Month: November 2015
Shane’s first middle school report card came home: Honor Roll, and straight A’s.
We are all so proud.
I went to his teacher conferences. Other than his math teacher, who has issues of her own and doesn’t seem to know who Shane is, his teachers absolutely oozed praise for Shane.
All of his teachers showed me his grades. None of them said, “The only problem is…” They simply showed me his grades, which were all good, and talked about how wonderful it was to have Shane in class.
“He’s very bright.”
“He’s a real delight.”
“He follows directions, turns in his work, and if he needs something, he has no trouble asking me for it.”
“He seems to really enjoy what we’re learning.”
And – my personal favorite, from his World Studies class – “I wish I had a whole class full of Shanes.”
When I told Shane about it later, he said, “I didn’t even know my World Studies teacher liked me.”
I didn’t even spend the allotted 10 minutes with every teacher. I found myself talking about Dylan – three times! – just to keep the conversation going.
In a way, I was pitiful.
But there was nothing to discuss about Shane. I just sat back and soaked it in. Shane’s got it under control. He’s doing everything right. And he’s happy in middle school.
It’s crazy, I know.
Thanksgiving was a truly blessed event in our household.
We had family over, and did the traditional turkey. My nephew – who might be my kids’ favorite relative on the planet – showed up as “a surprise guest.” Everyone was happy.
Shane said a little prayer to launch dinner, and all the food was delicious. Shane did a magic show for us. We played a rousing game of Apples to Apples, and laughed like we were in a commercial. We ate dessert (thanks, Mom!) and had delightful conversation.
I would say I felt like we were part of a Norman Rockwell painting, but I’ve never been a fan of ol’ Norm. Instead, I felt like we were in an episode of the Brady Bunch.
Things go this way sometimes.
In fact, they go this way often. The house is usually a happy place to be. I’m fortunate to have wonderful family, and to be able to enjoy their company at any given moment, every day of the year.
These are the days that go by with us snapping a few photos, making a few memories, and smiling more than we usually do. These are also the days I rarely write about, because I write when I’m stressed.
Adele has a son now, a little boy, who has provided her with an entirely new happiness in her life.
The host asked her if this concerned her, since her songs tend to be written from a sad place. And Adele said, sure, she was worried because she thinks that it’s a lot easier to write about the sadness in her life.
I tend to agree. Sadness, heartbreak, anger – these are all emotions that inspire me to write.
But today, I couldn’t pass up the chance to say something pleasant.
Dylan was alone at home when the power went out.
Our house is all electric. We don’t even have a gas line, let alone a gas cooking range. Without power, there is very little we can do.
It was mid-afternoon, so it was plenty bright. Dylan wasn’t worried about being able to turn on a light. But we always have a ton of food stored in both the refrigerator and the upright freezer. And Dylan was worried that, with the electricity out, the food might go bad.
So he went out to the garage.
He found the generator, and pulled it outside.
This first step – pulling it outside – is essential. An indoor-kept generator can asphyxiate the entire family. Personally, I would have missed this step, since I have no clue how to set up a generator.
But Dylan pulled the generator outside. He checked to make sure it had sufficient gasoline. Then he hooked it up to both the refrigerator and the freezer, making sure that the power cord wasn’t wet or near any puddles.
He turned the choke on. He made sure the power switch was set to “on.”
Then he pulled the cord, and started up the generator.
I didn’t even know he’d done it until he called me an hour later to say that the power had come back on.
“Should I turn off the generator?” Dylan asked. I almost fell over.
Later, my neighbor said, “I was over at my house, struggling to get my own generator started, and Dylan just came out and did it all!”
I have no idea when or how Dylan learned to set up a generator. But this kind of prowess makes me wonder why I even bother worrying about whether or not he turns in his homework on time.
He’s going to be just fine.
Since there are no parent-teacher conferences in high school, I arranged one.
I met with Dylan’s case manager, his guidance counselor, his English teacher and his Biology teacher. And Dylan came to the meeting, too.
My job – as parent of a high school teenager – was to sit down and shut up. And mostly, that’s what I did.
Dylan’s English teacher spoke first. He and Dylan discussed how well Dylan had been doing, talking to him after class. They decided that a teacher prompt might be necessary to help Dylan remember to check with his teacher after class. His English teacher was wonderful – which we already knew – and when he went back to his classroom, I felt certain that everything was under control.
We repeated the scenario with Dylan’s Biology teacher – also wonderful, also certain that everything was under control.
We discussed with Dylan that, from now on, missing work meant no more electronics until the missing work was turned in. This policy had been in place many times in the past few years – but this time, it was being strictly enforced until the grade changes. This means that, as long as the teacher doesn’t put in the new grade, the electronics stay off.
This seemed to be great inspiration for Dylan. He talked to both his English and Biology teachers every day. I encouraged him to branch out, and also talk to his other teachers, since he was doing so well with those two.
After a week, quite out of the blue, FOUR missing assignments showed up on the computer – all of them in English.
I emailed Dylan’s teacher, and ‘cc’d his case manager.
“Yes, he is talking to me every day,” his teacher responded. “But he is still missing these assignments.”
Dylan scrambled to get them all turned in in one day, since he loses his electronics whenever a missing assignment appears online.
Meanwhile, no one could quite figure out why – if Dylan asked every day what was due – why didn’t his teacher tell him these four assignments were due?
His case manager emailed me. She emailed the English teacher. She emailed me to tell me that she’d emailed him. I emailed her again.
After nearly a week, she met with the English teacher – and Dylan – separately, and again. What she learned remains a mystery, but she sent an email to everyone:
“We clarified that Dylan is asking for any/all work due, including homework and if there are any missing assignments. Dylan and I also talked about using the phone to record the discussion at the end of class when he asks about his work. Dylan says that he will type the information into his phone.”
I have no idea if this means the teacher didn’t tell him the assignments were due, or Dylan just forgot they were due. Either way, it seems we still have a long way to go.
Last night, as I was tucking Shane into bed, he told me about the honor roll “party” at school.
“Basically we all got ice cream at lunch,” he said. “They just said, ‘whoever is on the honor roll, line up.’ And then like half the cafeteria got in line. And then we got our ice cream and ate it.”
He made it sound rather anticlimactic. (Since my dad and I had both already taken him out for ice cream to celebrate straight A’s, it probably was anticlimactic.)
Then Shane shocked me.
“The whole time I was waiting in line,” he said, “I kept thinking about all the kids who didn’t get ice cream. And I remembered how I felt when all of my friends were patrols, and I just had to sit there.”
In fifth grade, Shane was the only one of his dozen closest friends who wasn’t chosen to be a safety patrol. He rarely spoke about it, ever.
“Probably the worst day of my entire life was when they had the patrol picnic,” Shane continued.
The picnic is a county-wide, day-long fair, to which only patrols are invited. There are treats and carnival rides, all created especially for those few kids, who leave school behind for the entire day to celebrate.
“First, my really good teacher went to the patrol picnic, because he was in charge of the patrols,” Shane said. “And we got a substitute, and it was a bad substitute. And I was left in school with all the bad kids while my friends got to ride on rides and have a party all day long.”
My heart almost broke in half.
Shane usually keeps his emotions in check. But on this rare occasion, he talked about a day – and an injustice – that crushed his spirit.
Ironically, this happened because he was rewarded for doing well.
Shane spent his celebration with an aching heart for those who weren’t rewarded.
Two-percent milk was on sale at Costco, so I thought we’d give it a try. Generally we drink one-percent or fat free, primarily because I have issues with dairy intolerance (and weight). So the kids have been drinking the lower fat stuff forever.
Knowing that the difference is minimal, I really didn’t think about it.
But Dylan and Shane came home from their afternoon dentist appointment and opened the fridge door, aghast.
“What’s two-percent milk?” Shane asked.
“Yeah, why did you buy that?” Dylan queried.
They stomped around the kitchen a bit, complaining. We still had plenty of the lower fat milk, but the boys needed time to object to this radical change.
The carton has blue lettering instead of yellow.
“It looks completely different.”
“Yeah, why would anybody buy this kind?”
“What’s the difference between two-percent and one-percent?”
“Why have we been drinking fat-free milk all this time?”
I left the room.
This morning, I sat down at the breakfast table with Shane.
“Do you know what, Mom?”
“Two-percent milk is pretty good. I had two glasses of it last night.”
“I’m glad you like it,” I said.
Your friend absolutely cannot hang out on a school night.
Its legit just for half an hour. I’ve been working throughout rehearsal on homework so that I will have literally everything done.
Your commitment right now is to the school play. You do not have an extra half an hour on a school night until the play is over. And this is not a decision that you should have made without asking us first!
I didn’t, she said she was gonna come down and see me during rehearsal. It was just a question of if we could go to the shopping center afterwards. She doesn’t have to, I just thought it would work out well since she was gonna come down anyway.
She should not be visiting you during rehearsal. She is not in the play. She does not go to your school. I hope that she has not been hanging out at your school. I like her but you should have other priorities right now. For the record, there will not be a good time for you to see her until the play is over, unless you want her to go to church with you on Sunday, or she can come over for dinner on Sunday after your tennis lesson.
Mom. She just wants to see me. I have other priorities. After rehearsal is over, I will literally have everything done for the night. What makes you think I have more to do? She is coming Sunday she already agreed.
Cool. I am glad she is coming Sunday. And there are no available weeknights until the play is over. Period.
But I’m serious, all my priorities are out of the way. If I come home I will basically have nothing to do but kill time. I will have everything and I mean everything out of the way. I’m sure there’s room to hang out with her for only 30 minutes after rehearsal.
So you would rather I come home and do some random stuff instead of hanging out with someone? Okay great. I understand that you don’t want me to but I don’t understand what reason there is behind it…
I’m sorry that you don’t understand. That makes me sad. The next time you ask me to see her on a weeknight before the play is over, we will cancel Sunday too.
Okay but I just don’t get it. I will literally be done with everything. Please just tell me what difference the half an hour makes that’s all I’m asking. I’m not trying to start an argument. Please don’t be mad. I’m just confused.
I am not mad. I am tired of saying the same thing over and over again. Whether or not you are finished with your schoolwork, and I’m not convinced that you are, weeknights are reserved for school. I suggest that rather than just sitting there, you study for an upcoming test, work on an upcoming project, or find some other schoolwork that you can get ahead on.
I’m done with my work that’s what I’m saying!!!!
Great! Then get ahead on tomorrow’s work.
I can’t! I have nothing more to do! That’s what I’m saying, I worked my butt off this whole rehearsal to be done for this one half an hour!
Fine. Then sit there and do nothing. I am sick to death of texting you and answering the same question over and over and over and over and over. The answer is no. I will see you when you get home.
So you don’t have a reason?
Shane and I were sitting at the dinner table one day, when he declared that he had a secret – and that he wasn’t going to tell me what it was.
“I think you should tell me,” I said. And so he did.
It wasn’t something so deeply personal that I thought it should be a secret. But hey, he’s in middle school. And in middle school, secrets are big.
Without thinking, I mentioned Shane’s secret to my parents. It was cute, and I was just sharing its cuteness.
Or so I thought.
A few weeks went by, and I casually mentioned to Shane that I’d told my parents what he’d told me.
“You told them my secret?” he gasped. He blinked his eyes hard as they widened with shock.
“Yeah,” I said. “They would never tell anybody.”
“I can’t believe you told my secret,” Shane said.
And he walked away.
Waves of nausea hit me. I’d hurt Shane. This secret was obviously treasured – and I hadn’t given it the respect, and the care, that it deserved.
Sharing a secret is like breaking a promise. In this house, it just isn’t done.
Family trust matters above all else. We have to be the safe haven, the place where we can be loved and believed, and trusted, no matter what.
And now I’ve given Shane reason not to trust me.
I crawled into the room where he was building a marble track.
“I am so sorry, Shane,” I started. I apologized profusely, with no excuses. I begged his forgiveness, and told him that if he ever trusted me enough to tell me another secret, I promised I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
“Well I think I would tell you another secret,” Shane said. “Because most people, when they tell a secret, they just go around seeing how many more people they can tell. They don’t ever do this” – he pointed at my pathetic self, my sincere apology.
And then he went back to building the marble track. Like most kids, he moved on.
For me, though, I am still hanging onto the shame. Unintentional or not, I did something unthinkable in a child’s world. I took the magical gift he gave me – his own personal secret – and I gave it away. My adult self forgot about the magic, the significance, the trust that was implied when Shane shared something with me. I became just another grown-up.
Worse yet, I became a scoundrel.
And like most scoundrels, I can beat myself mercilessly and continue to be a scoundrel, thanks to the shame I’ve created for myself.
Or I can pick myself up off the floor, stop being a scoundrel, and make sure that it never, ever happens again.
When the first quarter had ended, Dylan’s grades – we thought – were amazingly good: four B’s and three A’s.
So we calculated his grade point average and decided he had a 3.0 – but a 3.7 when we considered his weighted GPA, since he’s taking three honors courses. This also included the two B’s he got in 8th grade for high school level classes.
Then we found out that his geometry grade had dropped from an A to a B because he’d forgotten to turn in the last three homework assignments. So he ended up with five B’s and two A’s.
Still, these are grades for which anyone can be proud. Dylan is rocking high school. And heck, he may actually get into college someday.
But the sudden grade drop in Geometry was a shock to everyone. Dylan had an A for the whole quarter – and then suddenly, POOF!, he neglected to do – or turn in – his work. (I never know which is true.) He was upset – but it is only the first quarter. There is still time.
Best of all, the very next day, he went up to his teacher and, for the first time, he said, “What was due today and what do I need to do for tomorrow?”
I almost cried when he told me. I’d been asking Dylan to do that since he was in sixth grade! I jumped up and gave him a huge hug and kissed his ear, because he is much taller than me and I can’t reach his face without help.
The next day, Dylan didn’t ask that specific question again – but he did talk to his teachers again. Hopefully, the trend will stick. Maybe the grades will go up to a level that actually represents his brilliance.
All he needs to do is turn in his work.
Dylan had a blast being a scarer at Field of Screams. His family, however, stayed home.
Week after week after week, Dylan would disappear at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon, stay out until after midnight, then sleep until noon. The next day, he’d spend three hours knocking around the house, then go out and do it all again.
Our tradition of Friday Family Movie Night – which we originally tried to squeeze in on weeknights – was postponed indefinitely. Daytime activities were shot. The entire season of fall festivals, which had been our favorite family activity for years, was simply ignored. We didn’t even get a pumpkin, let alone carve one. We didn’t even decorate our yard with the two tons of Halloween crap we have.
When trick or treating became imminent, Shane said, “Mom, I don’t even feel like it’s Halloween. We didn’t go to any farms or do anything to get ready for it.”
Our plan was to have one huge hurrah after Halloween, during Cox Farms‘ Pumpkin Smashing Weekend. It’s an event filled with world-famous hayrides, giant slides, rope swings into hay pits, baby animals, goat feedings, games, apples, and an animated corn maze called the Cornundrum. And during their final weekend of the year, they catapult pumpkins across a lake and drop 300-pound pumpkins with assistance from a DJ and a giant crane.
Cox Farms really knows how to host a party.
Shane and I were nearly bursting with excitement. I sent him little notes in his lunchbox every day of the week, pictures from the farm, reminding him that it was only a few days away.
He had waited so, so, so long.
So when Field of Screams was finally over, and we could spend a full day at the festivities, we headed out. Just in case, at the last minute, I tossed our raincoats in the car.
After 45 minutes of driving, it started to rain. By the time we got to the farm, it was pouring.
But we only had one day to enjoy fall – and this was it. We paid and went inside, heading straight for the world-famous hayride. There were no actors on the trail, as there usually are, but the driver made it fun regardless. We had an entire hayride to ourselves, and Dylan sprawled in the center of the wet hay. We went through a tunnel – dry for a minute! – then back out.
Then we ran over to the new attraction: a forest filled with goodies around every corner. It was awesome! We all agreed that the new attraction was one of the best they’d ever had.
When we came out of the forest, we headed for the games station – but it was closed. In fact, everything was closed. They wouldn’t even let us into the Cornundrum. They shooed us out of the park and told us to come back next year.
I almost cried. Shane’s face was heartbreaking.
“I wanted to feed the goats,” he whispered.
And that’s when I realized that it was not Dylan, and not the weather, that caused this minor tragedy. It was my failure as a parent.
Next year, Shane and I will go to Cox Farms – twice – whether Dylan is available or not.