Month: October 2016
Dylan’s job (scaring people) runs late. It runs later on weekends, but it still runs late on weeknights.
Dylan has said, many times, that he can work late and still get up on school days. And for the first few weeks, he did it – quite nicely, in fact.
But one Monday morning, after four solid nights of work, there was no movement in his room.
I went downstairs and made his breakfast anyway. I still heard nothing from upstairs. Then I heard Shane’s alarm. I heard Shane getting ready for school.
I still heard nothing from Dylan’s room. Normally, Dylan is expected downstairs by 6:45. It was 6:50 and the bus arrives at 7:00.
I made Dylan’s lunch anyway. I made Shane’s lunch. I left Dylan’s egg sandwich in the microwave, just in case.
At 6:57, I heard feet racing down the stairs. I assumed it was Shane.
It was Dylan.
He grabbed his lunchbox and threw on his shoes and a jacket. Meanwhile, I nuked his sandwich and threw it into a piece of foil. I handed him a water bottle and an Espresso.
“You didn’t take your vitamins!” I said.
“I have them in my backpack,” he said.
Right, I thought. But he sent me a picture of those vitamins … while he was on the bus.
Which – unbelievably – he caught, and he made it to school on time.
Tonight is Dylan’s last night to work this season.
Thank you, God.
Shane came home sick from school.
“I was really sick in fourth period,” he said. “But it was picture day, and I was getting my picture taken in fifth period, so I decided to stay in school.”
I felt for the guy. We kept talking about the day.
“Oh, and Mr. T says I’m going to be the director next year for the Morning Show,” he said – as casually as if he were telling me about his homework.
“WHAT?!” I squealed. “You’re going to be the director?”
The Morning Show is the televised broadcast of morning announcements. Shane has been working in the tech booth since the beginning of sixth grade. Being director means that he would be in charge of the tech booth.
“Yeah, because I’m one of only two seventh graders who will still be here next year,” he said.
Shane tends to put down his own accomplishments. When he makes a good joke, for example, he’ll tell me where he first heard it – even if his timing and re-usage was spot-on. Now he was doing the same thing with being promoted.
“Shane, that’s great!” I said.
“Yeah but really I’m just the only one who knows all the stuff,” he said.
“You know all the stuff!” I said. “That’s great! I can’t believe you’re going to be director!”
There is no higher position in the tech booth.
“Yeah,” he said.
“So tell me exactly what Mr. T said,” I said, still trying to encourage him to feel some pride.
“Well, we were all talking in the booth and Mr. T came in. And one of the kids said, ‘maybe Shane will be director next year.’ And Mr. T said, ‘yeah, he will.’ And then he just walked out.”
This seemed rather anti-climactic.
“That’s great,” I reiterated. “You are going to be a wonderful director!”
“Well, I still need to learn one more thing,” he said. “But I’m going to learn that in a couple of weeks.”
“You have the rest of the year to learn everything,” I said. “You’re going to be a great director.”
And he will.
As long as Shane actually gets to be director, and that half-hearted “yeah he will” actually meant “yes, he will.”
Dylan works weekends – and actually Thursdays and Sundays – during the Halloween season. He loves this job. He doesn’t get paid, except in Social Service Learning hours, so he is technically a volunteer.
As such, he can lose his job if he doesn’t keep up his grades. He has only 24 hours to “fix” any missing work that appears in the computerized gradebook. Either his teacher must change the grade, or write a note that explains that the work has been turned in.
Dylan has been coming home with notes throughout the Halloween season, and he brought his grades up – and kept them up – from a 1.7 to a 2.7. According to house rules, he is doing everything right to keep his job.
But over the weekend, on a Saturday afternoon in fact, his grade tanked in Algebra 2. Quite suddenly, he went from a low B to a low D in the class, thanks to an incomplete test and a take-home quiz that was, apparently, never turned in.
This happened on a Saturday afternoon. So Dylan couldn’t – literally could not – fix the problem. He was already at work when I discovered it, and still had a full day-and-a-half before he could go to school and take care of it.
So I emailed the teacher, asking as gently as I could, “What happened?” Then I wrote a note to Dylan, outlining the grades he had, the missing work that was, in spite of the handwritten notes, still missing.
While he still has a 2.7 GPA, even with the “missing” work that hasn’t been graded yet, I noticed that he is only one point away from dropping a full letter grade in three of his classes. If that happens, his GPA drops to a 2.3.
And there are only two weeks left in the quarter.
More importantly, there’s only one weekend left for his job at Field of Screams. And the upcoming weekend is the biggest one of the year: five full days, including Halloween night.
So I put the note in front of Dylan’s door while he was sleeping (something he hasn’t done much lately). I explained the situation, asked him to reread the outlined expectations, which give him some very specific timelines and consequences.
He fixes it on Monday, all of it, or he doesn’t work on Halloween weekend.
I am holding my breath.
Shane signed up for “A Day of Writing with the Authors” at a local college.
The sign-up process was benign – paperwork and processing as always – except for one thing: students chose their favorite genres, and ordered their choices from 1 (favorite) to 3 (least favorite). Students chose three classes for both morning and afternoon – so they would be spending the day, technically, with two authors.
The registration form – which we completed more than a month in advance – said that, due to class size limitations, “students may not receive first choice.” Once a class was full, students were put into their second choice class.
Shane chose Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing in the morning, and Playwriting in the afternoon.
When Shane showed up for the workshop five weeks later, he got one of his first choices – Playwriting. But he was a bit heartbroken about losing the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing class. He really enjoys writing fantasy, and he ended up in a Science and Nature Writing class.
As a parent, I felt like I had failed him. Registering five weeks early wasn’t quite early enough to get him what he wanted. And as always, I wanted him to have what he wanted.
It amazes me how much needs to be done early – way, way early – to get the most out of the experience. If you ever go to Disney World, for example, it is fun. But if you plan six months in advance, make dinner reservations four-to-six months in advance, plot your rides two months in advance, and show up an hour before the park opens every day, then you can actually get what you want out of the vacation.
I am a planner. It works well with motherhood. But in this case, I hadn’t planned sufficiently. Five weeks wasn’t early enough. Perhaps six weeks would have guaranteed Shane that spot in the Fantasy class. I started to fret about it during orientation, and fretted nearly all day about it – even though there was nothing I could do.
But I also remembered the most important thing: whatever happens is what is supposed to happen. Not everything that happens is good. Not everything that happens is what we want. But sometimes, even when we do our best to do what we think is best, what is supposed to happen always prevails.
There are some things in life over which we are simply powerless.
The good news: Shane didn’t dislike his Science and Nature Writing class, and he loved Playwriting. So once again, in spite of whatever concerned me, everything worked out for the best.
Dinner was ready.
I texted Dylan, who was upstairs: “Dinner. NOW.”
I added the “now” to imply that he should actually show up. Yet, he did not show up.
“Dude.” I texted again.
There was no response.
“DINNER!” I screamed upstairs, loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear me.
Shane came barreling down the stairs immediately. There was no further sound.
I dug deep. “DIIIIIIINNNNNNNERRRRRRR!” I bellowed, hurting my throat and reminding me that I don’t know how to properly project my voice.
Still no sound from upstairs. Not even a footstep.
Dylan practices music in a relatively soundproof room. He has said, on numerous occasions, that he will always answer my texts when he is in that room. This, however, is not the case.
I went and got the giant bell, the one from my childhood that my mom used to ring for me, when I was two miles away playing in a creek somewhere.
DONG! DONG! DONG!
The entire neighborhood heard that bell. It reverberated in my hand until I finally stopped the vibrations.
I waited a minute. Then another minute.
Finally, with a heavy sigh, I started climbing the stairs. I went into the back room, where Dylan spends his waking hours. I opened the door. As usual, Dylan was sitting on the bench, not really playing the keyboards, and hunched over his cell phone.
“I SAID ‘DINNER’!” I boomed, probably too loud for the quiet room.
“I DIDN’T HEAR YOU!” he boomed back, definitely too loud for the room. (He knows how to properly project.)
“I texted you!” I said, exasperated. “Twice!”
“Well I just NOW got your text! I can’t answer it if I didn’t get it until just this second!”
“AND I have been screaming from the bottom of the stairs! I even rang the dinner bell! You seriously didn’t hear the bell?!”
“No!” he said.
“Dylan,” I said, “I am really, really sick of climbing the stairs and coming back here just to find you on the phone, five minutes after I texted you, screamed for you and then rang the bell. If you can’t come down when I call you, then you can’t stay in this room.”
“But you didn’t even try CALLING me!” Dylan said. “I would have answered the phone if you had just CALLED me!”
Eventually, Dylan and I both went down for our somewhat cold dinner.
As we reached the kitchen, Dylan veered off the path. “I have to go to the bathroom,” he said.
So as usual, the family ate dinner without Dylan.
When Dylan was in third grade, he had a teacher who not only didn’t understand him, but also didn’t care about him.
Before the first day of school, Dylan’s third grade teacher skipped “Meet the Teacher” day, which is when I would usually introduce Dylan’s particular idiosyncrasies to his teachers.
By mid-September, Dylan was coming home saying that he’d missed recess – again. I didn’t know yet about ADHD, but I knew one thing about Dylan: the boy needed to move almost as much as he needed to breathe. So I went in to talk to the teacher.
I met her in the hallway. She said she didn’t have time to talk to me because it was lunch time and she needed to eat. So, in the hallway, I very quickly said, “Dylan can’t be kept in from recess. He needs to have physical activity in order to do well in school.”
“Has he been diagnosed with something?” she asked.
“Diagnosed? No,” I said. “But ….”
She waved her hand, interrupting me. “I’m not giving him any special treatment unless he’s been diagnosed with something.” And she walked briskly away.
I just watched her go.
That year was a nightmare. We begged for help from the principal, who had serious issues of her own. I spent that year keeping records of the emails I sent to the teacher, which went unanswered. I spent hours with the school guidance counselor, who seemed to know exactly what Dylan needed – but was powerless to help him. And we had meeting after meeting after meeting with the school principal, whose understanding of Dylan was non-existent.
And for six months, Dylan’s teacher kept him inside during recess, day after day after day, forcing him to complete his work – work that he couldn’t finish – before he was allowed to go out and play with the other kids. Finally, after countless fights with the administration, we got something into place called a “504” that forced the teacher to allow my boy to play for those precious 24 minutes a day.
The following year, Dylan escaped that school, that teacher, that principal, when he was accepted into the GT program that changed his life.
But I remember third grade all too well.
I am re-reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Maya Angelou’s writing leaves me utterly awestruck. This is one of the few books I can read again and again, learning from it every time.
Usually one of her casual phrasings will stop me in my tracks – which happened early in Chapter 2 this time. She wrote:
“Like most children, I thought if I could face the worst danger voluntarily, and triumph, I would forever have power over it.”
“Like most children…” she said.
Apparently I am not like most children.
I rarely consider attempting to “triumph” over danger – let alone the worst danger. In fact, if danger lurks, I hide. If something truly scares me, I freeze. If I have to face adversity, I do it involuntarily.
If I am scared of something, I never, ever tackle it head-on. And I surely didn’t do this as a child.
But I will never forget what Dylan did. He did just what Maya Angelou said that “most children” do. But personally, I think he and Maya Angelou are just superstars.
He went to the zoo with his grandparents, and a gorilla stood up inside its glass enclosure. Dylan was three, and the gorilla was a huge and hulking monster on the other side of that glass.
And the gorilla was having a bad day. It stood up and kicked the glass – right at Dylan’s level. The terror that must have filled Dylan is unthinkable.
And Dylan was terrified. He came home chattering and repeating, like a mantra: “The goll-ill-a KICKED da gwass!”
Several days later, we went to the library. Dylan specifically requested books on gorillas. He got every one he could find. He read fiction and non-fiction alike. He devoured information on gorillas. He asked to see pictures on the computer. Then – three months later – he asked to BE a gorilla for Halloween. So we got him a gorilla costume.
Dylan was a toddler, and he was tackling his fear head-on. He learned everything he could learn, and eventually determined that he understood gorillas enough to no longer be afraid.
He believes he will “forever have power over it.”
Today – this month – Dylan is working at Field of Screams. He walked the trail once, maybe twice, having people scare him.
Then he tackled that fear, too. For two years, he has worked behind the scenes at a place that so terrifies me, I didn’t even walk the trail when I knew he was working there. When I picked him up at the end of the night, he came to the car in make-up that made it tough for me to talk to him. Blood-spattered or green-and-gooey, his face was too creepy even for his mom.
I’ve seen every concert, every sports performance, and every play Dylan has ever done. But the Trail of Terror was too much for me.
So finally, this year I went to see him at work.
I faced the danger voluntarily. I dreaded it all day long. I begged the workers to start our ride before dark, because I didn’t want (Shane) to be too scared.
But we went. I went. I walked through all the scary trails and houses. And it was definitely scary. But we had an absolutely wonderful time. Dylan scared the crap out of me, as did some others. But it was actually quite fun.
I don’t know that I have any new power over what frightens me.
But thanks to Maya Angelou and Dylan, I learned that I can try.
I got a message from a stranger on Yelp, where I had reviewed the only office in our area that offers Vision Therapy. The message said:
“Just read about your experience with the VT. Could you share how much cost the therapy session? Trying to see if budget allows before the appointment.
Shane was born with a vision processing disorder. He knew all the letter sounds at age two, but he still couldn’t read when he was almost six. He would listen to audiobooks, and wouldn’t pay attention to the words on the page when I read to him. When he was old enough to try to read, he would rub his eyes and say he was “too tired” to read.
Vision Processing Disorder is very real, and very tangible, and mimics dyslexia in many cases. Shane rarely looked me in the eye as a baby. He simply couldn’t. His hearing was over-developed, so he was ultra-sensitive to noises. When watching a movie, he would cover his ears when he was scared, rather than his eyes. He used his ears for everything because his eyes didn’t track what he needed them to track.
Vision Therapy is a relatively new treatment, and insurance won’t cover it. For the most part, people don’t “believe in it” yet.
But Vision Therapy changed Shane’s life.
So I wrote this response, and said a little prayer for Luci.
“As the old adage goes, if you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it. Insurance covers very little (if any) and the initial exam is a few hundred dollars. Over two years, we spent slightly less than $20,000. Insurance SHOULD cover this – because it is a physical problem – but it does not. So it was very, very expensive.
That said, our child could not read. He could not process letters or numbers, so school was nearly impossible for him. He would have been in the learning disabled program (if he’d been lucky) because he couldn’t function the way most kids do. He knew letter sounds but he simply couldn’t focus on the letters.
After the $20,000 therapy, he is one of the top readers in his class. He writes books in his spare time. He is in the gifted program for math. He is athletic now – he wasn’t before. He can make baskets in basketball, hit a tennis ball, catch a baseball. He’s a drummer in the school band and could not have read music before Vision Therapy. His whole life has been different (he is now 12) because we were able to spend that money.
His eyes and brain did not work together. He was sad and frustrated and his whole life was difficult. He would have needed special education in school, and he seemed to have issues with hearing ‘too much.’ Now his brain and eyes DO work together. He has no issues with hearing, reading, playing, or seeing. We would absolutely, without a doubt, find a way and pay that money again. It is the best thing we’ve ever done for our son. I know it’s a ridiculous amount of money – but it is worth it to change the life of a child, or even an adult. I wish you the very best.”
Please say a prayer for Luci, too. So few people can afford $20,000. We sure couldn’t.
The fact that insurance doesn’t cover this service is abominable.
But we made it happen, and it changed the life of a child: mine.
Given Dylan’s great success with his GPA and turning in work for the past week, some people are wondering about Dylan’s driving opportunities.
Mostly, Dylan is wondering.
Dylan has done well with pulling himself out of the gutter. But this is nothing we haven’t seen before. And there hasn’t been much time yet for him to fall into another gutter. His behavior hasn’t changed much – except that he brought me a note from his teacher before I even asked him to get one. He is still not studying. He is still spending hours and hours and hours on his cell phone. He hasn’t done any SAT practice at all, in spite of my insistence that he needs to do it at least five times a week – particularly this month, to get ready for his PSAT test in a few weeks.
When given the option of school work or no work, Dylan still chooses no work. Instead of taking the bull by the horns and tackling his responsibilities before they become problems, he is tackling the problems one at a time, as they come up. So while his behavior is good, I wouldn’t call it “responsible.”
In fact, he hasn’t even done what is needed to get his learner’s permit. I told him he needs to find out when and where to take the test. (This information is available online and can be acquired in two minutes.) Then he needs to sign up for a time to take the test, and study to get ready for it. Then he can, at least, get his learner’s permit.
Dylan hasn’t even queried about when and where to take the test. I guess he doesn’t care all that much about driving after all.
It’s a shame, really, because he has great skill in driving. He was only four when he was able to steer his grandparents’ electric toy car down the sidewalk, following a perfect path – except when he decided that he was a monster truck driver, and rammed the car into a tree. Dylan has also been driving go karts for years, and really knows what he’s doing on the track, and in our yard.
But he needs to do quite a bit more before he’s able to drive on the streets. Otherwise, it’s like giving a kid fencing lessons and then expecting him to be a great chef. Dylan’s skills need to be a bit more refined.
And that’s what practice driving is all about.
For now, though, there will be no practice driving. There isn’t even a test to take. Thank God, he has plenty of time to learn.
I went into Shane’s room to get his library books – which were somewhere beneath a pile of rubble. I couldn’t get his CD books because there were CDs scattered everywhere. There was money all over the floor – in piles, but all over the place. His bed wasn’t made – although the covers were haphazardly pulled up – and there were toys, books and stuffed animals absolutely everywhere. The room looked like Hurricane Matthew had been inside the house.
Shane has had virtually no reaction to my pleas for him to keep his room clean. But he likes lists, particularly numbered ones. So I wrote the following:
THIS IS NOT OKAY.
The bed is not made, not even a little. The stuffed animals are everywhere. There is money all over the floor. The CDs are not put away – none of them! – and there are books everywhere. There are magic tricks and toys and hats and coins and STUFF EVERYWHERE.
THIS IS NOT OKAY.
Perhaps you will understand better with a TOP 10 list:
10. We can FIND things after we put them away.
9. Our stuff stays nice for years, instead of minutes.
8. Stuff we borrow (from friends or from the library) can be returned in good condition.
7. When someone comes over, or sees the room, we are not embarrassed by it.
6. When someone tries to walk in the room, they can.
5. A neat room makes your life a little happier when you see it.
4. Your parents will stop nagging you to clean.
3. You can show off the stuff you want to display – like your photography.
2. Your room won’t smell bad.
1. We want pests – like roaches and mice – to live outside, not in our house.
FIX THIS TODAY. NOW.
The next step will be to take away video games if you don’t keep your room clean.
Please don’t make me take that next step.
Then I closed his door, taped up the sign, and walked away.
Later, somehow, Shane cleaned the whole mess in less than 15 minutes.
It took me longer than that to write the letter.