Month: January 2017


This is Not a Victory.

My faithful readers are probably rushing to their computers, desperate to find out if Dylan survived the first half of 10th grade, so I won’t keep the three of you in suspense.

Dylan survived. He did not fail the first half of 10th grade.

Somehow he pulled himself barely out of the gutter. He did work night and day for a few weeks to do it, and he did it. We think he had no failing grades, although we won’t know for sure until tomorrow, so I’ll alert the presses if it changes.

This is not a victory; it’s more of a “pass-fail” success.

Although the online system is not updated yet, we think he eked out two D’s instead of failures, along with a host of C’s and even a couple of B’s. This means he gets to keep his extracurricular schedule, including being Willy Wonka in the play. He also “gets” to stay in Ski Club, for which his parents paid hundreds of dollars.

This is a victory for his social life, but I hope he realizes how close he was to losing those things.

Dylan still had many, many missing assignments that will never be done. He simply didn’t do the work that was required of him, and he surely didn’t turn it in on time. For the past month, he’s been extremely stressed out, nearly unable to function under the workload that he created himself.

I’ve noticed with Dylan that, for most of the time, he is utterly panicked about the workload – so much so that he can’t do anything other than panic – instead of just doing the work. If he would do the work instead of worrying about how much work he has to do, his whole world would run smoothly. But he procrastinates, then panics, then struggles to catch up.

This quarter was substantially worse than any that has come before. Dylan missed three days of school because he was sick and, when he finally decided to buckle down, it was simply too late. A lot of his assignments got only half credit, and some remained “zero points” for the entire quarter.

I do not consider this a victory.

Dylan didn’t change his study habits, prioritize his homework, and act responsibly so that he could get good grades. Instead, he did the same thing he always does: change none of his behaviors until the end of the quarter, then pull out a miracle based solely on determination and luck.

Somehow, he’s come out with relatively reasonable semester grades, which will go on his transcript for college. I don’t know exactly what they are yet, but he won’t have anything less than a C. The majority of his semester grades will be B’s.

Still, this is not a victory.

This is merely a chance for an awakening.

I Am Holding My Breath.

Two. Days. Left.

Shane has two B’s and is retaking quizzes and tests, in science and algebra, to bring up his grades by the end of the day on Thursday.

I don’t care about science. Algebra goes onto his college transcript. I care about that.

Shane doesn’t really care about either one, but he does whatever his teachers or I ask him to do.

He wants straight A’s, but not because he cares about college. He wants straight A’s because he would get a little asterisk next to his name on the local “Honor Roll” website.

Perception is everything.

Meanwhile, Dylan is running on about four hours of sleep per day. He has so many zeros and missing assignments, he can no longer take a minute off. He’s been working hours and hours – even into the wee hours of Shane’s birthday. Then he’s getting up and going to school an hour early, to get things done before the day kicks into full gear.

He works through lunch. Every. Single. Day. He hasn’t had a free lunch period in a month.

On days when he doesn’t have play practice, he’s staying after school and working with his case manager to catch up. Then he comes home from school and, as is now required by his parents, spends an hour and a half sitting in the office with his laptop, under his parents’ watchful eye.

This is a new requirement, which will continue for the rest of his sophomore year. If it works, he might actually be caught up, instead of spending a month catching up.

Then, when Dylan is done with his hour and a half, sometimes he works for a few more hours.

As he is doing all the work he missed, more work is coming due. Some of it he knows about. Some of it, he doesn’t.

If he gets less than a 2.0, or he has an “E” (failing grade) on his report card, he will no longer be Willy Wonka in the play about Willy Wonka.

I am holding my breath until the quarter ends.

Dylan thinks he will have a 3.29 and that a “C” will be his lowest grade.

Perception is everything.

We Think in Our Own Kind of Box.

Shane has always been bright. He has a great imagination, and sometimes he thinks so far out of the box that it is difficult to understand him.

I found a video in the archives of Shane on his 5th birthday. He was talking about a place with a skeleton – not a place I recall – and how he wished “that it was all connected.” I have no idea what was supposed to be connected, or where the skeleton may have been. Even as the videographer then, my ignorance is obvious.

I’ve tried my best.

Shane’s oddball thoughts aren’t actually that odd, if he gets a chance to explain. They’re usually rooted in something imaginative, and then sometimes go off into the clouds and come back with magical powers.

For example, Shane might make a comment about someone’s clothing being triangular, or riding a blue whale, or hallucinating a genie standing on the side of the road. What makes these comments unusual is his conviction in them, his ability to make images so real that he can’t remember if he created them when he was awake or asleep. He just sees the world from a different angle than most people.

Over the years, somewhat surprisingly, I have discovered that Shane and I think out of the box in the same way. Or else we think in our own kind of box.

It’s been wonderful having an advocate in the family, given that there are two guys with ADHD who don’t stop long enough to consider the philosophical implications of a water slide from the moon. It’s also been wonderful to learn that I’m not the only one who thinks slightly off kilter.

When I was young, I believed I was the only one who saw the world from this kind of skewed perspective. I felt very alone. I often spent my time alone. I didn’t think that anyone understood me.

In fact, I’m pretty sure I am still often misunderstood.

Through Shane, as I’ve watched him grow, I have learned that I am not as bad as I thought I was. In fact, I have learned that being weird – even though some folks don’t understand – it’s just another way of being beautiful.

Shane is bright, imaginative, creative, funny, gorgeous, bizarre, witty, and spectacular. Today Shane turns 13.

Thanks to Shane, among other good fortunes, these have been the best 13 years of my life.

Happy birthday, Baby Boy. You are as spectacular a teenager as you were a spectacular child.

I Am Like an Ostrich.

Public schools are closed today for Inauguration Day. So when I woke up this morning, I did so leisurely. The kids were still sleeping, and I rolled over half-heartedly remembering my dream of owning a pet ostrich.

Then I heard a noise. It was a rumbling, maybe a roaring noise, that I couldn’t identify.

It’s a bomb, I thought, without filtering my panic. It’s Inauguration Day and someone is already bombing us.

My eyes popped open. It’s Inauguration Day. The noise was just an abnormally loud plane. But that didn’t quell the fear.

Living just outside of Washington, D.C. is suddenly unnerving. Like most Americans, September 11, 2001 was an eye-opening, terrifying experience. Like anyone who remembers that day, we went from free to permanently terrified in minutes.

In this area, 9/11 was followed in 2002 by a sniper attack that ravaged the area for more than a month. With my toddler, I hunkered down in my house, afraid to walk out of my own front door.

Today feels like that. I am, once again, afraid to walk out of my own front door. I’m afraid that something will happen during the inauguration. I’m afraid that something will happen during the protests and marches that are scheduled all over the country. I’m afraid that China will believe this moronic character has actual power, and the bombs will be flying before summer. I’m afraid that the Russians will get angry at something he says and disperse nuclear weapons everywhere. I’m afraid that, no matter which country gets angry, my boys will end up either dead from an attack on Washington, D.C. or dead in a military uniform after a reinstated draft.

I am not simply scared. I am terrified.

The root of the word “terrify” is the Latin term, “terrificus.” “Terrificus” is also the root word for the word “terrific.” And terrific, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t mean “good.” It means “of great size, amount or intensity” – in which case, having this particular person in office is certainly something “of great intensity.”

So I try to skew my thinking to something “terrific” – something that, somehow, will be survivable for the next four years.

I’ve imagined that we could somehow get through these four years unscathed. I’ve put faith in our incredibly slow government, in all its bureaucracy, in things that take forever to get done. I’ve put faith in the idiocy I’ve seen for my entire adult life – and prayed that our country won’t be completely demolished in these next four years. I’ve imagined that, in two years, we’ll have a more even-keeled government, since there is another vote for Senators and Congressmen in 2018.

I’ve tried not to depend on an insane person assassinating our President. But it does repeatedly cross my mind.

Mostly, I have tried to ignore everything going on around me, so that I can stop the waves of nausea from settling in my stomach permanently, so that I can keep my little corner of the world happy, so that I can hang on with a death grip to the belief that people are good … people are good … people are good. I want to believe that this will not be the end of the world.

I stick my head in the sand. I am like an ostrich.

Like the pet I adopted last night, in my dream.

But … ostriches don’t stick their heads in the sand to hide. They bury their eggs, then turn them regularly. While they’re turning the eggs, their heads appear to be buried.

They’re just caring for their babies – which is, quite honestly, all I want to do.

Having Two A’s is a HUGE Deal.

I am not supposed to panic.

I am supposed to remain calm. I am supposed to breathe slowly – deep breaths. Relax. I am supposed to let whatever happens … happen.

But there are six days left in the quarter. I can’t see straight, with all the worry.

Shane is trying for straight A’s. I am panicked because he has an 87% in science. I have emailed his teacher, learned what he can do, and relayed the information to Shane.

Shane has done nothing to improve his grade. He just figures it will go up on its own. It will not.

But his science grade isn’t going to be on his college transcript.

I am even more panicked because Shane’s Algebra 1 and Spanish 1 grades are going to be the first grades on his college transcript. If he gets A’s in both classes this quarter, he will have two A’s on his transcript for college.

This may not seem like a big deal to those who have brilliant, non-learning-disabled children. But in this house, having two A’s is a huge deal.

Shane could actually pull it off.

In an interesting twist, there’s a chance – small, but there – that Dylan could get two A’s this semester, too. He will likely get an A in chorus. But if he works like crazy for the next week, especially on one project for his government class, there is a chance that he’ll get an A in that class, too.

I am not holding my breath.

I am also not breathing slowly.

In fact, I am completely panicked over all of it.

Dylan Did Not Like My Suggestion.

Dylan had a three-day weekend. He’s failing two classes and has C’s in everything else, except chorus. His angelic voice is getting him at least one A this semester.

There is nothing that he’s failing because of incompetency. He simply hasn’t turned in his work.

For the three-day weekend, I compiled a list of his English assignments. I suggested that he work with his dad on his Computer Science assignments. I suggested that he do English on Saturday and Sunday, and then on Monday we could go over, together, what he’s missing in his other classes.

Dylan did not like my suggestion.

“Just let me get it done,” he said. “I can do it my way and you will see that it’s completely done by Monday.”

Saturday and Sunday, he had friends over. We limited the time they could be here – and drove them home – so that Dylan would have extra time to work on all of the missing assignments.

There are seven days left in the quarter – in the semester – so we knew he would buckle down and do the work.

But we never saw him do the work. We saw him on texting on the cell phone, Snap-Chatting on the iPad, Face-Timing on the laptop.

On Monday evening, when I suggested that we go over the missing work for the other classes, he had one sentence written for something due in English.

I had suggested that he make a big pile of all the missing English work, printed out, since his English teacher prefers that late work be printed, rather than turned in online. And today he has a meeting with his English teacher to discuss what’s going on. But by Monday night, he hadn’t printed a single thing.

“I’ll print it all out tomorrow,” he said. “I’m too tired to do it now.” And he went to bed.

As far as I can tell, he did absolutely nothing for school this weekend. He swears he did, but I saw no effort.

I got up early and drove him to school so that he could get an hour’s worth of work done before the school day started.

I have no idea if that will happen, but I can guarantee one thing: the new quarter will bring new rules.

I Need to Get Ready!

One fine school morning, Dylan didn’t get up.

I made his breakfast and lunch as always, and waited for the inevitable clamoring down the stairs like thunder-hooves.

It didn’t happen.

I waited for the door to be thrust open, for the slamming of the bathroom door, for the stomping and drawer shutting and other sounds of a boy who waited too long to get out of bed. But none of those sounds happened, either.

Shane came downstairs. “What’s wrong with Dylan?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess he didn’t wake up.”

Dylan has been warned many, many times that I would not wake him up if he slept through his alarm. That’s why he has not one, not two, but three alarm clocks.

Apparently, he didn’t use them on this day.

I slammed the door – hard – when I left to take Shane to school, in hopes that this might jar Dylan awake. Half an hour later I came home, and Dylan was still asleep.

At 9 a.m. – two hours after Dylan should have caught the bus – I finally texted Dylan: “I guess you’re not going to school today.”

He burst forth from his room in less than a minute.

“I set my alarm! I don’t know why it didn’t go off!” he wailed. He was all askew.

“That’s why you have three alarms,” I said, folding the laundry carefully and speaking in my calmest voice.

“But I was sure that it would go off! I woke up at two o’clock in the morning just to make sure I’d set the alarm!”

“What do you want me to do about it?” I asked.

“I have to go to school!” He was standing there in his underwear.

“Well, you can’t go like that,” I said.

“I need to get ready!” he screeched.

“So get ready,” I said.

He raced off and got ready in ten minutes, like he always does. Then I drove him to school. He ate his breakfast in the car.

“I can’t do this for you tomorrow or the next day,” I told him. “I am working both days and I simply won’t be home to drive you to school.”

“I’m going to set three alarms, I guess,” he said, chugging his peanut butter and banana smoothie.

“Okay. And I’m picking you up at 3:00,” I reminded him. This is half an hour after school lets out. “You might want to talk to your first period teacher after school and see if you can make up any work you missed today.”

“I will,” he said.

Then he went inside.

I drove away, leaving him to face his own consequences.

I Spoke Quietly.

I am at 95% power – finally almost not sick anymore.

So I went back to work. I have canceled substitute jobs twice during my illness, so I really didn’t want to cancel again. I realize that people get sick – but geez, three weeks on the couch is enough to make someone want a full-time job!

I had signed up to substitute in a kindergarten class.

Kindergarteners are interesting. The first class for which I subbed was kindergarten, because I remember so fondly those days with my children, when they were young and did whatever I wanted them to do. And indeed, kindergarteners are usually pretty good about trying to do what’s expected.

They can’t tie their own shoes, or argue their own cases with their friends, or open their own milk boxes, but otherwise they’re a pretty nice group.

So on my first day of substitute teaching, I went in to a room full of five-year-olds and spent the day chasing them around the room. It was exhausting. Every child needed something at every single moment. Glue sticks didn’t work, the paper towels didn’t dispense easily, the water bottle wouldn’t open, a clothing tag was bothering someone’s neck. One girl climbed into a cupboard. Another boy never sat down – not once – for the entire three hours I was there.

“Teaching kindergarten is like herding goats,” I declared to my husband upon my arrival home.

I’ve since taught other kindergarten classes, and I’ve become more adept at controlling the classroom. But I stick with my original statement: Teaching kindergarten is like herding goats.

So after three weeks on the couch, I had a kindergarten class. But I still had a cough, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do much “projecting” with my voice to get the kids’ attention.

I armed myself with a bell, and sat the kids down early – using the bell – before even taking attendance. I introduced myself quietly, and I explained that I had a problem with my voice because I’d been sick.

Nearly every hand in the room went up. I called on somebody.

“I was sick yesterday and I threw up twice!”

More hands shot up.

“I threw up three times when I was sick last week!”

I listened to a few more kids, then signaled for them to put their hands down. I explained that my voice wasn’t working very well, so whenever they heard the bell, they needed to get quiet so I could talk to them. Then I moved into the lesson plans, and spent several hours herding goats.

What I learned from those two minutes was invaluable.

I spoke quietly. And I got my point across beautifully.

I thought back to my morning with Dylan: “We’re late!” I had screeched. “I told you to be down here at 6:30 and you blah blah blah blah …”When he didn’t respond to my rant, I’d actually gotten louder. By the time we’d separated for the day, I was screaming at the top of my lungs. In fact, it’s one of the reasons my voice was so bad when I got to that kindergarten class.

But I didn’t have to be loud.

In fact, it’s Rule #1: Remain calm.

I’d forgotten Rule #1.

He Would Rather Dig Himself Into Huge Holes.

The quarter and the semester are almost over. It looks as though Shane might be getting straight A’s, although his science grade just tanked to an 87.1%. But if he gets A’s in Algebra I and Spanish I, his first-ever college transcript grades will be A’s.

Meanwhile Dylan – who said he was shooting for straight A’s this quarter – will be lucky to pull off all B’s and two C’s. I’m not sure he’ll be that lucky, since he has again asked me to back off and let him handle it.

Once again, the work got past him. Once again, he chose to believe he had it “all under control” – and his grades show the opposite to be true. Once again, he did not talk to his teachers until it was too late. Once again, he came home day after day claiming that he had no work due, that he’d already checked online for missing work, that he knew for sure he had everything done.

And once again, half of his grades are A’s – because they were turned in on time – and the other half are E’s and zeros, because they were turned in ridiculously late, or not at all.

Dylan came home from middle school – day after day after day – saying that he had no homework. Or he had a few problems to do for math, but that was all. He had nothing else, ever.

I don’t like to compare my kids – but in this case, it is essential. Sometimes it takes comparing them for me to understand how Dylan’s brain works. For that matter, it helps me to understand Shane, too.

Shane has been doing homework nearly every night since the first day of middle school. They went to the same middle school, but Shane has homework. In fact, even though the homework is minimal, Dylan probably had homework in middle school, too. But Dylan didn’t know he had homework.

So Shane does his work, every night, and he turns it in on time. Once in a great while, Shane forgets to turn in his homework. He leaves it on his bed, or on the floor, or in the kitchen. Shane almost never forgets to do his homework. But for the most part, the work is turned in – on time – and Shane gets A’s.

But Dylan – now in 10th grade – still insists that he doesn’t have any homework. And no matter how many times he looks on the computer at his class lists, or his assignment lists, or his grades with glaring X’s and 0’s, Dylan still says, “I don’t have anything to do tonight.”

And then he goes about his merry way, letting all those assignments slip through the cracks, wondering how it happens – how does it always happen – and having no idea that he could solve the problem with one simple new habit.

Ask your teacher after class: “What was due today?” (Then turn it in.) Then say, “What’s due tomorrow?” Write that down, or put it on your phone, and then actually do that work, that evening, and turn it in the next day.

Dylan doesn’t want to do that. He would rather dig himself into huge holes – and then dig himself out of the same holes, so as to add great drama to his life. And the whole time, he says sits on his bed, chatting with friends he’s never met in person, and says he has it under control.

And I have no choice but to let him do it his way.

But in all honesty, I prefer Shane’s way.

Dylan Just Wanted a Little Help.

In a month, Dylan will select his classes for 11th grade. For four years, I’ve been pushing him in the direction that – I believe – suits him best: the IBCP program. The program is not as strenuous as the full IB diploma program, but it incorporates a handful of IB (broad-thinking, college-level) classes and a program of hands-on action classes (in his case, computer science).

Dylan certainly has the intelligence to get the IBCP diploma. But this week, for the first time, I talked to his AP Computer Science teacher about possibly dropping out of the program entirely.

“Do you think he can handle the IB classes?” I asked him. “We have to decide soon, and it seems that he is really struggling taking one AP class.”

The Computer Science teacher – who is both enthusiastic and supportive of Dylan – said no IB, and yes – maybe:

“I would initially say no.   That being said…I would like to challenge him …if he can prove himself in the second half of AP COMP SCI, then maybe we could talk IB.   The fact is this is an easier AP class…and IB classes would eat him alive if he acts the same way.…  I will ask that this be his challenge class!   If you challenge him  “Do well and we can talk IB”….otherwise we have to go other options.”

Immediately after I got the email from his teacher, Dylan’s case manager emailed me. “Dylan really wants to drop Computer Science next semester,” she said.

This, of course, would eliminate him from the IBCP program – and from IB course eligibility – altogether.

So I started looking at possibilities for Dylan’s schedule. He could take a much simpler schedule, and continue to do as little work as possible because he hates school. He could drop out of IB, never take another AP course, and even drop out of Honors level classes, if he so desires.

But… everything I’ve read about colleges – everything, from every college admissions office – says that they prefer to admit a student who gets okay grades in challenging classes, than to admit a student who gets A’s in on-grade-level classes.

So I talked to Dylan about it after school – about the conflicting emails, about his Computer Science teacher encouraging him to challenge himself, about his case manager encouraging him to drop out of the class because it’s too challenging.

I was not prepared for what Dylan had to say about it.

“What I really want,” Dylan said, “is for my Computer Science teacher to help me when I ask him. He’s too busy! He always says he’ll be right there, and then he never comes back to answer my question.”

This floored me. Dylan just wanted a little help. His teacher was busy, certainly, and had a lot of kids clamoring for assistance. But it sounded to me like there was a huge gap in communication – rather than a problem with the class being too challenging, or Dylan not wanting to be challenged, or whatever.

It sounded to me like Dylan just needed to spend a few minutes with the teacher.

So I set up a meeting for them to work it out.

I have no idea what Dylan will do about the IB program.

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