Our Passover Story

close up of hands holding baby feet

We kicked off Passover 2021 COVID-style once again, with one Seder for just the four of us (night 1) and the other on Zoom last night with my family. Typically, we run a full Seder with my family, reading from the Haggadah, and we keep it simple with a few prayers and songs when it’s only the four of us. However, this year, Dan really wanted our small Seder to be more than that.

“Last year at this time, I was unemployed, and job prospects were dim,” he said earlier in the week. “We had no idea what was to come with COVID and we felt pretty isolated. This year, I have a job and am grateful and there’s hope with the vaccines. I want to do something meaningful.”

We started a list of what we wanted to include: lighting the candles; discussing the meaning of what’s on the Seder plate; the blessings – over the karpas, matzah, maror; an abridged version of the story of Passover, welcoming Elijah (speaking of Elijah, I wonder if he masked up this weekend given all of the homes he visited!). And, of course..

Me: We need to include the 4 glasses of wine.

Dan: I love how you think.

Jordan: Mom, it’s 4 cups of wine! Like kid-size cups.

Dan: I like Mom’s version.

There is a significance behind the four cups of wine. The Four Cups represent the four expressions of deliverance promised by God, describing our Exodus from Egypt and slavery and our birth as a nation: “I will take you out,” “I will save you,” “I will redeem you,” and “I will take you as a nation.” The cups are a toast to each of these expressions.

Beyond the Seder and all it includes, one of our favorite Singer family Passover traditions is telling the story of the boys’ birth – which coincided with Passover 2004. I retold the story Saturday night when we started eating our meal.

“Dad and I went to the first Seder on Monday, April 5.”

“Where was it?” Ryan asked.

“Ryan, you know where it was. Mom tells this story every year,” Jordan groaned.

“I want to hear her say it.”

“Mom-mom B and Pop-pop B’s apartment,” I answered.

“With the very long table that took up the whole room,” Ryan added.

“Yes,” I laughed.

“Wait – it just hit me that your last meal before giving birth was all matzah-based,” Jordan said. “That’s a shame. I’m so sorry.”

I laughed again. “No one could believe I was even still pregnant by Passover,” I said.

17 years ago…

By April 5, I was exactly 38 weeks pregnant, but the doctors had predicted labor between 34 and 36 weeks because of the position of Jordan’s head. They even suggested someone stay with me at all times, because when I went into labor, it would likely be a fast delivery.

I’d started maternity leave at 32 weeks and had basically spent the last six either 1) lying on the couch – moving around with my monster belly was difficult and uncomfortable. I think I was the biggest pregnant person ever, carrying 13lbs of baby; or 2) going with my mom to Abington hospital every few days to take non-stress tests for the babies and then out to Bonnet Lane for lunch. The exciting life of a mom-to-be.

When, to the surprise of everyone, we got to the 37-week point, my OB practice scheduled an induction for April 6. They didn’t recommend delivering twins much past 38 weeks. We were told to call the hospital that morning before coming over, to make sure there were beds. If someone had been admitted who was unexpectedly in labor, I’d have to wait a day.

By April 5, I had exactly two outfits that fit the monster belly – both giant sweaters and maternity stretch pants. They are in pictures from every occasion we attended the entire winter. However, Spring came with a vengeance that day, and I found myself with nothing to wear in the 80-degree temps for the first Seder. My mom ran out and managed to find a pretty purplish blouse that fit decently well over the basketball I was carrying. I mention this as significant because the picture of me in that shirt is the last photo I have before life completely changed!

The Seder itself was uneventful (other than all of the good wishes on our delivery the next day), and the next morning, Dan and I woke up at 6:00 am to go the hospital. When I got out of bed, my water broke. I called the hospital to tell them we were coming. A nurse said there were no beds and to call back tomorrow.

“But my water broke!” I interrupted her, not wanting to risk Baby A’s quick arrival at our house. She said to just come over and they’d figure it out.

They found us a room, and we settled in. I was only a few centimeters dilated and not really in pain at that point, and several hours later, my family had gathered to hang out with us while we waited. My parents, sister and brother-in-law, Marni and Dan, Aunt Sue, and Mom-mom and Pop-pop were all there.

Only my family could turn labor into a party. Nurses kept commenting on how much fun we were having. Marni had made a labor mix tape and we sang along and laughed at her selections (eg Push it). After some time, I was 4cm dilated and had started to feel it intensely, but the pain evaporated after the doctor administered an epidural.

Once the amazing epidural kicked in, we played a version of the memory game, I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring… you know that game where you have to remember what everyone before you said and then add a new thing with the next letter? Our version was I’m going to the delivery room and I’m going to bring… (Anesthesia, Babies, Car seat… is it weird I still remember some of what we brought?) The family was impressed with my memory, given the circumstances, but always competitive, I wasn’t going to let a little labor get in the way of a game!

“Hang on,” Jordan interrupted when I got to this part. “The family was in the labor room with you and Dad the whole time? Playing games and singing? he asked incredulously. “Actually, never mind. I wouldn’t expect anything less. Go on,” he said. (I did, after a quick explanation that no one but Dad was there for the delivery part!)

The day continued. By 4:30, I was 6cm dilated. My ‘fast’ delivery had reached the 10 hour mark. We were finished with games; I was cranky and tired and wanted these babies out. The doctor had given me drugs to speed up labor, and pain was setting in again. There would be no more pain meds to help.

Marni and Dan decided to go to Dan’s mom’s house for the second Seder, since it seemed we still had awhile to go. But – in a dramatic turn of events – I was suddenly 10cm dilated at 6:00pm, and it was time to start the delivery. My mom called Marni and Dan, who had just arrived at his mom’s Seder. They turned around and drove back to the hospital at record speed so they could be there when the babies were born. Because – you know – it would be a ‘fast’ delivery.

Four hours later, I was begging for a C-section, and the doctor and nurses started the prep. Mom-mom, Pop-pop and Sue had gone home and were waiting by the phone for news. Marni’s Dan also went home to get some sleep, so he could go to work the next day. My poor family had hung in there for such a long time!

Finally, a quick 18 hours after my water broke, Jordan and Ryan made their debut into the world on the second day of Passover, at 12:18 and 12:20 am on April 7.

Marni and my parents cooed over the babies when they were wheeled out of the delivery room. They, and Dan, finally went home and fell into a deep sleep.

“How long were you in the hospital?” Ryan asked.

“I think it was five nights.”

“Where was Dad?”

“He was there most of the time,” I said. “One night he went to Aunt Marni and Uncle Dan’s apartment for dinner – they had leftovers from the Seder they never attended. Dad didn’t realize the leftovers were supposed to last them the whole week, and he kept taking more. He ended up eating all of their food!”

Ryan laughed – he loves this part.

“I was really hungry! And tired. And overwhelmed with these new babies!” Dan protested, as he always does.

“And then you brought us home, and that’s the end of the story,” Ryan said.

“Well, it’s actually the very beginning,” I replied, thinking about our 17 years of stories since then – some told through this blog, some kept between us, some still to be told. What an amazing, emotional, exhausting, miraculous journey.

Passover, while primarily about freedom and triumph over adversity, is also about strength, resilience, faith and miracles. I can’t think of a holiday more fitting to have become a mom to these two incredible boys.

January reflections (in COVID times)

Hello, readers – we made it to February! With January, my least favorite month, behind us, I thought I’d share some ramblings about my family’s start to the year. This is a little different than two years ago, when my January reflections post covered school, surgery, and an Eagles team that made it to the playoffs!

A dry-ish January

Dan and I officially finished dry – well, dry-ish – January. Two years ago, when we first decided to give dry January a try, we made it to MLK weekend. Because it would have been rude to not drink the delicious bottle of wine our friends brought to dinner, that was the end of our efforts.

“You did a dry Janu,” Jordan said, when I told him. “You made it through half the month, so you can’t actually claim dry January.”

We decided on January 1 this year to try it again. Jordan just listened and shook his head. “Good luck with that,” he said. He had a point. It’s hard to do dry anything when you’re just sitting around your house most of the time. And, when your wine collection is literally three feet from your desk, and you see it all. day. long.

I read an article earlier this month about how to keep yourself on track if you’re doing a dry January. The suggestions were things like – After work, go straight to an activity, so you don’t think about having an evening drink. Go to the gym. Take a class. Walk with friends. Go bowling. See a movie. So, the author was essentially saying, get out in the world with groups of people? Hmmm. After I confirmed this was not written pre-COVID but actually in November 2020, the author’s credibility diminished, and I stopped reading.

Two weeks into January, we discussed whether one drink on a Saturday – like a short happy hour – would be okay. We could do a very light January, instead of the full-on dry month. Then last week, I made the point that it’s a long week here at home. We’re both going nonstop all day, so how can we deny ourselves a Friday night glass or two of wine as a reward? After that, it morphed into a ‘light weekend’ January.

When Jordan saw me opening a bottle that Friday night, he raised his eyebrow.

“For the record, I called this on January 1st,” he said.

Interestingly, the light January had a positive effect – we’ve both found our tolerance has decreased, and we can’t really drink more than a couple of glasses at a time. Fewer calories are definitely a plus (score 1 point for January), so we decided to keep going with a light February.

Wasting time

One of the things I’ve noticed about our lackluster COVID social life is how much time we spend doing and thinking about things we never would have before March 2020. 

Take the Bernie Sanders memes. They’re hilarious, but would they have garnered the same amount of enthusiasm pre-COVID? I looked back on two nights of family texts a week ago – 45 minutes on a Thursday and an hour that Friday – spent sending our own Bernie memes back and forth. My sister, Marni, and I were the most obsessed. She figured out how to cut out Bernie using the picsart app and sent me some tips. Mine looked awkward at first, but I kept practicing and got better each time.  I figured out on Friday if you click cutout and then select person, Bernie’s chair goes away, and he can fit in so many more places.

We texted our pics to the family – Bernie outside Beth Am (our synagogue), in our family photo at my niece’s Bat Mitzvah, outside Marni’s house before the Bat Mitzvah, outside the boys’ high school, at Cape May sitting on the chairs with Ryan by Congress Hall, on the American University sign next to my college friends and me, playing in the snow with Marni’s kids, sitting next to the Hollywood sign when we were in LA, and with me on various travels around the world.

“You’re still doing this?” Dan asked later Friday night, several hours after I’d started playing around with the app.

“I want to do it,” Ryan said. “Can you show me?” I did, and he picked it up quickly.

“This is really dumb,” Jordan said. “I don’t get it.”

“But look,” I said, pulling up the latest one I found on Instagram. “Here’s one the theater department posted of you and your friend holding Bernie up during your song in the last show.  It’s a riot.”

 “It’s not that funny.”

“It’s the best thing ever,” I argued and pulled up another picture. “Here he is with Bunny (my stuffed animal from childhood)!”

He just shook his head. We usually have a similar sense of humor, but Jordan is not into these types of things (nor does he appreciate political satire song parodies, which I love).

There’s no way I would have spent mindless hours on Bernie memes before COVID. We were always somewhere at night, and free time was precious. But because I had time, I was able to learn a new skill – Bernie cropping! (Score another point for January 😊 )

I’m not the only one losing hours of my evenings and weekends to random things. Jordan has been listening to lengthy Survivor podcasts – one morning he was up at 4:00 am and couldn’t go back to sleep, so he found a podcast that kept him busy until 7:15. Ryan likes to look on realtor pages and virtually visit houses on the market. He’s very into whether the houses are old and cluttered, or are redecorated, and will show me photos, asking when we can redo his bedroom, bathroom, and many other things in our house.

“We just did the kitchen a little over a year ago,” I remind him. “And the shower in my bathroom right before that.”

“So when can we do the other rooms and get new furniture?” (because, you know, we’re made of money and can just renovate the whole house on a whim)

“We can’t.”

“Well, how ‘bout we just move then?” he’ll often suggest. “I can find us a house.”

Speaking of obsessions, Dan has become very interested in his genealogy and recently discovered records dating back to Eastern Europe from great, great, great grandparents  – birth, death, immigration records… it’s interesting stuff, and he tends to research this for hours and talk about it – a lot. When he’s buried in his iPad searching, I can’t get him to concentrate on anything else.

His focus on this is just as intense as when he did 23andMe a couple of years ago and continuously shared his results with us as they were updated. He was most intrigued with his .2% Sardinian roots (which have since expanded to .6% when 23andMe changed its algorithms). Keep in mind, Dan has an interesting DNA background as it is, but it was the Sardinian piece he constantly talked about.

“I’m .2% Sardinian,” he told us proudly several times a week and shared this with anyone who unknowingly brought up the topic of genealogy.

Jordan and I regularly made fun of this. “Did you know Dad was Sardinian?” Jordan would ask when Dan found ways to bring it into meal-time conversations.  

“No way! That’s wild!” I’d reply.

A couple of years ago, we were out to dinner with friends, and one of our friends mentioned genetics. I was sitting next to Jordan and we made eye contact right away. I whispered, “I give it 3 minutes.”

“Bet you it’s less than 30 seconds,” he whispered back. “And 5, 4, 3…”

“Speaking of genetics, I found out I have Sardinian roots!” Dan exclaimed to our friends.

“Nicely played,” I said to Jordan.

Ryan’s questions

I’m sure I’ve mentioned in other blogs Ryan likes to ask lots and lots of questions. About 90% of them start with Mom. I think he says the word, Mom, 600 times a day. “Mom,… why are…?“Mom, what’s going to happen when…” “Mom, when is…?” “Mom, remember when…?”

He mostly sits on the couch with what I call his ‘equipment’ surrounding him. His iPad, phone, charging block with multiple USB ports, and plugs, which I’m constantly tripping over. I’m always telling him to move his equipment before he causes an accident.

Ryan’s questions generally fall into three categories:

  1. Questions about things that happened in the past (e.g. bad behavior stories), which he knows the answer to but wants to hear me say it again.
  2. Questions about an upcoming event where he has concerns (e.g. his recent IEP meeting). These questions have also likely been answered many times, but he finds comfort in talking about them over and over.
  3. Questions about something in the future where I don’t have an answer and can’t control whatever the topic is (e.g. the weather), but he wants to hear what I think, take it as gospel and then ask me about it again. (and again…)

The third category was the source of most questions last month, with the majority being about the COVID-19 vaccine. Questions focused on when our family members in the 65+ category will get the vaccine, when the four of us will get it, what we can safely do this summer if we all get the vaccine by then, etc. It originally seemed promising. I was guessing, based on the news, our 65+ family, and maybe Marni as a teacher, would be vaccinated in February/March, and the rest of us by Summer. Given that timeframe, of course we’d go on vacation. I might even send him back to school in the Spring, knowing our older family members wouldn’t catch anything he might bring home.

“What do you mean by summer, Mom? May? June?”

“Hopefully one of those” I said.

But PA, like many states, is very behind in rollouts, and if my 95-year-old grandmother can’t get an appointment, some days it seems unlikely the vaccine will get to those of us who are younger and don’t have preexisting conditions in time for the summer.

“It could be July/August,” I said on another day.

“I thought it was May or June,” he argued.

“Well, I was just guessing. I’m not in charge of the vaccine.”

Why not?”

“Ry!”

“But, Mom, it’s May or June, right?”

“Ryan, I don’t know!”

“If we get the vaccine, can we go to Hawaii?” (We were supposed to go in August, and of course we cancelled that trip.)

This went on for weeks.

One day, it seemed so dismal hearing about how hard it is for people to get appointments here, so when Ryan asked, I snapped. “It’s going to be 2025!”

“Huh?” he asked, staring at me like I had lost it. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No, it’s never happening. We’re going to spend the next four years together in this house. Four more years of you on the couch with your equipment. Four more years of negotiating space when Jordan needs quiet so he can record something for school – because he’ll be taking online college music classes from his room. Four more years of Dad sitting hunched over at that bay window in the bedroom. Four more years sitting in my basement office with no sunlight. When someone compliments your elementary school artwork on the wall behind me while I’m on a video call (which happens frequently – my walls are full of the boys’ artwork), I’ll say, ‘Thank you. My boys, who are almost 21, made them. I meant to replace the school art with big canvas prints Ryan took in Hawaii, but we never made it to Hawaii because we’re still waiting for the vaccine!!!’”

“Mom? Are you having a temper tantrum? Do you need a time out?”

Yes.

After about 30 seconds… “Mom? When will we really get the vaccine?”

Most days I’m generally positive, but every so often, it’s easy to hit a wall.

As we kick off February, I’m raising my glass of sparkling water on this cold and snowy Monday in hopes of an early spring — and to an emergency authorization of the new J&J vaccine helping speed up the rollout — so everyone who wants to can be vaccinated by the Summer!

Thankful

cooked turkey on table

Hello readers! It’s been awhile since I last published a post. Honestly? I haven’t felt motivated to write anything for months. Of course, with so much going on in the world, there are a myriad of topics I could have covered from a parenting/working mom perspective. What about…

The election? With the polarizing views in our country and the intensity leading up to November 3 and the days that followed, I was more inclined to stay on top of the news rather than write anything myself. Our family was glued to the TV and fervently hoped for a positive election outcome.  

As our current President fades into the background more and more each day,  I do think Ryan will miss all of the crazy Trump stories. Ryan has always loved bad behavior stories, and Trump was like a cartoon character to Ryan. Ryan often asked “What would Trump do?” or “What would Trump’s behavior be like?” when imagining Trump taking the place of Ryan or another family member in a situation they were facing. For example, when the WiFi didn’t work for 30 minutes one day during virtual school and Ryan was starting to get upset, he asked me, “What would Trump do if his Wifi didn’t work?” “I don’t know – what do you think?” I asked. “He would likely throw a fit. Maybe he’d throw his Chromebook,” Ryan said. “He just might do that,” I agreed. 

COVID-19? I just can’t.  I wrote a couple of blog posts earlier in the year when the lockdown first happened. These days, there is enough ongoing news on this topic from all angles, including parenting. And thinking about the upcoming cold winter and how isolated we’ll likely be is a bit depressing. No need to write about it. I am praying for the health and safety of everyone around the world and a quick dissemination of the vaccines! 

Whether or not to send my kids back to school when it opened as a hybrid option? I came close to writing about this one. I was undecided because there are good points to both sides, and I really vacillated on this topic. Physical health vs mental health and education. The boys wanted different things and were very vocal about their preferences. 

The week we had to make a decision:

Me to Dan: “I’ve been talking about this issue for weeks with the boys, and you haven’t weighed in much. What’s your opinion on all of this?”

Dan: “It’s too dangerous. I’m afraid of the long term repercussions of COVID. We shouldn’t send them back.” 

Me: “The school has a solid plan in place for keeping the kids safe. What about the mental health of our kids – especially Jordan, who is craving interaction and complains daily about technology issues? And Ryan will learn so much better in person. I’m not sure how much he’s getting out of the virtual classes.”

Dan: Oh, I didn’t think about the mental health side of things. That’s a really important factor. We should send them.”

Me “But what about the safety of our family? They could be infected and not have symptoms and pass it on to all of the older relatives. I’d never forgive myself if we got anyone sick.”

Dan… “Um…. I agree with whatever you eventually decide?”

In the end, physical health concerns won, and we kept them virtual. After only two weeks of being open, schools are now virtual again for the next two weeks across the county because of the rise in cases (not being spread in schools, but through get togethers, parties, etc.). 

The lack of Clorox wipes in stores?  I’m kidding. I didn’t actually consider that as a topic. Well, maybe a little bit. We’re almost finished our supply and I would be very grateful to get a box for Chanukah. How sad.

So then, what is there to write about? It’s been Groundhog Day since March. With the exception of a few amazing outdoor outings and one week in the Poconos, the highlight of almost any weekend is figuring out which bottle of wine to open and when, which Netflix series to begin or finish, and when to take an hour walk outside (if it’s not freezing or raining). Very exciting stuff.

And yet, despite this crazy, scary state of the world and a depressing 2020, there are things to be thankful for. In addition to the obvious – family, friends, health, employment, and healing for our country – I’m going to share a few smaller ones.

I am thankful for time with the family. As much as it gets old with everyone being in the house constantly and very little privacy, I was thinking the other day about how we’d hardly see Jordan if this were a typical junior year. And how rushed it would be each night with various activities and other obligations. Now we can eat dinner together, talk without feeling hurried, and take our time on weekends. Most Sundays we watch the Eagles as a family (not the best season, but hey, it’s quality time), where in the past, the game would be on multiple TVs and usually at least one of us was out of the house. When the boys graduate high school, I’ll know we took advantage of the precious time we would not have had in normal circumstances.

I’m thankful being at home gave Jordan a chance to explore his passion for songwriting through two School of Creative and Performing Arts (SOCAPA) programs. If there hadn’t been a pandemic, Jordan would have gone back to his camp for the 10th summer and never learned all of the music composition skills that led him to publish his first album (Candy Hearts – available on SoundCloud). He also would not have met a really cool group of kids from around the country who share his passion. Through this program, he changed his mind about what he wants to focus on in college and now has a solid list of schools to explore.

I’m thankful virtual school has helped Ryan become independent. He gets up on his own, logs on and off to various classes without any prompting, answers questions, figures out his work, and makes and cleans up his lunch. The only class Dan or I have to get involved in is the biweekly cooking, depending on the recipe.  Academically, I’m not sure how much he’s actually retaining, and I do believe in-person learning is better for him.  But when I think about last Spring and how much hand holding he needed from us, he has really come a long way.  

I’m thankful Dan and I both have jobs we can do from home. I’m especially glad that Dan, who spent a number of years in negative work environments, finally has a job at a company like mine, that values its employees. Of course I very much look forward to the day when I have the option to safely go to an office when I want to see other people, and to a time when I can safely travel somewhere around the world to run an in-person training. Virtual training is just not the same. (Ryan asked me the other day, “Mom, do you miss traveling to other countries?” I said, “I do. But at this point, taking the train to Center City for the day would be exotic.”) For now, though, I’ll enjoy sleeping later than I normally would have, having the time to exercise regularly, and wearing comfortable leggings to my home office every day. 

And finally, I’m thankful we had one celebratory morning with a very small group of people out of the house last weekend. My niece’s Bat Mitzvah service was probably one of the best days of the year. Approximately 25 people gathered with masks and spread out in our synagogue, and we were lucky to have the experience of watching and participating in the service, which was live streamed to others. Just being in the synagogue for the first time since March and spending a few hours with all of those people at once was good for the soul. (My niece was amazing – we were so proud of her!) 

I’ll leave you with a quick story and a lesson I learned that morning about masks. When we got to the synagogue, I put on my fancy black mask, which matched my black and white dress. I had an extra (back-up) mask in my bag. The service began, and I realized the fancy mask was very uncomfortable, and I was having trouble speaking and singing with it on. I pulled it off and replaced it with the back-up. This was much better, but the back-up mask didn’t match my dress at all. I was debating in my head comfort vs fashion, when the Rabbi said we were now moving to page 100, which was when my sister and I had to come up to the bimah for our Hallelujah duet. I made a fast decision – fashion (this would be on video forever, after all) – and quickly changed masks. Unfortunately, I put the fancy mask on backwards, and when I started singing, it kept moving down my face, under my nose. Throughout the entire song, I would pull it up, and it would fall down. (My nephew had a lot of fun laughing about how Aunt Jodi couldn’t keep her mask up.) Finally, I yanked it up really hard, hoping it would stay in place, and it went over my eyes. 

So my lesson is, if you are speaking or singing in public with a mask, practice ahead of time with your mask on to make sure it’s comfortable and fits well!  

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving! 

Two Voices

In today’s world, do you sometimes feel like you have two voices in your head? One is practical and grateful. It says things like:

  • Of course, we need to stay inside to keep ourselves and our families healthy. The death toll is at a scary all-time high.
  • Of course, we should have a slow transition back to life once the governors deem conditions safe enough to do so.
  • Of course, it’s not difficult to stay at home on our couches – we’re lucky if that’s the worst thing we’re faced with. Other people are putting their lives on the line working in stores and doctor’s offices and hospitals every day. We’re lucky to be healthy with our biggest challenge being managing kids, homeschool and work – other people are suffering badly with COVID-19. People are in the hospital and can’t see their loved ones. Others are at home sick, trying to take care of their kids. And many are struggling to pay their bills.
  • Of course, I’m grateful the boys are older, understand the situation and are handling it so well. It must be so difficult to have young kids during this crazy time. The other day when Ryan asked about timing for the end of the quarantine, I told him I had just heard on the news that for our county to open, the total number of cases need to be at an average of 30 per day, or a total of 415 new cases over a 14-day period. Jordan replied, “Good! We need to wait until it’s safe – our governor is smart!” The 16-year-old voice of reason.
  • Of course, I’m grateful to the teachers who quickly moved to an online curriculum, to our synagogue clergy who bring our congregation together virtually for Shabbat and Havdalah on the Friday and Saturday nights, and the many other organizations trying to keep everyone connected.
  • And of course, it’s nice to have this quiet time with our kids – dinner together, no running around to activities. I think one of the best things that came out of this is the boys ask each other about their days. It started out as a social skills assignment for Ryan and has turned into a regular dinnertime activity. And the weekends can be nice. Sometimes I like having nothing planned for the weekends. I’m honestly not sure where the time goes – TV, books, walks, online scrabble, reading endless articles about COVID-19, trying to ignore the endless articles about COVID-19, cleaning out closets, etc. I said to Dan the other day, “When we go back to whatever normal is, it will be a big adjustment to not have all this free time!”

And yet, there’s the other voice – the sad and anxious one – which says things like:

  • I want my !&?@#!#%&! life back soon! (summer would be nice – I really want to go on our planned vacation to Hawaii!) and wish there was a crystal ball to tell us when that point will be – mainly for Ryan who asks me about it every single day, multiple times. I hear him walking down the hall to my room at 7:45 every weekday morning and know the first words out of his mouth are going to be “Mom, let’s talk about summer. What’s going to happen?” Argh!!! And the endless discussions begin.
  • I miss family and friends – zoom and facetime are nice but not nearly the same as in person hugs and conversations. I worry about them getting sick and getting stuck alone at a hospital.  
  • I’m sad for my boys who only have a few years left of school and should be experiencing them with other kids. I’m sad they may not have a traditional summer vacation with camps, pools and the beach, because all too soon they’ll be in the working world and will never get to experience childhood summers again.
  • I’m anxious for Ryan who learns and focuses better face to face and has limited time to get ready for whatever direction his future takes him. Employability skills are a big part of his curriculum and you can only do so much virtually. He needs work experience. He needs his teachers in the room with him.
  • And I’m worried about what will happen when we finally go back to a new version of life and wave 2 of the virus hits.  

I saw a tweet that says, “The quarantine state of mind is having 3 solid days where you feel pretty well adjusted, followed by a sudden, unexpected dip into what we call “the hell zone.” Then the individual added below, “The hell zone is an anxious, semi-agitated state where you’re just sorta “off” for the whole day and time flows like you’re wading through chili – and your hell zone will NEVER synch up with other people’s hell zones and that’ll always make you feel weird and stressed out.” So true!

I’ve had insomnia on and off for most of my life. Last week, I found myself wide awake every night. I called the doctor on Friday to see if she could help. My doctor had left for the day, so this was another one at the practice whom I didn’t know.

We had a video chat and she asked, “Is there something that’s making you anxious?” I was about to burst out laughing but saw she was serious, looking at me earnestly.

“Umm…the state of the world?” I replied, somewhat sarcastically. With alerts to the latest news articles pinging phones all day long and regular local and national live updates, how can you not be anxious? There must be tons of people with insomnia out there.

“I meant,” she clarified, “Did anything new happen in your life recently?”

Our lives are essentially Groundhog Day, with no changes in sight. Status quo. We’re still healthy. We can pay the bills. We can talk to family and friends whenever we want. The kids can access school assignments and we can access work. There’s endless Netflix, Hulu and Prime shows to keep us busy. We have good neighbors and can take walks outside and wave to them from a distance.

“No,” I said. “Nothing new has happened. And I’m grateful for that.”

Take a Deep Breath

It’s hard to believe my last blog was about air travel – ahh the good old days when you could just hop on a plane and go visit friends for a long weekend. Seems like a year ago when it was only five weeks.

Like me, your social media feeds are probably flooded with COVID-19 articles, news reports, and predictions from experts and those who think they’re experts, along with the more fun videos, memes (I just love the Memes), personal posts and opinions, and photos showing how people are spending their days. While all of the media can be a little (well…sometimes extremely) overwhelming, it’s incredible how people are coming together online to share what’s working as they balance work and family, homeschool their kids, and experience the outdoors while maintaining social distancing. And it’s comforting how so many in person activities we’ve taken for granted such as Shabbat services and Confirmation class events, The Friendship Circle, and voice lessons have quickly mobilized to an online environment.

A little over a week ago when we learned all PA schools would be closed for two weeks, Ryan was not a happy camper. While he was excited for a break from school, he overheard us talking about how the closing would likely go beyond the 30th. He wanted to know exactly what his schedule would be and when school would reopen. We didn’t know what to tell him. The school sent over some enrichment links but was not planning to formally teach during the two weeks. (they said if the closures go beyond that, distance learning will begin). Ryan spent the better part Friday, 3/13 whining about what he would do all week and when would school open again. He also wanted to know if he would go back to track in time for the meets – he had just started Unified Track at school and really enjoyed the two practices they had.

We spent time that first weekend creating a detailed schedule which I put in Google sheets for Dan, Ryan and me to access. His teacher had sent links to websites he could visit to maintain his skills, so I blocked his days off in small chunks and included a combination of:

  • Independent work (eg math – go to Khan Academy; English – go to Newsela.com or ducksters.com),
  • Skills he learned through his community-based jobs (alphabetizing, office skills, etc.) with a family member
  • Independent living skills (eg cooking, cleaning the house, laundry).
  • Outdoor time – walking, taking pictures of nature
  • Free time

It was amazing to see the anxiety on Ryan’s face disappear as he went through and likely memorized the schedule. This is a kid who needs structure and we gave him that.  The question was – would he follow through with it?

To our delight, yes! Given there was no need for him to be up early, breakfast was scheduled for him to make and clean up independently from 9-9:30, which he did every day. Then, there were 30 minutes slots throughout the day of independent work on his computer – whenever I came to check on him, he was working away. But he really preferred and looked forward to the time with family and surprisingly got into cleaning the house with Dan! He and I took a few walks together and I was amazed at how quickly he now walks – I had to work to keep up with him, the boy who used to lag behind all of us when we went anywhere. (One of us would always be calling “Ryan, let’s go, you need to walk faster!”) He will be great at track one day.

I cannot imagine this working at all a few years ago and am very grateful how independent Ryan has becomes since starting high school.

Then there’s Jordan. I saw on GMA that even if your high schoolers are independent, it’s important to make sure they have somewhat of a schedule. Jordan scoffed at that.

“I’m fine. I’m keeping busy and I don’t need to account for every hour.”

I pressed him – “I don’t care about every hour. I just want to know what you’re keeping busy with. It needs to be more than your phone.”

I texted him ideas from my basement office as they came to me. He could:

  • Study for his learner’s permit exam (who knows when he’ll actually have the chance to take it – but hey, he’ll be ready!).
  • Prepare for the SATs – we’ll order a book from Amazon and by the time the Fall exam rolls around, he’ll crush it.
  • Sign up for a free screenwriting class online through futurelearn. Jordan recently expressed an interest in taking screenwriting at college and I’d like to make sure he knows what it is and really likes it before picking a college because of that specific major.
  • Write a musical about COVID-19.

“You’re throwing a lot of stuff at me,” he texted back (to be fair, I threw these great ideas out over the course of 24 hours. It’s not like they were rapid fire things to do.)

Guess which one he chose? If you know Jordan at all, you guessed right – he is writing a musical about a school whose show gets cancelled because of COVID-19 (art mirroring life!). He’s been composing music and writing dialogue. (Anyone have a contact on Broadway?) Surprisingly, I also found him doing some optional schoolwork every now and then. As the opposite of Ryan, this is the kid who doesn’t need a schedule and is happiest when he can just be and figure it out as he goes.

While I am grateful for Ryan’s independence, the anxiety around the unknown means Ryan asks more questions than usual. In fact, he asks them All. Day. Long.

Ryan – “When will school open again? In April?

Me – “I don’t know.”

Ryan – “In May?”

Me – “I don’t know. This has never happened before, Ry. We just have to be flexible and see.”

Ryan – “Are we going back at all? What if we never go back? Can’t you call someone to find out?”

Me – “RY….” (Sigh)

Ryan – “What will we do for my birthday? (early April) Can the family come over? What about the Seder?

Me – “We can facetime them and we can make a cake and order from wherever you want. I don’t know about the Seder. Dad thinks we could do it on Zoom.”

Ryan – “Can’t just one family member come over? Will we be stuck in the house for Dad’s birthday, too? (May) Will we be stuck inside for your birthday?? Will we get to go on our vacation to Hawaii?” (both in Aug.)

“Oh Ryan,” I thought. There aren’t enough bottles of wine to deal with my feelings if we are still here in August.”

I think the unknown is what’s most difficult for many people, not just Ryan. I was talking to my aunt about this the other night, and we both agreed if we knew this would end, say, on May 1 – there would be a date to work towards. I would think – ok, this sucks that we can’t see anyone or go anywhere for the next five+ weeks, but it’s a finite point in time and we can start a countdown. When you read articles saying this could go well into the summer, it’s just hard.

Earlier last week, I was having some trouble catching my breath – I had to breathe frequently and deeply – and was afraid I had caught the virus. I kept checking my temperature, which was normal.

“You’re fine,” Dan said, trying to reassure me. “You have no other symptoms.”

He was right – no cough, no fever, no weakness.

“But people are walking around with the virus and don’t even know it. What if I have it with this one symptom?” This was on Wednesday, right after I cut my power walk short because the need to breathe deeply made it too difficult to continue. (I’d been enjoying the beautiful sunny afternoon for 20 minutes while reading COVID-19 articles on my phone.) This was the same two mile walk I’ve been taking in my development for 17 years, and I was a little worried.

On Thursday, I realized I’d gotten through the whole day without feeling the need to breathe deeply. I was busy on conference calls most of the day and hadn’t seen Ryan as much. When I saw him later, he jumped into his questions.

“Mom, will I have to repeat sophomore year?” “Will we have my track meets? “What happens if I don’t go back to school in June?” “Will we have ESY (Extended School Year)? “What about camp? Will my camp open?” “Will Jordan’s camp open?” “If we don’t go to Hawaii, what will we do?” Will school open in September?”

And just like that, my chest got tight and I had to take several deep, cleansing breaths. Ryan’s questions and not being able to answer them. The barrage of media. The unknown. It was all causing a physical reaction.

When I caught my breath again, I replied, “Ryan, I can’t answer your questions. I just. don’t. know. No one knows, and I get that it’s scary for you to not have answers. I promise you when I do know anything, I’ll tell you. But please stop asking questions right now. Ok?”

“Ok,” he said. (He stuck to that agreement for the rest of the night.)

We hear day after day how these are unprecedented times. Everyone is going to react and be affected differently. However you feel and respond – it’s ok. I think it’s important to give yourself permission to feel how you feel. You may have a physical reaction. You might cry. Or become angry. Or worry constantly. And if you need to take a break from the media and the ‘what ifs’ to clear your head and feel better, it’s more than ok.

Over the weekend, we took that break. We participated in virtual Shabbat services with our clergy and other congregants through Facebook live. Dan made pancakes and waffles. We ordered in dinners from a few different places. We caught up on TV and Netflix and talked on the phone with family. We made a card for a little girl in our development who turned two. (a suggestion on the development FB page – to make cards for those stuck in the house on their birthdays) We facetimed with my Mom-mom and Aunt Sue, so they could join us for virtual Havdalah with our clergy and congregants on Sat. night. I cleaned out my office and am thrilled the clutter is gone. I organized our wine collection. And I took two very long walks around the development while listening to uplifting music – and had absolutely no trouble breathing.

Flying High

A couple of weeks ago, we flew to LA to visit friends over the long Presidents’ Day weekend. Other than Ryan asking nonstop questions over a five-hour period (with many of those questions being during the two hours I attempted to sleep as it was late, and I was really tired), it was an easy flight. Ryan was calm and excited for the weekend ahead and did not complain once.

We’ve come a long way. Let’s rewind to when we first started flying with Ryan.

Patience is something Ryan always found difficult – particularly when he was younger. Whether it’s waiting in lines or sitting in traffic, we would brace ourselves for a meltdown when these situations arose. Over the years, it was common to hear Ryan say things like “Mommy, make the line go faster!” or “Mommy, why won’t the cars move! Let’s knock into them so they get out of the way!” in a loud, frustrated voice. To which I tried to remain calm and remind him repeatedly that we can’t control the lines or the traffic.

Because of this, we made the decision to wait before flying with Ryan. When the boys were almost eight, we decided it was finally time to brave air travel and take the boys to Disney over spring break. My parents offered to come with us, figuring four adults could handle whatever happened on that plane. We got seats in an entire row on both sides of the aisle, and the plan was for my parents to sit with Jordan, who had already flown by that point and would likely read a book or play on his DS the whole time, and for Dan and me to sit with Ryan.

While I spent the months leading up to the trip reading The Unofficial Guide to Disney World (a really valuable read – especially the sample schedules designed for different age groups!) and plotting what we would do at each park and in what order, Dan created a social story for Ryan.

Wikipedia definition of social stories:Social Stories were devised as a tool to help individuals on the autism spectrum better understand the nuances of interpersonal communication so that they could interact in an effective and appropriate manner.” They generally include pictures, since many people with autism like Ryan, are visual learners. In addition to explaining our schedule for the parks and including pictures of some of the rides and the hotel, Dan’s story walked Ryan through the entire airport experience, so he would be prepared for every step of the way. Ryan loved the story and read it over and over before the trip.

I also read articles written by other parents with children on the spectrum, who shared advice on traveling by plane.  A few suggested telling the crew your child has autism so they’re not surprised if a meltdown happens.

The day of our trip arrived, and Jordan woke up looking a little under the weather. No fever, though, so we made our way to the airport and got through check-in without a hitch. While waiting to board the plane, Dan tracked down the flight attendants and told them it was Ryan’s first flight, he has autism, and he wanted them to be aware. They were very understanding and let us board early.

Within seconds of the plane taking off, Ryan, who was sitting by the window, fell asleep. Dan and I looked at each other and smiled, took out our books, and read for the entire flight. What a luxury! The flight attendants stopped by our row several times during the flight to make sure Ryan was ok and seemed relieved he was sleeping. (And to make things even sweeter, Ryan also slept during the flight home!)

Meanwhile, across the aisle, Jordan began sneezing as soon as the plane took off. He proceeded to sneeze and blow his nose for the entire two hours and had a cold for the next few days. My poor parents on either side of him could not escape the germs and ended up with nasty colds, as well. I still tease them to this day that if they had taken the more ‘challenging’ child, they would have been healthy during that trip!

Dan and I were so excited with how well Ryan did on the plane that the following summer, we booked a trip to San Diego. We were a bit too confident. (“He’s a natural flyer! We can go anywhere!”) Here’s what we learned — Florida was a fluke. While Ryan also fell asleep at takeoff, 20 minutes later, he was awake and asked, “Are we almost there?” Sigh… we had more than 5 hours to go. His iPad died after an hour and he didn’t want to play with any of the toys he brought. It was a long flight with lots of whining, walking up and down the aisles and threatening no desserts with dinner if he couldn’t keep his voice down.

We’ve now flown as a family to Arizona three times, Florida again, South Carolina, and this past trip to LA. Some flights were easier than others. There was the first trip to AZ where I sat in a row with the boys and Dan had the flight to himself across the aisle. Ryan complained and threw mini tantrums the entire time because he was bored. (And I had a much needed margarita in hand at the pool 90 minutes after landing.) I claimed the lone aisle seat for the flight home, where Ryan slept a good chunk of the time next to Dan. By the second trip to AZ, Ryan was older and entertained himself with movies for most of the flight.

The trip to Florida in 2015 had us landing right after a storm. We were stuck on the runway for a while (cue the whining and mini tantrums) and then our luggage didn’t arrive on the carousel for a long time, as a branch fell on the road between the terminal and baggage claim. This challenged all of us and after a trying few hours sitting in baggage claim, I suggested the boys and I go to the hotel and Dan wait for our bags.

Our 2018 spring break trip home from AZ really put Ryan to the test. He has a fear of babies crying that started when he was four and my baby niece cried nonstop most of our Cape May trip. When Ryan was younger, if we couldn’t get him out of the area where a baby was screaming, he would start crying and it was often difficult to calm him down. On this particular flight, Dan was by the window, Ryan was sitting between us and I was on the aisle. Ryan was directly behind a baby who began to scream right before the plane took off. We were taxiing, and I saw the panic on his face.

Jordan was across the aisle, and quickly, I sprang into action – “Jordan, get up – switch with Ryan. Ryan, go sit across the aisle.”  Ryan would still be near the baby but not right behind the noise. People looked at us curiously as we switched seats during the ‘seat belts must be securely fastened’ period. The flight attendant made her way to us and I explained, “He has a fear of crying babies – we’ll be quick.” She already knew about his autism. Dan still tells the crew to this day. 

The move was the right one as the baby screamed for the better part of two hours. Ryan was still visibly nervous but did not lose his cool since there was now space between him and the baby. Once she fell asleep, we switched seats again. We were really proud of how he held it together.

The recent LA flight was a bonus in that we were in the first row of a section with lots of space between us and the wall, and we all had TV screens. (the plane was similar to the ones I take to Europe – it was huge) Ryan, who loves Google Earth and numbers, could watch the progression of our flight on his screen – visually, in miles, and in time left to destination. I myself prefer a good movie or a nap but was really glad it kept him interested for the better part of six hours!

What we’ve learned from all our flight experiences is while getting to a destination is not always easy and we have plenty of battle scars (i.e. stories) to share as a result, we love to travel with the boys and are willing to risk difficult plane rides to do that. This summer we are being very brave and planning a trip to Hawaii. There’s an overnight layover on the way there, but just a two-hour layover coming home. I would never have even entertained this trip as an option 3+ years ago, but the tantrums are much fewer these days and Ryan has definitely matured. We’ll see how it goes – I hope I’m not jinxing myself! And if I am, stay tuned for a good future blog post!

Beating the Clock

Today we start week four of the school year, and I still cannot believe Jordan and Ryan are sophomores. It seems so grown up and serves as a reminder the clock is ticking and in less than three years, the boys will be actual adults. My goal this year is to have them take a step toward adulthood by getting themselves out of bed in the morning.It sounds simple, right? However, if you look at my June Then and Now blog post, you’ll see how frustrating the whole wake up routine was.

One day last May, I was complaining to my friend, Nichola, about how much I despise getting up at 5:30. She told me she gets up much later – sometimes 8:00 am – and I asked, “How is that even possible? That’s practically lunchtime given when I wake up!’ 

She said her older two get themselves up and on the middle school bus themselves (her husband is there getting ready for work at that time if they need anything), and she wakes up with her youngest, who is in elementary school.

“They actually make the bus without 25 reminders to get out of bed and hurry up?”

She said they know if they miss the bus, they will be driven late, and they don’t want to miss school and have to make up the work.

Hmmm… I could maybe see the missing class bit working for Jordan, where the being driven consequence would be an incentive for Ryan (he is all about the bus), but I was not sure it would practically work. Meaning, could I follow through and really let them keep sleeping and be late?

The next day, I told the boys how impressed I was that Nichola’s kids got up on their own and said I’d like to try that in September. It felt too late in the school year to start anything new. Jordan didn’t seem very interested, but Ryan was fascinated. “So what happens if they miss the bus?” he kept asking.

Then, “How ‘bout we don’t do that?” I hate my alarm clock – it’s too loud.”

And, when I persisted, saying we would indeed do that, “How ‘bout I miss the bus and just skip school all day? I’d rather stay home and relax anyway.”

“That’s called truancy, and if it happens over and over, Daddy and I could go to jail,” I told him.

His reply – “Well, then I can just live with Sue at the Plaza Apartments in Jenkintown and uber to high school.”

“Sure, Ry,” I thought. “There are so many things wrong with that response, so we’re not going to even justify it with an answer.” 

Summer came, and we woke the boys, except it was later and therefore, much easier. (I do love summer and the extra sleep!) When mid-August rolled around, I ordered two new alarm clocks. The ones they currently owned and never used were very basic, and I wanted them to have a choice of wake-up sounds to make the new routine a little more palatable.

“I don’t want a new clock. I have one,” Ryan said when it arrived.

“And you complained about the noise on that one. Now you have five options so you can pick the sound that doesn’t hurt your ears.” 

The night before the first day, I asked them, “What time are you getting up tomorrow?”

Ryan said 6:00, so I helped him set his alarm. His bus was scheduled to come 6:50, which is 15 minutes later than last year’s bus, but for some reason, he complained about this. In any case, I set my alarm for 5:45 because I did not trust he would wake up on his own.

Jordan said, “Wake me at 6:20.”

“I’m not waking you, remember? Set your alarm,” I told him.

“Oh…this is really a thing?” he asked. I’m not sure where he got the idea this would just go away – I mentioned it regularly throughout the summer and we had the grand presentation of the new clocks a couple weeks ago.

Day 1 – 6:00 am on the dot – I heard Ryan get out of bed. Ten minutes later, he came in my room.

“I’m ready!” he exclaimed, proudly.

And at 6:20 am, Jordan was out of bed and in the bathroom. Clearly a first day fluke, right?

Day 2 – Ryan also was up and dressed right away. Jordan set his alarm for 6:09 (very random, I know) and promptly went back to bed.

“Jordan – your alarm went off – get up!” I called. (So much for letting him be late for school… but in my defense, it was the second day. I can’t let him be late this early in the year.)

“Mgkdjfht,” he mumbled.

“Jordan!”

“I don’t need to get up till 6:20,” he said more coherently, when he got out of bed 10 minutes later.

Then why did you set it for 6:09?”

“I just need time in my bed to slowly wake up.”

That was his strategy and it worked for him, while Ryan wanted to get out of bed right away. He soon decided he preferred his phone alarm to the clock.

Halfway into week two, I was confident I did not need to get up at 5:45 and decided to start pushing my clock time back. The plan was working – I couldn’t believe they were getting up on their own. Wednesday night, I set my alarm for 6:15 am. At 6:10 am on Thursday, Ryan came running in my room.

“Mommy, why aren’t you up?” he asked, clearly bothered by the fact I was still asleep. He began turning on lights. Argh!

“You don’t need me up the whole time you’re getting ready,” I mumbled, still not awake. “I’ll come down while you finish breakfast and wait with you for the bus.”

“No, I want you up!” he exclaimed. “I like when you’re getting dressed when I’m getting dressed, and when you make your bed while I make my bed.”

“But we’re doing those things separately,” I said. “Maybe you can pretend I’m getting dressed while you’re getting dressed.”

“Mommy, no, I don’t want to pretend. I like knowing we’re doing the same thing and then you’re ready and can sit with me while I eat breakfast and wait with me for the bus. I like when you’re there.”

Hmmm… I had anticipated the boys potentially sleeping through the alarms and going back to old habits. I hadn’t counted on Ryan actually taking responsibility for waking up on his own but still wanting me around for company throughout the process. That’s kind of sweet.

While the initial benefit of doing this was for me to get more sleep, the overall goal was to make them more independent, which is actually happening. Ryan and Jordan continued to be responsible for their alarms throughout week 3 when I was away. Dan told me when I came home on Friday, “The boys didn’t even need me to get them up. They were fabulous.” As I think again about that ticking clock and the three short years left of school, I know I should take advantage of whatever time they want to spend with me. Even if it’s at 6:00 in the morning!

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!

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!