2020 – Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

It’s September 8th, Labor Day Weekend has come and gone.  Fall will be here soon, with the promise of cooler weather and pumpkin-spiced everything.  Calling 2020 an odd year would be an understatement.  If I woke up tomorrow morning to find an alien ship on my front lawn, it wouldn’t faze me, I’d probably make them coffee and ask them about their trip.  That’s an indicator of how the year has gone so far.

I’m about to start my sixth month of working from home, fully aware I won’t be returning to the office anytime soon.  Back in March, when I went underground, they instructed us to stay home and flatten the curve, but in New York City, the line kept going straight up.  Those first months were rough. Bars, restaurants, and movie theaters were closed, the NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball, the Kentucky Derby, and the 2020 Summer Olympics were all canceled.  Sports fans wondered aloud if this is what the Middle Ages were like. 

The biggest problem was people trying to lead their lives the way they did before the Pandemic — some still are. 

I’ve been home since St. Patrick’s Day, how’s that for irony?  In the 176 days I’ve been home, I realized the glass wasn’t empty or half full. Good things happened along the way too.  You just had to be paying attention.

In the past 176 days, I noticed:

I Enjoyed Spending Time With My Son – This may run counter to my last two posts.  I’ve written about remote learning with an overactive five-year-old with a short attention span as he ran, bounced, and climbed the walls like he had three Red Bulls for breakfast. It’s been enough to make me reach for my emotional-support bourbon.

The benefit of spending the past months with Cristian, is I’ve seen his growth and development in real-time.  He now dresses himself, is potty trained, and speaks more clearly.  Sitting next to him during class time and therapy sessions showed me how smart he is and gave me a glimpse of his playful personality.

Another Afternoon at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve

I Found Things Hiding In Plain Sight – Taking Cristian out to play was easy in March and April when the weather was cold and the parks were empty.  That changed when the weather warmed up in May.  When Cristian’s Saturday OT Sessions were canceled because of a state mandate, Esther suggested taking him to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve.  Set on 9,000 acres, the preserve has hiking trails, saltwater marshes, and freshwater ponds.  It was mostly empty and the perfect place to run, play, and look at the Canadian Geese.  I’ve driven past it on my way to the Rockaways for years.  It took a Pandemic for me to discover this amazing location, less than two miles from my home.

Esther and Cristian during his Moving-up Ceremony

I Enjoyed A Moving-Up Ceremony – If you know me or follow this blog, you probably read that last sentence and thought, WHAT!  That’s valid.  I always thought Moving-up Ceremonies were the product of a generation who received participation trophies in Little League.  Through the course of my education, I had three graduation ceremonies, junior high school, high school, and college.  Cristian had three in the past three years.  Every year, the wife gets excited and plans a celebration, while I have images of George and Weezy.  This year was different.  Maybe being locked up like a hermit for three months affected me, or that the virtual ceremony was quick. It lasted only 30 minutes.  Cristian finally got a piece of the pie.

Cristian enjoying his day at the zoo.

Family Day At A Socially Distant Zoo – As Cristian’s Moving-up Ceremony approached, Esther scoured the internet looking for a way to celebrate Cristian’s achievements in basic crayon.  New York Zoos and Aquariums were closed, so she searched across state lines. She found the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  They had just reopened with heavy restrictions and an emphasis on social distancing.  Guests reserved spots in advance, wore masks, and could only walk in designated areas.  A year ago, I had no idea we would have enjoyed an hour at the zoo as much as we did.

I Had Time To Write My Memoirs – No, really.  I’m aware the concept of a white-haired fifty-something man sitting at a typewriter and writing his memoirs is beyond cliché.  Like several bloggers I follow, I’ve considered adapting I’m Not Grandpa to book form.  I’ve spent the past two years reviewing notes and blog posts and even alluded to it here. I started a 10-week memoir-writing course in January and really enjoyed it.  When the virus hit, eight of us formed a writing group that meets on Wednesday nights.  Being around this talented group of writers has given me the discipline to stop thinking about writing a book and start writing one.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

Remote Learning — Our New Normal

Working remotely with Miss Jess, his Occupational Therapist.

It’s the Dog Days of Summer — the last days of August are winding down as we wait for Labor Day and the start of a new school year.  Under normal circumstances, Esther and I would be headed to the outlets to buy Cristian’s school clothes and wait for a list of school supplies from his teacher. This isn’t a normal year.

Back in March, schools closed, and they instructed people to work from home to flatten the curve.  At first, staying at home during a Global Pandemic seemed like going underground in a dystopian novel.  

At first, it seemed like a good idea.  Many embraced the thought of hunkering down, binge-watching Netflix, and consuming large amounts of comfort food.  If you aren’t a parent.

Keeping entertained with his markers before his school provided a schedule.

We didn’t have that luxury — I miss the days before we were parents.  Esther and I spent the first weeks keeping Cristian engaged and entertained, hoping he didn’t regress too much.  Let’s be honest, all of us, children and adults alike, were getting too much screen time in March.

Parents look to schools for a sense of security, but during those first days, there wasn’t any.  As an educator myself, I knew the situation was unprecedented. There was no road map for a Pandemic.  It wasn’t the school’s fault, Cristian’s school, The Gersh Academy, teaches students ranging in age from 5 through 21. Creating a new curriculum took time.

As late March became April, Cristian’s school sent us an educational app called IXL.  It’s like ABC Mouse.com which already on his tablet.  We figured if he was getting too much screen time — let it be productive.  Cristian enjoyed playing with his new math and language arts games.

Doing some IXL in my office at home.

A few weeks later, the school sent us their plan for remote learning. We were less than thrilled.  The schedule was overwhelming there were classes, therapy sessions, homework, and IXL assignments.  Besides this, Esther is an essential worker, so keeping Cristian educated and entertained fell into my lap. 

I don’t want to sound like a lazy parent, but the number of people who thought I could easily devote 12 to 14 hours a day to Cristian’s education amazed me.  Teachers, administrators, and therapists were all gung-ho.  I had to keep reminding them, “I HAVE A JOB, DAMN IT!” 

The answer was always, “Oh yes, I understand,” after withstanding my pissed-off growl.  I still wonder if they really did.

We made the most of our situation and hoped for the best.  Cristian responds better from structure and routine, so we approached remote learning like a regular school day.  Every morning, he dressed for school after breakfast.  We allowed him to bring his transitional object, a stuffed animal, and we got him excited about going back to school.

His first remote session was OT with Miss Jess.  We love Jess; she bonded with Cristian before the crisis. She truly understands him.  When he saw her on the screen, he smiled and said, “Miss Jess, my favorite teacher in the whole world.”

A pre-class selfie to loosen him up.

Cristian’s schedule was full. It included a 30-minute morning meeting every day, Occupational Therapy 3 times a week, Speech Therapy, 3 times a week, and ABA therapy once a week for 30 minutes.  We also paid out of pocket for a separate 30-minute OT session with a private instructor.  Then there was the homework.  They sent us six or seven worksheets a day.

Knowing our son, we scheduled his classes early in the day and left a 30-minute break between classes.  More than once, I finished one of Cristian’s Zoom sessions at school, before jumping on one for work.  

When the Spring semester ended in June, we enrolled Cristian in a six-week summer session. He does better when he’s kept occupied.  Summer sessions meant fewer students, more therapy.  Besides the spring schedule, he now received ABA five days a week and Physical Therapy twice a week.  The memory of holding an iPad in front of my five-year-old son, while the therapist walked him through yoga poses puts a smile on my face. 

Remote learning wasn’t always smooth sailing.  Cristian had a few rough days along the way.  There were meltdowns, and sometimes his ADHD kicked in after the fourth session of the morning.  The remnants of Tropical Storm Isaias left one of Cristian’s teachers without power for a few days, cancelling a few classes, but we pushed on.

Cristian starts first grade on September 2nd in a hybrid model.  Esther and I worry, but we feel the mix of live classes and social interaction could slow some regression.  We do this with some trepidation; we know remote learning is not the best option, but it’s what we have at the time and we wonder how long will it be until we will conduct his entire schedule from home.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

Raising an Autistic Child in the Era of COVID19

Like about 90% of Americans, I’ve spent the two months under a stay-at-home order.  Being introverted this would have appealed to me 15 years ago. I would have happily worked, read, and watched movies from my tiny one-bedroom apartment.  I lead a different life than that younger, thinner guy.  I’m a husband and father to an energetic special needs child. 

Cristian, like many autistic children, thrives on routine.  Until recently, the school bus picked him up five days a week at 7:15.  For Cristian, school was about more than basic math and advanced crayon.  Cristian’s school, the Gersh Academy, structured his schedule so his ABA, OT, PT, and Speech therapies were part of his weekly schedule, per his IEP.  When he’s on a routine, Cristian is a cute five-year-old boy — disrupt his routine, and cute goes flying out the window.

My son’s world changed on March 15th, when Nassau County closed their schools, because of the pandemic.  Like many parents, Esther hoped it would be a short-term thing.  As a news junkie watching the numbers rise and the daily news briefings, I knew he wasn’t going back to school anytime soon. 

The Pandemic is an unprecedented event, and for two weeks, schools scrambled putting together plans for virtual learning.  Esther and I put together our own plan to keep Cristian engaged, entertained, and to minimize regression.  Besides being on the spectrum, Cristian is ADHD, the hyperactivity is more challenging than the autism.  Esther and I have sought outlets for his excess energy — it’s become more challenging in the era of social distancing.   

The first days were easy. I’d time his trips to parks so he could run around the playground before the locals came out for their morning walks or before it started raining.  Two weeks later, I took Cristian to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve; it was big and empty or taking him with me to the cemetery.  As I paid respects to my Dad, on what would have been his 94th birthday, Cristian ran around a large, empty grass field, enclosed by iron gates.  Sometimes you have to get creative.

I’ve spent the past two months home with Cristian, juggling, working from home with his schoolwork.  Morning Zoom classes and therapy sessions part of our daily routine.  Like most people, I can’t wait until our lives return to normal.  The challenge is opening our society in a responsible way and hoping Cristian’s regression is minimal.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

Was Darwin Right? Surviving the Coronavirus.

Selfquarantining at home

COVID19 aka, the Coronavirus has changed our lives globally.  Working from home, social distancing, and wearing rubber gloves and masks before going outside is the new normal.  Initially, it wasn’t so bad, but once schools were closed, our kids were home with us.  There is a difference between staying home and being forced to stay home. 

Spending the past two weeks working from home on a laptop while keeping an eye on a hyperactive five-year-old is NOT a snow day.  Did I mention that Cristian is autistic and ADHD?  I’ve spent two weeks watching my little guy bounce off the walls like the Tazmanian Devil in a Looney Tunes cartoon.  Don’t you wish you were me?

Here’s what I observed watching COVID19 go from a health emergency to a global pandemic from the comfort of my living room.

People Are Stupid – We were given one task — stay home. Mayors, Governors, and the President, for maybe a week, told us two things: Stay Home, and employ social distancing. It’s not rocket science. We’re a country of fat, lazy, people, who have been waiting for this kind of national emergency, but we didn’t follow orders.  Let’s add stupid to the list.

Don’t believe me? I have four words for you, Starbucks and cruise ships. Before shutting them down, both were jammed with people like filthy Petri dishes in high-school lab experiments, yet we couldn’t stay away.

Pandemics are Different than Blizzards – Stocking our homes with supplies has forced us to become hunter/gatherers. It’s the pandemic equivalent of going out with a crossbow and taking down a deer.  I live in the Northeast and am no stranger to blizzards and nor’easters. During a blizzard, milk, eggs, and bread are the first things to disappear from supermarket shelves. Why does an intense snowstorm makes people crave french toast?

My mom and dad grew up poor and knew what it was like to go to bed hungry. It prepared them for this type of situation. Their home was always stocked with enough supplies to survive any natural disaster.  This was my guide while foraging for toilet paper, bleach, and paper towels. My 90-year old mother beamed with pride every time I can home with a new haul of supplies as if I dragged home a 300-pound deer.

COVID19 Has Kept Conspiracy Theorists Busy – The geniuses spotting UFOs outside their trailers are busy indulging a new hobby—conspiracy theories.   I’ve heard everything from COVID19 is a Democrat Hoax started to bring down the Trump Administration, it was engineered in lab in China, or is the actual version of Captain Tripps, the virus in Steven King’s The Stand. The nutcases are having a field day aligning their specific theory to match their ideology. Listen to it long enough and you’ll want to rush out and lick a few doorknobs.

Donald Trump and Andrew Cuomo Replaced March Madness – If you follow me, you know I’m not a fan of March Madness..  In recent weeks, the NBA, the NHL, March Madness, and Major League Baseball all suspended operations.  Sports fans and degenerate gamblers were never able to fill out their brackets.  Instead, we’ve watched Governor Andrew Cuomo and President Trump hold daily briefings.  I’d gladly fill out a bracket every year for the rest of my life to never hear either of them again.

Maybe It’s Time to Thin the Herd – Darwin believed humans and animals in the wild were subject to the same laws of natural selection. Throughout human existence, wars, plagues, and famines prevented overpopulation. I’ve seen college students enjoying Spring Break in Florida, while others who are treating this pandemic like it’s a joke.  Maybe Darwin was right.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

Never Underestimate The Little Things

Cristian as Baby Superman

I have a fond childhood memory getting haircuts from my father.  On Sunday mornings after church, while Mom made breakfast, and Abbott and Costello movies played in the background, Dad cut my brother Bob and my hair.  The long process usually resulted in a buzzcut — a crooked one — if we turned our heads or sneezed.

 A few years later, Dad became friends with a charming Italian man named Franco, when his family moved next door to us.  Dad helped Franco with household projects, and Franco, who was a barber, cut our hair — retiring Dad’s scissors once and for all.  The fee for these projects was a bottle of wine.

When my wife Esther and I became parents, I looked forward to a similar father/son bonding moment.  We’d get haircuts then go for a slice of pizza afterward.  We waited over a year for Cristian’s first haircut.  We weren’t lazy parents but his birthday is in October. Cristian’s size and long wavy hair made him a perfect Baby Superman for Halloween.

Cristian’s first haircut, before the tears started.

A week after Halloween, Franco came over for the long-awaited haircut.  It didn’t go well.  Although Esther did her best to distract the baby with her iPhone and his favorite toys, he squirmed, cried and screamed.  This concerned us, but Franco reassured us, telling us this was common for kids his age.

It wasn’t until Cristian was diagnosed as On the Spectrum, that we learned about the sensory issues autistic children experience.  They could be under-sensitive to pain, yet hyper-sensitive to clipping nails or haircuts.  Esther clips Cristian’s nails while he sleeps, and his feet still flinch involuntarily while clipping his toenails.  We found a solution for his nails — haircuts are another matter.

For Cristian, the vibration of metal clippers is like someone running their fingernails across a blackboard.  Franco no longer cuts Cristian’s hair, he became afraid of him and started crying whenever he’d visit.  Cristian’s haircuts are now a well-choreographed family project.  He sits in Mommy’s lap in the barber’s chair, while I stand on one side with the barber on the other.  Working quickly, I hold Cristian’s head or chest, as the barber cuts one side or the other, while keeping a watchful eye for a headbutt or a kick in the crotch.  He’s only five, but a well-placed kick still hurts.

We recently found a glimmer of hope.  A parent in a support group we attend recommended a barbershop in Whitestone catering to the autistic community.  During our first visit, Cristian’s barber told us, “Give me three haircuts, and you’ll see a difference.”  He was sensitive to Cristian’s specific needs and uses specially designed plastic clippers. 

His haircuts still haven’t gone smoothly, but they aren’t the traumatic ordeal they once were.  Considering where we started that’s progress.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin