Month: September 2017
Dylan is showing up for classes every day. It’s been almost a month of school, and he’s not a ball of anxiety – yet. Of course, while I have plenty of my own anxiety, I am not contributing to any of his school-related anxiety anymore.
He still forgets his work – but I am not responsible for that.
I occasionally check his grades, and can see that he’s missing work. Mostly, I don’t say anything at all.
Dylan forgets to turn in his assignments, then he figures out that something’s missing. He talks to his teacher, and sometimes his case manager, and he turns it in. Usually.
In other words, he is doing exactly what he has done for the past six years. The difference is, I am not in the middle of it anymore.
I am not forcing him to do anything, either. We have no requirements about studying and no requirements about sitting for an hour to “do” homework. Instead, he has consequences. He doesn’t have to study or do homework, but if he has anything less than a B in any class, he doesn’t work on weekdays.
So Dylan comes home from school and does nothing. He sits on the couch with his phone, or he sits upstairs on his bed with his iPad, or he goes in the back room and plays music.
In fact, I haven’t seen him do homework for longer than 10 minutes in the entire year. And that was a one-time occurrence. The day that he did his homework, I thought things had changed. I thought it was the beginning of Dylan being responsible for Dylan.
But no… It was just a fluke.
Due to a number of circumstances, most notably that his English teacher got sick, Dylan has just changed from Honors English to an AP English class.
His schedule is changing from mostly low-level classes and two Honors classes … to mostly low-level classes, two Honors classes, and one AP class.
Dylan says he is excited about the change. He thinks it is more appropriate for him. In fact, he’s mentioned several times that nearly all of his friends are taking IB classes – and I think he misses them.
He has also said that they are all overwhelmed with work – which they are, since many of them are taking a full college-level course load. Dylan does not miss the extra work.
So this is a compromise, I think.
One AP class could be enough to send Dylan right over the edge. Or it might be just the thing to make Dylan responsible for Dylan.
Only time will tell.
Late one night, Shane came down the stairs as I was watching television. He swung himself around the corner into the living room.
“I don’t know if it was the Cracker Jacks or the marinara sauce,” he said. “But I sure could use a sip of water!” And then he merrily trotted into the kitchen to get a drink.
I wasn’t sure what to think about that. I figured he’d stolen a line from one of his Adventures in Odyssey CDs or maybe from Bizardvark. Shane has braces, so he doesn’t eat Cracker Jacks. And not only does he not like marinara sauce, but I didn’t know he even knew the meaning of the word “marinara.”
Shane drank some water, then headed back past where I was sitting.
“Shane?” I called.
“Me?” he said, stepping into the room. (He responds this way frequently, which I find to be adorable.)
“Did you hear that line – about the Cracker Jacks and marinara sauce – from a show or something? Or did you just make it up?”
“I just made it up,” he said. “Why?”
“Because it was really funny!” I said.
“Yeah,” Shane said. “Sometimes I’m like that.”
And then he went back upstairs.
Sometimes he’s like that. In fact, often he is like that. He makes some of the funniest, driest-humor remarks – all the time.
It’s great fun for me. I don’t think he has any idea how entertaining he can be.
But that keeps him humble, and I’m still having fun.
Dylan and I toured a couple of colleges this weekend.
We went northwest – which means we left our big metropolitan area and went to a smaller metropolitan area.
Dylan looked around the first college we visited and made one astute observation: the students weren’t talking to each other. Most of the students in this city school were walking alone, backpacks secure, heads down.
“They’re not even looking at each other,” Dylan said. It was a tell-tale observation about the university.
I learn a lot from Dylan’s observations.
From there, we went to a rather small town, to see a much smaller college. We went into our first session, and seated ourselves in a large auditorium, and started listening to the panelists talk about their college.
About five minutes into the session Dylan said, “Yep.”
I looked at him, confused. “What?” I whispered.
“Every single person in here is white,” he said.
I scoured the audience, sure that he had to be wrong. So I looked… and looked… and looked. Of the approximately 300 people in the audience (and the five on stage), I found only one person who had dark-ish skin. And even that one prospective student was sitting next to a white, adult female.
At home, Dylan’s fair skin and reddish blond hair stands out in the crowd. He’s in the minority at his school – something I’d never really thought about.
While the rest of the day went fine, and we really enjoyed the college, I couldn’t stop thinking about the lack of non-white prospective students. The college is only five hours away from home; how could the population be so albino?
When I got home, I looked up the population of the college town: slightly more than 8,000 people. Dylan’s hometown has more than 70,000 people. Given the number of people, of course there would be more diversity at home. And it’s a fact that more immigrants settle in large cities.
But with regard to high immigrant populations, our area isn’t even in the top 20 cities.
So I looked up the ethnicity statistics on the college itself. The student population is 93.4% white.
This stuns me. In spite of seeing it with my own eyes, I still can’t believe it. Somehow, I have led a life so sheltered, and have remained so naive, that I didn’t even notice.
Of course, for most of my youth, segregation was still firmly in place. In middle school, two African American twins joined my class. They were the first black children I had ever known.
But the statistics on Dylan’s high school are substantially different: 34% Caucasian, just slightly less than the 37% Hispanic population. The Asian and African American populations are almost equal, with 14% African American and 11% Asian. Most of the other 4% are biracial.
These are things I didn’t even know – and actually, had never even noticed about Dylan’s school. But I also spent my life half-blind, not knowing that all the kids in my school were white.
So sitting in that all-white college auditorium opened my eyes to one thing in particular: that my eyes had never been opened before.
Thanks, Dylan, for having your eyes open the whole time.
During the third week of school, I checked Dylan’s grades, just on a whim. He still had four A’s and one B. The ‘B’ was in Piano 2 – his only music class, and the one in which he is most gifted.
I didn’t even wonder why. I knew.
But I looked anyway. And sure enough, he was missing his very first assignment in Piano. The first assignment? To sign a piece of paper saying that you’ve read the requirements for the class. And get your parent to sign it, too.
I saw this piece of paper sitting on a chair for a week. It just sat there, on the chair. Dylan never asked me to sign it. He asked me to sign one for science, and another one for history. But he didn’t ask me to sign anything for Piano.
Because the Piano paper was still sitting on the chair. At one point, I moved it to his desk, in the hopes that he would notice it. I put it right on top of his driver’s ed papers, so that if he practiced driving, he would have to move the Piano paper in order to track his driving hours.
But the paper just sat there. He never mentioned it to me, or asked me about it. And he never turned it in.
It’s exactly the same thing that happened last year, with the same teacher, at the beginning of Chorus class.
Last year, I emailed the teacher The teacher sent me a note and said she’d much give him a zero on the first assignment, so that he would “learn” to turn in his work, than to give him credit for a paper that was turned in a month late.
She had a point. So this year, I said nothing at all to Dylan. I said nothing to the teacher. And Dylan – who was supposed to “learn” to turn in his work – did exactly the same thing he did last September.
Similarly, the grades in his two honors courses dropped from two A’s to a D and an E. The assignments and quizzes he’s completed are all good grades. He has nearly 100% in the assignments he’s turned in.
But he’s missing so much work that his grades have tanked. He hasn’t turned in nearly half of his Modern History assignments, and he’s missing one huge assignment in English.
Dylan works as a scarer at a local Halloween-themed venue. Other than singing, scaring is his favorite thing to do in the entire world.
I’ve told him that he will not be able to work on weeknights unless he has all B’s.
Dylan swears that, by the time he is supposed to work on a weeknight (next week), all of his grades will be B’s. “Those are all going to go up!” he says.
But they will not all “go up.” In fact, it’s quite likely that Dylan will not get to work a single weeknight during the entire Halloween season.
Which is fine with me.
These are the consequences of him being responsible for his own work.
When the kids were young, we planted a sycamore tree in the yard.
Dylan was maybe seven, Shane maybe four, when the truck pulled in with our specially-ordered “real” sycamore. It was about 15 feet high, and the kids watched the tree guys plant it.
Shane stood there, staring. “It’s not big like a tree,” he said.
Dylan spun around in the driveway, waiting for the planting to be finished, laughing at his unknowing little brother. “It’s going to grow,” Dylan said. “And then it will be a big tree like the other ones.”
“You’re right,” I said to Dylan. “It will grow, just like you guys will grow. And someday it will be one hundred feet tall!”
“Wow,” Dylan gasped. “I didn’t know if it could be that tall!”
Shane just stared.
The next day, the kids clomped outside and looked at the tree.
“It looks the same,” Dylan said.
“Yeah,” Shane said. “It is just the same high as yesterday.”
“When is it going to grow?”
“It will grow,” I told them. “You might not be able to see it today, but it will grow.”
The next day, we had the same conversation. After a week, the kids gave up on watching the tree grow. It can be a rather mundane experience.
But the tree sits outside my office window, so I can look at it all day long.
It was small for a long, long time. For awhile, I worried that it wouldn’t survive. I deep-watered it meticulously, to make sure it grew deep roots. I ran out and saved it after a blizzard, when it was bent all the way to the ground and nearly annihilated by a foot of snow. I hung a bird feeder on it, to attract some wildlife, but none of the birds noticed. I saw ants running on its trunk, and couldn’t decide if I should be excited or worried.
Eventually, birds came, and even squirrels. One year, we had mangy foxes roaming our neighborhood, and we used the base of the tree as a food station for their medication – and cured the whole lot. Now we have regular wildlife visiting, night and day. Just last year, though, the leaves looked yellow and spotted, and I researched: the tree was sick. We called a tree company, who gave it a little tree medicine and got it back to its full potential. They added a little tree food, too. I was glad it was back to being healthy.
A few nights ago, I walked onto our front porch and glanced over at the tree. What I saw nearly knocked me over.
Our tree is enormous. It now towers over our three-story house by a good 20 feet. Each of its huge branches is longer than the entire original tree was, reaching into the heavens. Its leaves are like giant green elephant ears. The tree has grown so much, I can hardly believe it’s the same one we planted.
Looking at that tree caught me by surprise, and I gasped aloud. Then, I nearly cried.
It’s exactly the same way I feel when I look at my kids.
This morning, Shane got up early. He caught me as I was going downstairs to make Dylan’s breakfast – and he was already showered, dressed and ready for school.
“Mom, can you make my breakfast in like two minutes?” he asked politely. “I got up when Dylan’s alarm went off and for some reason I couldn’t go back to sleep even though I was exhausted.”
(Dylan’s alarm goes off 45 minutes before Dylan gets out of bed. It sounds like an air raid siren. The fact that Shane only woke up today because of Dylan’s alarm is surprising.)
“Sure, Buddy,” I said to Shane. “I’ll get it ready right away.”
Downstairs, the dishwasher was clean – still. It had been clean since the previous afternoon, and no one else had emptied it, so the sink was full of dirty dishes. I had to make two breakfasts and two school lunches in less than 15 minutes.
I planned to make an omelet for Dylan, with onions and bacon. Shane won’t eat eggs, so I planned cereal and bacon for him.
But when Shane came downstairs, I was barely finishing Dylan’s breakfast, and grabbed the bacon for Shane. Then – since Dylan still wasn’t downstairs (ten minutes late…) I started to put cereal in a bowl for Shane.
“Can I not have Kix, please?” Shane asked.
And I lost it.
“SURE!” I yelled, tossing the Kix to the side and spilling it everywhere. “Let me just get you something ELSE for breakfast!” I grabbed the Oatmeal Squares and dumped enough cereal in the bowl to feed four children.
“HERE!” I bellowed, throwing down the bowl in front of Shane. “Have THIS cereal instead!”
I gave him just enough milk to make the top two squares wet. The carton was almost empty. “And get your own milk if you don’t have enough!” I snapped. “You’re 13 years old! You certainly can put your own cereal and milk in a bowl!”
To clarify, in case there is any misunderstanding, Shane nearly always makes his own breakfast. He has been feeding himself since about the third grade. But today he asked me to make him breakfast early, and somehow – the tiniest thing out of whack caused me to go completely over the edge.
A few minutes later, I was upstairs folding all the laundry that had been waiting to be folded since last Friday – sheets, pillowcases, towels, washcloths, table wipes and reusable lunch bags. I was out of town this weekend, but my husband couldn’t be bothered to fold any of it. I was grumbling to myself about my miserable plight – a husband who was home this weekend, who threw all the clean stuff into a basket then ignored it – when I realized that I might have been a bit hard on Shane. Obviously, something else was bothering me.
“Sorry I have been yelling at you all morning,” I told him a few minutes later. “I have a lot to do today and I could use a hug.”
Shane gave me a hug.
And then I started my day – my very, very, very busy day – over again.
The new school year is two weeks old.
I am on a mission.
My mission is this: Don’t. Do. Anything.
Keep my mouth shut. Say nothing to Dylan about school. Don’t ask about his classes. Don’t ask about his homework. Don’t force him to study. Don’t remind him about the SATs coming up in a month. Don’t remind him about turning in his various parent and community service forms.
Don’t check the computer to see if he’s turned in all of his work. Don’t email the teacher when I “accidentally” discover that he is, indeed, missing work. Don’t email his case worker. Don’t even email his case worker tell her that I’m not planning to email her this year.
Don’t check in randomly with the case manager, the teachers, the principal, or last year’s teachers, “just in case” I am needed for anything.
Don’t ask about frisbee, playing in the church band, or rock climbing club, some of Dylan’s favorite things which he has decided to never do again. I learned this the hard way, by asking. This rule made it onto the list after our conversation about extracurriculars.
So far, I have emailed two teachers for two separate reasons. One of them was a good reason. The other was not. But I was still practicing the “don’t do anything” motto, and hadn’t quite figured it out yet.
I also reminded Dylan to turn in some forms to get credit for his community service – three times. I have special trouble with this particular part of my mission, because I spent many hours of my own driving him back and forth to get those community service hours.
I only asked him about homework once. I only checked his grades once. Well, twice. The first time, he had three ‘A’s – and no other grades.
The second time, he had five ‘A’s and one ‘B.’ And then I did yell, “Hey, what happened to your ‘A’ in History?” up the stairs.
Dylan yelled back, “I had a missing assignment and I turned it in already.” I was sorry I asked. Not because he’d turned in a missing assignment, but because he’d been so responsible in finding out that it was missing and turning it in for credit. I wish I had just let it slide.
It’s my mission.
It was a long, long weekend, waiting to hear back from the media specialist.
My greatest fear had been realized. I was afraid that Shane would be overlooked – again. I was afraid that all of the kids who made the morning show spectacular would be overlooked.
Within an hour – from the time the media specialist called me, to the end of Shane’s description of his morning – all of my fears were dispelled.
On Monday afternoon, the media specialist called.
“I don’t know why Shane thought there wouldn’t be a morning show,” she said. “I guess I just figured everyone understood that it was just a shorter show.”
Because indeed, there is a morning show. It’s substantially shortened, but it’s still run by students. It’s still full of student-made intros, anchors reading announcements, student camera people – and of course, a director.
“The principal actually made the decision to change the format before I was hired,” the new media specialist said. “In hindsight, I think she would have presented it differently.”
In fact, when Shane came home from school he said, “I guess I just thought that when they said they would have announcements, it would be over the loudspeaker.”
He heard some of what she had said – and then assumed the rest.
Both the media specialist and Shane said the same thing: that maybe the new format for the Friday show was emphasized so much, that many kids got the wrong idea. They thought it was a replacement for the old show, when in fact, it’s just an additional opportunity for kids to produce a new kind of show.
Shane told me that the new show might even be better than the old one.” He elaborated, and from what I can tell, it’s more succinct and more interesting to kids than the old show. Or at least, it’s more interesting to Shane.
The media specialist, too, said that everything ran smoothly, even on her first day. She’s new to the school, new to the media center, and didn’t know any of the kids. “I knew how to use all the equipment,” she said. “But I wasn’t sure how it would all fit together. Then the kids came in, and they set up everything, ran everything, and the whole show went off without a hitch.”
Her fears were dispelled, too.
Shane is going to be director. And now he’s probably going to help create a fun show on Friday mornings, too – with his old friends, with some new friends, and in a brand new format that’s going to be creative, whimsical and fun.
Plus he’s going to do a quick show every morning.
What could be better?
(I guess it would have been better if we’d known that all along… but I am no longer complaining.)
Dear New Media Center Specialist,
I am the parent of an 8th grader, Shane, who was at the morning show meeting yesterday. He came home with information about the many, many changes made to the show. I realize that you weren’t at Wood last year, so I’d like to give you a little background on what the show was like previously.
Both of my kids worked on the morning show. My son, Shane, showed up bright and early every day for two full years. He trained on the technical equipment and learned to use every, single machine in the booth. He was one of only two 8th graders who were coming back to the ‘tech’ side of the morning show this year – and as such, Shane was promoted to the position of Student Director – which was scheduled to start when he started 8th grade.
THIS was going to be Shane’s year to direct the show. He had worked exceptionally hard for the title, and had waited two full years to get there. And every day, while working under other directors, Shane was reminded that 8th grade would be HIS year. The adult leader confirmed it: in 8th grade, Shane would finally have his chance to direct, to be a leader, and to promote the positive feelings that have always been associated with Wake Up Wood.
And the positive feelings in previous years abounded. morning show was a way of life for these kids. They got up early and went to school way before their classmates. They set up the show, made the graphics and video openings, found and played songs, ran cameras, created captions – they produced, anchored, directed.
The feelings of self-esteem that arise from putting together a show like that every day … they can’t be expressed in words. These kids DID SOMETHING GREAT.
And now that is gone. Without warning and without any recognition for the kids who have worked so hard, it was announced in an informal meeting that it’s over. Decades of tradition, plus two years of hard work, were simply erased.
An extra 20 kids or so went to the meeting – students who had never stepped foot in the morning show booth. The whole school was invited and encouraged to join the ‘new’ show. Meanwhile, the kids who spent two years preparing for their time to shine were simply ignored.
Shane, the director, sat among the other students, unable to speak. What could he say? When he came home, he was so upset – not only because he was losing his leadership role, but because the whole show was just … GONE.
Will these 8th graders get any recognition at all? Couldn’t they have some kind of leadership role in the new morning show? They certainly had no choice in the change of format. What do they get for their two years of early morning hard work?
These 8th graders could be your leaders, your assistants, your “directors.” Is there anything – anything – that can be done for the few who worked so hard for so long?
I would really appreciate any feedback on this. And again, I am sorry to meet you under these circumstances. You weren’t here for any of the history. You aren’t responsible for the loss of a decades-long tradition.
But maybe you can do something. I am hoping that you will.
The first day of school went off without a hitch. Dylan made it to his bus on time, and Shane got there way early.
Best of all, they came home almost happy.
Shane was thrilled to have a lot of friends in his classes. (Last year, he had one friend in one class.) As he often does, he details his day in chronological order, letting me know about the kids, the teacher, and what they did. By the end of our chat, I almost had Shane’s schedule memorized.
I am thrilled that he has friends in his classes. One of his teachers remembered Shane from sixth grade, and actually chose Shane to run the PowerPoint for the class.
I picked Shane up from school, since it was a special occasion, and he talked all the way home. He went into the office with me and talked to me in the office for half an hour. By the time his dad, and his grandfather, asked him about school, he’d already talked about it so much, he was talked out. He told me about his science teacher, how he really liked him at first. Shane shared an interesting discipline tactic that his science teacher used, one that silenced the whole class. I explained the possible reasoning for the technique. It seems as though Shane’s teacher is subtly gaining respect from his class. Brilliant!
I am just happy that Shane is still talking to me, now that he’s in 8th grade.
We filled out his paperwork together and organized it to send it back to school. He had homework, which he did immediately. Shane may not love school, but he sure knows how to do it successfully.
Meanwhile, I texted Dylan and asked him if he wanted a ride home, but he didn’t respond. I texted him two more times with no response. I called his cell phone – no answer.
Dylan took the bus home.
Finally, I called him on the home phone while I was standing in Shane’s school’s parking lot, and he answered.
“Dylan!” I said gleefully.
“What?” he grumbled.
“Well, I was just wondering about your day,” I said.
“It was fine,” he said. “But now I’m really irritable.”
“Eat a snack,” I told him. “At least, get a drink.” Dylan gets grumpy when he’s hungry, but he doesn’t eat and then wonders why he stays grumpy.
After hearing about Shane’s day, I went up to Dylan’s room where he was electronically chatting with someone.
I plopped onto Dylan’s bed. He looked up from his electronic device. I smiled at him. He looked back at his tablet.
He looked at me again. I smiled again.
“What?” he grumbled.
I looked at the clock. I had waited almost eight hours to ask. “How was your first day of school?”
There was a brief pause. Then Dylan said, “All of my teachers are great.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “Really?!”
“Yep,” he said.
“What about your precalculus teacher?”
“Why are you singling out that one?” he asked.
“Because math teachers are notoriously awful,” I said.
“Half of the math teachers at school are the worst teachers ever,” Dylan said. “And the other half are, like, chill. I got a good one.”
Absolute music to my ears.
I asked him a few other questions about his day, and all of his answers were positive. He even said that he introduced himself to his teachers! I’d been asking him to do that since sixth grade, and – perhaps – he finally did.
So everyone is happy.