Month: June 2016

Dylan Didn’t Pack a Towel.

After Dylan headed off into the wild blue yonder with his church group, I went home to take a nap. We had all gotten up very early to see him off.

As I tried to sleep, I realized that Dylan hadn’t packed bug repellant. It kept me tossing and turning for awhile until I realized, He wouldn’t wear it anyway. And I tried again to sleep. Someone will loan him some if he needs it, I thought.

I had tried so hard to allow Dylan to pack for his own trip, using a four-page list that I forced him to highlight.

“Yes, I have everything on that list!” he’d told me for the fourth time, when I’d asked to go through his suitcase with him. But I did go through the suitcase – briefly. I didn’t go over the list; I left that to him. He had underwear and clean clothes and socks and tools. I’d hand-selected his toiletries over the course of several weeks. I’d figured he’d be fine, whatever he packed, and that he would learn from his mistakes if he forgot something.

But no insect repellant. It was mentioned twice on that list.

I tried to sleep anyway. Then it hit me like a baseball bat over the head:

Dylan didn’t pack a towel.

“Towel” was most definitely on the list. Dylan was going to work outdoors in the heat of the summer for eight hours a day, and he was going to really want a shower. And when he got out of the shower, he was going to want to get dry.

Yet, he’d gone off for a week with no towel.

I gave up on my nap, and I texted him. “You didn’t pack a towel,” I said.

I didn’t hear back from him for several minutes. So I texted again. “Tell your team leader and maybe you’ll be able to stop somewhere and get one.”

I still didn’t hear back from him. He wasn’t out of cell range after only 20 minutes in the van.

“Hello?” I texted again, 15 minutes later. “my msg? towel?”

“Okay,” he finally texted back.

And other than another short text conversation during which he answered almost none of my questions, I didn’t hear from him for two days.

It was not an easy task for him to call from Appalachia, but he called on Tuesday night. By then, the only thing that mattered to me was that he was happy, safe and healthy.

Of course, that’s the only thing that ever matters to me – but I manage to worry about a lot of inane details.

So I did remember to ask: “Did you get a towel?”

“Yeah,” he said. “We stopped at Walmart and I got one.”


Best of all, he’s safe, healthy and happy. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

The House is Very, Very, Very Quiet.

Dylan left for a week. He went to West Virginia with a huge church group of teens (and adults) for a week. He’s going to work on projects that will help needy families in the Appalachians. Dylan is going to have an absolutely phenomenal time, which is why I was so excited for him to go.

The house is very, very, very quiet.

The trip is seven hours long, and the destination has no cell phone coverage. I don’t know if I’ll hear from Dylan at all this week.

There is a payphone available, and we gave Dylan a phone card. I begged and pleaded for him to call, and he said he’d try to call every day. But he emphasized the word “try” – which tells me that I might be facing another China-type experience.

Three years ago, Dylan sang with a chorus in China. Because he was only 12 years old, we all went to China with him. But we were on the “family” bus while Dylan was on the “chorus” bus, so we weren’t with him much.

We were only a few hundred yards away from him most of the time, but he was only able to communicate through chaperones – or he could talk to us at meal times. I knew it wasn’t easy for Dylan to write letters, so I made it as easy as possible for him to stay in touch with us.

So I wrote little phrases on orange pieces of paper. I told Dylan he didn’t have to write anything, but that he could just choose a phrase that described the way he felt. He didn’t have to do much – just pick a phrase on an orange paper and hand it to his chaperone, who would give it to me.

The orange papers said things like “I love you” and “I am okay” and “I didn’t get any sleep last night” and “I want to go home” and “the food sucks” and “the food is wonderful” and “China is awesome.”

Then I asked Dylan to give me one orange piece of paper per day. I made sure he had easy access to those papers. I didn’t care which one he picked. I just wanted him to stay in touch. I went all the way around the world so we could stay in touch, and I made it exceptionally easy to do so.

But after two days in China, I still didn’t have a single orange paper. Then, at the tourist-ridden Chinese circus, I wrote a note on a napkin and passed it to Dylan, who sat two rows in front of me. My napkin said, “I NEED AN ORANGE PAPER.”

Dylan turned around and looked at me, and shrugged.

The next day, he finally delivered an orange piece of paper. It said, “I feel OK.” And that was the only – and last – piece of orange paper I got during 10 days in China.

I mentioned this to Dylan, as he headed out for the no-cell-coverage area in West Virginia.

“Mom,” he said. “I was in like sixth grade then.” Dylan implied that he wasn’t going to leave me hanging for another week.

But here I hang.

I am like a fish out of water now, gasping and flopping around aimlessly, with no hope of finding a safe haven. I don’t have a thing to do, except stare at the phone. I carry it around the house with me like an oxygen machine.

In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, I wait for it to ring.

You NEED To Pack.

Dylan is getting ready to go away for a week, as part of the Appalachia Service Project. He will be 7 hours away, working with other teens to help families in need.

He is leaving in two days.

I have spent the past two months getting ready. I have been faithfully reading the emails from those who have gone before him. I have scoured the packing list, and made sure he has – in the house – everything he needs. I bought a pump for his air mattress, a foam mattress in case he preferred that, four pairs of sleep shorts, a tool belt for his tools, work gloves, safety goggles, five pairs of cool-fiber work socks and steel-toed shoes in case he’s running a jackhammer and decides to sheer off one of his toes.

I bought him three new pairs of jeans, since the kids need to wear jeans for their work. When I realized he was going to trash his brand new jeans, I gave him old jeans that didn’t fit. Then my mother went out and bought him several brand new pairs of jeans, too, that were slightly less expensive so we’d feel better about him trashing them.

Then we gathered together a whole slew of old t-shirts from Dylan’s parents and grandparents, that can be tarred and stained without care. I pulled out ear plugs and a sleeping bag and necessary toiletries, along with cases and suitcases and bags. Bill charged up a portable phone charger, even though there’s no cell signal where he’s going, so he can take pictures while he’s gone. I got him books from the library, an inhaler from the pharmacy, and gave him my favorite visor and told him he could trash it.

I started doing all the laundry in the house, so he would have sufficient clothing for the trip. I wrote his name on everything: hammer, screwdriver, tool belt, water jug, all six work gloves. I wrote Hawkins so many times I started to forget that the word had meaning. The emails kept coming, and I kept sharing them with him – in the hopes that he would get excited for his trip.

Meanwhile, Dylan sat on the floor and texted. He played the piano. He sprawled on his bed for hours.

Dylan has been anointed “student music leader” because of his angelic singing voice. He needs to lead the group in song – three different songs. Dylan hasn’t yet learned the songs.

I asked him to do a few things: put your sleeping bag, pillow and air mattress into a bag. (He did this after the third request.) Label the bag. (It’s been three days and he still hasn’t done this.) Help with the laundry. (He’s done this. He folds like a professional!) Pick out the clothes you want to wear in the evenings. (He has not done this.) Read through the packing list and check off what you still need to pack. (He has not done this.) Get everything into a suitcase that fits. (Thanks to me, he is now on his third suitcase, but it is only half packed.)

I keep saying, “Dylan, you are going to be away for a whole week. You are going to have a space of six feet in which to maneuver. You need to make sure you have everything you need in one place. You need to take care of this. You need to pack.”

Instead, he sits there. He Snap-chats. He watches YouTube videos. He goofs around with his brother.

And tomorrow, Dylan’s suitcase goes into the truck – whether complete, or completely empty.

Suddenly, I Saw the Connection.

There was a moment during exam week when I thought, I absolutely cannot deal with Dylan anymore. He was being incredibly obnoxious, spinning and spouting gibberish and mimicking and throwing himself on the floor and making sounds that made absolutely no sense. He was acting like a spoiled toddler, but in Size Large.

He not only wouldn’t do what I asked; he also would purposefully refuse to budge even an inch – or even speak when spoken to. He tested every boundary ever set.

I thought, Maybe he’s sick. When Dylan is sick, his behavior is much worse than normal.

I don’t know what to do with him. My frustration was so great that I briefly considered hitting him, as if adding violence would solve anything. But I remained relatively calm.

At the end of a long week, and a particularly bad shopping trip during which Dylan was throwing a ball across the store while the preschoolers in the store were behaving well, we had a family meeting. Bill, Shane, Dylan and I discussed what it means to be respectful, and how to earn respect.

The meeting didn’t go well, but all parties were actively engaged.

Coincidentally, the family meeting took place the day after Dylan’s last day of school. He slept a lot over the weekend. He ate well. He did his own thing. There was no pressure. No deadlines, nothing due. No school.

No anxiety.

ADHD and anxiety go hand-in-hand – a simple fact that I’d forgotten. In the midst of my frustration, I pulled out a book that a friend got for me: ADD and ADHD Teenagers. There was a whole slew of stuff in there about anxiety.

Suddenly, I saw the connection. I recognized that his anxiety was – in a way – making him act sick. He wasn’t capable of functioning normally. He needed to find a way to calm himself – say, studying and focusing on getting through each exam. But he didn’t do that. So he just spun out of control.

There are no final exams anymore in high school. But there will be plenty of other stressors during his lifetime.

I can only hope that he learns to deal with them as they arrive, and that he actually matures in the process.

He Wouldn’t Be Allowed to Retake Anything.

Shane had a mega-setback at the end of the year in math class. At the end of the school year, students usually get a preview of the following year’s math class. Shane will be taking Algebra 1 next year – a class that Dylan took twice, partially thanks to a very poor teacher in 7th grade.

And next year, Shane might get that same teacher. There are, however, several other options. I had already had a few conversations with the vice principal about Shane’s issues in math – and mostly about his teacher, who rarely did what she said she would do. So over the weekend, I wrote the following (edited) email to that same vice principal:

In the fall, when the other six of his teachers were praising his independence and abilities, Shane’s math teacher said, ‘Shane doesn’t ask for what he wants.’ Meanwhile at home, Shane told me that no matter how long he had his hand up in math class, his teacher would say, ‘I’ll be right there’ – and then never get there.

In the past month of math, Shane has gotten a C, a D, and 2 E’s on quizzes and tests in math. I told Shane to retake whatever tests he could – not so much because of his grade dropping, but because he was obviously missing a key mathematical concept.

Shane asked his teacher if he could retake the tests, and she said she would set it up. A week went by – as usual – and she didn’t set up anything. So Shane asked if he could stay after school – but his teacher said she wasn’t going to be staying after school. She said he could retake the test at lunchtime.

Four more lunchtimes went by – again – and the end of the year was HERE. I told Shane that he had to retake those tests TODAY, since it had been two weeks and it was his last chance. So Shane reminded his teacher, one last time.

Her final retort after two weeks of waiting? She said that Shane’s grade was a B and that he couldn’t bring up his grade to an A, so he wouldn’t be allowed to retake anything.

Shane is very bright, and probably only needed five minutes of help. But he simply couldn’t get that five minutes with this teacher. I don’t know many of the Algebra 1 teachers, but I am sincerely hoping that this email will help you steer him into an algebra class with a GOOD teacher, who knows he exists and answers his questions and gives him the attention he needs.

I don’t know that this email will do any good. But after a year of being ignored, Shane deserved – at the very least – an attempt at success next year. So now we are on to summer vacation – finally – and I can sit back, relax, and try not to panic about algebra for a few months.

But next year, Shane will be in Algebra 1 and Dylan will be in Algebra 2.

Perhaps I should just hire a tutor now.

He Knew A Lot About A Lot.

Today is the last day of exams. Dylan got up and downstairs (almost on time) and headed off to the bus with his canned espresso and a pencil. This, apparently, is all he needs.

This week was a nightmare – but only for me. I listened to Dylan say he was studying, but after the first exam, I saw no evidence of that. I turned the reigns over to Bill, who thinks like Dylan does anyway. Bill quizzed Dylan several times over the course of the week, and made sure that Dylan was on the right track. From what Bill told me, Dylan was on the right track. He knew a lot about a lot.

But my anxiety got the best of me. Nearly every time I opened my mouth, Dylan argued with what I said. It didn’t seem to matter what I said. If I said he needed to study, he told me he’d studied for hours. If I told him he needed to eat, he’d tell me he wasn’t hungry. Often, he was able to tell me how everything was my fault – from his exhaustion to his hunger to the way he combed his hair.

I spent some time lecturing him on the values of “accepting and apologizing” rather than “denying and deflecting.” He didn’t hear any of it.

So (by Thursday) I stopped telling him what he needed to do.

Dylan did a ton of spinning and screeching and bouncing and cackling. He imitated me when I spoke by repeating back what I’d said. He yelled and then told me to stop yelling back. He was so loud, I was sure the people down the block could hear him. Gibberish spewed from him constantly. He spent a lot of the week doing things that seemed appropriate for a two-year-old, but not a fifteen-year-old.

He drove me crazy. I have read whole books on how a parent can “allow” crazy thoughts – but that a kid is just being a kid, and can’t actually “drive” the parent anywhere. I tried to remember that, this week particularly. But it was very, very hard.

I chalked it up to anxiety. But I have no hope that it’s going to stop now that exams are over.

I don’t even care anymore what grades he got. I am just glad exam week is over.

Best of all, it’s permanent. There are no more exams in the county after this year. There’s no more “33% of your grade depends on these two hours.” There will be tests, sure, but all of them with the same weight.

I hope it quells all the anxiety around here. I could use the rest.

He Literally Has to Be in Two Places at the Same Time.

After much tussling with Dylan’s high school class schedule – trying to fit in IB classes and sufficient hands-on classes to keep him able to focus for four years – he decided to take his required half-year health course online, over the summer.

We have to pay for the course, but it frees up an entire half-year of school for him to take P.E. or chorus or computers, or something else that he really enjoys. So it’s probably worth the small cost.

Getting into these online classes is notoriously difficult – something akin to getting into a popular preschool or getting front row tickets to Madonna. So I emailed my registration form within a minute of opening, then hand-delivered my check. We did not want to miss this wonderful opportunity.

The only caveat for taking the course online is that students must be at two face-to-face meetings, in person, or they pay for the course and don’t get any credit, even if they do all the work. So those two face-to-face meeting dates are VERY important.

We got our confirmation by email, and I jumped up to mark our (still paper) calendar. That’s when I discovered that Dylan is already registered for another class on the exact same date and time.

Dylan is taking Driver’s Ed this summer, too.

One class is from 4-7:15 p.m. The other class is from 4-8:00 p.m.

He literally has to be in two places at the same time, I thought.

I had a brief vision of FaceTiming Dylan into one (or both!) of the classes. I mean, he’s not going to be paying attention at either place anyway.

Then I considered calling the Driver’s Ed people and asking if we could take Class #7 at another location on another day. But that would cost us money and be incredibly challenging.

So I called the school’s “e-Learning” office within five minutes of receiving Dylan’s confirmation email, and explained the situation. I asked if we could change the time (but not the date) of the class – and surprise! It was no trouble at all.

Dylan might be a little late for Class #7 of Driver’s Ed. Okay, he may be half an hour late.

But hey, we got it all in.

So What Did I Do?

It is Dylan’s last day of school. Starting tomorrow, he has one exam each day – which will represent 33% of his final semester grade.

Going into exams, he has four C’s in four classes. One of his classes – Biology – is a solid C for the semester. It was a B last semester, but with a C this semester, he will have a C for the class.

This goes on his college transcript, and there is nothing he can do to change it.

But the other C’s can change. If Dylan gets great grades on his exams, he will be able to pull himself out of the gutter, one more time.

Dylan, however, decided that this weekend, he had no real desire to study. He was tired, he said, and just didn’t feel like he could get up off the chair. He claimed he had studied some, and that he will do fine on the exams if he just studies a little bit more.

In other words, he chose this weekend to be a typical adolescent. Instead of rising to the challenge, and becoming the student he knows he can be, he let the pressure smack him down and hold him there.

So what did I do?

Well, after I suggested that he study, and after I said NO, your friends can NOT come over, and after I explained why this weekend was so important, and after I handed him three study guides that printed, and after I told him no electronics until he’d done the work that was due on the last day of school, and after I yelled about the importance of working on school work THIS weekend then, finally, I gave up.

And oddly, I believe that if it weren’t for me, he wouldn’t have even done the work that was due on the last day of school, let alone studied for exams.

But let’s be honest: he says he cares. He says and says and says he cares. But he has yet to really SHOW that he cares.

He says he’s studying a lot. He says and says and says he is studying. He says he studies because he cares even more than I do.

I really do care. If I were in charge of doing the work, I would be spending hours and hours and hours more on studying and getting ready for exams.

I watch him do very, very little – and I care very much.

Shane Needs a Little Help, Too.

Shane – quite suddenly – has two C’s. OVERALL C’s, in two separate classes.

I wasn’t paying much attention to his grades this year, quite honestly, since he had straight A’s during the first quarter and made the honor roll all year long.

But now he has two C’s. He also has a B in the class where the teacher told me in October, “I’d like a whole classroom full of Shanes.” He has A’s in English, Instrumental Music and P.E.

When I look back through the grades that are bringing down his overall grades, they are tests, quizzes, labs. Unlike Dylan, Shane gets his work done on time. But apparently, he isn’t working very hard on … well, anything. He is giving it his bare minimum effort, and he has no idea how to study.

We are not going to wait for him to learn to study. This isn’t something they teach in school. But I can certainly work with him on studying. Just like I’ve worked with him on going back over his work after he completes a quiz – although he rarely actually does go back over his work before he turns it in.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Shane needs a little help, too.

Dylan is brilliant, and we all know that, but his grades are not good. Shane is brilliant and we all know that – except Shane. And while his grades were spectacular at the beginning of the year, they have gone rapidly downhill without the attention Shane needs.

We’re a little late to pull up his grades this year. But we can certainly work on study skills and prepare for next year.

After all, Shane will be taking two high-school-level classes next year, which means they will go on his college transcript. Yep, college. It’s already time to worry about his college transcript.

He is 12.

Click! Click! Click!

I seem to be aging rapidly as my kids are growing, and I am worrying about – among other things – how my brain is behaving. It doesn’t appear to be as capable as it once was of handling simple math, for example. It doesn’t seem to recall simple words as quickly as it once did. Words like “anonymous” and “toaster” occasionally elude me.

This is annoying, so I decided to play some simple brain games online to help my brain revive.

I’m happy to have this option. In fact, I rather enjoy puzzles, and my youth is filled with video game madness. So I was looking forward to this task.

Unfortunately, these games are not terribly fun. They are okay – and I would certainly recommend them to anyone worried about their brain’s decline – but when it comes right down to it, I struggle through some of the games.

After a particularly poor experience trying to figure out a tip for a waitress, I decided to play Countdown. It is an incredibly simple (though not easy) math game with three numbers and a goal. You can choose your own difficulty level, so I chose “2” out of 10 (“very easy”).

There are three math problems, and no time limit. I love that there is no time limit. But it took me ten minutes to get the first answer. And after spending ten minutes on the second problem, I whined aloud.

Dylan was playing the piano in the other room. “Dylan,” I called over the piano. “Can you help me?”

Usually this means he needs to lift a box for me, or reach something on a top shelf. But today, it was math.

“What?” he asked, coming in, ready to lift.

“I can’t do this math problem,” I said. I explained the concept.

Dylan grabbed the mouse, went click! click! click! and the problem was done.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Sure,” he said, and went back to the piano.

I went on to the next problem. As I was studying it, and studying it, and studying it, Shane came home from school. He walked in while I was still perplexed.

“That looks like fun,” he said.

“I am not having fun,” I said. “Go ahead. Give it a try.”

Shane clicked! six times before he had the answer.

I let him do the next three problems by himself. And I went off to do the laundry.

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