.

Then the teen hormones kick in, and kids – at least my kids – start to stink.

I can remember the first time I went into Dylan’s fourth grade classroom, to help the teacher with a science experiment (and to spy on Dylan, who was completely zoned out during class). The class took place right after recess and some of those kids – whew! – I thought I was going to pass out. Fourth grade is too young for deodorant, I think, but apparently other kids sometimes need it that early.

Anyway, Shane doesn’t stink yet. He has had his stinky moments, but he doesn’t stink. And in comparison to Dylan, whose entire bedroom smells like a locker room in spite of my efforts to keep the sheets clean and his shoes sprayed with deodorizer – well, compared to Dylan, Shane actually smells okay.

And that’s where the interesting part comes in: compared to Dylan, Shane always seems young.

When Dylan was in sixth grade, I remember thinking he seemed so old. He was almost twelve, and so tall and seemingly independent. He was starting in his middle school journey, practically to high school already, and heading off into the wild-yonder-ish teen years.

Shane just started sixth grade – and he seems so young. He’s just barely starting middle school, while Dylan is already in high school. He’s shorter than everyone in the school, even though he’s tall for his age, because he’s still a sixth grader. He looks tiny, to me, going off to class – even though he looked huge in elementary school.

And it took me until now – just now – to realize that no matter how old they get, Shane will always seem young in comparison to Dylan. I will always feel like I’ve lived through … whatever-it-is … already.

Middle school, check. High school, check. College, check. Graduation, check; twenty-first birthday, check; fiftieth birthday, check, check, check… Of course, there are a few subjective things – maybe marriage won’t happen in order, or grandchildren, or even career decisions. Sure, it might get mingled a bit down the road. Or mangled.

But to me, Shane will always seem young.

And ironically Dylan, who is already way taller than me, will always seem young, too.

It’s Like They Want Me To Be Me!

For the Halloween season – which runs from mid-September until early November in a house with two Halloween-obsessed boys – Dylan has been given a special opportunity.

He was “hired” (receiving social service learning hours as “payment”) as a scarer at the local haunted forest extravaganza. Normally, those who are hired must be 16 or older – but Dylan volunteered to help with set-up, and somehow finagled his way into a scarer position at age 14. Because of his height, no one seems to know the difference.

Dylan has been asking to be part of Field of Screams since he was old enough to know it existed, and long before he was old enough to walk through the attractions himself.

We took him to the Field once a year on Family Day, when they “toned down” the terror. Family Day has since been eliminated entirely, so Shane still doesn’t care to attend. The first time we went, Dylan was six – and very sensitive.

While I wouldn’t allow Dylan to try, we watched his friend Kyle, a month older than Dylan, walk into the Field of Screams trail – and less than three minutes later, we saw Kyle running back out of the entrance, sobbing and screaming.

We did the relatively mild hayride instead. For years.

But Dylan would stare longingly at the woods. “I want to do that,” he would say in his pitifully high voice.

“When you’re 16, you can!” I would say, imaging that day to be far, far away.

Well, that day has arrived.

And Dylan has never been happier in his life.

After 14 years of people telling Dylan to sit down, be quiet, stand still, and STOP DOING THAT! – he is now doing a job that actually requires him to stand up, jump up and down, chase people, climb on things, spin, startle, screech, scream, and roar.

“Do they tell you what to do at your station?” I asked him after his first night.

“Not at all,” he said. “I have to think of what to do to try to be as scary as I can. But I am basically supposed to be completely crazy,” he said proudly.

He was thrilled after the second night, too. Then he counted days until the following weekend, so he could go back.

Dylan came home equally delighted after his fourth night.

“I can do whatever I want!” he practically screamed. “It’s like they want me to be me!”

They WANT him to be HIM.


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