Well, here we go... the final two weeks or so of house drama. As you may recall, we initially had all kinds of problems around getting financing because I was working on a contract basis. Never mind my 800 credit score or the incoming cash to my bank account from my job... as far as the lenders were concerned, I didn't have any income. Finally, one stepped up and said it's all good, you just have to file a tax return showing your income in January.
That time has come. The tax return is more or less done, and it will be in the hands of the IRS on Friday. My gross was actually slightly higher than I expected six months ago (and so was the amount I owe), but I can now prove I made money without being a full-time employee. I suppose there's still no guarantee, but at this point, it's all in the hands of the lender, and there's nothing else I can do. Cross your fingers and all of that. I'm tired of thinking about it.
Truth be told, most of the process sucked, and I didn't really enjoy it as much as I hoped I would. I'm endlessly annoyed that we've had to act as the quality assurance department for the builder. The number of things that would simply have been let go is staggering, and some of them were really serious. Our sales rep to this day couldn't answer questions about the developer's plans for development, or didn't try to find the answers. Frankly, I haven't enjoyed the nagging about when my taxes would be filed either.
I did enjoy picking out options, so there was that. It's also good to see that the base prices on the houses are up almost $20k on average, so assuming the neighborhood holds value, that will boost equity in the short term. I just want to know I'm moving for sure, and that I'm not renting. This has been a mentally exhausting experience.
Diana and I make jokes to each other about some of Simon's quirks, in light of his recent ASD diagnosis, and I suppose there are a lot of reasons for that. The biggest reason might be that, at this point, it's not like we were shocked, and his quirks that are likely tied to the disorders aren't new either.
But there's still a lot of anxiety that I think we try to mask. I think my coping mechanism is rooted in the, "Well it could be worse," frame of mind. I have friends with kids that have issues ranging from the mega-autism-meltdown and doesn't talk much variety, to another whose son had three heart surgeries in his first few months of life. The thinking goes that your problems aren't nearly as serious, so what right do you have to complain? That sort of self-trivialization of your feelings is obviously not healthy, but I know I do it.
You start to feel weird about terms like "normal" and you can see how some things just seem "broken," and it sucks. I'm still working through the anger over the suckage, I think, so I can just put the energy into being his dad.
Last night, we went for a quick two-hour trip to Magic Kingdom, just me and the boy. Diana needed to get some groceries, and probably a little break. I felt like Simon needed some recognition, too, because he has been really good about wearing underwear, even to school, without accidents. Taking a dump on a toilet is still not going anywhere, but he's starting to drain consistently if we keep asking him. Amusement rides also seem to be good for the "sensory diet" he needs, as his body and brain seek more intense sensations (part of the sensory processing disorder stuff).
Things were going pretty well, and on our way back, he got into his routine of repeating on the monorail, over and over to anyone who will listen, that the doors will open and close. (That's the repetitive and obsessive behavior problem, of course.) We were parked at the Polynesian, but when the doors opened at the TTC, he bolted out of the train and hauled ass toward the exit. I yelled to him three times and he didn't stop. I caught him at the exit, grabbed him, and got back on the train where I promptly yelled at him for not listening and running away. It was intense because, on one hand, he scared the shit out of me, and all I could think about was him getting lost. On the other hand, the yelling and argumentative tone he has been taking with us lately was absent, and he instead cried as you would expect most kids to when they're being disciplined. There was a strange sense of relief in that.
Tonight, we cuddled on the couch and talked a bit about his day, which started poorly and got worse at school. While he's trying to be conversational, it's still hard for him, so I focused on the feelings he had today. He was able to tell me he was angry, even if he couldn't tell me why. That was progress. While I was holding him, I still had those feelings of fear and anxiety, that things might just be a little harder for him than other kids, and that made me sad.
Still, I have to think about the progress. Diana had an excellent blog post today about how far he has come, largely in part due to school. It's actually really easy to frame that perspective, because we moved six months ago, and the change is dramatic.
I was having lunch with a colleague the other day, talking about the strange state of affairs that is software developer hiring. There's a great desire at the executive and accounting level to hire people on a contract basis, with the perceived benefit that you can scale the work pool up and down, and that doing so saves money because you don't have to pay out benefits. In practice, those of us in the profession know that you never really scale down, and because demand exceeds supply, the prices you pay for contractors are exorbitantly high.
But my colleague made a more important point about their perception. They believe that developers are simply interchangeable. This is probably the most harmful misconception. As anyone who does the work knows, not all developers are created equal. If the vast differences in experience and skill weren't enough, there's also the issue that it takes a considerable amount of time to ramp up in any situation. Depending on the complexity of the systems, it can often take a good two months before someone is really proficient working in the code. If you're talking about a six-month contract, you're looking at paying higher rates and getting perhaps as little as two-thirds the productive time. Oh, and all that domain knowledge gained? It leaves at the end of the contract. Rinse, lather, repeat. It's so inefficient.
Still, as strange as this is, it does represent a different kind of opportunity. There is already a trend where companies are shifting their dollars to services, instead of building and hosting their own stuff. Sure, there are still a lot of irrational fears and kingdom building that happens among people who don't want to give up some sense of control, but it's happening anyway. The big use cases are already going that way, especially e-mail. Heck, Salesforce has been around for almost a decade and a half, back when everyone was like, "You can't always be connected to the Internet, it will never work."
What's interesting is that there is a long-tail of niche markets that can be filled as well, and I'm interested to see where that goes. There's a fairly large opportunity there for folks already working on a contractual basis. Maybe you can "productize" the niche, or maybe you can simply build a reputation as an authority in the niche.
Granted, there is some risk associated with this. I'm not a fan of outside investment, and think that bootstrapping your business is a better way to go. It's easy for me to take this position after falling into some relatively minor income 15 years ago with my hobby sites, not having to put in a ton of hours to maintain those things. But it's quite another thing to really build something up, perhaps employ others, etc. It's also hard to work a day job and build a business, and as I've famously come to understand, devoting your free time to something like a business at the expense of your family can be a non-choice.
This is partly me trying to look at the bright side of a profession that has gone totally away from the century-old model of "climbing the ranks" in other industries. I explain to my family that the average longevity even for full-time software people is likely 18 months, and they can't believe it. Companies do not invest in us, and see us as interchangeable. What's crazy is that it's a commodity view with premium pricing. It's probably a contributing reason to the lack of quality people to do the work too, since you can't stick around in any one place to be mentored (glad I've had a series of really solid opportunities for that).
I'm incredibly optimistic about what technology can do for humanity, and hope that humanity will eventually realize the potential it's sitting on. I dream that the Internet could really be the source of another renaissance, only instead of the slow propagation of books published in old Gutenberg-style presses, the enlightenment and development of our world would happen quickly.
Tonight I stood in the back yard and watched as a rocket fired off into space. The launched happened 65 miles away, and I could see it in the night sky until about the time it reach 40 miles above the surface of the earth. It's not the first launch I've seen (with one other here, plus the strange coincidence of three shuttle launches while visiting in previous years), but it's still remarkable no matter what. And that's not even being close to the cape!
Humanity put a very heavy object into space today, and that's awesome.
But the news headlines today, excuse me, the "breaking news," was that Justin Bieber, a marginally talented singer and child star, was arrested on DUI charges. This is the same guy who has recently been caught urinating in public places and saying really stupid things on the Internet about Anne Frank. Don't pull "the media" bullshit over this either, because the idiots occupying the space previously held by journalists are only serving up the nonsense people want.
This makes me sad, and it certainly tempers my optimism. I'm not suggesting people can't have fun and be entertained, but American culture at least seems to be obsessed with being the opposite of engaged and knowledgable about the world around us. Again, we live in an era where you can find out almost anything instantly, with a device you keep in your pocket. You might have to validate it across many sources, but knowledge is there.
I think I remain optimistic because the alternative is too depressing to consider.
Early last year, when we decided to consider Orlando as a possible place to move, I put a simple question to my BFF who was already living here: What are the pros to living in Orlando? One of the things she came up with (and it was an epic list), was that your friends inevitably will come to visit.
Sure enough, after six months here, we've seen so many friends, ranging from my college roommate to former coworkers. I mean, these are people I haven't seen in years in some cases, and yet we've crossed paths here in Orlando. Heck, my good friends from Chicago booked a cruise, and we're climbing aboard with them. It has been more than a year since we've seen them. That's fantastic.
I get more than ever that there's not perfect place to live, but especially when your circle of friends is so distributed, this is not a bad place to catch up with them.
One of the things I was really proud of in my last rebuild of CoasterBuzz (spring 2012, I think) was the development of a dedicated mobile view. It wasn't just a responsive design, but a slimmed down alternate view of the site. It's very fast and low on bandwidth, and looks decent on a small screen. I'm happy with the performance viewed from my phone.
There is, however, a problem. The traffic using the mobile view now accounts for 30% of all traffic. I was not expecting that. It tells you a lot about how people are using the Web. The problem is that I can't high-five myself on building the mobile views, because it's eating away at ad revenue. While there is an ad on the page, the CPM is just awful. Club members of course don't see ads either way, but they're only 3% of traffic, and they've been awesome and paid $25 up front.
I'm considering a number of options, and what I'm leaning toward is making the mobile view available to club members only. Since they account for a huge portion of the site's revenue, that seems fair to me. The days of banking tons of cash on as revenue alone might be behind us. Looking back at 2005 to 2007, those were damn good years. Phones and tablets have really changed things.
It's appropriate after my last post about needing a vacation that I was thinking today about how important it is now to favor experiences over stuff, when it comes to spending "disposable" income. It's a shift in thinking that I've been making very slowly for probably 15 years, but it has really come to a head in the last five.
This is not a prioritization choice that comes from being older and having more income than I did when I was 25. Despite always trying to live in a fairly modest place and drive reasonable cars, even then I preferred to spend money on stuff (and usually on credit). I have many boxes of CD's and DVD's I've accumulated over the years, not to mention video game systems and gadgets that have long since made their way to recyclers or landfills.
I think one of the big turning points for me was maybe 2001, when my roller coaster nerdness was peaking, Stephanie and I did a big east coast amusement park tour. Again, it was still pretty early in my career, so I wasn't making all that much. We ended up visiting five amusement parks in four states over the course of five days (well, I did a sixth the day after, going to Cedar Point from home). It was a lot of hotels, tickets, a rental car and airfare (we started from BWI), and it was worth every penny. That trip was certainly more valuable to my memory than any of the stuff I bought in the same period of time.
Some years later, after the divorce and new marriage with Diana, moving to Seattle pushed me over the edge. In this particular case, the move technically didn't cost me anything, since Microsoft paid for it, but there were so many new and awesome experiences I had during that time. The rate at which memories were made accelerated a great deal.
A lot of this is about travel and tourism, and that makes sense to me. Even my childhood memories are dominated by camping trips and visits to other places, while memories of toys and possessions are far less prevalent. I'm completely embarrassed that at the age of 40 I haven't been to Europe or the far east. It was never an issue of cost, it was one of prioritization. I had friends in college that were just as poor as me who figured it out. That's why I'm highly motivated to do a Mediterranean cruise as soon as possible, so we can sample many different countries in a relatively short span of time, and then choose where to return to in future years.
After my complaining about a lack of time off, we hastily booked two three-night trips. It will be nice to get out of Orange County, however briefly.
The longer term challenge is that you still have to balance spending and saving, and since I've sucked at that most of my life, I have some catching up to do. Last year was one of the most incredible savings efforts of my life, but I'm using pretty much all of it on the new house. This year there will have some initial expenses to put some stuff into that house, but hopefully I can hit a solid saving rhythm again and find that balance. I don't know if there are more big trips in our future, but there are no shortage of experiences we can have around Florida, that's for sure.
I started the contract gig at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment six months ago today. I can't even believe it has already been that long. So much left to do, and I've got at least five months more there. The crazy thing is that I haven't had any real time off in these six months, which is beyond rare... I don't think I've ever gone that long without non-holiday time off. The truth is, it's wearing on me a bit.
I've always been one to make sure I'm taking off the time due to me in any job. I've never tried to bank it, I've only tried to make the most of it. It's not an issue of dedication (or martyrdom, to some people), it's just that I know how much better off I am after taking time off. The last six months, however, I knew I would have to stick it out so I could bank the money for our house down payment. Working contract, you can take time off without pay whenever it suits you (provided the business is OK with it), and generally it works out since it typically pays more anyway. But wanting to hit that date with a solid down payment meant racing against the construction of the house.
I was off for about two months before starting this gig, though I wouldn't characterize the last part of that as relaxing, given the sudden need to move. It has been a very long time to be switched on without a break, and I'm feeling it. It's not physical exhaustion, just mental. In my personal life we've had all of the stress around Simon's issues, Diana's surgery, the house and the holidays. Work gets intense in waves, and because I'm into it, I find myself thinking through things even in the shower. It's hard to turn it off, which I suppose is a good thing. As I've said before, I haven't been this engaged in years.
This isn't me crying boo-hoo or complaining, but I am acknowledging that I need to take a break. Being this deep into everything for this long isn't sustainable. I don't want to burn out. I just don't know when I can dial it back and relax. It's not a financial issue, but more a practical issue. A month from now, we'll start the moving process. I know we'll take a long weekend in April for our anniversary for sure, but I need to find some time in the interim.
Last week we got the official word that Simon exhibits symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. This hardly comes as a shock, in part because of the previous diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder and the related dyspraxia, which are frequently associated with autism, but also because many of his behaviors simply align with the most common and typical attributes of autism. The therapist feels he's a relatively mild case in that therapy can help him cope to the point that it won't be obvious to people who don't otherwise know, by the time he gets closer to his teen years. For us it's a relief to get this news, because it means we can start finding meaningful ways to help him, and he officially qualifies for various services. It also means that it wasn't poor parenting choices that led to certain difficult behaviors.
The "flavor" of ASD in his case is autism in the general sense, and not one of the other subcategories like Asperger or PDD. Clinically, they don't differentiate anymore because apparently different states mandated coverage and services for more specific variations, causing a strange regional "epidemic" for the subcategories.
As Simon gets older, some of the things he does make it more obvious that he's definitely wired differently. The earliest example was the precise ordering and "parking" of his toy cars, before he even turned 2. He still does this, in fact, where he doesn't "drive" his cars on the tracks, but rather makes sure they're all orderly and gathered in a queue. That category of things, compulsive behavior, rigid routines and resistance to transitions between activities, are definitely the things we see him struggle the most with. Of course, the language skill development is also a serious problem.
On the flip side, things could certainly be worse for him, and I hope that they don't get worse. He's very social with people he knows and loves, and in general he's getting better about talking even to strangers like restaurant servers. I guess he has never been the stereotypical autism kid who simply doesn't talk or engage with people, and I'm so thankful for that. Diana even stumbled upon a breakthrough where using phone alarms works well as a signal to get him to transition between activities, even if he isn't finished with them in his mind. There is always risk of developmental regression, and we've seen that on and off with speech development.
The next thing that happens is he gets a case worker to help navigate the therapy options, in terms of frequency and types. That's solid, because the advice of the OT was just "get him as much OT as possible," and that's not a strategy. This information also helps out the school district in developing an individual education plan, so they can set goals and understand how to help him get where he needs to be.
For me, I think this helps me view some if his more negative behavior in a more logical way. I know he's not being a jerk to spite me (and I do believe some kids learn to do that, from their parents), but there are reasons behind his thought process. It helps me be more patient with him, though admittedly now we have the added difficulty of trying to understand what is "normal" preschooler misbehavior and what is the result of his wiring.
We've been reading quite a bit about ASD (Diana likely ten times more than I have), and the truth is that there is a ton of misinformation out there. Like anything else, a lot of people claim some kind of expertise or something they saw on TV, but it tends to be the general dipshittery that originates from people like Jenny McCarthy around immunizations causing autism. It just ain't true. Ditto for dietary nonsense. Unless you have a child with ASD, I probably won't want to hear what you've heard, no matter how well-intentioned you might be. I'm just going to put that out there now.
Simon is a lot of wonderful things, and this diagnosis doesn't supersede any of those. He just happens to be this too. He's not broken, he's just wired a little differently. We're getting closer to having the right resources to help him out, and there's little doubt in my mind that he'll grow up and be like any other kid. Some things will be harder, but we'll adjust, and we'll help him adjust.
I've previously written about how I was fascinated by the concept and somewhat failed execution around the Horizon West planning area here in Orange County. I say somewhat failed because clearly the county had to make some compromises around urban design standards, and the odds are not very good for the "town center" concept ever really happening here, unfortunately. Walking distance to local retail would be awesome (it was my favorite thing about living where we did in Snoqualmie), but I suspect it just won't happen.
In any case, when people ask me where we live, or where we're building a house, it occurs to me that technically it's not in a city. Sure, right now we live in a zip code that belongs to Windermere, and the proximity is such that it makes sense, but technically we live in an unincorporated part of the county. This gets even more weird at the new house, where we have a Winter Garden address. It's also unincorporated, but more importantly, it's nowhere near Winter Garden.
It's very strange, especially for someone who grew up in the Western Reserve. The land was divided up into 5-by-5 mile townships, and later cities incorporated on top of them and annexed pieces together. But the point is that you always lived in something more specific than a county.
While out on one of my walks this evening, I was lining up in my head all of the things that I have kind of floating around in source control that are not finished. There are quite a few projects that I have started, some several years old, that never hit the Internet as finished products. They all started for different reasons... something that interested me, something that seemed like a good product idea, something that was purely a science project... all sorts of stuff. They're all not done.
The situation always bums me out, because I feel like a slacker or some other non-positive entity. But on this walk tonight, I had a moment of clarity. Earlier in the walk I was thinking about the age old problem of getting people in my line of work to be better at what they do, which had me thinking about motivational factors. The research on this is pretty clear, that intrinsic motivators ultimately are the best things to get people to kick ass. Duh, I've known this for a long time.
In the absence of intrinsic motivation, there are usually several potential problems. The first is that what you're doing is pointless. In the case of my personal projects, I doubt this is ever the case, though one could argue that the fear of ultimately failing with the project would make it pointless. The second problem is that what you have to do just isn't very well defined. When you don't have something actionable, of course it demotivates you. A lot of my projects have that lack of clarity. The third problem is one of prioritization, where sometimes the motivation to do other things is simply higher. I run into this all of the time. Diana and Simon time tend to trump alone time projects.
At the end of the day, the problems with not finishing are not some fatal personality flaw, as I so often lead myself to believe. It's usually one of those things getting in the way of intrinsic motivators. When I look at it that way, it's completely liberating, and I don't feel like a piece of crap with no follow through.
I finally finished reading Remote, the book from the 37signals dudes about working remotely. Like their previous book, Rework, it spends a lot of time challenging assumptions that businesses have made for decades about the way things should be in the workplace. This time they're spending all of their time talking about the "place" in workplace, and making the case that it doesn't have to be one centralized location.
They're slightly more humble about their position this time, and say up front that there are obvious situations where remote working doesn't work. Beyond that, they go to great lengths explaining why the classic assumptions are not always right, and offer advice on trying out the remote worker thing at your place.
Of course one of the core tenants of those who object to a distributed workforce is that a command and control structure is necessary, and that physical presence is the first indicator of identifying a good worker. I've never understood how that myth has become so entrenched in American work culture, because we've all worked with people who put in 9 to 5 without fail and contributed exactly zero.
The bigger theme that overlaps with Rework is the general desire to treat people like adults, because that works better. Netflix is a big advocate of that. It's a completely strange situation that in office-presence jobs, we are willing to consider the personality and attendance of a worker and completely ignore the results of their work. With remote folks, the result are all you have to go on.
I'm no stranger to remote work, because I did it for a year working for Humana. It took a little bit of getting used to, but with a forward-thinking manager who trusted me to do my job, the distance was not a factor in my success. When he moved to a new position and a new manager came on board, my gradual disenchantment had little do with the remote situation, and everything to do with her decision making. Colocation wouldn't have changed the outcome.
And Humana, for being one of those stereotypical giant companies with deep pockets that could be "slow and dumb," it did get a few fundamental truths. The first is that having a body in the building is expensive. I forget what the averages are (they vary by market), but the cost to have an employee occupy 100 square feet of class-A office space is ridiculous. The second fundamental truth is that geography is not your friend when it comes to hiring the best people. Don't get me wrong, Louisville struck me as a very up-and-coming kind of city, but the depth of software professional talent is not going to be deep if you limit your search to the local space.
I enjoyed the book, but admittedly, that's partly because I identify with it. Even in my line of work, I see endless technical problems that are completely solvable, but it's usually the people problems that are hard. To that end, these books that attempt to throw business processes on end are a great source of energy for me.
A friend of mine has been enduring several seriously big professional and personal life changes the last few weeks, which as you can imagine is pretty stressful at any time of the year, but especially in close proximity to the holidays. We were fortunate enough to share a little mini-holiday this weekend, away from our homes, but without traveling. I suspect it was very nice for everyone involved, including Diana and Simon, to just turn off our collective brains for a little while.
Quite frankly, my little family unit has been in a series of constant transitions since 2007, when Diana and I first met. The hardest, scariest and ultimately most rewarding of these transitions was easily our move to Seattle, and birth of Simon a few months later. All of the moving and other changes after that were certainly stressful at times, but in all honesty, change has become a lot easier for me.
Today I realized that I arrived in Orlando exactly six months ago. Given the amount of adventure we've seen in that time, without even leaving the area, it seems like much longer. The transition was pretty easy, for me at least, and now we're prepared to make one more transition as we move into our first house that is truly our own. I very much want our living space to be a stable thing for a long time to come, but I suppose now I believe that anything can happen.
That's the thing that makes transitions hard. They typically mean the start of something new at the expense of something ending. That's an extraordinarily difficult thing to accept, that some things simply can't coexist at the same time. I can't help but think of that in terms the many addresses we've had. If I could only simultaneously live in Seattle and Orlando, while simultaneously having access to Cedar Point and my friends there, I would have the greatest possible situation. But absent absurd wealth, that's really not possible.
The crazy thing about transitions is that they can often be of your own choosing, but they can be a lot harder when you don't choose them. People can get laid off, people close to you die, relationships crumble... there's no end to the variety of things you can encounter. I think that's where you can become stronger, by mastering your own destiny where it's possible. It's less scary to deal with the change when you initiate it, and by extension, the things you can't control become a little easier because you've learned to adapt.
I had a good weekend. I feel a little better equipped to handling the transitions coming my way.
I don't know if I posted anything here, but my contract at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment was extended through June. Hooray for that! I was really hoping for the gig to be converted to FTE, but that didn't happen (which was no fault of my own, as far as I know). In June, they could find more money and extend again, or not, or convert, but obviously I have to work on the assumption that it's "or not."
I've done quite a few contract jobs over the years, and going from one thing to the next comes with the territory. The upsides are that you constantly see new things, you take time off whenever you feel you can afford it, and on an hourly basis at least, you make a whole lot more. The negatives are that you have to buy your own health insurance (which became a major con this year with the ACA), and you have to be thinking about the next thing. Fortunately, when the economy doesn't suck, there is no shortage of work.
But there's another dilemma that you often face that has nothing to do with schedules or money... it's your personal investment in the job. If you're like me and take some pride in what you do (a sentiment not universally upheld by contractors, for sure), you want to really deliver good work and be proud of it. At the same time, you are something of a temporary commodity. It's a little like going to summer camp and knowing that your cabin softball team is not going to be together in the long run.
What makes this even more difficult for me is that the things I'm working on are literally shaping some of the direction of software architecture for the company for the foreseeable future. I'm engaging in a lot of strategic stuff, and as I've said before, I think I did more in the first five months than in the last two years of work. That's one of the weird things too, that I'm building all of this domain knowledge and experience that I could take to competitors if they wanted to hire me.
It's also a difficult situation because I generally like the people there. The place has its "interesting" personalities like any other place, but I never wake up and think, "I don't wanna go to work because I don't like so and so."
So it kind of sucks that the first job I've really liked in more than two years is one I won't get to keep. It's a bummer. In the mean time, I'll keep working the network and getting to know folks around here. I'm doing at least one speaking gig in the near future, too. I'm a lot more serious about this professional development stuff.
The worst thing about Facebook right now is all of the people posting photos of their car thermometers or phone screen shots. Because no one knows it's really fucking cold right now in most of the country?
The strangeness of the "polar vortex" reminds me of that movie The Day After Tomorrow, which was mostly crap, except for Emmy Rossum. Some kind of rapid climate change more or less wipes out the east coast and spawns tornadoes in LA, and an extreme and fast freeze the likes of which the world has never known instantly freezes people not in a zip code starting with "32." This isn't quite that bad, but that we're seeing a 40-degree drop even here in Orlando in 12 hours is pretty weird.
But you know, it's going to be nearly 80 by Friday, so whatever. While weather wasn't the primary motivation for moving out of the Midwest, you better believe it was a contributing factor. All of those vague feelings of depression and strong desires to hibernate are not an issue for me this winter. (It was a slight issue in Seattle, but manageable because you still see the sun periodically and move about outside year-round, unlike Cleveland.)
I don't miss regular winter.
We're still waiting on results for Simon's Autism Spectrum Disorder testing, but certainly I've spent a fair amount of time reading about it. It's a really broad set of things that can have a very broad range of severity, and honestly I'm not sure I would even consider some of it as a "disorder," if it's not severe. I've also learned that there is quite a bit of disagreement about some of the things that are typically described as ASD, especially the alleged lack of empathy. Some experts (and undoubtedly a great many parents) argue that the kids don't suffer from a lack of empathy, they just don't process the social cues that would necessarily trigger empathy. I can see why people are passionate about the subject, because finding common links among behavior, kids, genetics, environment, etc., is hard.
For me the learning is even more personal, because I am more convinced than ever that I may have fit very cleanly into one of these ASD categories as a child, specifically Asperger Syndrome. It explains so much of my childhood social behavior, intellectual pursuits, and issues I had. AS was not widely known in the 80's, when I was in grade school, so teachers and doctors would not have had any idea that I might have these issues.
As an adult, I think I have mitigated many of the behaviors associated with the condition, and I'm reasonably self-aware. But while 8-year-old me can't go sit with a modern shrink, reading about it leads me to believe that my feelings of being wired differently might have been valid. Even into my college years, I was beyond oblivious to the social cues of women (ranging from "I want you to take me" to "I'm not interested").
If Simon is in fact labeled with something as ASD, I have to say that it gives me comfort that I can understand where he's coming from, even though his issues will likely be different than my own. It will be a constant reminder to be patient with him.
Diana had a little setback with foot pain, and we had been planning for a day out at Magic Kingdom, all three of us, for some time. This was the first day in three weeks that the projected crowds might be reasonable after the holidays, and Simon has been begging to go. He has been so stuck here between Diana's immobility and the cold that has been lingering among us. I figured we would have a boy's morning out at the park.
That morning turned into an afternoon, which turned into darkness. I couldn't believe how the enthusiasm with which he wanted to go from one thing to the next. The OT who diagnosed his SPD said that in some cases they prescribe a "sensory diet" for kids who need it. Given his recent behavior at home lately, where he has been rough and unintentionally violent, I finally get what she was talking about. He needs that stimulation or he gets all of this pent up energy. Lots of walking, and a few roller coasters here and there, go a long way to help him.
Certainly I would prefer that all of Team Puzzoni was hanging out, but I don't for a moment take the personal time with Simon for granted. I know the window for hanging out with dad as something that's cool is not large. We've had a lot of struggles lately, especially here on Christmas break, and it was refreshing and awesome to finally have a good day with Simon. He's a good kid, with a good heart, and a lot of love to give. I'm so grateful for every minute I get to spend with him, no matter what we're doing.
I turned 40 last year with very little fanfare, in part because my birthday fell in the middle of the moving chaos and anxiety. I know that a lot of people get stressed out about getting older, but I think the pros far outweigh the cons.
There are some core things about your life that come with age, but I'm not convinced everyone embraces them. I think you have to really look for them and take advantage of them.
The biggest thing that you need to embrace with age is self-awareness. I think this is the one personality attribute that makes all other things possible. It means knowing what you're good at, what you suck at, what your'e capable of, and what you're not. It applies to every part of your life. I know I can give love to my child, but I don't always understand how to best respond to his issues. I know I'm a providing husband but that I also let impatience from outside life get in the way. I know I'm exceptional in a lot of the things I'm good at in my career, but not always when or where to apply those things.
That self-awareness connects solidly to the way you believe in yourself to do what you want or need to get done. It's confidence, whereas it would likely be arrogance when you're 20. It's a useful sentiment because you're more likely to try things.
Another thing that came for me, that I suspect most people ignore, is the ability to simply be in the moment. There's a bigger cultural problem among Americans, with so much emphasis on outcome that it's easy to overlook the present, and simply be there. I admit, this one takes a lot of work for me, too. I need to have those moments to remember. Simon goes a long way in helping me with that. The other day I watched him play for probably 15 minutes, and did nothing else. It was amazing.
Like I said, I think these attributes definitely come with age, but you have to embrace and use these gifts.
I was looking at my FitBit stats for last year. I started at the end of September, so I had three months of data. To my horror, my activity dropped like a rock in December (and my weight went nowhere). There is no mystery about why... I just couldn't get out as much as I wanted to.
We really had a perfect storm of circumstances. Diana had her foot surgery one month ago. Her mobility has obviously improved little by little since that time, but the first week in particular, I had to help her out and mind the boy. Then they both were sick at various times, and I finally got it right after Christmas. If that weren't enough, we weren't even making our weekly theme park runs (which always result in well over 10k steps that day), because the tourist traffic peaks during the holidays. I squeezed in a few neighborhood walks here and there, but they were rare.
So despite the regular warm Orlando weather, we just didn't get out much in December, and it has really taken its toll. Simon, in all of his newly found expressive language skills, is so anxious to do stuff that he today declared, in one breath, "Let's go in Dad's car and go to a hotel and find a room and eat food in the room."
The cough is still nagging me a bit, but I'm getting there. All three of us ventured out to Epcot last night to enjoy popcorn and Illuminations, as I crossed my fingers that the relatively early closing time meant a lighter crowd. Indeed, it wasn't bad at all, and a "Seattle mist" cleared for a lovely and cool evening. If we can just get a little more daylight in the evening, we'll be set to get back on track for that outdoor lifestyle.
I was reading a blog post (I don't remember who it was by now) last week about the creation of an online persona, and how it's critical to your "brand" and the usual over-thinking nonsense. It came to mind again while watching a little New Year's Eve TV (which is awful), when the hosts were talking about the immediacy and impact that saying stupid things can have.
While none of this is new to me, putting these two things together got me to thinking about how silly the marketing people are about online personas. These aren't things that you can manufacture. If the Internet has taught us anything, it's that you can't fake authenticity. Twitter has been the worst thing ever for celebrities because it removes the machinery that normally maintains their image. Companies go the opposite length by putting up all that machinery in front of the actual people.
To me this is just another example of how online life isn't nearly as different as real life. If someone is authentic, and by that I mean what you see is what you get, you can't fake that. Politicians have been failing at that for hundreds of years. If you know me, you know I'm passionate about my little family, good software and theme parks. The same thing comes through when I write here or if we're friends on Facebook. Diana is all about quilting, and it's obvious when you meet her, or read her blog (which you do subscribe to, right?).