NHL, Middle School Graduate

Posted by TechyDad on June 23, 2017 under Education, NHL, School

NHLMiddleSchoolThree years ago, we were very nervous. Our son was about to graduate from elementary school and move to middle school. Elementary school had been one fight after another. We moved schools after our son was attacked and the principal tried sweeping it under the rug. We fought with the new school’s principal to get a 504 plan and got yelled at by him because we went above his head when he was dragged his feet. We were denied an IEP because our son’s intelligence meant that they didn’t think he was suffering academically (despite him suffering socially and emotionally – both qualifiers for IEPs). We fought to get his aide changed when the one he was assigned thought yelling at our son repeatedly was acceptable.

Even when things did seem to go NHL’s way, it never lasted. Good aides and teachers had to leave. Quiet moments were punctuated by new crises. We could never enjoy the good times because we knew that something bad was just around the corner.

Needless to say, we were afraid going into middle school. How would NHL handle the increased workload? How would he deal with changing classrooms multiple times a day? How would he deal with the different teachers and students? So much could go wrong that we braced ourselves for a disaster of epic proportions.

Then, the most amazing thing happened: Nothing.

Well, nothing bad at least. NHL’s aide, JG, met him at orientation and they quickly hit it off. JG went above and beyond, even taking it upon himself to learn about autism so he would understand NHL better. He was there by NHL’s side every day, but wasn’t overbearing. He knew when to pull NHL back and when to let him be himself. He slowly, carefully guided NHL all the while walking that all-too-thin line of friend, mentor, and teacher.

Speaking of teachers, NHL’s were incredible also. They saw the potential in him and worked to bring it out. They struck up a strong rapport with him and gained his trust – something that wasn’t easy to do. After years of struggle in elementary school, NHL’s love of learning was like a candle that was about to flicker out. All of his middle school teachers have turned that flickering candle into a raging bonfire. He loves school again so much that when he had the flu one year, he was upset that he couldn’t go to school for a week. That was the worst part of the flu to him. Not the aches and the fever, but missing out on learning more.

The multiple classes actually worked in NHL’s favor. As with many people on the autism spectrum, NHL loves his schedules. He doesn’t deal well if they aren’t strictly adhered to (at least, not without prior warning). In elementary school, though, the teacher’s schedule might say that math ends at 1pm, but since the same teacher teaches all subjects, she might go long. NHL did not like that at all. In the middle school, though, the bell rings when the class is over. The teacher might be able to shout out a homework assignment as the kids leave, but he/she can’t decide that the kids all need to stay for ten more minutes. The schedule is strictly enforced and NHL thrived with that.

He also thrived with the subject matter. In elementary school, they would often go over the same material over and over to make sure that all of the kids understood it. This left NHL bored. He understood it the first time and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t being allowed to learn more. In middle school, though, the pace was picked up which suited NHL just fine. His mind was a sponge that was finally being given the water it so desperately wanted to absorb. He also was placed in honors classes in the seventh and eighth grades which helped surround him with more students who were intent on learning and not messing around.

When it comes to the students, he found people who were willing to accept him quirks and all. I had the pleasure of going on four field trips with him during his middle school career and each time I loved seeing him interact with his peers. NHL is like me in so many ways that I feared he’d be like me socially. I was bullied and reacted by withdrawing within myself. The less I showed the outside world, the less ammunition I thought I’d give my bullies. I desperately wanted to socialize, but always felt embarrassed by my every action.

NHL, on the other hand, feels no such embarrassment. Yes, this can lead to times when he does things that are inappropriate, but it also means that he doesn’t hold back when forging friendships. I liked that the students seemed to forgive NHL his excesses and still wanted to interact with him. To give one example, during a recent trip to Montreal with his class, I was in charge of NHL and three other students at the Jean-Talon Market. There was so much to see and eat, that the kids wanted to see everything. Unfortunately, part of the stop involved completing a scavenger hunt. NHL can’t help himself when it comes to scavenger hunts. He feels compelled to speed through whatever area he’s in until he’s completed it. NHL’s classmates were getting visibly upset with his constant verbal tugs to move onto the next thing so he could fill in the next line. The one girl in the group, who’s been friendly with NHL for years, threatened to judo chop him if he didn’t stop. And yet, later that day when we went shopping in the underground market, she voluntarily joined NHL and I with another of his friends on our shopping adventure. She knew how to express her frustration with NHL without completely severing herself from him.

I could go on and on about how wonderful middle school was for NHL. Were there bumps? Sure. Still, they were so few and far between that we actually found ourselves relaxing. We didn’t react to every small speedbump as if it meant that everything was going to grind to a halt. We began to (*gasp*) trust that his teachers and aide could address it – which they did. They thought of us as all being part of a team whose job it was to make NHL excel and they worked WITH us to make that happen instead of working against us because they thought they knew better. And guess what? When we all worked together, we succeeded in making NHL succeed.

Finally, I’ve talked about everyone but NHL. Middle school would still have been a disaster had it not been for NHL. All the support mechanisms in the world won’t help someone if they don’t apply themselves. After his first marking period was over, NHL received the honor roll, but the middle of the three levels. He immediately declared that he was getting the highest level the next marking period. I tried to caution him that we just wanted him to do his best and he didn’t need to worry about grades as much. I didn’t want him to be disappointed. Silly me. Like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield, NHL kept setting goals for himself and knocking them down. One marking period, his science grade went DOWN because he “only” got a 97 on the final exam.

NHL applied himself again and again, learning everything his teachers taught him and making it look easy. He struck up friendships and pushed himself more and more. Every time we thought “there’s no way NHL will be able to deal with this”, he not only dealt with it, but aced it. Sure, there were times when he held back his meltdowns until he came home. Times when his happy-go-lucky attitude switched to angry, at-the-end-of-his-rope teen the minute he entered B’s car. Still, we were happy to take that bullet because it meant that NHL was coping better in school itself. (We also worked with his teachers to find the sources of these delayed meltdowns and fix them in the future. Yay, team!)

So now NHL is off to high school. He’s leaving behind the familiar and facing the unknown again. We are nervous only because middle school has set such a high bar. Still, we know what NHL is capable of. He has such great potential inside of him and is am amazing young man. I can’t wait* to see him grow into an exceptional high school kid.

Congratulations, NHL!

* Well, maybe I can wait a little. Stop growing up so quickly NHL. That goes for you too, JSL.

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Building a Lego Fidget Spinner

Posted by TechyDad on May 26, 2017 under JSL, Lego

IMG_20170524_194646783The fidget spinner craze is definitely burning hot right now. Everyone seems to want to be spinning some plastic between their fingers. Recently, NHL bought one for himself on a school trip to Montreal. JSL was a bit jealous and wanted one for himself, but no one seemed to have any in stock. What to do? Easy. Build our own!

After a bit of Googling, I found a blog post with instructions on building our own fidget spinner from Legos. One problem: Despite having a giant bin of Legos, we didn’t have most of the parts we needed.

So we improvised. We rooted through the bin for wheels and other pieces that would work. After a few minutes, both JSL and I had a working fidget spinner. JSL then went on to build two more.

At this point, I decided that I needed to share. I made a video and posted it on Instagram showing off my creation.

I made a #Lego fidget spinner.

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After I did this, JSL did his own video, narrating his creations. He was so happy when he heard that people were liking his video. (He thinks he’s famous because he had about a dozen likes. I’m not correcting him. Let him be happy with that.)

JSL presents the three fidget spinners that he made out of #Lego.

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I’ve since disassembled and reassembled my Lego fidget spinner so I can document the process. I leave it here, not as hard and fast instructions, but as a guide. The fun part about making a Lego fidget spinner is making it your own. Sure, it might not spin as fast or as much as the real thing, but half of the fun is building and customizing it.

IMG_20170525_213201505IMG_20170525_213218227IMG_20170525_213227049IMG_20170525_213237122IMG_20170525_213248702IMG_20170525_213257644IMG_20170525_213320383IMG_20170525_213330338IMG_20170525_213338075IMG_20170525_213354015IMG_20170525_213404247IMG_20170525_213413257IMG_20170525_213436266

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Marching For Science

Posted by TechyDad on April 28, 2017 under Politics, Science

One of the many scary moves that the current administration has taken has been a disregard for science. Whether it’s declaring climate change a “hoax” or candidate Trump insisting that vaccines cause Autism or massive cuts to the EPA, the Trump administration has taken action after action against science. Scientists, as well as people who are in favor of supporting science wanted their voices heard. Thus, the March For Science was born.

Like the Women’s March before it, the March for Science was a series of marches that took place all around the world. Our local March for Science differed from our local Woman’s March in many ways, though. While the Women’s March involved a march first followed by speakers, the March for Science began with science demonstrations by local colleges and companies. It was hard to get to some of these tables due to the sheer number of people around them – especially kids. I’m not going to fault the march for this, though. If anything, it showed how many people love science.

After the demonstrations, there were a series of speakers. Our local Women’s March suffered here with the sound system not being good enough. (A consequence of there being way more people than they projected – so it was a good problem to have in some ways.) I’ll admit that I couldn’t hear much from the speakers, but then again, we weren’t positioned well. We behind the stage and to the side so the sounds of cars and people around us drowned out much of the speakers.

While the speakers were talking, we spent much of the time looking at the amazing signs that people had made. Since the march coincided with Earth Day, many of the signs carried pro-environmental protection messages. A few were anti-Trump specifically, but many supported science without directly referencing the President.

PicsArt_04-27-10.46.59 PicsArt_04-27-10.55.12 PicsArt_04-27-10.57.57

I had made my sign earlier in the week and was very proud of it:

PicsArt_04-27-08.34.53

JSL one-upped me, though. While brainstorming ideas for him to make into a sign, I heard NHL watching Pokemon and joked “Science, I choose you!” As soon as I jokingly said it, though, our eyes went wide and we knew that had to be his sign. He sketched it out and made the sign himself. (The only help I provided was holding the poster board still so it didn’t move as he traced the lines.) JSL’s sign had plenty of admirers and a lot of people asking to take photos of him with it.

PicsArt_04-27-08.01.45

Soon, it was time for the walk to begin. This walk was around a block in Albany – about four tenths of a mile. We walked down the street, cars honking as they passed by. At one point, some women behind us started an inspired chant: Stand up for Truth, stand up for reason, science and facts are always in season! (NHL got annoyed at me when I joined in. Teenagers!)

The sidewalk was jam packed and, at one point, we stopped entirely. Science can’t be held up too long, though, so the march continued. When we finished, there were some after events, but we had been there awhile and knew the kids would be fried so we took our leave.

Still, the March for Science had one more surprise. As we rounded the corner to walk to where we were going to be picked up, we spotted the end of the March for Science. Yes, we had finished the march, but the tail end of it had barely begun! I suggested we join the tail end and march again, but I was over-ruled. (Spoil-sports!)

As we left, as with the Women’s March, I felt buoyed by the turnout. The administration might not be a supporter of science, but there were plenty of people in our local area and at marches around the world that do. We’ll keep fighting, keep resisting, and keep demanding that science be unrestrained from political interference and listened to when crafting policies.

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Busy Real Life

Posted by TechyDad on April 21, 2017 under Life, Writing

I recently realized that I haven’t been blogging as much as I’d like. Real Life seemed to keep throwing curve ball after curve ball – derailing any blog ideas that I might have.

First up was B’s mother’s open heart surgery. We had known this was coming for some time, but a recent checkup turned it from “some time in the future” to “in the next three weeks.” The surgery itself went smoothly, but B’s mother was very weak and in a lot of pain afterwards. This was normal – the nurses described the procedure as if you were pummeled by a professional boxer inside and out. Still, B’s parents needed as much help as they could get. Understandably, B wanted to be with her mother every second she could. It fell to me to juggle working my day job with taking care of the day-to-day parenting tasks that B normally does. Of course, I had no problem with this, but I was exhausted at the end of the day.

Of course, during this time was when I blogged last about my computer being fried. I got a new computer (a nice touchscreen model from Dell) and took some time to set it up. Luckily, my old hard drive wasn’t fried. A quick USB enclosure purchase from Amazon and I have an external hard drive with all of my old data. Of course setting up this new computer took days and contributed to not-blogging.

After B’s mother improved, things slowed down a bit, but by now Passover was on the horizon. Passover is the Jewish holiday that requires the most work. I need to clean the kitchen entirely from top to bottom, put all non-Passover utensils/pots/appliances/food away, and take our Passover supplies down from the attic. Complicating matters was a visit by some of B’s family the weekend before Passover. Though it was busy, Passover went by relatively uneventfully – except for the last day.

I was sleeping late as I was off of work when I was woken up by screaming. My kids were yelling at me that B needed me. As I became aware of what was happening, I first figured out that B was in the basement and feared she had fallen and hurt herself. Then, I heard her mentioning a flood in the basement. We have a utility sink down there that floods if it’s not cleaned out. My first thought, as I put on clothes and shoes, was that the sink overflowed and I’d need to stick my arm into that disgusting water to clear it out.

Oh, how I would soon wish it was that.

Turns out that our pipes had backed up and sewage was running in from a drain we have in the center of our basement. Specifically, a combination of sludge, toilet paper scraps, and feces. There was a lot in there and the smell was awful. B called a plumber and I opened the basement windows – at least the two that I could open without crossing the nasty pond. The plumber came by and figured out immediately what was wrong. Within a half hour, he cleared a U bend pipe of build-up and all of the water flowed back down.

Notice, I just said “water” and not “everything.” When the water went down, a lot of other stuff remained. His portion of the job done, the plumber left this for us to clean up with the wet-dry vacuum. Now, having handled diapers for two kids, I thought I had been toughened up in handling this type of stuff, but nothing could have prepared me for this. I used our wet dry vacuum to suck it up, but the combination of the smell and sight of what I was vacuuming threatened to make me hurl. I put on headphones, cranked the Hamilton soundtrack as loud as it could go, tried not to look (as much as was possible) as I waved the vacuum around the ground, and held my breath. This helped and I soon cleaned up as much as I could.

Then, I had to take the wet dry vacuum outside, empty it into a garbage bag, clean it off, and spray the basement floor like crazy with a bleach-water mixture. I also went to Home Depot and got a few big tubs filled with crystals that absorb water from the air. This helped to dry the basement up more. That night, despite being exhausted, I had trouble sleeping. Any time I closed my eyes, I was back in the basement looking at – and smelling – everything that was down there.

In between all of these events, I’ve been working on my Ghost Thief sequel – tentatively titled “Outcasts and Artifacts.” I’m up to 41,000 words now and the story is just getting started. I’m juggling a lot more plot threads than in the first book and a lot more characters. It’s slow going, but I’m making continual progress.

NOTE: The “Busy desk” image above comes from Wikimedia Commons` and is in the Public Domain.

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Fried Laptop, Learning From Mistakes, And Overwhelming Guilt

Posted by TechyDad on March 6, 2017 under Computers, Fatherhood, Guilt, NHL, Parenting

On Wednesday night, NHL was playing a game on my laptop while I made dinner. Suddenly, he shouted that my laptop turned off and wouldn’t turn back on again. I checked and, sure enough, my laptop was dead.

After questioning NHL, he admitted that he tried to plug it in, but wasn’t paying attention. Instead, he shoved the round power plug into a rectangular USB port.

Normally, this wouldn’t have been much of a problem. The power plug requires a metal contact inside the plug itself and the connectors in the USB drive sit atop a plastic piece. Unfortunately, that plastic piece had gone missing and one of the USB connectors entered the power plug.

You might be able to guess what happened next. A surge of electricity flowed through sensitive computer components not designed to handle such currents. My best guess is that the motherboard was fried.

I opened the computer and looked it over. While I couldn’t find and visible damage, given the nonresponsiveness of the laptop, a fried motherboard makes the most sense.

Replacing the motherboard would cost half as much as a new computer. Even then it might not work right as other components might have been fried. So it looks like it’s time for a new laptop for me.

As for NHL, he was, understandably, upset. I’ll admit that, at first, I wanted him to feel bad about it. Making mistakes teaches you nothing if you don’t take the mistake to heart. Too many people are all too eager to blame their mistakes on others and thus don’t learn from them.

After awhile, though, I saw that this had progressed past simple “feeling bad for his mistake” and had turned into full blown “nothing I do is right and I always mess everything up.”

I know that mindset all too well. It’s easy to get stuck like that and spiral downward quickly. At that moment, I set aside any anger I felt over what happened to my laptop and put on my parenting hat.

I told NHL that I understood how he felt and that I’ve felt that way many, many times before. It can be easy to sink into a depression over your mistakes, but that doesn’t help. I told him that, when I feel like this, I intentionally set those thoughts aside for awhile. I picture it like I’m packaging up my feelings/thoughts and placing them on a shelf in my mind.

Once I calm down and can rationally assess what happened, I pick the thoughts up again, figure out what went wrong and how I can do better next time. I make sure I take those lessons to heart but then I put all feelings of guilt aside so as to not let them overwhelm me. This isn’t to say that I don’t feel guilty. I do and will apologize immediately to anyone that I need to. However, for my own self-preservation, I need to be sure to keep myself out of the guilt spiral.
NHL seems to have recovered from his bout with the guilt spiral. I don’t know just yet if he’s taken the lesson to heart. (The lesson being: “Always pay attention where you’re plugging things into.”)

Now, I just need to hunt for a new laptop.

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