Walking in their shoes

“I’m exhausted. We need to get to sleep now,” Dan said. It was 9:30pm last Thursday.

“What a tiring night,” I chimed in, throwing things from the bed to the floor, swallowing two Advil to stop the pounding headache, and eagerly anticipating sleep — hopefully more than the 6.5 hours we seemed to be getting these days.

Why were we unusually cranky and tired? We had just returned from our first high school back to school night, where we had the chance to walk – and run – in our boys’ shoes.

But before I share the details of that, let’s rewind to earlier that evening. We were trying to quickly get through dinner so we could be at the school on time. Dan was in a good mood, chatting away, but I had mentally and physically hit a wall after a long week, and it was hard to concentrate. Dan was talking about something related to Mexico – at least I thought he was – but Ryan kept interrupting with questions every few minutes.

“They found one that was the link between reptiles and birds,” Dan said.

“Found what in Mexico?” I asked, half listening.

“An avian dinosaur…and it was in China,” he replied. 

Huh? When did we start talking about dinosaurs and China? Clearly I had lost track of the conversation a while back.

I went upstairs to replace my sandals with boots, since it was cooler outside by that point, and decided to lie down for a few minutes.

“Shouldn’t we go?” Dan yelled up the stairs after some time.

“Coming!” I called back weakly. I was in serious danger of falling asleep in a class. If that happens, maybe I’ll get a parent detention. Is that a thing? And if so, can you sleep during detention? It sounded heavenly.

Ryan was playing wii and Jordan was on his phone when we left. “We should really get you guys exercising more,” I suggested. “Look at the neighbors, always tossing a ball outside.”

“I’m tired,” Ryan said. “I don’t want to exercise.”

“We need our down time,” Jordan agreed.

From there, our night began.

7:00 — Once we arrived at the performing arts center (referred to as PAC) for the obligatory introductory speeches and were handed maps of the school, I suddenly woke up. I realized we were all the way on one side of the school and according to the map, we had minutes to get to homeroom, which was on the opposite side and up a flight of stairs. From homeroom, Dan and I would be splitting up and each following a different boy’s schedule. Each class was eight minutes, with five minutes in between to get to the next class.

7:20 — The bell rang. “We have to jet,” I said to Dan.

But there would be no jetting. We got into the hall and encountered a wall to wall traffic jam of people. Waving to other parents we knew, we made our way down the hall in a painfully slow manner.

“This is ridiculous. Why doesn’t anyone move?” I complained.

“It’s like this every year,” one of the parents said.

By the time the hall finally cleared, we still had half the school to get through in order to find the boys’ homeroom.

“Come on!” I called to Dan, who was really lagging behind.

“I’m tired,” he grumbled. “Where did your second wind come from?”

“We’re late. Can’t you go any faster?” I was power walking through the gym and up stairs.

Grunts and various choice words came from behind me.

7:35 — Finally, we reached homeroom and collapsed into two seats. We saw a couple we hadn’t talked to in awhile and hugged hello.

“I didn’t know the boys were in homeroom together!” I said.

“Homeroom? This is first period,” the mom said.

What?? We quickly found their homeroom teacher, got their schedules and started sprinting toward the next class. I was going to Jordan’s English class and Dan to science for Ryan.

7:40 –– I made it right on time to English and found a seat next to a couple I knew well from middle school theater.

“This is crazy!” I said to the mom, catching my breath. I was regretting my decision to put on cute boots. Sneakers would have made this much easier.

“Imagine the kids doing this all day with their 10 pound backpacks,” she said. “They don’t ever go to their lockers.”

Jordan had told me this. He said he doesn’t have time, especially since his locker is nowhere near any of his classes.

7:48 — After English, I went down the hall and the stairs to Spanish and texted Jordan about the insanity of how big the school is and how impressed I was that he gets anywhere on time. My wrist had buzzed by that point signaling I hit 10,000 steps for the day. 

8:01 —  From Spanish, I went all the way back to PAC for chorus. At that point, I could have used a bathroom break but I’d probably end up missing half of the next class if I went looking for a ladies room. In chorus, I sat next to a dad who told me gleefully this was his last back to school night. His child was a senior. I told him it was my first at this school.

“Sorry to hear that,” he said sincerely. “It’ll be over soon, though, and then you don’t have to think about it again until next year.”

8:14 — After chorus, it was back in the other direction to social studies. I was sweating a little and decided I should have taken five minutes to change after work because the long sleeve blouse I had on was not very conducive to all this movement. No wonder my boys wear t-shirts well into Fall.

(Side note: Yes, in between all this running around, the teachers did share a little about themselves and the curriculum!)

8:28 — I saw Dan in the hall as I was walking from social studies to math.

“Where do I go?” he asked. “I’m lost,” he said.

He showed me Ryan’s schedule, which indicated he had social studies next and the same teacher as Jordan. However, Ryan had written a different room number on his schedule than Jordan did. Thinking it was probably a mistake, I showed Dan Jordan’s room number and sent him on his way.

8:32 — My phone buzzed as soon as Jordan’s math teacher began talking. It was Dan with rapid fire texts:

“Ugh. ok, so Ryan’s social studies teacher is not there, where do I go?”

So lost. I’m just in the hall”

“Wandering”

I texted back, “Maybe Ryan had the correct room after all. Try that one.”

My phone buzzed – Dan again with lots of texts:

“He is not there”

“Another teacher is”

“I have no idea where I am”

“I’m outside the PAC”

“I guess I’ll wait”

“Till 6th period”

“I’ve never felt more lost”

“And rushed”

“I’ll wait”

I had missed most of what the math teacher said.

“Trying to listen,” I texted back. “Will meet you at the front when this is over.” I put my phone away.

8:40 Off to science. My phone buzzed again as I was walking – this time, with a notification from Fitbit. Overachiever. You have exceeded your step goal by 2500 steps.

8:53 — Back to PAC for the last class of the day, theater, where I knew several parents.

“I saw Dan in the hall having a mini meltdown,” one of them joked. It turns out Dan never found Ryan’s last period class, either.

Hmmm… Dan’s ability to find his way around while tired needs a little work if we ever make it on The Amazing Race. (Random side note: Whenever I watch the final episode of an Amazing Race season, I picture us on it one day running to the finish line as the first place winners.)

When the bell rang, I rushed out of the theater to find Dan. He looked a little worse for wear, but was relieved to see me.

“Next year, maybe we can just stay together and do one of the schedules,” he suggested.

During the car ride home, we marveled at Ryan’s ability to seamlessly navigate the school despite how overwhelming it probably is for him with all of those people. And how hard it must be for both of them to carry heavy book bags all day. Not to mention all of those different teachers and subjects. Of course we had experienced their schedule on steroids as the boys don’t change classes every eight minutes, but the evening did give me a small taste of what it’s like to be in their shoes. My second wind was gone. I felt a headache coming on, and the week officially had caught up with me.

“That. Was. Exhausting.” I said to Jordan when we got home. “Look,” I showed him my fit bit. “I’m at almost 15,000 steps!”

“Now you see how much walking I do,” he replied. “So when you think I’m not exercising, remember tonight.”

Touché!

Welcome to high school

The start of anything new can often be confusing and overwhelming. We’ve only had seven actual days of high school so far, but with everything we’ve navigated during that time, it seems like we should be well into the year by now.

Let’s begin with the mornings. High school starts at 7:23 am, so we initially set our alarm for 5:45 am to make a 6:43 am bus. Waking up daily with a 5 on the clock is a hard adjustment. It’s dark. It feels so early. I am exhausted all day (caffeine intake has doubled). Now, they did tell us at orientation to let our teens wake up on their own as they are old enough to use an alarm and should be responsible for themselves. I don’t think they’ve met my boys, who sleep through alarms, through the light Dan turns on when he tells them it’s time to get up, through my second wake up call to them 10 minutes after that… therefore, Dan and I will be getting up in the fives for now.

Once he is up, Ryan is extremely motivated to be ready on time for his bus (which comes right to our house) and plans his morning routine so he make it. However, on Thursday, the bus never came. After it was 10 minutes late, we called transportation, who informed us the bus actually did arrive, waited, and left when no one came out.

“What time did the bus get here?” Dan asked, confused, as Ryan is never late.

“6:35,” the person on the phone told him.

What??? Apparently, transportation arbitrarily decided to change Ryan’s pick up time because 6:43 did not give the bus driver enough time to pick up all of the kids. Dan politely told them it would have been nice to know this, especially given Ryan’s anxiety when the bus never showed. (To their credit, they sent a van to get him right away that day.) We are now getting up at 5:35 am to make this new bus time.

Moving on to gym… Despite us telling Jordan to get to bed early, he cannot seem to fall asleep before 10:00. On Thursday, Jordan came home with a cold and low-grade fever, which I attributed to his lack of sleep.

“If I still have a fever tomorrow, I want to go. But you can pick me up after third period, which is gym,” he said.

Yes, you read that correctly. Jordan was planning his day around gym. On Wednesday, we had received a note from the gym teacher letting us know if a student misses gym because of an absence or because they forget their uniform or swimsuit (9th grade boys take swimming the first half of the year), they have to make up the period. Now I am all for physical fitness and I think my boys could use a lot more of it, but make up an entire gym class?

Our options for gym make-ups are: during a study hall (neither boy has a study hall this year); during an extension period (which happens once or twice a month – I don’t really understand this part of the schedule yet); or – wait for it – at 6:25 in the morning during zero period (don’t even ask what that is)! As you can imagine, none of us want to wake up any earlier, so we are all extremely motivated to make sure Jordan and Ryan are in gym and prepared for it with their swim trunks. Of course Ryan has gym on A and C days and Jordan on B and E days. These letters actually coincide with different days each week, but I’ve been on top of it for the last seven days. I think that’s worthy of a high five or a cheers to Mom moment. (Ok, being realistic, I’m taking bets for how long it is until we lose track of the schedule and someone forgets his trunks!)

Jordan has also experienced culture shock where homework is concerned. This is a kid who I don’t think cracked a book at home during his entire middle school career (he managed to get his work done at school each day), yet got great grades, so I couldn’t complain. Now he comes home and works for hours. Last Wednesday, he had an orthodontist appointment after school, followed by a school theater meeting in the early evening. He was visibly stressed about not having time to do his homework.

“We’ll be home from the theater meeting before 7. You have all night,” I told him.

“Do homework at night?” he gasped, horrified.

“Welcome to high school,” I said.

The orthodontist said Jordan could get his braces off in eight weeks. However, since he would have to miss school if he did that, he is choosing to wait an additional two weeks so he can get them off on a half day. Wow. If someone told me a few months ago my son would voluntarily delay getting his braces off so he could be in school all day, I would never have believed them.

Despite the homework stress, Jordan has identified multiple activities he wants to join, which are all extensive time commitments. On the one hand, it makes me happy he wants to get involved, but on the other hand, of course I’m stressing out about it from a scheduling perspective.

Finally, let’s talk about Ryan’s classes. This is the first year where Ryan has had a different teacher or aide with him for nearly every class. He takes three classes in the autistic support room in the morning and is mainstreamed with an aide for four classes in the afternoon. That means there is no one consistent individual who can answer our questions – and we’ve had many. Most had to do with the homework – where to find it and what Ryan actually has to do or study vs the rest of the class as many of his classes are modified.

The district has a portal called Schoology, where teachers post assignments and students can work on them and turn them in. On a few days, when my parents or my aunt were with Ryan after school, they would help him do the Schoology assignments. We would then learn he should have been doing a modified assignment, which could be found in one of many possible locations – in Google classroom, in his email, or in one of his seven folders in his schoolbag. Also, some of the assignments listed on Schoology were actually done in class, but that wasn’t made clear.

You’re probably thinking, why don’t you ask Ryan what he has to do? We’ve tried. Example conversations:

“Ryan, what do you have to do for this Spanish poem project?”

“I don’t know.”

“You were there. How do you not know?”

“It was a few hours ago. I forget. I don’t want to think about school anymore.”

Or

“Ryan, it looks like you changed your Google password. What is it?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Well, we can’t get into your account and do homework if you don’t remember.”

“Good, I don’t want to do homework. It was a long day and I want to relax.”

Between all of the e-mails to various teachers trying to make sense of everything, and with one project due last week and two quizzes this coming week, I was pulling my hair out by Thursday night. I started thinking about how we could make this process less complicated. What we needed was one document everyone could access on a daily basis to let us know 1) what Ryan did in class; 2) what his homework is for that day; and 3) where to find it. In that same document, Dan and I (or any family member working with Ryan) could ask questions and the appropriate teacher or aide could answer.

Since every teacher works with Ryan on his Chromebook (similar to a laptop) at some point during the day, I decided to create a Google document (doc) for all of us to use. Dan and I can also easily log in at any time to update it and see what’s been added. The intent is for this to be the first place we look for information, and Ryan’s teachers can direct us to other sites from the Google doc, as needed.

Dan, who has never used Google docs, was amazed as he logged in on his phone and watched me updating the doc from Ryan’s Chromebook in real time. (Cue song, “A Whole New World.” Seriously, if you’ve never used Google docs, it makes working on a project with multiple people so much easier.)

I sent the doc to one of Ryan’s aides and his autistic support teacher and they loved it. Ryan’s aide added a table to make it even easier to follow, and when Ryan came home on Friday, it was filled in and questions were answered. Whoo hoo! We had a solution!

Friday night around 10:00, Dan found me in bed, about to pass out.

You look exhausted,” he said. “Do you want me to turn out the light?”

“If we put on something good on TV, I can probably rally till 10:30,” I told him.

Yep, it was a wild Friday night in the Singer house. And we haven’t even had a full week of getting up in the fives yet. Imagine how fun I’ll be after one of those!

Only 66 schools days until winter break!

X Days

Now that we’re past Memorial Day weekend, the end of the school year is quickly approaching. I’m eagerly anticipating a break from homework, tests, permission slips, driving, driving and more driving to and from activities…and X days. 

What are X days? Well, before I explain, think back to a less complex time period when you were in school and had specials. You probably had a day of the week assigned to each special – for example, art on Mondays, gym on Tuesdays, and so on. When there was a holiday or school closing – like MLK Day on a Monday – you just skipped art that week and moved on to gym the next day when you returned to school. Your parents could easily remember which special went with which day and help you accordingly. (eg “It’s Wednesday, so remember to put your library book in your school bag!”)

Fast forward to elementary school for my boys. Four specials – art, music, library and gym – were assigned A, B, C or D days. You might ask, “But aren’t there are 5 days in a week? How does that work?” Like this:

Week 1

Monday Art (A)
Tuesday Gym (B)
Wednesday Library (C)
Thursday Music (D)
Friday Art (A)

Week 2

Monday Gym (B)
Tuesday Library (C)
Wednesday Music (D)
Thursday Art (A)
Friday Gym (B)

And when there was a day off for whatever reason, the special just moved to the next school day. It took time to get used to it, but elementary school lasted six years, so we did. Sixth and seventh grade in middle school had a similar type of schedule.

Then Jordan and Ryan entered 8th grade and their school decided to try something new. Students could select one allied arts class (art, music, chorus, etc.) to take two out of four days, with gym and health occuring on the other two days.

A couple of months into the school year, I thought I was finally into the rhythm of Ryan’s schedule – chorus, health, chorus, gym, repeat. I needed to stay on top of this because Ryan sometimes did not remember what special he had and I didn’t want him to get marked unprepared if he forgot his gym uniform. For some reason, Ryan chose to bring his uniform home for me to wash after every gym day. (it’s not at all smelly as he doesn’t exert much effort in gym). I suggested he leave it in his locker and bring it home once a month, but he prefered having it cleaned each week. We even purchased a second uniform to just leave at school so I didn’t have to worry about remembering to send one in, but then both were sent home together and I had no idea which one was actually worn that week. (On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jordan’s uniform came home for the first time over winter break, but we won’t go there.)

Fast forward to late October. The weekend before I was leaving on a business trip, I prepared a list for Dan with what he needed to know about each day I’d be away; the list included which day Ryan had gym and needed his uniform. In this case, it was Tuesday.

When I returned home on Friday, my conversation with Ryan and Jordan went something like this:

“Mommy, you forgot to pack my gym uniform on Wednesday,” Ryan told me after we hugged hello.

“Ry, I wasn’t even here. And you had gym Tuesday, which is when Daddy packed it.  You didn’t have gym Wed.”

“I did. I had it both days.”

“How could you have it both days?”

“Because Wednesday was an X day,” Jordan jumped in.

Huh?

“A what day?”

“An X day,” he repeated patiently.

OMG “What is an X day?” I asked, shaking my head.

“It comes after D days. So you have A, B, C, D and then X.”

Right. That sounds completely logical to me.

“So he has gym twice now?”

“No,” Jordan explained slowly as if I was a child. “There’s Xa, Xb, Xc and Xd and they rotate. So this week was Xd, which means he had gym, but next week is an Xa so he has chorus. The X days are for kids who want to take an instrument or chorus, but only do that once a week instead of twice.”

I decided I might need a PhD to follow this and wondered how long this schedule had been in place.

“All year,” Jordan shared when I asked that question.

WHAT??

Clearly I missed an email or form explaining this. Which means I probably messed up gym before and just wasn’t aware. Great.

“So explain this to me again, Jord?”

“Here, let me write it out for you,” Jordan said helpfully and proceeded to make a calendar with ABCDXaABCDXb and so on to help me over the next month. At some point during the first week, the calendar disappeared, like many papers in our house often do. We redid it a few times and then I just gave up.

I feel like I do pretty well at keeping up with this type of stuff (or at least do well at faking it!), but I knew this was a losing battle. It was just not happening. Like The Gambler, you’ve gotta “Know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away, And know when to run…

And so I folded and sent the following note in to his teacher (Disclaimer: this is not actually what I sent, but it was what I was thinking!)

Dear Ryan’s teacher,

Since Ryan is not the least bit athletic and likely puts forth minimal effort in gym, please keep his gym uniform at school as long as possible. When it does need to be sent home, please send it on a Friday. I can then wash it over the weekend and return it on Monday. It can then stay in his locker until his gym day, as I have no idea when he has gym and probably never will. Thanks so much!

Recently, Jordan informed me the schedule in high school is a little more complicated and includes Block Days. Can’t wait!

(Note: When my husband, Dan was reading a draft of this post, he said, “I’ve never even heard of X Days.” Given it’s late May, I now feel much more on top of things having found out about X Days in October! 🙂 )