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Too Much Blue Sky



The views of a rabble-rouser and former stay-at-home dad on protests, politics, parenthood, groupthink, and music.



Updated: 2017-11-14T07:20:06.704-08:00

 



Short Stories

2017-09-02T16:59:16.075-07:00

When he was little, I would read bedtime stories to Oliver. It was board books. Olivier Dunrea's sweet Gossie and Friends books. We're Going on a Bear Hunt. There was one called Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball that I loved reading to him.

He got older, and graduated to longer books. Picture books. When You Give a Mouse a Cookie, stories like that. Or Winnie the Pooh stories. Anything by Mo Willems.

A couple of years ago, we made the transition to Harry Potter. We'd read eight to ten pages every night. We started at the first one and read all the way through the final one, which we finished last year.

That was fun. Because I don't read a lot of the books he reads. He loves Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, but I haven't read those. I read one or two of the Percy Jackson books, but that was it. This way, I got to read what he was reading.

While we were reading Harry Potter, I was discovering them along with him. I was learning the plot twists with him. The horror of Delores Umbridge, the dark secrets of Severus Snape, the nobility of characters like Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom. I got to share that experience with him.

After we ran out of Harry Potter books, we've been trying to find something else to fit the gap. He loves Randall Munroe's What If? book, as well as the accompanying blog, so we read out of that sometimes. They're not stories exactly, but he loves the different scenarios.

Lately, I've been introducing him to short stories.

I started with Neil Gaiman's short stories. I have two of his collections - Trigger Warning and Smoke & Mirrors. I've been reading the stories that I knew were safe for him. Some of them were right on the edge of comfortable for a 12-year-old. (I hesitated for a while before I read him "When We Went to See the End of the World by Dawnie Morningside, Age 11 1/4." There's a scene of the girl's father striking his mother, and that worried me. He wasn't bothered by it.)

I branched out from there. I found Kelly Link stories and Aimee Bender stories. I read him "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse" by Susanna Clarke. I went digging for old stories that I remembered, stories like "Repent Harlequin! Cried the Ticktockman" by Harlan Ellison.

Fireside Fiction has been a revelation - they have an incredible deep catalog of great fantasy and science fiction stories. I need to kick some money into their Patreon.

Yesterday I went searching for James Thurber's fables. We used to have a book - The Thurber Carnival - that had several of those stories, and I loved the wicked little things. He loved them too.

There are some classic stories that he's just not ready for. "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson? Forget it. I read him "The Monkey's Paw" the other day and he almost couldn't get to sleep, he was so spooked.

Every time I introduce him to a new story that he loved, it's a victory. Opening his mind to magical realism, weird fiction, is a joy. I'm constantly digging for new stories, new sources. This is one of those things that I dreamed about as a parent - introducing him to the stories and the writers that made me fall in love with fiction.





Catching Up

2017-03-18T12:46:21.083-07:00

I saw someone online say that she had finally achieved something that she never thought was going to be possible.She signed up for automatic bill pay for her utilities.That's it. Go ahead and look at that for a minute. I'm guessing you had a couple of responses:Either -You said, "Oh, sure, everybody should do that, it's so convenient." (As in, this is not a big deal.)Or you said, "Oh my god, that's amazing."My response was the second one. Because signing up for automatic bill pay presumes that when a bill comes in, you are CERTAIN that you will have enough money in your account to pay it.I'm in my late forties and I don't even know if I have ever been in that position in my life.I settled my divorce late last year. I'm digging out from some debt from that. I've got bills that I've been trying to pay down for years. I'm paying off student loans from 1992. Debt is something that I have carried with me for years and years and years. Forever. Since college.The idea that someday, I will be in a position that I can pay a bill as soon as it comes in is like a fantasy. Autopay? That's wild. A wild crazy fantasy.Except maybe I can actually do that now. Here's what happened. I got a new job last year. My pay jumped significantly. Suddenly, I've got some discretionary income instead of constantly chasing bills from one month to another.I actually have money left over after I pay my bills. This is wild.And I'll admit that I bought some furniture and bought some frivolous things. (Yeah, like book cases are wild crazy extravagances. But anyway.) We went out for dinner a few times.But my real fantasy was, hey, maybe I can finally get caught up on my bills!It felt briefly like things were crashing down this month. I'm just getting on top of overdue utility bills, and it feels like I'm dealing with a serious cash crunch right now. It's scary, every time this happens, because I panic about whether some major bill is going to come up that I won't be able to cover. Like, the rent. Or the electricity.So what you do, when you don't have enough money to pay the bills, is you pay a little at a time and you hope someday you're going to have enough money to catch up. Like, if I just pay the past due now, someday I can be in a position to pay the light bill before it becomes past due. You have this illusion that someday, something good will happen and suddenly, you'll be caught up. (Sometimes, this is people fantasizing about winning the lottery. it's about that realistic.)But now, I'm now making enough money that I can see that happening. I can get caught up. It's actually within the realm of possibility.So this month was the month that I was going to get on top of everything. And then I got hit with a $1000 car repair bill.So fine. Dammit. I have no credit cards available for emergencies (when you live paycheck to paycheck, your credit cards are always maxed out.) So I used the $1000 I was going to use to pay down the bills this month, and pay for my car instead.So next month, I'll get caught up.It all gets overwhelming so easily, especially when my anxiety kicks in. So I'm trying to take it all in steps.This month, I got caught up on the light bill.Next month, I get caught up on the utility bill.The month after that, I start paying those collection notices. (I don't pay them off. I just start payments.)Getting out of debt is a process. I'm not there yet. Nobody goes from "deep in debt" to "completely caught up" overnight. Sometimes I have to remember that. I'm going to have occasional times when the bills all hit at once and I panic. But I think those times are going to become much more rare.And maybe, sometime by the fall, I will be completely on top of my regular bills. And I can take one bill - the cable bill, maybe - and put it on autopay.I'm getting caught up. It doesn't feel like that sometimes, but I am getting caught up.[...]



Now We Fight

2016-11-09T12:44:17.826-08:00

This was never supposed to be close.I expected Hillary Clinton to win handily yesterday. I believed the polls. I believed the maps that said she had several paths to victory, and that Trump had to have a perfect night to win.So I’m a victim of my own expectations, like many people. We never expected this to happen.Too many people ignored the heinous nature of Trump and voted for him as “the Republican candidate.” They ignored the groping video and the religious bans and the crypto-fascist talk and the warmongering and everything else. They decided they wanted change, and so they supported him.This man threatened to sue women who accused him of sexual assault. Millions of people still voted for him. He told protestors in his rallies that they deserved to be beaten up, and that he would pay the lawyer's fees if his people beat up the protestors. Millions of people still voted for him. I hate this. I hate that so many people were willing to mark the box for a racist sexist xenophobic pig for president. I hate it.And let’s be real. So many people could not accept Hillary Clinton as a candidate. Many of them couldn’t support her because of who she was. And many of them, let’s be honest, couldn’t support a woman as president.When they say “I could support a woman candidate, just not that woman,” they’re saying that the only woman they will support is a perfect candidate who matches their ideals in every way. That person doesn’t exist. My father has had an American flag in his window for years. He took it down last night. He says he can no longer be proud of this country. It breaks my heart, but I can’t blame him. His heart was broken last night. Our hearts were collectively broken last night. The media kept portraying Trump and Clinton as equally flawed. “So Trump has declared bankruptcy a bunch of times, and groped women, and maybe raped a child, and is on trial for fraud. Hillary had that email thing!” They are both flawed, but these two levels of flawed are not equal. That’s like saying a paper airplane and a Boeing Dreamliner are equal because both can fly in the air. And then you’ve got the third party people. The “oh, no, they’re both so corrupt, I can’t support either of them” people. The holier-than-thou voters. They’re no better than the people who said “I could support a woman, but just not that woman.” So they supported Jill Stein or Gary Clueless Johnson. Look at the vote totals in Florida and Ohio and the other states where Trump won. What would have happened if Gary Johnson had said, like his vice-presidential pick William Weld, “vote for Hillary Clinton because our first priority is stopping Trump?” Maybe it would have made a difference. Maybe. “They’re both equally flawed” is what I heard in 2000 when Bush and Gore were running. I almost fell for it. And then we got George W., and then we got 9/11 and the Iraq war and the war on terror and the PATRIOT Act and the recession. I don’t accept that both parties are the same. I refuse to accept it. So, because too many people decided they would take a chance on a loose cannon, the country gets a monster for president. And a Republican House and Senate. He can’t do everything he promised to do, but he can do a hell of a lot of damage. For immigrants. For low-income people who need health insurance. For women. For minorities. He can do a lot of damage in that office, and now he has the keys. So we fight. If Hillary had won, we would have had to fight to push her to the left. Now we’re faced with Donald Trump as our next president. The challenge is clear. We live in a country with deep racism, deep sexism, deep suspicion of immigrants. We need to work to heal that wound.We need to fight, every day, to protect the most vulnerable people in our society. We cannot give up and hang our heads. Now we need to stand and fight. [...]



Halloween

2016-10-31T23:03:26.095-07:00

Happy Halloween from the West Coast. 

My son went trick-or-treating on Sunday - a lot of the local businesses host their own candy-gathering festivities. Two things happened that reminded me how very lucky I am. First: my kiddo goes up to a bucket of candy that a local business left in front of their closed door. There are two pixy-stick type things in the bucket. Another kid walks up at the same time. My son picks up one of the sticks, and hands the kid the other one. He explains to me simply: "This one was bent."

He kept the bent one, and gave the other kid the undamaged one. 

I don't coach him on these things. He just decides on his own to do the kindest thing. He is a kind kid at heart. It makes me so happy to see this in action.

Second: he got two fortune cookies from a Chinese restaurant during the trick-or-treating, and gave me one. (See: kind kid.) This is what the fortune said. 


(image)
"A beautiful, smart and loving person will be coming into your life."

I thought immediately of my partner of nearly three years, this wonderful, intelligent, beautiful woman who is helping me raise my son and her daughters. This amazing, warm-hearted, ferociously smart, wickedly funny person who came into my life like a gift from the universe. 

I sent her a picture of the fortune and said, "it came true already!"


Life is good right now. As much as I complain about the day-to-day - the petty nuisances of work, bills, politics - life is good right now. 



Writing for My Audience

2016-07-06T07:40:37.914-07:00

I'm writing a book.I'm writing an actual honest-to-god book. I started playing around with a book idea a few years ago, during NaNoWriMo, and got about thirty pages into it. And then my life got complicated, and I couldn't find the hour every night to sit with my characters and write. So the book got tucked away in the virtual file cabinet of my Google drive.And then, a few months ago, I told my son, "so I'm working on this book.""You are??"And I told him what it was about, and he was very interested. It's sort of a kid's book, although there are parts of it that are weighty and complicated, so it's a complex sort of kid's book. Anyway, I read him a few pages. We still do bedtime reading every night, and that night, I read him a bit of my book. He loved it. So I read him some more of the short mini-chapters I had written. He ate it up. So, what the heck, I started working on finishing a scene that I had been playing with. Read that to him. He giggled at the right spots, and at the exciting parts, I could hear his breath growing shallow. Then I came home from work one day, and he said "dad, did you write any more of your book?""No," I said, and I could just tell how disappointed he was. Not in me. He just wanted more of the story. So I wrote another five pages the next day, at work, during my lunch break. I brought in my personal computer, and wrote a blue streak. My colleagues kept asking me what I was doing, and I kept ignoring them. (I'm probably getting a reputation at work.)I'm writing a book. I have over sixty pages done now. So it's not just a little hobby. It's getting to the point where it's developing a structure, and the characters are starting to breathe and to inhabit my dreams.I bit the bullet and downloaded Scrivener, so I could properly manage this thing as a real book.I walk down the street now and think about scenes. I imagine how my main character would react to different situations. I take pictures of buildings and imagine the scenes I could place in them. I'm reading a wonderful book right now, called All the Birds in the Sky. I started thinking about this miraculous work of fiction that Charlie Jane Anders breathed into existence, that I was holding in my hand, and then realized that my book could be that. That the chapters I'm writing could be chapters in a published book. My prologue could be a prologue in a bound volume. I don't know how to describe the feeling. But for the first time, I realized that the book I had in my head could actually become a book that people purchased and read and gave to their friends for birthdays. My book is becoming real. This could happen. My son just finished fifth grade, and they did a little writing project at the end of the year where they asked them questions: what they learned, what their favorite part of the year was, who their favorite author was, questions like that. When it came to the question about his favorite author, my son wrote my name. I was his favorite author.My son listed me as his favorite author.Tears are in my eyes right now. I studied creative writing over twenty years ago, and I'm finally writing for the first time since I graduated. And my son is reading it, and encouraging me, and he's suggesting scenes and characters to me. My son is helping me breathe this book into life. I'm writing this book now for him. It might get published someday, and I'll be delighted if and when that happens. But right now, this is his book. I'm writing it because he is my audience, and he is the greatest audience I ever could have imagined.[...]



I Wonder

2016-05-17T21:53:15.732-07:00

Note: full-size version of the above map is here: http://www.emersonkent.com/images/mexico_1824.jpg We were driving to church one Sunday, and we were talking about Mexico. My son has been thinking a lot about Trump and his goddamn stupid wall idea (I've talked to him a little about the man, but he's also seen Trump's name online a few times). And I mentioned how Mexico used to be a much larger country - all the way up to the southern edge of Oregon."But that all changed after the Mexican-American War. And that's a whole different story."Time was, he would have just moved onto another subject. But this time he turned back to me and asked this:"I wonder what that story is."He was curious.So I told him some of the story. Not all, but some. I told him about how Texans pretended to be happy immigrants to Mexico, just hanging out, enjoying the land, until there were enough to make a scene. And how the Texans declared their rights weren't being honored. And then the American army interceded, and then the war, and then the claiming of California and Arizona and New Mexico as the spoils of war.He listened intently. He didn't say much. He asked a couple of questions, but mostly he soaked it in like a sponge soaks in water.He's turning eleven soon. He's right on the cusp of middle school, right in that awkward sweet spot of tweenhood - not a child anymore, but not yet a teenager. He's changing. And one of the ways he's changing is the conversations we have.His mind is expanding, and his curiosity is growing along with it. He's been so interested in so much lately. I find myself having the most unexpected conversations with him.He's interested in Hillary Clinton becoming the first woman president, and he thinks it's odd that we've never had one before. " I wonder why that's never happened before." So I explained to him how it wasn't until recently, relatively speaking, that this country would even accept a female CEO or take a woman politician recently. "Remember, Obama is the first black president," I told him. "that means that after two hundred and thirty something years, our country finally was able to accept that a black man could be the leader. We finally evolved to that point. We might be ready as a country to accept a woman president. We might have finally evolved to that point."Slavery. That whole concept perplexes him. A few years ago, he would have kept it simple. When he was little, he would have said something about the lessons on Martin Luther King Day, how black and white people should be treated the same. But he keeps turning over the question in his head, and he asks me sometimes. "I wonder how people were so dumb that they treated people as slaves."I've approached it a few ways. I've talked to him about how people (white European people) didn't see black people as human. I've talked to him about the economic benefits of slavery, how the South became an economic force on the backs of slave labor.I've talked to him about the similarities between how slaves were treated then, and the way Trump and his ilk talk about immigrants now. The dehumanization. The casual acceptance of treating some other group as less-than. He listens and thinks and listens some more.This is my son now. He asks questions. He wants to know more. I can have these deep conversations with him now because he is so obviously interested. He's trying to make sense of the world, of politics, of hatred, of othering. He wants to know the real story.I'm going to be honest. I love having these conversations with him. I love that he's curious. I love that I can have deeper, more complex discussions with him now. But at the same time, history is messy and heart-breaking, and I know this because he struggles sometimes with it. He is troubled - as he should be - by the sometimes dark, sometimes barbaric, sometimes horrific history of our country.We were standing on the beach last weekend, talking about slavery (as you do)[...]



Maybe I'll Just Take a Nap

2016-05-08T19:10:48.102-07:00

You don't know what you're doing.

You're going to screw this up. 

You're going to fail.

There's no way you're going to get this right.

Anxiety is fun, because these are the things that go through my head when I'm planning dinner sometimes.

Anxiety is not like a voice in your head, whispering gently. It's a voice shouting inside your head, and the voice echoes off your skull and reverbs, and it screams all of the thoughts you don't want to think.

I was literally planning dinner tonight and I almost broke down in tears because I was convinced

  • I didn't know how to cook anything
  • I was going to burn whatever we ate
  • I didn't know the right things to cook to make my partner happy
  • I was going to disappoint her 
  • I was going to disappoint her kids
  • I used to be good at cooking, but now I'm lazy and she's going to resent how lazy I am.

Anxiety is hard to explain to someone who doesn't experience it. It's not just feeling nervous about tough decisions. It's feeling nervous about small, inconsequential things. What kind of coffee should I get? Is this a good shirt for work? Which tv show should we watch before we go to bed?

My breathing gets shallow. I find it hard to think. I can't respond to questions because of the swirl of emotions running through my head. My heart begins racing. I can feel it racing, right now, just writing about this.

Sometimes, I just think I'll take a nap and when I wake up, everything will be better. Or, different, anyway. Sleep is a coping mechanism. (Sadly, it's not an option at work. Usually.)

I take medication that makes it possible to get through the day. I take Wellbutrin. Before that, I took Zoloft. Before I did, I had panic attacks that would cause me to stare at my phone for hours, sweating bullets, knowing that I had to make phone calls and being terrified that I was going to screw them up. So I did nothing. I sat, paralyzed, overwhelmed.

Happy ending: I did make dinner, my partner was happy, the kids ate, the end. All is well. I got through it.



Failing.

2016-03-21T23:34:33.221-07:00

Doubt is a pernicious thing. It sneaks in, like a virus, and works its damage before you even realize what is happening.

Someone said something. It made me feel like I was failing. I don't like feeling that way.

I'm doing good work. Very good work, in fact. When someone sees my good work and tells me it's poor, it makes me doubt myself.

At first, I was angry. I felt hostile, combative. "Why would you question me? Why can't they see how hard I'm working?"

But the doubt seeps in. Maybe I'm not good enough. Maybe I really don't know what I'm doing. Maybe I'm turning in mediocre work and I don't even realize it's not good.

Maybe I'm failing, and I don't even know it.

I've written about this before. I was fired twice from jobs, good jobs. Both times, it was because I was 1) over my head and 2) suffering undiagnosed anxiety and panic attacks.

When you get fired from a job, it leaves a scar. Sure, you can get other jobs. But that scar never completely heals. You always have that voice in the back of your head. "Is it going to happen again? Am I doing enough? Am I safe?"

And when you start seeing the signs, you panic. Especially when it feels like your fate is out of your control. Like there's nothing you can do to stop the disaster that you see looming.

And sometimes, it's just arbitrary. I got fired once, a long time ago, because I worked at a machine shop and they had to cut costs. I was a cost cutting measure. Doesn't matter. I still felt like a failure.

I hate that feeling.

I hate doubt. Doubt in one thing - especially work, where so much of my self-confidence is embedded - leaks into all aspects of my life. It cascades. Pretty soon, I'm doubting everything I do. Maybe everything is a failure.

There are things in my life where I know, unquestioningly, that I am not failing.

I am not failing as a partner. I have the great good fortune to be in love with an amazing, brilliant, passionate woman who loves me with her whole heart. I am not failing her.  I believe that I am doing everything I can to make our relationship successful.

I am not failing as a father. I believe that I'm doing everything I can for my son. I believe that, whatever is happening from day to day with him and with me, I'm doing the right things to turn him into a successful man. I believe that.

So maybe my boss will get some stupid idea in her head that I'm not cutting the mustard. That doesn't mean I'm failing. I won't fall into that spiral of doubt and shame and self-loathing again.

I am not failing. Just because someone else can't see my worth, that doesn't mean that I'm failing.

I can get another job.

I can move on and find other options.

I will survive if challenges arise. I will survive it. I can move through the challenging times and come out better on the other side. I will not let the doubt eat me alive.



Milestones

2016-03-13T22:13:08.410-07:00

I remember when he was a baby and I wrote about him all the time. He was evolving so quickly, and I wanted to capture every moment of it. Also, I was with him all the time - every moment of the day, seemingly. And I was there, with him. Not like now, when he'll be in his room watching Minecraft videos on his tablet, and I'll be in my room, reading Twitter on my computer.

When he was a baby, I was there with him. Holding him, feeding him, changing him, putting him down for naps. Watching the expressions on his face change. Watching, as he learned how to use his hands. Watching, as he built up the strength to stand on his feet. Watching him, and watching the slow and ridiculously fast changes happened to his little body.

He's older now. The changes happen slower, but are no less dramatic. And I forget to record them. And sometimes, the moments that happen are more complicated to document than simply saying "he walked for the first time!" 

This year, my son is in student government. My shy, reticent kid who had trouble making friends and often was too nervous to ask his teacher if he needed help, is in student government. And he's excited about it.

He went to his first dances this year. I mean, let's be honest, elementary school dances are not much more than playing music in a room and watching what happens. Some kids dance excitedly, some run around the room like goofballs, some - like my son - stand on the outskirts and try not to look interested. But he's interested. Next year, by this time, I expect he'll actually want to dance and not just stand on the sidelines.

He's getting more independent, and I'm taking advantage of that at home. He has chores - he gets to unload the dishwasher and put his clothes away in his dresser. He helps with meals. He actually made one meal last week, with some guidance.

He's turning eleven in a couple of months. I'm seeing that there's a corner we're turning. He's no longer a little boy where I have to pick his clothes out, where I have to worry that he won't eat what we're having for dinner, where I always knew what he was thinking and what he liked and waht he didn't.

But he's not a completely independent young man yet, either. He still snuggles, when he can, with me. He still lets me read Harry Potter to him before he goes to bed at night. He still struggles with homework and tells me to cut the crusts off his sandwiches.

He's changing, though. Every week, he's evolving more and more. He's becoming an interesting, witty, creative, fascinating young man. I love watching this happen, watching this little boy grow up.



My Autistic Kid

2016-01-30T12:58:36.855-08:00

I forget to blog here sometimes. When my son was little, I would blog all the time, because he seemed to be changing every week. And it was all fascinating. What he ate was interesting, the way he learned to walk and move and communicate was fascinating. I do less of that now.It's not that he's no longer interesting. It's just that, well, he's older. Change happens more slowly, but it is absolutely happening. He's in fifth grade now. He played baseball for the first time last spring, and in a few weeks, we'll be signing him up for baseball again. He has friends, he plays kickball on the playground. He's hilarious. He's insightful and witty and warm and loving. He's a great kid. He still fascinates me.For those who don't know, my son was diagnosed as autistic when he was in first grade. My son is 10 and a half and he was diagnosed when he was in 1st grade. So ... he was six and a half. This is what it looked like, in the months before he was diagnosed. We knew something was different about him. We just didn't know what it was.Dealing with It, Whatever It IsMy son's got some stuff that he has to deal with. We saw some behavior-related issues last year, but with support from his teachers and other school staff, plus the invaluable help of a therapist that works wonderfully with children, he got better. It wasn't a perfect year, but he ended the year on a good note.This year - first grade - we saw a lot of the same things. We tried the same kind of techniques that had worked last year, but they didn't seem to be working. There's physical stuff like hitting and getting in other kids' spaces. There's name-calling. Unprovoked incidents with other kids. It's all behavior that we just don't understand.See, our son used to be the kind of kid who was described as "really centered." Or "zen." "He's so calm," the other parents would say at play dates. And suddenly, we were in our second meeting in two straight years with the principal, the teachers, plus various other school staff. Suddenly, we'd be dropping him off at school and other kids would run up to us and tell us that he was being mean to them. Or that he had written on their book. Or hit them. This happens a lot. So ... we're talking to people. He's still seeing his therapist, but now we're going the next step. We're doing a deeper psychological evaluation on him, running some tests to see what else is going on with him. We might be dealing with ADD. Maybe some sensory issues (things like heightened sensitivity to noise or crowds). Or maybe something like Asperger's.I resisted the idea of him being autistic at first, because I didn't know anything about it. Literally all I knew about autism was "Rain Man" and the kid in St. Elsewhere. That was it. That was my social context. I was scared. I don't mind saying it. I didn't know what a diagnosis of autism meant. I didn't know what it would mean to have an autistic son. So I was scared.But understanding autism helped me understand him more. Most importantly, I understood more about how he saw and experienced the world, and I found out about ways we could help him. He's been seeing a therapist since 1st grade. He's been in a social skills group since 2nd grade. This group, with other kids his age, helps teach him about social interactions like conversations, things that NT people take for granted but are fraught with unspoken rules and norms. The group has been incredibly helpful for him. He's done occupation therapy before and that's been very helpful as well. He has a lot of sensory stuff - particularly needing deep physical input. When he was little, he would run from across the room and do these tackle hugs. Sometimes, they were strong enough that I almost lost my footing. Physical input. When he did OT, he loved things like diving into ball pits and mats. For a while, [...]



Signs of Resistance

2015-11-18T07:00:05.562-08:00

"It's time to go to school."

"No," he responds calmly.

You know who's not calm? Me. 

I ask him again, twice. Finally, he changes his tune and gets himself ready to go to school.

My son is ten years old. And he's grown; my goodness, he's grown. He's become so much more confident and charming and easygoing. Much of the social anxiety that we saw in the past has dissipated. He walks into the playground and kids call his name. And (Aspie parents take note) he stops and responds!!

There are many things going well. And then ... there's the testing that he does at home.

I'll ask him to turn off the television and he'll ignore me until the third or fourth or fifth ask.

I'll tell him to go to bed and he'll start whimpering, like a puppy dog. (It's obviously fake and I don't even think he thinks it'll work. He just does it instinctively.) 

And then there is the simple act of "No." Not that he wants to put up a fight or an argument. He just quietly says "no." To everything. 

With a smile on his face.

When he was a baby, he would run experiments on us. What happens if I drop my food off the tray? What if I smear it on my cheek? Now, I think he's doing experiments again. He's testing how I'll react if he ramps up the disobedience.

So I've approached with a certain amount of caution. Sometimes I'll ignore him and just ask again. Sometimes I walk off (making sure he sees that I'm irritated) and then come back a minute later.

Sometimes, I'll crack the whip on him. I've had to use my dad voice more in the last two months than I did for the previous year. 

"When I ask you to do something, I expect you to do it the first time."

And then I get the whiny response. "Okaaaaaaaay!" 

The whining. I HATE the whining. 

Or I'll get the angry response. He snaps back at me as though somehow I've angered him, instead of the other way around. 

He's testing, though. And he's still an Aspie, so I know that I can't just tell him to cut it out. So I'll check him. "When you respond like that, it sounds like you're angry at me. Are you angry at me? No. Okay, well your tone says something else. So make sure your tone matches what you actually feel." 

All things considered, he's doing fine. He's just testing some boundaries right now. I need to remember that he's always going to be testing me out. What's he really doing is testing himself out. Right now, he's testing out conversation, testing out emotions. He's trying to see what he can get away with, what he does that will upset the people he loves. He's growing into an older kid who needs to figure out how this human interaction thing works. I'm doing the best I can to help. 







What We Talk About When We Talk About Talking

2015-10-18T22:26:56.934-07:00

One of the most challenging moments in the day-to-day life of a parent is the unforeseen meltdown. Sometimes, kids just have the wrong thing happen to them at the wrong time and they just explode.

This isn't just true for autistic kids, although I notice it more readily with mine. He doesn't like surprises; when he doesn't get something that he's expecting (recess, dessert) or when he has to change his schedule without warning, those are the days when he's more likely to melt down.

And yes, he's ten. Meltdowns still happen when kids get older. They just take different forms.

I worry sometimes about how I respond to him after a meltdown. I can't talk to him during the meltdown - he's flooded with emotions, and all I can do is to keep him from getting worse or doing damage to something (i.e. throwing a remote control across the room). 

So I talk to him afterward, once he's calmed down. We talk.  

Usually, too much.

I'll explain to him patiently how the rules are the same as they've always been. And how he has to take school/weekend responsibilities/chores/whatever seriously.

Sometimes, I'll talk to him about how he reacts differently than he used to. How he's gotten so much more mature than he used to be, and how moments like this don't come as often as he used to. 

Sometimes, I'll ask him if there was anything I could have done differently. Wait, what?! Am I really asking him what mistake I made when he freaked out? No, not really, but yes, sort of. This is a dangerous avenue, but sometimes I go down that path anyway. I get talking, and look, I'm still a dad that hates to see his kid upset. 

And I think part of it is that he's getting older. I'm so aware that he's not the same little boy he used to be. I can't see ten-year-old him without seeing two-year-old him reflected in his eyes. And sometimes, the conversations we have are really conversations I have with myself. "How can I solve this problem? How did this maturity blossom in you without me noticing?"

Sometimes, the questions I'm asking can never be answered by him. "What are you thinking when these things happen? Do you still trust me?"

I need to shut up sometimes. I know that when it works best, he gets upset and I just step back and let him work it out. He can do it. He doesn't need coaching from me as much as he used to. And he doesn't need me to relentlessly dissect every moment of conflict with him. What he needs to know is that I love him, and that sometimes that love means cracking down on the rules and not apologizing for it afterward. 




Flashback: Back to Regular Dad

2015-07-31T21:57:23.728-07:00

I posted this almost nine years ago on my old blog. I've been thinking a lot about my little boy, who just hit his tenth birthday. (I need to write more about him. He's amazing.)Anyway, this seems appropriate and it's not on this blog yet, so here it is.June 30, 2006I know that ticklish spot, right under Oliver's chin, and I know that when I hit it with my bare toe just right, he goes spasmy with giggles.I know that sometimes, his favorite thing is rolling across the floor like a log going down a hill. And that, if I gently nudge him with my foot, he'll roll and roll until he hits the window, softly giggling the whole time. I know that he takes his naps almost like clockwork at 9 am and at 3 pm. I know that he loves aquariums. And peekaboo. And watching birds. And watching the construction trucks that stream by our apartment. And anyone walking by our window. I know that he smiles and occasionally waves at strangers. And he flirts with every woman who works at the grocery store, and they all flirt right back.I know that when I eat snacks, I'd better put down a handful of Cheddar Bunnies or Veggie Booty for him, or else he'll get resentful.I know that my little boy loves me. I know this. I know if I lay on the floor, sometimes he crawls right up to me and puts his little head against my chest for a few moments. If I'm really lucky, he'll crawl up to my face and give me a wet, sloppy, open-mouthed gooey kiss right on the lips. And that's the best thing ever.Today is the last day I get to be a stay-at-home dad. Mrs. B came home tonight and began her summer vacation, which is (unfairly) only six weeks. She gets a month and a half to be the primary caregiver for Oliver, while I try to find myself some gainful employment. And then, when the fall comes, both she and I will go to work, and Oliver will go to the day care seven blocks from our house.I think back to those early days, when I worried if I was ever going to get the hang of taking care of him all day. (Actually, that first day, I was really worried if he was ever going to take a bottle from me.) Naps worried me. Feedings frightened me. I was constantly worried that I would poke him in the eye, or drop him, or something similarly awful.And here we are, ten months later. Naps don't scare me any more. The bottles aren't even an issue anymore. We do two meals a day, two naps, hours of playing, and sometimes I'm exhausted and nap while he does and sometimes I don't even bother. I can keep up with him. He doesn't scare me anymore.It's been nearly a year that I've been taking care of him, and we've grown so much together. I feel privileged to have had this much time with him, that we've been able to afford (barely) to do this. I have a bond with our little boy that not enough fathers get. My own father never had the connection with us from the early days that I get to have with Oliver. Now I have to readjust to being just a regular working dad, one that drops his kid off at daycare in the morning and sees him at night for dinner and sleep. (Actually, the daycare won't start until late August, but stick with me, folks, I'm on a roll.) I won't get to see him play during the day, giddily tearing through his books or tossing around his blocks, one by one, with a squeal of glee every time one flies into the air. Those moments will just be on the weekends. I'll miss all the intensive time with him. Hours of playing on the floor, hundreds of books read, balls tossed, blocks stacked and tumbled, messes made and cleaned and made again. I won't miss the problems: the difficult naps, the teething miseries, the days of complete distraction where he couldn't do anything for five minutes without screaming in frustration. Well - I say I won't miss that. But I will. Bec[...]



Survivor's Rage

2015-06-19T19:20:28.376-07:00



Another empty cubicle at my office.

We came in Monday morning and she was gone. Nobody knew what she did, who she offended, why she got the axe.

We all assume it wasn't for a rational reason. It never is. People here don't get fired because they miss their numbers or because they violated some crucial policy. It's because their supervisor didn't like them. Didn't like their attitude. They spoke up too much. They questioned too much. They showed too much independence.

We don't value independence. Our directors want people who are malleable and scared. We are intimidated, embarrassed, harassed. It's all small and subtle, often behind closed doors.

My last colleague - she was smart and passionate about her work. She read the news constantly: she was the most plugged-in person in the office. And she was loved by everybody in the office.

Almost everybody.

She dared to question the ideas of our director, and she got the axe. I don't know what happened, and I never will, in all likelihood.

In my small department, I've lost four colleagues in two years. It's a haunting thing to come in and see that empty office, and know that someone else failed the test.

My job is almost certainly fine. I have no concerns that I'll get the axe.

That's not enough. There is no job security in a place that fires someone every two to three months. There is no peace of mind when you know your entire team of colleagues might be gone in a year.

And we're just expected to carry on as though everything were normal. Our colleague is no longer spoken of. She is an unperson. She stopped existing the minute she was terminated. All of her work - it stopped. Her projects ceased to exist. Nothing she did will be mentioned again.

I have a good job. I am paid well. We have retreats in nice places and we're wined and dined. But the trade-off is too much. I've lost people I care deeply about. I've lost them for stupid silly reasons.
Because my boss decided to get rid of them.

This isn't survivor's guilt. This is survivor's rage. I'm angry that my friends - my very talented friends - are being treated so badly. I'm angry that I meet up with them months later and they're still shaken. Still questioning what they did wrong. Still wondering if the cruel things said about them are actually true.

I hate this place. I hate my boss. I hate the leadership of this toxic twisted office.

I'm sending out resumes and going on job interviews. I'm pushing as hard as I can to find somewhere else. This time, I don't want an escape hatch - I want to move up the career ladder. I have a huge palette of skills and, as one of my friends put it, I will be the answer to someone's prayers.

I want that to happen soon. I don't think I'm in danger of losing my job anytime soon. But I have learned how to survive in this toxic place, and I do it by swallowing my complaints and my anger and playing along. Going along to get along. I'm tired of it. My soul is tired, people.



A Death in the Family

2015-04-13T20:47:39.057-07:00

My dear cat Chloe fell asleep for the last time last Friday.Here's how we met. Chloe lived with three other cats in a house. I met a girl who lived in a room in that house. I'd go over to visit her and Chloe would come into the room and hang out with us. She would jump on my hip when I was laying down and just sit there, content, purring like mad.Even then, she was partial to me. She could come to visit us, but she would sleep on my side of the bed. She'd rub her face up against me and I'd just pet her and pet her. We connected with each other instantly. She adopted me: I didn't adopt her. She chose me.Chloe hated the other cats in her house. She became a bit of a thug - she would hiss and slash at the other cats when they walked down the hallway. When that girl moved out to move in with me, Chloe came with us. That girl became Mrs. B, of course.According to her former staffer's best estimate, Chloe was six when she came to live with us. I put her in a carrier and drove her to her new home - a cinder block one-bedroom apartment. She looked around, saw that she was the only cat in the house, and began purring madly. She was home.If the math was right, Chloe was twenty years old when she finally left this mortal coil. She stayed with us through four moves, and when I moved into my own apartment, Chloe came with me.She was frail. Her hips were especially painful. She had hip dysplasia - her hips would slip out of joint. Also arthritis. There were days when she could barely walk across the room. She couldn't jump anymore. The kitty who used to jump up on the bathroom sink couldn't jump onto a foot-high couch.I had cat stairs - one so she could get onto the bed, and a shorter set of stairs so she could climb onto the couch. It helped. Not enough. But the stairs helped.She had other stuff. She had the inevitable thyroid problems. She had chronic renal disease - that was diagnosed a couple of years ago. One of her kidneys seemed to have stopped functioning completely.Because of the kidneys and everything else, she became dehydrated easily. I was giving her fluids every other day, plus pain medicine once a day. Plus kidney medicine. Plus glucosamine in her food.At some point, it just wasn't enough. None of it was enough, because cats get old, as we all do. Cats get old, and at some point, their life becomes just existing from day to day. One of my friends asked me if there was joy left in her life.I like to think so. I don't like to think that she was just existing. She still ate. She still curled up with me - even when she could barely move on the bed, she would curl up next to me and purr her soft, fragile purrs. She loved being cradled and she loved being next to me. And Oliver. She was a snugglebug to the end.Chloe would follow me from room to room, waiting for me to stop moving so she could sit down next to me. She always did this; even when she was at her weakest, she would do that. I was always her person.Last Friday night, she fell asleep, and she was gone Saturday morning. Her body was still there. But Chloe had moved on. She was someplace where her hips didn't hurt, and where I didn't have to poke her with needles and fill her up with fluids like a water balloon. Some place where she could frolic and be free and joyful and happy.I buried her in the backyard with one of her crinkly toys. And I cried. I cried because I missed her, and I cried because I was relieved. She was finally free of the pain and the suffering. When she decided she couldn't take anymore, she just let go.I did the best I could with you, Chloe. It was an honor being your person and your staff. I hope you have sunshine and warm fuzzy blankets and grass to roll in. Thank you f[...]



Fighting Inertia

2015-02-05T22:08:15.508-08:00



I hate this.

I've gained a few pounds. I've lost some of my lung strength. I haven't been doing real cardio work in four or five months. I fell off the wagon.

I don't eat well. I don't pay as much attention to portion size as I should. I eat too much dessert when I eat it, and I nibble on mindless crap like tortilla chips.

The worst thing about falling off the wagon is that you suddenly forget you were on a wagon. Living healthy is challenging, but living sloppy is not. It's easy. You stop caring, and it's easy to keep not caring.

But I'm tired all the time, and I hate that.

I get winded too easily, and I hate that.

I could just sleep more. But I don't want to do that. I want to get myself back together.

I'm going to start chipping away on my health. A little bit at a time.

I have the equipment, I just don't use it. A situp bench. An elliptical machine. Dumbbells.

Every night, I can do a little something.

Thirty sit-ups.

Thirty push-ups.

Ten minutes on the elliptical.

Every night, I can do something.

And it's going to get easier. Thirty sit-ups will become forty-five, and then sixty, and them maybe a hundred.

Ten minutes on the elliptical will become thirty.

I'm going to get myself back together. I hate looking like this right now. I'm going to change it.



Masquerade

2015-01-17T07:41:17.858-08:00



The words slip out easily, formed from years of practice. "This is great."

"I'm really enjoying spending time with my team."

"These retreats are always so useful."

"Your ideas are always great."

I work in a place that does good work and employs terrible people. The people in charge are shameless, petty, cruel to their staff. They pit people against each other for no reason other than the sport of it.

And so we have no esprit de corps, no team spirit. No team exists. We are a group of individuals, struggling to stay on the island and fighting to get the other one voted off.

This is a terrible way to run a business.

We get together once a year. We take a weekend to "recharge our batteries." We bond with each other with stupid games and "team-building" activities that just make everyone feel awkward and uncomfortable. We make plans for the next year, write on whiteboards and take notes on our great visions of the future.

And the directors look on, proud of their work, feeling like this year maybe it's really going to work. This is the best retreat, they think. This is the one that really succeeded.

I hate it. They put us up in a fancy hotel and buy fine food and wine for us. We are spoiled at this company. We are. I'm paid well and compensated with absurd fringe benefits. But the trade-off is that I work with people who no longer care about what they do.

The trade-off is that where I work makes my soul hurt.

I used to want to change the world. This firm has a mission of changing the world, making it a better place, helping the little people. They're all words. The cosmetic emptiness of this place is starting to drive me crazy.

I can tolerate about two straight days of this masquerade. Two days, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner with this crew. Pretending to enjoy it. Pretending to value their ideas. Pretending, all pretending. Lying to their faces.

And then I go home and purge it all out. Scotch helps. TV helps. Spending time with the people I care about, that's what helps the most.

I can take my mask off and be myself again. I no longer have to pretend around the people I love, because they see me and respect me for who I am.

But at my job, all I do is pretend. I pretend their ideas are worthwhile. I pretend their feedback makes my work better. And I pretend I'm making the world a better place, when I know I'm really just here for the benefits and the pay and the security of a steady job.

This masquerade cannot last. I can't live like this, wearing masks forty hours a week.



Self-Righteous Jerks

2014-12-26T14:04:33.680-08:00

Note: I'm only using this picture since Tuohy has already posted it publicly on Facebook and Instagram and it's been reposted in a thousand different places. If you're going to be kind, be kind. Don't film yourself, post the results everywhere, and pretend that you're only doing it to prove a point.Scenario #1: Leigh Anne Tuohy is not anyone who has ever been on my radar. I knew she was the subject of a book and of that Sandra Bullock movie, but that's all. I knew there was some talk about how that movie was basically "heroic white woman saves troubled black youth," but I'd never seen it so I couldn't say.But then she did this.In case you haven't been following the story, here's the gist. She owns a restaurant. Two black teenagers came into her restaurant and apparently, were acting in a way that some would find suspicious. Here's the way she describes the scene on her own Facebook page:We see what we want! It’s the gospel truth! These two were literally huddled over in a corner table nose to nose and the person with me said “I bet they are up to no good” well you know me… I walked over, told them to scoot over. After 10 seconds of dead silence I said so whats happening at this table? I get nothing.. I then explained it was my store and they should spill it… They showed me their phones and they were texting friends trying to scrape up $3.00 each for the high school basketball game! Well they left with smiles, money for popcorn and bus fare. We gave to STOP judging people and assuming and pigeon holing people! Don’t judge a book by its cover or however you’d like to express the sentiment! Accept others and stoping seeing what you want to see!!! #LeighAnnesSundaySermon #BelieveInOthersJerk.To sum up: two black kids were sitting together. Her friend says "they're up to no good." She says, oh no, you're wrong. And then she goes over, sits next to them, and demands to see their phones to prove they're not doing anything wrong!!!Then, after they prove their innocence, she hands them some cash and then takes a picture with them!! The caption might as well be "look at these poor little black children whose lives I just turned around!" Gross exploitation.Scenario #2: This video has been going around the social networks lately. Another "heroic" person who decided to give $100 to a homeless person.No strings attached? Ah ha, not quite. He proceeds to record the guy's actions secretly to find out how he spends the money!!Watch the video. It's clear that they're filming this man without his permission, at the beginning. At one point, he even tells his cameraman "just don't let him see you." At the end, once they prove to themselves that he's using the money in the right way, he admits to the poor man that he's being secretly recorded.Would he have admitted it otherwise? This guy, Josh Paler Lin, is a guy who makes ugly prank videos on YouTube - the Bad Dad prank, the Vegas Mafia prank, the Chloroform Kidnapping prank. He thrives on exploiting people's reactions and then making money on them (via YouTube ads.) It's easy to imagine he could have filmed this man's behavior and secretly uploaded it, and never told hm at all. That's what he does.But instead, he posts it as a feel-good story. Who's feeling good? Paler Lin has gotten 22 million hits on this video. He's making money from ads and his name gets spread all over the internet. Oh, but he's launched an IndieGogo account to raise some money for the homeless man, too.Think about that. He found a homeless man, decided he was one of the "good" homeless people, and now he's raising money to help him out. But hi[...]



Death and 'Serial'

2014-12-01T17:36:14.393-08:00



I'm not listening to Serial.

I'm a voracious podcast listener. This American Life, Snap Judgment, Too Beautiful to Live, Nightvale Radio, loads of NPR podcasts. I'm the key demographic for this show.

Except I won't listen to it.

It's about a murder, as I understand it. Someone murdered someone - or maybe he did, maybe he didn't. The show digs through the evidence, interviews witnesses, and considers whether the person actually committed the crime. It's supposed to be riveting. It's supposed to be great radio. It's supposed to be a revolutionary way of using the medium.

I can't listen to it.

I've been there, you see. I've sat in a courtroom while the prosecution presented the autopsy pictures of my brother; described the wounds that were inflicted on his body; described how he died.

I've been there in the courtroom when the defense tried to challenge evidence, cast doubt as to the real killer, declared the fine character of the man accused of killing my brother.

That's just me. I don't read murder mysteries. I don't watch movies like Pulp Fiction that glorify killing and treat dead bodies like punch lines.

Interestingly, This American Life did an episode about this tendency, about how the families of murder victims end up hyper-sensitive to popular culture with references to murder. I never forgot that episode, because it nails it perfectly. Not all survivors of murder feel this way. But many of us do.

I wish nothing but the best for Serial and I hope it has a long and successful future. But I hope the next story is about robbing a bank. Or kidnapping a pig. Or stealing a piece of art. I don't want to hear about murders presented for entertainment, no matter how seriously the subject is taken. I can't be entertained by it, and I'm not the only one.



No Justice.

2014-11-24T19:47:12.926-08:00

Darren Wilson finds himself a free man tonight.

Michael Brown is still dead. Whatever happened tonight, that never would have changed. But justice could have taken a step forward tonight.

 It didn't.

We knew that was going to happen. When they took three months to make a decision, we knew it was going to be a free pass for Wilson.

When the governor called a press conference three hours before the grand jury announcement to plead for calm, we all knew what was coming. He swore he didn't know what the decision was, but come on now, we're not stupid. Why plead for calm unless you think there might be a reason for people not to remain calm?

Ferguson has serious problems with fairness and equity. As does St. Louis. As does this country. Darren Wilson's indictment wouldn't have changed that. But it would have helped, dammit.

Indicting Wilson would have suggested that he didn't get the automatic benefit of the doubt that so many police officers receive. It would have shown America that this community wanted to see justice done.

But no. All of our suspicions were exactly right. Darren Wilson is free for killing Mike Brown. Not even a trial.

I'm tired of being disappointed by this country. But we need to channel this energy into changing the world. I'm pushing against despair. We need to fix this world, not be crushed by resignation.




Stripped

2014-10-05T22:52:33.694-07:00


My church is rebuilding the sanctuary. The walls are bare. Studs and pipes are showing, and the floor is bare concrete until the new floor tiles are laid.

The last months have felt much like that. I've been rebuilding my own surface, stripping away unnecessary layers, putting down new walls and fortifying them. To build a new home, sometimes you have to tear away walls that you thought would always be standing.

I'll write more, but let me say this. I am at peace. I am sleeping in a new home, and the woman I married is elsewhere.

Nobody was thrown out. It was not a violent ugly separation. It was a mutual decision. We were done.

I am at peace. My son is in good shape, and we're both taking good care of him in our ways.

Half of all marriages fail. You know this. With a child with special needs, the odds are worse. Nobody knows how much worse.

Any marriage is challenging. Marriage is the deepest act of faith. It's reaching out and saying this one. This is the person I will trust. Through thick and thin. Though bankruptcy, cancer, car accidents, unpaid bills, job terminations, sicknesses, anxiety attacks, all of it. All of it.

Human life has so many twists and turns, and the act of marriage is saying to the universe, this is the person who will walk by my side through all of it. For the rest of my life, this is the person who will have my back.

And you need that person to make the same commitment.

When that commitment fails, it's devastating. When you've been running hand-in-hand for years, and suddenly you realize that the hand is no longer there, it's a shock.

I won't go into detail about what happened, when it happened, who did what. It's not necessary. But we stopped being at each other's side, somehow. Our hands slipped away from each other, and once we realized we had fallen out of pace with each other, we were too far gone to connect again.

A friend of mine asked me how it made any sense. We seemed to be a solid healthy couple, while she says that she and her husband don't even belong together.

I don't know if Mrs. B and I belonged together, but we came together. And we were at each other's sides for a long time. That's how marriage works. It's not about whether you read the same books or eat the same foods, whether you stay up late or go to sleep early together. It's about whether you stand by each other when times get difficult. That's the only prerequisite. Everything else is just detail.

More than anything, a spouse is a partner. And for me, what I realized is that if I was running by myself already, it made no sense to pretend I still had a partner by my side.



"You can ask me anything."

2014-07-31T08:32:42.027-07:00

I don't ever want to forget the simple joys of fatherhood. Like talking to my kiddo. I love talking to him. Love hearing how his brain works and how his sense of the world has changed.

This morning, my son rolled into bed with me and started talking. He told me about a dream he had where he was fishing, and then there was something about gummy worms.

And then we talked about summer camp. And about the names for the different groups of kids - all named after different animals. Apparently, all of the animal names changed over the last year, and we mused about why that might have happened.

And we just talked about, I don't know, stuff. We just talked.

It matters to me that he's comfortable talking to me. I want to remind myself that I need to pay attention to him. Too often, I'll be talking to him while browsing on my phone. Everyone does it these days, it's what we do. It's part of our overwired, overstimulated world. But I'm trying to force myself to put the phone down more so I can listen to him.

He's nine now. He won't be nine forever. He's already two months past his ninth birthday. Ten months to go, and then he's ten. Then eleven. Then he's older and older and he's a different person completely.

I want to cherish this time I have with him right now, with this kid as he is right now. I love seeing his brain develop and his words become more refined and enriched.

When he goes to bed at night, he asks me questions. It happens every night. Right as I'm about to turn his light out, he starts with the questions. Simple silly ones. "Which fishie in that picture is your favorite? Do you like meerkats or ferrets more?"

Or he'll walk that fine line between profound and ridiculous. "Dad? What if there were monkeys all over the roof and they were just waiting for us to go to sleep, and then they ran all around our backyard?"

"Dad? What if there was a giant robot from space, and he picked up this whole entire house in his hand and took us away to space?"

Or sometimes he talks about things that happen during his day. Sometimes, he just needs to process the events of the day, and he uses me as a sounding board. I love playing that part. I always want to be his sounding board. I know that's going to change, but I always want him to know he can ask me the questions that he can't get out of his head. I'm always there for him.

"Dad? Can I ask you something?" That's how he starts the conversation.

I always answer the same way. "You can ask me anything, son."



Nonprofit - Dream vs. Reality

2014-06-18T07:21:12.132-07:00

I forget sometimes. I forget that I don't work for angels and wood spirits. I work for people. And people behave as people.

Sometimes, I get caught up in the dream. I believe that we're all working for a common good, for the sake of making the world a better place.

I believe them when they say they want us all to be players on the same team. That the most important thing is that we all support each other and work towards the same common goal.

I mean, I work for a nonprofit. We're supposed to be about the mission, right?

And then it happens. Something comes down from on high, and I remember that I work for a boss. For a CEO. Someone whose driving purpose is making sure we all remember who's in charge.

So we'll all get lectured at the all-staff meeting about something that seems small, but apparently was earth-shaking in its importance. We'll all get scolded for forgetting about the mission - but in fact, it's because we forgot to honor the boss' whims. We didn't genuflect with appropriate humility.

Or we'll all be looking forward to a staff event - a party, a celebration, an outing - only to find out it's been cancelled because the CEO said so. Because we didn't appear to be taking our work seriously enough.

It's very much in the pattern of an abusive relationship, I would imagine. (I'm fortunate that I've never truly been in one.) We're constantly being kept off-balance. So the end result is that we're never actually working for the mission. We're working for the CEO. Our job is honoring the boss' wishes, no matter how unusual or offbase they seem. The boss likes meetings a certain way. The boss wants to be addressed in this way. The boss wants visitors to talk about this, not talk about that.Don't upset the boss. Don't rattle the cage.

And never, ever question the boss. Don't ever challenge our decisions, our campaigns, our mission (e.g. the boss' way of carrying out the mission.) That would be disloyal.

Look. Our job in the nonprofit world is rattling cages. We are supposed to be changing the status quo. If we're constantly worried about not upsetting the boss, how are we ever supposed to focus on upsetting the power brokers and decision makers?

And that's when the disappointment hits.

I want to work for a mission, not a petty tyrant. I want my work to be fighting for the afflicted and the poor, not fighting for my job. I'm tired of working for a boss more interested in their reputation and glorification than in actually making change.




"I know."

2014-05-09T06:54:19.940-07:00

Sometimes, my son gets stuck in repeating himself. Usually, it's the same phrase or variations on a phrase. This might be an Asperger's trait, or it could just because he's an eight-year-old kid and that's what they do. I don't know.

Sometimes, he'll spin the same phrase multiple ways. Variations on one phrase. "Happy birthday to you. Happy flurth-day to you. Happy earth day to you. Happy death day. Happy smurth day." Just goofin around.

So anyway, yesterday, he didn't realize he was repeating himself. "Dad? I love you."

"I love you too, son."

Two minutes later. "Dad, I love you."

"Love you too."

A few minutes later. "Dad, I love you."

"Son?" He stopped to look at me.

"I love you too."

He looked back at me. "I know you do."

That was the best answer. It's important that he loves me. But its so so so much more important that he knows that I love him. And that his mother loves him. I can't think of a better way to start the day than with that reassurance. He knows. I've done my job, then.




Fuck Cancer

2014-04-05T21:19:04.377-07:00

There's a guy I know. I've known him for over a decade because we were part of an amazing community forum, Table Talk, which used to be part of Salon before the Powers that Be shut it down. (It's not profitable! OMG, how are we going to afford to pay Camille Paglia?!)

He made me howl with laughter with his witty parodies of songs, rewritten to match the politics of the day. He challenged me, frustrated me, and informed me with his brilliant political insights. He is warm, genuine, thoughtful, and a truly genuinely nice guy.

I saw him get married to another online friend. I watched the joy that lived within both of them multiply and radiate out like joyous solar flares. They were so happy together.

Are. They are happy together.

My friend MacDaffy is dying.

My friend, who I never met. My friend who has been part of my life for a decade and has made it better for his presence. I knew he was struggling with cancer, but it seemed like he had it under control. As much as you can control that wild rabid beast.

Last week, he was posting speculation about the Malaysia Airlines plane crash, and chatting about basketball and pop culture, the stuff we all talk about. Watercooler stuff.

And then suddenly I started seeing posts on Facebook. Posts saying goodbye.  And then I saw what was happening. The cancer was rampaging, and it was winning, and his time was short.

I wish I had met you in person, my friend. But I loved sharing online space with you. I am grateful for all of the time I got to spend with you, and I'm so glad you found such epic happiness. Love and light to you both.

And, as another online friend says with terrifyingly heartfelt conviction, Fuck Cancer. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck cancer. Goddamn you for taking so many great people from us too soon.