Month: May 2016


Do You Ride This Bus?

Shane gets overlooked.

I worry about this, but I thought it was just me. Sometimes I have trouble picking him out of a crowd. He blends in beautifully and I am always delighted to find him, but he has been known to go right past me without my seeing him.

This must be my fault. He’s my second child, so I am less careful with him than I was with Dylan. He’s quieter than Dylan, less demanding. And anyone living in a household with Dylan gets less attention than he should. Dinnertime conversation often goes something like this:

“Dylan, when I call you downstairs you need to come downstairs! I shouldn’t have to go up and get you! Don’t tell me it’s MY fault! But it is your fault! Stop yelling at me! I am NOT yelling! I am just stating a fact! Well, it’s a fact that I just can’t always hear you when you call me! And I don’t even like this dinner! Well you’re going to EAT this dinner! But I TOLD you I don’t like it! I don’t care! Eat it anyway! … So, Shane, how was your day?”

It’s a sad commentary on the little guy’s life. But it’s not just a problem at home.

Shane got on the bus to ride home from school last week, and the bus driver stopped him.

“Do you ride this bus?” he asked Shane.

“Yes,” Shane said.

“Well, I’ve never seen you before,” said the bus driver.

“You see me every day,” Shane said.

“I don’t remember you,” the bus driver said. “Sit down in the front seat.”

Shane sat down next to the driver.

“Do you know this boy?” he asked the next child who got onto the bus.

“No,” said the kid.

“Do you know this boy?” the bus driver asked another kid.

“No,” said that one.

This went on for several minutes. No one recognized Shane.

Finally, a girl in the back of the bus saw what was going on, and she came forward. “I know him,” she said.

“Does he ride this bus?” the bus driver asked the girl.

“Yes,” she said.

“Okay,” the bus driver said. He looked at Shane suspiciously. “You can go sit where you want.”

So Shane went and found a seat – his normal seat – on his bus.

I’m not sure if I’m amused or appalled by this incident. On one hand, it says a lot about the bus driver – who is probably a total idiot. But maybe he’s also being extra cautious.

On the other hand, what would have happened if no student had vouched for Shane’s existence? Would Shane have been denied the great privilege of riding his own bus home? Or would he have been forced to sit at the front of the bus until the bus driver started to recognize him?

I am making a conscious effort to notice Shane now. I started by changing my Facebook profile to Shane’s play announcement. He’s very excited to be in a play this weekend.

And I am planning some special time with him, like we did when he was much younger. Shane needs some special time. He deserves some special time.

And for me, time with Shane is absolutely treasured – so I am really looking forward to it.

The bus driver doesn’t know what he is missing.

Dylan Finds Ways Around All the Stuff He’s Missing.

The New Arrangement, thus far, is no fun. With no cell phone at school, Dylan has had to come up with more creative ways to ignore his class work.

His biology teacher informed me that he was on someone else’s cell phone during class last week. Dylan assured me that it was because they were working together on a project, and they were going to figure out how to complete the project via cell phone over the weekend.

As far as I can tell, he never contacted his partner – and still hasn’t finished his project.

Just when I started to believe Dylan, though, his Geometry teacher emailed me and mentioned that, in the middle of Geometry class, Dylan had been taking out his Chromebook – the laptop computer we got to help Dylan because of his writing issues. Dylan assured us that he was only using it to check his grades (in the middle of Geometry).

I didn’t believe him this time.

So we’ve had to take away his Chromebook and his cell phone, during school. He has three missing assignments in Spanish, and three missing assignments in English. He got a D on his last Geometry test.

He has a huge test in Biology on Friday and, while he assures me that he’s been “studying” using quizlets on the computer, I have no faith that Dylan has been doing any quizlets at all. If he doesn’t get a solid A on the test, he will end up with a C in Biology.

Yet this doesn’t change his behavior. It just changes my behavior. I am furious that this kid screams that he wants to be responsible for himself, yet isn’t responsible enough to do the incredibly simple things we have asked him to do.

We are now talking about taking away other privileges: electronics on the weekends, concerts in the summer, Driver’s Ed class. I’m considering not allowing him to work at Field of Screams in the fall, which might be his favorite thing in the world – but it takes a lot of time away from school. And if he already isn’t paying attention to his classwork, adding another distraction isn’t going to help.

We take away and take away and take away, and yet Dylan finds ways around all the “stuff” he’s missing and doesn’t realize that his primary purpose is to do school work. We could take away everything he has, everything he does, and everything he wants, and he would still find a way to do absolutely nothing that he’s supposed to do.

I’m watching as he falls and falls and falls. And while I can take away the pretty things to look at on the way down, it is his choice to continue falling.

I can only watch him go into the abyss.

The Afterglow is Glorious.

Shane was in the school play this weekend.

His part was minimal – but substantial. While his role was originally a no-named character with no lines, somewhere along the way he got a line – and he delivered it beautifully.

Shane opened one scene, carried a prop gun across the stage during another scene, and managed to be in Havana, Cuba and New York City simultaneously, for two separate scenes. He sang; he danced; he had a ball.

As a parent, it’s such an adventure watching from the audience. From the stories Shane told me about rehearsals, I could chuckle at some things that happened on stage that I may not have otherwise noticed. In spite of Shane’s relatively minor role, it’s impossible for me to take my eyes off of him when he’s on stage. I’m interested in every smile, every gesture, every step, every wink. I don’t want to miss a second of it.

And when, for one scene, he steps behind a curtain and I am on the wrong side of the audience to see his smiling face, I glance around at the other three dozen kids – and notice their talents, too.

Shane had a wonderful time working on the play, discovering the nuances of performing in a group, following a work from script-chunk auditions all the way to three, full-blown musicals.

Shane said that his favorite part of the play was just before the curtain rose, when the lights went out and the anticipation was so thick, it enveloped the entire group. And he felt the sheer joy when the production went off without a hitch, and as the curtain closed, the entire cast shrieked with delight.

When he talks about it, Shane reminds me of those few moments in my own school career, when I felt “part of” something tremendous. I played sports but for me, those moments came from deadlines before the school newspaper went to print, and all-nighters during the final weeks of yearbook production, Even proms and graduation were relatively meaningless moments in my memory, compared to the excitement I had during the finalizing of something my classmates and I created together.

And Shane’s weekend was just that – a spectacular culmination of months of hard work.

The afterglow is glorious.

Dylan Was Supposedly Working.

Dylan is not enjoying the New Arrangement.

For the uninitiated, the New Arrangement is pretty lenient, considering that Dylan has been turning in his school work late for the past several YEARS.

Dylan does not take his phone to school. He uses his phone only from 8:00 to 9:00 on weeknights. On Fridays, he is allowed to have his phone back after school. He keeps it until Saturday night.

IF Dylan does all of his weekend homework before Saturday is over, he is allowed to use his phone on Sunday, too.

He also goes to homework club after school three days a week, where he gets a little help from his case manager and spends some quality time actually working on school work.

Last week, he rocked the new arrangement. He got ALL of his work turned in on time, save one homework assignment in history, which he turned in, only one day late. He was doing so well, in fact, that Bill and I were considering giving him more phone time in the evenings.

But…

This week, Dylan complained that he was sick on Monday morning. He complained so much that he missed the bus. Shane was (actually) sick that day, too, so I kept them both home, rather than leave Shane alone so that I could drive Dylan to school.

On Tuesday after school, Dylan was supposedly working on his computer, but – somehow – Skype was open, too. I took away his unsupervised electronics privileges immediately. Now when he needs to do work on the computer, he needs to do it with an adult around.

So Tuesday night, he lashed out verbally, destroying what otherwise could have been a nice family dinner. His emotions were raw and his words were hurtful.

Having no electronics in his room is not his favorite thing.

On Wednesday, Dylan traded a classmate: Dylan’s pencil for the other kid’s Red Bull. This happened during first period.

“It was the best second period I’ve ever had!” Dylan told me later.

So I went out and bought $40 worth of iced teas and coffees. In my opinion, the natural caffeine is better than chemically enhanced energy drinks.

I planned to give one to Dylan on Thursday morning, but he came downstairs late. He hadn’t cleaned out his lunchbox from the day before, so he had a lot of work to do. He barely had time to choke down his breakfast before racing down the driveway as the bus rolled past him.

I forgot all about the iced coffee.

Today is Friday of Week 2 of the New Arrangement. I remembered the morning coffee, and Dylan was almost excited about it when he headed out for the bus – on time. I can only imagine what surprises are in store today.

They Are Happy When They Open Their Lunchboxes.

Making my kids’ lunches is a time-honored tradition that I enjoy daily.

By “enjoy,” I mean it’s not the most awful responsibility in the world. I put little notes in their lunchboxes, although Dylan hasn’t yet found the one I left for him in 8th grade, so mostly I put notes in Shane’s lunchbox. And in spite of my insistence to the contrary, I make plain, creamy peanut butter sandwiches for them every single day because they don’t want anything else. Well, Shane sometimes eats cheese.

The kids have their own jobs, too. They put in two items for themselves, so that they are a little more prepared for the real world when they get there. We all try hard to limit the total lunch count to 50 grams of sugar – which is about three times what they should have for the entire day. (The good news is, they have substantially healthier lunches than most of the kids who bring Lunchables or Nutella sandwiches.)

As I make those lunches, while slathering on the peanut butter, I can’t help but think about my own mother. She had three kids, not just two, and she made our lunches for all of us practically until we went off to college. I remember buying lunch a few times in high school – yuk! – and after college, I could never quite get the mix of peanut butter and jelly right, like Mom used to do. I’m still trying.

My kids won’t eat jelly. In fact, when I try something new, they come home and politely ask to never, ever get anything in their lunchboxes except creamy peanut butter sandwiches. Boring? Sure.

But classic.

I occasionally got lunchmeat in my school lunches, which was okay – but not as good as peanut butter and jelly. So I understand when they ask for the same thing every day.

I used to get a sandwich and a dessert in my lunchbox every day. Dessert was usually a couple of cookies. Sometimes there would be Easter candy in there. Dessert was very exciting, so I saved it for last.

Additionally, I got something like popcorn or chips in my lunchbox. We called that the “middle thing,” because it wasn’t a sandwich or a dessert. It wasn’t healthy or absurdly sugary. The “middle thing” fell somewhere in the middle.

To this day, my kids have a sandwich, a dessert and a middle thing. It is an idea that I am passing down through the generations. Since both boys stay late at school, we’ve started adding a “snack item,” too, so they don’t starve after school.

Sure, there are other ways to make lunches. I could give them new, convenient, processed crap. Or I could just compile a bunch of healthy things in plastic containers and throw in a piece of gum for dessert. Or I could make great dinners then heat up leftovers – which I tried when Dylan was in elementary school. (He came home and asked for a peanut butter sandwich.)

This is what they like. Many of their friends “trade” in the cafeteria, because they don’t like what’s in their lunchboxes. My boys eat comparatively well, and they are maintaining healthy weights.

Best of all, they are happy when they open their lunchboxes.

Just like I was happy, when Mom made lunch for me.

Save the Hippos!

Samuel is the sixth grade bully. Samuel is bigger than most of the other kids, and according to Shane, “he just always does mean stuff.”

Shane was in school one day, sitting on the floor, with his head against the wall.

“Suddenly this boy just sat down on my lap,” Shane told me. “Like he was just sitting there for one second and then he got up and ran away.”

“Did he fall down?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Shane said. “Maybe. Or maybe he got pushed. But when he landed on me, he smashed my head up against the cement wall, and I don’t know what happened because everything just went black for a second.”

I turned around and looked at Shane. He hurt his head? On cement?

“Everything went black?” I repeated. “For how long?”

“Just for a second. And then there were like all these people around me, asking me if I was okay.”

I gave a quick lecture on the dangers of traumatic brain injury, and reminded him to go the nurse if he ever hits his head again.

“But that wasn’t all,” he said. “Then when I was just on the floor, Samuel came over.”

Uh-oh, I thought. The class bully probably kicked Shane in the head. “Oh no,” I said.

“Actually, he came over and he held out his hand,” Shane said. “He said, ‘Are you okay? That looked like it hurt.’ And then he helped me get up.”

“Wow!” I said. “That’s unbelievable!”

“I know!” Shane said. “He’s never even talked to me before!”

I was amazed. Not only did Shane get hurt badly but he was helped up by the school bully.

The next day, on an unrelated note, Shane started a petition to SAVE THE HIPPOS! He is suddenly very interested in saving hippos from extinction.

He got dozens of signatures on a piece of paper that he carried everywhere for two days.

On the second day, Shane ran into Samuel again. This time, Samuel was … different.

“He saw my paper and he totally shredded it,” Shane said.

So much for the kindness of a stranger.

Shane, unphased, decided to tape his petition back together. Then he kept on going.

Everybody Loved My Socks!

I threw away a pair of tie-dyed socks.

The socks were handed down to us many years ago by my niece, who is now in college. The elastic wasn’t perfect when we got them, and they were girls’ socks, but tie-dye is very popular in our family.

So Dylan got them first, and loved them. He liked to wear them on days when he wore his tie-dyed shirts, or his brightest colored shoes. Dylan liked to dress in bright colors, and the tie-dyed socks fit right in.

But Dylan’s feet grew fast. He wore them often, but he outgrew the socks by 5th grade. So we put them in the pile of clothes that were “waiting” for Shane.

Shane didn’t have to wait long. His feet were growing fast, too.

And Shane loved those tie-dyed socks. Shane has always enjoyed a more subdued wardrobe than Dylan. He prefers blacks and browns to reds and oranges. But those bright socks always brightened his step. They were just a tad big, and the elastic was pretty much gone by then. I called them “slouchy socks,” after the fad in the eighties.

The first time Shane wore the tie-dyed socks to school, he was eight years old. He came home excited and said, “Everybody loved my socks!”

“I love your socks, too,” I told him.

“I am going to wear them again tomorrow!” he said joyously.

He did not wear them tomorrow. He put them in the laundry hamper, and the laundry fairies did not come and wash his socks that night. But a few days later, when they were clean, they were back on Shane’s feet!

In fact, every time they showed up in Shane’s drawer, he wore them. As soon as they were clean, they were dirty. Shane looked for the tie-dyed socks first. And if I only washed a few things, I made sure those tie-dyed socks – both of them – were in the load, so that he could wear the thing he treasured most.

This went on for many years. Because the socks were so old, Shane got a new pair of tie-dyed socks for Christmas. He never wore them, so I put them in a box in his closet.

Shane is at the end of sixth grade now. He’s been wearing the socks every week, sometimes two or three times a week, for four years. His feet have grown a bit in that time. He’s gone from a shoe size 3 to a size 9.

Yesterday, I made a comment that Shane’s jacket is too small for him, and he said, “I think my socks might be too small, too.”

He pulled up his pant leg, and there were the tie-dyed socks. He pulled his foot out of his shoe, to show me the sock’s heel way down in the arch of his foot. The tops of the socks barely covered his ankles.

“This is the last wear for those socks,” I told him.

“But they’re my favorite socks!” Shane said.

“I know, Buddy,” I said. “But it’s time.”

Shane hopefully tossed the socks into the laundry that night, where I found them. And then I took them down to the kitchen, where no one would find them in the trash, and I threw them away.

I hopefully pulled out the tie-dyed socks Shane got for Christmas, and put them in his drawer.

And I only cried for a short time.

It’s Surprising How Much You Can Get Done.

After three days of extreme complaint, as part of our latest campaign to encourage Dylan to do school work when it should be done, Dylan went to school on Monday without his cell phone. He was allowed one hour to use his phone, from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m.

He came home without issue, and spent three hours working on school work. He ate dinner with us. He talked and joked and had a good time at the table, then played the piano for a little while afterward.

At 8:00 on the nose, Dylan yelled down the stairs. “Mom, should I just get my phone out of your room?”

“Yes,” I yelled up the stairs. “You have one hour!”

“Okay!” Dylan yelled back.

He got his cell phone, then went away for an hour, presumably to be with his friends.

At 9:00, on the nose, he yelled downstairs, “Mom, should I just put my phone back in your room now?”

“Yes!” I yelled up the stairs.

About an hour later, Dylan was wandering past the living room and he stopped in to say goodnight to Bill and me.

“I didn’t even really mind not having my phone today,” Dylan said.

“That’s good,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s surprising how much you can get done when you don’t have anything else to do.”

It’s Time to Institute a New Rule.

Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year… Dylan just isn’t taking responsibility for his own work.

He’s finally talking to his teachers after class, and he’s turning things in within 24 hours after they show up as LATE on the online gradebook. (Sometimes this is weeks after the assignment is due.) But, I thought, at least he was trying.

Then I got an email from his teacher, who casually mentioned a homework assignment.

“Yesterday, I extended a deadline for him on an assignment (initially due Wed but I allowed him one additional day). He did not have it completed and I even asked him to stay during lunch to turn it in.  He did not, and  turned it in today. However,  I had already told him yesterday that I would not be accepting it past yesterday. So unfortunately this assignment (which will show up in a week or so in the gradebook) will be a 0.”

So it’s time to institute a new rule. The new rule is: Dylan no longer has access to his phone for more than one hour per weekday. He will not be taking his phone to school. He wasn’t using it for reminders anyway. He will not be using it after school. Dylan gets his phone from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m., and Friday night and Saturday.

If he wants his phone on Sunday, all of his homework needs to be done by Saturday night. So he worked for two hours on Saturday night and was able to keep his phone on Sunday.

He worked hard. He actually did a lot of work.

It’s the kind of thing he should do all the time, to stay ahead instead of constantly playing catch-up with his work.

We discussed this.

Still, the new rule is in place. Homework club three days a week. No phone at school, no phone after school. He is not happy.

But maybe now he will have nothing else to do except step up and be responsible for himself.

He Did Absolutely Nothing.

Dylan flunked a Biology quiz.

The grade appeared online, to my dismay, while Dylan was at school. I had no recollection of Dylan studying for a quiz, so I shouldn’t have been terribly surprised. But somehow, oddly, I was surprised.

I started emailing teachers: please let me know when there’s an upcoming quiz or test, I pleaded, painfully aware that Dylan is 15 and should know these things already.

Within the course of a few hours, I learned that Dylan had a Geometry quiz and a unit test in Spanish – both scheduled for the following day. In addition, he had a substantial number of missing assignments in Computer Science.

He went to Homework Club – his after-school saving grace, which is supposed to give him time to concentrate on what really needs to be done. During that hour, he worked on completing his missing work for History class.

Then I picked up my son from school.

I was calm. I asked about the missing assignments, and he assured me that there were no missing assignments. “I turned everything in,” he said.

I asked him about the Biology failure, and he assured me that it was no big deal. “Everybody failed that test,” he said, as if I care about everybody.

I asked him about the looming quiz in Geometry, and the test in Spanish, and he assured me that he was completely ready for both of them. “I studied like an hour and a half for Spanish already,” he said. “And I already know all of my Geometry. We’ve been doing it all week in class.”

We arrived home, and Dylan did what Dylan always does. He went upstairs with his cell phone, and locked himself away in the music room to write digital music, sing, and play the keyboards.

Dylan came out for dinner. His father asked him about the quiz he failed, the missing work, the upcoming tests. Again, Dylan insisted that he’d done everything he needed to do and was completely ready for everything.

I hadn’t seen him crack a book all week. He didn’t open his binder even once at home. And those tests are going to happen whether he is prepared or not.

I thought about this for hours, while Dylan stayed in the music room. I heard him singing in the distance. I thought about his tests. I thought about his missing work. I thought about him for hours, while he did absolutely nothing to resolve his own situation.

For hours, he did absolutely nothing to resolve his own situation.

At about 9:00 p.m., Dylan bounded out of the music room. “Mom!” he squealed. “I finally finished my song!”

“Dylan,” I said calmly. “Right now, I really don’t care about your song.”

I broke his heart.

And a little piece fell off of my heart, too.

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