Be well, work well

Last week, PwC closed the entire US firm, giving us the full July 4th week off as part of the firm’s Be well, work well initiative. (Be well, work well is about renewing our energy through four areas – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.) A firm-wide shutdown is the best gift because you can truly disconnect since no one else (at least in the US) is working — and you can return to work after that time with a relatively empty in-box and most importantly with that renewed energy. PwC has been doing this for 14 years between Christmas and New Year’s, which is always a welcome and appreciated break with the family. This was the first time we had a week off as a firm in the summer.

When PwC’s break was announced, our family already had a late June beach vacation planned, and I didn’t want to spend money on another trip. My kids were also busy with their respective summer activities the week of July 2. Knowing I had four days of the week nearly all to myself (as the weekends and holiday would be family time), I spent awhile thinking about what to do with that precious time. A staycation – for just me! What a rare and incredible gift!

Two weeks before the shutdown, Dan got a new job and found himself with some time off before beginning it. He spent a good part of his first week off getting back in shape – working out and eating and drinking better.

As a result, I vacillated between three options for my week: lazy days at the pool relaxing, an intense focus on fitness, or — what I really needed to do — clean out the clutter throughout the house. Decluttering is on my list every winter break. Some day, moving will be a nightmare because of all the stuff we’ve accumulated during our 15+ years here. My annual decluttering process has never been a success and actually paralyzes me. I’ll buy a box of garbage bags, start with the best of intentions on a messy drawer, move to a closet, and then get overwhelmed thinking of the remaining 30 or so drawers, half a dozen book cases and all the closets and shelves left to clean. I’ll then give up and vow to tackle it next year. No room has ever been completely cleaned out because of this.

Having this new time off was more of an incentive to deal with the mess, and conversations with myself went something like…

  • [Responsible Jodi] What if this is the year you actually get rid of the clutter? How often do you have four days all to yourself? Why would you waste this opportunity? A clean house = a clean mind. Be well, work well!
  • [Lazy Jodi] Really? You’re going to spend four precious days alone cleaning out the house? If you clean all week, you’ll go back to work exhausted. This is your chance to chill and de-stress. Rest, swim, read, go out to eat, go to a spa. Be well, work well! 
  • [Healthy Jodi] Admit it. You know the house clean-up project is a lost cause. Lazing around at the pool will ultimately make you feel guilty. The best thing you can do with that time is get lots of exercise and focus on a healthier diet. Be well, work well!    

So who dominated? No one, actually. The three worked together quite nicely.

When the first weekend began, Dan asked if he could help with the decluttering since he had one more week off himself. Having him on board to clean gave me an idea. What if instead of setting a ridiculous goal of cleaning the whole house, we took the worst room — the one that annoys me the most — and focused on it together? That room would be our office. Dan was self-employed for several years; I work from home a lot; and we’ve also used the office space to store the kids’ school stuff since kindergarten. The amount of papers and boxes piled on top of each other is insane. I hate walking in there but have never been motivated to put in the time to fix it.

My nine consecutive days off ended up being the best combination of me time, couple time and family time. I got my money’s worth at the gym, working out regularly and taking two Pilates classes. I read three books during my several hours a day at the pool, including three luxurious mornings there alone. The combination of sun and exercise helped me sleep better than I had in a long time. For the most part, I made good food and beverage choices. I had a girls’ movie night; Dan and I had a double date night out; and we went to a movie together. Our family spent a very fun July 4th with friends. We all saw the Phillies beat the Nationals, followed by the most incredible fireworks, and pretty amazing local fireworks again at the end of the week. We had brunches and lunches with family members. And 17 garbage bags later, Dan and I FINALLY cleaned out that office. There is actually a floor under all of those boxes and a lot of space on top of the desk! Who knew? I now smile when I walk in there and marvel at how nice it looks.

I saw some great posts of other PwCers who went on what looked like amazing vacations and yes, getting away this week would have been terrific and much more interesting to write about. But Be well, work well was certainly in play all week — and I’m so grateful to PwC for that!

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! 🙂 )

My Mental Energy

One of the challenges many parents of children with autism face is dealing with behavioral issues. In Ryan’s case, he loves doing something he knows he shouldn’t and reliving the story after it happens. And the dentist and orthodontist exam rooms have been the source of many a story.

For example — A few years ago, I took Ryan to the orthodontist for a consultation. After he was examined, I met with the orthodontist in his office. During this meeting, I was not aware Ryan was running through the exam room, videotaping himself touching the equipment with a dental hygienist running after him trying to get him to stop. When I realized what he was doing, we left very quickly. Several months later, I was going through the videos on my YouTube account when I saw one titled “Dentist’s office.Ryan had uploaded the entire event and it had 500 views! We’ve had other incidents over the years. Like the time Ryan hit the X-Ray button over and over, wasting the office’s film, while I was trying to talk to the dentist about Jordan’s exam. Never a dull moment.

Ryan’s now a teenager and we’ve had a few incident free exams recently, so I am optimistic when I bring the boys in on their day off from school for a cleaning. I’m planning to spend 30 minutes in the waiting room taking an energy audit.

My firm recently rolled out a Be Well Work Well initiative to help us better manage our energy across four dimensions – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. You start by taking a quiz – or energy audit – to see where you’re currently operating and then receive tips and resources on how to increase your capacity in each dimension of energy. The intent being if your energy is up, you’ll feel better, and ultimately perform better at work.

We get settled in chairs and Jordan is called back first. Then the hygienist comes out and calls Ryan’s name. He gets up and I remain seated.

“Mommy,” he looks at me confused. “Aren’t you coming back with me?”

“Nope,” I answer. You’re older; you can go yourself. I’ll come back when you’re finished.” Then I add as a warning, “Be good.”

The waiting room is quiet and I turn to the survey.

I don’t regularly get at least 7-8 hours of sleep and/or I often wake up feeling tired. Definitely true. Sleep is an ongoing issue. But that’s for another post.

I often eat lunch at my desk, if I eat lunch at all. True. At least when I’m working from home. Power bars are the way to go. They only take 30 seconds to unwrap and a few minutes to eat. (This, of course, is not the answer they are looking for.)

I don’t do cardiovascular training at least 3 times a week.  False. On average, I’ve been getting my 3 days a week at the gym in. Score one for me!

I have difficulty focusing on one thing at a time and I am easily distracted during the day…

“Ryan’s mom?” I’m interrupted by the dental hygienist. It’s been all of 5 minutes.

“Yes.” I look up.

“Can you come back?”

“He’s finished?” I ask, confused.  

“No.” she looks at me, unsmiling.

Oh s**t.

“This way.” She directs me to a chair in front of where Ryan is sitting.

“Hi Mommy,” he gives me a devilish smile. “Look what I’m doing!” He’s found the nozzle with water used to rinse and is holding it up.

“Yes,” says the hygienist. “We just talked about how spraying the water all over the place makes the floor wet and is not very safe.”

“What was I doing?” Ryan asks as he grins at me.  I shake my head. I’m not telling him any more bad behavior stories because it only fuels more stories.

“Ryan!” I admonish. “Come on, you know not to do this. Stop touching everything or I’ll take your phone away.”

He’s temporarily quiet and I turn back to the energy audit.

I have difficulty focusing on one thing at a time and I am easily distracted during the day…

Whoosh. I hear the sound of the other nozzle that sprays air.  Ryan is giggling and has somehow managed to grab this nozzle while the hygienist is cleaning his teeth and is videotaping the episode on his phone with his other hand. Impressive motor skills, I have to say.

“Ryan, I’m taking your phone,” I snap, grabbing it from him.  You can get it back later when you’ve stopped this behavior.”

“His giggle is very infectious,” says the hygienist, clearly much more relaxed now that I’ve taken over as disciplinarian.

“Mmm,” I mutter. I see the video is on snapchat.

“I’m not sure how to delete this thing,” I say out loud.  I don’t get snapchat at all.

“Just make sure it doesn’t turn up on Facebook,” the hygienist jokes.

Ryan is finally quiet and letting the hygienist clean his teeth.

I have difficulty focusing on one thing at a time and I am easily distracted during the day… Ok, obviously that’s a yes. Moving on.

I rarely have any time when my mind is quiet and free of thoughts.

“Mrs. Singer?” It’s the dentist who’s examining Jordan. “You need to come look at this. He’s missing a metal plate on the back of his tooth which is affecting his bite significantly. And two of his brackets are loose.”

Ugh…

“I’m taking him to the orthodontist to get his braces tightened in two weeks so I’ll have them look at it then,” I tell her.

“This definitely can’t wait two weeks. His bite could be ruined. You should call right away. Get in tomorrow if you can.”

Of course I should. Sigh… I wonder what the chances are they’ll have the coveted 4:00 pm appointment open and if they do, could my dad take him? Or will I have to pull him from school and move around conference calls?

I rarely have any time when my mind is quiet and free of thoughts.

But seriously, can any parents actually say No, this is false. I have plenty of time when my mind is quiet and free of thoughts. I often go into a totally zen mental state and come out refreshed and reinvigorated.”

And if so, who are they and what are their secrets?

In the end, I score a zero in the mental energy category. A zero.

But there’s a silver lining in the day – I don’t have to take Ryan back to the dentist for six whole months!

[Disclaimer – I wrote this in November, and we’re approaching Ryan’s spring appointment. As you can imagine, I am very excited to do this again. 🙂 ]

The Journey Begins

As a working mom of twin boys – one with autism – I find life throws me something unexpected, challenging, exciting, or heartwarming almost every day.  All stories and insights shared in this blog represent my personal views and insights.

I recently attended a webcast with others in my office who are part of PwC’s Disability Caregivers’ Network. We watched our colleagues share their personal stories as parents of children with special needs, including how they balance work, life, and the unique demands they face, and how the firm has supported them through their journeys. There was not a dry eye in the room when the webcast ended, and I walked away inspired to share my own story.

As a mom of 14 year old twin boys, Jordan and Ryan, I have many experiences, thoughts and feelings to share – some funny, some serious, some frustrating and some heartwarming. When I think back to the first couple of years of Ryan and Jordan’s lives, which I’ve dubbed The Zombie Years due to the severe lack of sleep, all my husband, Dan, and I wanted so badly was to survive them. We thought if the boys could just start sleeping through the night, life would become easier.  In retrospect, we should have held onto the innocent baby days as long as possible, as dealing with developmental delays and finally getting an autism diagnosis at age three for Ryan was only the beginning of a long road.

Over the last 11 years we’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve screamed, we’ve loved, we’ve learned and we’ve grown. While the road ahead will likely be filled with more twists and turns, this blog, Tiny Giant Steps (also the title of a poem my mom wrote), celebrates the journey so far.

People often ask – ‘How do you do it? How do you balance being a mom of twins – and one who has special needs – with a demanding job and manage to have a social life outside of that?’ I don’t think I ‘do it’ any better than other parents. Dan is engaged and always willing to help however he can – which usually involves food shopping and cooking (he’s much better than I am), doing undesirable (i.e. smelly and more physical) household chores, and taking over whenever I’m out of town. We’re so thankful to have a support system of wonderful family members who live close by and amazing babysitters we’ve ‘adopted’ over the years as surrogate big sisters to Ryan. And I’m very lucky to work for a firm that values work-life balance and actively promotes ‘Be Well Work Well.’

I may make it look easier than it is because I’m typically a positive person and can laugh at many of our situations and turn them into entertaining stories, rather than taking them too seriously. Sure, having a child with autism is serious and certainly not easy, but I’ve found having a sense of humor is essential to surviving.

If you’re interested in reading more about my experiences and insights, look for posts here every 3-4 weeks – maybe even more frequently when I get inspired. In the meantime, I’m sharing a link to a blog I wrote which Autism Speaks published in 2015, titled ‘Four things I’ve learned raising a child with autism.’ It’s still very relevant today and is the epitome of ‘Tiny Giant Steps’ – in other words, celebrating those accomplishments that may seem so small to one person but are huge for others.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing more with you soon!

Continue reading “The Journey Begins”