Life in Lock Down: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

“How are things going with Braden during all this, Lori?” Hmmm…..

Life during #COVID with Braden…how would I describe it?

I’m going to go with “Predictably Unpredictable.”

We have now spent two weeks in our home practicing social distancing. Mike and I are full-time virtual teachers, and Braden is no longer attending his vocational training program. So what does this mean, exactly?

Who the F knows?!!! Each and every day brings something new, a new behavior to try to figure out, and a new insight into Braden and what he might be thinking about.

One thing we all know about people with autism, and quite frankly, most people, is that routine is crucial. Before #COVID, we had this routine: Five days a week, we all went to our respective places of work, and then we all came home. As you read in my latest post, “New Shoes…” we recently, with the help of some kind friends in our community, implemented a workout program for him each day. So he would go exercise, come home for dinner, we would take him for an even swim, and then he would play some MarioKart until it was time for bed. This little routine of ours plus his new diet change due to his recent diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (a blog post soon to come) was working, for the most part. We were finally feeling like, “Okay, after 20 full years, we are getting this parenting thing down.”

Four weeks ago, Mike and I started virtual teaching. Well, Mike did. I was given permission to do home visits with my students, Running around from house to house, planning lessons was exhausting, but I loved it. It was fun to see my kids in their home environments and chat with their parents. Mike, crazy busy as a technology coach, was helping set up processes as well as answer the many questions from fantastic teachers. After all, these teachers want to do the very best job they can, and learning an entirely new teaching platform is not easy. Our days were full. We were tired. But Braden was at work, so it was manageable.

And then…we got the word that STEPS was closing along with all of the other schools in the city and that we should remain in our homes and practice social distancing.

Suddenly, I became a full-time virtual teacher, as home visits were no longer appropriate nor allowed. I know all my educator friends understand the steep learning curve that one must go through before feeling they can actually do this. To top that off,my kids have significant learning challenges. How do I teach them from my home? The thought is quite overwhelming. Spoiler Alert: I’ve figured it out. Phew.

Working with one of my Littles.

Oh, and Braden is now at home, during the day when we’re teaching. His excellent teachers at STEPS put together a home program for him and set up a daily schedule for him to follow. This is tricky however, as he is not yet able to follow his routine independently, so one of us has to be with him from the moment he wakes up to implement it.

So yeah, that’s hard. Add into the mixture that he just cannot understand WHY this is happening. He went from happy at work, to home all day long with his parents. What 20-year-old would like that?

He is no longer sleeping through the night…ever. Once he does get to sleep, it’s not for long. I hear him in the mornings talking to himself. “No STEPS today, Braden…no STEPS today…Braden, no STEPS today.” It’s heartbreaking.

For the first week, I had my “classroom” set up in our dining area. It’s a beautiful space, light and bright, and I enjoyed working there. A few issues arose. 1) Several times Braden ran down the stairs and right into the view of my camera. Luckily my students never saw anything inappropriate, but you know, in our house, that’s always a possibility! And 2) Braden did not like this new set-up.

Although I’ve been Braden’s mom for 20 years, I still forget that my guy needs structure and routine. He craves sameness and resists change. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when the arrival of my stand-up desk from school and my subsequent rearranging of the dining room into a different space, sent him over the edge.

On that day, Braden had an epic meltdown. Without going into all the details, I ended up locking myself in our bedroom. At the same time, Mike tried to calm him down, as Braden was crying, yelling, and hitting his own head.

I can only blame myself for this. Of course he had a hard time. So, while Braden was out, I brought everything to our bedroom and created my new “classroom” there.

This wasn’t Braden’s only meltdown. He’s had several, and we suspect there will be many more. Our guy is sad. He is grieving too. We just don’t know where he is in his grief process on a day-to-day basis as he is unable to verbally articulate it to us. We have to figure it out by his actions.

And tomorrow we start week three.

We have slowly developed a new routine that looks something like this:

  1. Mike and I teach online and pray Braden doesn’t wake up during our lessons.
    If he does, he runs downstairs and tears apart the kitchen.
  2. Mike and I take turns depending on the timing of our lessons. So if he’s free, he works with Braden. If I’m free, I do. So when I say “we” below, I mean one of us.
  3. We go through Braden’s daily schedule with him. This includes showering, making his bed, doing some household chores, and completing office work tasks that STEPS sent home to us.
  4. We continue by having him prepare his own lunch and wash the dishes.
  5. That is followed by an hour-long bike ride. And yes, we know how lucky we are to still be able to do this. We pray this is not taken from us as Braden will lose his mind being stuck in the house ALL DAY LONG.
  6. Braden takes a little free time
  7. and then does chores and work tasks again.
  8. Snacks…and then a 4-mile walk around the neighborhood…each and every day. As a side benefit, I’m getting daily exercise!
  9. Come home and jump into the new pool we purchased once all our neighborhood pools were shut down. As you remember, swimming is Braden’s thing, so no more swimming was a terrible fate for the guy. This small pool…best investment EVER.
  10. Eat dinner as a family.
  11. One more activity- rollerblading or skateboarding around our block.
  12. MarioKart, and finally, lucky number 13…BED
  13. Bed- when he sometimes sleeps and sometimes doesn’t.

The tricky thing about all of this is that we are meant to be teaching. When we are not online with our students, we are planning lessons, having meetings with colleagues, and providing feedback for lessons completed online.
All teachers who are also parenting their own children at home are struggling with this as well. How do you balance being the best teacher you can possibly be at this time that is so hard for our students AND also the best parent you can be when your own kids are grieving too?

There is no easy answer, but I just want to give a shout out to all of you. Forgive yourself. You’re doing the very best you can… and that’s all we can do right now.

I also want to say that my administration has helped to take a few challenging things off my plate to help us out. Mike and I are incredibly appreciative of this support. We will be forever thankful for their willingness to help our family in crisis.

So yah…life…it’s predictably unpredictable.

We know that we will be living this way for the foreseeable future.

Our plan is to celebrate the good days (we’re keeping a tally) and try to go with the flow on the bad days.

And on the ugly days?…well we all need to cry sometimes, right? We will then continue on with the hope that the next day…minute…or hour will be one of the good ones again.

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