The Most Important 20 Minutes of the Day

My son had a basketball game today for his middle school team.  He’s on the C team (which comes after the B team which comes after  the A team) so we’re not talking a glamorous, high profile game.  But when I walked into the door, saw his face light up and then proceeded to witness his game and his constant looking over at me, I knew the 20 minutes of play time he got today were the most important 20 minutes of my day.

For working parents, being able to attend these events is hard.  Looking around today, there weren’t that many parents at the game. I’m sure every parent who was NOT in attendance had very good reasons and it had ZERO reflection on how much they love their child.

My son has Autism so communication, verbal communication, is really hard.  He doesn’t like to have conversations.  He’s not capable of sharing his feelings verbally.  When I try to tell him how I feel about him, he doesn’t want to have that conversation either.  As I’m connecting with more and more parents of typical kids, I’ve learned that my teen with Autism isn’t so different than a typical teenage boy.  My ACTIONS need to be the way I tell him how much I care about him.  Today, I was able to tell him I love him by attending his game.  And he was able to tell me that he’s glad I’m his mom.

But making this 20 minutes happen took a lot of planning and preparation.  I’m hoping that sharing how I accomplished this helps another parent get the same 20 minutes I got today.

Block Your Calendar

When I got the basketball schedule, I added the games to my work calendar along with travel time.  This way, when others are trying to schedule time with me, they know that I’m busy during this time so they can find a better time that works for both of us.

Set Expectations

I’ve let my manager and my team know that attending these games is important to me.  I try to structure my work so it’s about what I’m delivering each week rather than how much time I spend at the office.  This helps.  I set goals based on a full workload for the week and then juggle the time as necessary to meet all of my commitments for both work and home.

Carve Out Time

Even when you block your calendar and set expectations, it’s still hard to find the time to do it all.  Sometimes I get up early so I can start on my work day earlier.  Commute time takes up at least 45 minutes each way.  Today, I worked from home and got 90 minutes back.  I got my full workday in AND made it to the game.  I also reduced travel time by staying closer to home for the day.

It Goes Both Ways

Often, spending time at a school event in the afternoon means I need to focus on work in the evening–and miss that time with my family.  I try to use this to teach my kids about trade offs and balance.  I want them to be hard workers when they have jobs.  I want them to see that when I leave work early, that time needs to be made up somewhere.  It’s a good lesson to teach them.

Let’s face it, we’re all very busy.  It’s easy for the pressures of work, meetings, deadlines and commuting to cause us to miss opportunities to really connect with our kids.  But with a little planning and preparation, we’ve got a better chance of catching some of the precious moments before we lose track of where all our time went and our kids grow up faster than we could have ever imagined.

Life Lessons in New Routines

Established routines are amazing. They keep things running smoothly. They help us remember and help us work more efficiently. But breaking from your routine and trying something new can also be valuable, even when things don’t go very smoothly.

My teenage son with Autism asked if he could be on the middle school tennis team this year. Let’s just say that we survived a season that had more to teach us about life than it did about tennis.

My son isn’t new to sports. He’s been on his school track team for the last 2 seasons. Tennis was different because there were 3 different tennis teams – JV, JVA and JVB. We did what we usually do and put his JVB schedule into our family calendar. But because there were 3 different groups of tennis players doing 3 different things, we rarely had a tournament day go smoothly.

What went wrong?
– Traveling to a school with the wrong team
– Not traveling with his team
– Not understanding tournament cancellations caused by rain/weather conditions
The result: Our son wouldn’t be where we expected to pick him up. And because we weren’t familiar with the schedules for the other 2 teams, it was very difficult to find him.

Because my son is in the 8th grade and heading into high school next year, we wanted to lean on him rather than the school to solve this problem. He has a phone. We taught him to remember to bring it to school every day. He struggles to answer the question: Where are you? We showed him how to use an app called Glympse so he could send us his location in response to that question. It was a very bumpy season but instead of worrying about the tennis part, we focused on the problem solving involved in getting lost or not being where you thought you were supposed to be. These are life lessons that will serve him well.

I thought I was doing pretty well in terms of rolling with all of this chaos until we hit the last day of the season. It was supposed to be the end of the season party. It was cancelled. I think my son, my afternoon babysitter and I were all pretty exhausted from all of the scrambling that had gone on for the last 6 weeks. On this day when my son was once again stuck at school with nobody around, he took matters into his own hands. He walked home.

Walking home may not seem like a big deal but in our case it was. My son doesn’t attend the school in our neighborhood because it doesn’t have an Autism program. His school is about 7 miles from our home and you must travel along a very dangerous road. How dangerous? Let’s just say there are memorial markers from bike accidents and killed pedestrians all along this road. After figuring out what he had done, it was a mix of relief that he arrived home safely, celebration that he’s so capable, and a very strong message to never do that again!

As we head into basketball season, we’re going to have a 30 minute sit down with the coach and his case manager to figure out any details that may lead to problems like the ones we had during tennis season. And we have a few new programs we’re adding to his ABA Therapy routine that focus on problem solving that will help him in future situations like we had with tennis.

If we had never signed up for tennis, our smooth routine would have given us a false sense that things were going better than they were. This experience has opened our eyes to new things we need to teach our son. And now we’re ready to tackle these challenges together.

It’s all about having a dream, a plan, and a little patience


I learned to ski a few years ago and after getting the hang of it, the first thing I wanted to do was share this with my kids.  I had this romantic dream of all of us hanging out on the hill, skiing all day together.  Family bonding at it’s best.

Making this dream a reality is much easier said than done.

My challenge is that my pre-teen son has Autism so teaching him new things takes a little more work than a typical kid.  Asking my friends how they approached teaching their kids, it sounded pretty easy.  Sign them up for all day ski lessons.  They ski while you ski with the grown ups.  Then, to reinforce the lessons, throw them on the school ski bus.

This sounded like a great approach but I knew it wouldn’t work for us.  First, group learning is tough for my son.  He struggles to watch and learn and often needs “hand over hand” type of instruction.  There’s also a communication barrier.  Private ski instruction it is.  Luckily, we ski at Mt. Baker, Washington.  It turns out that they offered private instruction for people with special needs at a less expensive rate than typical lessons.  We signed him up for these 2 hour sessions each weekend.  And we found a great instructor that we kept asking for that was a cool college kid from Western Washington University so that was an added bonus.

Now for the Ski Bus.  This one was tougher.  Kids pile on the ski bus, take their lesson and then ski with their friends until it’s time to head home.  Our challenge:  our son doesn’t really have any friends.  Sure, the kids are nice to him but there’s such a huge communication barrier between him and them, we knew he wouldn’t have a group of friends to ski with.  And you must ski with a buddy.  We’d been making progress with the lessons but we needed more consistency, like the consistency that the weekly ski bus would bring.

We worked with the ski school to have a private 2 hour lesson.  Our lesson included helping our son learn to independently rent his gear, get the gear on, and get to his lesson.  The plan was for me to meet my son AFTER his lesson and then he’d ride home on the bus with all the other kids and I’d meet him at the school.  But all the things that would happen between school getting out and me meeting him at the mountain required a plan for my son to be successful.

As usual, I used a calendar to capture the details of this new routine.

Ski Bus Schedule Clean

This calendar shows my work calendar, the family calendar that the babysitter uses, and my son’s calendar.  For me, I needed to leave early each day.  My work days are extremely busy and this took some juggling.  I admit, I was on a conference call during the drive up to the mountain to meet my son.  For my son, there were many things he needed to remember:

1. He had to bring the right ski gear to school.  The night before, we’d pack his ski back together to make sure he had everything from helmet to ski pass.

2. He would wear long johns under his regular clothes and make sure he wore his ski coat and waterproof boots to school.  These items would be set out the night before so he could independently get ready in the morning.

3.  After school, first, he needed to remember to NOT get on his regular school bus home.  Then, he needed to change into his ski clothes and get on the ski bus.

4. 10 minutes before arriving at the mountain, he needed to get his gloves, helmet and goggles ready and pack up everything he didn’t need on the hill and leave it on the bus.

5. Last, he needed to get to the ski school, rent his gear, get it on and meet his instructor.

These 5 items may sound pretty simple, but they were the reasons why I almost didn’t sign him up for the ski bus.  I couldn’t go with him everyday.  I could only meet him after his lesson.  He needed to do these things independently.  And at 13 years old, he really needed to be able to learn to do this independently, regardless.  This was going to be a stretch for him (and for me) but we did it.

I went with him the first day to help establish the routine.  I met with the ski school ahead of time to explain the situation so they could be watching out for him during the rental process.  And we dove in.  He really enjoyed it.  And by the end of the 6 weeks, he was getting his gear on independently and skiing very confidently on the easy runs.

Last weekend was the first time I went skiing with my son and my daughter without my husband (who couldn’t resist the great back country conditions after a long winter that hasn’t had the greatest skiing conditions).  It was such a wonderful day!  My son did everything on his own.  The rental process was SO much easier since I only needed to help my younger daughter.  On the hill, same thing.  My daughter is a bit of a dare devil and still learning to ski.  While I was helping to pull her out of snow drifts that she crashed into, my son was doing fine on his own and sticking with us.

It took 2 seasons of weekend lessons plus one season on the ski bus to get here.  But we have finally arrived.  I had many moments of frustration along the way where I was ready to give up on this.  But I’m so glad we stuck with it.

In a world where we want quick fixes and sometimes focus too much on the shorter term, this is a long term investment.  3 seasons of investment in lessons and logistics will now translate into MANY years ahead of skiing with my kids as a family.  Already, it’s SO worth the effort that just went in to get us to this ONE perfect day on the mountain.  And this has been a great confidence building exercise for my son.  He WANTS to be independent.  We just need to work a little harder to help him achieve that.