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!

Tree of Life

I was in the middle of writing a lighter blog post Saturday morning when I saw the news alert about the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. Over the next few hours, Dan and I pored through the Facebook posts from friends – some living in Pittsburgh, one who had once been affiliated with the Tree of Life congregation, and many who simply shared how horrified, sad and dismayed they were.

“What happened?” Ryan asked, after listening to us talk about it for a few minutes.

While Ryan is old enough to know about these tragedies, sometimes we’re not sure how much he processes or really understands. But he needs to hear the truth.

“A man who hates Jewish people went into a synagogue and starting shooting. Some people died. It’s very sad.”

He was quiet for a few seconds.

“Should we post something on Dan and Ryan’s Jewish School?” Ryan asked.

Dan and Ryan started a Facebook page around the time Ryan was preparing for his Bar Mitzvah to share their journey through Judaism. Ryan posts on the page every week for Shabbat and Havdalah, and for the Jewish holidays. Dan tries to explain the weekly Torah portion to Ryan and sometimes, Ryan will share his interpretation. They also write about other relevant Jewish topics.

Thanks to social media, Ryan has learned appropriate social cues and can converse very well with people in writing. Ryan is often very quiet when we are out in a group – especially a group where he doesn’t know many people well. Some people have never even heard him talk (which makes us all laugh as he does not stop taking at home). Then he’ll post something on Instagram or Facebook and they are blown away by his writing and what’s inside him.

“Yes, I think you should definitely post something on your Jewish page,” I said

“What do I say?” he asked. “Can you help me, Daddy?”

“Say what you feel,” Dan said.

“I don’t know what I feel. Tell me what to say.”

“Do you think it’s sad what happened at the synagogue?”

“Yes. Can I say we are heartbroken?” Ryan asked.

“You can.” 

“What do we say about the people who were shot?” 

“You can send our prayers to their families,” I suggested.

He wrote two different posts – one in his personal page and one the Jewish page. This was on his: I am so sad to hear about this shooting that happened at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. We are very heartbroken and feeling very badly about the people who were killed. We are sending them prayers and love!

Jordan was sitting quietly during all of this.

“What are you thinking?” I asked.

“It could happen to us,” he said quietly.

It hit me that if this were 14 -year-old me saying the same thing, my parents probably would have replied with something like, “No, it won’t. This is very unusual and the chances of it happening to us are very slim.” But today’s teens have constant access to news and have grown up hearing about school shootings and hate crimes. A deadly shooting at a synagogue – the worst attack on the Jewish community in US history – brought it even closer to home.

“It could,” Dan said. “But you can’t live your life in fear. Because then you’re not living your life.”

Our discussion continued well beyond that and throughout the day yesterday. Like many people, we’re still trying to process this, although I’m not sure it’s possible to really process it all. Yesterday, I spoke with two people who each had a connection with a different victim. What are the odds of that?

Tiny Giant Steps is a blog about being a working mom of twins, one with autism. It’s not meant to be political, so while that’s the logical next paragraph for this blog entry, you’ll have to find another blog if you want to read a post about our administration, guns, and the state of our country. However, I will end with two thoughts:

  1. How you talk to your kids about these types of tragic events is a personal decision. But especially in today’s times, it’s so important to have the discussions – in an age appropriate way – and keep the lines of communication open.
  2. We can’t become complacent and allow hate to be the new normal. Whether it’s Jews, another minority group, or anyone who is different, I believe teaching our children to stand up for themselves and for others when they encounter anti-semitism, discrimination and hatred is essential. We need to stand strong together and keep love and kindness alive.

My thoughts and prayers are with the members of the Tree of Life Synagogue and my sincere condolences to the families of the victims. May their memory be a blessing.

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!

The Passing of Time

Today, Ryan and Jordan started high school. High school! This is mind blowing to me. How can more than 14 years have gone by that quickly?

Time seemed endless when the boys were babies and toddlers. We would try to get out, see friends, and do activities, but often, it was not very much fun. We spent most of the time feeding and rocking them to stop the crying, or chasing them and watching their every movement when they were toddlers, to make sure they were safe. I would regularly hear from moms of older kids:

  • “What adorable babies/little boys! I miss those days.”
  • “You’re so lucky to be young and have this time. Savor it because it goes so fast.”
  • “Enjoy them while they’re little and you’re young. One day you’ll be 15 years older with teenagers taller than you are, wondering how they got so big and where the time went.”

I would look at them enviously – their faces, refreshed as if they’d gotten a good night’s sleep; their demeanor, relaxed while lounging on a pool chair, sitting at a restaurant table, or hanging out on a bar stool in someone’s kitchen, holding a glass of wine while their kids were off playing somewhere. And I would think, “Are you nuts? You can sit here all night and socialize! Then you can go home and sleep for eight hours. Why am I the lucky one? I want to be like you!”

The boys got a little older and Ryan entered his bolting phase. Whenever he experienced sensory overload – if the environment was too loud, too busy, or too confining – he would run away. We had to watch him constantly and would regularly call to each other across the playground, the gym, a friend’s house… “Are you watching Ryan?” “Where’s Ryan?” “I have him, but I haven’t eaten – it’s your turn to watch him!”

Preschool was a blur of physical and emotional fatigue, but as we got into elementary school, life became more fun. The boys tickled each other, hugged each other, cuddled with us, and had the best little boy scents when we snuggled with them. We still had the ‘who has Ryan’ panicked moments, but they were not as frequent.

Somehow, my 30s disappeared during those years and when I turned 40, the boys started middle school. Their growth from boys to teens was steady. During those years, cuddling became a thing of the past. Instead of them hugging us all the time just because, hugs were given for a purpose – a thank you, or a hello or goodbye if one of us was going away overnight. Little boy scents were replaced by deodorant. Imaginary games stopped and we had longer conversations instead. We did more activities together – trips, shows, sporting events, the family Amazing Race that Jordan organizes every year. They (Jordan, especially) began to value alone time or being out of the house participating in extracurricular activities. And they both grew taller than me.

Sometimes I miss the cuteness, the cuddles and the innocence of the younger years. We FaceTimed my cousin, who had twins in February, on her birthday a few months ago. She had a baby in her arms and one was sleeping. Her two year old was playing nearby. “How was your day?” I asked. She said her husband was sick and she spent the day taking care of two babies and a toddler, not the most relaxing of birthdays.  Dan and I sang and played games through the phone with the awake twin and made him smile and giggle, which of course made us smile and laugh. Babies’ giggles are contagious.  “Aww, I miss this,” I said. “Enjoy these moments while they’re young. It goes so fast.” She looked at me as if I was crazy. I had temporarily forgotten about the sheer exhaustion that comes with twin babies.

To quote my friend, Heather, who summed it up well, “while I miss the age, I do not miss the lifestyle.” Ryan has stopped bolting completely. He lets us know where he’s going if we are out somewhere, and he always comes back to us. When we get together with friends, our kids usually disappear with the other kids, and we’re the ones lounging on pool chairs or chatting with friends in the kitchen for hours, and going home to get a good night’s sleep. Life overall is easier now that they’re older. But, it’s hard accepting we’ve also gotten older in the process.

Last year, Ryan was writing an essay for Spanish and had to describe three people in his family – their hair color, whether they were tall or short, and whether they were young or old. He wrote, Mi padre es viejo. (My father is old.) I said, “Ryan, you think Daddy is old? He’s not old!” The picture next to viejo was a man looking about 80. Ryan erased it and wrote, “Mi padre es joven.” (My father is young.) The picture next to joven was of a college-aged person. “That’s not quite Daddy, either,” I said. “So what is Daddy?” Ryan asked. “He’s between these two people,” I said. “He’s middle-aged.” “There’s no word for middle-aged here,” Ryan said. “So is he viejo or joven?” Hmmm…

Some days I feel like I’m just a few years out of college and can’t fathom 25 years have passed. In college, I worked in admissions and I remember thinking my boss, who turned 30, was so old. Other days, I feel every bit my age and shake my head when I hear younger people complain about being almost 30. A few weeks ago on Bachelor in Paradise (yes, the Bachelor franchise is my guilty pleasure TV), one of the women actually said, “I am 27 now and am moving treacherously toward 30.” “Treacherously,” I thought. “Unbelievable.” I had to write that one down.

I guess age is relative. You might feel young while spending time with people 10, 20, 30 years older than you are, or while having a fun night out with your friends, but feel ridiculously old around a bunch of 27 year olds complaining about the impending descent into their 30s.

Last year, the boys’ school lost power one day in the spring. They had a backup generator so there was heat. There just wasn’t electricity and this meant no WiFi, which is needed to work the smartboards. Jordan started texting me as soon as it happened.

“Can you pick me up?”

“Why would I pick you up? There’s not an early dismissal.”

“Not yet. There probably will be. Everyone is getting picked up early.”

“I highly doubt everyone has parents who can run out and get them in the middle of the day.”

“Well, there’s no WiFi so we’re not doing anything. I’m bored.”

“Why can’t you learn without WiFi? Back in my day, we had textbooks and chalkboards and we managed to get an education.”

“Your day was a long time ago. School doesn’t work like that anymore.” I could feel his eye roll across the phone.

I couldn’t believe I had just said ‘back in my day’ to my son.

Ryan, tu madre es muy vieja! (Your mother is very old!)

For the record, I did not pick Jordan up early that day 🙂

Our Happy Place

Dan, Ryan and I just returned from a relaxing five days in Cape May, NJ. If you’re not familiar with Cape May, it’s a beautiful beach town lined with old Victorian homes – some are Bed & Breakfasts (B&Bs), some are hotels, and others are houses you can rent for the week. There are shops, horse and buggy and trolley rides, ghost tours, mini golf, and a winery, among other things. The restaurants are amazing. It’s quieter than your typical beach town and we like it that way. We call it our happy place.

In July 2004, Cape May was our first family vacation spot. The boys were three months old, waking up every two hours (on a good night), colicky, and screaming constantly from reflux. I was at my wits end from exhaustion and suggested we move this party to the beach for a few days so I could get a change of scenery. I had been to Cape May once with my parents and sister and loved it.

“Are you sure?” Dan asked, probably mentally calculating all of the stuff we’d have to bring with us. “It seems like a lot of work to go anywhere.”

Yes, it was going to be ridiculous, but I convinced him three nights away would be fun. I had another month left of maternity leave and wanted to take advantage of being off in the summer. I also managed to get my mom and dad, grandparents (Mom-mom and Pop-pop) and Aunt Sue to book rooms at our hotel so we’d have lots of help. In the early days, we felt more comfortable going places with an entourage.

We loaded our car with two pack n plays, two bouncy seats, a double stroller, 20 bottles, two boxes of diapers, a tub of wipes, a changing pad, a play mat, two baby bjorns, suitcases full of their favorite toys, and enough clothes, bibs and burp clothes for several weeks.

“Is this really worth it?” Dan asked, surveying the car and the tiny open space in the back for him to see out of while driving.

“I have to take a picture,” Sue laughed. She sat in the backseat between the two car seats and entertained Jordan and Ryan on the ride down.

By the time we had unpacked our car, the sun was going down and it was safe to bring the boys on the beach. We put them in their baby bjorns and they experienced the beach for the first time – one boy strapped to each of us.

That night, Ryan slept in Sue’s room and Dan and I fell asleep around 9:00, right after Jordan did. The next time I heard Jordan crying, I woke up surprised to find myself feeling rested. It was 4:00 am – for the first time, Jordan had slept a seven hour stretch. How amazing! (Note: This was a fluke. I attribute it to the magic of Cape May. Jordan, although the first baby to sleep through the night, did not consistently do this until he was eight months old.)

The trip ended up being more than worth it. We had some fun meals with my family and took walks with the double stroller. There’s something about beach air that is immediately relaxing, and the stress of the past few months temporarily melted away when I dug my toes in the sand and felt the warm sun on my shoulders.

Fast forward to 2008. Mom-mom and Pop-pop rented the Ashley Rose – a pretty, yellow six bedroom Victorian home – for a week in August. There were 12 of us in total. The boys were four and while we had a lot of toys, we could pack like a normal family and Dan could see pretty well out the rear window. My niece, Shaina, was six months old, so the honor of lugging a crazy amount of stuff to the beach now went to my sister, Marni and brother-in-law, Dan. (But nothing could ever top packing for twin babies!)

Here’s what I remember about that week:

  • Jordan making everyone dance in circles to his music
  • Pop-pop playing the harmonica for the kids while they ran around the living room singing and squealing with delight
  • Daily happy hours organized by Mom-mom and Pop-pop that started at 4:00 pm promptly (“Be on time or we start drinking without you,” Mom-mom always warned)
  • Long family dinners with lots of laughs
  • Fun game nights after the kids were in bed with more laughing
  • Ryan locking himself in his bedroom on the last morning and falling asleep, immune to us frantically banging on the door and yelling for him to open it (We finally found a key.)

I also remember this was the week Shaina developed reflux – and screamed and screamed and screamed – thus beginning Ryan’s lifelong fear of babies!

The following year, Mom-mom and Pop-pop rented the green and red Ocean Victorian house for a week. It was just as much fun as the prior year. Shaina was a year and a half by this point, her cries long ago replaced by smiles and giggles. She and Jordan could make each other laugh for hours.

This house also had the added bonus of a room with a pool table. When I found out Pop-pop enjoyed the game, too, every day after coming back from the beach I’d ask, “Pop-pop, ready to play?” “Of course!” he’d always answer with enthusiasm. Sometimes the games were close, but he always won. As a former math department head and calculus teacher, I’m convinced there was something mathematical about the way he hit the ball.

In 2010, instead of a house, we stayed at the Marquis de Lafayette hotel. Mom-mom and Pop-pop rented an apartment on the top floor with a deck and full kitchen, which is where we had our happy hours. We took a whale watching boat ride and Ryan, who was going through an impulsive phase, threw my jacket into the bay. It was rescued but took several washings to remove the fish smell. Jordan wrote a song about the 50 states (he was six and very into geography) and made us all sing it over and over.

That was the last time the entire family went to the beach together. It was hard after that for my grandparents to go anywhere with a lot of walking.

Dan and I continued to take the boys if not every summer, at least every other. It was never quite the same as those special weeks with the whole family, but we made new memories and have grown to love the purple and white Inn of Cape May. Sue has joined us there a few times, too. Ryan learned to swim in the Inn’s pool when he was seven (Jordan had learned the previous summer), and pool time transitioned from me freezing in the water with the boys to sitting on a lounge chair with a book and/or drink in hand, watching them swim.

As the boys have gotten older and enjoy going out to eat more, Cape May has become all about the restaurants and negotiating where we’ll eat each meal. We often map this out a week in advance of our trips as everyone wants to go to their favorite places. This was the first year there were only three of us since Jordan spent the week in Europe as part of a school sponsored exchange program. There was a lot of room in the back of the car after we loaded our suitcases. It really hit me how much they are growing up and Jordan, especially, is starting to do his own thing.

The Ocean Victorian is two houses down from the Inn of Cape May, so we walk past it frequently on our vacations. If I stop and really listen, I can hear little boys’ high pitched voices singing while a harmonica plays; I can hear the giggles of a baby girl; I can hear many adults laughing till they cry at silly things happening during game nights; I can hear glasses clinking together, toasting the beginning of happy hour; and I can hear the balls breaking, signaling the start of a pool game.

Maybe, the family in there right now is lucky enough to have four generations spending the week together. And if that’s the case, I hope they are savoring every moment.

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! 🙂 )