Month: January 2018
I worked for days on Dylan’s new contract. Since this is quite literally Dylan’s last chance to raise his GPA before applying to colleges, I wanted it to be simple to understand, but adequately convey the seriousness of the situation.
It was two pages long but fairly simple. It covered the three things he needed to do, and the logical consequences of doing – or not doing – those three things.
- Be on time.
- Do your work.
- Turn in your work on time.
There was more to it – taking up half a page – but the gist is that he only needed to do those three simple things to reap the rewards.
At school, Dylan will earn the respect of teachers, raise his GPA, have opportunities to get letters of recommendation and enjoy his extracurricular activities. At home, Dylan will be treated like a responsible adult and enjoy the privileges he will have earned, like going out with friends, driving the car, and going out on weeknights.
We also clearly outlined possible negative consequences. This semester, since it is Dylan’s last chance and it is absolutely vital that Dylan get his work in every day, rather than at the end of each quarter, we wanted to make sure he knew that we would not be co-signing his college loans, or paying for his college applications, if he doesn’t exhibit college-worthy behavior. We also said that for each missing assignment, he will lose phone and electronics privileges until that missing assignment is turned in.
Gone are the days of, “Oh, I’ll just turn it in next week or whenever” – unless he wants to live until next week without his cell phone.
And hopefully, arriving instead, are days of, “I have to study tonight for history, but I finished my math test early today and started working on my AP paper!”
We sat with Dylan and explained the importance of this final contract. There is no point in giving him a contract during his senior year; by then, it’s too late to gauge whether or not he can handle the work load. We made sure he realized that this is his last chance – that this is quite serious, but that it only lasts until June. For such a short time span, we know he is able to stay on top of his school work.
We talked about our expectations and how sure we are that Dylan can do it – and that really, we just need to see – for sure – that he can do if he wants to move forward after high school
Then we gave Dylan the paper, specifically outlining our expectations. He read it through. He took his time, and took it seriously.
When he was finished, he didn’t say anything. He just sat there, fidgeting.
“Do you have any questions, concerns, comments?” I asked.
“Not really,” Dylan said. He fidgeted a little more then said, quite earnestly, “So what’s different about this one?”
I wanted to say, “This one guarantees that you’ll actually change your behavior!” But I did not.
I am not sure what I said, but I doubt if it makes any difference at all.
For the second semester of his junior year, Dylan has a new contract.
This contract explains – in very positive terms – that we know that Dylan CAN complete his classwork and turn it in on time. It outlines the very positive outcomes that will happen when he does this, all of which are natural consequences: respect from teachers, better grades and GPA, letters of recommendation for college, driving privileges, support from family, and overall respectful treatment befitting his maturity.
The expectations are simple:
1 – You are expected to get downstairs on time (6:45 – not 6:50), to catch the bus on time (7:00), and to get to school on time (7:45). You are also expected to get to your classes on time, which means that we should never again get a notice that says you could fail a class because you have three or more unexcused “tardies” in any class. It is also your responsibility to get to play practice, voice lessons, and other activities on time. ALL “on time” expectations will be much easier to achieve if you get 8+ hours of sleep per night.
2 – You are expected to listen and do your classwork whenever you are in class. The only excuse for not doing classwork is your physical absence from the classroom (which means you will finish that work later). You are never expected to use your phone or electronics in class, not even to check the time, no matter how tempting it may be. If you are done with your class work early, immediately check with your teacher to see what else needs to be done – and do it. If there is no written work to be done, you may review notes and prepare for upcoming tests (called “studying.”) If there is no work and no studying, you may do independent reading. If there is no reading, you can do SAT practice. There is never “nothing” to do.
3 – You are expected to turn in every assignment on the day that it is due. If something is not finished in class, you may stay after school and finish it, or you may finish it for homework. You are then expected to turn it in immediately. Your IEP allows only for time-and-a-half, so anything that is two days late is unacceptable. You may use your signature sheet to keep track of every assignment, or you may find another way to keep track of assignments, but it is your responsibility (not your teachers’ or your parents’) to figure out what’s due and when, and then to turn in everything – including homework – on time. All assignments matter; you are expected to complete them and turn them in.
Since this is Dylan’s last semester that “counts” toward getting into college, and since it is our last chance to be sure that Dylan really can do the work on his own, the contract also outlines the very real, natural consequences that will occur if he does not meet these expectations: NO college application fees paid and NO parental co-signatures for college loans, NO cell phone or computer use whenever he has any missing work, NO financial assistance for a gap year or moving expenses – but sufficient food and shelter after high school, as long as he goes to a community college or works diligently to save money for his own place.
We know that he can do it. Though we have often questioned his choices, we have never doubted his abilities.
Now we’ll find out if he believes he can do it, too.
Shane struggles in math. Whether or not he has Nonverbal Learning Disorder (and I tend to think he does), math has always been a little tougher for him than he’d like.
When he goes to high school next year, he will probably take on-level math classes. What that means is, his friends will all be taking advanced math and he will be taking “regular” math. But since he will be in Algebra 2 in 9th grade – three years ahead of when I took it in high school – I think it’s best that he take Honors classes in other subjects.
This year, however, he is in Honors Geometry. In 8th grade, because the kids who are taking Geometry are already so advanced, they don’t even offer a geometry class that’s “on level.”
So Shane is taking a high school course that is actually worth more to his GPA than a regular class.
And he’s getting an A.
While he has a strong B going into the end of this quarter, his first quarter grade was an A. And while I’d like to say that I’m just bragging about my math-challenged son getting an A in an Honors Geometry class, that’s not actually the case.
I’m writing about it because I completely forgot that he got an A during the first quarter.
Not only did I not remember the A, but I actually challenged Shane when he reminded me about how hard he’d worked at the end of the first quarter to pull off that A. I forced him to show me, in the online grade book, because I didn’t believe that he really had an A.
And of course, he was right. And then it all came back to me: the end-of-quarter quiz retake, the hours of studying he did before the final exam – er, “performance assessment” – and the triumph over the percentages, giving him an A for his first quarter in an honors-level math class.
Shane earned that A. He really, really worked for it. And he deserved to get an A this semester, thanks to that A (and the hard-earned B) that will combine to make an A for his high school transcript.
But for “good mother” behavior, I completely failed. Sure, I tried to make up for it by making a big fuss after I remembered. I drew happy smiley faces on a note and left it outside his bedroom door. But I should have known. I should have recognized that hard work with something more than ice cream and a pat on the head.
I should have recognized it with my whole heart and soul – the same way I recognize the things that worry me. If nothing else, I just should have remembered.
And I do, now. I remember all of it. But now I will remember that I forgot, too.
When I was pregnant with Shane, I was so madly in love with Dylan that I didn’t know what I was going to do with a second child.
I wasn’t afraid that Shane would be “bad.” It’s just that I was giving so much to Dylan that I was sure the sun rose and set around Dylan’s happiness.
“What if I don’t like the new baby?” I wailed to Bill. “What if he doesn’t like me?”
“He’s going to love you,” Bill said.
Then I had a worse thought. “What if he doesn’t like Dylan?!” That, I thought, would be the worst tragedy of all.
I bought the book, Siblings Without Rivalry, before Shane was even born. I started studying – for Dylan’s sake. (I learned a lot – but had to read it again three years later, when it was relevant.)
Dylan and I watched Three Bears and a New Baby so many times, we both memorized it. We prepared and prepared and prepared.
And everything went fine with Dylan. Shane and Dylan have a special, unbreakable bond – probably no thanks, at all, to me. They just fit well together.
But nothing could have prepared me for how I felt about Shane. Nothing in this world would have helped when, finally, after an emergency C-section and bladder surgery, I saw Shane for the first time.
Shane came out of the womb wailing uncontrollably. They said he’d popped a tiny hole in his lung, which meant he had to go to the NICU immediately. But even as I lay cut-open on the table, I wanted to see Shane before they took him away.
They were hesitant. He was screaming. No one could calm him down. Bill stood next to him, trying, as they cleansed him. Shane kept wailing. They tried bundling him to no avail. Finally, they gave up and brought the screeching newborn toward my head, and I saw Shane for the first time.
My smile was instinctual, his beauty undeniable.
“Hi, Baby!” I squealed with delight.
Shane stopped screaming.
His eyes got wide and round when I spoke. So I spoke some more. I watched his eyes widen and his head turn, his whole body searching for the source of that sound.
He knew my voice.
The calm that came over him was instantaneous, and they casually took him to the NICU – at least part way – without the wailing. And later, when I held him for the first time, I was completely overwhelmed by the love I have for him.
I didn’t know, then, that there is unlimited love. I didn’t know that I had more to give. I thought it was all “used up” on that first child. But I have learned repeatedly that it’s possible to love and love and love and love, and it’s the most natural and worthwhile thing to do in the world.
My boys completely light up my life. Even though we struggle sometimes and I feel hurt on occasion, the love that started back then never dissipates, never wanes, never even wavers. It’s the stuff of love songs and Bible verses and poetry. And it’s real.
Yesterday, Shane turned 14.
He’s already on his way to breaking free of his parents, becoming his own person, demanding his independence. And while it breaks my heart to let go of that little baby who loved the sound of my voice, I know it is as it should be.
And even though I know I must give up my place as the light of his life, he will always be the light of mine.
It’s the end of the quarter. It’s the end of the semester. And once again, Shane is teetering on the edge of straight A’s even in his high school classes (and getting tons of accolades for it).
But for Dylan, it’s more serious. This time, it’s the end of the first semester of his junior year. This is the year he was going to “prove” to colleges that he could, indeed, get good grades. Instead, Dylan is struggling to finish the 47 assignments he never turned in.
Forty-seven may be an exaggeration. Having not counted, though, maybe it’s not.
With only three days left to finish everything, Dylan came downstairs last night and gave me the same speech he gives at the end of every quarter.
“Mom, I figured out my GPA and the worst it could possibly be for the semester is three A’s, three B’s and one C. That’s the worst it could be. I could probably get four B’s once everything gets graded and turned in. But even if I fail every assignment, I will still get B’s for the semester because of my really good first quarter.”
It’s always the same speech. It’s the last-ditch effort of a man dying of thirst, trying to convince himself that there is water just over the next sand dune.
He doesn’t see the grades from last quarter, which were exactly the same as the prediction he’s making for the whole semester. And last year, he had two C’s each semester instead of one – which, I suspect, will happen again this semester.
With three days left to pull himself out of the gutter, Dylan has three A’s, one C, and three failing grades.
And this is the year he was going to “prove” to colleges that he could, indeed, get good grades.
I’ve been away from my computer for a long while, and subsequently away from my passwords which would have allowed me to post anything new.
I apologize to those of you who have been checking for new posts. I am back now – and will get right back to blogging again next week! Thanks for your support.
“Do your work and have everything turned in at the end of the week,” I said. “Or you will not do anything with friends on the weekend.”
“That just makes me more anxious,” Dylan said. “It’s better if I have something to look forward to, like a reward for getting everything done.”
“Okay,” I said. “Get everything done every week for the rest of the quarter, and we will buy you a new shirt.” I handed him a really cool catalog from a company that makes a thousand different rock band t-shirts.
The rest of the quarter is only three weeks long. And it started with a holiday, then a snow day.
So, after a mere two-and-a-half days of school last week, and with Dylan failing two classes, he stayed after school on Friday. He worked and worked and worked, finishing all the stuff he hadn’t done yet. He stayed until 5:00 p.m.
Then he called me.
“Mom, nobody’s here,” he said. “I can’t turn in all this stuff I just did because my teacher’s door is shut. And the office is closed and I can’t put it in her mailbox. But I can prove to you that it’s done!”
“Maybe nobody’s there because it’s 5:00 on a Friday,” I told him. “Maybe you would have had everything actually turned in if you’d done your work yesterday during the snow day.”
“But Mom, I can totally prove that I did everything! I have evidence!”
Sigh. I went to pick him up at school.
“Here’s a thought, Dylan,” I said. “And I really don’t care what you do. But maybe – just maybe – instead of catching up on everything after school on Friday, you could try catching up on your work every day. Then you would not only have everything done, but you could actually turn it in on time.”
“I know,” he said.
He knows. He’s heard it all before. Still, he doesn’t change his behavior. He still misses deadlines. He still doesn’t turn in homework. He still doesn’t finish classwork. And he still panics at the end of the week – or the month, or the quarter – and tries to get everything done that could have easily been done on time, had he just chosen to do it.
It turns out that the two friends he wanted to see weren’t able to see him this weekend, anyway. So much for punishment. And he’s on track to get a t-shirt, too.
“But I really did this just for my own soul,” he said. “I didn’t do it for you.”
Well, I thought. Maybe he’s getting the point after all.
But who knows?
Shane brought home a giant piece of paper from school and put it on our table.
This was different. “What is it?” I asked.
“It’s my history homework,” he said. “I have to finish a poster about the Stamp Act.”
I have never heard of the Stamp Act – or had forgotten it long ago, since I never had much interest in history. “Have fun with that,” I said.
Later, with the poster still on the table, I looked it over. I learned a little about the Stamp Act. Well, I learned a lot about the Stamp Act. In fact, Shane’s poster looked like it was done already.
“Did you finish your poster?” I asked Shane later.
“Not yet,” he said. “I still have to add one more sentence to the paragraph on the bottom.”
And later, he added one sentence to the paragraph on the bottom. Then he was done.
It seemed to me to be a lot of trouble, carrying the giant piece of paper home on the bus, carefully getting it inside (in spite of the rain) and having a spacious spot to finish it.
So I asked Shane about it. “Why did you do all that?”
“Well, I knew I still had more to do, but we didn’t have any more class time. So I did it at home.”
“How did you know you still had more to do? It looked like it was already done when you brought it home.”
“I checked the rubric,” Shane said.
“You checked the rubric,” I repeated, somewhat stunned.
For the uninitiated, a rubric is not a cube made of colored squares. A rubric is a list of exactly what is graded – and how many points it’s worth – on a big project.
Dylan had been ignoring rubrics for years. In fact, I had spent years trying to get Dylan to look at rubrics, so that he could stop losing dozens of points because he didn’t answer an important question, add a drawing, or put his name on the paper.
“Yeah,” Shane said. “It’s pretty easy. I mean, it basically tells you everything you need to put on the poster, and then you just have to put it on there.”
“Yeah,” I said, still a bit stunned. “Rubrics do make things a lot easier.”
Shane’s first morning of the new year was not as bad as Dylan’s, but it wasn’t great.
Shane spent most of winter break playing video games and hanging out in his bedroom. So it wasn’t really a surprise that he didn’t remember to put his lunchbox out for the first day back to school.
But he also didn’t remember to wipe the table after breakfast. This has been Shane’s job for about five years, and he almost never forgets to do it. On Day 1 of 2018, though, it wasn’t at the forefront of his mind.
So after dinner, we had a little talk, along with Dylan. I reiterated the expectations about time and cleanliness.
“And if you come down more than five minutes late for breakfast,” I said (mostly to Dylan), “you will be paying for a breakfast from the school cafeteria, even if you don’t eat at school.”
No one cared for this new rule, but I was tired of watching Dylan’s breakfast get cold every, single day. He has more money in the bank than I do, so he can afford $1.50 for every day that he’s late.
“And if you don’t have your lunchbox ready when I start packing it,” I said (mostly to Shane), “you will either have to pack it yourself – if you have time in the morning – or you will have to pay for a cafeteria lunch.”
No one cared for this rule, either, and I sensed sheer panic from Shane. He was already plotting to come down early every day, so that he wouldn’t have to eat the cafeteria food. He didn’t care about the money; he sure didn’t want to eat any industrialized entrees.
The next morning, there were two lunchboxes ready for me to pack, and no one was more than five minutes late for breakfast.
As the winter break approached, Dylan assured me that, when January rolled around, things were going to be different.
He was going to start getting more done in school, staying after school more often, and making sure things were turned in on time. He was going to get up and get ready on time, always catch his bus, and make sure he was awake in plenty of time to do all of it.
Yesterday was his first day back at school. He came downstairs ten minutes late, as usual. He raced off to catch the bus, as usual. He left his breakfast sandwich sitting on a napkin on the foosball table. He also forgot his coffee.
I suggested that he find some breakfast meat in the school cafeteria so that, at least, his vitamins would help. (L-Tyrosine is only effective when combined with animal protein.) Dylan didn’t do that, either.
He texted me at 10:30 a.m. “Mom I’m like miserable I can’t focus on anything I’m like dying.”
This broke my heart. Unfortunately, I was substitute teaching all day and couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t provide him (again) with a healthy breakfast. I couldn’t drive over with a bottle of iced coffee. I couldn’t do anything.
Dylan spent some of his morning with his counselor, which helped. By the end of the day, though, he was a wreck. He came home grouchy and mean. He hadn’t eaten for hours (after not eating breakfast) and I thought he was hungry.
He barely ate dinner, probably as some form of “food protest” to prove that he wasn’t really grouchy because he was hungry. Then – since Shane had had a rough morning, too – we went over what is expected during the school year.
“Be downstairs at 6:45,” I started – knowing that while Shane was listening intently, Dylan had heard it all too many times before.
Then Dylan fell asleep. Suddenly, he was like a human again. He wasn’t happy, but he was better after his unscheduled nap.
At 10:30 p.m., though, just 12 hours after his misery text, he was wide awake. He was on his laptop and his phone, and I had to actually say – for the four millionth time – that he needed to put away his electronics and go to bed.
Then I went to bed. I don’t know what he did.
But this morning, when I got up to reheat yesterday’s breakfast sandwich for him, there was a siren noise blaring inside Dylan’s room. The door was shut, so I opened it. Dylan’s alarm was going off loud enough to wake the neighbors and Dylan was sound asleep.
Without thinking about allowing him to have the consequences of his actions, and with his “plan” to “do better” in January ringing in my brain, I screamed at him.
“YOUR ALARM IS GOING OFF!” I screeched. “And you’re supposed to be downstairs RIGHT NOW!”
It was 6:45. Dylan came downstairs late but he actually ate his breakfast. Since it was 7 degrees outside, I drove him to the bus stop.
“Have a better day today,” I waved as he was leaving.
“Anything would be better,” Dylan said. And then he was on the bus, and off to school.