In two weeks, Jordan and Ryan will graduate from high school. I’m not sure where the time has gone, and this school year in particular has been on fast forward mode since day one, like an avalanche I’m unable to stop. When I picture where we are and how quickly we arrived, I start humming the song, The Circle Game. “And the seasons they go round and round. And the painted ponies go up and down, We’re captive on the carousel of time…”
Back in January, Jordan, Dan and I were on the couch watching The Amazing Race season premier. “I can’t believe this is our last Race together,” I say nostalgically, knowing Jordan will be away at school when it comes back for the next season. We’ve been watching it together for ten years.
‘Wow, that’s so sad,” Jordan replies, just as nostalgically. “But at least it’s not our last Survivor. We still have time until that’s on.” Survivor is a Jordan and me show – we’ve watched it together for a decade, as well, and it’s our favorite. A decade. Sometimes, I look at him, and his adult face melts into the little boy he once was.
He is eight and organizing a family Amazing Race – we are about to race around the suburbs competing against each other to win a gift card, but more importantly, bragging rights as the winning team. The immediate and extended family are lined up on my street with little Jordan in the middle kicking things off in his high pitched voice, with neighbors coming out of their houses wondering what’s happening. He organizes the race for several years, and friends soon join us. It gets very competitive, complete with injuries.
I travel back further in time. He is 18 months and spelling words on the floor with his block letters. “Mommy, look – elephant!“, and “I’ll spell seventeen now.”
He is two and suddenly afraid to talk in public. Selective mutism, we’re told. We take him to expensive therapies, and nothing seems to help. He can’t tell us why he’s afraid to talk outside of the family. The school doesn’t seem to know, either. We change preschools and his new teacher helps him become more comfortable talking in a small group before school starts each day. She says there’s a big personality inside of him, and she can see him becoming a performer.
“Mommy, I’m going to talk in kindergarten,” Jordan says decisively one day, a few weeks before beginning elementary school. He does – it’s the first of many times he will do whatever he puts his mind to.
He is six and in his first musical theater show – playing a Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz. He has caught the theater bug. Over the next 12 years, he is the King of Hearts, Jack, Gaston, the White Rabbit, Rooster, the Scarecrow, Teen Angel, Lord Pinkleton, and Mr. Brunner/Chiron/Poseidon. He takes piano lessons from age six until 16 and writes original music, including several songs in support of his brother. One is on the MusicChoice channel, Toddler Tunes. He sings in choirs throughout school and is choir board co-president senior year.
He is seven and begins to stutter. He takes speech classes and learns strategies. The strategies work when he’s in class, but not much outside of it. Stress amplifies the stuttering. The summer of 2020, he attends a virtual speech camp through Temple University which helps us all view stuttering differently – it’s about the psychology behind it and making it ok to stutter. The class puts more autonomy on him to decide what his stuttering journey will look like. His speech improves a lot, and when he stutters, he has much less anxiety about it. His senior year culminating project is an open mic night at school, raising money for the National Stuttering Foundation.
He is 12 and publishes a children’s book about twin brothers, one with autism. He reads it to elementary school classrooms for his Bar Mitzvah project. He is 13 and an impressive Bar Mitzvah. He is 16 and getting Confirmed. He is an assistant teacher at Beth Am on Sundays and co-writes and delivers a Hebrew through movement course.
He takes a songwriting course the summer of 2020 through the School of Creative and Performing Arts (SOCAPA) and loves it. He publishes an album that’s available on Apple Music and Spotify. He is 17 and decides to major in music industry and narrows down school choices based on East Coast programs. He focuses on his grades, ACT prep and writing a heartfelt essay about his experience stuttering – and is accepted with scholarships into every school to which he applies. He decides on Drexel, one of Billboard’s top music business schools, which offers a decent financial package. He’s met a number of other future Drexel students and is excited socially for what’s to come.
Soon it’s March and time for our final Survivor premier. Years ago, Jordan watched it for the challenges. Now, he’s into the strategy. We talk about game play.
“Mom, you’d be really good on Survivor,” he says.
“You think so?” I asked. “If the first physical challenge is a swimming and diving one, I’d probably single handedly help the team lose, and they’d vote me off.”
“Players don’t care about the physical stuff anymore,” he says. “It’s all relationships and getting people to like you. You’d nail that. You’d probably make five different alliances on day 1. Everyone would think they’re going to the final three with you.” Big ego boost right there – when your 17- year-old thinks you’re good at that type of thing.
He continues, “You’d be like the second oldest person on the tribe, and everyone would call you Mom. No one wants to vote out Mom.” And…back down to Earth.
It’s now May, and the Survivor finale is happening; we watch it together.
“Well,” I say, when Maryanne is voted the winner, “Ten years, and that was a great finale to end on.”
“It’s been really fun, Mom,” he says. “If you weren’t still contagious, I’d hug you.” We air hug. I’m recovering from COVID and trying to keep it away from the boys so they can enjoy the last few weeks of school.
“Don’t go” [away to college], I think to myself for a brief second, blinking back tears, and then I think, “Go. And have the time of your life.” I can’t imagine the house without Jordan. As much as 2020 and 2021 sucked, I’m grateful we’ve had time together we would not have in normal circumstances.
Jordan is 18, and he is kind, funny, talented, smart, well spoken, hard working, and a real leader. I couldn’t be more proud of him.
Around the time Survivor kicks off, Ryan comes running into our bedroom, a huge smile on his face. ‘Look! I made honor roll!” he exclaims, showing me the list.
“Yay!! That’s amazing, Ry!” I hug him and he beams. “You worked so hard.”
“When did I not work hard?” he asks with an impish smile. He loves to hear stories about tantrums and behavior challenges. I hate telling them. Those years were very difficult.
My ‘prove the experts wrong’ boy. He is eight months and the neurologist at CHOP tells us he has very weak muscle tone and will never have good motor planning skills. He is two and I find him on top of the dining room table, which he got onto by first climbing on a chair. His ultimate goal? To reach the play dough on top of the china cabinet. He is doing some impressive motor planning when I lunge for him.
He is three and being diagnosed officially with autism. Autism, I am told by several specialists, means he will not have empathy or social skills and will never say I love you and truly mean it. He might not ever be independent.
He is five and six, running whenever he experiences sensory overload. He runs out of school without anyone noticing on a day there is a substitute teacher and darts across Fort Washington Ave., where a police officer finds him and brings him back. When he’s not running, he often screams and throws things if it’s too loud, or when plans change, or if something is different from what he’s used to, or when homework is taking too long.
He is seven and we are playing the crying game, a game where Ryan finds pictures on my phone of kids crying or screaming during meltdowns. He asks me, “why are they crying?” and I make up stories based on funny scenarios in his life. He giggles again and again (oh that giggle – it’s contagious!) and says with meaning, “Mommy, you’re so funny. I love you!”
He is eight and able to tolerate amusement parks, parties, and sporting events because he now has headphones to block out loud noise, which he is so sensitive to. He is much calmer and doesn’t run anymore. He is 14 and going to a U2 concert. He is in high school and no longer needs the headphones.
He is nine and staying at CHOP overnight after having two seizures out of the blue, tolerating test after test, including an EEG all night. The kid who hates band aides because they bother his skin. He is so brave. He never has another seizure again.
He is 11 and 12 and taking pictures for The Friendship Circle, which are displayed in an art show. We realize he is really good at photography. He is 13, has several social media accounts and loves posting his pictures. Sunsets are his favorite. He calls me down whenever there is a sunset outside. “Mom, look how pretty!”
“That’s gorgeous, Ry! You should take a picture.”
“Will you take one, too?”
“I will, but yours will be better,” I always say. My sunset buddy.
He is 12 and 13 and working really hard to become a Bar Mitzvah. He practices several times a week, and reads from the Torah without vowels. He is wonderful. His photography is hanging up all around the party room.
He is 14 and cooking basic dishes, 15 and taking out the trash. He makes his bed and keeps his room neater than any room in the house. He is 17 and doing his own laundry.
He is 16 and struggling with virtual school – it’s hard to stay focused, and he doesn’t speak up on Google Meet. He doesn’t want to work with us and sometimes reverts back to tantrums. He is 16 ½, has adjusted to virtual school, and is completely independent. He makes his own flashcards to study social studies. He sits as long as he has to. He is on the honor roll multiple times.
He is 17 and working at various businesses in the community – the Half Off Store, George’s Market in Dreshertown, Backyard Beans. He is also running the Cardinal Cafe (coffee shop) at the high school – managing the inventory, shopping, scheduling other students for shifts, making and serving coffee himself. He is out sick for a few days, and his teacher texts me, “We cannot do the cafe without Ryan. We were at a loss. No one works it the way he does.“
He will walk at graduation and remain enrolled in the high school until he’s 21. As part of this, he’s been accepted to the Career Exploration Opportunity (C.E.O.) Program in the mornings at North Montco Technical Career Center, focusing on either culinary arts or graphic arts (he will decide once he samples both programs) and will then do his community-based work in the afternoons.
Ryan is 18, and he is sweet, smart, goofy, determined, independent, and talented. And I couldn’t be more proud of him.
Jordan and Ryan
They are Jordy-Jord and Ry-Ry, aka the Jord and the Ry. Dan coins the term ‘boos’ when they are young, which essentially means they are the cutest little children you’ve ever seen. Cuddly toddlers, adorable little boys. “They’re such boos!” we gush to each other over and over in private. My heart melts when they hug and climb on top of each other. Dan and I have long, deep conversations about how many years they will be boos. When is one too old to be a boo? Does boo status ever really go away?
“They are grandfathered in. They’ll always be boos,” Dan says confidently.
“That’s good,” I reply. “I would be very sad if they weren’t.“
We do a lot as a family – vacations, holidays, restaurants, charity walks, birthdays, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, amusement parks, playgrounds, sporting events. They are preteens, teens, young adults.
At some point in that time span, they become less boo-ish and more adult-like. It’s not sudden, but one day, I think to myself, we haven’t talked about the boos in awhile. And I know the boos are gone. But while I’m a little sad about it, I’m also excited for what’s to come as we continue to ride the carousel journey with these incredible young men.