Monday, September 29, 2014

What problems speak to you?

This post was inspired by some conversations I've had recently at work, rather than my home life.  

I'm currently looking for a new job.  I was reading something that talked about how for some problems, the answer is obvious to some group of people.  The example was a math professor from one of the Ivy League schools who taught freshman calculus.  At the beginning of the semester he would put an algebra problem on the board and ask all the students to solve it.  Then he'd ask them how long it took them to find the solution.  Some students had figured out the answer by the time the had finished writing out the problem.  Those students generally got A's for the class.  Other students had to think about the problem for a while to figure out the answer.  Those students usually did not get A's.

The primary reason that I am looking for a new job is that my manager has decided he wants my position to be a software development manager.  My backing is in test and quality assurance.  I've never been a developer, and I'm not particularly interested in being a development manager.  I was talking today with one the engineers who works for me about this.  I told him that some problems at work speak to me--I look at the problem and it's immediately obvious what to do about it.  Those problems I solve quickly and well.  Other problems don't speak to me.  I can generally find a solution, but not quickly and it may not be the best solution.

One of the projects that we've been working on is a web application to make it easier to track the status of various sets of test automation.  That problem spoke to me.  As soon as we started talking about it I could see the right way to solve it.  Today I was going over the plan with someone who hasn't been closely involved.  He started off by telling the things that he thought were not working in the current app.  And when he was done I told him he had accurately assessed that problem and we the solution we are building would address all of them.  I felt good after that conversation because it validated my solution.

In my current position, those kinds of problems are the minority.  When we get into discussion of the best way to architect a new service, I don't how we should proceed.  When we talk about what design patterns to use, I don't know how to proceed.  Those problems don't speak to me.

That's why it's time for me to find a new job.  I am more productive and happier when I am working on problems that speak to me.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Getting Big

We took Middle Son to his neurologist appointment last week.  He's now 5'7" and 165 pounds.  At age 13.  I didn't hit 165 until my senior year in high school.

Middle is lean and very strong.  We're fortunate that he is generally a calm, happy child.  If he was combative we'd have trouble managing him.

I remember of the therapists that worked with Middle when he was young.  In early elementary school she said that she was concerned that Middle might need two-on-one care as an adolescent to keep him (and everyone else) safe.  At the time he would bang his head on the walls when he was upset, and occasionally on other people.  We had holes in the wall all over the house, so many that we'd stopped fixing them.

Now we only worry about aggressive or injurious behavior when we give him a haircut.  We cut his hair last month.  We gave him sedatives and waiting for them to take effect.  Then we had four people (one on each limb) restraining him and one working the clippers.  It was the easiest, or anyway the least difficult, haircut we've given him in a long time.

If Middle was regularly that agitated, I don't think we'd be able to keep him living at home.  It wouldn't be safe for him or others.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


My Beloved Wife and I took Middle Son, Youngest Son, and Willow (Middle's service dog) to the Muppets Most Wanted at a sensory-friendly showing this morning.

Middle, who is profoundly autistic, loves the Muppets.  If it was up to him we'd have the Muppet Show playing 24x7 at our house.  When we got out of the van at the theater Middle was very excited.  I don't know if he knew that we were going to see a new Muppet movie and that was what he was excited about, or if he was excited because he knows that he will get candy and ice cream when we go to the movies.  Either way, he was happy.

Everyone enjoyed the show.  I saw Middle and Youngest both swaying to the music at various points.  Even Willow seemed to be watching the movie some of the time.

Friday, March 28, 2014


My Beloved Wife was very excited when I got home tonight.

When Middle Son arrived, she had just finished washing her hair and it was still wet.  Middle touched it and looked at her.  When she told him she had washed it, he smiled and went on to getting a snack.

She said "That's the first time he's asked me a question!"

It is exciting to see how he is getting more engaged with our enlarged, blended family.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

By name

I'm reading Why I Jump, by Naoki Higashida.  Higashida has autism and was thirteen when he wrote the book.  The first part of the book is written in question and answer format.  Question # 14 is "Why do you ignore us when we are talking to you?"

His answer is that he has trouble telling when people are talking to him.  He makes an analogy to vision--if you are looking at a mountain in the distance you don't see the dandelion at your feet, and vice versa.  He says that for him voices are like that.

Then he makes a recommendation/request.  "Use our names first to get our attention, before you start speaking to us."

This struck a chord for me.  I try very hard to do this with Middle.  Especially when I'm asking him to do something, and most especially when I'm teaching him something new.

I say his name.  Then I wait for him to look at me before I say anything else.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Wrong backpack

Middle Son's back pack was accidentally left in the nanny's car over the weekend.  So this morning we had to give him a different back pack.

He did not like it.  I gave it to him and he shoved it back at me.  I did eventually get him to take it, but he was clearly distressed that it was not the right one.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

IEP Meeting

We had our first IEP meeting for Middle Son at his new school (in our new school district) last week.  There were several noteworthy things.

First off was his use of his iPad.  He is doing much more with it than he has previously.  They described what he is doing.   They showed me how they have the communication app set it up.  Middle is using it to ask for breaks, to choose activities, and to select his lunch.  This is an order of magnitude more than we've seen him do before.  I am setting it up for him to use at home.  Now that My Beloved Wife is staying home we can put a lot more effort into using it with him at home.

Second was the way they interacted with Middle.  They had him "sign" his name on the papers.  They brought a puzzle along to give him something to do during the meeting.  They also had him play a game on the iPad (not his iPad, one of the teacher's).  He actually seemed interested in the game, which is also noteworthy.

Third, and perhaps most important, was the resources that the Bellevue School District has available and their attitudes about using them.  His IEP said that he is not eligible for Extended School Year (summer school).  We discussed that.  I said that I'd like him to do ESY.  The program administrator said that they can create an exception based on the fact that Middle is new to the district.  Then she opened up her laptop and wrote up the exception on the spot.  This is very unusual.  ESY costs money.  Schools usually resist spending money.  Later we were talking about Middle's iPad.  They asked if we were backing it up.  We are not.  I mentioned that I want to buy a second iPad for him.  That way he has back up hardware.  The speech pathologist said she could write a grant for him.    The school district could provide one that he could take home.  Including over the summer.  Which costs money.  Which would require a fight in most school districts.  And they did in a casual, off-handed manner.

We paid a premium when we decided to rent a house in Bellevue, largely because of the quality of the schools.  Bellevue has some of the best-rated public schools in the country.  I see why.

I am thankful that we can afford to live here.  Middle (and Oldest) can have so much help available to them that they didn't have in our old district.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Today I am grateful...

that Oldest Son is happy with his new school.  Last night he said that he thinks it is going to be much better for him.  Since that was a major motivation for us moving to the particular (very expensive) neighborhood that we are in, I am very happy to hear that from him.

Tuesday I was grateful...

to have a strong, capable partner who is able and willing to take on tasks with the boys so that I can travel for work.

Tuesday morning I took an early flight to San Jose for a day of meetings in our office there.  I had to leave before Middle Son's bus came to the houses.  In fact, I had to leave before Middle gets up.  My Beloved Wife got Middle up and ready for the bus.  Then when the bus drove off without him (apparently they won't honk if we don't come out--Tuesday was his 4th day riding the bus and we haven't figured out all the rules yet) so took him to school.

More on Arguing

I told Mother-of-my-Children what Youngest Son said about arguing all the time with Oldest Son when they are at her house.  She confirmed that they argue a great deal.  She said that Oldest frequently answers "no" when Youngest asks her if he can do something.  She thinks he is trying to be the man of the house.

That seems plausible to me.  My Beloved Wife and I were talking about this the other night.  Oldest would not try to take a pseudo-parental role in our house because A) we have clear structure and rules at our house, B) I am there to be the man of the house, and C) he knows that I would smack him down hard if he tried act like one of the parents instead of one of the kids.

Based on what happened when we were married and my observations now, MomC does not maintain clear structure and rules.  So there is a vacuum that Oldest is trying to fill.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


According to our Parenting Plan, all three boys are supposed to go back to MomC's on Sunday evening.  The past Sunday Oldest Son stayed at our house so that he could work on homework.  The semester ends this week and he is perilously close to failing biology and geometry.

Youngest Son asked me after dinner who was going back to mom's.  I told him that he and Middle Son were going, and Oldest was not.  He said he was glad that Oldest was staying because at mom's house "we argue all the time."

Which is very interesting to me.  They rarely argue at my house.

Today I am grateful...

that last night My Beloved Wife and I were able to have a productive conversation about an issue we have been struggling with.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Last night I was giving Middle Son a shower.  He loves to play in the water, and loves to rub shampoo on his head.  He does not love being scrubbed, and he especially does not love having the shampoo rinsed off his head.

I typically have to reach into the shower and scrub his head, and then we have a struggle to rinse him off.  I also have to point to arms, legs, stomach, etc. and tell him to scrub himself with a loofah.

In the last two weeks he has started reaching out of the shower and rubbing my head the way I rub his.  He seems to be playing.  He smiles and giggles.

Last night after he rubbed my head I laughed and then made a rubbing motion on my own head.  To my surprise Middle did the same.  Then I rubbed my neck and he scrubbed his neck with the loofah.  He imitated me through several gestures, scrubbing at his arms, chest, and neck.  It was almost like we were playing Simon Says.

I've never seem him imitate like that.  It was exciting.

Today I am grateful...

that we have the financial resources to deal with the fact that two of the three cars in the family broke down last week.  Older Step-Daughter's 97 Ford Escort died in an intersection on her way to work, and My Beloved Wife's car wouldn't start that same morning (after having had electrical work done on it a few days earlier).  Beloved's car turned out to be a simple fix, but Older's car is going to have to be replaced.

If we did not have the financial depth to repair and replace vehicles, this could have been a catastrophic problem.  Because we do, it is just an annoyance.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Who Speaks for Whom?

Last night, at the request of Younger Step-Daughter, we had dinner with her dad and his wife.  Younger has been living with them for the last 6 months, and she wants to move back in with us.  Dad and step-mom were not happy about this and had been raising concerns, dragging their feet, and generally making Younger uncomfortable.

My Beloved Wife asked me to come along because I'm more adept at managing these sorts of high-emotion conversations.  There were some tense moments.  I used all the tools in my bag.  We reached agreement on the logistics of Younger moving in with us and discussed some things that may happen over the next year.  All in all, I thought it went reasonably well.  As we left the restaurant Younger said "that went WAY better than I expected."

One of the stranger things that I noticed was that step-mom tended to speak for dad.  She said "your dad thinks...your dad feels."  At one point she said that dad felt like Younger had betrayed him.  I asked him if that was how he felt.  He said yes, he felt like he had been stabbed in the back.  That was a tough moment.  Younger just about broke down and started sobbing.  And then once that was said out loud and we got past the moment, things got a lot easier.  Dad engaged more directly in the conversation and we were able to work through his concerns.

When we got home, I told Younger (and Older Daughter, who was home from work and sitting at the table with us) that I had a piece of advice for them when dealing with their dad and step-mom.  Make sure you are having the conversation with your dad, not your step-mom.  Step-mom wants to speak for dad, and for whatever reason dad lets her do it.  You need to engage with him.  If she says he wants this or feels that, turn to your dad and ask him if that is how he feels.  If you do that you will get a better outcome than if you let her speak for him.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Today I am grateful...

I got to see Middle Son make an emotional connection with people he hadn't seen for almost 2 years.

We were taking Youngest Son to school.  We were late enough that I had to go inside with him.  He led my towards where his classroom was when he attended this school.

We went into the room.  He saw the teacher and classroom aides he had for three years.  He smiled.  He giggled.  He jumped and waved his hands.  They were equally pleased to see him again.

This was the first time that Middle had seen them since he left elementary school for middle school.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Today I am grateful...

that I arrived at work safely.  When I got to my office there had been a major accidental at the intersection right in front of the building.  A minivan was lying on its side.  There was a hole in the roof where the fire department had cut it open to get the driver out.


I am also pleased to report that Oldest Son sent me something he is grateful for yesterday.


Middle Son turned 13 a few weeks ago.  It was the day before we moved, so MomC agreed to host a small birthday celebration at her house.  It was us, her and her local relatives, and Middle's two paid caregivers.

One of the caregivers, Angie, was Middle's aide at school years ago.  We got to talking about how things have changed.  When she first started working with Middle he was aggressive.  He was self-injurious and would sometimes try to hit the other kids in his class.

I remembered a conversation we had with his private ABA therapist around that time.  She said that on his current path (IIRC he was 6 at the time) he would need two on one supervision to keep him safe as an adolescent.  If that happened we wouldn't be able to keep him in our home.  We would have to put him in state care to keep him (and us) safe.

And that didn't happen.  We hit the right combination of therapy and medication, and now Middle is a good-tempered, easy going kid.

Until that conversation I had lost sight of just how far we have come in the last 7 years.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Today I am grateful...

That I have a job where I can largely control my own hours.  I drove Middle Son to school today and stopped to chat with his teacher and the assistant principal about his upcoming school change.  Wednesday morning I will be going to meet with his new teachers and view his new classroom.  Tuesday afternoon I will be working from home because we have people coming in to install new blinds in the house.

I can do this without any issues.  I'm a salaried employee in a high-trust workplace.  My manager trusts that I will get my work done even when he can't observe me.  I trust that my team will do their jobs well without me watching over them.

This would not be true in many jobs.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Time Out

A couple of weeks ago Youngest Son and I were standing in the hallway.  Youngest turned and started pushing the buttons on Oldest Son's door lock (we have keypad locks on the doors to keep Middle Son out).  I asked him what he was doing and he said "practicing the door locks."

I was highly skeptical.  I said I didn't believe him.  I said I thought he was trying to get into Oldest's room.  I thought he didn't want to say that because he was afraid he'd get in trouble for it.  He stuck to his story.  I repeated that I didn't believe him.  I said it was ok for him to want to go into Oldest's room.  If he'd told me he wanted to go into the room, he wouldn't get in trouble for that.  Actually going in the room would get him in trouble, but not wanting to go in.  Lying to me about what he was doing was a much larger problem.

He talked in circles a little, trying to stay out of trouble.  Finally, I said one last time that I did not believe he was practicing, and asked him what we should do.

He looked down at the floor and said quietly "a time out."


Oldest Son had a D&D game this afternoon.  As I was driving him over, he thanked me for driving him.  He said that he thinks he should say thank you more often than he does, and is working on that.  I told him that is a great idea.  It's really hard to be too thankful.

I told him that I've been reading about gratitude practices--make a habit of writing down every day something in your life that you are grateful for.  I said it might be helpful for us to be gratitude partners, and email each other every day with something that we are grateful for.  I asked if he wanted to try it, and he said yes.

I just emailed him my first one.  Tonight we cut Middle Son's hair.  He HATES having his hair cut.  Even with multiple sedatives it still takes 4 people.  Three to hold him still and one to run the clippers.  I was grateful that Oldest, as well as Older and Younger Daughters, were able and will to help.