Beating the Clock

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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 Right Fit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then and Now

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

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

Waking up

Then

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

Now

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

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

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

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

Ryan: “Never mind, I’m up.”

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

Jordan: “mfjdsbedhx” (incoherent mumbling)

Me: “Jordan it’s 6:15. Wake up!”

Jordan: “I’m up.”

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

Jordan: “Okay, okay.”

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

Jordan: “No I’m not. Mfjfjd…”

Dan: “JORDAN, GET UP NOW!”

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

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

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

Homework

Then

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

Now

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

Activities

Then

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

Now

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

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

Gym

Then

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

Now

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

Looking ahead

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

Happy Summer!

A Hell of a Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few of our travel experiences:

The Boardwalk

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

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

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

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

$&@#!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Aquarium

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

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

The Wallet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Little Bit Selfish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senior Living

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Autism Whisperer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The good:

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

And the setbacks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was she like?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Both,” I told him.

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

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

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

January Reflections

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh…

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

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

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

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

 

The Most Stressful Time of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To summarize the past two weeks…

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

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

Week 2 – aka the week of ironing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

The List

Tonight, I’ll be flying to Zurich for the week, and I’m reflecting on how much preparation it took to get us ready for this and every business trip  — and why all of that effort is worth it.

I’ve always related to the phrase ‘it takes a village’ when it comes to raising a family, particularly a child with special needs. We are very lucky to have family close by who come after school to help with Ryan’s homework and drive both boys to and from various afternoon activities. Dan’s been in a new job for five months which cut his commute in half, and he’s able to help out much more in the evenings now that he’s home at a decent time. However, like many working moms, I am typically the one bringing the details of our lives together – emailing teachers, figuring out logistics for various extracurricular activities and events, staying on top of homework and forms to sign, making sure gym uniforms and other necessities are packed on the right days, scheduling doctors’ appointments, and planning our weekends.

When you are the primary organizer of your family and you travel for several days, it’s a lot of work to get everyone else in your village ready to take on the load. I will pre-arrange carpools, prepare worksheets for Ryan to practice Spanish, speak to teachers, and do as much laundry as I can so Dan starts with all clean clothes; but what’s needed most is one place that outlines all the details for every member.

A few years ago when I started traveling internationally, I created The List. The List (yes, capitalized given the importance it holds with my family) maps out the days I am gone by morning, after school and evening. It includes what has to be done related to each aspect of the kids’ lives, who will do what, and every phone number and email address the family could possibly need during that time. My parents, Aunt Sue, and Dan anxiously await receiving their copy of The List before I go away. (And my dad, being the supreme list maker in our family, usually goes through it with a fine tooth comb and comes back to me with his own list of questions and corrections. 🙂 )

Six weeks ago, I traveled to Athens. The Athens List was more complex than most because 1) this was the first international trip I’d taken since high school began and therefore, the first List with all of the new high school details; and 2) I was away an entire week including a weekend, which is not typical.  I was also unusually busy leading up to my trip and did not have a chance to finish The List until a few days before leaving. Which led to a little panic.

“You haven’t sent the list yet,” my dad said anxiously after school, two days before my trip. “When will you have it?”  I actually had a printed copy ready and handed it to him.

“Look, it’s 25 pages,” my mom joked. My dad’s eyes lit up with excitement. He grabbed a pen and began reading.

Sue texted me later. “I don’t think I got your email with The List. Can you resend it?”

“I haven’t emailed it yet. Sending now,” I texted back.

Later, Dan sat on the couch and read it, asking questions along the way.

“I think I’m good,” he said. “I can do this.”

That confidence right there is the reason all the preparation is worth it. Because my family was now ready, I could go away and focus on just me. Let me tell you, it is an amazing change of pace to be away for a week and not have to worry about anyone except yourself. It’s kind of like a vacation. (albeit a vacation where you’re working crazy hours and not sleeping very much!) I was seven hours ahead of Philly and could not have gotten involved in the home stuff even if I wanted to, which made it easy to disconnect from the day-to-day. I did not even glance at Ryan’s Google sheet, where his teachers provide updates and tell us what the homework is, and we reply with our questions and concerns. Dan, my parents and Sue had it covered. I did not reply to any home-related emails, knowing Dan would do it. I didn’t look at grades on Schoology – those could wait. I did catch up with Dan and the boys as many days as possible around midnight by FaceTime on all the fun stuff and texted the family often. Ryan is not very into talking on the phone, but he loves social media and commented on all of my posts that week. For example, “Great pictures. I miss you and can’t wait to see the presents you bought me.”

A week is a long time. By Thursday night, I was ready to go home to see everyone. And the big, beautiful smile on Ryan’s face when he and Dan came to pick me up on Friday night was the best welcome home present.

Within 24 hours of returning….

Jordan – “Mom, ads for my show are due on Monday.”

Ryan – “Mommy, I have a Spanish test on Tuesday. When are we going to study this weekend?”

Jordan – “Can you sign this form and write a check for the unity walk? It’s also due Monday.”

Dan – “Ryan doesn’t want to do the unity walk, but his teacher said we should discuss it and let him know Monday. Here’s the form. What do you think?”

Ryan – “Mommy, who’s picking me up from Wings club on Tuesday?”

Dan – “Can you take a look at Ryan’s Google sheet? It looks like he has a grade for a test I don’t remember him ever taking…” 

Ryan – “Mommy, where’s my charger?”

Dan – “Which suits should the boys wear to the Bat Mitzvah tomorrow?”

Ryan – “Where are we having dinner Sunday?”

Ryan – “What are our plans next weekend?”

(These are just a sampling of the many questions and requests!)

Athens, take me away! 

Now it is time to do it all over again. This week’s List was also complex due to multiple activities some without clear schedules yet and an overnight theater conference for Jordan. But I think (I hope!) everyone is ready, and I’m so grateful to my family for jumping in once again. Goodbye, wonderful village – see you next weekend!