Month: December 2017

It is Time to Make Resolutions.

Happy New Year! It is time to make resolutions, which are always tough. But I keep thinking about the year I completely gave up candy – which was incredibly hard, but I did it.

So this year, since I went back to eating candy the following year, I resolve to lose 30 pounds. I have re-joined the gym and am also giving up processed sugar (raisins are allowed) for the first 20 days of January, so this should not be as extravagant a goal as one might think.

The fact that I have no working thyroid, however, may hinder this process.

So I need to focus my attentions on other things, too. Since there is no earthly way that my boys will come up with their OWN New Year’s resolutions, I have decided to come up with some resolutions for them.

Obviously, since they are quite different from one another, they will need different resolutions.

For Dylan:

  1. Resolve to turn in all overdue classwork within 24 hours of its due date.
  2. Resolve to put down the cell phone for at least 30 minutes per day. (Anything more than that would be impossible.)
  3. Resolve to wear a retainer once a week, whether or not I think I need it.

For Shane:

  1. Resolve to put all CDs and DVDs back in their cases when not in use.
  2. Resolve to stop playing video games for at least one hour per day, even if homework is done.
  3. Resolve to clear a path from the bedroom door to the hamper every day, so Mom can get laundry done.

One of my other resolutions this year is to stop trying so hard to control the actions of others.

That said, I really hope the boys read this and use some of my brilliant ideas in 2018.

This is Still the First Book.

In early November, as the first quarter ended, Dylan discovered that he was supposed to read a book every quarter for “independent reading” – and do a related project. Since he’d joined the AP class three weeks late, he didn’t know about the assignment.

I joked with his teacher via email. “Maybe he could read two books next quarter!”

She said he could. “But both books have to be nonfiction.”

“He loves nonfiction!” I assured her.

So, during the second quarter, Dylan had to read two books and do two projects. I got a whole slew of choices out of the library for him: funny books by comedians, musicians’ autobiographies, behind-the-scenes books about movies he likes, rock band bios, acting game books, sports books, and books about the meanings behind famous songs.

Dylan didn’t choose to read any of those.

I was reading a book myself that I thought he’d enjoy, so I brought it along on one of our college road trips. Dylan read 10 pages.

“It’s not awful,” he said.

“Good!” I said. “You can finish it on this trip if you try!” Dylan never picked up the book again.

Over the next five weeks, I talked to him about his reading project at least 30 times. I brought home more books from the library. I piled two dozen choices from my personal collection on his bed. I bought him a Marilyn Manson autobiography for his birthday, and set it aside – assuming it could be the second book of the quarter. And I pulled out books he needed to read anyway, things to prepare him for college, that had been shoved to the back of his shelves. And still, Dylan read nothing.

In early December, I asked about the book venture again.

“I’m going to read Marilyn Manson’s autobiography,” Dylan said. “My forensics teacher is going to bring it into school for me. I’m just waiting for her to do that.”

I almost croaked. I went upstairs, dug out the book I’d bought for his birthday – which was only two weeks away – and put a bow on it.

“Here,” I said. “Read it now. Finish it before your birthday.”

So much for the element of surprise, or for the excitement he would have had if the book hadn’t been required reading. He tore the cover a bit removing the bow.

But Dylan kept the book in his room, right next to his bed.

And a week later, it was still bookmarked at the beginning of Chapter 1.

I spent the next two weeks encouraging him to finish the book before his birthday – which came, and went. Another week went by, and Christmas came and went. Dylan had read some of the book – but not much. In fact, he’d read only enough to get in trouble in class for reading when he was supposed to be paying attention. Then he’d set it aside again.

This is still the first book. And there are only 23 total days left in this quarter.

So he wants to go out with friends, which is fine with me. I want him to see his friends, have a good time, enjoy his break.

He can do that right after he finishes the book.

I gave him 48 hours written notice. I told him that I expected to see the finished independent reading project before he goes anywhere with friends.

“That’s not fair,” Dylan said. “I didn’t get any advanced warning at all!”

I’ve presented him with 648 possible books, and reminded him about the project every day for eight weeks.

“I didn’t get any advanced warning at all,” he said.

There is No Logic Filter on My Brain.

When Dylan was sick over the weekend prior to Halloween, he missed four days of work that he’d been waiting for since 2016. It was sad, but he was so sick that even he thought it was okay.

None of us were happy that we never found out what was wrong with him; all we ever learned was that he had some sort of virus.

So when Christmas Eve arrived and Dylan said he was feeling weak, we kind of shrugged it off. He doesn’t drink much water, so we gave him some water and told him to eat something healthy. He did.

When, on Christmas morning, he said he felt shaky – even after eating a healthy breakfast – he made himself a hot dog to quell the shakes. Then he had a relatively normal Christmas day.

But when, on the day after Christmas, Dylan claimed to be not feeling well – and he said he wanted to go to the Smithsonian with the rest of the family – we knew something was wrong.

Dylan had a fever of 99.8 when the rest of the family left for the Smithsonian. When we came home, it was 101.3. Last night, he fell asleep on the couch around dinnertime and woke up with just enough energy to crawl into bed.

Now it’s nearly noon, and he is still asleep.

Perhaps even more oddly, Shane is still asleep. He is nearing those sleep-forever teenage years, and I would not be terribly surprised if he just stayed up too late after a whirlwind holiday.

But when I came home from the gym and saw that they were both still sleeping, with their bedroom doors both closed, I actually thought: they’re dead.

I have no logic filter on my brain. None. I immediately jump to the most catastrophic concept. This does not make me a good mother. In fact, it makes me substantially too anxious. And this comes out in repeatedly spewing my fears onto my children, making sure they know everything that they should fear.

Today, there is nothing to fear. There is a light snow falling outside. My boys are tired, and one is sick, but they are both fine behind those closed doors.

I think.

I Am Always Grateful.

(Revamped from my annual Christmas letter for the blog, since I’m too tired to write anything new today):


Christmas came upon me like a freight train. We were late getting our tree. And I wasn’t even sure if I should write a Christmas letter. Some of my friends and family members have “unfriended” me due to my presidential preference, and others have moved and not sent me their new addresses.

So I wasn’t quite sure what to do about the whole Christmas-letter-palooza. But then I remembered: I used to be in a pretty bad place. At one point, I lived in a deplorable hotel with one twin bed (for four people) and a smelly room with a toilet but no door. But I lived in a squalor of my own making. Thanks to (I believe) a loving upbringing, a benevolent God and the power of prayer, I clawed my way to a semblance of normalcy.

And now, 25 years later, my life is – if nothing else – comfortable. With much thanks to my husband – who just came home from work trilling, “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” – I have a real home and family. Sure, Bill and the kids drive me crazy, but I still go to bed feeling grateful. Sometimes I am scared, but I am always grateful.

I hope that you, too, will have lots of love and gratitude this holiday season. Have a glorious season!

I Never Know When You Are Kidding.

Shane was playing video games (as usual) when he suddenly said, “Back in my day, I thought ‘Xmas’ meant ‘Christmas for cool people.'”

I laughed, thinking this was a quote from a YouTube video somewhere. “That’s really funny,” I said. “Where’d you hear that?”

“I didn’t,” Shane said. “I just made assumptions.”

“You actually believed that ‘Xmas’ meant a completely different holiday?”

“No,” he said. “It was still Christmas, but it was reserved for cool people.”

“I never know when you’re kidding,” I said. “But even if it wasn’t a joke, that is really funny!”

Another day, we were in the car. Shane was talking about the songs he liked – mostly stuff from the 70’s and 80’s that were forced upon him as a toddler.

“I loved ‘Dance the Night Away,'” he said. “I thought it was a song about a scary knight and we had to dance to make him go away.”

“Really?” I asked. “Did you actually think that, or are you kidding?”

“I really thought that,” he said. “I was, like, four.”

“I never know if you are making a joke or serious,” I said.

“Maybe I should say a creepy ‘HA HA HA’ when I am joking.”

“That might help,” I said.

This morning, I decided to give the kids a treat on their last day of school before Christmas break. I drove them both to school, and took them to Burger King for breakfast on our way.

We were racing, though, to get Dylan to school on time – and he wanted to get there early. We all rushed around the house to get out the door by 7:00.

We’d driven half a mile when Shane asked, “Are we going in to Burger King, or are we doing the drive-thru?”

We’d rushed insanely to get to the car, and certainly had no time to eat indoors. But there was no “HA HA HA” coming from the backseat.

“You’re kidding, right?” I asked, looking in the rear-view mirror.

Shane’s face was deadpan. He didn’t even look happy, let alone like he was kidding.

“You are kidding, right?” I asked again.

Shane didn’t say anything. He just looked at my eyes in the mirror.

Dylan jumped in. “Shane, how could we possibly have time to go inside and eat and still get to school on time?”

Shane still didn’t respond. He actually thought we might be going inside to eat.

I just never, ever know with Shane.

After some pretty lousy biscuits, I dropped off the kids and went to the gym. On my way out, I was still wearing shorts on my way to the car, even though it was 35 degrees outside.

I looked up and smiled at a man who was heading the other direction. As soon as I saw his face, I knew: this man had some disorder, probably Asperger Syndrome. I have no idea how I knew, or why it mattered. I simply said, “Good morning!” and kept walking.

But the man stopped. He looked at me very earnestly and said, “Isn’t it a little cold outside for shorts?”

He wasn’t smiling. There was no “HA HA HA.”

“Yes,” I said, still smiling at the man’s emotionless face. “Yes, it is.”

He shook his head, and walked away.

It Should Have Fallen Off in the Hospital.

I wanted to write something profound for Dylan’s birthday.

My baby turned 17. He loves this age, and says that he has felt 17 for at least three months. He’s excited and terrified to be an adult in one mere year. And he had a fantastic birthday, with both friends and family, doing things he loved with people he enjoyed.

I adore my baby, even at 17, and I still envision him racing across the video store floor, to tackle me by landing in my waiting arms. It’s a memory I treasure, and no matter how old he gets, that’s how I will always see Dylan.

But do you know what I was thinking on Dylan’s birthday? I had a thought that – in 17 years – I had not had before.

Seventeen years, I thought. That’s a long time to carry around my “baby” weight.

They called it “baby” weight when I gained a few (40) pounds during pregnancy. So I figured baby weight would “fall off” – like, when I gave birth to a 10-pound baby, I would lose at least 10 pounds, and the rest would be some kind of water weight. But that didn’t happen.

So maybe it should have burned off in all those years that I was chasing Dylan around, trying to keep up. For that matter, it should have “fallen off” in the hospital. I mean, pregnancy was a lot of work! And I had to eat for two! Shouldn’t those extra calories have been donated to the baby?

But they were not donated to the baby. They were donated to me.

I don’t know what it is, exactly, that has kept these added pounds on my body. Age, slowing metabolism, cake and ice cream, blah blah blah. I even have thyroid problems.

Instead of celebrating Dylan, I thought about the extra calories, the extra pounds, the many many many many many times I have lost the weight – then put it back on again, plus a few extra – just to help make sure that silly dieting thing doesn’t happen again.

And there I was, with my baby weight plus some, singing happy birthday, excited for my baby to enjoy all that the glorious 17th year has to offer…. And I had a nice, big piece of chocolate cake to celebrate the occasion.

Dylan Had Accepted Full Responsibility.

On my way out the door with Shane one evening, I yelled up the stairs.

“Dylan, could you water the Christmas tree for me? And tell Dad to turn off the lights before you guys leave?”

“What?” he yelled back. “Do what with what lights?”

“Tell Dad to turn off the Christmas tree lights!” I yelled again. “And could you water the tree for me?”

“Yeah,” he yelled back.

“Could you do it, like, now?”


I expected him to actually do it. So Shane and I left.

An hour later, we came back.

The tree lights were on, and the tree had obviously not been watered. I was furious. I immediately texted Dylan, with all the sarcasm a text can muster: Hey, thanks so much for watering the tree and making sure Dad turned off the lights. I really appreciate your help.

Dylan texted back – uncharacteristically – with an explanation that made sense: I told dad to just like you said to but he told me he didn’t know what I meant. Sorry about that.

I shot back: And you watered the tree?

I thought dad did but I was wrong, Dylan said. We had some miscommunication. I should have been more clear.

I pondered this.

Dylan had just responded like a sensible adult.

What happened to my typical teenager? Where was the defensiveness? Where was the angry counterattack? Where was the lazy “oh-sorry-whatever” tone? Dylan responded to my (immature and irresponsible) sarcastic remarks with a (mature, responsible) sincere desire to convey what had happened and why.

How was I supposed to handle that?

Dylan still hadn’t watered the tree, and the lights were still left on. But it was certainly understandable and, more importantly, Dylan had accepted full responsibility for the whole thing.

I almost didn’t text back, because I was so dumbfounded by the reasonableness of our conversation.

Finally, I texted: That is the nicest way you have ever said “oh I forgot.”

Idk if that’s a good or bad thing but that’s what happened, he said.

It’s a good thing, I said. And I don’t feel like throttling you anymore.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the exchange, even hours later. What could have been a horrific argument – what usually is a horrific argument – was, instead, just a conversation.

Even more interesting than Dylan’s rational response was the realization that I had attacked him unnecessarily, and certainly too sarcastically. I had gotten angry over what amounted to absolutely nothing. And this is certainly not the first time I have overreacted.

I am not likely to suddenly become more rational, and I will probably continue to overreact.

But I can keep working on being more kind.

After all, Dylan is doing just that. Only days before his 17th birthday, I can finally see it.

He’s Still Not Turning In His Work!

As Dylan nears his 17th birthday, he is increasingly frustrated with my interference. And for the most part, I am okay with that. He doesn’t require my interference and, in spite of my absurd influence, he is growing into a fine, independent young man.

Some days, he rolls out of bed three minutes before the bus arrives – and makes it to school on time. Sometimes, he texts me from school because he’s going to the movies with his friends and has completely forgotten that his family might want to see him. Some days, he goes to bed three hours after I do, making his own life miserable the next day when he’s completely unable to focus. And some days, he eats the lunch I sent from home and two more lunches at school.

And I’m okay with all of that!

But he’s still not turning in his work.

He’s STILL not turning in his work.

He’s still NOT TURNING IN his work!

His grades are pretty good. Well – they were good at the end of last quarter. And Dylan insists that they will be good again. He’s currently got two failing grades, one C and A’s in everything else. For someone who is doing not even a smidgeon of school work at home, those grades are incredible.

But…. if he turned in his work on time, he would have straight A’s.

This is a fact that seems utterly lost on him. It’s like no one ever said, “Dylan, you know, if you turn in the work on the day that it’s due, your grades would improve.”

And of course, I have said that 9,443,876, 210 times.

Instead, it’s like someone actually said to him, “Dylan, please don’t turn in all your work on time. If you did that, you’d be able to go to any college you chose! You’d get academic scholarships! Your future would shine so bright, you might not even recognize it! So for sure, whatever you do, DON’T turn in your work! Or at least, wait at least a week or two before you turn in anything. That will keep expectations low!”

I wonder if Dylan realizes that, contrary to popular belief, turning in his work on time would cause me – his arch enemy – to run screaming for the hills. There would be absolutely nothing left for me to worry about!

And then, gosh, where would I be? I’d have to turn my attention elsewhere – say, to Shane’s filthy bedroom or Bill’s hoarding tendencies. But no – for now, we’re going to maintain the status quo.

For now. Still. Even though he’s almost 17.

Do You Want To Go Somewhere Else?

After a few weeks’ anticipation, we all piled into the car to get a Christmas tree. It was snowing steadily but the roads were clear, so we drove half an hour to the cut-your-own farm, playing games and singing carols.

But when we got to the farm, it was closed.

While we looked up nearby tree farms on our iPhones, Dylan took Xena for a quick run in the snow. A few other cars pulled up while we were there; we were all stupefied as to why the farm was closed.

Still, we needed a tree. “There’s a place 22 miles from here that has white pines!” I said. I’ve had a white pine for Christmas every year for 50 years. “Is that too far? It closes and it gets dark at 5:00!”

“No, that’s not too far,” Bill said. “We have two and a half hours!”

So off we went – except… “There’s a place right here!” Bill said.

“They don’t have white pines,” I told him, having already checked the internet for our go-to tree. “But if you feel strongly about it, you can drive that extra mile and ask!”

We pulled into the parking lot of Farm #2 and piled out. While Bill talked to staff, the kids, dog and I were tromping merrily around in the snow and taking pictures.

Bill appeared at my side. “They don’t even have fraser firs,” he said. “Do you care?”

“No,” I said. “I honestly don’t care at all.” The kids were already running through the tree aisles. Xena was gathering serious snow balls on her paws.

But Bill looked slightly crushed.

“Do you want to go somewhere else?” I asked him. For 17 years, he’s wanted to get a different kind of tree.

But… Bill nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “They just don’t have a lot here.”

We drove two miles, and another tree farm sign popped up. “Let’s try this one!” Bill said.

“They don’t have white pines,” I told him. But Bill does not do things the way I do them.

We pulled into Farm #3, and I jumped out to “ask” if they had white pines. Surprise! They did not.

They also did not have the concolor firs that Bill said he wanted.

We still had 22 miles to go.

We got to Farm #4 at nearly 4:00.

“White pines?” the tree guy said. “Oh those are waaaaaay over that hill there!” He pointed to the horizon. “WAY over the hill!”

We trudged more than a mile uphill. By then, Xena was frozen and shaking. There wasn’t a white pine in sight – unless you count the 40-foot ones. So we continued to trudge. Later we learned that the farm was 120 acres – and we traversed 110 of those acres. We never found a white pine.

Just before 5:00, we cut down a concolor fir.

We dragged it back to the car, thawed the dog’s very frozen paws and gave her my coat to keep her warm.

We piled into the car with nary a sip of the hot cocoa we get at our usual farm. Kids threw their wet coats and boots onto the floor, and we discovered that the roads were now snow-covered and slick, since the sun was going down.

We inched down the highway, and stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. We bought fried chicken tenders (at a gas station). We still had an hour’s drive home.

We treated our dog to nearly a whole chicken tender of her own, as a reward for surviving. She was snoring at my feet an hour later.

It was a very, very big day.

And He Has Turned Them In.

Shane’s first quarter report card intrigues me.

He made the Honor Roll, which is great. He has more A’s than B’s, which is also great. What interests me, though, are the letters next to the grades.

There are two columns: Participation and Assignment Completion.

I never really notice the Participation column, except when someone says that Shane isn’t participating in class. Shane is quiet, and I was quiet as a child. We are similar in that way – but only barely. I never, ever, ever participated in class if I could help it. Speaking above a whisper was not in my nature.

Shane does participate in class. He talks. People talk to him. He answers questions in class without the mouse-like squeak that accompanied my responses as a youth. However, on his report card, once in awhile a teacher says he isn’t participating at the highest level.

In the case of his first quarter report card, his Spanish teacher said that he participated substantially less than she would like. When we had our meeting, I explained to her that he is quiet – and she agreed that, even when he didn’t appear to be engaged in the class activities, he could always answer a question about what was going on.

Shane hears everything. He is always engaged. Just sometimes, he doesn’t show it.

Still, she marked him as “sometimes” participating, rather than “consistently” participating. This bothers me, although it matters not a whit.

What does matter, actually, is the second column: Assignment Completion. In every, single class, Shane has “consistently” completed his assignments. And he has turned them in. Shane’s assignments are done, complete, on time, in good form, and submitted by the due date.

This makes me happy. It makes me so happy, in fact, that I am considering dancing a little jig around the room. Because I have suddenly realized that assignment completion is possibly the most important factor in getting good grades – and Shane is doing it!

If he keeps doing it, he can keep getting good grades. He can keep showing teachers that he cares. He can keep giving it his best effort. And someday, hopefully, all that effort will translate into allowing him to get into the college of his choice.

Maybe he doesn’t speak up in Spanish. But he finishes his work, turns it in, and gets good grades. What more could anyone possibly want?

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