Preschool.

I have had a pretty hard time in adjusting to my new preschool gig at work. I did not ask for it, in my humble opion, it was forced upon me in a less than ideal way. But, I need a job so I had to accept it. My days are now split between working with the Functional Core Class (something that I believe everyone should do at least once) and working with little autistic preschoolers. When I first told Dad what was happening he was like “I think it’s great, the kids will love you! This is good!” Blah Blah Blah. I am not ashamed to say that I thought Dad just did not get it. I do not do well with little kids. My forte is with the 3-5th graders. I fought it, I was unhappy, I adjusted, and I made it work….for now.

I work with an adorable three-year-old little preschool boy. “Bean.” I am telling you guys, Bean needs his own show. He is adorably amazing and has quickly become my favorite. Apparently, he has some behavior issues, but I do not really see them as issues, I see them as normal. For instance, he gets overwhelmed if there is too much noise or too much going on. I mean, don’t we all? Little three-year-old Bean can carry on a conversation with you like there is no tomorrow. I adore him, and it is because of him that I am now coming around to perhaps liking this preschool gig I was forced to do.

So today, out on the playground, I am working with my little friend Bean. Now, Bean knows me all too well. He knows that all he has to do is reach into my coat pocket and an assortment of gummy worms will be there. I use gummy worms as a “motivator” for my kids, and it works pretty well. As Bean reached into my pocket and found said gummy worms, I told him “Okay, but you have to work for it!” And so it began.

Me~ Bean, Walk with me.
(he walks)
Me~ Okay, stop!
(he stops)
Me~ High five!
(he gives me a high five)
Me~ “What’s your name?
Bean~ “What’s your name?”
Me~ “Your name is Bean!”
Bean~ “Your name is Bean!”
Me~ “My name is Jennifer!”
Bean~ “My name is Jennifer!”
Me~ “Hi Bean!”
Bean~ “Hi Bean!”

He earned a gummy worm, which he happens to call “snake.”

He earned it because he listened to my prompts, although he mimicked many of them.

I gave him his “snake” and off he went to play. Running around without a care in the world.

I am now standing there talking to the other Para’s while watching the kids play.

About ten minutes later, after the main Para told me “Okay no more gummy worms.” Bean runs up to me.

“Snake Jennifer, snake!”

What? Did he just say my name? Without me prompting him?

I melted. I bent down, gave him a hug. “Oh my gosh Bean, you said my name! You can have all the snakes you want!”

The other Para’s looked at me, rolled their eyes and called me “a sucker.”

I mean is this new information? Of course, I am a sucker! I should not even be working with kids because they know what to do to get me to fold. Just ask Henry! However, and more importantly, the main Para told me “He does not even say his teacher’s name!”

Whelp, that is all I needed to hear. Bean can have whatever he wants. He has now taken a piece of my heart that I did not even know was available.

And, once again, I have to say, and I really do not know even know how he does this, but Dad was right.

"I don't think I can express what I have to say in just colored paper and glue."

 

 

 

 

“The Christmas Tree Crisis.”

Joe and I have each found a new show on Hulu to watch. And by “new” I mean new to us.

Joe’s new show is “Designated Survivor” with good ol Kiefer Sutherland. It’s not bad, I just feel like I have seen it done before.

My new show is “A Million Little Things.” I am only on the third episode (because someone is hogging the t.v) but I am already addicted. It follows a group of guys around who became friends under extreme circumstances. In the first episode, one of the guys commits suicide, and as morbid as this may sound, that sealed it for me. I had to keep watching.

Of course, I was unable to keep watching because I had to go out and help Santa make some Christmas magic. And Joe, well he is still watching his show.

In between cooking dinner and blogging, I noticed once again my damn cat was sleeping in my Christmas tree. I do my usual “BRYAN! GET OUT OF THE TREE!.” He does not budge. Seriously, Bryan believes I put the Christmas tree up just for him and him alone. He does not mind sharing with the other cats, as long as they just sleep under the tree, but when I dare to call him out, the little bastard rolls his eyes at me.

I have to wait him out. It’s like that saying “A watched pot does not boil.” Or something to that effect. So, I go wash some dishes, make a phone call, all while keeping one eye on Bryan. I need to wait for him to get bored and come down so I can evaluate if his fat ass ruined yet another branch.

As Joe and I are doing our own “Battle of the T.V” Bryan decides to get out of the tree and takes a front row seat to see who will win. “Okay, fine, you get the t.v I need to fix the tree!”

Just as I suspected, the branch that held my ten-pound cat is now bent, and I have a “hole” in the tree. “BRYAN!!!! COME LOOK AT THIS! THIS IS WHY YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED IN THE TREE!”

Bryan takes this opportunity to go use the litter box.

I stand back and assess the tree. I have a few options.

Option 1~ Bring out one of the five other trees that I have in storage.

Option 2~ Rearrange my village that is under the tree so the now bent branch will lay on the steeple of the church.

Option 3~ Turn the tree so the hole is now in the corner and not visible to the naked eye.

After thinking way too long about the now “Christmas Tree Crisis” I decided to leave it.

As I was standing there, my mind kinda flashed forward ahead some years.

I am in Gracie’s home. I am sitting in a chair by an end table with a lamp, sipping on my signature drink of vodka and diet. I am watching Gracie hand an ornament to her own daughter. AJ and Vinnie are there doing the dishes from Christmas Eve dinner. (Well, that certainly is different.) Sofia is there as well, kinda dictating where her niece should place the ornament. Typical Sofia. Gracie tells her daughter, my granddaughter “Do not listen to her, put it where you want.” Sofia rolls her eyes and now takes over the distribution of ornaments. AJ comes in. “Yo, Sis, there is a hole in the Christmas tree. Want me to turn it?” Vinnie, not too far behind AJ, “Nah Bro, remember, this is what mom would have wanted. We are leaving it for her.”

And Vinnie is right. Leave the tree and its perfect imperfections. Because in the imperfections are where the memories live.

~Jennifer

bryantree

 

“Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth is a childhood friend of mine. I met her at church when I was 14. There was a group of us, Elizabeth, Jess, Darlene, and myself who all just connected. Many weekends would be at each other’s house, the mall, or on youth group activities. The best thing was our families knew each other from church. There was a trust between both the friends and our respective parents, as there should be. Quite honestly this was a solid set of girlfriends. I think the only thing we ever did wrong just involved me and Jess going to a concert and then meeting some random guys-but that’s a whole other blog.

Life took all of us in separate directions. We all became young mothers. Most of us married and then divorced. Elizabeth and I remarried. Jess is still single and Darlene has been happily married to her high school sweetheart. To this day we remain in contact with the wonders of social media.

I was kinda-sorta dating a church guy. We were young, so there was really no “going out.” We would hang out at Church or the Prayer Room and see each other on youth group activities. He was a very nice guy and had I not met the dipshit sperm donor of my oldest son, I am sure our story would have continued for a bit longer. We went to Christian prom together, however, before Prom, our dates were going to cook us dinner at Elizabeth’s house. (We were young and had no money!)

Elizabeth’s father, Bobby, or as us girls called him “Mr. Bremmer” gave all of our dates the third degree. He was polite yet firm. He made them feel welcomed yet let them know we are expected back at Elizabeth’s house at 10:00. He was hard, but always fair.

Shortly after Christian Prom, Elizabeth’s parents had a 4th of July party at their house. The guest would be residents from the local nursing home. Elizabeth’s dad had asked Darlene and I if we would sing a Christian song to “entertain the crowd.” I had never sung before and we would quickly find out that I kinda sucked at it.

Many nights Darlene and I would stay up late, practicing “Born in Zion” by Wayne Watson. Definitely not my first song of choice, however, I had to keep in mind my “audience.” The day of the party came, and Elizabeth’s parents had a sound system set up. Both Darlene and I were nervous. We had decided that she would take the first verse I would take the second and we would do the chorus together.

There we are, two young girls up there in their backyard. People are cooking, lots of wheelchairs, lots of laughs. Everyone was just, good. Mingling, enjoying the 4th. As soon as Darlene and I started singing, the crowd, the nursing home crowd, started yelling “WE CAN’T HEAR YOU! SING LOUDER!” Yeah, this was a hardcore crowd.

Darlene and I rushed through the song. As soon as it was over we ran inside, trying to hide from what I now know to be our own insecurities.

Elizabeth and her dad came in to find Darlene and me.

“You girls did great!”
“Eh, don’t listen to them, half of them can’t hear anyway!”
“I am proud of you!”

He gave Darlene and I a hug and ordered us to eat some grub!

And, that we did.

Tonight, I found out Elizabeth lost her dad. As I am writing this post, Elizabeth is making memorial arrangements for her father. There are no words.

Tonight, I am taken back to that hot and humid 4th of July in Norfolk, Va.

If I listen closely, I can hear Darlene and I singing “Born in Zion” and the lyrics, well, the lyrics have never been more fitting.

Very few are born to riches, very few
Very few of cherished wishes ever come true
But that won’t matter much at all
On the day your name is called
When this earthbound life is through
And your Father says of you

This one was born in Zion
Make no mistake, this one is Mine
This one was born in Zion
This one will never, this one will never
This one will never die

Very few are ever famous, very few
Very few will ever live the dream that they choose
But that won’t matter much at all
On the day your name is called
When this earthbound life is through
And your Father says of you

This one was born in Zion
Make no mistake, this one is Mine
This one was born in Zion
This one will never, this one will never
This one will never die

And every dream left unfulfilled
And every worthy goal
Is just a shadow of the joy that waits
Forever to unfold

This one was born in Zion
Make no mistake, this one is Mine
This one was born in Zion
This one will never, oh, this one will never
This one will never die

 

Remember…

*This post was supposed to be posted last night, but as usual, life and all that.

Tonight’s post was supposed to be “Day 4” of my 30-day writing challenge. The prompt being “10 interesting facts about yourself.”

Well, I got number one knocked out and then I drew a blank. I mean I think I am an interesting person, but writing “ten interesting facts about myself” does not seem all that interesting. So, I am just going to move on. You’re welcome.

I was talking to dad on the phone yesterday about his blog Cobblestone Dreams. My dad and his brother (my Uncle) have had this blog over a year now. The blog follows their childhood growing up in New York City. It’s definitely a blog worth reading and to take it a step further, I could even see a show based off of their blog. Do you guys remember the show The Wonder Years?  A coming of age comedy set in the 1960s. That too was a great show, and I can see Cobblestone Dreams (the show) much like that. Naturally, I would have to play a part. Oh! I could play the part of my grandmother, their mom. How cool would that be? Okay, some seriously needs to pick this up. This would be my shining moment, my welcoming to the Big Screen. Look out Oscar’s here I come!

Okay…..where was I?

Every Monday, depending on whose turn it is, either my dad or uncle writes a post. My dad is up this week and was struggling to find a topic because in his words “We have covered so much.” I told him that their blog is going to be a legacy for the Ortolano family. Even if they never reach the numbers of readers that we all set out to reach when we start a blog, Cobblestone Dreams has found a permanent home on the Internet. Many years from now Cobblestone Dreams will still be alive in its own little corner of the Internet and one day, maybe Gracie’s own daughter will come across it. What a gift that will be. So, basically I do not care if Dad cannot think of a topic to write about, he better figure it out for the family legacy! (and my Oscar)

Which brings me back to my own corner of the Internet. I have had this blog for years now. Some of you have been here from the start, some of you are newcomers. Either way, what I learned tonight from talking to Dad is I love writing. I love writing this blog. No matter where my other writings may or may not take me, no matter if I have something to write about or not, I need to keep at it. I need to keep at it so my own kids and possibly their children have a quiet place to come find me and my stories of years gone by.

We are about two weeks out from Christmas 2018. I cannot believe how fast time is passing us all by. I am already doing preparations for Halloween 2019. Seriously. It is Monday night and I made it to the Fantasy Football playoffs. I am banking on Tyler Lockett to do what he does best and get me some points. However, it is not looking too good. If he does not make the points, then I do not move forward.

I am going to have all my kids home for Christmas, as my oldest has moved back home, and in the process, we kinda got a bonus son too. Life is good, life is hard, but watching the news is a cold reality of how much harder it could be.

My brother-in-law and I finalized our Christmas Eve plans. If we were to leave it to Joe and his sister, nothing would get done. They would both agree with this. Christmas Eve will be spent together, Christmas day we will do our own thing, and do not worry, I will not be cooking.

As always, time is getting away from me. I have to wrap things up, make sure the girls are in bed, as well as myself for our early morning wake-up call for school and work. Time is also getting away from me in the sense that we are only two weeks out from Christmas and there is still so much to do. So much to plan. I do not know how your mind works, but here is a quick snippet of mine.

  • Get through these last two weeks and then Christmas break starts.
  • School starts back January 7th.
  • Once we hit January I have Vinnie’s bday.
  • Then Sofia’s.
  • The Gracie’s.
  • We are now in March.
  • Spring break.
  • The finish line is in sight.
  • Summer vacation.
  • Summer went by in a flash.
  • Here comes the 2019-20020 school year.

Where the hell does the time go?

Everybody’s moving at the pace of lighting
Sometimes we need to bring it back down and just start watching.
Take it all in instead of worrying about social media capturing.
And remember these days, these good old days of living.

The smiles and laughter,
the fights and forgiveness after,
The dreams and hardships, that will be part of your chapter.
at the end of your nights, when you’re in bed,
alarm clock set for all of tomorrow’s forgets
you tell yourself that indeed, it all mattered

You look in the mirror and see the beginnings of the fine lines.
It’s settling in, making a home in the corner of your left eye.
With your little girl looking on
anticipation wondering if there’s anything wrong

this is a moment that never lasts long
don’t let her be blind side.

Honey let me tell you, it wasn’t always this way.
I remember not too long ago when I was just your same age.
Life comes and moves you swiftly, you quickly lose track of time
before you know you it you wake up to see you have earned those fine lines

So listen closely as I tell you, make time to stop and see,
appreciate the good times and those that may not be

It’s not always where you’re going
but how you get there, that is the guarantee
 of a life well spent,
a life well loved,
take it all in, while taking your time
finding your mountains while learning to climb
because,
everyone is moving at the pace of lighting.

pizap.com15445963994921

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3 of 30

Day 3: Your first love and first kiss, if separate, discuss both.

As of the writing of this post, Christin is going to grace us with her presence and join in. She is now officially on her Winter Break, which means if all goes well, we should be seeing more of her here on the Blog.

Now, for today’s prompt. Oh, where to begin. I remember growing up, once I hit my teens, everyone told me “You will always remember your first kiss.” Well, guess what? I do not remember my first kiss. I cannot even remember the guy, which makes me sound slutty, but trust me that was not the case. I can proudly count on one hand how many people I have kissed….among other things. And yes, I will say it, even having what I consider to be a low number, I wish it was even less.

This is what I do remember. I did not understand the logistics of kissing. Which way do you tilt your head? Whose lip is on top? Can you still kiss if you do not use your tongue? I remember asking my conservative church friends “How do you kiss? How do you know if you are a good kisser?” Forget Youth Group on Wednesday night church, my friends and I would gather together watching all the cute boys play basketball and they would draw me a diagram of how to kiss. Now, I do not know if they just sucked at drawing or if I just was not getting it, but I was more confused than ever.

“Jen, you are overthinking it!”

“How can you NOT overthink it, it’s a pretty big deal!”

I was obsessed with learning how to kiss.

At the time, Dad was working for Pepsi. One day, he brought each of us three kids home an oversized teddy bear. I do not know if this teddy bear was a promotional item or what, but I instantly fell in love with my new friend. I would position him on my bed, or at my vanity table. Many times all my other stuffed animals would just sit in his lap. I loved that big ole bear. And, low and behold, the oversized teddy bear was the absolute perfect thing to practice kissing on. I had the diagrams my well-meaning friends drew me. Looking at the diagram, then practicing on my teddy bear, well, it was good until it was not. It took me a bit too long to realize the damn bear cannot tell me if I am any good or not. This was pointless.

One day, at church (of course) while the sermon was going on I snuck out back with one of the cute church boys. Right behind the church while I am sure the Pastor was preaching about keeping yourself pure, I had my first kiss, or at least I think it was my first kiss. The thing is, the only important thing for me was knowing if I was any good at kissing. I knew the cute boy would never be into me and my charming personality. He wanted to see how far he could get with me and that was it. I knew this, even back then, but I did not care. In hindsight, it was better that way. Let me have my first kiss with someone who I am not attached to, so when I do have my first kiss with “The One” I will know if I am any good or not. Look, this was the logic of a 14-15-year-old me. It is also proof that I have always been competitive.

Now, fast forward about 14 years. Give or take. Joe and I have been dating for three months. He was always a complete gentleman. Seriously. In those three months the guy never even held my hand. I knew he was a keeper. I knew he was one of the good ones, and I knew I was falling for him hard.

One night he was over and we were playing a card game of Rummy, which I am exceptionally good at. I learned how to play from my sister, who is equally as competitive as I am.  Now, this is where Joe and I have different recollections of the events I am about to tell you. My version, also known as THE TRUTH, is I was winning. I was winning every hand and although he is not as competitive as I am, he is not that far behind. Joe would tell you that it was him that was winning, but that is not true. Please refer to my previous post where I talk about my impeccable memory.

So, Joe and I are “talking crap” to each other about the other losing. Just good fun times. One of us, (again, our stories differ, but I am right) had the idea of “Whoever loses the next hand has to initiate the first kiss.” He says it was my idea, I say it was his. Now would also be a good time to mention the fact that Joe has a horrible memory.

Naturally, he lost the hand of Rummy (because I am too good.) It was fun and then it was awkward. It’s not like I was going to be “Okay you have to kiss me now!” I mean I did rub it in that I won, but made no mention of “the bet.” As time was ticking away, Joe put his jacket on, “Well, it’s getting late. I have an early day tomorrow.” I followed him to the door, telling him I had a good time beating him in Rummy. He turned around, looked at me, asked if he could give me a hug. “Of course.” He put his arms me, and mine around him. As he pulled away, getting ready to open the door, he slowly came in for the kiss. It was perfect and fun, and sweet all rolled into one. As I watched him go down the stairs, I knew right then and there that I just had my last first kiss.

~Jennifer.

Jen called me last night, like clockwork.

“You need to do the 30-day blog thing with me!”

Oh boy. Let me tell you guys something. I am hanging on by a thread. Just finished with finals for school and work is…well work is mentally draining at times. I haven’t even got my Christmas tree up and I have a mountainous pile of laundry on my couch that needs to be folded.

Now Jen thinks I have the time or energy to write anything, let alone a blog.

“C’mon it will take 20 minutes…”

So, here I am writing a blog about my first kiss or my first love or some crap like that.

Here is the thing. I wasn’t your average teenage girl that was into boys. In fact, they weren’t really on my radar. I was more interested in hanging out with my friends, cruising the avenue Friday night, and going on adventures with my best friend Steph. I mean, I did hold hands with a boy when I was 14 for about 5 seconds, until my face turned red and my hand got sweaty. That was the beginning and the end of my high school romance. While most of my friends were figuring out who they were going to the dance with on Friday night, Steph and I were planning our Friday night around what kind of pizza we were going to order and where we were going to take a drive to. One night we got brave and went on the wrong side of town. With 2-Pac bumping on the speakers, we found ourselves amongst the drug dealers and prostitutes downtown. With the windows down at the stop light, we thought we were pretty cool until we heard “POP-POP!” We ducked down, thinking it was gunshots…there may have been some screaming too. She hit the gas and it was only then we realized it was merely a car backfiring and not gunshots. We laughed our asses off all the way back to the westside where it was safe for a couple of white girls that had no business in the hood. We still laugh about it to this day.

So back to the first kiss or my first love that I’m supposed to be writing about.

So, here’s the thing, I had to kiss quite a few frogs before I found the one.

I had to wait 9 long months for that kiss.

After being friends for a while and then dating for a few months, I waited patiently as each date we went on ended in a hug.

 I think we were both nervous, not sure how to proceed.

And then one day on my couch, it happened.

Everything stopped for a moment, time stood still.

I can remember it like it was yesterday.

It was the best first kiss.

Lucky for me, every kiss we have, feels like the very first time.

-Christin

 

30 day writing challenge

Day 2 of 30

Day 2: Your earliest memory.

I have an amazing memory. I can remember the exact layout of my grandparent’s apartment from when I was a little girl. I can remember the wallpaper in the bathroom of my Aunt’s apartment. I remember faces, I remember clothing, I remember how people made me feel. I remember the animals at the circus. I remember the music that was playing in the car when there was a fire on the side of the road. I remember it all. In fact, a few weeks ago Dad called me. “Jen I have a question, and I know you have a good memory.” I mean at times I kinda impress myself by how good my memory is. Although as a disclaimer, there is a handful of things I have chosen to block out.

When I read today’s prompt. It was a no-brainer for me.

I was young. Just a baby. I am guessing one year old, two at the most. I was in my highchair. I was wearing a dress. White with maybe a red collar, or red design on the dress. Someone was feeding me baby food. Somehow I fell out of my highchair. The highchair fell on the side with me strapped in. I have no idea exactly how I fell or who it was that scooped me up, but I fell. Apparently, it was pretty serious. Or, serious for such a young child. The side of my left eye was cut. I did not need stitches, but to this day, I still have the scar in the corner of my left eye. It’s not noticeable unless you know what you are looking for, but it is there. When I smile, if you look close enough at the scar, you will see a younger me, in the highchair, many years ago. A lifetime ago. And if you look even closer, you will see me, present me, going to reach for younger me, picking myself up, and telling myself “You’ll be okay, one day when you have your own family, this will make for a great story.”

And, that it did.

30 day writing challenge

Day 1 of 30

I have about eight blog post just sitting in my “back office” waiting for me to come and edit. One of them being my famous Thanksgiving Day post. The cliff note version, I undercooked both the ham and turkey. Are we really surprised by this?

So, in an effort to take some non-existent pressure off of myself, I am switching things up a bit. Specifically for the next 30 days.  The thing is, I have about ten blog posts in my head at any given time. Trying to decide on which one to write about is always a challenge. Lately, it is too much work to decide if I should talk about work, kids, cats, or vodka. So, as I try to enjoy this holiday season without putting too much pressure (as non-existent as it may be) on myself, I am going to do this 30-Day Writing Challenge, and as always, I hope you come along for the ride.

(Dad and/or Uncle Robert, if you guys are reading this, it may be something fun to do for The Long and Short of it while we wait to post the story)

Day 1: Five problems with social media.

Oh, this could take a while, right?!?!

1. In my humble opinion, I feel there is so much fakeness on social media. Let’s take a look at Facebook for this one. How many times do we see pictures of an impeccable house, children dressed in their Sunday best as mom puts a Pinterest dinner on the table? Please. Show me your frozen Totino’s Pizza pics while your “Little Darling’s” are picking off the toppings with a load of laundry sitting in the corner that has been waiting to be folded for four days. Keep it real.

2. Embarrassment. In the days before social media, if I happen to trip over my own two feet at my local Target, I would be embarrassed for a hot second then go on with spending way too much money. These days, everyone wants that “one viral post.” So, when I trip over my own two feet at Target, I have about five bystanders whipping out their phones recording me and my mishaps, then quickly publishing it to their page with a caption that goes something like this “Crazy drunk mom cannot walk in Target.” Now, in my little scenario, let’s just say that it was not me at Target, but a middle school kid who tripped in the lunchroom. You can see where this would go, and it’s just not a good place.

3. People seem to be keyboard warriors. Oh, you know the kind. They will say whatever the hell they want to say and throw a little “umph” into it because they are safely behind their phone/computer. Face to face, would they be that brave? I highly doubt it.

4. Politics. I may be in the minority here, but I am sick and tired of reading the political post. You are not going to change my mind, I am not going to change yours. So, can we just agree to disagree and talk about cats?

5. My biggest complaint. The one thing that has brought me thisclose to leaving social media. Stop posting pictures of animal abuse. I just can’t. It is rude, it is insensitive. If there is a horrible story out there that you want to bring awareness too, use your words without pictures. Stop trying to be THAT person who is trying to go for the “wow” factor. I am now at the point where I will block anyone who will post pictures of animal abuse.

So, there you have it. Now, tell me your top 5 problems with social media, and come back tomorrow to read about my earliest memory.

30 day writing challenge

The Day Before Thanksgiving…

You guys, I totally impressed myself on the eve of Thanksgiving 2018. Now, we all know this does not happen often, so naturally, I had to bring it to the blog.

I had a long day at work. We only had a half day, but the kids have some unspoken rule that when we have a half day they are really going to make us work for it. My little friend “Henry” was quite the handful today. I mean behavior wise he was fine and by “fine” I mean typical Henry behavior. However, you know how you get if you drink like five cups of coffee? Well, this was Henry today, minus the coffee. Like I said, there is an unspoken rule between these kids. They know.

Henry was constantly up and down, throwing Ipads, throwing phones, running out the door, running into the parking lot. Constant. I was at my limit about forty-five minutes into the start of my “half day.”

The only reprieve I had was during “circle time.” Our teacher started this new thing and I personally love it. I believe this should be a staple in all classrooms. However, I do not get paid for my unsolicited opinions so we will just keep that between us. Our teacher started allowing the kids to listen to music. Like good music not the ABC’s traditional “kid songs.”

Yesterday, while the teacher was playing the acoustic, the kids got to listen to some old-school Guns N Roses. It was amazing, especially because for me personally I was in my element. The day before that was Mowtown, and today John Denver. The teacher brought up “Take Me Home, Country Roads” on Youtube while strumming the acoustic. Immediately I started singing to Henry ….

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Magic happened. Henry calmed down. His eyes got wide and there was a different kind of spark. I grabbed his hands and started dancing with him.

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mama
Take me home, country roads

He was now focussed on something other than me chasing him out into oblivion. For those three minutes not just Henry, but every student was focussed. Some were watching the teacher play guitar, some were making up their own lyrics. All of us Para’s were singing and to put it frankly, we did not give a shit if we were off key or not.

This is where I am supposed to be.

Now, naturally, the rest of the day was a challenge, but for those three minutes, totally worth it.

Once home, I was beaten. Henry made me work, but he is worth it so that is okay.

My day had only just begun when I got home. I had to run Vinnie to the bank because they locked his card. I had to figure out dinner while cooking a turkey and my first batch of mashed potatoes.

You guys, I do not know how I did it but I did! I did it without the fire department being called, I did it without burning the turkey. I even tried a new “loaded mashed potatoes” recipe…and get this……there are no dirty dishes in my sink. I told you I impressed myself!

Today was a good day, although at times it did not feel it would be a good day.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am so incredibly thankful and blessed. I enjoy my job. I enjoy it more than I thought I ever would, and I would not even have a job if it was not for a Mr. Stewart. Mr. Stewart (whom I usually use an alias for) taught Sofia and was then forced to have me as a parent volunteer. There are not enough words to adequately explain how much of an impact he had on me. And, because I know him too well, he will deny all of this and tell you it was “all me.” No, it was not. Mr.Stewart allowed me in his classroom and taught me. He pushed me outside of my box and was the one person who talked to me about becoming a Para. He allowed me to study in his classroom and on the day of my test encouraged me all the way.

I have said this before and I will continue to say it, Mr. Stewart saw something in me that I was not able to see in myself, and because of that, no other teacher/mentor can ever compare. I learned so much in his room, and now, I am able to take all of that and hopefully teach my new kids. And, I work with a pretty amazing bunch of kids. In a roundabout way, this is my full circle moment.

One adorable non-verbal little girl has started making very loud “grunting” sounds, something she has never done before. Do you know what that is, or at least how it was explained to me? This adorable little girl is finding her voice box. Just like a baby who starts making “sounds” for the first time, this is what this little girl is doing. Give it time and I will have a front row seat to hear her say her first words.

These are the moments, outside of my own home that I am thankful for.

The other day I had a meeting with my VP. Although I cannot get into the logistics, she said to me “Jennifer, we want you here. Not many people want to do Functional Core. The kids love you, we do not want to lose you.”

The only thing I could think of was “Who would not want to do Functional Core? This is life-changing stuff?”

Well, their loss is my gain.

In closing, I want to add, if any of you guys reading this ever have an opportunity to volunteer in a Functional Core classroom, do it. Just do it. It will be one of the hardest things you have ever done, you will come home and cry, you will doubt everything you have ever known, you will tell yourself you are not cut out for this, then, one day out of the blue, magic will happen and you will see, it was all worth it.

 

The Battle

Last Friday I lost my work keys at work. The very keys that allow me to enter the building, the classroom, the cabinets. This is the golden key and I lost it while chasing good ole Henry. I had no doubt in my mind that the key was either in the gym or on the football size playground. I noticed the key was missing while I was trying to get Henry back into the classroom. Immediately I reported the key missing and as soon as Henry was safe and secure, I checked both the gym and playground. I could not find the key.

I came home and sent an “all staff” email explaining that I lost the key, and where I thought it may be. In return, I had many responses from staff members telling me they would keep an eye out for my key. Eventually, security had to be notified and it was just turning into a big mess. However, I knew without a shadow of a doubt I knew the key was somewhere on school property. I just knew it.

Six days later there was still no key. I was not giving up though. Once again we had gym. Even though the teacher assured me she checked the gym…..six days ago, I was not going to rest until I checked the mats on my own. So, while the class was enjoying their gym time, I turned the flashlight on my phone on and went to work. I picked up every single mat, used my flashlight to look under all mats. There was still no key.

Still, I was not giving up. It did not matter to me that I had lost the key six days ago. I knew it could be anywhere. However, I felt it in my soul that the key was on the school grounds.

At the end of the day, we took the kids out to to the “Big Playground” for some quiet recess time. As always, I was with Henry. We hung out and did our own thing, which consisted mostly of me following him around. As I said earlier, this is a giant playground.  Not even kidding, the size of a football field. Henry made his way to the grass, and I was right behind him. Just like always.

I found the key. I was following Henry and right there on the shiny green grass was the key. I was in shock. I picked up the key, showed Henry and said: “This was an act of God.” Henry was not impressed.

The key was on the field for six days. Children had recess all day long on that field, and yet I found the key six days later. I knew it was an act of God. I just knew it in my soul.

My fellow co-workers were amazed that I found the key. Some even said it was a miracle, and really, they are correct.

……

This coming week, I have a battle ahead of me. Unfortunately, I can not be too specific. Not yet anyway. Here is what I can say. Whatever outcome happens, I will be okay. I will be affected, but at the end of the day, I will be okay. And, I do not mean that in some sort of motivational way. I mean literally, I will be okay. I have options. My ideal outcome will happen, or the less ideal outcome will happen, but I will be okay.

This battle I feel is not my story. I do not know how to adequately explain it in a way that will not get me in trouble. I feel that this is someone else’s story and I am just a secondary character that is needed to move the story along. Although I will say, no matter how small my part is in this story, it is an important one.

I feel this just as strongly as I felt that my key was still at the school. I feel it in my soul. I know I have this battle ahead of me. And, I am willing to fight it because what’s right is right what’s wrong is wrong, but at the end of the day, someone else, actually, quite a few people will be affected by the outcome, whichever outcome it may be.

So, I have about four days to prepare for this battle. The more I prepare, the more frustrated, nervous, empowered I feel. Because it does not matter that no matter the outcome I will be okay, some of the other “characters” may not be, and for me, that is worth the fight.

So, I ask you to oblige me with this open letter. This “Open Letter” is part of my armor I need to prepare for battle.

To Whom it may concern:

I know your decision has most likely been made. I realize that this meeting that consists of five people who have never said more than three words to me is more to appease me than anyone else. But, for the next few minutes, I ask that you put politics aside and dig deep into your heart.

I have always been told to keep emotion and personal stories out of these types of meetings. Just like I have done most of my life, I am going to go against the grain and bring personal experiences and emotions into this because for once, I feel it may benefit the situation.

As respectful as I can be I have to say you are making a big mistake, and this mistake will only hurt those who you claim to have the best interest of. I ask of you, I challenge you to spend one day in my shoes. Before you make your final decision I want you to see firsthand those who will suffer. This is not a black and white situation. There are plenty of grey areas, and I am that grey area. I need you to familiarize yourself with the world of autism. I need you to understand, I need you to feel it in your soul how big of a set back your potential decision can have on a group, especially one in particular. 

I realize that politics are involved. I ask you to go against the grain. I ask you to take a chance, I ask you to take off your badge and look at the situation for what it is. I know that we as a team are better than this. Hear my voice, let me show you, there is a better way.

I say this not for sympathy but as fact. I am the mother of an autistic child. I have fought these battles for the last 13 years and I will continue to fight. Isn’t that what you want? Someone familiar with the war on your front line?

With my armor on and thirteen years of experience under my belt, I ask you to reconsider. I have fought for my own daughter, and now, now it is my chance to fight for the others. I ask that you allow me to bring home win.

Respectfully Yours,
Jennifer

 

 

“The valley of the shadow of death”

Henry and I had a good morning. I welcomed him at the classroom door just as I do every morning. He grabbed his snack and met me in our private cubicle. As soon as he gobbled down his fruit snacks we got right to work. Henry killed it. He was on point today, worked consistently with me and then the teacher. He was focused and relaxed. After his classwork, Henry did what we have been trying to get him to do from day one. He calmly got up, grabbed the velcro tag that says “Playground” and brought it to me, signaling that the playground is where he wanted to go. “Okay Henry, ask and you shall receive!” Henry earned it, so off we went to enjoy our early morning walk on the big playground.

Somehow, maybe my guard was down, maybe I was too confident, Henry got away from me. He made a mad dash down the long hallway, with me picking up a quick pace behind him. The faster Henry ran, the faster I did.

Damnit! He cut through the library. The moment I entered the library, already out of breath from running down the hallway, a class of about twenty students and two teachers looked at me. “He went outside!”

I picked up my pace, even faster. I ran, making my way through students, trying to make sure I did not let Henry get too good of a lead on me. I barrel through the library double doors that lead outside, to the back of the school. The library assistant has him insight. Henry is climbing the twenty plus set of stairs that lead from the lower building to the upper parking lot. As soon as she sees me she backs off. While running past her, still trying to get to Henry, who is so incredibly fast, I yell “Call backup!”

I am now up the stairs to the upper parking lot, and Henry is still running. Fuck. The street, he is running towards the street.

The faster I run, the faster he runs. Every now and then he will look back at me. I do everything I can. I am running while calling him. I am digging through my pockets for all of his “motivators.”

“Henry, look! I have gummy worms. I have putty! Henry, stop!”

He picked up his pace. I was losing. I was losing bad and Henry’s safety was in my hands. I thought about all the new stories I have been reading. Too many. “Missing Autistic Boy.”

This cannot be happening on my watch. Again, I picked up my pace, but I was feeling it. I grabbed my cell phone while running. Clumsily dialing the teacher. It went to voicemail. Of course, it did. He was teaching.

I sent a text to the group chat me, my fellow paras and teacher belong to.

“HENRY IS IN STREET I NEED HELP!”

Within seconds the teacher calls.

“Where are you?”

I am running and feeling it. My legs are about to give out. Between breaths, I utter something about 61st Street at the bottom of the hill.

“On my way!”

Henry is still running. And let me just say if you think that there is something wrong with me that I cannot catch up to a third grader then I will politely tell you to “fuck off.” Run a mile in my shoes and then let’s see how quick you can catch up to a non-verbal who has incredible sensory skills.

There is no way I can catch him. I know this. The only thing I can do is keep him in my sight until the teacher comes, preferably with his car.

I am losing him.

Henry rounds a corner. It took everything in me to run even faster. I am at my limit. I cannot do this. Please. I need help. God, please let him be okay. Out of nowhere, I see a lady walking her dog on one side of the street. On the other side is a man, walking. Henry is running right towards them. It’s now or never. I reach deep inside me, pick up my pace while yelling to the strangers “BLOCK HIM!”

Immediately, the two strangers on two different sides of the street circle in on Henry. Henry, being Henry, turns around and runs towards me. Somehow, I was able to grab him. I did a “Right Response” hold on him that I just spent two Saturdays training for.

In a bear hug type of move, I moved him to the curb and sat him down, while placing my own knees on his thighs.

I did not even get a chance to thank the strangers. I looked for them, but they were gone.

I bent down to eye level with Henry who just got a kick out of me being out of breath.

I could not say anything.

It took me about three minutes to regroup. I picked him up using another “Right Response” technique that I was taught. Ever so slowly we made our way back up the hill, to the stoplight at the corner of the school.

There in the opposite direction, we see the teacher. The teacher is running towards us. Henry and I stand there and wait. As soon as the teacher is close enough where Henry knows he messed up, the teacher calls Henry.

The teacher takes Henry. “Jennifer, go to break. Take as much time as you need. You did everything right, this happens, go to break.”

I cry. An uncontrollable cry.

The teacher is walking Henry back to safety.

“Jennifer, you did nothing wrong.”

I cannot stop crying. I go to my car and realize I do not even have my car keys on me.

My mind is full of everything that could have gone wrong. My chest hurts. My legs hurt. I punch my car. I punch it out of frustration, out of fear, out of hurt.

Tears streaming down my face I debate on calling Christin. I can’t. I can’t even talk. I sit down on the curb in front of my car with a hurt hand and hurt spirit and continue to cry.

I am not sure how long I was out there. It was time to compose myself. I take my scarf and wipe away the tears while heading back into the school.

As soon as I close the restroom door behind me, my office manager comes in.

“Are you okay?”

I cry…again.

“No, I am not okay. I had a runner, and…”

She looks at me. “Can I give you a hug.”

I cry more.

“I know. Your teacher ran by here. This is not the first time, this will not be the last. You did everything right and do not let anyone tell you otherwise.”

I splashed cold water on my face and made my way back to the classroom.

With Henry settled in, the teacher pulls me aside.

“You did everything right. This, this is the world of autism. We are always learning, always figuring out new ways. Just know, even though it may not feel like it now, you did everything right.”

No. It does not feel like I did everything right.

But, one day it will.

~Jennifer