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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Jungle Book – The Wisdom of Baloo

Posted by TechyDad on May 4, 2016 under Disney, Movies, Parenting

baloo-and-mowgliLast week, my boys had off from school. One day, B took them to the movies to see a The Jungle Book. While I didn’t go (my day job frowns on taking a few hours off to see a movie), it inspired me to watch the classic animated movie again.  While watching it, I was struck by Baloo. He’s supposed to be a stereotypical slacker. Someone who’s big on partying and short on responsibility.  (A "shiftless, two-bit jungle bum" according to Bagheera.)  Upon watching the movie again, though, he’s surprisingly wise.

A quick warning: There might be spoilers for the new Jungle Book below, but only if the new movie follows the 1967 animated movie.  So technically these would only be spoilers if you haven’t seen the 1967 movie and I think the statute of limitations has long since passed for that film.

Before I get to Baloo, let’s look at Bagheera.  He’s supposedly the responsible one of the movie. He finds baby Mowgli and takes him to the wolves who raise him as their own child.  When Mowgli’s life is threatened by Shere Khan’s return, he volunteers to lead Mowgli back to the man-village where he will be safe.  Bagheera rescues Mowgli from Kaa – and winds up nearly being eaten himself.  He’s definitely a role model, right?

Wrong.

After meeting the elephants, Mowgli asks where they are going.  Bagheera tells Mowgli that he’s going back to the man-village immediately.  Mowgli insists he’s not going and Bagheera attempts to force him to go by pulling on his shorts with his teeth as Mowgli holds onto a tree.  This ends with Bagheera falling into a river.  (Side note: Those shorts were insanely strong.  A panther pulling on them should have ripped them to shreds! Then again, naked Mowgli wouldn’t make for a family friendly Disney movie.)  Bagheera, frustrated with Mowgli, declares that he’s on his own and leaves him.  This, not even 10 minutes  (screen time wise) after Bagheera told Mowgli that he wouldn’t last one day and after Mowgli was almost eaten by Kaa.

I can sympathize with Bagheera when it comes to dealing with stubborn children.  Both of my boys can be exceptionally stubborn at times.  There are definitely times when I think that it would be so easy to just walk out the door and never return.  The thing is, though, that those thoughts would never be put into action because I care about my kids too much.  Even when they’re being a major pain in the neck and not listening, I might leave to a different room to cool down but I’d never leave them on their own.

When Baloo encounters Mowgli, he could have just kept walking.  Instead, he noticed that Mowgli was upset and alone.  He tries to teach him to defend himself and purposefully loses to Mowgli to help cheer him up.  Then, Baloo teaches Mowgli about "The Bare Necessities."

This is where Baloo gives three under-rated gems of advice.  First of all, Baloo sings that you’ve got to "forget about your worries and your strife."  All too often, we let our worries dominate our thoughts.  It’s important to give ourselves time to put our worries aside.  If we don’t, we might miss some wonderful aspects of life.  I learned this lesson a long time ago.  I’d hyper-focus on something that went wrong (especially if I did or said something wrong) and would ruminate on it for days.  It didn’t help the situation in any way.  It didn’t make me react differently the next time.  All it did was cause me to obsess and doubt every action I took.  I realized that I needed to be able to examine whether I could do anything about a worry at that moment.  If I couldn’t, that worry needed to be shelved until such time as I could make a difference.

Next, Baloo sings about using claws to pick prickly pears but not needing them for big pawpaw fruit. This is intended to be humorous (with Baloo singing a veritable tongue twister) but is sound advice.  Every situation is different and the approach needed for one might be totally different than the approach that the second situation needs.  If you go through life with just one approach – and an inflexible attitude that all situations need to have that approach for their solution – then you’re bound to "prick a raw paw."

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Baloo sings about minimizing your life.  Like many people, we’ve accumulated a lot of things that seem important, but which we could easily live without.  For example, a year ago we decided to cut cable.  Before doing this, we wondered just how we’d survive without hundreds of channels of video programming coming into our house at every possible second.  The answer was that it was a lot easier than we initially thought it would be.  Were there bumps along the way?  Sure, but it turns out that cable TV isn’t one of the "bare necessities" and you can live a full life without it.  When you cut the extraneous out of your life, you leave more time for the activities that you actually are interested in.

This is especially true for pursuing things that you can’t obtain.  Many people, perhaps envious of what others have, stress out over not having X, Y, or Z.  This stress negatively impacts their lives and, ironically, makes it less likely that they’ll get what they desire.  To quote Baloo: "Don’t spend your time looking around for something you want that can’t be found. When you find out you can live without it and go along not thinking about it, I’ll tell you something true.  The bare necessities will come to you."  That’s some real Yoda-level wisdom being dished out there.  (Obligatory Star Wars reference since today is Star Wars Day.)

When Baloo is convinced by Bagheera that Mowgli needs to go back to the man-village, he’s heartbroken.  In his short time with Mowgli, he had come to love Mowgli.  On the other hand, Bagheera, someone who’s known Mowgli nearly his entire life, doesn’t seem upset at all about Mowgli being sent away forever.  When Baloo fumbles in his "man-village talk" with Mowgli and Mowgli runs off, Baloo is determined to find him.  For someone who sings about reducing your life to "the bare necessities," he certainly knows what is important enough to hold on to.  Finally, when Shere Khan attacks Mowgli, it’s Baloo who stands up to the tiger, risking his own life to save the boy.

In the final analysis, Baloo might not be the most responsible character in The Jungle Book, but he has a hidden wisdom about him.  Many people in today’s society would benefit from channeling their inner Baloo from time to time.

boys-meet-balooNOTE: The image of Baloo and Mowgli above is a photo I took at Disney’s Pop Century hotel in 2010, during the boys’ first trip to Disney World.  They also got to meet Baloo.

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Feeling Excluded

Posted by TechyDad on April 7, 2016 under Aspergers, Autism, Parenting

excludedNOTE: I wrote this post this past weekend with the event fresh in my mind.  I originally wasn’t sure if I was going to post this, but it felt good to get it all out.  After a few days, though, this still bugged me and I decided that I needed to publish this.  Hitting publish isn’t going to help my child, but it might get people thinking about how children with special needs can be excluded from events.  I’d also like to thank JSL for loaning me his rubber duck collection for a quick photo shoot (even if he was asleep when I borrowed them).


Today, my heart broke.

As many of you know, I was bullied as a kid.  (If you didn’t know this, read My Bullied History to catch up.  The rest of us will wait.  Done?  Ok.)  Anyway, due to bullying and Asperger’s (undiagnosed and definitely not known about when I was in school), I always felt like the outsider.  I longed to communicate with people, to have friends like the other kids had, and (once I was in high school) to maybe even have a girlfriend like many of my schoolmates had.  Unfortunately, I always felt like everyone was judging me.  Every word I said, I immediately wished I could rewind and delete from existence.  Friends?  I had one.  He was a great friend (still is), but I wanted a huge social network of friends.  Not a ton of acquaintances and one good friend.  As for the girlfriend front?  Not even close.  (Those embarrassing details I’ll save for another post – and trust me, they are incredibly, scar-you-for-life embarrassing!)

Anyway, when NHL was born, I knew many things I wanted to provide for him in life.  Love, food, shelter, an encyclopedic knowledge of Star Wars, a love of Looney Tunes.  You know, the essentials.  But there was one thing I didn’t want him to ever experience:  Bullying or feeling left out.  When we got his Asperger’s diagnosis, it broke my heart.  Not because we knew he had Asperger’s.  That was fantastic knowledge that turned helping him from "stumbling in the dark" to "action plan that would make Hannibal from the A-Team proud."  Instead, it was the actual report.  There were lines about kids rolling their eyes at NHL.  Girls moving their chairs away from him.  In short, kids were looking at him as if he were a pariah and an outsider.  NHL was blissfully unaware of all of this, but we knew it was only a matter of time before it struck him.

Today, my heart broke again.

We went to temple like we do on many Saturdays.  NHL is getting ready for his Bar Mitzvah and it’s important for him to be exposed to the whole Shabbat Service experience as much as possible.  Pulling in, I noticed a lot of cars in the driveway.  This is odd as our Temple isn’t usually packed.  Oh well, I figured there must me some event or celebration going on.  I even looked forward to it because these events usually mean a good Kiddush afterwards.  (For you non-Jews out there: After services, there’s a "Kiddush" where we all eat and socialize.  It’s a practically a contractual obligation in Judaism that any celebration needs to be accompanied by a metric ton of food.  And, yes, I’m shameless about motivating NHL to go to temple via promises of attending the Kiddush afterwards.)

As we walked in, we realized that it was a Bar Mitzvah.  Not only that, but it was the Bar Mitzvah of someone in his class.  Someone who hadn’t invited NHL to his Bar Mitzvah.

I didn’t feel weird walking in on this because Bar Mitzvahs are public affairs.  Yes, you invite family and friends, but anyone from the temple can attend the service and Kiddush afterwards.  So we would attend as "members of the Temple", not as "invited friends of the Bar Mitzvah boy."  No biggie.

As we sat down, I noticed a huge group of kids in the crowd.  Again, not a big warning sign.  It’s the boy’s Bar Mitzvah and many invite every friend they have from school.  I didn’t recognize most of the faces so I figured they were from his regular school.  We did notice some kids from his Hebrew school but it’s not a requirement that you invite EVERYONE.  We certainly hadn’t been planning on inviting every kid in NHL’s Hebrew School class to his Bar Mitzvah.  So we stayed until services were almost over.

That’s when it happened.

The rabbi invited all of the Bar Mitzvah boy’s friends and family up on the stage.  NHL started to rise, but I stopped him.  This was for the people invited to his Bar Mitzvah, I reminded him.  We weren’t invited to be there.  We were just there as temple members, not as his friends.  So NHL got the "wonderful" experience of seeing all these kids get up on the bimah (the stage/platform where the service is led from) while he was excluded.  Did I mention that there were a lot of kids?  It took a good three minutes for all of them to get to the stage and get up the stairs.  When it was all done, the Bar Mitzvah boy was surrounded by friends/family and NHL was alone.  (Yes, I was there but I know enough to know that your dad never counts in these mental equations.)

NHL excused himself to go to the bathroom.  There were only three prayers to go in the service, so I stayed while I let him go.  I couldn’t pray, though.  My insides were wracked with nerves.  Was he really that upset?  (A combination of NHL not being good at showing his true emotions and me not being good at – and doubting my ability at – reading emotions didn’t help.)  Should I race after him?  Should I stay here in case he comes back?  Will he be coming back?  I was paralyzed.

The second services ended, I raced out of the room.  Thankfully, I can be single-minded to the point of ignoring social protocols at times.  I didn’t get caught up in any hand-shaking or "how is your family doing" moments.  I just barreled out of there and headed right to the bathroom.  NHL wasn’t there.  My next guess was that he finished up and went right for where Kiddush would be held.  I went down the stairs, dodging people who had caught up to me after my brief check-the-bathroom side trip.  I was a man on a mission and nobody was going to stand in my way of making sure NHL was alright.

Sure enough, NHL was there already saving a table.  I asked him if he was alright and he assured me that he was.  He was upset only that I prevented him from immediately digging into the food that was laid out.  I felt that social protocol demanded that we at least wait for more people to arrive instead of just piling on food and stuffing our faces.  (Not to say that piling on food and stuffing faces didn’t happen, but it happened when more people were doing the same.)

NHL seems fine now, but again there’s that whole hiding his feelings thing.  He seems to have inherited a really bad habit I have.  He takes his most horrible feelings and covers it over with an "I’m fine" attitude.  He’s perfectly fine until that moment when the veneer crumbles and he lets everything spill that he’s been holding in.  And then he replaces the veneer and is "fine" again until the next crumbling.

I, on the other hand, am definitely not fine.  I’m not sure how I appear on the outside.  I probably seem fine.  Maybe a little quieter than normal, if you really pay attention.  Still, the sickening feeling is sitting right in the pit of my stomach.  I know this feeling well and can even predict how long it’ll be there for.  I’ve seen this kind of thing affect people who aren’t on the spectrum and they seem to get over it quickly.  A day later and it’s ancient history to them, or at least not something that they seem to obsess about internally for hours on end.  For me, though, I’ll be reliving every second of this event for the next three days, at least.  I’ll replay the scene hundreds of times, each time pausing it and criticizing my decisions.

"Now, see.  Right here?  Where you did A?  You should have done B!  How could you be so stupid as to have done A?  What were you even thinking, considering that A was an option?!!!  Sheesh, you’re such an idiot."

Yes, I will insult myself also.  I’ll let my internal critic rip my self-worth to shreds.  Ironically, I’ll self-exclude myself from social interactions because engaging in them means crawling out of my own head and this will seem about as easy as scaling Mt. Everest.

"Sure, I’d love to have a conversation with you.  Let me just get out some ropes and scale this sheer rock wall, first."

Eventually, I’ll get over it.  Where "get over it" means I’ll internalize it enough to not think about it and will "be ok" until the next event pushes me back into my self-criticizing hole.

The worst part?  The feeling that NHL is going through this too.  Maybe he’s perfectly ok.  Maybe he had his upset moment and moved on.  If so, I seriously envy him.  Or maybe he’s secretly ripping his self-confidence to shreds as well trying to think of what he could have done to have been a better friend so he’d have been invited.  Maybe he’s thinking back on every "wrong" action he’s ever taken (regardless of whether he was really wrong or not) and criticizing himself about it.  And, if he is doing this, then I have no clue on what to do to help him.  How do I help my son defeat a demon that I myself have yet to slay?  One that, right now is sitting on my shoulder telling me that I’ve failed as a father and obviously have never helped my son with anything ever.  (A complete lie, I know, but the demon is persistent and says it until I begin to believe it.)

How do I make him feel ok with being excluded when I still feel that pain of being left out?

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The Right Age For Social Media

Posted by TechyDad on March 25, 2016 under Parenting, Social Media

Social-Media-2-300pxRecently, I saw my sister, brother-in-law, and my nephews to celebrate my nephews’ birthdays. While there, we played around with a fun new app called MSQRD (as in "masquerade") that changes your face to look like someone – or something – else’s.

After taking a few photos of my nephew with it, he asked me to email him the photos. It turns out that both of my nephews have Gmail accounts. Although they primarily use these for school, it got me to thinking. NHL and JSL (who are around the same age as their cousins) didn’t have email addresses. I began to wonder whether it was time to introduce them to email? If so, then would the introduction to social media be far behind?

I’ve long compared the Internet to a city. There are some great places to visit, great sights to see, and a lot to learn. Unfortunately, there is also a lot that is inappropriate for children (at best) and harmful to children (at worst).

Recently, Microsoft released a chat bot named Tay onto Twitter. It would interact with people online and learn from them. A mere twenty four hours after it was released, though, the chat bot turned racist. It started making racist comments about Hitler and President Obama. Needless to say, Microsoft took it offline.

The chat bot was essentially the equivalent of a small child and it was released onto the electronic equivalent of a seedy bar. Was anyone surprised that it learned some less than appropriate phrases?

Then there’s the bullying factor to consider. When I was young, I was tormented by bullies and they didn’t have access to social media. Social media can be a positive experience . Unfortunately, the same power that lets people from far away connect based on similar interests, also gives bullies a global platform from which to terrorize.

All of this means that, while NHL might be a year away from qualifying to sign up for social networks, we’re not likely to allow him to sign up soon. Even when we do, there will be limits and supervision at first. We’ll be required to have the password to his social networks so we can monitor the conversations. If anything raises red flags with us, we can talk to him about it and help him decide the best course of action.

How are you handling your children and social media?

 

NOTE: The image above is "Social Media 2" by GDJ and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

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A Seder Filled With Pandemic, Lost Teeth, And No Internet

Posted by TechyDad on April 7, 2015 under Games, Geeky Pursuits, Holidays, Internet, Judaism, Parenting

Toothless_JSLFriday night was the first night of Passover.  As such, we had the first Seder.  It was nice and the boys enjoyed it.  They even stayed up until the very end – going to sleep at 12:30am!  (Their bed time is usually 8:30pm so this was quite the late night for them.)  The next day/night, though.  THAT’s when things got interesting.

As the second Seder neared, we decided to give the boys a snack.  After all, there’s a lot of stuff to get through in a Seder before we eat.  So, among other snacks, I cut up some apples for us to share.  Now, JSL had two very loose teeth for some time.  They were actually pointing outward a bit which was quite creepy to look at.  The first one came out after JSL bit into a slice of pizza at an Autism fair.  (I ran with him to the bathroom to extradite the tooth.)  As he bit into an apple slice, the second tooth began to bleed and got very wiggly.  As much as I shook it, though, it wouldn’t come out.  The bleeding stopped, though, so we made our way to the Seder.

Once we arrived, the boys and I played a few games with one of B’s relatives.  It turns out that he’s quite the gamer and brought along Pandemic.  He explained the game as he set up for the four of us. We didn’t get to play the whole game (as the Seder started), but what we did play was very different from other games I’ve played.   In other games, you are out for yourself (and, perhaps, a teammate) trying to beat the other players.  In Pandemic, all of the players are working together.  You don’t sabotage the people playing with you, but try to figure out ways to help them.  After all, you are all playing as medical professionals fighting a series of illnesses.  If you all lose, the illnesses spread out of control.  If you all win, the illnesses are eradicated.  I could definitely see playing this with B and the boys to help NHL understand how to work with people to achieve a goal.  I could also see this being used in an office environment as a team building exercise.  I’ve been eyeing the game ever since that night and it’s only a matter of time before I buy it.

The pre-meal portion of the Seder passed without anything unusual happening.  Which is saying something considering that B’s family’s Seder routinely involves people being whipped with scallions, her uncle talking like one of her aunts, and another relative of hers read her passage with liberal use of the Hebrew word shadayim (breasts).  (It’s quite a fun Seder.)  As we began eating the meal, JSL eagerly started eating the matzo ball in his soup… and then screamed out.  His tooth was bleeding again.  I was prepared and took him away from the table where this time the tooth came out.  I wrapped it up, helped him with his bleeding mouth, and comforted him (it was late already and a bit traumatic).

After dessert, the Seder started back up, but we had to leave.  It was already past midnight.  We got home and despite my suggestions, JSL insisted on writing a note to the Tooth Fairy that night.

We also discovered something else:  We had no Internet.  None at all.  It had been getting a bit flaky over the past month.  Honestly, we wondered whether this was intentional due to our cutting cable, but the person on the phone insisted (after trying many things) that it looked like a bad Ethernet port in our cable modem.  Since we own our own modem and don’t rent it from the cable company, we had to buy a new one.  (We figured out that – given how much this one cost us and how long it lasted – we paid about $2.80 a month for it.  So it was a very good deal.)   On Sunday, we decided to shop for modems.

Except there was one problem.

It was Easter Sunday.

Stores are closed on Easter Sunday.

In the end, we found a store that was open, had the cable modem we needed, and at a decent price as well.  We brought it home, got it set up, and… still nothing.  Another call to our cable company and some tests later and we still had no Internet.  Just when I thought we’d need to wait a few days until they could send a technician over, the guy on the phone said he’d try sending a refresh signal to our modem.  Sure enough, that did it.  Which leads me to wonder whether that was the problem all along and whether our old modem is still good.  (We might give it to B’s parents to try since they need to stop renting a modem.)  Either way, we have Internet again and it seems pretty reliable so far.

And that was our eventful Seder.  Instead of "Next Year In Jerusalem", perhaps I should close my Seders with "Next Year… a bit more boring please."

Was your holiday weekend eventful?

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