The Right Fit

What a difference a year makes. Last August, I wrote the blog, The Paradox of Summer, describing our difficulty over the years finding the right camp for Ryan. The blog was then published by the New York Jewish Week (The New Normal – blogging disability), and a number of people, including a Rabbi in Israel, reached out to me after that with camp suggestions. I was very appreciative for all the advice but knew those camps would not suit Ryan. However, the messages got me thinking that it had been six years since we’d given up on camps and maybe there were new options now available.

I began my search in February. We only needed something for a few weeks, since the first five weeks of summer Ryan participates in the Extended School Year (ESY) program at the high school and we usually go away at the end of August. I googled camps in the Philadelphia area for special needs teens and stumbled upon Carousel Farm in Warminster, PA. Their summer program was for teens and young adults ages 14-21 with learning disabilities and mild autism spectrum disorders. I emailed them and got in touch with D, who worked in the office. He said the camp day is split between typical camp activities, such as sports, swimming, art, music, and horseback riding, and employment skills, where campers can work in the camp store, on the farm (with sheep, goats, chickens, a donkey, and a pony), in food services, or in the garden. There is a big focus on social skills throughout the day, and the majority of the campers are verbal and mostly independent.

It sounded amazing and we went to visit in early April. I learned D’s parents. L and M, owned Carousel Farm. L was the main counselor, M was the music counselor, and they have a daughter who runs an overnight camp for young adults over 18. The camp was small enough where Ryan would not be overwhelmed but seemed to have enough activities to keep him busy. We saw an indoor video game area, a mini zip line, the farm, the horseback riding and sports areas, and the pool. As an added bonus, we learned the camp offered hot lunches. (For some reason, my kids do not like sandwiches so that has always been a challenge with camps.)

Like with anything new, Ryan was hesitant to commit to going there. “I’ll do it for one week,” he said reluctantly.

“Three,” I countered. “One will not get you used to camp and I’d rather you spend time there than sit on the couch indoors.

“Fine,” he said. “I’ll do 2.” I smiled. Two weeks was my actual goal, and so we had a deal.

Ryan and I went to visit camp the Friday before he would start so he could meet his counselors and the other campers. L was warm and welcoming and we were part of their morning meeting within minutes of arriving. They were working on social skills and the kids had to talk about their weekend plans and ask each other questions. The room was loud and Ryan looked a little overwhelmed. But surprisingly, he did answer questions people asked him and asked L a few questions of his own.

L gave us a copy of the schedule, which helped Ryan relax immensely now that he knew when each activity would happen. We then had the chance to meet his driver, who was also the horseback riding instructor. She showed Ryan the van he would be in during his rides to camp, which also helped get him in the right frame of mind, as transportation to and from school is a big source of anxiety for Ryan. (He likes to know well in advance what bus he’s on, who is driving it, and when it will arrive.)

Despite the successful visit, Ryan being Ryan complained the entire weekend leading up to camp. “I don’t want to go.” “How ‘bout I just stay home and relax.”

“You’ll love it,” we kept saying. “It’s going to be so much fun.” (But I silently prayed it would be a good experience for Ryan. I knew there was no way he would go to camp after this if it didn’t work out.)

Monday came. I wondered all day how Ryan was doing. When he arrived home at 4:30, I asked a lot of questions, trying unsuccessfully to get details. Here’s what I got out of him: “It was good.” “The ride home was too long.” “I did art.”

I emailed L for more info. “He is just adorable! He had a great time. We adore him. He participates in everything. He’s a doll.”

Wow! I told Ryan how much L and the others liked him and asked again what he did. He said he worked in the garden and swam and complained about the long ride again. I suggested he bring earbuds to listen to music during future car rides.

The next day he did just that and did not complain about the ride. He told me he worked at the farm and enjoyed it. Wednesday, he had the chance to ride the horse. Swimming was his favorite overall activity, and he was not happy the one day it rained and swim was cancelled.

Ryan asked me if I knew the schedule for next week. I emailed L, who said it would stay the same and she added that he seemed to like the kids in his group. “He has settled in beautifully and goes with the flow,” she said.

I showed that to Dan, and we both laughed about how she probably got Ryan confused with another camper. Go with the flow is not a phrase that comes to mind when we describe Ryan.

Over the weekend, Ryan said, “Only five more days of camp and then I can relax!”

“Ry! You like camp. And everyone loves you.” I said.

He smiled. “Well, at least I have three weeks after camp ends to relax.”

L told me to keep an eye on their Facebook page as there were some cute photos of Ryan going up soon. The pictures went up on Monday of the second week. The very first one was a close up of Ryan, and there were six more of him included in the post. My favorite was Ryan feeding a goat. He looked so happy.

Week 2 was all about the weather and Ryan’s concern that the rain would impact swim time.

“Mommy, when will the rain start?” he asked each night. “And when will it stop?” If he didn’t like the one weather site that had the hour by hour forecast, he had me pull up another.

“I don’t want it to rain during camp tomorrow. Tell the rain to wait until camp’s over,” he complained. Some things never change – see Weathering the Storm. Luckily the rain cooperated with Ryan’s schedule.

When his driver dropped him off on Friday, she called out to me, “Ryan told me he’s coming back next summer for two weeks. Looking forward to seeing him then!” I couldn’t believe Ryan had independently told people he would return.

We started the camp search when Ryan was six and after nine years, we finally found the right fit – activities he will willingly do, and most importantly, counselors and a few peers who got to know him and with whom he made connections. As Ryan looks forward to relaxing the next few weeks before school starts, I am thrilled to have a place where he can comfortably return next summer.

The Not-so-Newlywed Game

Dan and I celebrated our 20th anniversary at the end of June and spent five full days in San Francisco and Napa the following week. It was our first time away together for that many days since before we had kids.

At the airport waiting to board our flight to San Fran on Monday night, I noticed all of the staff suddenly disappear – not a great sign 30 minutes before takeoff. Eventually, someone announced the pilot broke a tooth and would not be flying; luckily, they found another pilot, who was on his way. An hour later, we boarded the plane, only to hear an announcement that the co-pilot had flown past his maximum allotted time and needed to make a phone call to Mom to get permission to keep flying.

“What is he, 12?” I asked Dan sarcastically. (I figured ‘Mom’ referred to whomever was in charge of granting permission to pilots, but it was still irritating.)

After another 15 minutes, a new announcement – the co-pilot had received permission (thanks, Mom!); however, the ground crew needed to change shifts. Of course they did. Several hours after our originally scheduled flight, we finally took off.

All of this reminded me of our crazy vacation experiences over the past 20 years, especially those when we were newlyweds.

For our one-year anniversary, we planned a trip to Cancun at the end of June. It was my first week off since I’d started working at PwC eight months prior to that (back in the days when new hires only received two weeks of vacation time a year), so I was really excited to have that time. The day before we were planning to leave, Dan woke up with 102-degree fever and an awful sore throat – it was strep. We never made it to Cancun and my grandparents, who shared the same anniversary date as ours, took me out to lunch to celebrate both anniversaries, while Dan slept and shivered under the covers on a warm June day. I spent a few days at the pool alone and by mid-week, Dan was better and we decided to go to Atlantic City for a few nights. Only, the weather suddenly took a dip – it was in the 60s and rainy the entire time, our hotel elevator did not work and we were on an upper floor, and I developed hives from something I ate.

We decided to give it another go in December and take a cruise with our friends, Lori and Ray. It had been years since I went somewhere warm in the winter and excitedly told my co-workers I’d see them in a week with a nice tan. Here’s how that week played out:

Days 1 and 2

We left Fort Lauderdale around 5pm and sailed all night, arriving at Key West in the morning. Highs were in the low 70s – very cool and breezy as we took a glass bottom boat tour – and we needed jackets most of the day.

Day 3

We spent it at sea. It was cool, but partly sunny. We could sit outside most of the day, although it was not exactly tanning weather.

Day 4

We arrived at Cozumel. The sky looked ominous as we boarded the party boat for a fun day. Winds were blowing and the cruise ship made the decision to leave early before the storm hit. The party boat returned to shore and we jumped into a taxi that drove a bit erratically down narrow dirt roads. We were grateful for Dan’s fluent Spanish, which got us back to the ship. With our excursion cut short and the rain coming down, bingo games and the bars were the places to be.

Day 5

We were supposed to be in the Cayman Islands but completely bypassed this stop due to the storm. Once again, we spent the day playing bingo and hanging out in the bars. It was around this time Ray coined the trip “The Cruise to Nowhere.”

The cruise director and team, wanting to ensure everyone had a good time on board the ship despite the weather, strongly advertised that evening’s activities. The evening would begin with the Not-so-Newlywed Game in the big theater, followed by a toga party. The four of us decided this meant we should wear our costumes to the game show and spent so much time trying to create togas out of sheets that we arrived at the theater later than we normally would have. As we entered, we were instructed to take a raffle ticket and put half of it in one of three bowls based on the number of years we had been married.

We looked around but couldn’t find any seats. The usher said, “There are some right up front – I’ll take you.” And, during our long walk down the aisle to the first row, we realized we were the ONLY four people wearing togas.

“Why isn’t anyone else wearing a costume?” I mumbled to Lori.

“This is so embarrassing,” she said as people looked at us curiously. “Maybe we should change.”

But the show was starting so we tried to make ourselves small in our seats. Perhaps people wouldn’t notice us if we scrunched down low. The cruise director (I don’t remember his name – let’s call him Milo) welcomed the impressive size crowd and said he was going to pick a ticket from each bowl, so three couples would be competing.

None of us was really paying attention as we were trying to catch the eye of the server bringing drinks around. Milo called out the newlywed number. We ignored him and debated individual drinks vs a bottle of wine. No one responded to Milo so he called it again. I looked down at my ticket. “OMG that’s us!” I shouted.

Dan just looked shell shocked, like how that could possibly have happened with the thousand or so people in the room.

“We’re definitely getting the bottle,” Ray said to the server who had finally reached our table. “This is going to be good!” Lori was cheering and had her camera ready. Dear G-d.

Dan and I slowly got up as people around us clapped and walked onto the stage in front of the crowd in. our. togas!!!

Meanwhile, Milo had called the other two tickets and those couples joined us.

“Let’s find out who our contestants are,” Milo said in his booming voice. “First, our newlywed couple. Thank you for wearing your togas!” The audience roared as I willed the toga to magically disappear and be replaced with a cute outfit.

We introduced ourselves and he asked Dan how long we had been married. “Um… a little over a year?” Dan said hesitantly.

Milo put the mic in my face. “Let’s see if Jodi’s more confident about their marriage length.” The crowd laughed.

”A year and a half,” I said.

“It’s a year and a half Dan,” Milo said. “Remember that.” The audience roared again. Lori snapped some more pictures. I started to relax. Slightly.

The other couples introduced themselves – one had been married 12 years and lived somewhere in the Midwest and seemed quiet. The boisterous ‘old married couple’ was from New York and celebrating their 20th anniversary. They had their whole family in the audience.

The women were told to leave so Milo could ask the men some questions. One of the cruise staff took us behind the stage and got us much needed drinks. We then came back and had to try to match our husbands’ answers. I matched one out of three in that round.

Then we switched and I realized the strategy was answering Milo with what I thought Dan would say rather than what I really thought. With every question we matched, I became more and more confident. Things like – your husband’s most annoying habit, the last person your spouse dated before you, your husband’s favorite condiment, and other more personal questions not appropriate for this blog. People cheered when we matched – the audience really seemed to like us. The 12-year couple was interesting – they had some strange voyeuristic tendencies that weren’t very appropriate for the children in the audience. And the 20 year couple was a hoot but couldn’t remember much. In the end, we won the game – togas and all. (I unfortunately have no recollection of the actual toga party afterwards!)

Day 6

Winning the game was only the beginning. Because the game show was pretty much the highlight of the cruise, everyone knew us. Those people who did not attend the live show, got to watch it in their state rooms as the cruise ship ran it over and over on TV. Everywhere we went, we heard comments like – “Oh, you’re the newlywed couple!” “We loved you and were glad you won!” “The togas were hilarious!” Or – little kids pointing to us and saying “Mommy, aren’t they the ones who…” And even the ship captain  –“I loved your answer to…”

We arrived in Ocho Rios, Jamaica to some sun and went on a hike through Duns River Falls. We were still the celebrity couple and everyone wanted to talk to us. I found myself conscious of how I was acting in public and focused on constantly smiling to maintain our reputation as the cute newlyweds. Imagine if this had happened today – we’d probably have people wanting to take selfies with us. I can just see the posts: Hanging with the newlywed couple – the winners of the Not-so-Newlywed game. #theyworetogastoagameshow

Day 7

We spent the last day at sea with cool and rainy weather. There was not much to do except watch ourselves on the ship’s TV (and dissecting our performance had become one of our favorite activities at this point. Me – “Oh here’s the part where you say…”; Dan – “Oh I love the look you give me here…”), as well as go to the bars and play bingo. No surprise, it was the largest jackpot in the ship’s history – around 10k!

Day 8

We arrived back in Fort Lauderdale and our celebrity status lasted into the airport as we passed people from the ship on their way to various flights. However, when we landed back in Philly, it was a strange feeling – nobody at the airport knew us, recognized us, or wanted to talk to us. Oh well – it was fun while it lasted and a little refreshing to have anonymity again. And of course I returned to work without any hint of a tan.

Now that we have been married for 20 years and are officially in the ‘old married couple’ category, at least according to the cruise ship, we have many vacations to look back on. Some were washouts, some had sick children, and one had a husband on crutches. However, more often than not, they were sunny, illness free and much more private than the Cruise to Nowhere!

The Glamorous Life of an International Business Traveler

Family and friends who see my travel pictures on social media often comment on how gorgeous they are, how lucky I am to see so many countries, and whether I need any assistance on my trips (e.g. bag handler, perhaps?). While I certainly enjoy seeing new cities and am grateful to have the opportunity to travel internationally, it is not always as fun as it looks.

Let me take you on my journey last week, to a behind the scenes look at the glamorous life of a business traveler.

Sunday

I was traveling to Porto, Portugal via Madrid, where I would have a 3.5 hour delay to relax in the lounge and prep for my meetings later that day in Porto. I would be meeting with a number of colleagues from various European cities to co-deliver a training over the next few days.

I arrived at the Philly airport at 4:30 pm for a 6:30 flight and checked one suitcase, carrying an overnight bag with a change of clothes and my laptop bag with me to the gate. There was a threat of thunderstorms, which had been prevalent all week, but my flight at that point was on time. When I got the gate for boarding at 5:30, I saw the flight had been pushed back 30 minutes. It then moved back another 30, and we finally pulled out of the gate at 7:30 pm. Once on the runway, the lightning started and we remained on the ground until 9:30. I had not yet eaten dinner, as I was waiting for the in-flight meal service, and was ravenous when the meal came after 10:00. I then fell asleep for an impressive four hours (which is the maximum amount of sleep you can usually get on an overnight flight to Europe), and soon it was time to land.

Monday morning

My relaxing 3.5 hour delay was now 40 minutes because of the late arrival. I managed to get spotty internet as we were landing in Madrid and saw there were no additional available flights from Madrid to Porto that day (shhh… I know the phone is supposed to be in airplane mode but I needed to quickly figure out options!). The plane landed around 10:50 am, and a flight attendant was waiting at the exit with my boarding pass for the next flight. She informed me I might not make it and needed to run, as they would close the gates 15 minutes before the plane took off.

It was a very big airport and as I ran, I had flashbacks of two other situations in Doha and London where I was also making a mad dash through airports to catch connecting flights. This seemed to be a pattern. The sign above me announced the gates were 30 minutes away, and I bolted down moving sidewalks and up and down escalators, finally arriving at customs and a huge line moving very slowly.  #$@&%*!

I saw someone who appeared to be in charge, but she did not speak English. I tried to explain in Spanish that my flight was leaving in 30 minutes and I needed to get through, but she pretended to not understand and directed me to the back of the line. Panicked, I texted my colleague who was waiting for her flight from Brussels to Porto that I probably wouldn’t make the connection. She wrote back, “Barge your way in! Say you need to be ahead of everyone! Don’t be polite. Just do it!” Easier said than done when most people didn’t speak English, but I decided to give it a go.

I turned to the family ahead of me. “Mi flight (could not remember the word for flight so I made a waving motion like a bird with my hands) esta en treinta minutos. Por favor…” I gestured to the spot in front of them and they nodded. I continued to move through the line – just cutting my way in front of most people as it would take too long to try to explain to everyone – but stopping to explain in Spanish every so often. People were either confused and didn’t know what to make of the crazy woman waving her arms, or understood and motioned for me to go ahead.

I finally got close to the front and used my “Mi flight… treinta minutos” speech on a family. The dad said – in English –  “Of course, but we’d prefer you change your shirt first.” I looked down at my Eagles hoodie in confusion, and they told me they were from Dallas. We all laughed, and their fluent Spanish helped me get through the remaining people in line. I was now at the front.

After customs and with 20 minutes to go, I had to put my carry-on bags through a security screening. I quickly took out liquids and electronics, threw everything into bins, walked through the screening machine (where I thankfully did not set off any alarms), and got to the end of the of the luggage screening area to grab my stuff. Except – one of my bags was flagged for additional screening – and I now had to go off to the side to get it checked. #$@&%*!

 “Por favor, mi flight (waving arms) esta en veinte minutos!” I begged the agent for a quick check and thought to myself, I really need to learn the Spanish word for flight!

They did check my bag quickly and I was soon running again, for another five minutes, and arrived at the gate in time for last call – sweaty, thirsty, and probably smelly.

As you can see, my day had been super glamorous so far.

Monday afternoon

We landed in Porto a little before noon (Madrid is an hour ahead of Porto so I gained time back), and I found a restroom to change into a new shirt and jeans (I always carry a spare set of clothes which are much needed after flying all night). I then walked to baggage claim. When I arrived, the bags were already on the carousel, and I suddenly got this feeling that mine would not be among them. I was correct – my suitcase was not there, so I went to lost and found to report the missing bag. The man there said that although I managed to make the flight in Madrid, my bag was probably not as fast, and it would likely come on a later flight that day. He gave me a number to call to check the status and said they would deliver it to the hotel when it arrived.

At the hotel, I met up with the rest of the team and we worked until around 6:30, when we decided to break for dinner. I called the airport to check on my bag and was informed it actually never left Philadelphia. It would be on a flight the next day. OMG. At this point in time, some of the group decided a shopping trip was in order. While I actually needed clothes, the others were more than happy to shop with me for moral support. Since we were all teaching together, we ended up purchasing matching T-shirts to wear to the training that said Citizens of the World. (I bought a few other essentials, as well.)

Over the next few days, we experienced a successful training event, lots of great networking, many laughs, and exploring a little of Porto. And while my suitcase did arrive by 5:00 pm on Tuesday, it was shut tightly with a zip tie, and I needed to call the front desk for a scissors to open it.

Now let’s fast forward to the end of the week.

Friday morning
To avoid a long layover in Madrid on Friday, I had decided to fly to Lisbon Thursday night so I could take a direct flight from there to Philly in the morning. I met a colleague for a very late dinner on Thursday, and given my newfound love of Portuguese wine (Vinho Verde is delicious!), she suggested going to the duty free airport shop to buy a few bottles before leaving.

The next morning when I checked my bag, I was told the flight would board at 10:45 am rather than 11:15. Still, I thought there would be plenty of time for a quick trip to duty free. I had forgotten how many checkpoints there are in the Lisbon airport where I had to show or scan my passport and/or boarding pass. And the line at duty free was insane. Despite this, I did make it to the gate on time (albeit a little sweaty) and then waited in a line for what I thought was boarding the plane. It was actually a line to walk down a long corridor to exit the airport and board a tram that took us to the plane. My arms were killing me by that point, as the two bottles of wine along with all of my other stuff made things quite heavy.

Friday afternoon

Following a decent flight where I napped for a few hours and watched some good movies, I made it quickly through customs at 3:15 pm to baggage claim. It seemed like every arriving flight had a carousel except ours – London, Zürich, Budapest, Rome, etc. Someone finally announced that unfortunately, there was no carousel for the Lisbon flight and it would be awhile until one was available. Of course it would be. I didn’t expect anything less from this trip. I made myself comfortable on a ledge and spent an hour catching up on emails until the luggage finally arrived. In a rare change of events, mine was one of the first bags out! And after an almost two-hour ride home (Friday afternoon traffic was insane!), I collapsed on the sofa, happy to see my family and share with them my glamorous international travel experience!

Then and Now

The countdown has begun. Jordan informed me there are 11 actual days of school left for him, including finals. Apparently, if they do not have a final, they can stay home that day.

The year seemed endless back in September, but once we got into a routine, it actually flew by. I started thinking about how many things had changed since my Welcome to High School blog post, along with what had not changed at all, and decided to dedicate this last blog of the 2018-2019 school year to ‘then vs now.’

Waking up

Then

Getting up at 5:30 am seemed inhumane. We were exhausted all the time, and it was impossible to get the kids going at that hour. I was catching colds constantly from lack of sleep. People told us we would get used to it before long.

Now

Waking up at 5:30 is still ridiculous. Dan and I do manage to go to bed earlier, and I don’t get as many colds these days, but mornings are remain a mad rush. Here’s an example from two weeks ago:

Me: “Ryan, it’s 6:15! You’re still in bed and we woke you 45 minutes ago. The bus is coming in 15 minutes!”

Ryan: “I don’t want to get up. How ‘bout I just skip school today? I hate Mondays.

Dan: “How ‘bout we drive you to school the rest of the year?” (Ryan loves taking the bus.)

Ryan: “Never mind, I’m up.”

Me: “Jordan it’s 6:00. Get out of bed.”

Jordan: “mfjdsbedhx” (incoherent mumbling)

Me: “Jordan it’s 6:15. Wake up!”

Jordan: “I’m up.”

Me: “You are not up. Your eyes are barely open. Get up and start moving.”

Jordan: “Okay, okay.”

(5 min later) Me: “Jordan! You’re still sleeping!”

Jordan: “No I’m not. Mfjfjd…”

Dan: “JORDAN, GET UP NOW!”

Jordan “Why are you yelling? This is the first time you told me to wake up!”

I mean, does he think this is a picnic for me? I am hardly a morning person.

The only one who actually seems to have adjusted to waking up in the 5s is Dan. Even when the boys had school closing days, he voluntarily and happily continued to get up that early. Like it’s something he is okay doing for the long-term. I have said more than once that none of us is waking up in the 5s this summer. 6:30 is much more reasonable. Whenever Dan wakes up, he’s kind of loud and it automatically wakes me, too, so we need to all embrace this no 5s thing in order for it to work. Are you reading this, Dan? Mom needs a break from the 5s!

Homework

Then

I was very stressed trying to figure out what Ryan had to do each night given the multiple places we needed to search (Schoology, Google Chrome, 10 folders, etc.) to get answers. There also was quite a bit more work than in middle school, which was an adjustment. Jordan had a rude awakening when he realized – after three years of getting his homework done during Advisory (i.e. study hall) – he would have to do homework on nights and weekends.

Now

For the most part, everyone (teachers and family members doing homework with Ryan) uses the Google doc I created to communicate. I don’t check the other sources and trust that all of the information we need will be there. Ryan’s workload also eased up after a couple of meetings where we had good discussions with his teachers about what he could handle after a long day of school and how to modify some of the assignments. And Jordan figured out how to balance schoolwork and activities/fun. Which brings me to…

Activities

Then

Jordan had identified several activities he wanted to join which were major time commitments (along with requiring lots of parental driving to and from school). Ryan didn’t want to join any activities that needed a pick up after school, as he was set on taking the bus home. The bus is his routine.

Now

Jordan is ending the year with three school shows under his belt, along with participating in concert and select chorus, two evening vocal recitals, a few in school concerts, and a spot in next year’s a cappella group (not to mention Confirmation, Friendship Circle volunteer and private voice and piano lessons). My mom and I often joke that with all the time spent rehearsing for various events, he should have a bed at the high school. However, joking aside, this year has enabled him to solidify his love of all things music and theater, and he thankfully made many upperclassmen friends who were kind enough to give him rides to and from events a lot of the time. As grateful as I am for that, I’m ready for a break from the logistics involved with all of it!

Ryan surprised us by agreeing to attend Wings club each month. This club pairs neurotypical students with students who have autism to participate together in various activities – for example, attending basketball games, playing kickball, cooking, doing art projects, and raising money for charities. He also – to our even bigger surprise – enjoyed Sparkle Squad. Sparkle Squad is a similar group that pairs special needs students with cheerleaders, who teach them routines to perform at various basketball games. He went to the first practice very reluctantly and had a good time. Then he protested about going weekly, so we compromised on every other week at first. By the end of the season, he was attending most practices.

Gym

Then

Jordan was set on never missing gym or forgetting his uniform/swim trunks. Either of these things meant he would have to make up gym during zero period – some ungodly hour we luckily never had to face.

Now

Neither boy had to make up gym this year. By some miracle, the days they missed school were on non-gym days. Jordan admitted he forgot his swim trunks once, but someone helped him out (eww… and I don’t want to know more). He is just as set on never missing gym or forgetting his uniform or trunks next year.

Looking ahead

We had a nice taste of summer this past weekend when – for the first time in I don’t know how long – it was warm and sunny most of the weekend. Eleven school days until it’s officially summer vacation! I’m ready to trade time spent helping with homework to time spent doing daily loads of laundry containing swim trunks and towels. (especially since I plan to make the boys do some of it!) I’m ready for a break from organizing extracurricular activity logistics. And, I’m more than ready to wake up when it’s light outside!

Happy Summer!

A Hell of a Ride

Four weeks and two days ago, Dan broke his leg rock climbing in Peru.

(At least that’s what his doctor told him to say when Dan shared how he really broke his leg. Unbeknownst to me, Jordan proceeded to share the doctor’s version of events with several people, one of whom reached out and asked, “When did you guys have time to go to Peru? And why didn’t you post any pictures?”)

The doctor told Dan he cannot put any weight on his leg for six weeks and then he’ll have four additional weeks following that in a boot. He was lucky he did not need surgery.

Dan’s accident happened two weeks before our planned spring break trip to Myrtle Beach. I had found one of those timeshare deals where you pay $300 for three nights at a condo, listen to a timeshare presentation for 90 minutes, and then get a $100 AmEx gift card for your time. Meals and entertainment aside, we were only paying $200 for our trip, as the flights were booked with miles.

After the accident, I called the timeshare company to find out exactly where our condo was located. I was not sure this trip was even feasible given Dan’s condition. The person I spoke with said the condo was several miles from the beach and there were no restaurants on the property. This did not sound the least bit relaxing, so we needed another plan.

A Google search found a Marriott resort right on the beach, with a nice pool and a couple of restaurants. Dan could just stay at the pool, and it would be easy for the boys and me to alternate between pool and beach. This was more our speed. They also had a wheelchair we could use when we went places with a lot of walking. Unfortunately, our almost free vacation had now turned into an actual expense. At this point, however, I needed something easy and decided it would probably be worth it. And, that part certainly was – the hotel was beautiful and our time spent by the pool was exactly what we all needed.

What impressed me about the Myrtle Beach area is their focus on Autism awareness. The CAN (Champion Autism Network) card allowed us to skip the line at several places, including the Sky Wheel and Johnny D’s, a delicious restaurant known for their waffles and owned by a woman whose son has autism. There were autism awareness flyers everywhere, and the staff was very welcoming.

What I didn’t anticipate was how difficult, stressful and tiring it is to maneuver a wheelchair. We opted to take ubers rather than rent a car so we could all get out at the entrance of every location we visited. Each time we got into a car, I collapsed the wheelchair, and a combination of Jordan, the driver and I tried to get it in the trunk. Some trunks were easy, but others required quite a bit of effort. Every time we got out of a car, I rushed to get the wheelchair from the trunk and push it open before Dan got out and hobbled around without support. Despite asking him to wait until the chair was set up, Dan’s natural instinct was to help, so he often got out of the car too quickly.

Here are a few of our travel experiences:

The Boardwalk

On our second night, we decided to go to the boardwalk for dinner and rides. After a two-hour dinner (we were lucky to be seated at the same time as two giant parties!), we made our way to the boardwalk. Only it wasn’t like the boardwalks we’ve been to, which are right off the beach and very family friendly. Sure, the Sky Wheel (giant Ferris Wheel) was off the beach, but the other stores and food areas were actually off the street. It was very crowded walking down the street blocks with the wheelchair. At one point, Jordan took over from me; then he got tired and said, “Ryan, you push. You need to do more.”

“Do you really think this is the right place for Ryan to push?’ I asked.

“He needs to step it up,” Jordan said. “We’re tired.”

Ryan suddenly decided after about 30 seconds that he had had enough and just let go. Dan and the chair started barreling toward the street.

$&@#!!!

“Dad is going into traffic!” I yelled. Dan was trying to steer but he was going downhill and couldn’t stop.

Jordan and I ran toward the chair and together, grabbed it and pulled it back onto the sidewalk.

“Ryan! You can’t just let go!” I admonished once we were back on solid footing again.

“It’s heavy and I’m tired,” he said. “I have to go to the bathroom.”

Ryan always has to go to the bathroom at the worst times. We pushed the chair down a few more blocks to the only available public restroom, which was in an alleyway. Ryan went in and I stood near the door, while Jordan moved Dan off to the side.

All of a sudden, about a dozen extremely tall (at least 6’5 and taller) older boys showed up and began shouting angrily at each other. They then stormed the bathroom to continue their fighting. They were screaming and it sounded like things were getting physical, and I was afraid Ryan would get hurt in there. Ryan is about 5’5, which is tiny compared to those boys.

From where Dan’s chair was, he couldn’t see the boys were in the bathroom with Ryan. “Dan!” I shouted. “Ryan’s with them!”

For a few seconds our panicked eyes met, and I wondered who should be the one to go into the men’s room and rescue Ryan. Me, the woman? Or Dan, with his one functioning leg? This was lose-lose. As Dan started to rise from the chair and I shook my head afraid he would get even more hurt, Ryan emerged from the bathroom.

“Mommy,” he said, oblivious to our panic, “It’s so loud in there.”

We later learned from our uber driver that the boardwalk isn’t the safest place to go at night.

The Aquarium

The next day, we ventured to Broadway at the Beach, an outdoor complex with many restaurants, rides and a zip line, and a big aquarium. Dan and Ryan love aquariums and really wanted to go. Jordan, who now had a cold, grumbled about it. I said we would stay an hour, max, and then spend the afternoon at the pool.

Apparently, everyone visiting Myrtle Beach had the same idea as it was a mob scene when we arrived. Pushing the chair up and down the narrow ramps and trying to navigate to the tanks with the crowds was nearly impossible. We couldn’t get close to much, although Ryan managed to take some good pictures, and people did part for Dan’s chair at some  of the tanks so he could get in and see the fish. I kept losing Ryan in the crowd. Between worrying he would disappear, and the physical difficulties of the chair, I was very happy when it was time to leave.

The Wallet

After the aquarium, we got into an uber with driver, Gregory, and headed to our hotel. I decided to make reservations for date night at Crocodile Rocks, a dueling piano bar back at Broadway at the Beach. I had to give a deposit to hold an actual table, which would ensure Dan had a seat for the show, so my wallet was out while I was on the phone. We arrived at the hotel and I jumped out of the car to get the chair. When we got to our room to change for the pool, I suddenly realized my wallet was missing.

“Why don’t you call Gregory,” Dan suggested. “He’s ex-military and I’m sure he’s very honest.”

You can’t just call an uber driver directly, but through the app, if you click on ‘I left something in my uber,’ it will automatically dial your driver. Gregory answered and confirmed he did have my wallet and could bring it by the hotel in 30 minutes.

“Just some advice,” Dan suggested. “Next time you may want to check the car before the driver leaves to make sure you don’t leave anything in it.” Hmm… super helpful. Thanks for that.

We went to the pool and 30 minutes passed. Then 45. I called Gregory again and he said he was tied up in traffic and would be another 30 minutes. Which soon passed.

I called Gregory again and it went to voicemail. What if he had disappeared with my wallet?

A little later, Dan called Gregory again and left my cell number. A minute later, Gregory called me. “I’m so glad you left your number – it doesn’t show up when you call through the uber app,” he said. “I’m at the pool.”

Thank goodness! I got up and started walking around the pool area. “I think I see you!” I exclaimed. “Turn around.” I gave him a big hug and a tip for coming all the way back to us, and breathed a sigh of relief. There are definitely good people in this world! However, we are going back to renting cars for future trips! (Ryan will be disappointed as he loved being in a different car each time and looking on the app to see what type of car we were going to get!)

Having a family member with a physical disability brings a completely different set of challenges to having a child with autism. I have a lot of respect for caregivers of family members who face this every day.

What’s been positive about the situation is the boys are now helping a lot more – the three of us take out the trash and put away the groceries. They probably should have started doing this years ago, but better late than never. My Fitbit steps are also at an all-time high from all of the running around I now do! Dan’s belief in being appreciative for what you have has been reinforced through this experience. And we can finally see the light at the end of the crutches tunnel – only two more weeks (fingers crossed) to go!

I don’t think Dan will ever go rock climbing in Peru again!

A Little Bit Selfish

For the past few months, I’ve been doing something a little bit selfish. I’ve been spending part of my weekends rehearsing for and performing in a synagogue show without Dan and the boys. Yes, I can be away from the family for up to a week at a time when I travel for business, but I don’t feel guilty traveling because that’s work. This show was purely for me.

The show was what we call a Purim (click on the link for more info) spiel. It told the story of this holiday through song parodies to music from Hamilton. This was my fifth synagogue spiel as an adult. Back in 2007, when the boys were almost three, Beth Am, put on its first show. That year, the theme was Broadway, and my parents and sister, Marni, were in it. I could not imagine leaving Dan with the boys every Sunday to go to rehearsals. The boys were a handful and we often needed two caretakers to watch them, so Dan and I had fun in the audience (with an added bonus of it being a BYOB event, so we split a bottle of wine while we enjoyed the Broadway song parodies).

The following year, when the theme of a 60s Purim spiel was announced, my mom suggested I audition. She thought I would really enjoy the experience. Marni was very pregnant with my niece, Shaina (and delivered her a month before the show), so she didn’t participate. I arranged for Aunt Sue to help Dan with the boys during rehearsals, along with other sitters. In return, Dan bought tickets to several Philadelphia Union (soccer) games and tailgate events so he could have some days out once the show ended.

And oh, my mom was so right! It had been years since I was in a show, and it all came flooding back – the fun of learning new songs and dances; the stress of wondering if it would ever click when you’re a few weeks out and it’s not even close to ready; and the camaraderie of working together with a group of people you didn’t know well at first, but who have become your friends by performance day because together, you’ve created and invested your time in something great that others can enjoy.

As a parent of toddlers, particularly one with autism, I never even tried to find something just for me outside of the occasional girls night. It’s hard to give yourself permission to do that. I felt like I was treading water every day for three years between the kids, the house, and work – and if I was lucky at the end of the day, maybe there would be an hour to watch TV. Throughout the four or so months of rehearsals, I found myself happier at home and more attentive and appreciative of my family. I noticed a bounce in my step, and I was always humming tunes. There’s something about finding an interest outside of work and family that is good for the soul. It was also nice doing this with my parents, since most of the time we spent together was with the kids.

The day after the show, I couldn’t believe how sad I was. That’s the downside of spending months preparing, and then after a few hours, it’s over. But life was busy and I quickly jumped into planning the boys’ 4th birthday and all of our fun summer plans.

Before I knew it, it was fall again and auditions were happening for a 70s themed Purim spiel. Marni was back and this year, the original four Holpers (Mom, Dad, Marni, me) performed together. This time, the boys were almost five and I thought they could sit through it. They were mesmerized by seeing the family on stage. Afterwards, I introduced Jordan to the man who played the villain (Haman), and he started to cry.  “He’s not really mean,” I explained, hugging him as he sniffled. “He was just pretending for the show.”

Beth Am did not do a spiel the following year, so I decided to audition for Bye Bye Birdie, which was being put on by a synagogue down the street. While it was a fun change being in an actual show vs a spiel, the commitment was double what I was used to and I found myself out of the house two nights a week plus Sundays, which I didn’t enjoy. I remember being very relieved when it was over. Three years passed after that with no Purium shows, although there was a talent show one of those years (not quite the same).

In 2014, Beth Am decided to do the Les Mis Purim spiel. Marni offered to direct and Sue, choreograph. The boys were almost 10 and Jordan had caught the performing bug, having done children’s community theater since he was six. He wanted to be in the spiel, as did Shaina, now six. Even Dan decided to give it a go, and we arranged for sitters to help out with Ryan on Sundays since he had no interest in participating. This was truly a family affair and incredibly fun to do with Dan and Jordan – it was something so different from our usual activities with the kids and each other. It also gave Jordan time with just us, which I know he appreciated, given a lot of what we were able to do as a family revolved around Ryan. Ironically, the same man who made Jordan cry five years earlier as the villain, played the villain again. This time, Jordan as Gavroche Goldberg, had a scene where he jumped up to point his finger in the villain’s face, saying in his cute, little boy voice, “You don’t scare me, You’re just a big bully!

The Grease Purim spiel, where the same family members participated, was the following year. This was the year we started writing our own music to supplement the scripts we purchased from the writers.

Four years passed quickly after Grease. Jordan got very into school theater during that time along with a variety of other activities. Ryan really enjoyed and looked forward to Sunday Circles (a program through a wonderful organization called The Friendship Circle, which I will cover in a future blog). Dan started a new job. I began traveling internationally. And, we had two years of constant Bar Mitzvahs on the weekends (during which time Beth Am did the Disney spiel and we opted out due to planning two Bar Mitzvahs of our own, but went to see the performance to support the others). So it wasn’t like I missed being in shows with everything else going on. I’d kind of forgotten that exuberant feeling of performing.

When the Hamilton spiel was announced, I had just started listening to the soundtrack and was planning to get tickets for Jordan and me to see it over winter break as Hanukkah gifts from the family. Dan was not interested in auditioning – he didn’t know the music and wanted to be around to take Ryan to Sunday Circle. Jordan was stressed with school work, busy with activities, and hesitant to give up his one free day and Sunday football for rehearsals. So for the first time since 2009, I was the only one of the four of us involved. Now that the boys were 14 and more independent, it was logistically easier to do this. I joined my parents, Sue, Marni, Shaina (11), and Mikey (6), along with the other talented cast members on Sundays and occasional Saturdays to put on what turned out to be (despite our doubts it would ever come together) one of the best spiels ever at Beth Am.

Once again, throughout the process, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and having an outside experience that was just mine. I often found myself humming or outright singing the tunes (sometimes in public – like on the Septa train – without being aware I was even singing odd Hamilton lyrics until I got strange looks!). Dan and Jordan looked forward to my entertaining stories about rehearsals and I looked forward to hearing about their afternoons. And after years of going to Jordan’s shows, it was very cool having Dan and the boys come watch me for a change. While it was the usual let down when it ended, I’m already looking forward to the next one, whenever that is.

My firm, PwC, has a Be Well Work Well initiative, which is about everyday behaviors and habits to help us manage our energy across four dimensions – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. The goal is, by focusing on habits in all four, we can become and sustain our best selves, both personally and professionally. When I looked at the spiritual list of habits, one of them was ‘set aside me time (something outside of TV or social media) that recharges and renews you.’ An example listed is to do something creative with your friends or loved ones. So I guess being a little bit selfish once in awhile is ok – and even necessary – in order to be your best self.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senior Living

I guess 40 is the new 70 because I am somehow on a marketing list for senior citizens. It starts with an email titled Home Stair lifts, which includes a picture of a smiling, attractive woman probably in her 80s, sitting on one, with the prompt to ‘browse home stair lifts’ on the ad. I can’t imagine I’m their target audience, but the next day, I receive the same email again. Looking at it a second time, I notice the woman in the ad seems very relaxed, and I have to admit after a long workout or one of those marathon travel weeks, it would be nice to hop on a stair lift to get to my bedroom! Maybe they’re onto something.

A week later I receive another email with the subject line See if your favorite place has a discount for seniors! It depicts colorful pictures of various septuagenarians and octogenarians eating out, shopping and hanging out the park. Really? Come on, advertisers – if you want me to click through, I’m going to need to see a group of relaxed 30/40-somethings enjoying several bottles of wine or cocktails. Preferably at a resort.

Then there are the weekly suggestions to join Silver Singles because “life doesn’t stop at 50” (thank goodness for that!), and “you shouldn’t let your love life down, either.” This one isn’t too bad from an age perspective as 50 is not that far in the future. (Although why does the word ‘silver’ have to go with 50?) [Sidebar: Dan and I were actually just talking about that big number. I suggested to Dan, who now has an interest in visiting Sardinia after finding out he’s something like 2% Sardinian, that we should take an Italy trip for his 50th birthday. And then I realized we’ll be in the middle of paying for college at that point in time, so maybe we do it for my 50th birthday. Where I don’t plan to be silver.]

And the hints I’m getting old keep rolling in with a letter in the mail a few weeks later from a life care company inviting me to an educational opportunity focused on topics including long-term care, how I can stay in my house for the rest of my life, and Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance options. This is followed by an e-mail about independent and assisted living options in my area.

It’s really depressing at first. However… after a long week where I feel like my brain is literally full, the idea of moving into an assisted living facility doesn’t sound all that bad. How long could I stretch it out if I cashed in my 401k and moved?

I’m suddenly picturing utopia – a quiet room where I don’t have to think about anything except how to spend my day. I can stay in my room alone watching TV and reading – a luxury for sure!  Or if I feel like being social, I can visit with the other residents and participate in the home’s activities – play mahjong or bingo, attend musical performances, watch movies. I spent several summers in high school and college working in the activities department at a nursing home, and there was always something going on. There will be a hairdresser and nail salon on site so I will always look my best, and regular physical therapy sessions to keep me fit and help when my shoulder, foot, or back start hurting. I will no longer have to deal with an overflowing hamper and having to do daily laundry for four. The home will take care of my clothes and return them to me washed and folded. And let’s not forget about the food. It’s all inclusive and I wouldn’t have to clean up – I’d just show up and get three hot meals every day!

Of course I’ll miss my family and friends, but they can visit whenever they want. Dan can bring the boys to hang out on the weekends. We’ll have a lot to talk about from the week, and since I wouldn’t have seen them in a while, the boys will share actual details when I ask “What’s new?” or “How’s school?’ rather than answer with one word responses like “Nothing,” “Fine,” or “Good.”  Dan can even bring their weekend homework, which I will happily help with given he’s handling everything else all week long and I’ll be feeling generous by that point. I’ll wish the boys good luck on their upcoming tests and projects as they put on their coats at the end of their visit, give them all big hugs and kisses, and return to my latest Kindle book or Netflix show when they leave.

Think about it. This could almost be like a vacation. The break that every parent – working or stay at home – needs to recharge and empty their brains for awhile.

The next morning’s email: Burial insurance – Do you have coverage for final expenses? From the home to the ground in a day. Thanks a lot, advertisers. It would have been nice to enjoy the assisted living fantasy for a little while longer!

The Autism Whisperer

If you have a Facebook account, you probably see memories of posts from prior years pop up in your notifications every so often. My favorites are the ones from when my boys were little – it’s always fun to look at the adorable pictures and relive those experiences.

Occasionally, however, I’m notified of a memory that reminds me of a more difficult or sad experience. And every year, on the last week in January when this particular memory appears, I remember Barbara.

To describe the impact Ryan’s preschool teacher had on him and on all of us, I’ll take you back to 2007. Ryan was three and we had just received the autism diagnosis. It was a very overwhelming time. In addition to trying to comprehend what that diagnosis meant for him then and in the future, we were looking for a new early childhood education option. Ryan’s current preschool was not the right fit, as it lacked the support he needed to thrive. He had difficulty following directions, his speech was limited, and he had a number of sensory needs.

Ryan participated in a weekly social skills group. I had become friendly with one of the other moms, who suggested I check out the Sinai program at a local Jewish preschool – a classroom designed for children with special needs, primarily developmental and/or cognitive. Her daughter recently started school there and she said it was a wonderful program.

I called the school immediately and they had one spot left for September. Barbara, the Sinai teacher, suggested I bring Ryan in to visit. I was impressed with what I saw. There were only seven or eight students in the classroom, with Barbara and an assistant teacher, which was the perfect ratio. They both appeared patient and kind and were constantly engaging the children. Barbara said that in addition to the Sinai program in the morning, three afternoons a week, she would take the children who stayed a full day to the regular education classroom to help them be included in that environment.

On the first day of school, Ryan was clinging to my legs, screaming and crying how he did not want me to leave him there. He had been at the other preschool for two years and all transitions were difficult for him back then. Barbara, calm and reassuring, pried him off me and got him focused on a farm toy.  I knew he had found the right environment when after a few weeks, Ryan had progressed from screaming to mild tears to “Bye, bye, Mommy,” and running into the classroom without a backwards glance.

Because of the Sinai program, Ryan’s vocabulary grew, along with his knowledge of Judaism. Every two months, Ryan was Shabbat star, which meant I would go and join the class for a few hours in the morning in songs, prayers and food. Ryan always sat on Barbara’s lap, sucking his thumb, thoroughly content. Barbara shared an update on Ryan’s day with us daily and was always available on email to answer questions, give advice, or brainstorm ideas. She was never phased by meltdowns, screaming children, or any sort of chaos. Instead, she was often able to calm the affected child quickly. My friend called her the Autism Whisperer. Thanks to Barbara, there was finally a place for our children – where they would not only feel safe and taken care of – but where they could thrive.

Despite the progress, the uphill climb Ryan and we faced seemed overwhelming. I mentioned this to Barbara on several occasions. Once was after someone had shared a story about a child with special needs becoming a Bar Mitzvah. I said, “It’s so hard to picture Ryan in an elementary school classroom, let alone having the skills to study for and lead a Bar Mitzvah service.”

“Oh he will,” she said confidently. “You’re overwhelmed with where he is currently, and that’s understandable. But there is so much inside of him you can’t even imagine him doing right now. One day you’ll look back on this and marvel at how far he’s come.”

She never doubted her children could do anything.  She saw past the disability and unconditionally loved them all.

When Ryan graduated from preschool, I was so sad to say goodbye to her. “I can’t picture anyone but you teaching him. Any chance you can transfer to his elementary school?” I joked.

“Please stay in touch and let me know how he’s doing. And I’m always here if you need me,” she said.

I did. We exchanged emails regularly where I shared updates.

The good:

  • “Guess what, Barbara, Ryan can read!”
  • “Barbara, Ryan learned to write his name!”
  • “Ryan’s learned some prayers in Hebrew school. He’s picking them up quickly.”
  • “Ryan can read Hebrew letters now!”

And the setbacks:

  • “Barbara, Ryan started running away – he regularly bolts and it scares us. He ran out of his elementary school last week. He ran into the parking lot at the library. How do we prevent this?”What’s happening before he runs?” she asked. “He’s getting overwhelmed by something. It’s a sensory reaction to bolt.” She, along with his current teachers at that time, helped us brainstorm solutions.

My aunt, Sue, had begun volunteering to read to Barbara’s camp bunk when the boys were there in 2008.  She retired from teaching kindergarten in Philadelphia a few years later, and this volunteering soon morphed into a teaching position in the Pre-K classroom in 2011. Sue and Barbara were now colleagues and friends, and Sue regularly kept Barbara up to date on Ryan.

I was in bed with the flu on that Tuesday in January 2013 when Sue called. She was crying. “Barbara died,” she finally was able to say through the tears.

What? That could not be possible. It was incomprehensible to imagine Barbara not being here anymore. Not being able to help the next group of kids. Not being here to see Ryan – or any of her kids – grow up.

“Why are you crying?” Ryan asked later. I told him.

He had seen Barbara a few times over the years and of course knew she was his preschool teacher and remembered what she looked like, but it had been four years since she was a regular part of his life. That’s a long time for a child to keep memories.

“What was she like?” he asked.

“She was so nice. She was one of the calmest, most patient people and you used to sit on her lap all the time and suck your thumb. She made you feel safe.”

“Yeah, she was so nice,” he repeated. “You loved her.” Back then, he sometimes mixed up his pronouns.

Over the next few days, the tributes from parents of her former students were shared on social media. I pushed myself to get as close to flu-free as possible so I could go to the funeral.

I had gotten a few of the Sinai parents together to start an Autism Speaks team a couple of years before that. We called ourselves Team Inspiration. In October 2013 at the Autism Speaks walk at Citizens Bank Park, our team tripled in size with many preschool teachers and families coming together to walk in memory of Barbara.  We did that for several years following as we transitioned from the big Philly walk to our own, less intense mini-walk.

I’ve talked to her in my head over the years.

“Barbara, Ryan is navigating middle school beautifully. He walks the halls himself!”

“Barbara, he can sit in a regular classroom for a good part of the day.”

“Now that Ryan has his headphones, loud places no longer bother him. Barbara, can you believe we’ve been to theme parks, sporting events and he even went to a U2 concert?”

“Barbara, Ryan discovered photography and he’s really good at it. He has such a talent!”

“Ryan is communicating so well on social media. And he started a Jewish page with Dan where he posts every week. How amazing that his appreciation of Judaism began with you!”

Every year when my post about Barbara pops up in my Facebook memories and I show it to Ryan, he asks, “How nice was Barbara?”

Like many of the questions he asks, he knows what my response will be and wants to hear it again.

“She was so nice. She was one of the calmest, most patient people and you used to sit on her lap all the time and suck your thumb. She made you feel safe.”

“Are your tears sad tears or happy tears?” he asked last year, which was shortly after his Bar Mitzvah. He was just learning what ‘happy tears’ meant.

“Both,” I told him.

“How can there be both? Why are they happy tears?” he asked “Because,” I answered. “I’m thinking about how far you’ve come since you were in Barbara’s class and how she would have been so proud of you.”

 “Barbara, Ryan became a Bar Mitzvah – he led the whole service and read from the Torah – without vowels. He was confident and calm and then had a wonderful time at his party.”

“Of course he did,” she would have replied if she were here. “I always knew he would.”

January Reflections

Happy New Year!

I’m not a big fan of January, other than January 1st. It’s cold, it’s dreary, and there are months of winter and snow still ahead of us. I’ve been reflecting this weekend on some of the (unrelated) things happening during this ‘fun’ month.

Starting with school (or lack of it) — After a hectic December, we are back in the swing of things and slowly easing into the year. Week 1, of course, was a three-day week since New Year’s Day was that Tuesday, and we all appreciated how quickly the weekend came. Week 2 (last week) was tough, given it was the first five-day week since break. However, almost anticipating how difficult it would be for the students, the schools had an early dismissal on Friday. Thank goodness for that. This week is really the first full week and Ryan, especially, is not loving it. Cue the typical Monday morning complaints and fights to get out of bed and move quickly in order to make the bus.

But have no fear, Ry – Martin Luther King day is only a week away, followed by three 2-4 hour days for midterms at the end of the month and another early dismissal on Feb. 1! Then, there is the random Tuesday off for all students the following week. When you add up the actual full days of school over the next four weeks, and figure there will likely also be some sort of snow event in that timeframe, it’s kind of a dream month for students. (not so much for parents!)

On top of all this, I kicked off the New Year with minor foot surgery. Leading up to the surgery, I had several doctor’s appointments to make sure I was fit enough to withstand general anesthesia for all of 30 minutes. Each appointment required putting on a gown. I am sure many of you have worn a gown in a doctor’s office or hospital at some point in your lives. I’ve never really given gowns much thought, but putting them on four different times in a three week period got me grumbling about how terribly they are made. The ties do not align with each other – the right side string is often way above the corresponding left side string and they don’t stay tied very well, so I ended up just holding the two sides together while waiting for the doctor or technician.

When I was at my third appointment, I commented on the terrible gowns when the doctor walked in, to which she replied (I think she was actually a little hurt), “Really? Ours are good compared to others.”

“But, look,” I showed her how I tied it and then got up to demonstrate the ties coming apart. “If they were aligned better, this would stay together.”

“Yes,” she replied. “That’s just how they’re made.” So how exactly are yours better than others?

When I got to the surgical center last Friday, the nurse was excited to give me a gown that tied in the back.

“This is so much better than having to hold two sides together. Those gowns are awful,” she said. A kindred spirit.

It was great until I had to get up and walk down the hall and realized I needed to awkwardly hold the back together with one hand so I didn’t expose myself to the rest of the patients and staff.

There has to be a better way! Maybe other areas of the country have gowns that are more practically made and it’s just here? If not, someone should invent one – perhaps with buttons. I’m not a clothing designer at all, but I can just envision the Shark Tank pitch – “Hi Sharks, I’m Jodi from the Philadelphia area and my company is called Glamour Gowns. I’m seeking a $200,000 investment in exchange for 10% of my company. Sharks, we’ve all been to doctor’s appointments where we had to put on those awful gowns that either don’t stay tied in the front or reveal too much in the back. Patients are nervous enough when they are getting tests done or having surgery performed – they do not also need to worry about exposing themselves. Wouldn’t it be great if they could wear well-made gowns to help them feel more comfortable going into these situations? Enter Glamour gowns to the rescue…”

Yes, I’ve been watching a lot of TV while recovering from surgery, including several Shark Tank episodes. 🙂 (Sidebar 1: If you are a clothing designer and think I’m on to something, let’s talk!) (Sidebar 2: If you want suggestions on movies or TV series to binge watch, I am happy to share my list.)

Speaking of apparel, the surgery went well and I’m now hobbling around in a very hip ortho shoe – the two Velcro straps make it especially fashionable. After the procedure, my foot was swollen and wrapped tightly, so I could not get a sock over it. I just wore the Velcro shoe when I needed to walk.  By last Thursday, I was walking better, the swelling had gone down a bit, and I needed to get to a drug store. I was feeling ready to attempt driving again – it’s the left foot so all I had to do was get in the car and the right foot would do the rest of the work. I managed to get the big sea-green colored hospital sock on and was so excited at the thought of leaving the house for the first time in a week that I didn’t notice until I got to the store how much that sock clashed with the sock on the other foot. My feet looked ridiculous. 🙂

Today, I get my stitches out and move into a new ortho shoe – the doctor described it as a sandal (which should be interesting in this balmy 30+ degree weather with winds in the 20s). Look out, world – I will be rocking the ortho sandal with socks in a matter of hours!

Finally, on to topic #3, I’ve been thinking a lot lately (along with most of Philly) about the Eagles and cheering them on during what was an exciting playoff season. Playoffs (when your team is in them) are probably the only good thing about January.

Back in November, after our embarrassing loss to the Saints, I took the boys to the eye doctor. Jordan and I were in the waiting room talking about the game and Ryan said, “Mommy, I want to go to the Eagles parade this year.” (I purposely did not take him last year because I thought the crowds would be too much for him. I still do.)

“There’s only a parade if they win the Super Bowl, Ry. At this point, it’s not very likely they will get to the Super Bowl.”

“Yeah, it’s not happening,” said Jordan, glumly. “If they make the playoffs, it will be a miracle.”

“But Mommy, I want them to win the Super Bowl. Tell them to do that,” Ryan said, in typical Ryan fashion where he thinks I control everything. (See Weathering the Storm for more on this.)

“Ryan, it’s not up to me. They’re just not playing like they did last year. It’s very rare to get to the Super Bowl and win it, and we had a great year last year.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t get to go to the parade, so I want to go this year.”

Sigh…

A man sitting across the waiting room, clearly eavesdropping, interjected, “Well, they could get to the playoffs if…” [insert all of the things that had to happen for the Eagles to make it.]

“Mommy, see? Tell the Eagles to do what that man said.”

OMG. Thank you, random person, for your unwanted contributions to our conversation.

Fast forward two months and it actually happened. We made the playoffs. Nick Foles and the team did it and everyone had Eagles fever. We were on the edge of our seats last weekend when the Eagles beat the Bears (#DoubleDoink) and again this week where, unfortunately, our road to the Super Bowl came to an end as we lost to the Saints once again. (And we had to listen to Ryan during the entire game whining, “I want them to win, Mommy. Go tell them to win!”) However, they gave it their best shot, and we’re so proud of the team. I guess we just have to find something else to get us through the next three weeks of this very long month!

 

The Most Stressful Time of the Year

It’s the most wonderful stressful time of the year. December is supposed to be fun. I returned from Zurich on December 1, excited to jump into Chanukah and all of the other events during the month that build up to winter break. In prior years, life has slowed down a little in December. That was not the case this year.

First, there was the schoolwork. I think December in high school is otherwise known as ‘let’s see how many quizzes and tests can be crammed into a three week period.’ Studying for tests with Ryan is… um interesting. It’s typically a challenging starting from scratch period where we work very hard getting him to focus and memorize whatever he’s studying. Once he learns the content, it’s all review, which he does very well. However, to get to that point, there is a lot more time spent complaining than doing the actual work. As an example:

“I don’t want to study social studies,” Ryan whined.

“You have to study. I know you want to do well on the test,” I replied.

“But I hate studying. I just want to relax. I can’t wait till winter break when I don’t have any homework and I can do nothing.”

“Me, too, Ry.” (Please let him not have any homework over winter break!)

“Well why do we have to study? Studying is boring. I’m going to retire from school and play video games,” Ryan declared.

“Students don’t retire from school. It’s called dropping out, and you won’t be able to get a job if you do that,” I told him.

“I don’t want to get a job. I want to relax all day when I’m an adult.”

“How are you going to pay for video games if you don’t have a job? And Ry, we just spent five minutes talking about this and we could have gotten through 10 notecards by now.”

Then there were the doctor’s appointments. I’m having very minor foot surgery the beginning of January, and the surgeon wants to make sure I’m in perfect shape prior to that. So I’ve had to fit in a blood test, chest x-ray, MRI, and physical.

But the most time consuming thing over the past two weeks has been choir. Both boys were in the winter concert as members of concert choir. In addition, as a member of select chorus, Jordan had outside concerts at numerous locations. For each concert he had to be dressed in a black button down shirt, red tie, black pants, black socks and black shoes. When I got home December 1 and saw the schedule, I quickly ordered (overnight) a red tie and new shirt, since he grows out of clothes on what seems like a quarterly basis and did not have one in his size.

The events were in our community – at the middle and elementary schools, a memorial park (we were curious who the target audience of that one was!), and various senior centers. Some took place during school hours, but there was one evening performance and several in the afternoons that did not include transportation. These are difficult logistics to navigate for working parents. What made it even harder was some of those afternoon concerts were followed by rehearsals Jordan had back at the high school for the children’s theater musical, Winnie the Pooh. (Jan 12-13 for anyone local with young children!)

To summarize the past two weeks…

Week 1 – This was also Chanukah, and we lit the candles in between activities, but didn’t always succeed at having all four of us there each night!

  • Monday – Pooh rehearsal until 4; both boys dropped back to school at 6:30 for a two hour choir rehearsal for the winter concert later that week. (for which I learned Ryan also needed a black shirt and red tie – cue Amazon prime!)
  • Tuesday – Pooh rehearsal followed by Confirmation class at 6:30
  • Wednesday – Pooh rehearsal followed by select chorus concert at 5pm at the memorial park (it was an outdoor, very cold concert!)
  • Thursday – Holiday winter concert at the school – 6:15 arrival. The boys looked so handsome standing next to each other in their black shirts, ties and dress pants when they came downstairs that I had to get a picture before we left. Which made Jordan a bit antsy. “Do we really need a picture? We have to be there by 6:15 and we are getting graded for being on time!” (It would have been nice to have a heads up before 6:05 pm that being on time affects their grades, but the picture was worth it and we made it by 6:15 on the dot 🙂 )
  • Friday – Pooh rehearsal followed by Chanukah dinner and service at our synagogue at 6pm
  • Various weekend family activities – we all lit the candles together that weekend!

Week 2 – aka the week of ironing…

  • Monday – Jordan’s two select concerts were during school hours, so he went to school dressed a freshly ironed shirt, pressed pants and a tie Dan expertly put on. He returned home after Pooh rehearsal in shorts and a T-shirt (yes, I know it was 30+ degrees; I don’t understand why teenage boys seem to not notice or be bothered by that).

“Where are your concert clothes?” I asked when I saw him. (We have all given up on asking “Where’s your jacket?” or “Aren’t you cold?”)

“In here,” He went through his schoolbag which was stuffed to the brim with at least a dozen packed folders and notebooks, three paperback books from English (two were finished months ago), and a giant graphic calculator, and triumphantly pulled out the wrinkled mess which had looked so nice in the morning.  I said a quick prayer that the clothes were at least clean as he needed them again the next day. They were! And so I proceeded to do some ironing.

  • Tuesday – Jordan went off to school once again in the black outfit and red tie. Two of the concerts were during school hours, but the third ended after school. Jordan got a ride from that location to Pooh rehearsal. Then we had a quick dinner and it was off to Confirmation.
  • Wednesday – Pooh rehearsal and thankfully, his evening concert got cancelled. In a rare change of events, we hung out at home and watched TV (and of course I ironed the black shirt for the next day)! It was around this time when I wondered if I could convince him to drop select chorus next year.
  • Thursday – I was in New York for the day. Dan worked from home and took Jordan after school to his concert at a senior center, picked him up 45 minutes later, and then picked up Ryan from his activity. When I got home much later that night, I was thrilled to see the black shirt did not need any ironing since Jordan had only worn it for an hour.
  • Friday – After school, I took Jordan to (wait for it) yes, another senior center concert.  When I came back an hour later to pick him up, the kids were still performing. I listened to the last two songs from outside the performance room. They sounded amazing – what a talented group! I knew then he would never give it up next year. Decembers are just going to be this insane for several more years, but at least next year, we’ll be prepared for what’s coming.

This upcoming week will be just as hectic as the last two. But I see the light at the end of the December tunnel. Winter break is in reaching distance. Thinking back to my first blog of the school year, I was counting down the school days (66) to winter break. Now there are only five!

PwC shuts down in the US between Christmas and New Year’s so I am looking forward to disconnecting from work. For the first time in many years, Dan is off every day but one during that week, as well. And most importantly, we will have a breather from tests and activities.  I can’t wait to spend time with family and friends – shows, movies, meals, TV, books. It sounds heavenly. But the first thing on my winter break list? Teaching Jordan how to iron!