What a week. Working from home is not easy. There are probably millions of people who do it outside of the current pandemic, in some variation, but it’s not for me. It’s especially difficult when you have three kids, and one of them is Tommy. I’ll give James his credit, too, but he knows how to hide when he’s being mischievous. Naturally, I don’t see him much when I’m sitting at the dining room table, which has now become the homeschooling command center.
Can I interject to tell you how much I hate virtual meetings? I’m going to anyway. When I’m at work, I honestly don’t give a second thought to the issues that have suddenly made me paranoid and self-conscious. I don’t move about my classroom awkwardly, I’m not worried that I have a rogue chin hair, I can’t see my facial expressions and try to overcompensate for not hiding them, I’m not worried about my eyes looking too big with my glasses on, I’m not looking for the perfect angle so it doesn’t look like I have 4,284 chins… It’s exhausting. I miss half of what’s going on because I’m distracted by me. And when I’m not, I’m actively trying not to notice colleague’s backgrounds. I’ve learned quickly that I need to just shut them off. Sorry. It’s not you, it’s me.
Eric and I started the week with a check-in from Tommy’s school and their outside consults. We, at 10 am, accurately reported that we had everything under control. By the way, I had to sit away from the laptop. I used facial lotion and couldn’t get over my own glare. By that afternoon, any sense of control of any situation Eric and I thought we had, was loooong gone.
We’ve been noticing that Tom’s way of retreating this past month has been to watch “How the Universe Works.” It’s a preferred topic. He remembers every line of every episode and that makes it predictable. Predictability and routine are comforting. He stims so much when it’s on that he sweats, a lot. When he asks to go to the playroom to watch it by himself, we let him. It’s his way of self-soothing. He can’t tell us what’s going on, but retreating is his way of saying he needs a break. Here, here’s the remote, T.
By Monday afternoon, Tommy couldn’t even self-soothe by playing with his planets or watching his show. Everything that went awry over the past three days in his world were the catalyst for a major fight with his siblings. Fight after fight after fight. Tom’s added a new element: blame. I’m not quite sure what happened while the boys were playing outside, but I do know I’ve never seen Will lose his sh*t before. He did on Monday. It was painful to watch. After I picked my own jaw up off the front porch, I went in the house, changed and took Will on an 8 mile bike ride to my mother’s house. She’s Will’s favorite. She makes everything better.
On Tuesday, my mother took the boys to her house to sleep. She’s part of the quarantine plan. We only interact with each other and otherwise are on lockdown from the outside world. By Wednesday, I had to reach out to Tommy’s teachers. I went to see the boys and work with Tommy on his schoolwork at Mom’s house. A simple emotions “check-in” in Google Classroom set him off. He was gouging at his eyes, screaming, and jumping up and down. Then, as if nothing happened, he clicked he was “happy.” Uh, no. Actually, Tom, you’re not. I told him to change it. Round two! Ding! Ding!
On Thursday morning, that’s right…still at my mother’s, I picked Tommy up and brought him home. He ZOOMed with his teacher and speech therapist. They chatted, read a Curious George story about Easter Eggs and then colored Easter Eggs. Tommy seemed to be himself, thank goodness. I dropped him back to mom’s. Today, (I know, don’t judge…) Eric picked Tommy up to go for a “ride.” They did some highway driving and Tom did some singing.
Everyone’s routine has been turned upside down these past few weeks. There’s no denying that. But when you’re autistic, the emotions neurotypical folks are feeling now can be the norm. Think about that. It seems next to impossible to find Tommy’s routine for him. He needs some of the familiarity of life before quarantine. He’s missing George, badly. He’s missing his teachers, his classmates, and his ROUTINE. ZOOMing with his teachers helped him recognize familiar faces, voices, inflections, schedules. Highway driving did the same. It turns out, he’s missed his Monday night rides with Dad just as much as Dad.
My kit kats will be home in the morning and I’m ready. What have I done these past four days? We’ve finished painting all the main rooms of the house. I’ve done my spring cleaning. I prepped for remote learning. And I’ve helped some of the bigger kids in my life. Turns out, Tommy’s not the only student missing school routines.
SIDEBAR: Am I the only one having trouble sleeping since this quarantine began?