Archive for September, 2008

The Punchline to Yesterday’s Joke

September 30, 2008

So after all that — hours spent on the phone with various faraway Dell representatives; not one but two visits from a local technician; a week spent waiting for a new computer system when the first was supposedly broken — after all that, the problem turned out to be a single faulty cable, something we could have fixed in about thirty seconds if we had simply thought to check for it. Dell is sending me a new cable. And that’s the end of that chapter.


How To Buy A Computer

September 29, 2008

1) Mention on this blog that Sonny has broken his previous computer, which in turn inspires their Papa, my father, to buy them a new one. (Private note to Dad: I’m pretty sure my kids also want a Wii.)

2) Dad, in coordination with my tech-savvy brother, calls up Dell and orders an Inspiron.

3) A few days later it arrives: The computer, and also a sexy new flat-screen monitor — which is good, because the previous monitor was so chunky that there was no room on the kids’ desk for both the monitor and the keyboard.

4) I get all the cables connected and boot it up. It doesn’t work. The computer and the monitor do not seem to be aware of each other. The monitor immediately goes into Power Save mode.

5) Call tech support. Much to my disbelief, within fifteen minutes the tech support guy (live! from Bombay!) has me opening up the computer and removing memory boards and microchips and God knows what else. We run various tests. Each time, the computer still fails to boot up. Dell arranges to have a technician visit my house.

6) After a couple of rounds of phone tag with the local technician, Brad arrives on the scene. He replaces various parts in the computer. It still doesn’t work. He wants to replace one more part, but he doesn’t have that part. Dell will have to ship it to him.

7) Three days later, Brad returns. He replaces something else in the computer, and — surprise! — it still doesn’t work. Brad declares the computer Dead On Arrival. He arranges with Dell to ship me a box. I will send my computer back to Dell, and Dell will then send me a new computer.

8) We miss Fedex — apparently we have to sign for the empty box or they can’t deliver it.

9) The next day, we get the box. Two days later I finally get around to opening it. It is not empty. It contains a new Dell Inspiron. Oh. So they’ve sent us a new computer, and we are supposed to send them back the old, broken one. Fine.

10) I take the new computer downstairs, and connect all the cables. It doesn’t work.

11) I scream at the top of my lungs. I drive to Home Depot, but they are closed, so I wait around outside for an hour, pacing. When they open, I buy the largest sledgehammer I can find. I drive home and, once again, “open up the computer,” this time using a more direct method.

11, really) Okay, no. I go back upstairs and tell the wife of this new development. I wonder aloud what the chances are that two out-of-the-box computers would fail to work. My wife wonders if maybe it’s the sexy new flat-screen monitor that’s been broken this whole time.

12) She hooks up the computer to the old monitor. It works like a charm. I slap my forehead hard enough to leave a dent.

That’s where we are now. This week we’ll have steps 13 through ???: We need to arrange to send the monitor back to Dell, and get a new one from them, and we also still have two perfectly good computers when we’re supposed to have just one. Later today I get to call Dell to explain all this to them. PLUS I now have to sit down and figure out Windows Vista so I can set up the new computer for the kids. Sometimes I understand why people get nostalgic for the 19th century.

And Everything Was Going So Well

September 26, 2008

Uh-oh. It looks like our insurance company has spun its Wheel of Random Malevolence. When we go to Sonny’s child psychiatrist, we’re supposed to have a $25 copay and that’s it. For the last two visits, we’ve been charged $90 and $64, respectively. In fact, Aetna is no longer paying one thin dime. What changed? I cannot imagine.

Oh, wait. Yes, I can. It’s not random malevolence at all — our insurance policy changed on August 1st. Now instead of having the insurance company take care of these claims, they are entirely on us until we meet our deductible of $5,000. For some reason I didn’t think this applied to trips to the shrink, but why wouldn’t it? That’s why we now have a health savings account; we’re supposed to pay the doctor her Aetna-negotiated rates out of that account, with a special debit card.

The good news, I guess, is that before the insurance plan switched over, the doctor did a fine job curbing Sonny’s hyperactivity. We were going to cut back to once-a-month visits instead of every two weeks. Now we’re definitely going to do that. That’ll save a bit of money.

Still, sometimes I just want to break a bone, so I can meet the deductible, so we can go back to those sweet nostalgic days when we made a medical claim and the insurance company simply paid it. Remember those days? I’m pretty sure I didn’t dream them.

Things With Wheels

September 25, 2008

I wish I could invite you all over to watch Sonny ride his bicycle. Yesterday the penny dropped in a big way. He figured out that the bicycle isn’t going to throw him like a rodeo bull, and he also decided he doesn’t need dumb old Daddy hovering around. He went pedaling on ahead, faster and faster. When he reached the end of the block, he hit the brakes, and executed a perfect little U-turn. (“Good turning!” he congratulated himself.) Then he… well, then he was kind of stuck, because he hasn’t yet learned to stand up on the pedals to get the bicycle going again, so it turned out to be a good thing that Daddy was hovering around, because I was able to give him a little push. Then he was gone again.

You know this is going well, because Peanut decided her brother was having too much fun and demanded a chance to ride his bicycle as well.

I feel kind of stupid for not getting him on the bicycle a bit earlier in the summer. Or at any point in the summer, now that I think about it. (Is it fall already? That was quick.) But we can practice a little bit every day until the snow falls.

In other Things With Wheels news, I’d like to pause in my blogging for a brief commercial announcement:

If you have a little boy who a) likes trucks and b) is learning how to read, you must stop what you are doing and go to Capstone Press and order the full line of Mighty Machines books. (Or head to the library; that’s where we get ours.) These books are a near-miracle in design. Big, flashy, full-color pictures of bulldozers, fire trucks, garbage trucks, you name it. There’s only a few words on each page, so it’s not intimidating in the slightest, but there’s still a nice mix of common starter words and more challenging vocabulary. And these are the first books that Sonny has tackled as an independent reader.

Sonny started off with Backhoes and Earthmovers and essentially memorized them. He must have read them fifty thousand times each. Now we have another five or seven or thirteen of them — it seems like my wife brings another couple home from the library every day — and Sonny sits with them just about every night.

On the first go-round, I read them out loud, but then Sonny takes it from there, getting help on some of the longer words, mastering them. By the fourth or fifth time through, he hardly needs my help at all. After that, he doesn’t even need me sitting next to him. The boy, I say, is doing independent reading.

Also, the books have added to our endless series of father/son in-jokes. Most of the books end with the words “mighty machines,” as in, “Garbage trucks are mighty machines.” Now at random times throughout the day, he’ll ask me to say those words, and I’ll say it: “Mighty machines.” Then he’ll say, “Louder!”, and I’ll say it a little louder, and he’ll yell, “Louder!!”, and then I’ll bellow it like a World Wrestling Federation announcer: “MIGHTY MACHINES!!!” Which cracks him up.

New silly jokes are nice to have, but the best thing by far is that Sonny — did I mention this already? I forget — is doing INDEPENDENT READING. (That, too, must be bellowed in the voice of a wrestling announcer.)

Another Small Step

September 24, 2008

Thanks to the dozen people or so who sent me this. It doesn’t contain anything new for those of us who have been following Mark Bear’s work closely, except for one important sentence:

The drugs have reversed most of the effects of Fragile X in mice. They are now being tried in humans. And at least one small study found that a single dose of a drug had an effect.

Human trials, baby! Maybe I can get these drugs into Sonny’s system before he hits puberty.

Just a Small-Town Boy

September 23, 2008

Thank heavens I’m not trying to raise Sonny in a large city like New York.

I’ll never forget what David — one of the first autistic pre-school students I taught — and his parents went through. At the time, David was a mild-mannered 5-year-old. I was his pre-K special-ed itinerant teacher (SEIT). David was an early reader, and he was good with numbers and music, but he had a speech delay, displayed overly repetitive play skills and had trouble focusing on one activity at a time. He exhibited few behavioral problems in the classroom, though, thanks to the intensive early intervention behavioral therapy he received. In fact, many of his mainstream peers had bigger behavioral issues. All of David’s teachers found him a pleasure to work with, and we all recommended that he be placed in a mainstream kindergarten class with special education support — or what is known in the special ed field as a team-teaching class. David’s speech skills had thrived in a class with mainstream pre-K peers, and it was vital to his language development that he continue his education in that environment.

After meeting with their local Committee on Special Education David’s parents were given the option of placing him in a public, team-teaching kindergarten class. The class would have one regular teacher and one special education teacher. Sounded good. Until we found out that the kindergarten class would have 31 students — far too many to allow the type of support David would need. It was the best his district had to offer him, but it wasn’t remotely good enough.

In the end, there was no appropriate public kindergarten option for David. Even the head of his Committee on Special Education acknowledged this. David’s parents made a last minute decision to move out of the city. Had they stayed, the D.O.E. would have been legally required to pay for a private school placement, since they failed to offer David a free, appropriate public education. However, getting the D.O.E. to fulfill such legal obligations requires having the financial means and the legal savvy to hire the right attorney.

I seriously do not understand why anybody tries to raise small children in New York City, special needs or no. I lived in New York for a while, and sometimes I even miss it — but I would never dream of trying to deal with that tangled morass of an educational system.

Money Changes Everything

September 23, 2008

We give Peanut an allowance of three dollars a week, and this past Sunday when we coughed up the dough, Sonny said, “I get money, too!”

We hadn’t really thought much about giving Sonny an allowance. For one thing, Fragile X kids are traditionally weak at math and numbers, and Sonny is evidently a strong believer in tradition. We’re still working on counting combinations of dimes-and-pennies. A couple of times I’ve tried introducing nickels into the mix, and that’s gotten us nowhere. Quarters may as well be Advanced Quantum Mechanics.

Nonetheless, Sonny has worked out the single most important fact about money — namely, that you can exchange it for stuff. “I get money, too!” he said.

I had an instant, fleeting debate with myself. Yes, in many ways, Sonny is not ready for this. On the other hand, it’s not like he’s going to take his bicycle to the mall and go on a spending spree. Nor is he likely to get roped into a Three Card Monte game. In fact, he’s not going to do anything with that money unless we’re standing guard. So what can it hurt?

“Where do you want to keep the money?” I asked him.

Sonny said, “In my piggy bank.” He said this very carefully, enunciating every word, and I knew he’d really been thinking about this. So I relented. We gave him the money, and he put it in the ceramic bank he received as a gift when he was just a baby. I thought: Maybe he really understands the basics of saving money. I mean, he’s not going to invest in T-bills yet, but perhaps he gets the general idea that you can save up your money and buy something nice. Anyway, he seemed truly excited to put that piggy bank to use. Good for him.

As I was thinking this, he opened the rubber stopper in the pig’s belly and fished around for the money. Pulling the bills out, he yelled, “THE PIG IS POOPING!”

A Bicycle Built For One

September 22, 2008

Sonny has started showing interest in his bicycle, so I brought it to the bike shop to have the brakes adjusted and the training wheels put on.

“How old is he?” said the bike store guy.


“You don’t want training wheels for an eight-year-old.”

“Yes, I do,” I said, and inwardly I gave a little sigh. It’s not like I’m ashamed of Sonny, far from it, but does everybody have to know my business? I explained that the owner of the bicycle was a special needs child. He’s not physically disabled, I said, but he’s not as well developed as an eight-year-old should be. Hence, the training wheels. Okay? Would you like to know his blood type?

And then it turned out to be for the best that I told him all this, because apparently my training wheels were meant to be used for just a couple of weeks and then removed. They were cheap plastic, and if kept attached over a long period of time — as will almost certainly be the case — we will have the joy of watching them break and collapse. He suggested a more expensive brand, one with braces and rims made of metal. Maybe he was just being a salesman, but I didn’t think so. I took his suggestion. A few days later I picked up the bicycle, and he brought it out himself. It looked about a thousand times better than the bicycle I had brought them. “Usually we want training wheels to have a little rock to them,” he said. “So the kid can learn to get his balance and do without them. But we put these on nice and steady.” That was something I never would have thought to ask.

Sonny was not pleased at the idea of riding this thing by himself, training wheels or no. As far as he was concerned, only one thing kept him from falling over in a heap, and that was the magic power of Daddy. He kept taking my hand and physically planting it on the handlebars. I would take it away, and he would do that whining thing he does, when he’s not yet too wrought up to cry but would like to express extreme displeasure. “I’m going to slip!” he kept saying. And while that wasn’t true, he was about to crash into a parked car, because he wasn’t steering. That turned out be an excellent way to get me to hold his handlebars after all.

That was the first couple of attempts, back on Friday. By Sunday, he was more willing to allow me to walk beside him, not holding the bicycle at all. And when we got to the end of the block, he executed a fairly competent U-turn that sent us back home again. Peanut is also riding her bicycle, and we allow her to ride it down the block without us, though we can still see her the entire way. Maybe we’ll get Sonny to that point in the next couple of weeks — his first short trip without us by his side. I’m not sure if that’s something I’m looking forward to, or not.

The House Wins

September 19, 2008

I have a day job, and I also have a sideline — a hobby, really, but one that pulls in a few thousand dollars in extra income each year. I’m expecting a check any day now, which means it’s time for something to go wrong with the house. A year or two ago, the roof started leaking just as a nice-sized payment hit my mailbox. Earlier this year, the largest tree in my backyard fell on my house. There was also a small problem with carpenter ants that threatened to turn my home into a pile of sticks.

I imagined this little hobby of mine would increase my family’s savings. In reality, each check has sat in the bank for about forty-eight hours, earning us $.00005 in interest, before being signed over to a contractor of one form or another.

So as I say, I’m expecting to get paid for some work in the next couple of days, which means I’ve been on tenterhooks, waiting for a school bus to ram through my living room, or an attack by a never-before-seen plague of flying piranha.

Yesterday, it happened. Our “ejector pump” broke. I was not aware we had an ejector pump, but sweet weeping mama, I sure know it now.

The ejector pump lived in a tiny little cabinet in our downstairs bathroom. It took all the bathwater and sewage, ground it up, and pumped it up and out into the main sewage line. Sometime in the past couple of weeks, it stopped pumping. The three-foot-deep reserve tank slowly filled up — slowly, because we rarely use the downstairs bathroom at all. But yesterday the X-Wife took a bath. And that was all she wrote. The reserve tank overflowed; the basement rugs turned into a swamp.

A plumber named Eddie was summoned. Eight hundred and twenty-five dollars later, he left us with a new ejector pump. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see him install it. The pump had to be placed on the floor, in a cabinet the size of a microwave oven. The plumber was the size of the Oakland Raiders offensive line. How he did this without ripping apart the bathroom wall, I’ll never know — and whatever his cut was of that $825, it wasn’t enough.

So now we can flush the downstairs toilet and take baths with impunity, until the next check comes and the toilet and the bathtub mysteriously blow up.

Yes, this is supposed to be a blog about my kids and specifically about my son. But sometimes, on my list of problems and concerns, they don’t even make the top ten.

From Point A to Point B

September 18, 2008

I forgot to mention the best part of our first meeting with Sonny’s teachers: The boy himself walked by, en route from gym class back to his classroom. He glanced through the window in the closed door and did an absolutely priceless double take, followed by his widest smile. The cat thus out of the bag, we stopped into his classroom after the meeting, and Sonny ran over with big hugs, and then took me by the arm like an insistent party host who wanted me to meet all the right people. He made me shake hands with his paraprofessionals, and then with his classmates, and then he offered us seats — I half expected him to ask what I wanted to drink, like his classroom has a wet bar in a secret panel behind the bulletin board.

Yesterday the wife had to work in the evening. After dinner the kids and I went to the front yard, and I was inspired to have them practice crossing the street. We live on a quiet suburban road with no sidewalks, so co-existing with cars is a skill I’d like my kids to pick up one of these days. Yesterday was not that day.

Sonny doesn’t understand that he’s supposed to look carefully in both directions for drunken teenagers with no brakes. All he knows is, for some crazy reason his father demands that he twist his neck back and forth (left-right-left!) before bounding out into the street like a runaway puppy dog.

His sister is no better. Peanut understands that she’s supposed to look out for cars, but only in principle. Here’s what she did yesterday: She looked in one direction; she looked in the other direction; she looked in the first direction. Good girl. Then she discovered a leaf had become entangled in her long hair, and she worked for a solid ninety seconds to remove it. Then she ran out into the street as if time had stopped during that whole leaf-extraction process.

“You didn’t look both ways!” I yelled at her, utterly exasperated.

“Yes, I did!” she yelled back, like I was crazy.

“You looked both ways and then you just stood there! The point is you have to look both ways and then actually cross the street!”

“I DID!” she yelled back, gesturing to show that she was, in fact, on the other side of the street.

I didn’t even know what to say. My six-year-old was acting like I was a moron. At that moment, trying to explain what she had done wrong seemed like the most complicated thing in the world. After all: had she looked both ways? She had. Had she crossed the street? Yes. Had she been hit by that theoretical teenage speed demon? No. What was my problem?

I didn’t even try to explain it. We just practiced a few more times. They did a better job after a while — even Sonny seemed to be actually watching for cars rather than just turning his head back and forth. We finished up on the other side of street, and chatted with our neighbor for a little bit. “Okay, guys,” I finally said. “Good job. Now let’s go inside and finish our homework.”

They both ran across the street without looking. We’re going to stay in the house until 2015.