Month: May 2017

I’m Proud of You, Son.

Dylan has three C’s, a D, two B’s and an A.

Now that he’s been rewarded for doing all those 1.5-hour homework shifts and getting his signature sheets signed at school, there is little we can do to persuade him that studying – or doing homework – or gosh, anything related to school – is worthwhile.

The way he sees it, he got some B’s and A’s last quarter, so his semester grades will be (in his words) “good enough.” If he were to get those semester grades today, he would have four C’s, two B’s and an A.

And the A is in P.E.

I want very much for him to be hit by the lightning bolt that is “reality.” I want it to suddenly occur to him that he needs to put in actual work in order to get good grades. I want him to wake up one morning and say to himself, Ya know, I could do a lot better. I’m a smart kid. Why don’t I act like a smart kid?

And then I want him to pop downstairs for breakfast with a smile on his face and a song in his heart, grab his coffee and run out the door – on time – for the bus.

When he comes home from school, I want him to say, “Hi Mom! I’m going to get a little work done on my tech project before I start reading my new book for English. Oh, and I got an A on my Spanish test! Adios!” And then I want him to head off to hang upside down on the couch, like he used to do when doing homework, and finish those things he’s supposed to finish – plus be a little ahead on the other things.

And then, somewhere along the line, I want him to turn to me and say, “Ya know, Mom? It sure is a lot easier getting A’s and B’s in school than I thought it would be. All I had to do was decide to do it!”

I swear, I wouldn’t say I told you so. I would just smile and nod and say, “I’m proud of you, Son.”

However, I do not believe that this will ever happen. It’s just a distant wish.

Doing Everything For Him Beforehand Was Insufficient.

It’s a long story, but sometimes I blame myself for not doing more for Dylan when I was giving birth – for not having a C-section sooner, for not getting him out faster. Sometimes I think, It’s my fault that he’s got ADHD.

Then I look at Bill.

This weekend, Bill had the kids – without me – for three days. It started with Shane’s instrumental music field trip to Busch Gardens, and continued to North Carolina to see Dylan’s online BFF. It was a short trip, but I would not be attending – so Bill was on his own.

To say that I took care of the “details” beforehand would be a gross understatement.

I mapped out the routes, found the hotels, and made the reservations. I studied the restaurants and activities in the area and compiled a detailed page with addresses and phone numbers for Bill to take on his trip.

Most important – and most confusing – was preparing for Shane and Bill to meet at an amusement park. Shane was taking a school bus to the park at 4 a.m. and Bill was driving to meet Shane – somewhere – at 4 p.m. I coordinated everything for the 12 hours in between. I made sure that Shane had his park clothes packed, and his band clothing and equipment ready. I prepared portable breakfast and lunch, and gave him supplies for the park.

I printed a map of Busch Gardens, located lockers, and went over the details with Shane so that he wouldn’t leave all of his belongings on the bus. At the last minute, I gave Shane an extra $10 in case online reports were wrong (they were) about how much lockers cost at Busch Gardens. I went over the details with Shane again, making sure he knew how important it was to hang onto his phone – securely, so it didn’t get tossed out on a ride – so he could get in touch with his dad later.

The only detail I could not work out was where, exactly Bill and Shane would meet – because the school didn’t yet know the exact location.

And it took repeated emails to Shane’s teacher, but I secured her cell phone number so that, if everything went completely wrong and Shane lost his cell phone or locked it irrevocably in a locker, Bill would have an emergency contact number so they wouldn’t all leave Shane at the park.

Then I printed out detailed instructions on what Bill should do – with the teacher’s cell number in large, bold print – and gave him the school’s package about the trip, too. I even drove Shane to the bus at 4 a.m., so that Bill could sleep in – and then drive safely to his destination.

And he did. Bill called me three times to tell me how much fun they were having. During call three, I cautiously asked, “Did you ask the teacher where you’re going to meet Shane?”

Flustered, Bill shrieked, “No! I just got here! And do you have that number? I left it in the car.”

I found the number, texted the teacher, got the information, and sent it to Bill, who had left my six pages of instructions in the car.

Four hours went by, and Bill called me, adrenaline-rushed, as he was leaving the park.

I almost didn’t ask. But… “Did you get Shane’s stuff out of his locker?”

Bill gasped, “No! I forgot all about it!” And he hung up.

Ten minutes later he called back.

“That’s why we keep you around!” he told me. Because doing everything for him beforehand was insufficient.

Dylan doesn’t get his ADHD from me.

I Can Enjoy a Bit of Solitude.

I have been sick for a week. I’m definitely getting better, but I haven’t been out and about much.

As a result, I didn’t make my annual trek to Pittsburgh this year – which makes me sad. But I also didn’t chaperone Shane’s trip to Busch Gardens today, which makes me even sadder.

This morning, I drove Shane to his chartered bus at school at 4:00 in the morning. It was the least I could do, allowing my husband and Dylan to sleep in – so that they could be up and ready for their big day, too.

Because this is the weekend that Dylan is rewarded for all of his efforts in school since January.

He’s gotten substantially more than 200 teacher signatures on his “signature sheet,” which means he’s had to talk to every teacher after every class except P.E., virtually every day. In addition, he’s had to do five, 1.5-hour shifts of homework every week. He did it all – and his grades reflect his efforts, although not as much as I might hope.

Regardless, this weekend, Dylan gets to go to North Carolina to see his online friend who lives there. And given the circumstances of Shane’s field trip, Shane is going with them – because I was supposed to be in Pittsburgh. Bill and Dylan and Shane are all currently at Busch Gardens, on their way to North Carolina.

I am left utterly alone in this sprawling, quiet house.

Some people would be thrilled with this turn of events, I’m sure – having a whole weekend to do whatever I want, no worries about the house or food or what the kids are doing… But me? I am sitting here texting everyone. I am lonely.

I keep thinking that this is what the house will be like in a few years, when both kids have left home. As I was brushing my teeth (at 4:00 a.m., and again at 10:00), I realized I really don’t have any reason to brush my teeth. I probably won’t even leave the house today. In fact, I really have no reason to get out of bed.

Well, I do have a dog. Thank God for the dog. She needed someone to feed her and let her outside to use the facilities. Of course, the dog is ten – so she will probably not be here by the time the kids go to college.

I suppose I can enjoy a bit of solitude.

But it is nicer being needed.


What Kind of Work Did You Do?

Dylan has a new job. He’s been begging for a job for years. He loves to work, even if it’s just volunteer work. Over the years, he has had his own petsitting business, sung at a nursing home, and worked as a scarer at a local Halloween trail. He’s done odd jobs for my parents, too: shoveling their driveway, weeding the sidewalk, etc.

Dylan now has a real job. He had to fill out tax forms and sign up with an online payment company. Dylan is not allowed to broadcast the venue, but – since music is his biggest passion in life – he is working at an outdoor concert venue this summer.

It is work, but he is happy. After spending several hours on his feet, reading and re-reading people’s ticket stubs and showing them to their seats, then waiting for the entire venue to clear out, he climbed into the car, exhausted.

He still doesn’t drive, so someone has to take him to/from his job – which is fine.

Anyway, he climbed into the car, exhausted.

“How was it?”

“It was fine,” he said. “I’m really tired, but it was fine.”

“What kind of work did you do?”

“Inside the pavilion,” he said. “I looked at people’s tickets all night. I got pretty good at it, too. I started being able to remember their faces because the same people would, like, leave and then come back.”

“You checked their tickets anyway, right?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

There was a bit of silence while he rested for a moment.

“And you know what?” Dylan asked.


“After six hours, I made almost as much money as I made shoveling my grandparents’ driveway for ten minutes!”

I laughed.

“There is a chance,” I said, “that your grandparents slightly overpaid you.”

I Was Trying to Force Him to Smile.

When Dylan was small, he smiled all the time. He smiled at six weeks old, and just never stopped. He was lit up like a Christmas tree all the way till he hit middle school, when he discovered that life wasn’t always as glorious as he wanted it to be.

So I have no shortage of pictures of Dylan smiling as a child. But one photo stands out in my mind, because I had to make him smile.

He was almost two years old, and I had dressed him in his best Christmas sweater to get a photo for all of our friends and relatives.

But when it came time to take the photo, Dylan just stood there and looked at me. He sat down on the floor. He walked around a little, but mostly, he just didn’t do anything. He wasn’t exploring and laughing, like he usually did. And it’s not easy to force a non-smiling toddler to smile.

I tried every trick I knew. I wiggled and danced. I waved toys around. I made funny sounds. I jumped up and down. But nothing happened.

Dylan simply would not smile.

For a moment, I forgot I was talking to a toddler. “Dylan,” I said. “You always smile. Why aren’t you smiling? Don’t you want to smile for the picture? Do you know how to smile? Here, look! I will smile and show you.” I smiled.

Dylan didn’t even speak well at this age, so he didn’t respond to this attempt, either.

Finally, I got a picture of him almost smiling. The corners of his mouth turned up briefly, and I used that photo for every Christmas card.

A couple of hours later, I was holding Dylan – who was, of course, still a baby – and I realized he felt warmer than usual.

In fact, he was burning up. He had a fever, and was sick for several days.

And was trying to force him to smile.

I’ve never forgotten that, because I felt like an abusive parent. How could I not know he was sick?

Then … it happened again – last week. Dylan was 16, though, so he could talk. And he said, repeatedly, “Mom, I am sick.”

“Go to school,” I said.

“Do your work,” I said.

“Call me if you need me,” I said.

Then I left him to fend for himself. He did need me, and I drove away. I forced him to wander around, sick, until he actually got a fever. Then I patted his head and got him some water and did all the things I should have done for him in the first place. And I wished I were a better mom.

Two days later, I got sick. I woke up miserable, achy and scratchy, yet fever-free. I canceled my day and went back to sleep, because that’s what sick people should do.

But Dylan had to go to school, because his mom made him do it – just like she made him smile for the camera, all those years ago.

But I Feel Awful.

Dylan wasn’t awake when the bus drove past the house.

He wasn’t awake ten minutes later, either, when Shane came downstairs. Shane said, “Should I wake him up?”

“I don’t know what you should do,” I told Shane. “I told Dylan I wouldn’t wake him up for school anymore this semester.”

“I’m going to wake him up,” Shane said.

“I don’t know anything about it,” I said.

Twenty seconds later, Dylan was downstairs, disheveled and anxious. “Mom, can you drive me to school if I get ready really fast?”

“If you are ready when I take Shane,” I said, “I’ll drive you.”

Dylan disappeared for awhile. Then he came back down, still disheveled and anxious.

“Mom, I really don’t feel good,” he said. “My head hurts and I just feel really awful.”

“Right,” I said. “Get back upstairs and get dressed. We need to go in seven minutes.”

“But I feel awful,” he said. “My head really hurts.”

“You need to drink more water,” I told him. “Now go. Get ready!”

Dylan got in the car, just in time. He didn’t look good. In fact, he was almost shaking. He couldn’t eat his breakfast-to-go, and said he was nauseous, too.

“You look like my mother did once,” I told him. “She didn’t have any tea one morning, and she was totally sick. She was nauseous and had a headache. Maybe you’re having caffeine withdrawal.”

“But this never happened before,” Dylan whined. “I drink coffee every day!”

“You didn’t drink Monster yesterday, did you?” (In spite of my urgings against it, sometimes Dylan drinks these horrific chemically caffeinated drinks.)

“Ironically, I did have some Monster yesterday,” Dylan admitted. “Just half a can that somebody gave me.”

I handed him his coffee. “Drink this during P.E.,” I said. “You don’t have to participate.”

“Really?” he said, visibly relieved. He loves P.E. (I should have known right then.)

I scrawled a note for the nurse to excuse him from P.E., which happened to be first period. Then I drove off. He called me a few minutes later, to tell me he had to go to P.E. instead of sitting in the nurse’s office, but that he didn’t have to participate.

“Drink your coffee,” I said. “And go back to the nurse and call me if you need me to pick you up later.”

Two hours later, Dylan texted me: “I’m cold.”

Dylan was wearing a muscle shirt and shorts, which he often wore even in the winter. Dylan never gets cold.

“It’s 85 degrees out,” I said. “But I am driving right by your school during lunch. Can you meet me outside? I’ll bring you a hoodie.”


He was actually grateful to get the hoodie. (I really, really, should have known then.)

“Now go do your work,” I told him. “And I’ll pick you up after homework club.”

At 4:00, I found him on a bench and dragged him home. He didn’t talk much. He said he was better after the coffee, but not much. I chided him for not doing enough work at school, and told him he’d have to finish when he got home.

At home, he wouldn’t get out of the car. Twenty minutes went by. I assumed he was texting friends.

“It’s a hundred degrees in the garage, Dylan!” I said. “Get out of the car!”

He dragged himself inside, and fell asleep on the floor in the office, next to his desk.

Dylan had a fever of 101 degrees.

I Didn’t Do Anything!

I substituted as a teacher for a third grade class. Third grade is my favorite, because they all want to “help” me teach. They’re old enough that they actually can help me – and they’re young enough that they actually do what I ask them to do.


There was one boy in this class, though. We’ll call him Fernando because, well, that’s his name.

Like Dylan, Fernando didn’t seem very interested in his work. In fact, he spent much of the day with an empty worksheet in front of him. He gazed around the room, kicked things around under his desk, played with tiny little pieces of paper, laughed without provocation on a regular basis, and distracted everyone within 15 yards. At one point, he literally flooded the sink area, and poured a cup of water onto another student’s desk – dousing everything in sight.

I thought I had it under control.

Since he seemed to be having trouble getting the words from his head to his paper, I broke out a fidget toy that I bought for Dylan. It’s a really cool toy.

“You can use this,” I told him, excited to give him an option that no one had previously considered.

He played with it for a minute.

“I think I’m all right,” he said, and handed it back.

The afternoon went on, and Fernando did – quite literally – none of his work. If he put his name on his paper, I thought he was doing well. I tried ignoring him. I tried praising him. I tried lecturing him. I tried encouraging him. I tried rewarding him. I tried threatening him. I moved him to a seat far, far away from all of his classmates.

In fact, I tried every, single behavior modification trick I knew.

Fernando still didn’t do any work.

Finally, somewhere after 2:00, I said, “Fernando, I give up. Go to the principal’s office.”

“No!” he said. “I didn’t do anything!”

“I know you didn’t do anything,” I said. “You haven’t done a single thing all day long.”

“I’ll do my work!” he said. He started writing at a furious pace. He had half his paper finished in 30 seconds.

He finished half his paper in 30 seconds.

Fernando wasn’t like Dylan at all. Fernando had no trouble writing, or getting his thoughts onto paper. Fernando just didn’t feel like doing what he was supposed to do.

So Fernando spent the afternoon with the principal, while I spent my last hour in that classroom kicking myself for believing that all children with behavior problems had learning disabilities.

There really is a difference.

We Were Both Too Tired.

Dylan was sitting on the end of his bed when he said it.

It was late at night, far too late in my humble opinion, and he was exhausted and sullen. Like most nights, we were arguing about some stupid school thing that will likely never matter in the greater scheme of things.

He was slightly slumped, the way he is when he’s tired and sad. It happens most when he’s thinking about school.

It was too late for us to be talking. But I was grumping about something. I am often either too tired to argue, or too busy arguing at that hour, and couldn’t sleep without saying one last thing.

I don’t remember what we were discussing, but I said something like, “You need to do it to get into college!”

And that’s when he said it. I assumed that, someday, it would come.

Dylan said, “I might not even go to college.”

He said it in a tired way, as if he were too tired to take even one more minute of school.

And of course, college is school.

I didn’t blow up right away. I said something grouchily at him and walked away, went into my room, started to get ready for bed.

But then I went back to Dylan’s room. And then I blew up. i knew better, and I stopped quickly, but I did myself no favors.

Dylan put his head in his hands. I shut up and walked away.

We were both too tired for that conversation.

It’s been many days now, and I am still too tired for that conversation.

He Hadn’t Told Anyone.

Shane came home one day with a big bag of candy, pencils and other fun stuff. He didn’t say anything about it for several hours, until I stumbled upon it.

“What’s this?”

“Some kid named Jellybean gave it to me,” Shane said.

“Jellybean gave you some candy?” I asked. It sounded like a joke waiting for a punch line.

“Yeah,” Shane said. “There was this letter in it, explaining why.” He pulled out a piece of paper. It read:


this certificate is awarded to


in recognition of

“The Darkness in Love” (First Prize)

Shane had won first prize for the story he’d entered in the school writing competition!

And he hadn’t told anyone.

He’d gone out for ice cream with his grandfather. He never said a word. After ice cream, he’d been home from school for hours. He hadn’t mentioned it to his brother or me.

When he finally did, of course, I started to cry. I am so proud of him! I smiled and cried and jumped up and down.

“Congratulations!” I squealed, hugging him.

“Thanks,” he said. He smiled.

“This is awesome news!” I said. “And you didn’t even mention it!”

“It’s not that big a deal,” he said.

“It is a big deal!” I told him. “You won first prize for your story! That is a HUGE deal!”

“Not really,” he said. “Probably just not that many people entered the contest.”


“Shane,” I said. “Probably that many people did enter the contest. And your story was chosen as the absolute best one! Remember when you won the Chairman’s Choice Award for photography?”


“Did you think that was a big deal?”

“I guess so,” he said.

“This is every bit as big a deal as that! Maybe even bigger! You wrote a story and the judges thought your story was the best one! This is great!”

“You know what’s not great, though?” he asked.

I sighed. “What?”

“All the candy they gave me is stuff I can’t eat with braces,” he said.

And he’s right: it’s all chewy, gooey stuff that he’s not allowed to eat for another year. But somehow, I think that’s not the point.

His humility astounds me.


When is Your Independent Reading Due?

On the very far, back-in-the-corner burner in Dylan’s mind is the idea that, for each semester, he is required to do an independent reading project. His teacher casually mentioned this – to me – a few weeks ago.

“What are you going to read?” I asked him – a few weeks ago.

“I have to read a fantasy book or science fiction, but I think I’m just gonna pick one of the ones on the list,” Dylan said.

“Which one?” I asked.

Alice in Wonderland,” he said. “I already read it.”

“You read it when you were nine!” I squealed. “And I read it TO you!”

“Yeah, but I still remember it,” he said.

“It doesn’t work that way. You need to pick a new book and actually read it.”

“Okay,” he said.

A few weeks went by. I offered him my copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “It’s really funny,” I said, “and you can read the whole thing in two hours.”

He glanced up from his phone. “Okay,” he said. Dylan likes books that are funny, and the dry wit in Hitchhiker’s Guide is tough to beat.

Several more days went by. Meanwhile, Shane – who had been diligently reading his independent reading selection for more than a week – started to panic. “I have to finish this by Thursday!” Shane said. “I thought May 11 was Friday!”

Shane then calculated the number of pages left in the book, divided it by the number of days he had left to read, and got to work.

Several more days went by. “When is your independent reading due?” I asked Dylan.

“I don’t know,” he said. (His teacher had mentioned it to both him, and me, and his case manager, on more than one occasion.)

“What do you have to do when you’re done with the book?” I asked. “Shane has to do some kind of worksheet. What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” Dylan said.

“You haven’t even cracked the book yet,” I said. “You might want to find out when it’s due.”

“Okay,” he said.

We went home and got into a skirmish over a testing calendar that I needed to see – a calendar that he’d lost in less than an hour after he’d received it.

“I’m going to look through your binder then,” I said.

“Fine,” Dylan said – then went to take a shower.

Inside his binder – catching my eye – was a paper about his independent reading project. He has to create a notebook based on five separate characters in the book, complete with a full cover, written character descriptions, and five collages of images representing each character.

The entire project – based on the book he hasn’t yet opened – is due in two days.

On my way to talk to Dylan about my discovery, I stopped to see Shane, who was lying on his bed, reading.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“I’m on page 140,” he said. “I’m trying to get to page 180 before I go downstairs, and then I can read later tonight to page 210.”

“How long is it?”

“It’s 260 pages,” Shane said. “But I’m going to start working on the project before I finish the book.”

“That sounds like a good plan,” I said to Shane.

Then I went to find Dylan, to tell him what he needed to accomplish in the next two days. I found him sitting on the furniture, laughing at his cell phone, completely un-phased.

He looked at me.


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