The Ides of March

Today is the Ides of March, the 15th of March according to the Roman Calendar. On my own calendar, I had marked March 14th as the date of a meeting of the meeting of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) in Washington, D.C.. I had attended the November meeting; here is the testimony of some who were at the meeting today:

Shakespeare highlighted March 15th in the phrase “Beware the Ides of March” in his play Julius Caesar, as the Roman ruler was indeed assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 B.C.. The date did not hold any sinister associations prior to that, though one of my students (who works as an EMT) proclaimed that larger than usual numbers of people in various states of inebriation, “craziness,” etc. appear in the ER on the Ides of March.

I’m hoping this Ides of March is somewhat more peaceful as, for us, pridie Idus Martias (=”the day before the Ides of March,” or March 14th) was one of those one thing after another sort of days.

My entire day usually rotates around one point in time: At 3.15pm, I need to be in the parking lot to wait for Charlie’s school bus. But today rotated around a different time, 1pm, when our school district’s Transition Team had scheduled a Very Important Meeting involving a tour of the middle school—that’s where Charlie will be going to school starting this summer.

We put Charlie on the bus and Jim drove me to work in Jersey City with just enough time for me to go to my office. The phone rang: A student, a recent graduate, had applied for a big scholarship whose deadline was yesterday, and one recommender had yet to send in his letter and this professor could not be found. I assured him that we’d get the letter in, that I’d keep checking throughout the day, and ran to class where we reviewed Roman history from Rome’s founding in 753 BC to the 3rd Punic War (149-146 BC) and got rather distracted when a student called out that his grandfather’s name is Hasdrubal, the name of the brother of Hannibal, as in the Carthaginian king who marched elephants across the Alps in the 2nd Punic War (218 – 201 BC). Just as I was about to walk into Hilsdorf Hall where my office is, I saw a student who hadn’t made it to class getting out of his car. He apologized: “My daughter kept waking up every hour and saying ‘it hurts, something hurts……” After hearing every symptom, I suggested maybe she was teething.

“She’s had a lot of teeth coming in,” said the student and then headed off late to class. Whereupon, a music professor accosted me and said “Dr. Chew, I just left a long message on your voice mail about that senior thesis presentation……” Suffice it to say, “a certain student” seems to have scheduled a plane ticket on the very afternoon that her presentation is to happen and we can’t really reschedule it but there were several reasons being offered to me earnestly as to why rescheduling was essential. “Email us why,” I said: It 11.30 and I had 45 minutes to try to track down the recommendation letter.

It had been submitted and I was going through the steps to nominate the student when another student came in asking how to apply for the Honors program—-I submitted the nomination and ran to Kennedy Boulevard where Jim was waiting in the black car. We went back to our condo, he got out and I went to the middle school. It was 12.58pm.

Only one other mother was there and she and I had more than enough questions. Charlie will be in a self-contained autism classroom and everything has a directly practical application. The aides will not meet the bus as it pulls up, but stand in the hall and our kids will learn to walk in on their own. They’ll have their own lockers. In Charlie’s current classroom, aides work with a different student every half-hour; in middle school, aides will work with students for full periods (as determined by the bell). They use the home ec room to cook every day and the washing machines for laundry. There’s a toy ATM machine in class and a courtyard with a garden. The class has computers and goes on at least one field trip a month into the community: To restaurants, to IKEA once, to other stores. Will they eat lunch in the cafeteria? the other mother asked. What about music lessons and sports? I asked. We’ll see where each child is at, said the teacher (who Charlie had briefly when he started school in the district, and she is good).

The other mother and I walked out together and compared early experiences, current home situations, places our kids like to go. “We just have to keep asking for things and asking,” she said. She didn’t sigh, but we nodded: Her son is 11, Charlie is 10 years and 10 months, and it’s a long walk now into the future with increasingly “functional” things to learn, and surprises any moment (she noted that one day she realized her son could read and subtract).

And then back to Jersey City to read Augustine’s Confessions with a student and more emails to finish another student’s scholarship application and then preparations for an open house event today at my college and, meanwhile, back on the Charlie front: Jim met him at the bus and then, Jim with his laptop and Charlie’s loaded down backpack and Charlie with a big case of CDs, the two of them walked a mile and a half to the train. (We’re now a one car family.) There’s a little cafe there and Charlie proceeded to get two bags of Cheetos—he calls them “orange cheese”; Charlie can’t drink milk, so forget it—and plop them down on the counter. He was persuaded to put them back and they took the train to Newark (Charlie got a free ride) and he and Jim were going to take the light rail, which connects the station to the other station in Newark.

But the light rail was closed because some buildings had collapsed at certain stops so the two of them walked another mile and a half in Newark to get to the other station. The sun as shining and Charlie was cheerful, walking ahead. Then it was on the PATH train, Jim called me, and I drove up to Journal Square by the Jackie Robinson statue and saw Charlie and Jim (holding all the bags and the case now) and home we drove together, after agreeing to get Charlie his requested “Mexican” food.

It was another day with autism. It’s autism every day, it’s an adventure every day, and I’m hoping I can make it back down to DC in May for the next IACC meeting (on ante diem tertium Idus Maias) to speak about some of this: About trying to cram in too many things into too few hours, trying to appease unhappy parties, thinking about the future and teaching Charlie to calculate his bank balance, about a quick conversation with another mother about so much. About how sometimes things break down and how too often things get done at the last minute. And how sometimes, you just have to hoof it.

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    • Marla

      I feel quite tired after reading this. So much going on. Reading Augustine’s Confessions. I wonder how many times you have had to read it? Several times a year? Ugh. I can tell you are a professor. I read that last year in college and could barely keep my eyes open. I know. I am terrible. Certainly not my area of expertise.

      You walked in Newark? We were in Newark a lot when we lived in Jersey. It is always interesting. Have you ever seen Harold and Kumar go to White Castle?

    • Daisy

      Amazing and busy day! I hope the Ides of March give you some relief this year, not conspiracy.

    • Kristina Chew, PhD

      Came back from the Open House for prospective in the early afternoon and almost didn’t know what to do with myself after yesterdays one thing after another—- I’m not the biggest fan of Augustine. I’m reading the Latin one on one with a student who I know quite well—she was in one of my classes when I started teaching at Saint Peter’s College in 2005—-it’s a tremendous thing to be reading with her now.

      Yes, Jim and Charlie walked through Newark downtwn to get from one train station to the other—I’ve seen clips of Harold and Kumar — too funny.