Month: January 2016

And We Fixed It.

One of the reasons Dylan is dropping chorus is because chorus takes place during second period.

At Dylan’s high school, they run on a semester schedule – to an extent. Some of the classes go right along, as if nothing had changed. Other classes are only half-year classes and end in January. All the classes have two parts – which means you can change classes midway through for almost any reason.

This is not something the school likes to broadcast, and they gave me a hard time when I started poking around. But as it happens, Dylan has an IEP – so he gets a bit of “special” treatment, especially when it comes to possible class failure.

The big issue is that Dylan’s energy starts to wane right around sixth period. Historically, whatever class he takes last is the class he hates most – and also the class in which he does most poorly. Last year, for example, English and Spanish were his last two classes – and his worst.

Now in high school, he has computer science class last. He’s been doing a great job in the class, because it’s entirely hands-on. There are no mind-numbing lectures and there’s no paperwork. Computers are one of the things that Dylan can do endlessly without tiring. He can stay focused when something is on a computer. And best of all, he loves it.

But next semester, computer science moves to sixth period. Dylan was scheduled to have English and Geometry as his last two classes.

The deadly last two classes were going to include math – which is already a struggle.

So I talked to Dylan. I talked to the school. And we fixed it.

We found a P.E. class that he can take last period – yay! Dylan desperately needs P.E. class. (In fact, while they only “need” one year of P.E. to graduate, I’d like him to take P.E. every year.) We moved Geometry to first period, which bumped history to second period – and eliminated chorus, the only class he was willing to drop.

“So I have a really hard morning and nothing to do in the afternoon!” he said gleefully.

“You still have English seventh period,” I reminded him.

Dylan loves his English teacher, and while he doesn’t always turn in his work, he enjoys the class.

“So nothing bad to do in the afternoon!” he said.

We are all set for second semester.


Please Don’t Tell Me We’re Going Shopping.

After only 12 years, Shane decided that he would like to have some shirts that he likes.

This means that his cousin’s and his brother’s clothes are no longer sufficient for him. In fact, most of his brother’s clothes were previously worn by at least one, and often two, of his other cousins – so Shane’s clothes are not second-hand, but more like … fourth-hand.

Now Shane is declaring independence. So I sat him down one night, with the intention of taking him to the mall for a shopping spree.

“So you were telling me that you wanted some different shirts,” I began.

Shane groaned, “Please don’t tell me we’re going shopping.”

“Well, I was going to take you shopping. And I think it will be fun.”

“Every time I go shopping with Dylan, I just sit on a bench.”

“Well, we wouldn’t be going shopping with Dylan. In fact, you and I have never gone shopping together – not alone, anyway. It’ll be just you and me. And you can tell me what stores you want to go in, and you don’t have to go into any stores unless you choose them.”

Shane’s attitude didn’t improve even slightly. So after he finally conceded, we stopped at a playground near the mall, where he ran and jumped and climbed and swung for 15 minutes.

Then we went to the mall.

We walked in through Macy’s, so that he was hit – first thing – with tons of variety. We were in the boys’ clothing department for 20 minutes. Shane liked one Nike swoosh shirt, but he said he didn’t love it. So we moved on.

We planned to eat dinner at Noodles – on the other side of the mall – so I picked up some sushi to carry with us. We passed store after store after store after store.

Shane didn’t want to look inside any of them.

Finally, we got to our dinner destination. That’s something he wanted to do. So we ate dinner.

Then we went to Nordstrom’s, next door, at my suggestion. He didn’t like any of that stuff. We went to the Gap – again, at my suggestion.

No interest in anything.

In spite of his initial unwillingness to shop, Shane wasn’t rude about it. He had a superb attitude, and we had a lot of fun. He pointed at things and laughed at things and he actually looked at many available shirts. But nothing struck his fancy.

So we went home.

When we got home, I went to his chart and gave him a bonus star (big reward) for having a good attitude, and for trying a new thing.

Shane said, “Well, I did want to thank you for taking me to that playground, because as soon as I started playing on the playground, my attitude improved.”

Lesson learned: Playground first; shopping … sometime way later.

Have Fun While We’re Gone.

When I was a child, on snow days, we would get bundled up and my dad, the kids and the dog would all trudge half a mile or so to the nearest hill.

We went sledding.

I thought sledding was spectacular. I’d zip down that hill with the wind whipping my hair into my face, squealing in delight all the way. Sometimes, to add to the fun, the dog would chase the sled and bark, too.

Eventually I’d slow to a complete stop – never getting off even one inch before I needed to – then I’d hop up excitedly to run up the hill and do it again.

I can remember, on those days, as I headed out the door, watching my mom at the back door. She didn’t go sledding with us, claiming instead that she was going to clean up the kitchen or do laundry or some other nonsense.

She looked so sad, standing there, waving to us as we made our way through the backyard tundra. And I felt so bad, just leaving her there, knowing that she’d be missing the greatest thrill the winter had to offer.

Decades later, when we were hit by the Great Blizzard of 2016, I had a sore throat, and what appeared to be a cold. During the worst day of snow – when we got upwards of 25 inches – I developed a fever, and spent the day on the couch. Bill and Dylan did all the shoveling, since Great Blizzard Day was also Shane’s birthday – making him exempt from work.

Two days later, when the roads were maybe almost clear enough, Bill offered to take the boys sledding.

I was feeling better, but not well. I didn’t feel much like sliding down a crowded hill, then trudging back up through 25 inches of snow. Unlike when I was a child, we have to drive to find a good sledding hill – and I didn’t particularly want to drive in the madness, either.

So the kids bundled up and got ready to go with Bill.

Shane gave me a big hug on the way out. “Have fun while we’re gone,” he said. There was a touch of sadness in his voice – as if he thought, she’d have so much more fun with us.

The boys muddled through getting ready – Dylan late to come downstairs, Shane forgetting to use the bathroom before he put on his ski pants. I helped by making sure they had dry ski socks and fleece shirts. I made sure my husband remembered his gloves.

Half-crazed with both anxiety and excitement, they pulled away. And I stood at the back door and waved.

Then I closed the door, remembering my own mom waving from the back door.

I thought, Gee, no wonder she didn’t want to go.


Dylan Studied Less and Less.

As exams dwindled to a close, Dylan studied less and less.

On his first day of exams, he claimed that the hallways were awash with whispers of, “Nah, I didn’t study at all” and “I only studied for 20 minutes.”

“Good,” I said. “Then you’ll do better than all of those people!”

On day one, Dylan worked straight through lunch – from one exam to the other. He didn’t even take a minute between the two to eat a sandwich. In fact, he didn’t even get a sip of water.

He had 45 minutes after his second exam – Biology – before play practice started. He worked right through those 45 minutes, and ate his peanut butter sandwich while racing down the hall to rehearsal.

Day two was a bit easier for him. He studied substantially less for the second two exams, but he thinks he did well on both. And he finished them (almost) on time.

The night before his last exam, he barely studied at all.

On his final day of exams, he only had one exam – then went out with friends afterward. He didn’t even think much about the test.

Then he went back to school for – again – play practice.

I don’t know what he got on his exams, but he didn’t totally freak out. He thinks he did well. And he studied a lot. So hopefully, he’ll get good grades to show for it.

If not, well, there’s always the spring.

1-2-3-4 at 5-4-3-2-1.

Before Shane was born, I eagerly wondered on which date he would be born. I looked up celebrities who were born on different days in January, wondering if his personality would resemble theirs. Since he arrived eight days late (like his brother), I had lots of dates to research.

It was my cousin who mentioned January 23 as an interesting birthdate.

“It’s 2004,” she said. “He could be born on 1-2-3-4!” And indeed he was born on January 23: 1-23-04.

Coincidentally (or not), Shane developed a fascination for numbers. When he was a toddler, his favorite books were Five on the Bed and Ten Little Ladybugs. As a preschooler, he regularly devoured Bicycle Race, a book whose refrain, “It’s number nine! Number nine! Number nine is winning!” haunts me to this day. We read that book several times a day for at least a year.

As years passed and he chose his own books, he would pick up a book and see how many pages it had, then decide. He didn’t read the back of the book or inside flap for a description. If he liked the number on the last page (and for awhile, it had to be less than 100), he would read the book.

Once, when Dylan was struggling to concentrate on a math problem during homework, I told Dylan he should read the problem aloud.

Dylan read, “If Jim has nine apples and Karen eats six of them, how many apples does Jim have left?”

Shane announced “THREE” from across the room. We didn’t even know he was there. He was three years old.

He got older and discovered statistics – Guinness Book of World Records, Ripley’s Believe it or Not. With a passion for roller coasters and water slides, he started studying the heights of the various rides in the world, including which ones had the longest drops. Then, of course, he asked to travel to the rides and ride them, even those in Thailand and Sweden.

Pokemon cards are saturated with numbers: hit points, attack points, rules that allow you to multiply one number by another number. Pokemon cards were an obsession in this house for many years.

Shane claims not to like math. His teachers have been quite boring, except for his fifth grade teacher who was not only a gifted thinker, but a brilliant teacher. I told that fifth grade teacher about Shane’s obsession with numbers.

“I was like that as a child,” his brilliant teacher told me, which was an incredible compliment.

About two years ago, we were reading a framed certificate on Shane’s wall called “On the Day You Were Born.” It’s been hanging in his room since he came home from the hospital.

It declares that Shane was born at 5:43 p.m. He was born at 5-4-3.

Dylan said, “And it was probably 21 seconds after 5:43! So it would be 5:43:21!”

We have determined, then, that Shane was born on 1-23-4 at 5-4-3-2-1.

Tomorrow he leaves his first multiple of 11 behind and celebrates his 12th birthday.

Happy 1-23-4-5-43-21, Shane.

The Exams Offered a Glimmer of Hope.

Dylan’s attitude toward exams is not what I had hoped.

His grades tanked right before the Christmas break. His A’s became B’s and his B’s dropped to very, very low B’s. His Geometry and English grades hovered around 79.6% – on the precipice of a C. And his Biology grade was a low, low, low C – at 69.8%. Given the amount of missing and late assignments, he’s lucky he didn’t fail the class.

He’s done well this year, though, so I had hope that he would be inspired to pull his grades up. And, for one night, he did feel inspired. His Biology teacher offered 10 points for anyone who finished the Biology exam study packet overnight. Dylan worked for two hours for those 10 points.

But he won’t work for two minutes after class to be sure he gets his assignments turned in.

So the exams offered a glimmer of hope. Because they are worth as much as a full quarter grade, he could pull his grades out of the ditch with a great grade.

But Dylan – instead of seizing the opportunity for hope – is putting in bare minimum effort. He had four full days to study – no classes, no school, no other commitments except a two-hour stint at the church handing out flyers.

Instead of plotting a great study schedule, he decided he would study two hours a day. The first day, he barely studied for one hour. The second day, he went swimming after half an hour. His “plan” called for no studying for English, little studying for Geometry or History, and a little for Spanish.

For Biology, the class he is nearly failing, he blocked off two (total) hours of studying during his four-day weekend.

I hope he fails all of them, honestly. Because if he passes them with such minimal effort, he’ll think he can pass all exams in life with minimal effort.

College is going to be a real shock to his system.

If he gets accepted anywhere at all.

Dylan is Not Taking His Scheduled Exam.

It was the first day of exams and Dylan, who had organized his exam schedule with his case manager (and did not share it with me), was sound asleep.

The phone rang shortly after 8 a.m. I didn’t get to it in time, so there was a message – from Dylan’s case manager.

“I just wanted you to know that Dylan is not at his scheduled exam today. Today is the exam for first period and he is not here. He is scheduled to be in first period, which for him is U.S. History. Again, Dylan is not taking his scheduled exam.”

My heart skipped a beat. Dylan was in bed – of course – snoring away.

My thoughts raced.

Dylan didn’t even study (much) for his History exam. He said his first exam was Spanish – and then Biology on the same day. He’d studied for those instead! I’m sure he told me he was supposed to be off today. I even double-checked it with his case manager! Yes! I had emailed her last week to make sure he was really off today! I thought she said he was…. Should I wake him up? What should I do? Should I call the school?

I started foraging through my old emails, looking for the one from his case manager about the first day of exams.

Yes! There it is! He IS supposed to be home today! She said that one … what’s the date? … THREE DAYS AGO! Has something changed since three days ago…?

The phone rang again, interrupting my speed-of-light panic.

It was Dylan’s case manager.

“I’m so sorry for the heart attack,” she said. “Dylan is not supposed to be here today. He made a change to his schedule that I’d forgotten. We decided that he would take his history exam next week, on Thursday.”

I breathed. I hadn’t realized until then that I’d been holding my breath. My heart slowed a little, too.

“That’s okay,” I said. “I was a little panicked, but I know you have a lot to do.”

Up until today, she’d been darn perfect as a case manager. It was nice to know she was human, too.

And it was nicer still to let Dylan sleep, knowing he had it all under control.

The School Play is a Ton of Work.

With the new semester comes all the new extracurricular opportunities.

Winter session of tennis lessons is over, and Dylan would like to try out for the school tennis team. Shane might try intramural tennis, too. Dylan’s in the ski club and goes skiing every Friday. The church starts its activities with renewed vigor, and the Appalachian Service Project team is gearing up for their fundraisers, and saving up for the summer trip.

And Dylan (the veteran) and Shane (for the first time) are both auditioning for their school plays.

The school play is a wonderful thing. It is a great project that can only be accomplished through tons of teamwork. Kids form tight bonds during play practice, and when the show ends and the audience applauds, it’s like no other high in the world.

I had a friend in high school who was on stage “crew” – which is just like being in the play, without enough of the credit. The crew does everything except act. I remember her talking about that high at the end of the show, and the camaraderie she had during “tech week” and the “grand finale.”

At the time, I didn’t understand it at all. I was a mouse who never got involved with the school plays.

Now, watching the team gear up for the play – actors and crew alike – I realize the incredulousness of it all. They take something that is only on paper and bring it to life – real life – and present that thing, in all its splendor, to the world.

The school play is a ton of work. Play practice is five days a week, from two to five hours a day, for almost four months.

And quite honestly, I didn’t want Dylan to do it again this year. He does all the work, but I’m tired just thinking about it.

But Dylan auditioned, saying “I can always turn it down,” and he got the absolute perfect part. He will be singing lead for the opening number – and doing a reprise at the end of the show. For a freshman with an angel’s voice, there is nothing better. He will totally rock the place. So … here we go again.

Shane’s audition is in two weeks.

The Thought Makes Me Want to Wretch.

Dylan has exams next week.

This should not come as a surprise to parents who have been living with exams throughout their child’s education. But to me, it came as a complete shock.

Last year, our local Board of Education and the Powers That Be voted to eliminate exams from our county curriculum. And because I don’t pay attention to details in the news, I didn’t realize the new rule didn’t start until the 2016-17 school year.

Prior to the elimination, the weight of a class exam equaled the weight of a full quarter. Students had six grades, instead of four, because they had two culminating exams – one at the end of each semester. So for two hours of work, they got a grade that was exactly the same weight on their transcript as a full quarter.

So Dylan has to follow this plan for the entire first year of high school. For all of his classes, he will have six grades – and the average of those six grades will go onto his college transcript.

The thought makes me want to wretch.

Dylan tests well, but he doesn’t study well. He doesn’t sit still well. And sitting still for two hours after not studying well for two quarters – well, that’s the problem.

So he worked with his case manager to arrange an exam schedule that includes Biology (his hardest class) first, on the same day as Spanish. He has English and Geometry (both challenges) the next day. And History, which hasn’t given him much trouble, is his final exam.

And they all count for 1/6 of his final grade.

I am beyond thrilled that they are doing away with exams next year. I can’t believe they ever instituted them in the first place, given the nature of the beast. I am also thrilled that Shane will never have to experience this kind of exam.

But for now, I just want Dylan to study. I can’t make him study. I can’t force him to pretend that he’s studying. It’s his life and his choice.

But if he doesn’t study like he’s trying to pass the L-SATs this weekend, I may keel over from sheer anxiety.

Then The Choral Director Quit.

Dylan – whose most noticeable talent is his angelic singing voice – is dropping out of chorus.

Dylan auditioned for chorus with a man who was known for his love of music, kindness to students, and good nature. We’d known the choral director for years, since Dylan’s 5th grade chorus sang with the high school chorus once a year. He was a wealth of knowledge and talent, and worked wonders with the students.

When he auditioned Dylan, he put Dylan in Chamber Choir – the highest level of chorus, an utterly spectacular feat for a freshman.

Then the choral director quit.

We don’t know where he went, or why he quit. We begged and pleaded – but of course, he kindly declined to stay just for Dylan’s sake. The brilliant choral director went off into the wild blue yonder.

The new teacher is barely out of college. She teaches middle school chorus, too, and her abilities are very limited. Without any warning, one of the first things she did was to eliminate Chamber Choir.

So Dylan – with his angelic singing voice – went into what is, essentially, a taller version of middle school chorus.

After two quarters, he was having fun – but didn’t really care for it. There’s more to the schedule change (saved for another blog post) but the new teacher eliminating Chamber Choir sure didn’t help.

In fifth grade, Dylan was in honors chorus, which made “regular” chorus seem rather dull. In sixth grade, Dylan was in the Children’s Chorus of Washington (CCW), which kind of ruined him for “regular” chorus. CCW sang at the Kennedy Center and traveled around China singing in the finest opera houses. It’s hard to go back to middle school chorus after that.

Dylan is taking voice lessons now with a spectacular teacher who has 40 years of experience at the high school and college level. The new voice teacher is impressed by Dylan’s talents and offered him a position in his adult choir.

So, in two weeks, when the quarter is over, Dylan is done – at least for now – with high school chorus. A month later, he is scheduled to audition for The Voice. It may be a bit of a reach at 15. He’s barely old enough to audition. But he wants to do it, and it will be an interesting experience.

And I’m sure Dylan will continue to sing endlessly at home.

Next page →