After we finished eating dinner Wednesday night, you stood in the kitchen and anxiously pointed to the February calendar on the refrigerator. You brought the calendar home from school during one of the last days in January, and it’s been on the fridge ever since.
It’s printed on red paper and it’s full of numbers and words and images.
I saw the worry in your blue eyes and furrowed brows. I heard it in the rise and fall of your voice when you pointed to Thursday, February 18 and uttered a word I didn’t recognize.
“What did you say?” I asked. “I’m sorry, buddy, I don’t know what you’re saying.”
You love the calendar because it gives you a glimpse into the upcoming days. As much as possible your special school creates a predictable schedule for you and your peers. You feel safe and comforted and regulated and calm when your schedule remains the same.
Last week when I talked to the school psychologist I told him about our weekend trip to visit your cousins and described how uneasy you felt when your schedule was disrupted. We had to leave exactly at 3:00 because you wanted to get home in time to go grocery shopping. Your anxiety was sky high.
He said he knows many other kids who feel the same way.
“We forget about that sometimes,” he said. I knew exactly what he meant. School routine doesn’t change too much, but everyday life isn’t as predictable. Your anxiety doesn’t rise at school the way it often does at home.
When you bring home a calendar every month, you study it a bit before handing it to me.
Are you looking for the same things I am?
I quickly scan it to see if anything is different from the predictable, rhythmic pattern. I look at every Tuesday and see the familiar pattern emerge: gym laundry, gym laundry, gym laundry, gym laundry. Every Wednesday is the same: swim theme, swim theme, swim theme, swim theme.
But each month a few activities are scheduled that cause the steady rhythm to grind to a screeching halt: words like Valentine’s Party, dance, and the least favorite: no school.
I brace myself for those days.
I write them in my planner so I remember to alert you. I try to prepare you. Often it’s not a big deal now that you are a teenager. But sometimes it is – and Thursday concerned you. I could see it in your eyes.
Thursday your class was scheduled to attend a play at the Gallagher Bluedorn, a performing arts center at our local university.
You picked up a pencil and crossed it off the calendar.
Would you still be able to go to the play if it were crossed off?
Finally you picked up your speech generating device and typed out a message. It was the only way you could get your point across.
I want vocational please
“Oh, vocational. Vocational. That's what you are saying. What day do you want to go to vocational?” I asked.
I want vocational please Thursday
It’s vocational week for your classroom, which is the one time per month you help with duties like setting up the lunch room, moving chairs, wiping tables, and putting things away. I don’t know what else you do because you don’t tell me, but I know you love it.
You’re in your element when you’re doing those things. You’re happy. You’re productive. You’re a good worker.
You’re very proud of yourself, and you don’t want to miss it.
I told you I understood and I'd send your message to your teacher. You were worried that if you went to the play Thursday, you wouldn’t be able to perform your vocational duties.
“Yes,” you said, sounding relieved.
I told you again I would let your teacher know about your concerns. I sent an email to him.
Subject: Isaac is worried about Thursday.
See speech device message.
At night when Dad and I tucked you into bed and pulled the brown weighted blanket up to your ears, you hugged me. I told you I loved you. The country music played on your iPad in the background. You didn’t tell me you loved me. You verbalized what was racing in your mind. “Vocational. Ten o’clock.”
“You want to do vocational Thursday at 10:00?”
“I hope so,” I said. I put my hand on your cheek. “I hope you can do vocational at 10:00.” I closed your bedroom door.
Then I sent another email to your teacher.
Subject: Isaac is worried about Thursday.
Tonight he keeps saying he wants to do vocational in the morning at 10:00. I'm not sure if he can skip the Gallagher Bluedorn, but he sure would like to. He's getting ready for bed and saying, "I want vocational Thursday please." What a kid.
Thursday morning I sent you to school. I yelled, “Bye, Isaac!” like I do every morning when you run out the front door. Then I waited for you to wave at me before the bus pulled away.
Later Thursday morning I received this message from your teacher:
Wow! We go into the vocational room at 10:00. Lucky for Isaac, we go to Gallagher after lunch so we will be in the vocational room this morning! Isaac just walked in and saw it all written out on his schedule and I talked with him about doing both vocational and Gallagher today. He seemed cool with everything. Thanks for the heads up.
I felt relieved when I heard this news, and I’m sure you did, too. I’m grateful your teacher took the time to let me know because I was a little worried, too.
Your teacher said you were kind of bummed about going to the play but you seemed to enjoy it once you got there.
When you came home from school, you pulled your review of the play out of your blue folder. It was printed on a white piece of paper. You had circled different characters that were your favorite. You indicated the play was super.
I bet you thought it was super you didn’t have to skip your favorite vocational activity.
I thought it was super you could tell Dad and me how worried you were about Thursday. And in a few words you were able to tell us why.
The March calendar will be coming home soon. I bet it will be printed on green paper for St. Patrick’s Day. We’ll look at it together before we hang it on the fridge. There’s one long week of no school during spring break. Don’t worry, Isaac. I’ll plan a schedule for you.