Find Out What Jen Finds

My journey on the spectrum of life … and the lessons I learn along the way …
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about Drama: a middle school gym memoir

  • March 15, 2012 4:38 am

So I had to face the middle school gym again…

The past was playing in my head reruns of my last encounter and I was suffocating at the thought of stepping foot back there. Could it have really been 2 years ago? On this day, it felt like yesterday.

The Elder had just randomly announced in the car that the “3rd Grade Founder’s Program was not this Tuesday but the next Tuesday after that and I.AM.NOT.PERFORMING.”

“This is optional but performance is required in the 3rd grade for his final grades.” I remember feeling immediate relief 2 years ago upon hearing this, and then a distant dread that I will eventually have to face this and prep him for it. So what did I do that fateful day in the 1st grade? I made his attendance required but his performance optional. It was a good and responsible plan, so I thought. I had arranged for assigned seats up front where he could see the performance but have a quick and easy escape without mowing down rows of people. We even had special “Reserved For” signs that I thought would distract him to see his name in print make him feel special. Waiting in the hallway that led to the cafeteria just outside the gym was pretty painless because he saw some of his classmates, and I saw some parents for socializing opportunities. Things were going well so far…

I am blissfully unaware at how this task had eluded me for 2 years. Normally I’d drop subtle hints to him along the way to prepare him for expectations. I couldn’t be too dramatic so as not to scare him off, especially since I personally love to perform – from birth I think. (I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb saying, “Ta da!”) But I had completely procrastinated until the last 10 days. Who AM I anymore? Was there a 2nd grade performance that we skipped? I couldn’t remember. Wasn’t there an announcement about this year’s performance? I blocked it out, I guess. I should check my spam box. Maybe it’s not my avoiding pain and humiliation but my avoiding requiring him to put value into something in which he does not value as much as I do – the performing arts. That sounds more noble and all, but truth is I am tired. I am anxious. I am self-conscious. I am desperate to go to a performance to be entertained. I mean, who wants to go to a gym that holds 515 (according to The Elder’s statistics in his head) noisy, hot bodies that I have to navigate through to chase my kid or protect them from flying shoes. No one. We go to shows to be entertained not to be in battle. Two very different kinds of drama here. One I enjoy, the other not so much.

What I personally was not prepared for, thus did not prepare The Elder, was the massive crowd of people that would be there 30 minutes early. We usually try to arrive places before any crowd does for transitional purposes, but I forgot that the number of 1st grade students here was probably equivalent to the total number of students that attended my entire high school at the time I graduated. (Flashbackback: I can recall when I was in the 2nd grade performing in the school play of The Wizard of Oz, we were in the elementary school cafeteria, T-I-N-Y.) I definitely didn’t expect the gym to be full, much less THAT large and full.

“But isn’t this performance for a grade this year?” He’s finally making good grades this year since his behavior has gotten under control (love love love his paraprofessionals) so this actually has an impact for the first time.


“You don’t have to sing. Think you can just stand there?” Did I seriously forget in 2 short years just how many people can pack into that gym. Of course the entire mass had been sitting away from us, but I was keenly aware of them. And if they affected me, they’d affect him ten times as much. I prepared to give in to his demands…

“Fine. But I’m standing behind the tallest person.”

Shock. That was way more than I expected. WAY more. I immediately petitioned for some help from his teachers on how to keep him calm and boost his confidence. I even suggested the guidance counselor. Supportive responses came back to me with various options, from choosing which tall kid’s back he could stare at to production stagehand jobs he could handle. We finally settled on passing out programs (with me).

I had just taken a program from the door greeter and entered the gym. From behind me, a black-brown shoe was launched into the back of the elderly person diagonally in front of me. I was mortified as I recognized the shoe. Another one landed in an open yellow area on the gym floor as if to caution me, and then I saw him go to pick it up to launch it again. I grabbed him and clumsily pushed through the crowd – former friends, I’m sure – out of the gym and retreated to the far corner of the cafeteria where The Elder pushed me off of him to go cohabitate with the dust bunnies and God-knows-what between the corner and the cabinets. It had happened so fast. I had no idea where my husband (and 4 year old) were. In reserved seats, I assumed. Did he have his ringer on? Did he know what happened? How many people were hit before I witnessed the grandpa’s discomfort? Did I apologize? How many people are judging him? Judging me? Oh my, where are his shoes?

I was a time-bomb ticking with anticipation.

The Elder’s behavior was stable at school, but was erratic at home and church for those 10 days.

I tried not to connect the two, but if the shoe fits…. (pun intended)

The stress culminated into a bloody mess on the day before showtime. I got a call at 8:30am from the school. The Elder was suffering from nosebleeds that they could not stop – a sure sign of stress. I picked him up from school, followed our normal “sick” protocol of no TV, computer, or video games and only Chicken Soup – just to reinforce that early dismissal is not a free ride. He took a nap, which I’m sure he sorely needed with the daylight savings time change, and then he beat the tar out of me in Monopoly. Probably just the respite he needed.

The performance sounded wonderful from the corner of the now-empty cafeteria. The principal walked through and gave us a hearty wave. Bless her. The Elder was walking around and around and around and around the table. Sometimes he stopped when he recognized a song. And then continued his solo performance around the table. It could have been worse…right?

We arrived 50 minutes early this time. In plenty of time for us to get prime parking him to pick out a prime seat (we didn’t have reserved seats this time) and to touch every square inch of the risers. He was running all over the set very comfortably, getting familiar with the various views from the risers, memorizing where cables haphazardly lined the floors so he didn’t fall on his face, picking out all his favorite vendors from the banners on the wall (Menchie’s, for one). I ran into his homeroom teacher and we headed off to our “assignment.”

“It’s time for you to help me with the programs!” I didn’t have to chase him too too much. I emphatically said that I was not going to chase him around this gym any more, and he hid behind some decorations.

It didn’t happen. He didn’t perform behind the tallest person. He didn’t pass out programs. He did at least eventually go get a program for himself from a door greeter. I hope that counts toward his grade.

He didn’t remove his shoes, and most importantly, he didn’t hurt anyone. Well, my legs were sore from being a human “squeeze machine.” (He sat on the floor between my legs and I secured him Temple-Grandin-squeeze-machine style.)

The best part of all? His teacher assured me that his participation wasn’t a big deal, she just wanted the family to enjoy the show. And we did. (The Elder through the lenses of the camera – great calming trick, btw) That very same teacher walked away that night with some sort of “Greatest Teacher on Planet Earth” award. Very well deserved.

So…how shall I prepare for next year?

about Perspective (Part 1): What would you do? How would you feel?

  • February 26, 2010 1:47 pm

Imagine you are a teacher of 20 elementary-school aged children and are also 37-weeks pregnant. In the middle of the hustle and bustle of a classroom party, one your students all of a sudden flees the room without you noticing.

Imagine you are a substitute for a teacher who is on a 6-week leave. Without warning, one of your students begins crumpling and ripping up all of his papers.

Imagine you are the parent of a 1st grader. You get a call from the school to come get your child. You learn that he has developed a large knot on his head because another child threw a chair that hit him.

Imagine you are the Principal of a primary school. A student has been brought to you for disrupting the classroom. He spits at you, disrobes, and urinates on the floor in your office.

Imagine you are the parent of that child.

Imagine you are that child.

This is Part 1 of a series of articles on Perspective. I have been procrastinating addressing a controversial topic, but because I don’t want to default on my New Year’s Resolution, I decided to take baby steps.

If you choose to share your thoughts, please post on the original post where you can also choose to post anonymously. Please be honest, especially with yourself…

I’m out of breath trying to catch up – a timeline

  • March 31, 2009 11:51 am

For my own refreshment, I’ll need to jot down an recap outline. It’s sad when I went through my archives and I couldn’t remember the last time I posted a non-tweet, non-meme, non-Elderese/Youngerese of the Day post.

Here is my last timeline post. This goes to mid-August. Here are the two posts that are referenced in that post regarding Summer Camp and Preschool for The Younger. (May, July and August details. Warning: Read at your own risk. May stir up angry feelings.)

  • August 26, 2008The Elder had 2 weeks where he just attended school for a half day on Fridays. They do this to “ease” them into Kindergarten. Of course he has a meltdown the very first day, but then had some better adjusting to Kindergarten during his first full week of school.
  • September 16, 2008 – I took the time to be vulnerable and just cry in a completely separate post for just me. This was the day The Elder decided to show his autism colors. But at least The Younger’s situation was getting better. Here’s another positive post about The Younger’s progress. I was sick for 3 consecutive weeks and I was absolutely miserable. I finally had to take a steroid to get rid of everything. It worked but it totally screwed up my skin. If you know what I do for a living you can understand the drop in my general confidence to go out in public much less to work and see clients. In the Holiday Season of all times. As if I needed more things to be depressed about.
  • October, 2008 – OMG, I never posted about the first IEP meeting! :o I totally owe you that.
  • October, 2008 – My first time volunteering in the classroom for the Fall Party. It was following a depressing day because of The Elder’s behavior report that came home. This made for some major anxiety to even step foot into the classroom. Other details about this in this post. This year’s Halloween season was a total whirlwind. My parents were in town for a week, my father-in-law and girlfriend-in-law were in town for a week, There was a week of Halloween parties between the 2 schools and churches and oh yeah, Halloween itself. Because all this also followed a 3 week pause in my business in September because of sickness, this resulted in a dramatic decrease in production in October. On top of all that, for some reason I thought that I “save” my networking group and agreed to be the interim president for the next 2 months to organize the expected roles and update the bylaws. What was I thinking?
  • November, 2008 – This is the months that I got tired of being way behind in this journal and signed up for twitter. But then I felt like they were “lazy posts.” I probably lost a lot of readers this month because I wasn’t blogging. It was a time I really needed to be blogging just to update my virtual friends so that I could the feedback and support of the autism community. This is my Thanksgiving Post as I took a deep breath and reminded myself that my situation is not all that bad. Things will get better and it could always be worse. So I count my blessing and move on. This was a very sincere and genuine post. None of that “fake it til you make” stuff to psych myself into a positive attitude. So I was proud of myself.
  • December, 2008 – This was a weird month. The first weekend, The Hub and I went on an MK cruise that I had earned from accomplishments between Jan-June 2008. I felt guilty because I felt like I had done a 180 in the second have of the year…and i had. I was a little more motivated to be there but not for business or the kids or whatever. But for me. I was waiting to hear a whisper from God that would help lift the depression off my shoulders. I didn’t really hear it, but I think the prayers and positive attitude worked because The Elder had 2 weeks in a row (recall there are only 2 weeks of school in Dec) of FIVE blue cards. A perfect score. The first week I was so excited!
  • Me: You had SUCH A GREAT WEEK!
    The Elder: (very matter of fact) I know.

    We experienced a positive IEP and I finally shared the low-down on the IEP team in the latter part of this post.

    We also had a good trip to SC for the holidays. When we got home, The Younger was asleep and The Elder walks in and stops in his tracks. He had the most excited look on his face.

    The Elder: [The Younger] is going to be happy!
    Me: (confused a little) Why is that?
    He points at the Christmas tree behind me where instead of the usual holiday appropriate books we lay under the tree, there were gifts – unwrapped so it was obvious that one was a firetruck and one was a recycle truck.
    The Elder: Mommy, I think Santa Claus came here while we were on vacation.

    That’s when I knew that it was time to start having our own family Christmas Celebrations. I had been waiting for The Younger to get to the age that he was really getting into the Christmas Spirit and understood all the joys that come with the season. Now we have never talked about Santa Claus. I think with the Autism I wasn’t really sure how to approach it to program The Elder’s brain for the long-term. Both are very aware of the reason for the season. They even wrapped a gift of their own toys as a present for Baby Jesus. But Santa Claus they learned from outside the home ( btw I am not anti-Santa by any means). But when I just observed The Elder being excited for his brother and predicting his emotions, I made the decision right then and there. We are ready for some Christmas Spirit!

  • January, 2009 – God has a weird way of preparing us for life. You can see last month as a tease or you could call it clearing off a part of my plate to make room for more. I was only a week behind de-throning myself from the president position, but I hit a double brick wall when some totally unrelated to anything else in this blog up until now sprung out nowhere. It’s one of those things that could really screw you later and needs to be fixed now because you never know when D-day is. This caused some turmoil amongst folk that don’t need to have turmoil. As of today, this is yet to be resolved. Ay ay ay!
  • Later that month, The Hub and I traveled to Phoenix for a Leadership Conference. I go every January. I almost didn’t go. But I figured that if I didn’t then I wouldn’t be doing my part and God might do something REALLY crazy to get my attention that I was going in the wrong direction. So out of fear, I went. I did feel much better and much more confident. However I still felt like my life was surreal. So many things coming at me at so many different angles. The following week we got a call from a local business who was doing a charity event and wanted to sponsor ASD Athletes as the benefactor of the fund raiser. It was so cool to see our name in the newspaper in the press release. WOW. We were so excited that we impulsively said yes, not fully understanding the amount of work that would be involved to get ready for the next 2 months before the event. We quickly drafted up a plan of action to get prepared and went into February fired up.

  • February-March, 2009 – I spent the first 2 weeks SUPER MOTIVATED. Perhaps it was because it was obvious that I had to be productive. It’s sad when money for our family isn’t a good motivator to work, but money for the foundation got me going. But because I knew if I totally engulfed myself with ASD Athletes that that would be pretty much putting my business on hold (which also meant turning in my car – which I love), I made sure that I had a solid plan for MK. By mid-Feb, that plan was in place and I was so pumped. Until…the 3rd week of February, The Elder started to bring home bad behavior reports from school. He got 2 pink slips from the school that week. The next week, I got a call from The Asst Principal that The Elder was going to stay in his office for most of the day. The depressing part of it was that it was only 9am when I got the call. I don’t know why he didn’t get written up that day too. But the icing on the cake was the following week (week 3 of the tantrum series) which was also the first week of March, I got a call from The Other Asst Principal informing that The Elder had thrown his shoes and glasses and spit, which isn’t unlike most of his meltdowns, but now he is aiming for people. Specifically The K Teacher and The Other Asst Principal. Great. She wanted to know how I discipline that kind of behavior at home. I was totally speechless. How embarrassing. Then I thought, well it depends. Of course I let him know it is unacceptable but when I am there I usually know what the trigger is or I just know how his brain works and most of the time I prevent it from escalating to that point. Then The K Teacher gets on the line. The first thing I do is apologize and empathize with her frustration. Her frustration came back at me in such a shocking manner that I started to cry and could only say I’m sorry. Later, when I wasn’t so panicky and emabarassed, I sent her an email with the words and advice that she could use and she was receptive. I called the IEP to come together for another meeting. It was scheduled for the following week. I was impressed for the immediate booking, but I suppose they were as motivated as I was. Unfortunately both The Elder and me caught a mysterious virus that week and I wasnt able to attend the meeting. The Elder was basically out for 2 weeks because the 3rd week of March is always Spring Break. Shortly after it was obvious that I wasn’t going to the meeting, I get a message from The Resource Teacher with the new date and the news that was going to stress me out beyond belief for the following 2 weeks.
  • The Resource Teacher: (paraphrased) Monday after Spring Break, [The Elder] will be in the CDC room and earn his way back into the classroom. He has to “want to be in Kindergarten.”

    That line haunted me for 2 weeks as I had to wait for the meeting on March 30 (yesterday).

  • March, 2009 – Back up to February from the perspective of MK and ASD Athletes. I’ll make a separate bulleted list here to highlight the rest of what was going on in our life. I’ll have to make a separate post reporting on the weekend of craziness (Last weekend) because it was just that crazy.
  • A month before the ASDa event (which was held on March 28th), I discovered that NO PROGRESS was being made in preparations for the event. Important things like getting our mission statement and vision out of our heads and down on a piece of paper, or even more importantly, our website since it was only PR resource we had. I ended up taking on the Executive Director role, which honestly I don’t mind because I am a big-picture person and know how to delegate. One problem. I didn’t have anyone to delegate to.

  • March 15th – A huge deadline in MK and I missed it. For the first time I think in 5 years. And it was a really bad quarter in the year to miss. I’ll be missing out on some stuff later this year. bummer.
  • March 24th – Our first public appearance on WVLT our local CBS affiliate.
  • March 26th – The Lola arriving to attend Career Conference here in Knoxville.
  • March 27th - gets its own list:
    • Day 1 of Career Conference. Registration begins at 2pm
    • Our second public appearance on WBIR our local NBC affiliate, for the segment Live at Five at Four. (3:30pm – so I missed the first class of the conference but The Asst took my place)
    • Dinner meeting with conference attendees (5:30pm)
    • Opening General Session from 7-10pm
  • March 28th -
    • Day 2 of Career Conference. Classes begin at 8:30am. I sent The Asst just in case I needed to do some last minute things for the ASDa event.
    • 11am-2pm ASDa Event at Boogie Down Baby
    • 2-4pm the last class of the conference
    • 3-6pm The Hub had to work the Knoxville Marathon expo
    • 7pm Slumber Party at my house for consultants who earn an invitation (I ate gluten…crab rangoon…they were hard to resist, but fortunately I didn’t have a gluten hangover the next day. Today however I’ve been a little sluggish. I have been writing this post in installments all day.)
  • March 29th -
    • 5am The Hub leaves my bedside to go run the Knoxville Marathon.
    • 11am I’m freaking out because The Elder chose to have a meltdown right before we left and I seriously thought that we were going to miss The Hub at the finish line. That’s a whole different story. i’m sure he blogged on it. We were back home around 12:30.
    • 4pm I had to take The Lola back to the airport so she could return home.
    • 8:30-10pm (no joking) I spent talking to The Teacher in anticipation of the IEP meeting. She really calmed my nerves and gave me back my confidence which really probably all I needed and had I known that, we might have only been on the phone for 15 minutes. lol.
    • Oh yeah. and it was my birthday.
  • March 30th – THE IEP MEETING – the very thing that motivated me to even attempt to write a real blog post yet only managed to create this monstrous timeline. You’d think that alone would motivate me to blog more often. If you’ve made it this far you must be a really good friend OR you are nosy OR you are OCD and have to finish everything you’ve started right now or you’ll lose sleep. If you stopped reading before now, then…it doesnt matter because you wont ever read this. right? right. For those who have hung in there. please dont lynch me but I’ll dedicate a post just for that.
  • March 31st – Today. I have about an hour left to close the month. Thus far its not bad considering everything that’s been happening this month.