5 More k, Every Day

On Saturday I ran in another organized 5k.* This one was a fundraiser for a great organization, Ability Connection. It's an awesome organization. Simply put, they drive community acceptance, support, and inclusion of children and adults with special needs. A little more wordy: they help people with disabilities live as independently as possible at home, or within a community. They provide transportation, manage group homes, and support companion living. They offer vocational training, academic training, health and fitness programs, and independent living skills training. There's a lot more, but maybe I'll write more about Ability Connection later; today I planned to talk about a runner.

This particular race was an "out and back." Just like it sounds, you run half the distance in one direction, then turn around and return along the same path. I loved the format -- you get to see all the other runners face to face at some point, and people would smile, wave, and be very supportive of each other, whether they were front of the pack or back.

5K Number.jpg

One woman in particular stood out to me. I think she was close to my age, and she had a late-teen or young adult man (I assume her son) in a racing wheelchair; it looked like a very large jogging stroller.** This woman pushed her son the entire 5,000 meters -- up hills, through mud and standing water, across the crappy, temporary trail where the nice pavement was under repair, everywhere. I saw a lot of them because despite her extra burden, she was ahead of me most of the way.***

I can't think of a better visual example of what it's like to be the parent of someone with special needs. Sometimes the tasks are enormous -- surgery, fighting for a place in a school system, trying to find the money needed for your child to live comfortably. Many days it's more mundane -- repeating an OT or PT routine for the thousandth time, for example, or washing the sheets for the fifth time this week, or feeding the child who can't physically feed him- or herself.

Whatever the situation is, every day is another 5k, and you don't have the option to stop running, pushing, and carrying.

It's exhausting. But like I said, you can't just stop. One thing you can count on for most significant disabilities is that there's no magic bullet -- there's no day coming that your child doesn't have Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, Turner syndrome, muscular dystrophy. You won't hear the doctor say, "He's cured; you can stop running now." But you can get support from other people and get a breather every once in a while.

Thanks for a great event, Ability Connection, and thanks for everything you do to help people keep running.

* I'm going to keep running in these until I'm able to pin my number to my shirt in less than fifteen minutes. The difficulty I have in pinning that thing on without bunching up the fabric or displaying the number at a 45 degree angle is ridiculous.

** I'm not posting a picture because I didn't get to meet this family and haven't asked their permission. Just picture their awesomeness in your head.

*** Yeah. I'm not a fast runner.

Off the Beaten Path

During our adventure trip this summer, MD and I really chose our route on a whim more than any previous year. The only destination we had locked in from the start was Denver; we made plans to visit a friend there for a couple of days, but beyond that...we just knew we had to be back before the school year started.*

Hence, we wandered our way through New Mexico, up to Denver, across Colorado to Utah, through about fifty thousand miles of national park land, into Las Vegas, down to Arizona, and eventually back into New Mexico and Texas. We did some hiking, a lot of sight seeing, went fishing, checked out a few historical markers, and watched Cirque du Soleil.**

We changed the route on the fly pretty regularly, and one of our favorite diversions was the trip back into New Mexico. We were heading east on I-40, and at the last minute we decided to divert south, along the Arizona/New Mexico border, then cut into New Mexico on old Highway 60.

First fun thing we stumbled upon: Red Hill! It's a ghost town, the site of a gold rush (that turned out to be a total gold bust) in the 1800s. This is a remote place -- up in the mountains, lush forest where the volcanic field has enriched the soil. Remote enough that the cows come sprinting over as you drive by, probably hoping you'll stop and talk for a few minutes.

After we passed through the Cibola National Forest (and a wickedly cool lightning storm) we emerged in a high plateau. We saw something odd on the horizon -- in fact, we saw 27 odd somethings. 


Turns out we'd stumbled into the Very Large Array. Coincidentally, the VLA has been on our list of "stuff we'd like to visit"*** for a couple of years. In case your interferometers, each antenna in the Very Large Array is 75 feet tall, and they're mounted on railroad tracks; the antennae can be moved around to the best configuration for the time of year, direction of target, and whether you're listening to Klingon or Vulcan.

We got some great gawking in before moving on to Magdalena. We were thinking about diverting from there to Kelly****, but realized that we'd have to keep moving if we wanted to make Ruidoso by dark. 

But we got to see the Very Large Array, on a totally unplanned side route. That might be the best thing about having kids -- we've got all manner of plans and ideas of where we'd like to end up, but when we make it a point to take the foot off the accelerator and enjoy the side roads, we stumble upon all sorts of awesome things.

* Turns out if your kid doesn't show up for school, the school system notifies various government agencies that you're a bad parent. Who'd'a thunk it?

** I feel slightly guilty about munching on popcorn and drinking a Coke while people with the finest physiques in the world do unbelievable physical feats for my entertainment, but hey, I paid for my ticket.

*** The "stuff we'd like to visit" list is in our family OneNote, right before "correct temperatures for each 3D printer filament" and just after "planting times for tubers."

*** Yeah, we stop at a lot of ghost towns. We're also suckers for historical markers, Mystery Spots, drive-in movie theaters, and any billboard that claims we won't believe our eyes.

Single Parenting 101 (For Dads Only)

On Tuesday my wife flew to Michigan to visit her mother.  For reference, today is Friday, and she's not coming back until Sunday night.  That leaves me alone with 9- and 14-year old daughters for nearly a week.  I'm enjoying the time greatly, in no small part because everyone I run into offers tremendous sympathy around how difficult this must be, despite the fact that it's really not difficult at all. 

The most logical conclusion is that I'm a natural genius at raising children.*  Hence, I've decided to share my amazing parenting insights and technique with the rest of the world, free of charge.  You're welcome.

Keep in mind that we're talking about tactical parenting here.  Day to day, for a week, while your spouse is gone.  Strategic parenting is an entirely different topic.**

Here's the crash course in just a few easy steps:

  1. Set an alarm for an hour before the kids have to be at school.  If they're alive at this point, your job is 90% done.
  2. Make breakfast for the non-angsty younger kid who still actually eats.  She likes cold, leftover hamburger for breakfast?  Don't waste her time by trying to talk her into oatmeal.  Give her the burger.  It's got enough calories to get her to lunch.
  3. Drop the kids off at school. 
  4. It's Miller Time.
  5. Set another alarm to get to the school before the kids are released.  This is important.  To a teacher, the worst dad in the world is the one who's late to picking up his kid from school.  They will rat you out to your wife.  I knew a guy who was late picking the kids up once.  He died a death that made Stephen King cringe.
  6. Go to the drive-through car wash.  It's like a ride at Six Flags but much cheaper.
  7. Get out the chainsaw and cut up the tree trimmings you've been meaning to handle for eight weeks.  Have the 9-year old wear safety goggles and hold the bundling twine. 
  8. Make everyone help in dinner preparation.***  That's quality time.
  9. Since everyone just interacted while making dinner, it's okay to watch Phineas & Ferb while actually eating it.
  10. Bedtime routine.  You can do this in half the time your wife does****, and you'll have to, since you let the kids watch an extra episode of P&F while you caught up on Reddit.
  11. Call your wife after they're in bed.  Explain that they were worn out after your big day together and just fell right asleep.
  12. Miller Time, Part II.

And that's it.  Your personal twelve-step program for managing the kids on your own.  Now, I'm pretty sure there's some Stanley Cup Playoff action to be watched.

* Occam's Razor, baby!

** But still really damned simple.  When planning how to raise your kids, prioritize development of the skills and knowledge needed to a) further your empire, b) avenge your untimely death or c) both.  Wham.  Job done.

*** Unless it's Day Three, when it's okay to go out to Red Robin.  You have to make dinner at home on Day One to show that you're not some deadbeat who can't "cook healthy" for his kids, and you have to do it again on Day Two to prove that Day One wasn't a fluke.  But Day Two can be breakfast-for-dinner.

**** I'll explain this more in my Amazon Kindle pamphlet, "How To Get The Kids In Bed In No Time Despite Your Wife's Insistence That It Can't Possibly Happen In Less Than Ninety Minutes."  Remember, Amazon will require proof of a Y chromosome before you purchase this item.

Technological Warfare

Tonight I'm teaching a class at The Maker Spot -- Minecraft for Parents.*  It's designed for folks who are wondering why their kids are glued to a game with graphics that were outdated before Emma Watson was born and Queen became popular for the second time.  I'm covering game basics, including a hands-on introduction to game controls, the various modes of play, and the ins and outs of servers and hosting.  That last topic will segue into a general discussion of Internet safety, which I suspect will be of even more interest than Minecraft itself. 

You can download a copy of the handout if you'd like.  It focuses entirely on the Minecraft portion of the class, but for my blog topic today I thought I'd expand on Internet safety and parenting. 

For a typically developing child parenting is pretty simple.  Simply tailor all your activities toward developing skills enabling your child to either advance your empire or avenge your untimely death.  If your kid grows up able to handle these tasks, you win.

Seriously, other parents ask me pretty frequently to give them a list of apps that they should block on their kids' phones, tablets, and laptops.**  That's the strategy of choice: just tell me what programs could be bad for my child.  My response is always the same: if you think you're going to outsmart your kids technologically, you've already lost.

My first computer was a TI-99/4A.  (I actually got to use a Timex Sinclair 1000 at school; feel free to share your reminiscence about ancient tech in the comments.)  My parents knew nothing about personal computers -- my mom was just happy I was doing something other than playing Dungeons and Dragons for a change.  By junior high I was programming in TurboPascal and FORTAN, and playing TradeWars 2000 on the local BBS system.  Shazam.  Me and my 300 baud modem had already outpaced my parents on the tech front.

That's right.  400 words in that speech synthesizer's vocabulary!

That's right.  400 words in that speech synthesizer's vocabulary!

Here's an interesting key to understanding expectations of technological proficiency back then: many high schools were just starting to require that one take typing, as typing "is rapidly becoming a fundamental skill in the workforce."***

Fast forward about thirty years.  Typing as a technology skill?  Please.  Young people are so immersed in technology that they're practically coding JavaScript at birth.  My nine year old (who, keep in mind, is developmentally challenged) has mastered the four-remote setup for the entertainment center, can navigate Netflix versus her DVDs like a champ, and browses the iPad app store to find anything having to do with Zootopia, dinosaurs, or National Geographic specials.  Meanwhile, I know plenty of adults who can't figure out how to connect their laptop to the network printer, or refer to their mouse as a "clicker."****

Here's my theory.  You can refer to it as Usual's Axiom if you like.  The ability to stay knowledgeable on current technology is inversely proportionate to a person's age and the loss of pace increases geometrically as a person ages. 

Supporting evidence is all around you. (That's why it's an axiom and not a postulate, you know.)  People tend to find what works and stick with it.  Even those who enjoy exploring new technologies tend to eventually specialize.  Meanwhile, technology itself gets broader and more complex in its relationships.  My former colleagues probably remember when "solution support" became a concept at Microsoft as opposed to silos like database, platform, and networking. 

The same thing is true on your kids' phone.  There are more apps available than you can possibly keep up with, and the rate at which more come out increases constantly.  And even if you are diligent about keeping up with them, your kid is better at it.  The younger a person is, the more he or she has been immersed in tech and the better she is at dealing with it reflexively.

The solution to this potential technology problem is decidedly non-tech.  Call it ethics, morals, values -- the label doesn't matter.  It all amounts to the same thing.  You can't possibly take away every avenue for bad behavior, so you have to teach your child to act in the way you consider appropriate.  Two years ago a young woman in our middle school sent rated R photos of herself to a couple of boys via SnapChat.  A flurry of SnapChat banning descended upon my daughter's friends.  Problem is, many parents weren't aware of Vine, Instagram, Facebook and about a thousand other photo sharing apps, not to mention texting and email. 

M.D. and I had a long talk about both the local photo incident and stories we'd read of people posting inappropriate comments in public venues.  We talked about the immediate potential for embarrassment.  We talked a lot about the potential for future repercussions and the permanence of whatever you choose to share online -- what if that comment or photo surfaces later when you're applying for a job, interviewing for a scholarship, or running for an office?  What message is that going to convey to someone who's evaluating your judgement, maturity, and character? 

I hope the value conversation is enough for my kids.  I worked for the largest software company in the world longer than my older daughter has been alive, yet I know it won't be long before she's blown past me in tech knowledge.  Character is the constant that ultimately determines the impact of the tools at one's disposal, and it's one of the most useful legacies you can pass on to your kids. 

* Good seats are still available.

** It's because I worked at Microsoft.  Everyone at Microsoft knows everything about technology, you know.  Just like growing up in Michigan means I'm personally acquainted with everyone else from north of Ohio.

*** Straight out of my high school course catalog.  Typing was a great alternative to shop.

**** Sorry Mom!