Archive: May, 2021

Inequality and meltdowns (a therapy breakthrough)

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 27, 2021, 7:57 PM | comments: 0

We had an interesting parallel in therapy today, in going from the reasons behind Simon's meltdowns, and my own inability to sit with the fact that the world has a lot of inequality. The average autism meltdown is often caused by a situation that can't be reconciled logically, because of the way that you're wired. For my boy, sometimes that's as simple as him not being able to reconcile that an undesirable behavior results in punitive consequences. As my therapist pointed out, I can't easily reconcile issues of inequality in the world, and it leads to quiet tailspins in my head that make it difficult to move on from. I'm still trying to decide if I want to pursue a formal autism diagnosis for myself, but the parallels here are stunning. Seeing it like this now is a serious breakthrough.

For a long time, I've worked on the assumption that my desire to be right or correct about certain things was rooted in some level of narcissism, ego, or just needing to be right because my step-father always insisted that I was wrong about everything (mommy and daddy issues are often core to psychological challenges, because they are after all your first instructors in human interaction). It certainly can be about those things, but if it was, there should be some kind of dopamine hit or satisfaction when I "win" on a particular issue. I rarely experience that. When I'm right about something, I just move on without celebration. When I can't rationalize the outcome, it just sits with me and grinds my gears.

Inequality, whether it concerns race, gender, sexual identity or any of those things, is inherently irrational. I have a lot of anxiety about "solving" it, which of course is not something any one person can do. This leaves me in the state of impossible reconciliation: I observe a state that should not be, and it leaves me stuck, unable to move off of it. I can apply this to a great many things in my life, professionally, in parenting, in relationships, that get me stuck and unable to act.

To be clear, this is a starting point in a longer conversation. You don't solve things in therapy in 55 minutes, but you can often identify patterns and then work out how you roll with those patterns. These irreconcilable situations are in many ways silent meltdowns. I'm old enough, and have practice controlling my outward emotions, but I think what's going on in these situations plays a huge part in my frequent feelings of mental spentness. Instead of lying on the floor kicking and screaming, I play the situation back in my head on endless repeat and generate anxiety.

I'm going to be on the look out for this now. What do I encounter that I can't just sit with, and why? Am I having the grownup equivalent of a quiet meltdown? Is this autism wiring? There are more questions than answers, but I'll take it.

Opportunities to exhale

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 25, 2021, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

I feel like this year has been a series of opportunities to exhale. We had another one today with the end of school. I won't rehash Simon's school struggles, but hopefully it's one less thing grinding on him, and in turn making things intense for us.

What else is there? The first time we can really travel, that's going to be a big one. Seeing some combination of high vaccination rates and low infection rates locally, at the county level will be a big deal. Getting Simon vaccinated will be huge, hopefully in the fall. Having people over for a small gathering. Seeing a musical, in a theater, with people. First movie in a theater (in that case I can do without the people).

The funny thing is that I feel like I always have an overwhelming sense of urgency about... everything. That's exhausting in a totally different way!

HGTV is breaking my world view

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 23, 2021, 8:15 PM | comments: 0

We're enthusiastic Discovery+ subscribers, since we don't have cable. There's a ton of what I would describe as "background TV" on that service, which is to say a ton of HGTV and Animal Planet shows that are great for half-watching when you're winding down for bed or blogging. I've watched enough HGTV stuff though to be completely dissatisfied with my own house, after living here for about three and a half years.

Fun fact, I've never owned a house that someone else lived in. My first one, in 2001, was actually built for someone else by Pulte. They bailed or something, and I think we (Stephanie, first wife, and I) were able to make some changes for paint and countertops, but otherwise, it was set for options. It was pretty basic, but probably pretty common for suburban Cleveland. Laminate counters, vinyl flooring. Meh. In Orange County, my second house was built by KB Home, and we were able to pick all of the things. We didn't go super deep on options, but I think we had mostly nice stuff. I was particularly fond of the carpet, which was a little shaggy and despite being light in color, surprisingly durable with squishy padding. Our current house, which we moved into three and a half years ago, was also built by Pulte. Despite being McMansion in scale, it's basic as fuck, as the kids would say.

The cabinets don't have the slow close thing. The baseboards are oddly misaligned, and worse, they used something that cured sticky, so all of them have a layer of dirt and dust on the top of them. Even after cleaning a few sections, they still look shitty. The carpet looks like a dozen people have lived here after a decade. It's really a mess and desperately needs to be replaced already.  The exterior paint looks horrible. The house is structurally sound, as best I can tell, but the finishes suck. It's not all bad. Our kitchen counters are beautiful, but you can't really get white quartz wrong. We don't appear to have the stucco problems that some neighbors have. The iron railings are nice too.

Our bathroom is where I'm most dissatisfied. We added two options: A frameless glass door for the shower, and some "better" tile for the shower and around the tub. "Better" means some off-white subway tile with some small detail stripe around the shower at eye height. It was not worth an extra grand. That tile is used around the tub, which is built into a weird box that extends perpendicular in between the sinks. It's so weird. But it's a standard tub that no adult can submerge in. The floor is the same basic 1-foot tile squares you'd get anywhere. Like I said, basic as fuck.

I'm hesitant to put money into the house, because I think if we're still here eight years from now, it'll be a miracle. All of that "forever home" stuff on HGTV is bullshit. I can't predict the future. But we will have to replace the carpet at some point. Florida houses are weird, they don't like carpet, and replace much of it in our previous house when we sold it. But our downstairs is mostly engineered hardwood, with the upstairs, my office and the downstairs playroom being carpet. I do think renovating the bathroom will add to value. We refinanced last year, and the appraisal was legit, with solar and the irrational area appreciation helping us out. We contemplating blowing out the patio with an extended enclosure, but the math wasn't great. The solar definitely helped us.

Here's the thing about home value: It totally doesn't matter unless you're actually selling the house. For now, I just want to live in a place that feels like the home we want to live in.

If it was important, you'd already be doing it

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 23, 2021, 4:57 PM | comments: 0

With my borderline obsession about saving and investing for retirement in the last year, I read a lot of stuff. "The Algorithm" suggested an article recently written by a guy who retired a couple of years early, reflecting on his assumptions and reality since making the decision. It was less about the financial implications of retirement and more about the way you actually live. He had a particular narrative that made me feel pretty self-aware and not great about my personality when it comes to follow-through.

The short story is that he spoke about how he imagined that there are a great many things we say we would do, if only we didn't have to work. As he put it, we make a great many excuses about what we don't follow through on in the name of work. I totally do this. He then just calls himself out: If it were really important to you, you would prioritize it and figure out a way to do it even with a day job. That stings, because he's totally right. Or at least, mostly right. I'll get back to that.

I've been thinking about the subject a lot in a miniature fashion, asking myself, if I could do anything for my next vacation, what would it be? Some of the time, the answer is, "As little as possible," or some kind of excursion that would require as little of me as possible, like cruising. But beyond that, what are the leisure activities that I would want to pursue? The reality is that I just don't know, and that's horrifying. Have I become that dull, that I can't even point to fun things I like to do? Was I always like that?

Now, before I tear myself down, I acknowledge that I'm being a little dramatic. Out of hobbies came my entire career, a published technical book, a bunch of teenage volleyball teams that played above their perceived ability, contributions to philanthropic causes and an entire community that may not have obviously come together were it not for things I did two decades ago. A lot of good came out of things I pursued out of interest, not just for me, but for others. But this acknowledgment also shows how I value my spare-time pursuits, largely by impact and scope. Few things that I do are wholly for my own satisfaction, like building a chair or doing a crossword puzzle.

I've tried some new things in the last year for fun, and I created a lot of things. I don't give myself the freedom though to not keep doing them, which is weird (and something to ask my therapist about). Last year, I started doing a radio show, for free on PRX. After about six months, I just stopped. I really feel bad about that, though it doesn't help that some random program director keeps asking me to make more. I made a bunch of Lego and drink videos, some of which are still sitting unedited on my computer after five months, and that feels bad. After two straight years of weekly commits, I stopped regularly working on my open source projects early this year.

All of this comes back to priority. The author of that retirement story wrote a lot about change, but he never connected change to prioritization. Our priorities do change, even for the things that we do for fun, and we have to be cool with that. I think what feels icky is that when your priorities change and they aren't replaced by new priorities. This, in a nutshell, describes the midlife crisis: What do I do with myself next to create meaning in my life?

There's a healthy way to explore that, I think, because the infinite range of possibility that is your life is exhilarating. I have to keep reminding myself that I could not have predicted where I am today, not even three years ago. Sure, I had some high level goals and things to drive toward, but there is so much chaos in the intervening time that today is nothing at all the way I expected it to look.

What will I prioritize? I don't really know. I've been talking about writing another screenplay for almost 20 years, and making a movie for 15, and I'm not really any closer to that because I haven't prioritized it. But there are things that are starting to percolate to the top. I'm ready to get back into the open source projects, update them for all the newer technologies. I vaguely have some ideas about but home decor (which may result in gutting my bathroom). Maybe I'll get that tattoo that I've been thinking about. I definitely want to get out of the country.

Getting back to that idea that you can't use work as an excuse for all of the things that you haven't done, I agree with that author to an extent, but I do believe we have a finite capacity to engage with the world. Work and parenting together takes a lot out of me. Retirement would eliminate both of those, and the exploration that sometimes I don't have any energy for I think will get easier in that case. At the same time, I'm hyper-aware that you can glean a lot of wisdom from people like that author who are living what you can only imagine. In other words, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle between prioritization that available mental bandwidth.

Epcot is still a little weird

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 23, 2021, 1:54 PM | comments: 0

Continuing our return tour of the Disney parks, we visited Epcot yesterday. In no hurry to get there, we arrived just before 11, not realizing that the park did not technically open until 11. The first thing that we noticed was how beautiful the entrance area is, and it's vastly different from the state it was in on our last visit over a year ago. The Leave A Legacy photos have been reimagined and posted out of the way to the east of the main gate, outside of the park, where you are not likely to see them. (Apparently the contract to purchase a photo on these was 20 years, and the last one was sold in 2007.) The tram roads no longer lead into the area under the monorail station. The one up the middle stops just short, and the one from the eastern lots ends in front of the new security checkpoints built forward of the ticket booths. The result is that people disperse in a less crowded way when the park closes, which is good. The gates now have signs hanging from the roof, similar to the other parks, directing entrances and exits. They still have a passholder entrance, which was shockingly empty, so the return of passholders is clearly going to be slow going.

The new plaza without the Leave A Legacy nonsense is far more open and green. It's a spectacular and inviting area now, with the fountain in front of Spaceship Earth restored to its glass monolithic glory. Unfortunately, that's where the beauty ends, because from there on, it's construction walls everywhere as the old Innoventions buildings are renovated and replaced. The concept art they were showing before the pandemic had them repurposing the east building, and erecting some multi-story structure with trees on top in place of the south end of the west building, but who knows how it will shake out now.

With no Fastpasses, we headed to Frozen first, and waited about a half-hour. This is when I noticed the first weird thing: There were no Norwegian people anywhere to be found. As you went around World Showcase, this continued to be the case everywhere except for China (I didn't check every country). Obviously the pandemic has restricted travel, so it's not surprising, just odd. The theme park industry in general is having a tough go of it because of the inability to hire internationally this year.

The rule for masks now is that you have to wear them inside the buildings and on attractions. As it gets warmer, this is a welcome change, and I applaud the CDC for committing to the science and making this the recommendation. Simon, 11 and unvaccinated, preferred to wear his in more crowded situations, as he's used to it in school anyway. I'm OK with him making that informed decision for himself. That said, I'm starting to feel like the parks should optionally vaccine card people for wristbands at this point, and if you have one, you don't need a mask inside. I feel like that would incentivize people to get vaccinated, because literally every adult and teenager can at this point. There's no excuse. Yeah, I'm unapologetically judgy.

Simon is a picky eater, and when it comes to Disney food, the mac and cheese is one of his only agreeable things. The only place you can find it at Epcot is Sunshine Seasons, in The Land. Unfortunately, this location, which used to have some decent seafood and Asian choices, is in basic mode, with burgers and hot dogs, so that's a drag. If it weren't for the Flower & Garden Festival, the counter service choices would just be dismal in Epcot right now.

The lines for Soarin' and Living With The Land were nuts, so we headed back out to World Showcase. We stopped in to that big tent thing they call World Showplace, between Canada and the UK, where the Cider Place stand is. I've never been in there for anything, but it's frankly a great place to stop in and get drinks under the air conditioning, as a guy plays piano. They have a fantastic cider flight, and a cold salmon sandwich on a cheddar biscuit that Diana was into.

Next I grabbed proper "chips" from the UK. I'd like to point out that this is a pile of thick fries for $4.25, whereas you'll spend something like $8 at Cedar Point or Kings Island.

Since it was just after 1, meaning we could park hop, we used the opportunity to exit the park and get on the Skyliner to Hollywood Studios. I absolutely adore this transportation ride. With Covid, you'll always get your own gondola. When they first announced this system, I thought it was kind of odd, but it is fantastic and efficient.

We wanted to get a lap on Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, Simon's current favorite, but unfortunately, it broke down while we were in the queue. We wasted about a half-hour, and it was down for some time after that. We went to see the Mickey short compilation in the theater down the midway, and then got some early dinner for Simon and me, knowing how things all close early. It's funny how a kid's chicken strip meal borders on too much food for me. I don't need a lot.

Hollywood Studios without any of the live shows is kind of a disaster. What normally takes thousands of people off of the midways leaves you with just the rides, and while there are more there than we had a few years ago, it's still not a ton to do. Worse, Rise of the Resistance is simply not available unless you are there when the park opens and you get a boarding group.

Back at Epcot, we continued to work our way around World Showcase. Morocco is basically closed off. Restaurant Marrakesh is closed. The festival cart there did have a delicious pineapple and pear cider, however, from Spain. At this point, we encountered the Disney Princess horse carriage coming around for about the third time. I guess since you can't get photos with them, you can at least see them roll by.

In the American Adventure, they have some kind of delightful rum punch thing, and that was delicious. Voices of Liberty is performing outside in the amphitheater, finally. Simon had his first funnel cake. It was a solid stop.

We hoped to get some frozen margaritas in Mexico, one of my favorite things available year-round at Epcot, but the line was insane.

It's worth mentioning that the new night time show pieces are all floating out in the World Showcase lagoon, and they're massive. I understand that they've been working quite a bit on this show lately, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with. It still sounds a lot like a jukebox show, which is why I loved Illuminations for not being that, but we'll see. Every indication is that it will be the most epic of their shows.

We rolled into Test Track, which was Simon's greatest priority. Posted wait was 40 minutes, but it ended up being a few minutes less. No designing your own car, unfortunately. What a release for the kid though. We ended up being solo in our car, but the photo still hasn't shown up in the app, which is a huge drag. It would have been frameable.

We ended the day on Spaceship Earth. Is it weird that there's something comfortable and familiar about the smell of that ride? We paid proper tribute to the Phoenicians, then left a little before 7.

Overall it was a fun day, even though we didn't do much other than log 18,000+ steps. We did Frozen, the Skyliner, the Mickey short and Test Track, with lots of walking, eating and drinking in between. Probably not ideal for Simon, but it was satisfying for me.

School transition

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 21, 2021, 8:50 PM | comments: 0

Simon finishes grade 5 next week, and next year, he'll go to a private school that is a little more squishy about grade levels. Tonight we toured his new school, a small private school that will have around 70 kids total, K-12. They just moved into a new building, and there will be four teachers for the "upper school," which is the group for kids who are middle and high school age. The idea is that all kids, especially if they have different or special needs, don't always align with the state outlined levels, and often may be ahead in one subject but behind in another.

The reason we're going in this direction is because we couldn't see him being successful in a middle school with 2,500 other kids. In fact, he was already a nervous and distraught mess today, because there's no real work going on at school, and it's largely social, and he's struggling with that. It's not just that some kids are unkind, it's that he doesn't have the right expectations. Throw in remote school most of last calendar year, and he's starved socially.

Academically, his grades are actually fine, A's, B's and S's, but they don't really tell the whole story. And in fact, we don't even have a good understanding of what the story is. He struggles to get a few sentences on paper when faced with a blank page, but is it that he finds writing difficult, or is he daunted by the blank page? I've seen him crank out a couple of sentences in a row when he was motivated, but why is it that in school he gets nothing written after an hour? Conversely, we see him struggle with math when it's homework, but is that because he wants to do fun things or because he doesn't know? He brings home some great math test scores.

Kids with ASD and ADHD are often intelligent, but learn differently, so the struggle is more about understanding how a kid learns. You can only do that if you give him the attention and opportunity, and even in the elementary setting, the public school failed to provide that. His principal and one of his teachers were fantastic, but the support system around his IEP was suboptimal at best, especially when he was remote last year. There's no universe where that would get better in a huge middle school. This new school can meet him where he is, and we're hoping that he can go back to a public or "regular" high school after a few years, if he can develop the skills to be successful in that situation. We just don't know yet.

Simon's emotional and social maturity is definitely a year or two behind. He connects better with younger and significantly older kids, but struggles with his peers. We're seeing some development there as well, and seeing a therapist and emerging from the pandemic is helping. Difficult as this might be, I'm really impressed with his self-awareness about what he's feeling. Even today at the new school, he was able to tell me that he was feeling overwhelmed and nervous and worried about whether or not the kids at this new school would like him. Being able to see that himself was not a thing a year ago.

Diana has been amazing in this process. She checked out several schools, talked with the folks at each one, and figured out how to use the state's grant program to help pay for it. She navigated the IEP process and official diagnoses that qualified him for the grants. This school isn't huge, but it's the school that most closely matches what he needs. It has been a journey, and I'm really happy about the way it turned out. She's a remarkable mother.

I hope that we're setting him up for long term success, because he says he wants to go to college and specialize in hospitality management so he can run a theme park. It's a little early for him to be setting those goals (especially that precise!), but I love that he's looking forward like that. The reality is that we have to take things a little at a time, and that's hard. I don't want anything to hold him back. When he's willing to slow down and listen, and absorb things, I'm often surprised at what he can understand. If autism or any comorbidity doesn't interfere with his cognitive ability, his path forward involves developing the coping and compensation skills for the unique way that he learns. If it does run interference, then the goals are still similar, figuring out how to maximize his ability. Not knowing how it will go is scary.

For now, we're going to celebrate the end of a difficult year, and enjoy summer. That kid has had more than his share of trauma and drama in the last year (same for his parents). It's time for some easier and more relaxing days.

It's not humid (yet)

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 19, 2021, 6:42 PM | comments: 0

I was reading something about the changes in the mask policy at the theme parks, written by a non-Central Floridian, and they mentioned something about comfort because it has been "hot and humid." This myth that it's always humid in Orlando is as persistent as the one that suggests it's always raining in Seattle. (For real, you have to irrigate your lawn or it'll die in the summer, because there's so little rain in Seattle summer.)

Around midday today, it was about 81 degrees with humidity around 39%. That's mostly been the story for the last few weeks. In the winter, it's very dry, to the point of wildfire risk, and also gets cold enough to turn on the heat for short periods of time. We've got some potential record highs coming next week, but with humidity well below 50%. Does it get humid? You bet it does.

In June, the humidity starts to rise, and by July, it's full-on swamp-ass season. The afternoon thunderstorms become more prevalent by then as well, as weather and moisture from both coasts meet in the middle. The storms become less frequent in September, but we still have some humid-ish weather through the end of October. I often hear people from Ohio talk about how terrible this is, but if we're being honest, Cleveland basically has the same weather from July to September, with high humidity. It also fluctuates a lot more between 70 and 100 because it doesn't have the Atlantic to help regulate. So really, "fall" down here doesn't arrive until November, maybe six weeks later, but then it's amazing until the following June.

So don't be projecting your humidity on us. Yeah, 90 is still 90, but 70 is also jacket weather. And who doesn't love jacket weather?

Cruising on the horizon

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 19, 2021, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I was chatting the other day with someone about cruising, and how it was something that we typically did a few times a year. They asked why we enjoyed it so much, and I explained that it had nothing to do with routine. It's one of the few things we can do where we show up, turn our brains off, are forced into disconnection, and others essentially help you be parents by telling you when and where to eat, make the things your kid will actually eat, provide you with fruity drinks and make your bed. There really isn't another kind of vacation that can do all of that for you. To reduce parenting mostly to making sure he brushes his teeth, but still have him along, that's gold to me.

We were able to book the inaugural cruise of the Disney Wish, happening next summer. I'm not sure what kind of special things will occur, but it's a unique opportunity to be on the first (public) sailing.

The cruise industry is still grounded, in part because of the CDC, but also because our asshat governor is trying to block a vaccination mandate, which is the one thing that obviously makes cruises about as safe as they were before the pandemic. The industry wants this, as I imagine most passengers do. Every few weeks, each cruise line cancels more sailings because they simply can't sail. The lines are even considering sailing from non-Florida ports, which is certainly not convenient for any of them, but it sure beats idle, empty ships.

We still have a placeholder with Disney, for a cruise we cancelled at the start of the pandemic, and it's paid in full at a rate that's a little higher than what one might be this fall, if they can work it out. The big variable here is child vaccinations, which are not yet a thing for the under-12 set. If Pfizer's trial goes as planned, they're looking at September, and we'll be sure to get Simon in as fast as possible. On land, there's also the problem with adults not getting it done, but again, if the cruise lines can require it as they should, that's not a factor.

I'm looking forward to getting out there again. Sleeping with the gentle motion of the ocean, great food at every turn, people who serve drinks on the beach, and of course the chance to meet more people from all over the world.

Reducing waste is hard

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 17, 2021, 7:04 PM | comments: 0

If there's something to be observed in the last year, it's that we seem to be creating a whole lot more garbage than we used to. Our recycling to trash ratio is generally 2 to 1 in favor of recycling, if not more, but I'm making the possibly incorrect assumption that much of what we put in the blue can actually gets recycled. I'm reasonably comfortable with straight up cardboard boxes, for which Amazon creates a ton, but food takeout is just a horrible mess of single-use plastic. Heck, certain restaurants are using plastic for dine-in for the purpose of "clean." Was the silverware dirty before the pandemic?

I tend to feel guilty about electronics. This comes to mind as I just replaced my personal laptop, when I have my now three-year-old one, my old MacBook Air from 2012, and a Surface Pro 3 from 2015. That's a lot of old computers lying around. When my printer stopped working last year, I was certain it could be fixed, I just didn't know how, so I gave it away only on the condition that someone would try to fix it. Phones are less of a big deal since you can usually do a trade. But in general, it's hard to find places to drop lithium-ion batteries, or the devices containing them, for free.

It's not entirely bad, mind you. A lot of restaurants are using biodegradable packaging, including "plastic" forks that are vegetable based. One of my favorites, Florida-based Tijuana Flats, is doing that almost entirely now. Electronics packaging is fairly thoughtful when you buy the good stuff, without a lot of plastic, if any, in the box. Assembly-required furniture is pretty bad though, full of plastic and bubble wrap. It's also worth noting that all of this delivery is actually a positive. Better one driver goes from a store to three or four houses than three or four drivers go to one store.

We try to make good choices, but the manufacturers of the world need to play ball to enable good choices. This seems like one of those things that should be a solved problem. It's another one of those things that the petroleum lobby keeps any meaningful regulation from happening, and if that weren't enough, people flip out about using paper straws (be a grown up, you don't need a straw).

What am I waiting for?

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 16, 2021, 8:16 PM | comments: 0

I've had the unshakable feeling lately that I'm waiting for something, and I couldn't tell you what. Feels like we've been waiting for something for the last year, but at least during that time I knew it was something like "normalcy" or pre-pandemic life. We're starting to get there, and yet, I still feel like I'm waiting for something.

If there's anything about myself that I understand better in the last year, it's that I'm not very nostalgic or sentimental. Like, hardly at all. There are no good old days, which makes me sad. There are definitely periods of awesome, most of which have occurred in my post-divorce life reboot, but I never find myself thinking, "Wow, if only I could go back to those days." With more life experience, knowledge and hopefully wisdom, there is no better time than now. I do miss Simon as a baby, but that didn't last very long either.

I'm pretty sure that the thing that I'm waiting for is bona fide travel, as in, leaving Florida, or even the country. I'd sure love to get on a cruise ship, where people feed me, make my bed, mostly take care of my kid, bring me fruity drinks and drop me off at the beach. I want to go to Europe. Heck, I'd be happy to go to DC and visit the museums and such. If there's anything pent up for me, it's the desire to travel.

I also think that the last year drew a lot of attention to my earlier financial indiscretions, because entering midlife and not being able to do a lot of stuff sure gives you time to think. With that, I've become a little OCD about figuring out if I'm saving enough or what it takes to get to retirement, or even maybe do it a little early. With Simon only seven years away from graduation, it's not too early to think about next steps for us. I'm not waiting for that time, per se, but I am thinking about it daily, and I know I shouldn't.

The other thing that I've frequently done in the last year is think about the tools of my hobbies, where I think, "If I just had this one other thing, I could do the thing." To be fair, that has worked out in spurts of creative output. I shot a bunch of little videos (some still unedited) around the end of last year, in part because I had a camera that inspired me. I acquired software that helped me do stuff. But I still feel like I need to buy just this one more thing, and when I do, that will make me happy. I'm sure that this urge is the one that led to all of the bad decisions in my 20's and early 30's, brought back because we haven't spent much money on travel, the thing we really want to do.

My hope is that the feeling of waiting for something subsides as we get to see people in person more often, and go to shows and theme parks and such. Already, it has been a relief just to hang out with our neighbors a bit now that everyone old enough has been vaccinated. We invited some friends over for dinner, and that will be the first social call to our house in over a year. It'll be crazy when someone crashes in our guest room.

Back to Magic Kingdom

posted by Jeff | Sunday, May 16, 2021, 3:45 PM | comments: 0

Friday night, we visited Magic Kingdom for the first time since late November, 2019. We typically didn't visit that park as often in pre-pandemic times, because it's always crowded and the whole monorail/ferry thing between parking and the park just adds time to the endeavor. But as far as the Disney parks go, that is where the most roller coasters are. With limited capacity and reservations required, this is the first date we could get after buying passes again at the end of April.

We can finally see what all of the screening changes look like at the Transportation and Ticket Center, and they were still doing temperature checks despite announcing they would stop, presumably because of whatever they contracted with Advent Health. The parks are using those new Evolv millimeter-wave body scanners instead of magnetometers, which are insanely fast and they no longer check bags since they can scan your undercarriage. It does appear that the chutes for the departing trams are not covered, which is unfortunate.

The monorails cars are divided up with plastic dividers and they make things weird and uncomfortable. The ferry (which we took back) loads the upstairs then the downstairs, with little circles on the floor indicating where your group should congregate. In practice, it's just less crowded than it would normally be. That's the theme of the visit, that things just were not crowded at all, and you could tell right away by just how close to the TTC you could park.

Inside the park, Main Street was still sort of crowded, but not the way it typically would be. We got our obligatory photo from one of the Photo Pass folks, and headed east to Space Mountain. Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor was closed, as are most live entertainment venues, along with the absence of parades and fireworks. I'm not sure I realized how much of the atmosphere around the park could be attributed to that. For example, the dance party in Tomorrowland isn't there, just sad, empty lighting trusses. No cheesy shows in front of the castle. No Captain Jack in front of Pirates.

As Magic Kingdom has probably the most old school, traditional queues, it also has the most plexiglass barriers in them. This is the thing that I most look forward to going away at some point. It feels dystopian and claustrophobic. I get why they're there, but it's a reminder of where we are and have been for the last year, and that's in the place you go to forget the real world.

Also noticeable is how under-staffed the park is. As was the case at Hollywood Studios, a lot of stores and food stands are closed, or close very early. They don't have to manage Fastpass merging and what not, so that helps, but for example the dispatcher on Pirates was also counting people into the boats, when that used to be a separate person. They're relying on app ordering for food likely to compensate for few cashiers. I've heard repeatedly that they just can't hire people fast enough, and that seems obvious.

All things considered, things are running pretty well. They're over-stating wait times, presumably to distribute the crowd. Space Mountain was at 40 minutes and I think we waited 25. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was 45, but we waited 26. Everything else we did was more or less a walk-on, including Barnstormer, Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Pirates of The Caribbean. We did have to wait for People Mover, because as best I can tell, the new control system is a disaster and it stops constantly. I believe it now will dynamically space the trains, to fix what problem I'm not sure, but the system seems unsatisfied about how close they are. All of the crews were hustling, enthusiastic and getting it done as you would expect.

Food service, as I said, has a lot of closed venues, so we ordered mobile at Cosmic Ray's. It wasn't clear, but they appear to have specific entrances for mobile orders, and one to queue for a cashier. Some irate tourist unkindly told me, "The line to get in starts back there!" at which point I politely ignored her and asked the cast member how to get in to collect our ready order, and she let us in. Don't underestimate kid meals, they're a lot of food for the price of two sodas. The other thing we had to get, of course, was Dolewhip, and that was fantastic. I've been making it at home with our KitchenAid frozen bowl, but while the taste is the same, you need a soft serve machine to get the right texture and mix it with vanilla. Highlight of the night for me!

We had one snafu where someone forgot the water bottle we had on 7DMT, and the crew did not find it later, causing Simon to have a minor meltdown, but otherwise, it was nice to ride roller coasters for the first time in over a year and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the park. The only time I've seen it less busy was a day or two before Irma hit Florida, and we did a lot in very little time. No sooner did we leave before the company updated their mask requirement to make them optional in outdoor common areas, which is to say they're still required in queues and indoors. I have to trust the science here, which says that outdoor transmission is exceptionally rare, because Simon at best won't be old enough for the vaccine until the fall. The cast members were pretty good about mask enforcement indoors, as we watched them correct a great many chin-strappers.

Magic Kingdom is not my favorite park, but it was good to be back.

New therapist, who dis?

posted by Jeff | Saturday, May 15, 2021, 5:16 PM | comments: 0

I was first introduced to the world of psychotherapy in college, when my bestie and then-future roommate started seeing the school's lone therapist. That was my junior year, and while I wasn't going through anything specific, I think even I knew in the back of my head that I had emerged from some kind of depression the year before. In any case, I would next see a therapist during and after my separation, and then intermittently from that point on, with some pretty long gaps here and there. I started up again a few years into our Florida adventure when work and parenting became a bit much to deal with without some help to figure out how to manage it all.

My last streak was late last year, with my last appointment in February of this year. When I pinged my therapist last week, she indicated that she wasn't really seeing people anymore, because she had quickly expanded into a small wellness empire with a dozen people in two locations. I thought she bailed because she had seen too much in the last year, but it turned out to be the opposite.

So she referred me to one of the people in her practice, and I met with her (virtually) for the first time last week. My initial impression is good, and I think she'll get me. I've done this for so long that I have a pretty good strategy to get the most for the money (which work coverage only covers so far), setting some high level agendas toward the things I want to address. In this case, I agreed to do several straight weeks and then go to more of a monthly cadence, in order to set a good baseline for her to get to know me and set some goals for myself.

You don't need to be suicidal to take mental health seriously, and I think it's fucked up that our society doesn't see that. You would think the last year, in the pandemic, would make that obvious, but I'm surprised at how few people see it and acknowledge it.

The troubling thing is that this is largely a luxury thing, and it shouldn't be. I have literally the best healthcare coverage of anyone I know (no payroll deduction, plus a reimbursement account for co-pays and deductibles), but it still isn't enough to cover what our family needs. Simon's ADHD meds alone cost nearly a hundred bucks a month after insurance. People working service jobs don't have access to even that, or likely can't afford medications like that. And don't get me started about insulin for diabetics. The system is so broken.

Sadness for your child

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 12, 2021, 9:45 PM | comments: 0

In the last few weeks, Simon developed a very serious tic, where he began to shrug his shoulders and tilt his head, violently and repeatedly. He's had stuff like this come and go before, like throat clearing and picking, but this came on fast. His teachers both let us know that they were observing it too. This one worried me a lot, because it seemed like there was some sudden and deep neurological problem. His doctor, however, chalked it up to stress, likely caused by the pointless state testing going on at school. It has mostly, but not entirely, subsided. He's very aware that he's doing it.

This was the latest thing, in a string of things, that have caused sadness on his behalf. He recently came home from school crying because there was some group activity where no one wanted to partner with him. Diana observed him on the playground, just before dismissal, hanging out with the teachers instead of playing with other kids. Tonight he expressed worry that once school was finished, he would never see his teachers again.

This certainly wears on us, and I live in a constant stream of guilt because I'm not there for most of it during the day. In fact, I'm usually just there for nightly routines that we can't seem to consistently make successful, and I lose patience quickly. It's just hard, all of the time, and it's emotionally draining.

I want to emphasize, Simon is not without joy. Last weekend, he got to hang out with a few of his neighborhood friends when our neighbor had a bounce house for his birthday. His return to a theme park last weekend was pure bliss. As usual, he loves to unlock achievements and play video games. But he is still emotionally immature, by a year or two, and coupled with all of the baggage associated with ASD and ADHD, he just doesn't fit in much of the time, and he knows it. I'll give him credit, he is surprisingly vulnerable most of the time, with us at least, about what he feels. Putting words on what he feels is something his therapist has worked with him on quite a bit.

We're also hopefully setting him up for success in school next year. While his grades this year tell a positive story, and his teacher and principal have been amazing, "the system" has largely failed him. His IEP process has been a total disaster. (One person from the district accounted for his poor handwriting as, "That's just how boys are.") The thought of him going to a middle school next year with 2,500 other kids seemed like a recipe for failure, so we made the decision to put him in a private school capable of meeting him where he is. Diana has been working on that for months, and she found a growing program that will suit him well. As with all things autism, there's a difference between intelligence and the interface to the world. For example, we don't know that writing is difficult for him because he can't compose a sentence, when it might be he just can't start when presented with blank lines and a deadline to put something on them.

I just want him to have more happiness, because I very much relate to his school experience, and those aren't good memories for me. I think we've got a solid reprieve coming, at least for a few months, with the end of school, and an opening world with fun things and a small network of friends with vaccinated parents. No kid should have to endure what he's enduring right now.

Stop giving all of your creative content to huge companies!

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 12, 2021, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

I was saddened today to see that Dax Shepard's Armchair Expert podcast is going to be distributed exclusively by Spotify. This comes a few days after I was chatting with my neighbor, who consults with a ton of people on podcasting, and we talked about how the big platforms have become the gatekeepers of all the content, and no one will own their own thing anymore. That sucks.

Podcasting became technically possible when the RSS quasi-standard, "Really Simple Syndication," was updated to include "enclosures" in 2001. RSS wasn't that well understood by most people, but there were a lot of computer applications popping up, and even some that were web-based, that allowed you to plug in an RSS feed (which is at a URL, like anything else on the web) and it would update and show you when there was new stuff. What's awesome about this is that no one really owns your distribution. Sure, discovery is a different problem, but once you're known, you're known.

In 2004, as the iPod started to gain traction, and broadband began to put dial-up connections out to pasture, podcasts started to get a little attention. In 2005, former TechTV host and radio personality Leo Laporte started This Week in Tech, which turned into an entire network, complete with video. Suddenly, the niche started to show potential, with tens of thousands of listeners. That fall, I got the bug too, and put those dusty radio skills to use by starting the CoasterBuzz Podcast. I wasn't really trying to make a buck with it or anything, but before too long, we were consistently getting a few thousands listeners a week, sometimes getting tens of thousands if we got some weird Google juice or something. When I look at how "cool" podcasts are now, with every formerly quarantined celebrity starting one, I firmly present my hipster card for doing it before it was cool, and on software I built, thank you very much.

Of course, 2005 was a different time. Smart phones weren't really a thing yet, and some people didn't even have wi-fi yet, let alone broadband. But people who wanted to publish stuff on the Internet owned it, with their own site, and even with the dominance of Google in search, you didn't really have gatekeepers to content. It didn't run through apps or social media or video sites.

I'm not opposed to change on principle, and there's no question that the Internet has been good for the world, and insanely good for my career and financial well-being. But I hate how the openness of the Internet has been replaced by a few huge companies owning everything when it doesn't have to be that way. I mean, our old podcast is still available virtually anywhere that you find podcasts because it is neutrally self-hosted. I can search for it on the screen in my car and find it. I mean, to be timely, yeah, you can even find it on Spotify, and I never did anything to enable that.

There's little question that the Armchair folks are getting paid, I get that. But I also think that they're giving up control and limiting their audience. Meanwhile, the small players have all been shut out, so they publish their stuff on YouTube or Facebook and never own their distribution. That's unfortunate.

I want to quit the Internet, but...

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, May 11, 2021, 8:14 PM | comments: 0

Early in my dotcom career, 2002-ish, I remember going down to Orlando, from Cleveland, to spend a week in November with Stephanie. This was largely a theme park endeavor, which was more my thing than hers, and I intended to cover the annual IAAPA show for CoasterBuzz. These were the days when the young web sites could reliably net four figures monthly, and I spent way too much free time working on events and stuff. That was the third year I went to IAAPA, and I realized quickly that my audience really wasn't that into it because, well, it's a trade show. Trade shows are great for relationship building and conducting business, which I was interested in, but the kids on the sites just wanted to know about roller coasters.

Anyway, I blew off the show after a few hours, and we went back to Universal, where we were staying. That week, we did a marathon day through three of the Disney parks, free on a retiree friend of my then grandparents-in-law, a road trip out to Busch Gardens Tampa, locally to SeaWorld, and of course, lots of time at Universal. Man, all that running around doesn't even sound fun to me now when I say it out loud. Steph was a saint for tagging along on that one. Anyway, paint the picture in 2002... there were no smart phones, there was no wi-fi. I did have a cell phone (a Motorola StarTAC, because that's how I rolled), but I remember in cases like that I didn't carry it on me, because why bother.

That was blissful disconnection. My sites were "social media" before it had a name, and operating such a thing was exhausting. I rarely viewed other sites of any interest, because I just didn't have time. However, the surprising thing about it is that these sites connected me with people that I consider good friends, two decades later.

I wouldn't experience disconnection like that again until early 2013, on our first cruise. For three nights, there was no Internet, no social media, no news feeds, just people feeding me and entertaining me, along with my young family and in-laws. Even years later, when you're at sea, there is no connectivity (because Disney isn't gonna give you that for free). I don't have the discipline to just turn things off at other times.

I want to be an informed person, who learns things, is challenged to grow, and contribute to the world. There is no question that the Internet has made this possible. Yes, I've read scientific papers (most recently, about the reduced instances of IBS symptoms in people taking antihistamines). I've really boned up on history, filling in a lot of blanks. I've tried to better understand statistics, especially this year. The Internet is essential for this.

Social media is only as good as the connections it offers, and many of the people that I've met over the years and addresses simply don't use it very much anymore, if at all. There's one guy we used to meet up with every year or two who has essentially disappeared from online use, and that's sad. This is hardly surprising, because the algorithms intended to build engagement have mostly minimized its usefulness. I estimate there are at most 20 people still using Facebook that I go for, and if they split too, I'm not sure how I'll be able to maintain even a passive relationship with them.

The mobile revolution has had some really terrible side effects, and you can see them all of the time. Was it so terrible, in 2002, when we were waiting in line for a theme park ride, to talk to each other? Even strangers from time to time? Now, everyone is always looking down at a screen. I am very deliberate in trying to keep my phone in my pocket in these situations. Although, people watching is pretty boring when everyone is doom scrolling.

Speaking of doom scrolling, when social media is filled with links to news, especially politics, that's exhausting. I know people who run multiple news apps, and look at every notification. (I'm guilty of just one, the NYT, but it only alerts on "breaking news," which averages less than 5 notifications anymore.

But here's the other weird thing I use Facebook and Instagram for... they're my time capsule. I have no fucks to give about the number of likes I get, but it's absolutely useful to me to see what I was up to on this day in 2010.

There's a part of me that just wants to build a social media site for me and a few friends. Get in, post stuff, read only actual friend stuff, and get out, but it might not be useful if no one else uses it. And to handle my time capsule, build it to import Facebook exports (that's more straight forward than you'd think).

Still, the reality is that the Internet makes me feel less connected, not more, but I value that small handful of people around the country that I don't want to lose touch with.

Liberty is not without social contracts

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 10, 2021, 9:00 AM | comments: 0

I recently observed a few different online discussions that revolved around individual liberties. I think that's an important topic, for sure, but I think many of the people who talk about it approach it as ideologues, over-simplifying it without the context of how humans must interact with each other.

I generally believe that individual liberties are important to a prosperous society, for sure, but they do not exist in a vacuum. People don't have the liberty to shoot each other, obviously, which comes at the expense of the person who would be dead in that scenario. There are a thousand examples that we could come up with like this, and each one is governed with accepted social contracts, whether they're written into law or not. I don't have to hold a door for a person entering behind me, as it certainly constrains my liberty to move quickly, but I hold it anyway because I'm not a dick.

The pandemic has been a real test to the balance of civil liberties and social contracts, and America largely failed that test. Much of the population believed that getting a haircut was more important than containing a disease that killed nearly 600,000 people. I get it, that it was a bad situation regardless, and there was no way of getting around the economic suffering it would cause. But consider this: When history looks back and the accounting is done, Americans will have suffered greater financial impact on a per capita basis, with higher instances of death, than those that buckled down for short-term challenges and emerged on the other side faster.

Now we have a real long-term solution to the pandemic in the way of vaccines. We have a way out, and we can get there faster than anyone because of our nation's wealth. And yet, there is a non-trivial part of the population unwilling to vaccinate, many because of their "freedom" or some willfully ignorant nonsense. Once again, this comes at the expense of the greater population, especially those that for one medical reason or another, can't vaccinate, including kids under 12. Is it judgmental to look at these folks negatively? Yeah, probably. But it's the person who doesn't hold the door, only the stakes are much higher. We get vaccinated for a lot of different diseases, not simply for our own survival, but for our families and communities. This is not a great sacrifice.

There are also people that are unsurprisingly selective about liberties, and which ones are important. A large group of Americans believe right now that there should be no restrictions to firearms, but are not at all vocal about voter suppression laws. Remember, firearm restrictions "interfere with lawful citizens," but voting restrictions apparently do not. Many of the anti-vaccine people are also the folks who want to dictate the conditions of women's health, too. It does not lend a lot of credibility to people who are ideologically inflexible when it's convenient.

The bottom line is that individual liberties do not exist without social contracts. What you believe you're entitled to can't come by way of danger or disadvantage to others.

First time back to a theme park

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 6, 2021, 12:00 PM | comments: 0

Last week we were able to buy back in to our annual passes at Walt Disney World, and our first reservation was last night, at Disney's Hollywood Studios. We did a brief after-work visit for about three and a half hours. It was, as I expected, a little weird.

They're still doing temperature screenings, which I suspect will end soon now that the CDC says it's a waste of time, and Universal stopped doing it. Masks are required unless you're stationary and eating or drinking. Capacity is apparently limited to about 35%, which is why they're doing reservations. They do allow passholders to park hop after 1 p.m. now. They're not using the finger print readers for admission.

First off, what a good but weird feeling to walk in through those gates for the first time in more than a year. We didn't choose to live in this area specifically because of the proximity to the Disney property, but being this close is certainly a perk, and it's pretty great to have the kind of access that most people are lucky to have once a year at best. You kind of take a little ownership of it, like it's an extension of your backyard. Right away, we had our picture taken, which Disney is now OK with you unmaksing for.

There are no Fastpasses right now, and some queues for some rides extend outside with the 2-meter interval decals on the ground encouraging you to keep your distance. This results in fast moving lines in most cases. Some rides have staggered loading, reducing their capacity, which manifests itself the worst on Slinky Dog Dash, which never had a wait under an hour. They are still doing boarding groups for Rise of The Resistance, so we were not able to ride it because you have to either hit the app at 7 a.m., or be in the park for another shot at 1 p.m. In most queues, you can expect to find plexiglass barriers, and the barriers are at all of the food stands, and it's just hard to hear people. It's a little dystopian, even though I totally get the intention.

Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway was the new ride that opened just before the pandemic, and we didn't get a chance to ride it before the closures. Simon was pretty obsessed about the ride, watching all the YouTube videos and even recreating part of it in Minecraft, where he cleverly engineered the pre-show. Unfortunately, they're not running the pre-show, and that's one of the casualties of the pandemic. There are no pre-shows or any shows that result in people standing around together. That's particularly an issue at DHS, which ordinarily would engage thousands of people in various shows at a time.

The ride is absolutely the physical manifestation of the Mickey shorts that you can watch now on Disney+, which is to say they had a lot to work with stylistically. It's a fly-by-wire (wireless?) dark ride that's a lot of fun, and does video projection really well. We did it twice. I'm impressed with the precision involved in moving the cars, as they quite literally dance through one scene. I'm absolutely impressed. We waited 35 minutes the first time, about 15 the second.

From there we went to Star Tours, which was effectively a walk-on. They're loading every other row and put up dividers strapped to booster seats to block groups of 2 and 3 people. The barriers at each staging queue are very claustrophobia causing. The last act of our tour was on the planet with the salt flats and red dust, which I had never seen before.

Next was Smuggler's Run, which I think was just under 30 minutes. They are combining groups now, with 4 people doing the pilot and gunners, then groups of 2 filling the engineer seats, with clear barriers in between. My darling wife and son are terrible pilots.

We were ready to get something to eat at this point, when we realized that quite literally everything closed around 5 except for the counter service place half way down the street toward Tower of Terror. That location probably has the crappiest food, too. They're only taking orders via the mobile app (no cashiers), but what results is a bunch of crowding there and few open tables. I realize that there are likely staffing challenges and fewer people in the park in the evening, but it's not a great guest experience. Hopefully they'll figure out how to keep one of the other big locations, Backlot or Commissary, open later. One thing that felt immediately difficult is how expensive the food is, which I only notice after not buying any for more than a year. Our non-spending in the last year was extraordinary, and I can see partially why. Also, the quality of what's available isn't that great when comparing to the water parks, which I consider a more premium offering, or the counter service on the cruise line. I don't mind paying for theme park food, but don't be basic about it.

After dinner, we did a walk-on to Toy Story Midway Mania, and a walk-on to the flying saucers. Slinky was still an hour-plus, so we skipped that. That's when we took our second spin on Railway before calling it a night.

We were happy to be back in the park. Simon, in particular, needed the break because he's doing state testing this week, which stresses him out in a pretty serious and physical way. The 90 degrees outside with a mask is definitely uncomfortable, and hopefully as vaccinations continue to rise they'll consider dropping the masks for outdoors, though I'm sure the liability they face will keep them enforced for the foreseeable future. The neutered operations are very un-Disney-like, if necessary, but it's all temporary, hopefully.

Finn and Poe: First birthday!

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 3, 2021, 10:14 PM | comments: 0

A year ago today, our furry ragdoll cats were born in Naples, Florida. Three months after that, they came home with us. Today, Finn is about 13.6 pounds, and Poe is 11.6, and they're certainly not done growing. Their fur color has changed a ton, and they're really beautiful cats. All of the breed standard attributes that I was skeptical about have largely worked out. They do sometimes follow you around like a dog, and hilariously, they will flop over at your feet if they think there are belly rubs at stake. They will kind of go limp when you pick them up, most of the time, but like any cats, they'll let you know if they're not having it. They're not generally scared of things or people, whether it's a vacuum robot or a large bird outside that could likely carry them away. They're too curious.

Their personalities are different. Finn is definitely the bigger lover of the two, and he does this thing some nights where he jumps up on the bed, "monorails" Diana, buries his head in her hair and kneads with a full-on purr. With me, he waits for me to finish brushing my teeth in the morning, then follows me into the bedroom and flops over next to the dresser, demanding rubs. Poe is different. He's not aloof, not compared to most cats, but he's particular about engagement. He prefers to lay on your feet while you're cooking, and maybe nibble on your toes. There's also a fleece blanket he likes to meditatively knead. He enjoys brushing, which is good, because his hair is more "bunny fur" than Finn's. Poe is also way more food motivated, despite being the smaller of the two.

The boys also do what we were hoping for by getting brothers. They play together, wrestle, chase each other around, and groom each other like it's a part-time job. Some nights, one or both sleep at the edge of the bed. Sometimes they catch a lizard on the patio (and enthusiastically show it to you). With all of that running around, they sleep a good bit, too, but despite their size, they're a normal weight.

We found them via the breeder in May, and would have to wait until they were three months. They would be neutered by then and well taken care of and played with. The decision to get what are effectively "designer" cats wasn't something we took lightly, given that all of our previous cats were from shelters. But we were always pretty enamored with my brother-in-law's ragdolls, and I loved how robust and big they were. They fit the breed behavior traits as well. At our age, if we're being realistic, we get one more chance after this at adopting cats, because who knows if we'll be able to do it in old age. With that in mind, I was hoping for that ragdoll magic, and we got it.

The timing was unintentionally good. Part of it is just that the pandemic went on way longer than anyone expected, and frankly, we needed a little extra joy in our lives. But we also lost Emma before they arrived. That wasn't entirely unexpected given her age, but being the cranky one, I wondered if she'd go another few years. But then after just a few months with the boys, they lost their "old man," Oliver in December. While he was not young, at 14, maybe we figured by his kitten-like behavior that he had years to go. I had nearly 14 years with both of them, and traveled through 6,000 miles of moves with them. Simon only knew life with them, and it was a sad day when we said goodbye.

Finn and Poe are not replacements, and their arrival didn't make the loss easier, but they have added joy and love that we really needed in the last year. They legitimately make me smile every time I see them, no matter what the world is throwing at me. They're wonderful additions to our family, and I look forward to many years with them.

The boys, today:

First night home last August:

Disappointing leaders and a desperate want of inspiration

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 3, 2021, 6:00 PM | comments: 0

I recently came to the conclusion that wanting to feel inspired is a good desire, but it's downright silly to think that you can just get that entirely from within. It's not a personality flaw if you need a little encouragement or someone else to give you a spark.

I started to catalog the people in my life that have in fact been inspirational to me (because the last year hasn't provided enough time for introspection, right?), and I'm actually startled at how few people qualify. So small is this list that it almost creates feelings of sadness. Maybe the part that stings is actually the number of times that you've been disappointed by people that you thought should be inspiring. This has been particularly true in my professional life, that story where you meet someone and think, "This person has their shit together!" only to find later that it isn't together, they're only full of it.

It happens with public figures even more often. How often does an athlete beat impossible odds, only to find out he was doping, or beating his wife or gambling all of their money away. In business, we don't even celebrate success anymore, and seem to assume that any rich person got their in immoral ways. Musicians and actors? Society practically wants them to fail.

But in this last year where I've wanted to be a creator of things, where do I find my muse? I desperately want to see people who inspire me.

They're out there. I'm starting to see them. Like so many other things in the world, I think inspiration is waking up.

The puzzle association with autism is no accident

posted by Jeff | Saturday, May 1, 2021, 9:56 PM | comments: 0

Last night, rocket scientist and YouTube genius Mark Rober, along with Jimmy Kimmel, did a three-hour fund-raiser for adult autism charities, and it was pretty great. Simon and I watched the whole thing, and he was fixated on the beaker graphic showing the donation totals.

Between celebrity appearances, they had a lot of great stories from autistic adults of every flavor, and it was one of those reminders that autism doesn't mean the same thing for any two people. I can't imagine being non-verbal or having difficulty controlling my body, while having a brilliant mind that can't easily manifest what it's thinking. The problem isn't always that the autistic person can't fit, it's often that society doesn't know how, or is unwilling to meet them where they are. Fortunately, a lot of employers are figuring out ways to utilize these adults with great success.

We had a fun night hanging out, but tonight was rough because something about having to shower before bed set him off into a meltdown. In the postmortem analysis of one of these, you try to figure out what happened, but in the moment, you focus on how to deescalate, because rationalizing the trigger won't do anyone any good. I also find myself cataloging the current crop of ticks, some of which are harmful (picking skin until it bleeds), and others which will make him a target of cruel peers (a compulsive shrugging thing that he knows he's doing).

All things considered, I don't think I've observed anything that might derail him as a functioning adult, but he has needs that are not being met. In his education, he makes the honor roll, while being behind in reading by a half grade level or more, depending on the assessment. He can seem to compose in small doses, but blank lines on a page produce a panic response. Even after getting back to in-person schooling, he isn't quite getting what he needs to meet him where he is, and for that reason, he'll go to a private school next year instead of getting lost in a middle school of 2,600+ kids. The next three years will be critical.

Meanwhile, the social and self-care skills we try to address via therapy, which we're now doing every other week. This doesn't have the clear objectives that we have with education, and often we focus on what happened the previous two weeks and look for ways to better prepare him. For example, this week there was a partner activity at school, and the kid he normally works with was out, and no other kid wanted to work with him. I heard the tears when he got home, and I knew, because there's a despair he feels that's different when external forces make him sad, as opposed to his own choices.

Trying to figure out how to help, in a way that teaches him to help himself, is a puzzle. Professionally, I'm good at puzzles... putting the right people together to build a team, coming up with the plan for people to work together, defining a problem so we can arrive at a concise solution. These are my super powers. But those skills don't translate well when you have an 11-year-old crying for reasons he probably doesn't understand himself. "Normal" is an "N-word" of its own kind in autism circles, because it implies that anything else is broken or substandard, but in the darkest moments, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I don't wonder why my child couldn't have a more typical development experience. It can be heartbreaking.

I am still struck by all the things that he goes through that I can relate to in a deeply personal way, when I frame it in the context of my own childhood. Rober closed his fundraiser making the point that autism doesn't go away, and if you've ever had irreconcilable emotional situations, lost friends for reasons you don't understand, or socially find it difficult to adapt, autism could explain a lot. I'm glad that Simon has the diagnosis because it at least reduces that ambiguity about why he sometimes struggles. I'm not sure I have the balls to get a formal diagnosis, even if my therapist, who is not a psychologist, believes many of the stereotypical traits are there. If it's true, it's almost a relief that explains some difficult times. If it's not, then I may feel genuinely defective, which certainly isn't healthy.

But I'm deeply empathetic with Simon. I know what it's like to be in a state where something happens and your brain simply can't reconcile it in a logical way. I also understand his sense of loneliness, and seeing how he expresses it makes me understand how much I used to repress it. Despite the empathy, it doesn't always lead to connection, and I sometimes tell him that I'm doing the best I can.

While I'm nervous to see what happens when hormones are added to the mix, I feel like we're doing all the things. Tomorrow, we're going to try and have a little fun.