If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t until now…well… First, It’s been a tough 4 weeks with him gone; it’s been hard to talk or write about. Second, I had a computer crash that set me back a few week. Third, I had to handle the developmental edits for my upcoming books (How to Blog a Book–Writer’s Digest Books, April 2012). Fourth, we had a few Jewish holidays thrown in that took up a little time. All that to say, I’ve been busy and adjusting.
Here’s the news…
Julian seems to have adapted well to life at SAB and in NYC. He says the classes are the hardest he’s ever taken. The other boys in the advanced men’s division are phenomenally good for the most part and he feels he has a lot of catching up to do. He still hopes to graduate in a year, but he says only a few boys have done this…so… (We won’t go there right now.) He’s made friends. That’s huge. He has guy friends and girl friends. I’ve heard from the male dancers I interviewed that one day they realized that their best friends were not in school but at dance; finally he actually goes to school with his dance friends (and lives with them). And he can be friends with the many male dancers he is in class with as well. That’s huge…friends who are male dancers. He’s always lacked male friends. (In fact, one of the reasons we thought going to SAB was a good idea was because he could make male friends.)
Julian enjoys living in the dorm. He likes his two roommates, both of whom he knew from the summer program. They seem to get along well, although I think he is the messy one and definitely showed up with more clothes than the other two. I don’t think he’s crazy about the food, which is the same as the summer (college fare), and the curfews. He also has to deal with RA (resident assistants) and such on a more regular basis now that he is there “full time.” The staff at SAB is quite stringent about kids being in their rooms by 11 p.m. (the curfew for the older ones), and this week when Julian and his roommate came in at 11:01 p.m. they ended up with an early curfew penalty. (They have to be in at 7 p.m. one night.) Other than that, he is enjoying himself–probably more than he should!
By this I mean that he is spending more time doing what he wants than what he should–mostly playing pool, I’m told. Of course, he doesn’t have a ton of free time, I’m sure. The advanced men who are new to the SAB program take some intermediate men’s classes as well. Plus, the choreographic institute has been running for the last three weeks or so; anyone in that has had rehearsals as well. Julian ended up unable to choreograph a piece–a huge disappointment for him. (They held a lottery because there were too many kids who wanted to choreograph. The only ones who didn’t get chosen in the lottery were a few who were new to the SAB program or younger and had a few more years to choreograph. I’m not sure that sounds like a “lottery” to me.) He was chosen to dance in a piece, though, and has had rehearsals. If he isn’t there next year, he won’t get to choreograph for the institute, which would be a shame. Besides dance classes and rehearsals, his academic schedule is pretty light–2 classes–and he has time in the morning and in the evening three days a week to do “other things.”
Speaking of “other things” that he “should” be doing, this entails not just school work but college applications. We suddenly realized had three due at the end of November and he had just 5 weeks to gt them done. It took a week or more to get it through Julian’s head that this really needed to get done, which left 4 week until the deadline. He needed to speak with the Professional Performing Arts School (PPAS) college counselor and get letters of recommendation from his old teachers back in Los Gatos and possibly retake the SAT and ACT tests. Oh, then there is that college essay that needs to get written. Ack! We were very stressed, although Julian was not.
As I mentioned in this post, there was a chance that Julian might not end up actually taking classes at PPAS but rather taking them at SAB. Well, that is what happened. He actually could have taken classes at PPAS but he basically refused, but they conflicted with advanced men’s weight lifting (Yes…weight lifting. Personally, I’d think academics would be more important and SAB would have supported–even liked–him to take class at PPAS). He did not want to take intermediate men’s weight lifting instead. We were told that a handful of advanced men take intermediate men’s weight lifting each year because of school schedules and the training is adjusted to accommodate them. Julian, however, would have no part of this. Despite his desire to attend PPAS and be accepted by the kids there and have some semblance of a senior year, he chose to take his last two credits at SAB. (I admitted, this broke my heart. I cried…and cried…) In fact, all the kids living at SAB are taking their humanities classes in the dorm; he would have been the only one not doing so. (So, I understand him not wanting to—again–be the odd ball out. But…no senior year. Maybe no prom? Sob. He did go with the other senior boy to get their senior group photo taken with the other PPAS seniors in Times Square. Wowie.) They have class two nights a week for two hours. This is paid for by a New York City Ballet grant that brings PPAS teachers up to SAB.
Not attending PPAS, though, has meant that Julian has no daily academic schedule (he doesn’t get up and go to school every day) and, therefore, hadn”t disciplined himself to handle anything academic on a regular basis other than homework. He hadn”t gone to PPAS to take care of anything related to college, which, in his mind he doesn’t need to do since he hopes to go straight into a ballet company. He also hadn’t gone down there to handle his regents test tutoring (he must now take these tests to graduate even though he passed the CA exit exam already).
As the days went by and Julian was not doing anything about his college apps or regents tutoring, both of which required that he actually get up in the morning and go down to PPAS, he appeared to avoid our texts and calls. Here’s where having a dancin’ boy away from home becomes a problem (or, as my husband might say, a gift). The problem: We became more and more frustrated and angry. Our calls were not returned, and when we did speak to Julian it was easy for him to say, “Gotta go,” or “My phone battery is about to die,” or, even worse, “To get angry, defensive or basically not listen or hear us.” This type of long-distance communication–or lack of communication–becomes very frustrating very fast, especially when you need action to be taken by your child. And your child wants to see himself as autonomous and an adult. Yet, he is function as a 17 year old with a 17 year old brain with all its undeveloped inadequacies. As a parent you feel pretty powerless.
Here’s the gift: The staff at SAB is extremely willing to be the parental long arm–and you, as the actual parent, don’t have to deal with the repercussions of that (the angry child). As of about 10 days ago we called SAB and had a long discussion with one of the directors of Student Life at SAB and discussed the problems we were having and been assured that if we needed to ground Julian, it would be no problem. (This, typically, is what parents do as a long-distance “punishment.”) We were ready to make that call a little more than a week ago, but when we couldn’t get a text or a call the day before we’d told Julian he had to do a few things–like open some emails and handle them–and we’d sent numerous emails that did not appear to get opened and texts that did not receive replies, we’d it. We called SAB, found out his scheduled (did discover some texts were ignored because he was in rehearsal…mea culpa) and then when we still didn’t hear from him by a certain point, asked that he not be allowed to leave the building until he called. And guess, what? We received a call–an angry call complaining that he wasn’t allowed to go down to dinner (because dinner is on the same floor as the exit door). But we got a call all the same. We discussed our expectations for the next day and week. He replied angrily and got off the phone. We did not have to deal with his anger, but since then communication has been a bit better and action items have been getting ticked off. Julian even went down to PPAS two days last week.
I tell you all of this not to say that my son has been slacking off or is a “bad” kid. He actually has been doing his homework (from what I can tell…albeit at 2 a.m…and with a nice friend in in suit). He’s been working tremendously hard in dance class. I tell you all of this to explain that if you send your son off to a ballet program you might want to consider how well he communicates, what things he will need to accomplish while away, what the school situation will be like and how well you think he can handle it, and what your expectation are. You might want to do a better job of discussing your expectations with him prior to his leaving. We did not discuss this. Ah, well…I told him I expected him to take his Usana vitamins twice a day. I did not tell him how many times a week I expected him to call home.
Also, know that this behavior is normal. According to the director of student life and the RA to whom I spoke, many kids who arrive at SAB don’t actually settle into a schedule and realize they are away at school and not at a summer intensive until they have returned from their first vacation at home–usually Thanksgiving. That’s three months after they arrive. (Julian, unfortunately, does not have that lead way! He has to get his act together now to do his college apps!) At that point the light bulb goes on that they no longer live at home, and they begin handling real-life issues like school work. I suppose it’s possible for parents to help with this transition if they realize this before hand and speak to their kids about it on a regular basis. We ended up having to say those words to Julian out of frustration: “This is not dance camp…not a summer intensive!”
In general, communication can be difficult from afar. I just got off the phone with Julian, who called home to tell us about his first choreographic institute performance. I asked about his ankle, which has been bothering him. He said it hurt when he performed. So, I naturally asked if he got my text about taking trumeel and arnica and putting arnica ointment on it. He got angry and started yelling at me about how he gets all my texts. Well…I got angry and stormed off leaving his dad to talk to him (on speaker phone) and to ask my questions for me (when I snuck back to listen). Little by little I got back into the conversation…carefully. Keeping away from “dangerous” topics.
So, that’s it for now. My husband and I are actually off on Tuesday to New York to watch Julian perform in the choreographic institute piece…all of 3 minutes in length. It’s my excuse to check up on him after the first month. (My husband has reason to go to the East Coast the following week, and he got me a frequent flyer ticket.) I’ll get to see my daughter, too, so I’m very excited. I’ll see him again in another month six weeks after that for Thanksgiving, which we always celebrate in New York at my Mom’s house. He won’t actually be home until December.
I hope I don’t cry and get all depressed when I leave Julian in NY again. I’ll be home alone for two weeks while my hubby goes off to Europe.
By the way, there was another boy getting dropped off at SAB by his dad; the mother stayed home expressly so she wouldn’t embarrass her son by crying when she left. Ah well…I went through all of this with my daughter when I visited her for Parent’s Day at NYU just a month after she left, but she was not a senior in high school nor did I go home to an empty house…This really does feel different. I’m sure other moms of dancin’ kids can relate.
More when I return from NYC…