There’s something to be said for normalcy in one’s life.
I don’t push myself or my kids to conform to society’s ideas of normality, mind. I’m gloriously weird, my kids are gloriously weird, our family life doesn’t reflect what a lot of people would consider “normal,” but all of that said, we have our own beat of normal that we’ve been missing for a long time. It was missing for a variety of reasons–summer vacation, Covid, Kyle being out of work–but at long last, I can say with some confidence that it’s starting to come back.
For one thing, all three kids are in school now, finally. The twins started back in the spring, because they aged out of early intervention services, so it was less of a huge transition for them. Other kids in their preK class started the school year with tears and clinginess, but the twins just marched right on down to their classroom like they owned the place. Even in the spring, school was just so good for them overall. Carrie went from babbling a lot to actually using words more often than not (which we expected of her–she loves to use words and speak in complete sentences when she knows how, and school helped her refocus those abilities somewhat), and Isaac has done the same (which is huge for him–he actually answers questions without being fed options now, and that’s amazing) (and an addendum: if he just didn’t want to communicate verbally or if he wasn’t comfortable doing so, I wouldn’t push it on him, but he’s made it more than apparent that he LOVES to talk with us and communicate verbally, so I’m happy to encourage it). They’ve made friends and are comfortable with the routine they have at school, and I love to see it. They’re also so much calmer when their days are in this kind of routine, which I love to see for other reasons (like my own sanity).
And Sam started back at school, which is fantastic. Yes, Covid is still raging, but our schools have fantastic protocols in place, and after the stress of last year and knowing that Sam has ADHD and is likely autistic as well, I wanted him to be in a place where he could receive the accommodations he needs rather than struggling with me at home. His friends are all in school, and that has been huge for him–he’s not alone anymore, and I can see just from that how much happier he is. And that alone does my heart a world of good.
He’s receiving special ed services this year, too (which means I have three IEPs to keep track of, and as any parent of a special ed student can tell you, that is basically a full time job except you don’t get dollars for it), and that’s been great. His accommodations aren’t super complex, like he doesn’t require a constant aide at his side or anything, but he does have accommodations: he gets to work with a special ed instructor every day of the week and on his English/Language Arts lessons, and he’s got the special ed instructor around daily to make sure that he’s doing well. His teacher is also aware of his accommodations and will let him step out into the special ed classroom if he’s getting too overwhelmed by things, which will be good for keeping him from melting down in class.
I love his school’s philosophy on so many things. Their view of writing is that kids should be able to write about whatever they want in order to develop their writing skills and narrative voice, which I hope helps Sam as much during the school year as it helped him over the summer (when he would write five chapter long stories about the cardboard spaceship he built, and those stories were and are wonderful). They’re sensitive to each kid’s needs, and while that shouldn’t be a “wow this makes them stand apart from the crowd” thing, it kind of is, and I’m glad they’re standing apart from the crowd like this instead of in a bad way.
So the kids are back in school, and that routine is getting back to something like normal. It means that mornings are just me and Kyle, which hasn’t been the case since 2013, and that’s pretty wonderful in and of itself. The house is quiet except for the sound of both of us typing and someone quietly talking about the weather on TV, and maybe Kyle on a work call…
…which, oh yes. Kyle got a job.
It’s a fun sort of story. He’d interviewed with this company last year at the suggestion of one of his old managers who currently works there. They didn’t have a position for him then, but they promised to keep him in mind if anything else came up. Nothing did in the fall, and Kyle started his most recent job then only to be laid off in June. And it was the whole song and dance of applying to companies, having companies say, “mmm, thanks but no thanks” (anyone who’s looked for a job in the last decade or so, and especially the last two years, can attest to that particular Broadway number) for a couple of months, and then he called this company back. And wouldn’t you know, they had a position for him.
It’s a good position. Without getting into details, it’s an incredibly comfortable salary and benefits situation, and they sweetened the deal in all sorts of ways that are really blowing my mind. So far, Kyle is loving the people he works with and the company’s philosophy as well, and I really REALLY hope this good fortune settles in and sticks with us a while. We just have to get through the next five-ish days before his first paycheck comes in and then we should finally, FINALLY be okay in the longer term.
Having him working again is really nice. It just gives us a schedule during the week, real weekends instead of every day blurring together into an endless hellscape. It feels like life is just… life and not life with an asterisk about it being weird.
Have you ever had a month where everything happened so much and you didn’t have any time to really process one thing before the next was happening because that was May in our house.
It happens roughly this way every year. From the twins’ birthday in March to the Fourth of July, I’m basically running around like a chicken with my head cut off–baking cakes, wrapping presents, organizing mini parties (because aside from the twins’ first birthday, they haven’t really been in a place to have a real party). Even in typical years, May is the heaviest chunk of this insanity, with Sam’s birthday, Mother’s Day, and Kyle and my anniversary squeezing into the mix.
But this year is not a typical year, and unlike last year, this does NOT mean that things got quicker and easier.
The first chunk of the month was sort of easy. It was mostly just organizing for Sam’s birthday, his seventh birthday, which feels like a monumental year. We’d hoped that by this time, he’d have been back in school and able to have a birthday party–a real party–but 2020’s claws aren’t fully extracted, so we had to make smaller plans, plans that involved a Minecraft cake (of which I am VERY proud), a trip to the Museum of Science, and trick birthday candles.
And admittedly, that’s a far cry better than last year. Last year, I scrambled to pull something slightly special together, and it was all taking place roughly in and around our house. This year, we could at least go somewhere and do something. We could go visit my parents, which we’d BARELY started doing last year. And that made a HUGE difference.
He’s a happy seven-year-old, missing one of his front teeth, obsessed with Pokemon and Beyblade and Minecraft and science. Bouncing around the house at 9000 miles an hour when he gets excited and then flopping down on the couch talking about how exhausted he is. Begging us to have a Beyblade battle with him literally every second of every day or, failing that, to play Pokemon with him (this currently involves him telling us what to say about our Pokemon and us saying it).
He is also, it’s turning out, not a neurotypical kid. This isn’t surprising in the least, but all of the testing that Sam has had over the last several months in preparation for him returning to public school in the fall has kind of confirmed what those of us close to him have suspected for a while. At the very least, he falls pretty solidly on the “yes” side of the ADHD scale (as in “yes this kid has ADHD”), and everyone who’s evaluated him is pretty solidly convinced that he’s autistic as well, which is giving me a lot of emotions.
On the one hand, I’m thrilled. I’m autistic. Isaac is autistic. We’re a neurodiverse family, and that’s how it’s been from the beginning. It means that on some level, Sam’s brain and my brain work the same way, and that is just SUCH a relief as a mom, knowing that your brain and your kid’s brain are on the same wavelength. It makes sort of “hacking” those wavelengths a little easier, because even though the same things that worked for you almost certainly will not work for your kid, you at least have a common starting ground, and that’s an amazing feeling. Instead of watching your kid melt down and not knowing what to do about it, you can recognize “okay, the TV is too loud, he’s hungry and tired, and his blanket needs to be washed so it’s less scratchy.” And you can even find ways to motivate schoolwork, if you’re an A+ student (which I am. Sometimes.).
But on the other hand, I’m frustrated at the narrowness of diagnostic criteria for younger kids. When Sam was much younger, everyone who met him said that he couldn’t possibly be autistic. He forced eye contact with everyone, literally took people’s faces in his hands and made them look at him. He’s always been a little comic and so talkative. In daycare and even up through kindergarten, he’s always been a social butterfly who makes so many friends. He’s beyond clever and, to my great envy, has none of the social signs that people look for when diagnosing autism… so he went completely undiagnosed despite the ways he melts down during times of transition and despite his sensory issues with food and despite how he shuts down when something seems too hard for him.
ADHD and autism look really similar sometimes.
I’m a little relieved that he didn’t get diagnosed earlier because it spared us a lot of stress with therapies that might not have benefitted him in the long run, but I’m also annoyed because now, we have to go through the whole referral process, which can take up to 18 months (I’ve filled out paperwork for a place that could theoretically offer him an appointment in July–more on that being a silly idea coming up later–but they haven’t gotten back to me since I sent it). He has an IEP now, but it’s there without the legal protections in place because he doesn’t have that diagnosis, and that frustrates me.
So it’s a whole thing. I still have more paperwork to fill out for him to get back to school in the fall, and it’s a lot. But having these pieces to the puzzle has really helped.
Sam turned 7. We set up his IEP. I went to the eye doctor for the first time in eight years (ah, American health insurance). And then, since Kyle and I are both fully vaccinated and it has been a YEAR, we hopped on a plane and flew down to Florida for our tenth wedding anniversary.
We went to Disney for our honeymoon, and I can go on a whole rant about how awful a lot of their business practices are, but I also tend to light up like Christmas at the idea of being there, and after this trip, Kyle does as well. It was just the two of us, no kids or anyone else. We went at our own pace–made lightsabers on the first morning, ate around the world at Epcot the second day (I love Epcot festivals, they are magical), drove down to Miami-ish to spend time with my bestie Sherrie on the third day.
There was no real pressure. We did what we wanted to do when we wanted to do it. No worries about someone getting too tired or not wanting to eat the food at a certain restaurant. No rushing to make this Fast Pass time or that restaurant reservation. Lots of crowds, to be sure, but without the stress we’ve gotten used to on these trips.
And it was just. Nice. Nice and earned. We’d been burning out pretty quickly, thanks in large part to my sciatica having us running on empty since November, and while this didn’t refill our tanks by any stretch of the imagination, it was VERY nice to be able to just be with each other, relaxing and having a good time. Kyle enjoyed himself so much that he actually took pictures (I’m the one with the camera most of the time) and has been talking about what we’ll do the next time we’re there, and I’m just happy. Very happy to have had that time with him.
And now we’re back and 30 days out from my spine surgery. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t genuinely really nervous about the surgery. It’s not a complicated procedure like a fusion or fixing scoliosis; it’s just removing the herniated disc material and letting my sciatic nerve heal some, but because of my weight (let me tell you, a pandemic and a spinal injury are really not good when you’re trying to get healthier), there’s a possibility they won’t be able to reach my spine. And there’s always a possibility that it won’t work, that I’ll just leave the hospital in more pain than I had when I went in, and that scares me.
The recovery period scares me, too. Basically from July 1 through October 1, I won’t be on my A-game, which is annoying because so much is happening in that timeframe that I need to be present for: Sam starting school again, the twins starting school in the fall, Halloween prep, picture day… it’s all stuff that I love doing about parenting, and it’s all stuff I’m either going to have to be very lazy about or else entrust to somebody else, which I HATE doing because delegating is scary because what if it’s not exactly the way I would’ve done it but HNNNGH.
I need this. I desperately need this surgery and the recovery time, but I am stressing so much about getting through the recovery. Kyle suggested (per his therapist) that I focus on something after the surgery that we’ve got planned (which is nothing right now because I’m not sure if any of our usual fall activities are even happening this year–I think they are, but who knows?), and I agree with that, but it’s so hard to make my brain see past the recovery all the way to what comes after when so much comes in between.
Do you ever get in one of those foul foul moods? Or not really a foul mood, but a mood where everything you want to talk about comes out tinged with complaining? And you don’t want to be that person that nobody wants to talk to or about because they’re always complaining, but it’s just. There.
I feel like that’s me right now, so close to the end of this pandemic, hope being dangled in front of me, but still far enough away that something or someone could ruin it, and maybe because things feel mostly good, the bad is amplified somewhat? I don’t know.
I try to do the gratitude thing, but that feels disingenuous, like yeah, I’m grateful for a LOT, but that doesn’t make the bad feelings go away any. And I want to be honest in my writing, but I also don’t want everyone to be like “ugh, Abby’s complaining again, bye.” Because I know things aren’t that bad, BUT.
I guess I can talk about the angst first and then end on a good, or better, note. The angst stems 100% from my sciatica and how it makes me feel so… limited. Because I am limited. I don’t know if it’s fear of pain or actual pain, but I’m constantly finding myself incapable of doing things that used to be easy for me, like cleaning the house or taking a walk or standing in the kitchen cooking dinner for the kids. It’s not the worst thing ever, like my pain isn’t back at Thanksgiving levels, but I think on some level, every time I feel a twinge, I worry that it’s going back there, so I limit myself.
I’m fortunate enough to have a really understanding husband who would rather I limit myself now, before it gets bad enough that I like. Need adult diapers at not even 40 years old. But it’s still frustrating. I don’t know how to explain it, really. It’s like one day, you’re able to do things, and then the next, you find yourself stuck for an indeterminate amount of time. You forget that there’s an issue because you’re feeling better, so you start picking up stuff off the floor, but then two minutes later, you have to sit with your feet up for another ten minutes so that you stop hurting. It is SO dumb.
And it’s so easy to say “well, do two minutes at a time!” but it’s somewhat Sisyphusean or worse. You do what you can but then you’re out of commission because you pushed yourself.
So that’s kind of colored my last month or so, and it’s annoying, and I hate it. I’m going in on Thursday to get an MRI and find out exactly what is causing this issue and if it’s something I can fix through targeted physical therapy or if it’s something I need surgery for (though the fact that it’s lasted as long as it has makes me think that probably we’re past the PT working point). Insurance companies like to go for minimally invasive steps first, but I’m like… I’m clearly having issues here that are more in-depth than just oopsie, threw out my back.
But yeah. Background radiation of my life, etc.
The twins turned three about a week ago, and it was a fine time. They were happy with the day, even if it kind of went by in a rush (one that I’m not getting into, but suffice it to say that my annoyance at being unable to do stuff definitely made things less fun than they otherwise would have been).
I ended up turning their day into a much bigger Thing than it normally would have been (for Sam’s third birthday, for instance, we just went to a museum and had cupcakes) because their last birthday ended up being a flop because Covid, and I guess I wanted this year to be something of an improvement. And I think it was, but man. Twin birthdays take a lot out of you. You do something that seems like the bare minimum, except because you’re doing it for two humans instead of one, it actually feels like you’re overdoing it by a lot.
But again: they’re happy. Which is what really matters.
Happier news without the asterisk, they started school last week! Early Intervention ends when your kid turns three, so they transferred to our town’s public preschool the day after their birthday, and so far, they’re loving it. We’ve yet to have one of those separation anxiety crying days, not even on the first day (maybe them being in the NICU desensitized them to going away from us for a while), and every afternoon, they come home talking about how they had “so much fun!” Their crafts are starting to cover the fridge and walls, and I’m just relieved that they’re able to do the art projects they love so much without me picking up after them.
It’s surreal having kids going to school in person. I’m a little worried because Massachusetts has been trending upwards in terms of cases, but at the same time, the school of ~600 people (kids, teachers, staff, etc.) has only seen about 12 cases in the entire year, so whatever they’re doing seems to be working. I wonder if it will still work once the schools are forced to go full time in person in April (which I do NOT agree with–it’s two months, y’all, just take the L and prep for next year), but the kids are so good with their masks that at least I feel like they’re protected on some level.
I have no idea what their days at school look like. I know they’re getting speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy, but I have no idea what the schedule is, anything like that. And I’ll be real: it feels SO GOOD to not know. SO GOOD. Because it means that I’m not the one coordinating it! I don’t have to shepherd them into a Zoom call that they won’t pay attention to, I don’t have to freak out because I forgot a meeting, I just get to use the mornings to do Sam’s homeschooling and then let them sleep the afternoons away.
It’s very nice.
Sam, meanwhile, is in the process of being evaluated by the school to see how he’s done this year and what accommodations he’d need in the next school year, if any. His therapists across the board have suspected that he’s not neurotypical, but waitlists to get a diagnosis from a doctor are a year long at least because of Covid, so we’re trying to push things through with the school first and see what they say. Last week, he spent three days doing academic testing, which went very well. His tester remarked that he’s clearly VERY smart, and that he does seem to have some executive dysfunction issues, but that he’s also good at getting himself back on track.
(at least when I’m not around, but I figured that would be the case, because he’s comfortable enough around me to melt down completely and know that I’ll never stop loving him or being blown away by him)
We’re next going to talk with the school psychologist, just to see where he is there, and hopefully, we’ll have a game plan in the next couple of weeks. I’m committed to sending him back in the fall, partly because I’m getting to the academic point where I’m a little out of my depth (he’s already learning area and perimeter, and algebra can’t be far behind), partly because he needs to be with his friends again, and partly because we both miss me just being his mom, not his mom and his teacher. It’ll take the pressure off both of us for him to be back in public school, and I’d be surprised if it weren’t safer for him to do so by fall.
And I think he’s in a good place to go back. It usually takes some cajoling, but he’s been keeping up with his schoolwork, and he’s on track with other first graders in that regard. I’m excited to see what second grade brings for him, and what life with the kids out of the house for a couple of hours a day brings for me.
(I just realized that I haven’t been home alone with nobody else in… probably six years? Or so? Maybe four? It’s hard to say)
Meanwhile, vaccines are rolling along in our house. I’ve got asthma and am obese, so I got to be the first in the house to get a pair of Pfizer jabs, the last one on Saturday. Side effects were minimal–I was REALLY tired on Sunday (slept for ~15 hours because my husband is wonderful and hung out with the kids on his own all day) and then had pretty gnarly body aches when I went to bed last night, but things have since calmed down. No fever, no chills, certainly nothing at all compared to actual Covid.
I’m hanging out on my phone a lot to try and get my mom an appointment for her vaccines, too, since she’s part of the group whose eligibility just opened up today. This remains a tricky thing to do, but I’ve been keeping up with vaccine news, and considering how manufacturers are ramping up production, I feel like supply will overtake demand in the next couple of months, and how good will that feel? And with any luck, that will correspond with cases going down, with hospitalizations going down, with deaths disappearing entirely.
It’s just that end of the school year feeling, that time when summer is RIGHT THERE, IT’S RIGHT THERE GUYS, and you just. Don’t care about classes, you don’t care about homework, summer is RIGHT THERE (and GOD, so much worse when you’re a senior in high school or college, you’re just like THIS IS ALMOST OVER, HOW AND WHY SHOULD I CARE??). You can’t think about your finals or about anything but summer being RIGHT. THERE. And YET, despite that feeling, it’s important to still be careful. Still wear a mask, still be safe, still make good choices, because unlike skipping homework during senior year, skipping out on responsibilities as the pandemic starts to cool down will genuinely have consequences (see: Brazil), consequences that can be deadly.
In other words: take care of yourselves, and each other.
I feel like this blog has been an absolute downer for the past year, though understandably so. The last year has SUCKED. I don’t think anyone had an objectively good year last year (except Big Daddy Elon Musk, but billionaires don’t count towards people having good years), and I was scrolling through my blog reflecting on how… just MLEH I’ve been about everything in the last twelve months. And again, completely understandable, but also I feel like that can’t have been fun to read. I’m sorry.
But here we are, encroaching on March 2021, one year of pandemic and social distancing and 500,000 people dying because assholes and masks and so on and so forth, and I’m actually starting to feel something that tickles a bit like hope. Real hope, not the false hope that kept popping up over the last year when people were naively like “it’ll be gone by summer!” or things like that. Real, honest-to-god hope.
After all, this is roughly the timeline they told us to expect back in mid-March of last year, when everything shut down and everything changed. Mid- to late-2021. We’re right on schedule.
I’m getting my first Fauci ouchie tomorrow, 4:30 p.m. I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a needle since the first injection for IVF, way back in 2016. My state, dear old Massachusetts, has kind of bungled the process for people to make appointments–my dad, 68 and with a heart attack in his medical charts, hasn’t been able to get an appointment, so I’m refreshing all sites frequently to try and snag one for him–but by some flash of luck, I woke up the other day to an alert on my phone telling me that a CVS near me had appointments available. I fit squarely into Tier 2 of the second phase of vaccine rollout up here–obesity and asthma qualifying me as medically at risk of a Bad Time–so I signed up.
And I’m ready.
(even if I’m a bit frustrated that Massachusetts hasn’t bothered to start prioritizing teachers yet while other states have and the websites to get appointments are basically strung together with some twine and duct tape and a few prayers and GOD, I wish I could take a hammer to said websites and get my handful of coding friends to rebuild them functionally from the ground up)
I have plenty of friends who’ve already been vaccinated for various reasons, ranging from frontline workers to teachers to people with medical issues and everything in between. Of that plenty, many have experienced the “your immune system is working” side effects–the aches, the fever, the chills, the generally feeling like shit from about hour 33 to hour 48 after the second dose. I’m ready for that. Kyle’s been keeping in touch with his boss about what’s going on, so with any luck, when I get the second dose, I can just coast through all of those side effects feeling vile but being mostly unconscious.
But I’m ready. I’m ready to not be afraid to go places besides Target or to not be afraid when I’m IN Target because the people behind me don’t seem to grok that six feet and six inches are not the same thing. I’m ready to feel like I’m not going to be putting myself in more danger if I have to go to the doctor for whatever reason (seriously, in the past year, I have avoided going to the doctor so many times I probably shouldn’t have because I didn’t want to accidentally expose myself). I’m ready to hopefully not be a link in a chain of people getting sick (like we don’t know yet that the vaccine prevents or reduces transmission, but the science–even with the new variants–looks pretty good so far).
And I mean. When even the most conservative estimates have everything easing up by summer, it’s hard not to be hopeful, outside of the trenches.
(in the trenches is another story, and every time I talk about hope, I think of my friends who do work on the frontlines and wish that I could somehow have a million dollars each to give them so that they could go on the most luxurious, relaxing, magical vacations of all time. Like hell, wanna spend two months on sabbatical in Hawaii? Go nuts, aloha. French Riviera whispering your name? Au revoir, you amazing heroes)
I’m getting vaccinated tomorrow, and then the twins turn three on March 14 and start school on March 15. Sending them in person isn’t a decision we made lightly; even though the school they’ll be attending has had exactly 10 cases out of 300 students and about 50 staff (and none of them in the preschool), the risk isn’t zero. On the flip side, though, Isaac has stagnated and regressed so much since daily ABA stopped, and I HATE phrasing it like that because it makes his autism sound like this horrible thing, and it’s NOT, but at the same time, I can feel how badly he wants to communicate with us, and goddamnit, I can try with the rudimentary PECS and I can say the words and do all sorts of things as his mom, but because I’m his mom, there’s a lot I can’t do. I’m not trained or qualified to do so much of it.
He really was making such incredible progress when he had ABA five times a week, and I know the language is there. And he wants to express himself and is SO HAPPY when we understand him. And preschool will give him an opportunity to be better understood, whether that’s vocally or through signs or through PECS. Whatever he needs. I just want him to not feel like he can’t be understood, because to me, that’s about as lonely and terrifying as it gets.
And Carrie is something of a ragdoll. She’s clever and sweet, and where communication is concerned, she’s at age level if not above it. BUT when it comes to physicality, her muscle tone is almost comically low. She seems comfortable wherever she is, which is great, but she gets tired quickly because she has to put more effort into making her muscles work than a kid like Isaac (whose muscle tone has always felt high to me because he’s always. so. tense.) or even Sam does. It impacts her ability to use her fine motor skills with holding a pencil or getting herself dressed and undressed, and I have no doubt it’s impacting her digestion. In the long term, it’s going to cause problems for her–she’ll be in pain, and I don’t want that at all. And if we can get started fixing it now, if I can get her therapy now, maybe she won’t follow in my footsteps and end up in remedial gym or getting an MRI for sciatica and feeling like she’s in her 90s when she’s not even 40 yet.
Plus, they’re SO good with masks. It’s kind of surprising, honestly. I would’ve expected the twins to just hate wearing a mask and to fight it all the way, but the two of them are absolute champs. They even have Barbie and Hot Wheels disposable masks along with the other disposable masks I’ve gotten them for the remainder of the school year. I think we’ll be okay. I think they’ll thrive in school, and I think we’ll be okay.
For the first time in forever…
…I can kind of see the rest of the year clearing up, like the way the sky clears up when it finally stops raining after a particularly long stretch of wet days. I feel like when I say, “when the kids go back to school in September…” I’m not doing some sort of wishful thinking; I’m saying something that will happen. When Sammy goes back to school with his friends, when the twins are in preschool five days a week, when I see my extended family for the first time since Christmas of 2019. WHEN, not IF.
Speaking of Sammy going back to school (WHEN that happens), I got in touch with the special ed department at his school to see if they could evaluate him for ADHD and autism or at least just to see if he has anything that would require an IEP to deal with in the coming year. His therapists have him on a waitlist to see if he can be evaluated outside of the school, but because of Covid, that waitlist is excruciatingly long–we’re talking years–and I don’t want him to start second grade at a disadvantage. I know that whatever else is going on, he deals with a lot of executive dysfunction and hyperfixation. I know that his mind goes so fast from one thing to another to another, I know that he acts like boredom is torture. I know that the idea of failing at something even a little brings him to tears, no matter what reassurances we offer. I know that if he’s asked any question about himself, no matter how benign, he shuts down and furiously refuses to answer.
I don’t know what that all adds up to. I do know that it affects his schoolwork. That he melts down when something is hard for him, that it’s an absolute WAR to get him to do his social studies and reading. That he doesn’t focus, can’t really focus, even on subjects he loves. But give him Pokemon or Minecraft or the deep sea, and he will tell you everything in excruciating detail. That he’s terrifyingly smart–doing third grade math as a first grader and absolutely OWNING it–but that he needs someone to help him apply that intelligence.
And I don’t know. Maybe it’s that I’m not as good of a teacher as I like to hope I am. When he’s on, he REALLY gets stuff. He’s getting straight As in math without even blinking, and I think he’s doing okay with improving his spelling and handwriting, but I feel like there’s something about his learning style that’s out of my reach, and if nothing else, I’d like to see if the staff at his elementary school can identify it.
A lot on my plate. Again. I can sort of feel my sciatica flaring, but I’ve been more careful to take time off and be diligent with my medication because I am NOT doing that again. I have an MRI to look at it up close on the 8th, and until then, I’m just taking it all one day at a time and knocking items off my to-do list little by little.
And feeling like the sun is starting to peek through the clouds. Which is nice.
This was going to be a long blog post about the inauguration and politics in general, but that leaves me feeling tired. Suffice it to say that I’ve breathed a sigh of relief, but I also acknowledge that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and I’m focused wholly on the future and how to improve things instead of bemoaning the immediate past. The past informs the direction that we need to take as a country (a wholesale rejection of white supremacy, measures to rectify massive wealth inequality, having an actual PLAN for the pandemic instead of just pretending it doesn’t exist so we don’t spook the markets, etc.), but I’m through arguing about the past four years. They were politically terrible. Let’s move forward.
Instead, because I don’t feel like getting my blood pressure up today, I’m talking about life overall, or life in our house, at least.
Because it goes on. Like I said last time, insurrections, elections, inaugurations, Bernie with his mittens, it all happens and it all affects you, but at the same time, life goes on. You read a headline, you feel angry or sad or hopeful (which is new), then you have to run to the post office or call the kids’ therapists or something or another. Maybe you discuss it, you sign a petition, you run to a protest, you donate, but life is going on with or without you.
Life goes on.
The twins had their preschool evaluations on the fifteenth, and it went well, I think. They met with the entire preschool team, with the physical therapist running the evaluation while the others–the teachers, the SLPs, the OTs–took notes and observed. Kyle, Sam (who was there because we didn’t have childcare for him), and I sat in a corner of the room that was separate enough for the twins to not zero in on us instead of what they were supposed to be doing.
They started out pretty shy. Carrie warmed up to the situation first, when she saw that they had a dollhouse, because she is quintessentially what toy marketing execs want a little girl to be. She loved that the dollhouse had a little toy cat with a little toy toilet and a little toy bed, and she spent a great deal of time meticulously tucking the toy cat into bed or settling it on the toilet, not really talking about what she was doing, just doing it. She was SO quiet that the SLP had to come over and talk to us about her speech, and we talked about her on bad days–preferring one-to-two-word phrases over sentences, even though she CAN use sentences, and murmuring nonsense under her breath to tell you things. She’s very stubborn, so if you want her to talk to you, she just will not do so.
She also, apparently, struggled with her fine motor strength–not her accuracy, but her strength, coping the OT’s movements with her crayon but not really applying a lot of pressure.
And, really, much of the evaluation was for her. Isaac’s struggles are pretty easy to spot and pretty easy to describe. He spent the first ten minutes of the evaluation standing stark still like a statue and smiling shyly behind his mask. Though he eventually warmed up, he’s mostly nonverbal still (which is more of a “behind” thing than a permanent thing–he’s about where Carrie was between 12 and 18 months, and I think he’s mostly stagnated because the pandemic has prevented us from having in person speech therapy for a year now. Like, we work with him, but we don’t necessarily know what to do to encourage him to, for example, speak independently instead of parroting us) and has exactly zero sense of danger, which combines poorly with his extraordinary fine motor skills.
(which sounds kind of cool, but you don’t expect your two-year-old to figure out how to unlock a window, create a tower of stuffed animals to reach the lock, unlock and open the window about two inches, figure out how to open the screen, open the screen, and then start tossing his toys down from the second story window. That’s a surprise. So yeah, the windows in the twins’ room are duct taped shut now)
But the evaluation was both to get an idea of where Isaac is and to see if Carrie actually qualifies for the preschool’s special ed program. She’s right on the border where she MIGHT need the extra help, but she might also catch up with her peers by just being with them. It’s hard to say. And it’s not a huge deal either way–when I talked with the head preschool teacher over Zoom, she explained that Carrie will have a spot in the program no matter what, it’s just a question of whether she’s there for free as a special ed student or whether we pay the $140/month tuition.
And even that isn’t a big deal. When Sam was in preschool at the twins’ age, we were paying probably… mmm, I want to say about $200/week because it was a full time private daycare. Which I LOVED, but I can even point to ancient blog entries I wrote here about how I realized that having twins meant no more daycare for anyone. So back then, I was wondering “omg how are we going to even afford preschool for them, that’s $400/week, that’s $1600/month, how can we do that, that’s a second mortgage?”
The idea of both of them going and us only paying $140/month? $35/week? It’s kind of miraculous. And if it’s free, I’m just going to do a dance.
We’ll find out sometime this week how things went, and then we have a meeting on February 2 to set up their IEPs (or IEP if Carrie doesn’t need one). And that’s WILD to me. I’ve talked so much about IEPs with so many people (my sister always had one, my mother-in-law is a special ed teacher, one of my besties is an SLP, etc., and that’s not even counting the huge village of parents of children with IEPs who are like “yes, I will help you with this, I will tell you how I best advocated for my kid”) that actually diving into one is like
Let alone diving into TWO.
We’re very fortunate. Our town is apparently one of the best in the area for special education from top to bottom (which isn’t surprising; everyone here is some degree of wealthyish and it looks like fucking Happy Valley from “Mickey and the Beanstalk” and then there’s me with my overgrown ugly lawn covered in dead leaves like “oh yeah, I totally belong here!”), so while I know I’ll have to fight for a lot of things, I don’t feel like I’ll have to fight as hard as I would have somewhere else.
(like apparently, my hometown, which is just a few miles down the street from me, has one of the WORST special ed programs in the area. They used to be good, according to all of our therapists and contacts, but nowadays, things are just garbage from top to bottom)
It’s a lot. But I feel ready.
And life goes on.
And it might end up being THREE IEPs, anyway. Sam’s been having in-home therapy for a couple of months now to deal with, oh, a whole bunch of things. His anxiety had reached a point where he wasn’t sleeping in his own bed at all, he has days where he barely eats, he’s an absolute ping pong ball if he doesn’t have something with a screen drawing his attention… it’s a lot. Kyle and I had a sit down talk with the therapists over Zoom on Monday, and they suggested having Sam evaluated for both autism and ADHD.
The autism bit has me a bit skeptical. They were noticing a lot of the outward signs, and I agree that Sam has a lot of sensory issues, BUT if he is autistic, he’s also the most adamantly extraverted autistic kid I’ve ever met. And that’s not to say that autism can’t look like that–it’s a sundae bar, after all, and you can have all sorts of weird varieties of stuff going on–but it’s just. I hate to say this because it’s so not clinical, but he doesn’t ping my autism radar the way Isaac did from ~day one. Isn’t that a dumb thing to think? Like “mom hasn’t ever gotten autistic vibes from him, not even a little” is not a good diagnostic criteria, and should not be used as a diagnostic criteria.
I took one of the screening tests for him, the one they use in clinical settings, and maybe I’m too close to him to see (but unless I’m missing something, I feel like a lot of these tests are just asking parents how their kid is anyway and then observing in a play setting?), but he scored way too low on the autism test to even warrant further testing. And again, maybe I’m just too close to the situation, but like. I can’t imagine I’m missing THAT MUCH, you know?
Now, on the ADHD test, on the other hand, he scored off the charts. Everything from his lightning fast mind to his constant movement (not stimming, just MOVING) to his general breakdowns if he gets a question wrong was right on there. But professionals who see him in brief settings keep saying “no, he doesn’t have ADHD, but he’s probably autistic.”
I don’t know how to respond to that! I go, I do the assessments that are available, and maybe I have confirmation bias or maybe I’m too close to the situation or maybe I’m just crazy, but I end up getting super low scores for autism and super high scores for ADHD and I just ???? am I missing something? I see this child all day every day. He’s my son. We talk all the time. We snuggle up at bedtime and go over his day. He tells me matter-of-factly how he feels about so many things. I know when I can and can’t push him on things, when we can work through something or when we need to disengage from it. I’ve SEEN him from the moment he was born, and I’m just so confused here. Are they seeing something I’m not? Are we all just misinterpreting the same information?
Anyway. We’re trying to get in touch with someone to schedule an evaluation for the next soon, because if he does have autism or ADHD (or sensory processing disorder, which I also suspect), I want to know ahead of time so that I can plan IEP meetings for when he gets back to school in the fall. If nothing else, I want to be able to talk to the school in general to say that while he’s soaring in math and science, and while he can read perfectly well, he struggles with handwriting, with creating sentences, and with reading comprehension.
Life goes on.
It goes on for me, too. I started my inauguration day with a visit to an orthopedic specialist to talk about my back. Here it is:
Note how spines are not supposed to look like that. I apparently have slight scoliosis (less than a 25 degree curve, which means I’m not really a candidate for surgery, more for just PT and figuring out how to live life overall with a wonky spine), some twisting going on (though it’s unclear if that was just posture-related or is an actual Problem), and bone degeneration that’s a bit more than usually expected at my age (not quite 40). I’m supposed to be getting on a calendar for an MRI sometime in the next near future so that we can see what nerve involvement is there, and if there is nerve involvement (which there is, I can feel it), I’m a candidate to get an injection of anesthetic and steroids into my sciatic nerve in order to keep it from, you know, murdering me.
It’s both vindicating and frustrating. On the one hand, I’m able to point to it and say, “LOOK, see, the fact that I’ve thrown my back out at least once a year since I was 20 has a REASON behind it. I’m not being overdramatic, I do have some issues that could stand to be addressed in numerous ways!”
But on the other hand, I feel frustrated that I’m just learning about this now, that I didn’t think to get it examined before, when I was throwing my back out with such regularity, not necessarily because I was lifting something wrong or doing something weird but because my back is just prone to spasms. I could’ve spent years working on this and not been here, feeling miserable and useless.
Oh well. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.
And life goes on. The pandemic is slowing, slowing, slowing. It doesn’t feel like a very fast slowing (because how would slowing be fast??), but it’s happening. If President Biden is able to really get his vaccination plan off the ground, maybe summer will be normalish, maybe we’ll go on a very short vacation to like Hershey Park and Sesame Place, maybe this isn’t a forever sort of thing. Maybe we’ll get on a plane again someday, maybe we’ll travel across the country and the world again. It feels possible, which is a huge step above where it felt even a month ago, and I’m grateful for that.
This year, when we went to my parents’ house for Christmas Eve (we basically see them every week anyway), my mom talked about how she’d felt a bit like Christmas was another thing on her to-do list sometimes. That with everything to check off–the decorating, the buying, the wrapping, the cleaning, the cooking, the baking–it can feel like it’s just another Thing. And Christmas is absolutely my second busiest time of the year, no doubt. The March-through-July stretch is still a LOT crazier because every event every month in that stretch is a Big One, not an optional one, and none of them are my birthday.
So yeah, Christmas is a crazy time of year, but it’s usually also a rewarding time of the year. Sure, I’m pulling my hair out somewhat when we try to finish up on Christmas morning so that we can get to my uncle and aunt’s house before everyone settles in for dinner, but then there’s the catching up with everyone and the laughing and meeting new babies and new boyfriends and sometimes, my uncle makes this amazing saffron cream pasta that makes you understand why people pay so much for saffron…
Which isn’t to say that this year wasn’t rewarding. It was, just. You know. Different.
Like all of 2020.
We’re still combing through everything the kids got. My parents and Kyle’s parents spoiled them, of course, because that’s what grandparents do, and our playroom is currently overflowing with both (a) boxes, and (b) toys. We’ve been bringing things out one at a time, all while trying to sort through what’s in the living room and find places for that.
Sam got a pair of robots and some video games for Christmas, along with a few Lego sets, because he’s frustratingly easy to shop for. He’s one of those kids whose interests are narrow and specific, so on the one hand, you know exactly what themes to hunt down in toy sections; but on the other hand, you’re just like… I really want to get you something different, but all you want are these things. But he’s seemed pretty happy with what he got, and I feel like his gifts have much more staying power than the twins’.
Isaac was the one I thought would be least impressed with his gifts, but to my absolute surprise, he’s the kid who took to everything the fastest and has been playing with his gifts most consistently. Santa gave him a singing Mickey Mouse train, Kyle gave him a weird musical toy called a “Rocktopus,” and my parents gave him a little red Playmobil minivan. The train and the Rocktopus are never NOT singing, and the minivan, despite being hard as a rock and full of breakable things, has become his first ever “must have it in bed with me” lovey.
And Carrie, who is every little girl ever, received pretty much the best gifts for every little girl ever: an Ariel doll, a makeup table (for pretend makeup, of course), a dollhouse, and a dress up gown with accessories. She’s been frolicking about the house in a whirl of joy, and when she’s done being whirly and joyful, she falls into my arms, sighing happily and saying, “Oh Mom. I you so much!” (which is her way of saying that she loves me so much)
So it’s been good. And Kyle and I spoiled each other, too (I gave him Whataburger sauces and a fancypants sleep mask; he gave me jewelry and my very own fountain pen), and we spent Christmas Day doing nothing but watching movies on TV while eating popcorn and pretending that it was a normal Christmas and we were totally at our local theater and not scrunched up on the couch and saying things like “SAMUEL MATTHEW, STOP RUNNING RIGHT NOW.”
We saw Soul first, and it was honestly one of the best Pixar movies I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to explain it because the plot is kind of loose? And the message is kind of loose? But it also was a film that wasn’t escapism, that didn’t want to be escapism, that wanted you to leave the theater-slash-living room and go live life, not just exist. And it was heavy material, but it was handled in a strangely effervescent way, so that even though it was a lot of DEEP questions that required a lot of heavy pondering, you didn’t feel bogged down by them.
And it was gorgeous and made me more determined than ever to take the kids to New York when this craziness is over.
Wonder Woman 1984 was… eeeeeh. Kyle and I watched it after the kids went to bed, having our first “date” since the pandemic kicked in, and… eeeeeh. There was a scene at the very end that had us both sobbing, Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig did great jobs for the most part (the CGI got in Kristen Wiig’s way towards the end, which was a shame), and there were some fun moments, but… eeeeeh. It was disappointing. I didn’t go in with super high expectations, and even my lower expectations weren’t quite met, so that’s a shame. Still one of the better DC movies but… eeeeeh.
And thus the year is finally, finally drawing to a close. I know that the world in general won’t turn a magical corner on January 1 that has everything back to what we want it to be (though wouldn’t that be a trip), but at least we have the vaccine and a new presidency to shake things up a bit, and hopefully, by this time next year, I won’t be digging for scraps of things that made this year good.
It’s funny. Back last December, I bought a memory jar for us to keep this year, figuring we’d have a lot of cool memories to read about on December 31 as we counted down to midnight. It didn’t last long, mostly because mindfulness, while awesome, is one of those things it’s harder to do when you’re in the trenches of motherhood. You know what I mean? Those days, those weeks, those years where you give all of yourself and then some, and you take a shitton of pictures, not to show off your awesome mommy skills or embarrass the kids in the future but because you can’t be in the moment. You’re clinging by a thread, and you want to remember the good, but you can’t focus on it because the bad keeps showing up.
It’s not been the worst year for me; by comparison, we had it pretty easy. Despite Kyle losing his job in the spring, he got a MUCH better job in the fall, one that pays more, even if the benefits need some work. Sam being homeschooled has meant I can really focus on him for hours at a time, despite the twins, and he’s been able to get a more individualized learning plan (read: my six-year-old is doing multiplication and division without even thinking about it, and it’s weird). He and I have had more than a few outdoor adventures, including a really fun hike back in October (sigh, that was roughly the last time I felt healthy enough to get out and go) and a visit to a nearby pond.
Sam and Isaac both started therapy (in December and March, respectively) to help deal with everything. Isaac’s ABA has been better than I expected and not the nightmare I’d feared; Sam’s therapy has just started, but I can already see how he’s much calmer on therapy days than on days when his therapists don’t come. They’re both doing really well, and wildly enough, they’ll both be starting school again next year… in March and September, respectively.
I was hospitalized for my mental health, and I’ll be real, it’s a miracle more people haven’t done that this year. I’m lucky: my husband noted that I was doing really badly (I legitimately do not remember this summer, that’s how bad it was) and MADE ME get help. I learned the difference between wanting to die and being overwhelmed by life (there is a difference), and I learned actual real coping skills. I’m starting maintenance therapy next week so that I can focus on keeping my brainmeats healthy instead of letting them slip and slide and become a mess again.
I have a path forward for my physical health: my doctor has finally referred me to an orthopedic specialist for my back, and with any luck, I’ll have a specific way to get to a point where I can actually get out again (like I feel like I could now, but it’s cold and I’m also terrified). I survived the worst physical pain I’ve ever felt this year, somehow (wild thing about sciatica being that you’re in the worst pain of your life, pain so bad it gives you PTSD, but you are nowhere near dying, and when the pain ebbs, people mostly just tell you to walk and lose weight, like they do whenever you have a problem while fat). I had surgery and ruled out a major potential cause of my overall life issues.
So it hasn’t been an all bad year for me. But I’m still eager for it to be over.
I don’t necessarily think 2021 is going to be better overall, at least to start, just that we’ll all mostly be used to the chaos, so it won’t hit as hard. And slowly, slowly, things will get better. Plenty of people will still be idiots, of course, because that’s the world we live in, but idiocy can be mitigated by good people doing good things and stopping bad things. It’s going to be rough going. None of the positive things are quick fixes; they will take time, and they will need a lot of pressure, and just because things are no longer at an immediate boiling point does not mean things are better. Creating a better world is a true effort.
With that in mind, I decided that no, 2021 is not my year. It is my bitch. I am transforming myself into a screaming banshee of rage and forcing things to get better. I will scream and I will fight and by this time next year, I will be able to say, “you know something, that wasn’t a half bad year after all.”
Little known fact about me: I was homeschooled for a year.
If I’m remembering correctly, the reasoning went something like this. My grades had been slipping for two years at that point, due to what I now recognize as my first ever bout with depression (because no, eleven-year-old me, wishing that you’d get hit by a car is not normal). I remember a lot of talk about me not knowing how to study, which is fair enough I suppose, and a lot of blame being cast at the decision of the school district to put me in a fourth grade class that was, charitably speaking, a disaster.
(the same fourth grade class in which a boy gave me an index card with pee on it, in which I was so bored by the material that I took to drawing on my desk for hours at a time, in which I was a permanent member of the “100+ club” because I’d learned two years before that 0x0=0)
(if I’m casting blame for my depression, it falls at the feet of puberty hormones, a pair of abysmal school years in a row, and plenty of bullying)
So I was homeschooled for eighth grade. My sister was homeschooled the same year, because the district was thoroughly messing up the accommodations for her learning disability (at one point, someone caught her closing herself in her locker during a break in classes because she didn’t want to do her assignment). My brother was homeschooled the same year because it wouldn’t be fair to leave him out.
It was a weird year. I know that, at the start, I was… reluctant, to put it gently, and by “reluctant,” I mean that I remember having some screaming afternoons for no reason beyond that things were weird; but I eventually got the hang of learning at home, especially after we got into a routine that largely consisted of schoolwork ending by 12:30 every day and plenty of free time afterwards.
My parents used mostly religious curricula; I don’t think it was all A Beka, which was the In Thing at the time, but I feel like I used A Beka for math. My science book talked a lot about how evolution wasn’t a real thing and came with some supplementary materials on that subject, including a book I loved called “Dinosaurs by Design,” which had lots of informational pages on dinosaurs sandwiched between illustrations of, for example, Adam and Eve hanging out with a parasaurolophus.
(I had to look up how to spell that, don’t judge me, when I was in my dinosaur phase, everything got its name from The Land Before Time)
The history text wasn’t terribly memorable. The English/language arts stuff was great, but then again, I’ve always been an E/LA person. I had to memorize a bunch of poems, and while I don’t remember how any of them went, I remember the act of memorization. For math, I did Algebra I, and I cheated so very much. Whenever my mom would leave me alone to take a test, I’d grab her answer key and input everything, which she must have known about, but it happened anyway. And then in June, as I was preparing to head back to public school (having apparently learned how to study), I had to take the Algebra I final at the high school and panicked because I’d been cheating all year and now my inability to math would be public knowledge and my parents would be furious and it was the end of the world…
…and then I got a 93?
Oh, and then every week or so, we hoofed it up to the nearest Christian school for my sister’s in-school therapy (I think? I don’t remember much because I spent the entire time reading Baby-Sitter’s Club books and longing after the smell of pizza in the other room), and most of what I remember about that was sitting in the front seat of our van singing off-key along with my Sound of Music CD.
Even 20 years later, I can’t decide if it was a good or a bad experience; honestly, I mostly settle on neutral. I don’t know if I actually learned to study or if my depression just ebbed somewhat. I was in honors and AP classes throughout high school, so something went right somewhere. And I remember, my first day back at high school, being beyond surprised when the friends I’d last seen in June two years prior not only remembered me but were incredibly happy to see me.
(hahaha, thirteen-year-old me was such a miserable child, someone please go back in time and help her and also please de-frizz her hair)
Meanwhile, in the world of today, we’ve decided to homeschool Sam for the school year.
I’m excited for it and simultaneously terrified and worried, because I don’t want to pull him out of school this year, but it honestly seems like the best option. Even in Massachusetts, where a lot of people have been doing really well social distancing and wearing masks, we’ve started seeing Covid-19 cases creep back up, which bodes incredibly ill for the school year. Had we kept up with the low numbers of the summer, I’d have been happy to send Sam back for at least a few weeks so that he could’ve had access to the school’s counselling services and learned to use the distance learning tools they’d set up for the students.
But the numbers started to creep up.
And ultimately, Sam is… not the best at being self-guided. If we set him up on my computer or on a laptop and said “you need to do your schoolwork,” it wouldn’t take very long for him to end up on YouTube watching Markiplier play a game in which he’s a piece of bread (this is a thing, apparently). I don’t blame him for that, because he’s six. I barely know any adults who, when presented with doing work versus watching videos on YouTube, will easily choose the former.
It’s the rock and the hard place I’ve been talking about. School isn’t safe. Distance learning won’t work for him. What are we supposed to do?
Well, it turns out that the answer is homeschooling.
Just for a year, mind. I still think that Sam really needs that social aspect to his education, and that if Covid can get under control by next September (please please PLEASE), I want him to be back in a classroom for that reason alone. He needs kids his age. He needs socialization. He hasn’t had that in ages.
But for now, homeschooling.
A friend of mine in the next town over posted a link to the curriculum we’re using; it’s called “Moving Beyond the Page,” and it’s largely literature-based and customizable. Sam’s a pretty smart kid overall, but he’s definitely far more advanced in math than he is in reading/writing, so we’re doing a first grade curriculum for reading and writing and a third grade (!) curriculum for math (because he can multiply and divide, and I listen to him do it and think how are you doing this, I couldn’t do that in my head until I was an adult).
In my fantasy dream world, I’d want to grab one or two of his friends and their families and just do a small group working on the same curriculum, but that almost feels too risky and seems impossible. I wish there were a way to make sure he keeps in touch with his friends, but they’re all so young that the Messenger Kids app ends up being a “sometimes I remember to message my friends but mostly, I play games” thing. And I know that, if he’s anything like me, he’ll spend a lot of the first couple of months in screaming tears over our new normal.
But. If he’s anything like me, he’ll adjust and come away better for it, having a good and fun (albeit very weird) year and blowing his future second grade teacher’s mind by asking them, “So when do we start square roots?” as everyone else is just getting into their times tables.
The Fourth of July is behind us, we’re not quite to the point where people find it acceptable to go all out on Halloween (at least some people, I’m more of the mindset that spookiness should be a year-round thing), which means that it’s time to think about going back-to-school.
Our town has come up with some plans, though they haven’t shared the full details with all of us yet because their plans aren’t completely finalized, and they’re going to be getting them approved by the state first. What they did, since we are a small town of less than 10,000 people, was hold a series of town hall meetings with the principal of each school explaining the way things will likely look in the fall.
Because yes, by some beautiful miracle, schools aren’t starting until after Labor Day. I am so relieved. I hope that this remains the case for the rest of forever, even when there isn’t a deadly global pandemic.
But our town is small, and Covid cases here are few and far between–no clusters, just a person here, a family there, that sort of thing. Easily traced and manageable. And the Commonwealth wanted school districts to have three separate plans for back-to-school, so they came up with three separate plans, with the caveat that (a) the full in-person school just was not going to happen this year and anyone trying to insist on it can suck the big one; and (b) regardless of plans made, we’d probably be switching to remote learning again at some point during the school year.
The plan they want to implement, at least to start, is a hybrid remote-distance plan, with half the kids coming into school for two days, a half day of Zoom calls for everyone, and then the other half of the kids coming in for two days. On days they don’t come in, kids will have day long learning assignments, which I hope won’t translate to their time being monitored, because Sam finishes his stuff in less than an hour, and I genuinely cannot devote a lot of time to handholding; not because I don’t want to, but because other things are happening.
I’m definitely leaning towards sending him in during the hybrid days, partly because I just don’t have the ability to give him the guidance he needs five days a week, and partly because I think it will be good for him, emotionally and mentally, to be around kids his age again, even if it’s only for a little while.
I don’t like it. I don’t like any of it. I’m furious that we, as a country, shat the bed so profoundly with this pandemic (like, come on. Wear fucking masks. It’s not hard. You are all just whiny babies), because we shouldn’t have. We should have just been able to put on our big kid undies and socially distanced and worn masks for six weeks and then moved on. We should have had a government that cared about people instead of lining pockets.
But we don’t, and like I told Kyle earlier this week, should is irrelevant. You need to focus on what is.
And in that line of thought, I went school shopping for Sam today.
It’s early to do it; last year, school supply lists weren’t available until around August 1, if not later, but because of the pandemic (I think), our district is trying to offer everyone a little more wiggle room, so they released the school shopping list last night, with another caveat that we needed to get double supplies–half to keep at home for distance days, and half to have at the school for in-person days.
I honestly always have fun with school shopping; it makes me feel like a kid again. You know that really great feeling that only comes with smelling brand new, sharp and never-used crayons? The perfectly sharpened pencils, all in a row? The erasers, still pearly pink and perfect? I popped open Sam’s pencil case from last year today to see what of it we could salvage for school, and I got immediately overwhelmed with the scent of pencils, crayons, and erasers. For just a moment, it was like I was back in my first day of first grade.
This year, classrooms are going to look like they did when I was in school, too. I think we had some classrooms where teachers arranged the desks in something besides rows, but I also know we had more than a few teachers who were pretty old school and kept desks, even for first and second graders, in carefully distanced rows, not groups or circles or anything.
But things will be different, too, because each classroom will only have less than 10 kids in it at a time. Things will be different because if your kid’s friends are in a different class from them this year, they won’t get to play with each other at recess–they’ll be outside, running around in little cordoned off yards, staying six feet away from each other. Things will be different because there won’t be a holiday concert or birthday parties or parties for holidays or anything that would be dangerous.
And I wish that I didn’t feel like Sam needs that in-person interaction to really succeed at school and to be mentally healthy.
They’ve told us that we can change our minds at any time, though, so I’m giving it something of a trial period. For the elementary school, they’re using the teachers the kids would normally have for distance learning instead of using an outside agency like they are for the upper level schools (which is just one of the six billion things the district is doing wrong, according to Random People On The Town’s Facebook Page). We’ll see.
And in the meantime, I buy supplies. I stocked up on two things of number 2 pencils, and six erasers. Fourteen sticks of glue, three pairs of blunt end scissors, two boxes of 24 crayons, two whiteboards with markers, lots of paper (colorful and plain white). Every time I go into the back-to-school aisles, I feel this enormous pang of sadness for the teachers having to deal with this mess. They deserve so much better pay and so much kinder treatment than they’ve received. I’m grateful beyond words that I live in a state where our elected officials are taking this pandemic seriously; I feel horrible for teachers in other states who are being forced to write living wills as they go back to school, a time that should be exciting and fun, so that they can help keep the cogs of the economy turning.
I was feeling sulky today and saw that the coveted box of 96 crayons was on sale for less than $5, so I bought it, along with some drawers for all of my various craft supplies purchased in better times (I have about 3000 stickers and pens and washi tape and markers and so on). It helped for a minute, but just that minute of “wow, being six was awesome!” that quickly melted into “being six is less awesome right now.”
My therapist has gently been reminding me that this, too, shall pass, which is such trite advice, but it’s something I need. I need to know that this isn’t forever, because it’s not. People are going to continue to be dumb about it, but a vaccine will come soon enough, and if they don’t take it, that’s on them. Kyle will have a job soon (he has to), the twins will start school soon, things will go back to something resembling what we knew, though hopefully a little better for us having learned some harsh lessons along the way.
(part of my plan for this year, back before it became 2020, was to get my first tattoo–something small and simple to see if my skin would scar horribly. If my skin didn’t scar horribly, I’d want to get something more complex later, and it would probably be a crocus)
And I ordered Sam ten more cloth masks so that he can cycle through them all as he needs them. He inexplicably wanted ones with pizza and tacos on them, and I say inexplicably because he does not eat either pizza or tacos.
We paid bills yesterday, not worrying at all whether or not we could afford it. I don’t know if I’ll be able to say that again for a long time.
But I have 96 crayons, and Sam has school supplies. Kyle has job interviews, the twins have therapy, and this will not last forever.
Like nearly every parent in the country right now (shh, homeschoolers, you can gloat about not having to change anything later), I’m facing a dilemma right now: do I send my kid to school in person this fall or do I try and do at-home learning for him?
It’s a rock and a hard place.
On the one hand, this pandemic is a serious thing, and I don’t believe that schools should be opening right now. Our state is doing pretty well by the numbers for now, but I look at sites like CovidActNow (www.covidactnow.org) and I see the states around us creeping back up to ugly numbers. I see people carelessly heading down to Disney World on a vacation–it can’t be that bad if Disney is open, right??–and wonder how much they’ll adhere to quarantine practices when they come back. I see things from the Federal government that make me wonder if they aren’t actively trying to make things worse, and also that something as simple as wearing masks to protect yourself and the people around you has inexplicably become as much of a political statement as open carrying in Walmart.
(who are you going to fight in Walmart, anyway, the deep discounts?)
I read our state teachers’ union’s ideas for reopening, and they sound theoretically okay–phased, slow, paying attention to the numbers–but none of them want to risk their lives like this, and we shouldn’t be asking them to. Some people say that oh, it doesn’t spread among kids, so it’ll be fine! Other people still think that the whole thing is a hoax to get us all implanted with 5G chips so that Bill Gates can take over the world or something (I wish they’d implant me with a 5G hotspot; I’d take my family and my Netflix and go ride this nonsense out somewhere very far away from other human beings).
And then there’s that… look, have you met kids? Schools are absolute petri dishes, and unless you’re going to be putting them in little bubbles for the whole day, they’re going to be getting themselves sick and getting each other sick. I remember Sam’s first year of daycare, he had a cold and ear infection every three weeks. Literally, every three weeks. And it put my job in danger because he couldn’t be at daycare with a fever and ear infection every three weeks, so I had to take off to take care of Sam, but that wouldn’t matter now because I don’t work anyway, BUT ANYWAY, the point is that any given virus will go around a school like wildfire.
Like another example. I remember when I was six, the chicken pox went through my school. This was before the vaccine, back in the days of ill-advised chicken pox parties (my parents did not have one of those; I just happened to sit near a kid who was patient zero for that particular outbreak). Even without the chicken pox parties, though, you couldn’t avoid it. If the kid next to you had the chicken pox, you were going to get the chicken pox. And that was doubly true for the everyday viruses that marched through the school like a faceless army on a mission. In the winter, we’d all rotate being out of school for days to weeks with whatever yuck was going around. Stomach bugs, colds, flus, all of it.
So the idea that Covid-19 won’t spread through schools like wildfire is kind of silly to me. The idea that it’s a risk worth taking is also kind of silly to me. I don’t want to get this disease. I don’t want my two-year-olds to get this disease. I don’t want my parents to get this disease. I don’t want my kids’ teachers to get this disease.
The obvious answer to all of this is to keep Sam home from school until there’s a vaccine (please please please let one of the three or all three work, I don’t care which one, just please give us a chance to focus on fixing our inherent issues instead of watching the world burn down around us). It’s theoretically possible. We finished out last year entirely online, with twice weekly Zoom calls, new boxes of crayons as consolation prizes, and gosh I miss the first half of last school year.
Even if I didn’t follow the school’s inevitable plan, homeschooling is easier now than ever. A lot of my friends currently homeschool (dear international friends: the school systems here in the state were wonky long before the current disaster timeline, that’s why), and they’ve got kids Sam’s age, and they’ve all been sharing helpful link upon helpful link. So it’s a thought.
Here’s the hard place.
The hard place is mostly a picture of my average day. The morning, from 8:30 until 11, is all about the twins. On any given day, I’m coordinating ABA (they still come into our house because they’re considered essential, thank goodness), plus 1-2 other therapies for each twin, all of them at random times in the day that have nothing to do with any logic that I’ve found beyond “this is what time I’m free.” Afternoons are free of coordinating, but that’s when I dive into trying to get Stuff done (as in, house management stuff: bills, trips to Target, making sure we’ve got the things we need, doctors’ appointments, etc.). And all of that before 5 p.m. so we can get the kids to bed at a normal time.
Earlier, when this was all starting, Kyle took charge of a lot of Sam’s school stuff–he didn’t stare at Sam and force him to do stuff, but he was able to coordinate Sam while being a little light on stuff at work. He was also able to help set Sam up on Zoom for those calls, and when he lost his job about two months into this nonsense, he was even more able to help–he was a lot more hands-on, helped Sam with art and science projects, etc.
BUT. Kyle will absolutely be in a new job by September (please please please or else we’ll have more to worry about than just Sam’s schoolwork), and while I didn’t worry about the impression it made when he was stepping away from waiting for his computer to load a build when he was at a company he’d been at for six years, I do worry about it at a new company. Whoever he works for will likely be “understanding,” but it’s still not a good look to get a brand new job and then spend most of every morning away from your work.
All of this creates the hard place. Who’s going to teach Sam? He’s not old enough that I feel comfortable leaving him to his own devices–I know that if he’s left alone with the internet, he’ll be through with schoolwork and diving into Let’s Play on YouTube, which he’s not supposed to do, but he does when left to his own devices. This isn’t kindergarten, either. He’s actually going to have subjects to study this year, beyond just learning to read and write and very basic stuff. He’s going to have things that he needs to be taught, not just things we can throw at him and say “here, color this.”
That’s not even getting into the social side of things, the other intangibles that come with in-person learning. Sam hasn’t seen other kids his age since May. He hasn’t spent time with people outside of the family in about as long, and I know that’s affecting him. He’s more anxious, more nervous. He wakes up at night at least 2-3 times a week, sometimes with nightmares and other times just wanting to be with us. He doesn’t want to go and play by himself at all, so his playtime has mostly devolved into video games, which I hate because I’m like–dude, stop playing video games. You have six sprillion Legos, you have such cool toys all over the house, play with those so I can stop feeling like I’ve been flushing money down the toilet the last six years. Every day, he checks his Facebook kids messages, but that’s a sporadic form of connection at this age.
There’s no good answer. I still don’t know what we’re doing. And I’m angry that it’s come to this: that the alleged “greatest country in the world” couldn’t get our act together four fucking months ago so that, come the start of the school year, we could send our kids back safely. Because it’s not safe right now, but the costs to not sending our kids back are pretty high, too, and as a parent, I’m feeling entirely lost.
I think the wildest thing about locking down is that it feels like there’s nothing new to report ever about anything. Stuff is happening, sure, but it’s like being in a major depressive downswing, where it’s all happening in this void of nothing. Days are all bleeding into each other, to the point where I told like three or four separate people today that Monday is Memorial Day.
Stuff is happening! It just is happening in this void that’s usually relegated to memories. Like you know how most of your memories kind of bleed together so you know that a thing happened, but you don’t know specifically when? That’s what it feels like.
It’s like my memories of my choir tours back in college. In four years, I went on twelve choir tours in a huge bus driving all up and down the eastern seaboard of the US, and while some of them are very specific place-related memories (like obviously, that time we went to the beach on Cape Cod was during a tour on Cape Cod), most just sort of blur into a “I know this happened, but I don’t really know when or where.” When did I stay at that person’s house? What year was it? Was it in Pennsylvania or New York or Virginia? Was it in the spring or the fall or the winter?
(if you were in A Cappella Choir at ENC, you know what I mean)
Stuff is happening. Sam’s birthday happened this week! I have a six-year-old now, and it’s crazy. For the most part, there’s very little difference between Sammy the six-year-old and Sammy the five-year-old, except that Sammy the six-year-old has Minecraft guides that he likes to read aloud to us at all hours of the day and night, where Sammy the five-year-old did not have such guides.
I think he had a pretty awesome birthday, all things considered. We’d been promising him for something like two years that we’d have his birthday party this year at our local indoor play place called Luv 2 Play, which is just that kind of McDonald’s Play Place gone wild, Discovery Zone type adventure land, with ball pits and climbing structures and arcades and pizza! It’s like Chuck E Cheese but so much more! And they’d literally just opened a month before the lockdown went into place and then the lockdown happened and so much for that.
So I knew the potential for disappointment was high and because of that, I went a little overboard with the stuff we could do. Our local police department had a program in place from about the time the lockdown started where they’d come to your house for your kid’s birthday, lights flashing and sirens wailing, and I signed us up for that. Sam was super shy about it, but he was also beyond happy, and he got to sit in the front of and pretend to drive a squad car (his comments on it: “Wow, there’s a lot of stuff in here! It’s a mess!”).
I baked him a cake, as I always do, and even though it looked sort of a mess, it tasted great. Black frosting, as he requested, plus Minecraft decor, as he requested, though my favorite part was the Lego brick candles I found on Amazon. Guarantee I wouldn’t have thought to use those if I hadn’t been scrambling to try and find ways to create a spectacular cake for my big guy to help him with what could’ve otherwise been a really sad birthday.
AND. His best friend’s mom got in touch with me and we planned for them to drive up to our house so Sammy and his best friend could see each other. I think that was my favorite part of the day. Sam, being six, says that his favorite part of the day was getting various toys, but I think what really sticks in his mind was seeing Hunter and getting to talk with him, even if they had to stay apart through a car window.
So it was a success, despite everything, and I’m relieved.
Stuff is happening. We broke down our old couch and chair because the furniture outlet we’d gone shopping at literally days before the entire state shut down called us and said, “Hey, are you going to have your couches delivered or what?”
We’ve needed new couches for ages because our living room furniture was not only purchased in the era of “well, the Båckachë model from Ikea is affordable” but has broken in multiple ways and multiple places. It was ugly and stained and had ceased to be comfortable by any definition.
And we had a pretty nice tax return this year and figured, hey, Kyle’s gainfully employed and even though he has to work from home now, we should be fine through this pandemic!
Anyway. We needed new furniture, so we bought new furniture; but when everything went into lockdown, we thought we’d have to wait until whenever restrictions were lifted completely to have it all delivered (since we just did what’s called “threshold” delivery, which means they basically yeet the furniture at you from the back of a moving truck). But no, apparently they’re doing deliveries again, so we’ve broken down the old sofa and rocking chair and made our living room empty and ready for a sofa, loveseat, and coffee table.
(it looks a lot emptier now that we’ve cleaned up all the toys)
It’s wild. Even in this time that feels like miles of endless nothing, I’ve somehow reached the age where I have a coffee table. A really nice one, too!
Isaac is still having his ABA, which is great. He’s so much calmer and happier, and he’s been getting along so much better with Carrie. He’s gaining words, and though he doesn’t necessarily use them unprompted (i.e., he won’t do like Carrie does and point to a picture of something yellow while saying “yellow”), he still has them, and that’s important. He doesn’t melt down as often as he had been, and he’s just… he’s really doing so well. He’s still very obviously autistic, and I’ve made it clear to his therapists and their office that I am perfectly fine with him stimming, with him being obviously autistic; but he’s learning to communicate better, which is helping him both in the short term and in the long run. He’s better able to express his wants and needs, and because of that, he doesn’t get frustrated so easily.
Which is good.
And then for me. Despite not being able to actually physically go to a doctor’s office, I had a breast cancer risk assessment screening thing last week. It wasn’t a huge deal, just something my OB-GYN had recommended because I have a lot of aunts who’ve had breast cancer and other cancers, on both sides. When that’s your family makeup, you want to get yourself assessed, just to make sure that you’re not missing something.
To nobody’s surprise, I’m sitting right in the middle of the high risk category, which doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m 100% going to get breast cancer, nothing I can do about it, but rather that I need to start being screened more frequently as soon as possible so that if anything does pop up, it can be caught ASAP and stopped before it turns into something unstoppable.
Naturally, with the world locked down, that basically means that I have to hurry up and wait. I received a packet in the mail talking about my risks and medications I could take (that decreased the risk of breast cancer, but also increased the risk of blood clots and uterine cancer, so I’m like ??? that sounds like the opposite of helping?), and I have a note on my chart about getting a mammogram as soon as I can. And I get to follow that up with an MRI and just alternate mammograms and MRIs every six months until I die or someone chops off my boobs or something.
(true story: if I could donate some boob to someone who wants to have more boob, I totally would)
All of this has happened in the last week, since the last time I wrote something, but it feels like nothing is happening. Tomorrow is Saturday, I know, but beyond that? Who even knows? What even is happening? Everything is happening, and it’s all a big, meaningless void of nothing.
And yet, I’m still in favor of keeping locked down as long as it takes to get some sort of actual plan in place or get our act together on treatments and vaccines and whatever the fuck we need because this is not a pleasant illness. I hate being locked down, and if by some miracle, there was no more Covid-19 tomorrow and we could all frolic about freely, I would be the first one out of my house. I want my son to be able to go back to kindergarten and see his friends and finish out the year. I want to take all three of my kids to their well visits without having to wrestle with masks. I want to know without a shadow of a doubt that our trip to Disney World in November is happening. I want people to be able to go back to work. I want to get my roots touched up.
Like that’s the thing. I feel like there’s this misconception that if you’re in favor of things being locked down, you’re having a blast being cooped up inside and don’t see any downsides whatsoever. That is the opposite of true. I am hitting a yellow wallpaper point. I’m worried about the longterm ramifications of the way the world is right now for all three of my kids, regarding not just their educations but also their psychological stability and the economy they’ll be inheriting.
But I also don’t want people to die. I’m generally in favor of that not happening. People die every day, of course, but if we can reduce the number of people dying, I’d like to do that.
And then like… I talk about returning to normal and, okay. I’ve seen the post, too, about how our previous “normal” is what has this country being the laughingstock of the world with how we’re handling this. I don’t want that. When I talk about returning to normal, I mean I want my son to be able to see his friends at school and be taught by someone who’s trained to teach kindergarten rather than by me saying “what the hell is a digraph” during a Zoom call. I want to go to well visits at the doctor to catch problems before they’re major. I want to be able to say, “hey, let’s go visit so-and-so” or “hey, let’s go to the playground” or “hey, let’s go get ice cream” and then do that thing.
But I also want the things that would provide a safety net in situations like this–things like universal healthcare, universal basic income, significantly higher pay for teachers, a living wage for everyone, general compassion and caring for our fellow human beings across the board. I want that change. But I also want the normal of being able to pick up my kids from the school bus after they’ve spent a day with their friends.
I hope that makes sense.
I’m not going to debate anyone about it if you disagree.
But I do wish we could find a nice balance between “endless lockdown because we don’t know what we’re doing” and “we’re just going back to business as usual and screw people if they get sick.”