My Third Act

I just celebrated my one year anniversary at work. A year ago I never would have imagined I’d be where I am, but here we are. As Brian said, I’m in my third Act.

Prologue:

The majority of my working life I’ve been in retail or sales of some kind. My first job was at a frozen yogurt/video store when I was 14. Yogurt Time and Video Hour were side-by-side and owned by a lovely couple. There was a sliding door between the two stores. I was underage so technically wasn’t supposed to work at the video store side, but I did anyway. It was awesome.

My employment was put on pause at the start of the school year, with the promise that I’d work the next summer. Unfortunately, thanks to the brand new Blockbuster Video down the street, the stores went out of business. It sucked, but they wrote me a wonderful letter of recommendation so I could find another summer job.

When I was 17 I started working at a movie theatre – Oakmont on Manatee Ave. (Side note: While writing this I wasn’t sure if I was 16 or 17 when I started there. Then I remembered, we watched in awe from the TVs in the lobby as OJ Simpson’s white Bronco raced away from police. That was 1994. Ergo, 17.) I worked there for a very short time, until they decided to cut staffing. I was the last in, meaning I was the first out. Another bummer.

I then got a job at another movie theatre – Cobb Cinemas at DeSoto Square Mall. I hated working the concessions counter, but loved working the box office. I could study and do homework between shows. At the same time, I worked at the dance studio to help pay tuition for my classes. I also worked at the dance store next to the studio – Tutus and Toe Shoes. Adorable name. Never got my final paycheck though….

When I went away to college, I worked at another theatre in Tallahassee called Capitol Cinemas. (Noticing a theme? Movie theatres or bust.) Capitol Cinemas was great for a while. I got to work the projection booth which was the coolest job ever. We got to watch movies for free all over town thanks to the agreement between managers at the different theatres. Unfortunately, it was bought out by United Artists so policies changed in ways I didn’t like. A classmate of mine had a job at Wal-Mart Vision Center. Thus began Act I…

Act I – Opticianry:

I worked at Wal-Mart Vision Center for three years. I got to work the lab, meaning I was the one edging lenses and essentially making glasses. I loved that part. I could go into the lab, close the door and not talk to anyone. I didn’t like the retail aspect, but it was part of the job. Brian and I wanted to move away from Florida and a management opportunity arose at a brand new Sam’s Club Optical in Charlotte. So we packed up and moved to North Carolina.

I was in opticianry for 13 years. During that time I was a lab tech, a manager, a district manager, then a manager again. It was hard and it was stressful. Like, very stressful. Stressful in a way that makes me wonder how I lasted as long as I did.

After eight years at Sam’s Club I was offered a new opportunity at another optical retailer. A store that Shall Not Be Named. I lost my job after two years there. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Act II – Sales:

I was unemployed for a year. After looking and looking and looking for something, anything, a friend of mine helped me get an interview at a sales center in the area. The employer is HUGE now, but at the time it was still pretty small. We were a sales center, but worked with a number of different businesses, which brought variety. I sold quite a few products, including internet, TV, satellite TV, web-based services (domain names, web hosting, etc.), and small business credit cards. In my nine years with that employer I sold products for eight different companies.

Whether or not I liked my job depended on which product I was selling and whether I was doing phone sales or online chat. While I’d love to name names, my paranoid self doesn’t want to be accused of libel by calling out major brands. (Like any of them care about this little blog.) But there were definitely some doozies with questionable sales practices.

Years 4 through 7 were great. I sold a product for a company I respected, and still do. We did things the right way – no shifty sales tactics or walking in the grey. We had our own little space away from everyone else because we were in financial services. Our team was small and we were like family. Then the contract with that company ended and we were thrust back into the Telco world, selling internet, TV, and phone services (that nobody wants but they demand you sell).

The company was very good to me for a very long time. I got to go on a few company trips to Mexico. We had banquets and celebrations. And then the company got bigger and bigger and the sales side got left behind.

My last two years there were terrible. I was crying nearly every day from the stress, and experiencing more panic attacks than I had in years. I was miserable. When I’d come home in tears or call Brian sounding so depressed and upset, he’d always have the right words. And he assured me, my third act was coming. I didn’t really get what he meant. Then a co-worker and friend of mine sent me a text with a link to a job opening at a new company in town.

Act III – Mortgages:

The listing was for a job as a processor at a mortgage company. Mortgages? My only experience was when we bought our house in 2004! But I was intrigued. It would mean no more sales. No more pressuring people into getting products they didn’t want or need. No more being tethered to a phone 8 hours a day.

I was scared. But after Brian and I talked it over I decided to give it a try.

I got a recommendation from a former manager at my previous employer who had since moved to the mortgage company. He was very happy and was in upper management so a referral from him went a long way. I was granted a phone interview then a second interview which, thanks to the start of lockdown, was over Zoom. Honestly, I think that helped me. I was able to write down what I wanted to ask and I think they appreciated my questions. I was over the moon after the interviews. This was perfect for me. After a few nerve-wracking days waiting, I got the call that I was being offered the job.

I could not believe it! To say I was excited was an understatement. So I left my miserable job at a company that used to bring me joy and made my way to Better.

I’ve been here a year. I’ve gotten licensed as a mortgage originator, although I’m actually a loan processor. It’s a great company with an amazing culture, reminiscent of my previous employer before they got too big for their britches. But as I expected, I was made for this job. It can be hard, and it can be stressful. But it’s nothing like what I’ve experienced before. And Brian was right. I’m in my 40s with a new career and have finally reached my third Act. And I couldn’t be happier.

10 Years

10 Years.

It’s been 10 years since we got the diagnosis. 10 years is a lifetime and yet no time at all.

All those years ago I wrote a post about what it was like when Jon first got diagnosed with autism. I wrote about how I thought the tests were going to rule out autism, not confirm it. And how it made me feel at the time. It’s so hard to think back and remember what that was like. This has been our life for so long now that it seems like it’s always been this way.

He always liked to get up close and personal.

When we first started this journey, we were grateful for the team we had. Jon was receiving a variety of therapies, including speech and occupational therapy. And he had great teachers at Pre-K. I remember when I went to eat lunch with him at school one day shortly after the diagnosis, I was sitting next to one of his teachers. I mentioned how I’d honestly thought they’d be ruling out autism, not confirming it. And she very kindly told me no, she could tell. She’d been doing this for 28 years and could tell just by working with Jon that he was on the spectrum. It hit me like a ton of bricks, but weirdly, I also appreciated it. I guess having it confirmed by a teacher who knew and worked with him made it seem more real and helped me accept it just a little bit more.

I took Nate with me when I had lunch with Jon.

We’ve actually been very lucky when it comes to Jon and school. We always seem to have a great team each year. I think it helps that we’re so involved. Every year before school starts we’ll schedule a meeting with his new teachers so he can meet them and they can meet him before the chaos of Open House. And we introduce him to his environment so he can familiarize himself with it.

It’s nearly the same words every year –

“He has no filter and will not hesitate to tell you what he thinks. He has to be able to move around, but we promise he is listening and absorbing what you’re saying. He needs a space that’s his. If he gets upset, he’ll either growl at you or shut down completely. He may fire you. If so, welcome to the club. And there’s no telling which Jon you’ll get each day – super sweet happy boy, or grouchy ‘don’t look at me wrong or I’ll hiss at you’ boy. Either way, he’ll steal your heart and drive you nuts all at the same time. Welcome to Team Jon.”

It’s worked out very well. We were so incredibly lucky when he started the 6th grade. Every single teacher he was going to have was present, as well as the principal and assistant principal. His amazing 5th grade teacher joined us for the meeting so she could give her input from a teacher’s perspective on what to expect from him. It’s been years and it still means the world to me not only that she was there, but that all of those teachers committed to being there to meet and learn Jon.

Jon and Ms. Smith, his 5th grade teacher.

And now here we are, high school. Yes, high school. (I don’t know how that happened, either!) I worried about this for so long. The school is enormous! And the idea of him trying to navigate the hallways with the throngs of students and the noise and the chaos just made me want to cry. But it’s 2020 and the Year of the Virus so plans have changed.

We didn’t get an in-person meeting this year. We didn’t get to go to the school so he could learn the environment and see where his classes would be. We did, however, get to meet his teachers through Zoom.

Right now, thanks to the Year of the Virus, all of their schooling is online through Zoom or Google Meet. (Technology is an amazing thing.) The other kids may start going back into the building second semester, but not Jon. He’s full-remote, meaning he’s staying home and staying online. So meeting his teachers through Zoom actually worked out because that’s how he’s going to know these teachers. Online.

The new normal – virtual school. This was his first day of 9th grade.

Jon is quite a young man now. He’s smart and creative and funny. He definitely speaks his mind, and he still has no filter. He has, however, turned into quite the surly teenager. He’ll grumble and grouse when we want him to do things, just like any other kid his age.

Yet the bigger he gets, the more obvious it is that he isn’t like other kids his age. His stimming and quirks. How he moves. How he talks. There’s no denying that Jon is different. But we love him just the way he is. We determined quite some time ago that he will always be with us. While Katie and Nate will eventually move out, possibly go to college, and venture into the world, Jon will not. And that’s okay. He wants to stay with us, and we want to be here for him. 

His stim now is twiddling his pencils. They are yellow and almost exactly the same length.

 

He’s becoming more and more particular about everything, which is worrisome. He eats fewer foods now than he ever has before. He refuses to participate in things that are not just the way he likes them. And I honestly don’t know what to do about any of it. Is it just a phase? Will he grow out of it? Or will it continue to get worse? More questions, fewer answers.

We’ve learned so much in 10 years. And yet there’s so much more we don’t know. But we have time.

 

Jon vs. Halloween

I know I should probably write about the beginning of the school year, how the kids are adapting, the start of Fall, and all that important stuff that I want to archive. And I will. But for now, I want to talk about Jon and his sudden hatred of all things Halloween.

It all started last year. We were at my happy place – those who know me know I mean SuperTarget – and were wandering my favorite place in my happy place, the Halloween section. There was another family there who really liked the outdoor decorations. You know the ones – the creepy, loud, moaning, screaming, scary-music kind. So they were setting them off, over and over. And over and over and over. At a certain point, Jon couldn’t take it anymore so we left the area. I don’t blame him, really. It was super obnoxious and annoying. Nothing against those who enjoy that sort of thing. Some of my favorite people love the scariness of the holiday. But I’d bet they aren’t the type of people who will continually set them off in the store just for funsies.

Anyway, it was at that point, I think, that he decided he no longer likes Halloween.

Now this is especially difficult for me since Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year. I don’t like scary Halloween. I like cute Halloween, like Teenie Halloweenies.

Teenie Halloweenies

Seriously, how cute is that?!?

 

I like the non-scary decorations and the candy and the costumes and the fun. I like that Halloween falls during my favorite season, Autumn. And I like that it can be family-friendly.

Since Jon had decided he wanted nothing to do with any part of Halloween, including Trick-or-Treating (a travesty, if you ask me!), I decided to give him levels of Halloween based on potential scariness. Cute, fun, little kid stuff is Level 1. Slightly spooky but not scary stuff is Level 2… You get the idea. The ultimate scariest is a Level 10. Think SCarowinds, haunted houses, creepy-ass clowns, and all that stuff. Honestly, that gets a big NOPE from me, too. I hate horror movies and being scared. I’ll stick with the cute stuff, thankyouverymuch.

Jon would continually ask me if something was Level 1 Halloween, Level 2 Halloween, etc. We decided together that Level-1 and Level-2 were safe. Our neighborhood put on a trunk-or-treat Halloween night and I was finally able to get Jon to agree to go there in costume since we knew it was for the littlest kids and would be a Level 1. It turned out to be more of a Level 2, but that was fine. Seeing how tame it was, he decided he’d go around the neighborhood as well, but stuck close to us in case something scary happened.

 

IMG_20171031_205807_231

Belle, Star-Lord, and the cutest Boba Fett you’ve ever seen.

And that was that. I thought he’d gotten over the sudden distaste for Halloween. Boy, was I wrong.

Something happened at some point that he has now decided he hates anything and everything about Halloween. Everything is supposedly terrifying to him. In August when Carowinds started prepping their decorations for SCarowinds, he decided he did not want to go to the park again until after October. Well, the only thing after October is Winterfest so he’s pretty much done for the season.

And now he doesn’t even want to go to Target. TARGET! How can you NOT want to go to Target?? Another travesty. But he’s terrified that they’ll have decorations all over the store.

To make matters worse, he saw some of my decorations in the garage and freaked out about that, too. Seriously!!! My cute little witches hats and owls and ghosties?? They wouldn’t scare a toddler! And here he is, my almost 13 year old, losing his damn mind.

Halloween Collage

Okay, the door may be a little much. But the rest of it? Come on, man!

It’s unbelievably frustrating. He’s gotten himself so worked up over the whole thing that it’s making it impossible to even say the word H-A-L-L-O-W-E-E-N without him fussing and hollering.

This lead me to two realizations. One, he’s gonna have a bad time come October 1st when I start decorating. Two, this means he probably won’t want to go with us to my parents’ place for our annual visit. They live in the mountains and we visit Granddad’s Apples for family fun, Linda’s Plants & Shrubs for their hay maze and to get our pumpkins, and sometimes go gem mining or to the kids’ hands-on museum. It’s a tradition that I love. And that makes me sad.

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This one is from 2015.

 

I don’t know how to help him overcome this sudden and irrational fear. Has it at this point developed into a true phobia or is he just overreacting for dramatic effect? It’s hard to tell with him. But I hope we can figure it out. Because I want him to enjoy the family-friendly fun again.

After all, it is the most wonderful time of the year.

WHO Knew?

I’m always excited when I enjoy something and my children discover that they enjoy it, too. I’ve said before that we are a Nerd family. We have Star Wars geeks, Potterheads, Trekkies…..

And now Whovians.

Whovian
/HOO-vee-ann/
noun
1. A person who is a fan of the British Science Fiction programme, Doctor Who

Doctor Who  has been around in one way or another for more than 50 years. My mother-in-law has been a Whovian for a long, long time. She got me into Doctor Who about 5 years ago. (Hey, look at that! I actually wrote about it when I started watching in 2013!) A number of my friends watched the show and I was curious what it was about so I gave it a go. I’m so glad I did. The Who-verse is amazing and I LOVE IT.

A few months ago I discovered that the show is now streaming on Amazon Prime. (By the way, Amazon Prime is quite possibly the best thing ever invented. Like, ever.) Thanks to the wonders of technology, I’ve been able to watch episodes on my phone. For a while, it was quite the routine – I would get home from the gym, make my dinner, then sit down at the table with my phone propped up against the napkin holder like a little TV. Nate would occasionally wander in to the dining room to watch with me. He got to see Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and Daleks taking Manhattan. Slowly but surely, he was drawn in to the world of the Doctor.

Like when River and Amy told the 11th Doctor what they really think about his beloved fez.

Now, he and Jon had on occasion watched with Grandma, which was great. So they knew some of the characters and some of the villains. Nate’s favorite seems to be the Daleks…..

EXTERMINATE!

and the Cybermen.

You will be upgraded.

After watching bits and pieces with me, he started watching full episodes. First, it was specific episodes featuring those epic villains. Then one day, he decided he wanted to watch the series from the beginning of the reboot in 2005.

And with one word, Doctor Who was introduced to a new generation.

And with that, we were off! Let me say again that I get excited when my kids discover and enjoy something I love. But I try not to get too excited about it. I don’t want to jinx anything, you know. So every day I casually ask a Nate, “Do you want to watch another episode?” And when he replies with an enthusiastic “Yes!”, I just smile. But inside I’m all like,

The last few weekends we’ve spent more than a little time watching the show and I’m not even ashamed. I LOVE IT. I wouldn’t say I’m a completely bad influence. We also go to the park and do other things. But we’ve been spending a big chunk of time on the sofa going on adventures with the Doctor and his companions. It’s awesome that we have a little mini Whovian in the house and I’m so happy that he has found this amazing, weird, funny, sad, exciting show.

Totally in the zone watching the season 9 episode, “Time Heist”

Who knew? (HA! Puns.)

It’s a Big First Day

The time is here. A new school year. There is quite a mix of emotions today.

8th grade, 6th grade, and 5th grade

EXCITEMENT! – It’s a new year which means a fresh start. New clubs to join. A chance to make a great first impression with new teachers. A chance to make new friends, as well as see old ones they’ve not seen all summer. New, new, new!

Sadness – This is our last year at the same elementary school we’ve had for the past 9 years. Nate went to Pre-K here so this is Nate’s 7th year! I can’t help but think of the “last firsts” – A last first day of school at a place that’s meant so much to us. The last school year for recess every day. The last year for walking a kid into school, either for a specific reason or just to say “hi”.

I realize that last one is something I can do at the middle school but it’s not nearly as easy. Traffic concerns aside, middle schoolers are starting to spread their wings and deserve the chance to do things on their own without Mom hovering behind. (And I admit, I tend to hover.)

Relief – No need to listen to them whine about being bored during the day. Well, okay. Let’s be honest – it’s actually no need to feel guilty that they watch TV most of the day.

Anxiety – Anxiety, Worry, Fear, Apprehension….

Call it what you will, but it’s that feeling that’s settled into my chest and will be there until I know it’s going to be okay. Will they find new clubs and activities? Will they make new friends? Will they have to deal with bullying or mean kids?

Admittedly, I’m not as worried about Nate. He’s a big-man-on-campus 5th grader and has been looking forward to this for WEEKS.

Goofy boy is excited for 5th grade

I’m a little nervous for Katie. She’s been dreading today so we can only hope it goes well and she has friends in her classes to help alleviate her fears.

My 8th grader isn’t so excited.

So it mostly comes down to Jon. Will there be a meltdown because everything is just too overwhelming? I know the teachers have his back but how will HE react? How overwhelmed will he feel? How much stimming will he find himself doing to cope?

Not really sure how this one feels. He’s been kinda quiet.

To be honest, I’m scared for him. Of course, in front of him we’ve been all smiles and encouragement, but inside I’m absolutely terrified.

My head knows he’ll be fine. My heart, not so much. This ball of stress and anxiety that’s settled in my chest isn’t going away any time soon.

I look forward to a full report of how it goes for all three of them today. Their excitement, relief, and happiness that it’s going to be okay. Fingers crossed for a great first day.