My high schooler “T” was accepted into a program at our local university. Nice coup! I subscribe to all kinds of emails and facebook groups on the topics of autism and special needs kids etc. I came across this opportunity on one of them and looked it up. It is for rising 9th graders and is a 4 year program where the kids have 2 weeks of STEM camp in the summer and then have 8 Saturdays through the school year where they will do the program at the University and also get to do a real live internship at the local science museum where they will get PAID. Those 4 letters are all I needed to see in order to sign up for the orientation. Y’all — it’s a STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering Math)  T has wanted to work in a HOTEL (not quite STEM) since 4th or 5th grade. She has visited over 100 just to tour (we’ve actually stayed in a few for vacation but most of the 100 were just to tour). Touring hotels is just one of the things she likes to do for fun. Autism is a funny thing. If you expect your autistic kid to be acting like all the other kids, you have lost the essence of autism. If you want your autistic kid to grow up and be a contributor to society, hopefully independent and able to hold a job, you encourage their interests and not your own. HOWEVER…I had to justify that even though the M in STEM stands for MATH, and T is very good at math, and loves it a lot, this particular program affords her the opportunity to learn how to work with others, have an actual paying job and because she’s only in 9th grade, expose her to something outside of her passion for hotels. If she finishes the program as a senior and still wants to major in tourism and hospitality, she will have worked for 4 years, made some money, and picked up some skills that will benefit her in her major. STEM teaches kids how to think, how to anticipate, how to calculate, and how to measure whether the outcome you wanted was desired, or not…then, most importantly, what to do if it wasn’t. We ALL need those skills. Plus did I mention the internship is paid?

I digress. So when COVID hit, the program had to restructure and do things virtually. She still had the camp this past summer for a week (albeit virtual), has interned one time but it was at the University since the Science museum is still closed, and today she is having her 2nd session with her morning group (they are split into morning and afternoon) of around 10 or so high schoolers with varying needs. I don’t know what the needs are, but as a mom of spec needs kids, trust me, we all size each others’ kids up in the same way the parent of a soccer playing kid sizes up the other kids on the team trying to guess what’s going on with that kid and whether or not he or she has the same disability as your kid, and what that kid can/can’t do. Anyway…let’s get to this morning shall we?

Today’s session is from 9-12. It is now around 11 and I’m in my home office. If you’ve been reading my other blogs, you’ll know why I’m in my office on a Saturday. You’ll be happy to know that I actually slept in until 8:50. This never happens. I actually TRY to sleep in often on weekends and I either get hungry and then I just get up around 7 or I have some sort of anxiety about something I need to get done so I just get up anyway. I have been relying on my husband to help out since he’s working from home in his office (our bedroom) and 85% of his work week is conference calls. So he can’t help me as an UTA (unpaid teacher assistant) with S (the second grader with ADHD who has ZERO interest in any sort of online school whatsoever) which means I sit next to her to assist her teacher who is inside the computer (the teacher is paid, I am not – hence my joke about being an UTA). As a result, I don’t get a ton of work done so I try to make it up on the weekends. That would be today. Except T has her virtual STEM session for this program I was so excited about, so it’s kind of like a school day for her. The Hubs gets up to make sure she’s camera ready (apparently the during last virtual session, a couple of the kids from the program were in BED and ON CAMERA during the speaker part — I’m always surprised when I realize that someone else’s kid does stuff either just as or more ridiculous than mine). Anyway…when I finally trudge past her work station (in our dining room) to get a bowl of cereal (because no one made me breakfast in bed), I see that The Hubs is slightly irritated.

The Hubs never ever admits to being irritated. I don’t know why. It’s as if admitting it would turn him into, I don’t know…a human? I’ve kind of narrowed it down to labels. He will not allow me to label him ANYTHING. Good OR bad. “The Hubs is great at —” “no, I’m not.” “Wow you look like you could use a long vacation” “No no, I’m fine.” After 18 years of this, I still marvel at it. So anyway, one day he will find my website, see this blog, read it, and in his mind will roll his eyes and think “I was NOT irritated!” Hi sweetie! You WERE irritated…so there.

Oh yeah, so he’s irritated because T has him hopping around the kitchen looking for supplies for the experiment they’re doing virtually. “Daddy I can’t get this to measure 2 grams!” I peek around the corner and see that she has a digital scale. Apparently they got supplies for TODAY  when they went into the building for their internship a couple weeks ago. I had no idea they got supplies. If I know T, and I do…the supplies have been sitting in the backpack she took to the internship for the past couple weeks. So then she yells “Daddy I need 5 mg of plant matter! It can be leaves or berries!” The Hubs has now earned the title of ULA (unpaid lab assistant). Hubs goes over to the ONE plant we have in the house (I’m not a huge plant person) and searches it for an acceptable leaf, then meanders over to her (which begins to irritate ME because I can hear the other teens — some of whom are autistic like my kid — asking questions similar to those I heard in my 2nd grader’s virtual class last week…”what are we supposed to have? I don’t have any berries, what is plant matter?”. I’m not saying these high school kids aren’t smarter than a 2nd grader. I’m saying that because of how she and some of the other kids process info, it comes across as they don’t understand what they’re supposed to be doing. Add that to doing this in your house via Zoom with 10 other kids talking, the guest speaker going through the experiment, and the teacher in charge of the program, and you have one parent (me) who is listening while eating cereal and thinking there has got to be a better way to do a science experiment with a bunch of special needs high schoolers virtually.

In the midst of my thinking of better ways to do this, T loses her irritated ULA (The Hubs) who says that he’s “going to check on S”. Great. We both do this. We figure out which of our kids is the easier one to handle at the moment and make a beeline to that one, leaving the other parent with the hard kid. I would imagine this happens in households where the kids don’t have any diagnoses. Anyway…can a sista eat her cereal? Apparently not. Oh also…the hubs has his bachelors and masters degrees in… wait for it….CHEMICAL ENGINEERING. What do I know about milligrams and PLANT MATTER? NOTHING! But as he heads upstairs to help the easy kid who, by the way, has nothing to do this morning, nowhere to be, yet she needs him, I am left to figure this out.

Apparently, NOBODY in the STEM group is prepared. I don’t sleep in on Saturdays so I can wake up to the same anxiety I have to deal with for online school Monday through Friday dagnabbit. But this…this is a cacophony of errors. Kid #10 “I don’t HAVE 3 pipettes, I only have 2!” Kid #4 “What are we supposed to be doing?”, T “Mommy can you come here please?”, Teacher “EVERYONE has 12 mini cups”  Kid #1 “I do NOT have ANY mini cups”. Me (smart enough to make sure she’s on mute and I’m not on camera) – “T you don’t have any mini cups either but I’ll get some clear plastic cups from the pantry”  Guest speaker who is helping these teenagers do this experiment “Take your mortar and pestle and put–“ T “I don’t have a MOTOR and PESSLE“. Teacher “EVERYONE should have been given a mortar and pestle in their bag”. Me (irritated because The Hubs has left me to deal with this) “Lemme see that bag they gave you.” Also me grumbling because like I said TODAY is my day to catch up on work I couldn’t get done through the week because I am the UTA for the Second Grader. See ANY OF MY PREVIOUS BLOGS for a recap.

In the bag, I see the alcohol T told The Hubs she couldn’t find, a taped up box, and on her desk I see THE INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE EXPERIEMENT! And inside the box of course is the motor” and “pessle. At this point, my cereal is soggy. I don’t do soggy cereal. I leave it and go into the dining room to sit down and I dunno, ACTUALLY READ THE REST OF THE INSTRUCTIONS. It occurs to me that the teacher who is a science teacher has been doing this program for at least 3 years and should at the very least recognize that LABELLING the supplies, then making sure each kid had them BEFORE they started this morning would’ve alleviated most of these issues. It also occurs to me that teachers choose to teach for plenty of reasons and none of them is monetary gain. They’re all saints, and those that choose to go into special education have the patience that I don’t even have with MY OWN kids. I make a note that maybe I can ask the teacher if I can help her gather materials next time or at least send her sheets of labels that can be placed on each of the items so that it makes it easier to find in some random teenager’s backpack. Because when I lift up the alcohol (which isn’t labeled but is obviously alcohol because of the smell), T has to sniff it herself. Sniffing chemicals can be dangerous. Then I remember suggesting something similar to this to this same teacher over the summer when some of the same things happened and her response not being very welcoming of my help. So I decide to keep quiet.

A pause here. I make it a point never to complain or suggest that someone do something a different way unless 1. They ask for my opinion. or 2. If they didn’t ask, I’m prepared to help them do what I’m suggesting. Because I cannot stand to hear someone complain about how something is being done but not offer to help if there are changes that can be made to benefit the process. So I will either keep my mouth shut cause I don’t want to or have the time to help, or I’ll make the suggestion and offer to do it. So based on the first time I offered help to this teacher, I realize that I shouldn’t do it again.

A kid sounds like she’s about to cry. That’s another thing in autism. I don’t know if that teen is autistic or not, but I do recall that the last time they did an experiment via zoom and hers wasn’t going perfectly, she sounded as if the entire world would implode and that is how she is sounding now. I feel horrible for her. But I get it. Fortunately, T doesn’t get upset when stuff like this science experiment doesn’t work exactly the way the guest speaker says it should. She DOES however get upset when stuff she actually cares about, like her daily phone call to my sister doesn’t work out exactly the way it’s supposed to. Let my sister be 10 minutes late for their phone call. The world as we know it has ended. For her. For me, it means I have to explain to her that her aunt’s phone battery may be dead, she may have forgotten the time, any number of reassuring things to have T recognize that the world indeed shall go on even if she doesn’t get to have her call. So I get it.

Another kid is MAD. He is making it clear that the stuff the teacher says they all should have is stuff that he clearly does NOT. One mom (that would be me) makes the sound decision that for future zoom sessions like this, T will read the directions the night before, gather all of the materials and have them lined up in the order they will be used, and make sure that she understands what she is supposed to be doing and why. This same mom is also slightly stewing because all of this stuff was sitting in a bag for 2 weeks and wonders why The Hubs didn’t mention this.

Anyway…as I’m reading, the next step in this experiment is to use a pipette to place drops of the plant solution (that was ground with the mortar and pestle with the water we used because T couldn’t find the alcohol) into 12 slots in an egg carton. THERE IS NO EGG CARTON IN OUR SUPPLIES. Alas!! I have an egg carton! But you know what? It’s in the refrigerator with EGGS in it. I hear the teacher saying that “each of you should have 12 plastic condiment cups”. T has TWO plastic condiment cups, both containing materials she had to use earlier in the experiment…no empty ones. As you can guess, kids are piping up on Zoom saying that they either don’t have the cups, can’t find them, don’t have 12…etc. Because I have reframed the teacher’s position as a volunteer in this who likely mentioned to the parents who were with their kids when they picked them up from the internship that they have a bag of supplies and she’s counting on these parents (one being The Hubs) to know this, I decide not to join in the chorus. I just run into our pantry and grab 12 clear cups assuming that the point is to drop the solution into clear cups and do stuff to each cup to see what happens. I wonder if the teacher has a prescription for Xanax. She should take it before these classes. As I’m putting 12 cups down, I hear her say, they only need to do 3 — I then think, I personally should get a subscription for Xanax and take it before these classes.

The instructions say they don’t need anything else so I head upstairs to my office and I’m embraced by the 7 year old on the steps. She’s all dressed and ready to head downstairs to watch cartoons. At this point I realize that The Hubs has actually escaped not because 7 year old has to BE anywhere and needed him, but because he wanted to escape the hard kid. I need to make things clear around here. I am the only one allowed to escape in this family on Saturdays. Not you Hubs. He plays dumb. I don’t allow him to play dumb with me. He has 2 degrees in a subject I got C’s in in high school. You sir…are not dumb. He walks away in one of those “baffled what did I do now” huffs that husbands are allowed to do. Fine… because I too have escaped.

But as I sit down at my desk, I hear T say “I don’t have any vinegar!” I make a mental note to look at that instruction sheet when I’m done to see where in the HECK it says she needs vinegar. You can’t add something NEW in autism!  I’ll give the guest speaker a pass. Only because we do indeed have vinegar. Then I ask The Hubs (who is on his way down the stairs still baffled) to bring her the huge gallon of vinegar we have that’s in our shower (a story for an entirely different blog). “There’s vinegar in our shower???” he says.

I live with clueless people. I realize this but every time I get confirmation, I just have to sit with the notion that it’s true. That GALLON JUG of vinegar has been inside of our shower for at least 2 weeks. I tell him this. He says he’s never noticed it. Our shower has a seat type thing that I would imagine people use to put their foot on or sit down to shave their legs. I don’t have hairy legs so we use it as a shelf. On it sits, my loofah, my shower gel, a bottle of shampoo, and bigger than all of these things together, a jug of vinegar.  The fact that a huge gallon jug of vinegar has been there for 2 weeks, and The Hubs hasn’t noticed it is a blog for another day.  Thankfully, he got T the vinegar, the experiment was completed and the day went on as usual.

This is how things are at our house. I’m taking a break from work. For lunch.