Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Noé's Secret School Life

We were on vacation this summer, somewhere along the Northern California coast, lurking among the giant Redwoods. We had just parked at a trail head to do some more exploring when a red, sporty convertible pulled up beside our sensible Honda CRV. It was driven by a middle-aged man in sunglasses with a huge happy-lappy dog in the backseat. I was fetching empty pop cans from the car, trying to avoid eye contact, as we had taken the final parking spot in the lot and the sporty convertible was probably annoyed with us. Noé popped out of his seat and I heard an audible gasp coming from the convertible, followed by a loud, "Noé!"

Huh? We were hundreds of miles from home!

I turned around and convertible guy introduced himself to me as Joe, one of the vice principals at Noé's high school. We chatted and introduced Asher, who would be attending the school next year, then he took off (since we had taken the last parking spot and all....whoops. It seemed really awkward to offer it up at that point?)

I was relaying this story to Noé's lead teacher, Ashlee, yesterday. Noé and I were at the school to register and get his student body card and TriMet pass and to tour the new school (Noé attended a temporary school building across town during the remodel, part of the reason I did not recognize convertible guy as school administration).

"Wow... I was just so impressed that he knew Noé by name! It is such a big school," I told Ashlee.


And then she told me the story of Noé's secret school life:

Last year was Noé's freshman year, and he was mostly enrolled in special education classes. The special education program is large enough that he was able to switch classes each period, just like a general education student. Noé did well with the transitions and quickly learned his way around the school, so his teachers started to let him travel to his classes independently.

However, he never seemed to make it to his class period directly before lunch. His teacher would inform the office, and inevitably VP Joe was sent out to hunt for Noé and send him to class. The first time he didn't show up for class his teachers and VP Joe were in a complete panic. "Maybe we had let him be independent too early in the school year," they worried.

But Noé was quickly located. He was found.... and this will not be a surprise to anyone who knows him... in the lunchroom inhaling an early lunch.

And every subsequent time he didn't show up for class, he was found... in the lunchroom. So yes, VP Joe got to know Noé very well.

Apparently his teachers tried all kinds strategies to help him remember to go to class and not the lunchroom, but nothing worked. The problem was they were assuming that Noé was misunderstanding his school schedule. But there was no misunderstanding - he was choosing lunch over class. It was his very own version of ditching class!

We have these types of problems with Noé constantly and I am always reminded of what my friend Ami once said about him, "Noé just does what everyone else really wants to." Yeah, he's kind-of my hero that way.

As Ashlee relayed this story, so much of last school year suddenly made sense. I felt like I was putting money into Noé's lunch account every week and when I finally sat down and did the math, he was buying an average of two lunches every day. Turns out he was buying early lunch and then regular lunch on my dime.

I also received regular school alerts informing me that Noé had been marked absent from class. But only one class per day. Yet I knew he was at school...

I decided not to contact his teachers about Noé's magically-disappearing lunch account balance or the mysterious absences. They are an amazing group of dedicated educators and terribly overworked. Noé was thriving at school. I would let the small stuff go. But I have to admit that I would find myself wondering about it this summer at random times. Mystery solved,  Noé has a secret school life in the cafeteria.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Fake Pact

Shortly after Noé was diagnosed with autism, I made a fake pact with God that I would not have to endure children who threw up. It seemed fair - I had a long row to hoe with Noé and having puke-y kids would just be over the top.

And then neither of my kids ever threw up and my fake pact magically became real.

They NEVER threw up! A mom friend would lament how their kid had puked on their face in the middle of the night. Or another friend might apologize for arriving late to something, "I had to clean up vomit from the car." I would give them a sympathetic, knowing look.

But I was such a fraud. My kids had never yaked in the car or in my hair or anywhere! I could never admit this to anyone. I feared losing serious mom cred. I feared saying the words aloud would invalidate the fake pact. So I stayed silent. And grateful.

Mid-morning last Friday, Noé was at camp and I was frantically catching up on paid work. I had only been able to sign Noé up for one week of camp this summer and I felt the clock ticking on my work productivity until I could ship him back to school. And then my phone rang. I let the call go to voice mail as I had a strong suspicion that it was someone from Noé's camp and I wasn't ready to face that reality. A minute or five later, I listened to the voice mail, steadying myself to hear that Noé refused to drink water or put on sunscreen or was touching a female counselor's bare leg (it's a sensory thing, I swear!)

"We are at the Tualatin Wildlife Refuge and Noé just threw up in the visitor's center bathroom. You need to come and get him as soon as possible," the director of his camp explained into my iPhone.

Wrong kid, I thought. I'll call him back and explain that Noé never throws up because I have a pact with God.

After making the director repeat back a physical description of Noé, it was determined that he had thrown up in the sink of the women's bathroom (that's actually when I knew for sure.....he always mixes up the men's and women's restrooms).

On the way home, he threw up again in the car, officially making The Pact null and void. Twenty-four hours later, Ed and I  had survived our first stomach flu. Our car still faintly smells of puke, the house has been disinfected, and I'll never have to fake a look of sympathy to a parent who has just endured cleaning up their kid's chunks again.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Favorite Things, Summer 2019 Edition

Aside from my occasional meltdowns from dealing with Noé and his many needs all summer long, and a seemingly never-ending existential crisis about my career trajectory, this summer has been pretty great. The weather has been sunny but not too hot, no wildfire smoke (yet), and I have a mellow work schedule and a beautiful new yard to enjoy. We haven't traveled, aside from a trip down to the Bay Area, but we are all now officially in possession of passports and we are planning an international adventure this winter (TBD).

Here are some of my favorite things so far this summer:

1. Running or working out in the morning sunshine then coming home and consuming a huge hunk of ice cold watermelon.

2. Taking Noe out for bike rides in the evening around our neighborhood. Ed rides ahead and scouts for oncoming traffic and I keep him "boxed in" to the right of me on my bike. I can tell he loves the independence of being on his own bike. It is such a huge accomplishment for him!

3. Riding Noé through the local McDonalds drive-through for an ice cream cone on the RadWagon for a treat after he's finished his work for the day. I really hate McDonalds but Noe loves their ice cream cones, and as a bonus, it is really fun to annoy the McDonalds managers with our bike order. Then we ride over to Grant Park to enjoy the splash pad at the Beverly Cleary character statues.

4. Poking around my garden in the early morning light. Finding a hidden cucumber or zucchini under the leaf canopy - it's like finding a pot of gold.

5. Listening to Asher play the pianos at the local parks, especially the one at Mt. Tabor that overlooks downtown. When we go in the evening, the sun is setting and the light is gorgeous. Watching the crowds gather around him and film him with their cameras. Asher acting shy but loving the attention even more than the occasional tip he receives from a fan.

6. Eating most of our evening meals at our new table on the back deck. Playing cards or cornhole afterwards. Lingering with our conversations until we have to turn the lights on and light the candles, and not really caring if the neighbors hear us.

7. Not setting an early alarm.

8.  Biking to dinner or brunch around town with Easy Ed.

9. Walking along various Oregon beaches and just staring out at the water. I can count a hundred shades of blue.

10. The evening we got our sh*t together in time to catch a MAX up to Washington Park and pull out a blanket and snacks and listen to some great live jazz. Afterwards, we walked around The Rose Garden and retold our engagement and found a piano for Asher to play before riding the train home.