Being a Dad…the best role I've ever had.

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A Missed Opportunity with my Dad

I’m going to share a father-son story, only, this time, I was the son.

For my entire life, I have always loved science fiction and, especially, Star Trek. And, as of the date of this post, that show is fifty years old and, today, September 8, 2016, is exactly the fiftieth anniversary of its first airing on the NBC television network. Even the day is the same…Thursday.

Well, I’m not old enough to have watched it in its first run, so I watched it on the local TV stations that aired it in syndication in the early 1970’s.  I watched intently.  I always imagined myself as Captain Kirk and went around with my ‘Star Trek Utility Belt’ and battled Klingons and Romulans, well, mostly Klingons…they were the cool enemy.

As I got older, my dad felt the character of Harcourt Fenton Mudd was more appropriate for me and he called me Mudd.  I didn’t care, I liked Harry Mudd and was ecstatic that the character was in three episodes (two in the original show and one animated episode…and, to my delight, he makes a cameo in a Deep Space Nine episode that incorporated The Trouble with Tribbles.) So, throughout my young life, I was known as Mudd.  There were times that I hated it, but, mostly, I just embraced my inner Mudd. You should too, there’s a little Harry Mudd in us all.

Well, in the mid-1970’s, there were these rumors of a new Star Trek TV show.  I was a TV Guide fanatic and read intently all of the rumors there and any where I could.  And, then, one day, it was true!

Paramount decided it was going to start what was, at the time, a fourth commercial TV network and Star Trek was going to be the flagship show.  I was so excited.That excitement, though, was short lived.  Paramount soon decided to scrap not only the network, but the show too!  There was some good news, though…they were going to make a big budget movie!  And, best of all, they got all of the main actors back, including Nimoy, who, at the time, hated everything related to Star Trek. Or, so it was said.

Well, fast forward a long year or so and the movie premiered.  My Dad had promised to take me to see it.  Well, at the time, my father had re-married and moved about fifty miles north of Richmond, to Fredericksburg.  I didn’t see him much during that time, maybe two weekends a month. Logistics more than anything else, was the problem.  Sometimes, it was my step mother who picked me up as my Dad worked evenings and I was still in school.

Well, it was, finally, time for the movie to open in Fredericksburg and my Dad said we would go.  Well, during that week, he went and saw the damned movie without me! I didn’t know until my step mother picked me up.  She got me early that Friday-I got out of school by three and she was waiting for me.

On that long drive – long to me – to Fredericksburg, we stopped in Ashland to see my Dad. That’s when he dropped the bomb on me.  He had to work that night and I would have to go to the move BY MYSELF!  I had been so looking forward to  not only seeing the movie, but seeing it with my Dad.  He was the only person who ‘got’ my love of all things Trek.  My step mother hated it, so she wasn’t going to go.  Which, I suppose, was OK, though I would have been excited to go with her.  My Dad gave me some money for the movie, popcorn and a soda, ten bucks, I think.

Oh man, was I hurt. When he told he had seen it, though, that was the worst.  I felt betrayed. Betrayed by my Dad.  I could not believe he would do that. To ME!

The rest of the drive to Fredericksburg was quiet. My poor step mother tried to make conversation, but I was having nothing to do with it.  Brooding, moping, whatever.

We got to my Dad’s house and I took my bags in, got some water and then she took me to the Four Mile Fork Theater-which is a car dealership now, I think. She dropped me and said she would be back in two and a half hours. I thanked her and, cautiously went in the theater and got my ticket.

This was also the first time I had gone to a movie by myself.  Now, I was not only upset about my Dad, but was a bit anxious to be there alone.

I got my popcorn and soda and sat down. Mid way up the theater and in the middle. I wanted optimal viewing and sound. The movie, supposedly, had this awesome soundtrack.  It did.

When the lights went down, and the curtains opened, I stopped being mad. I stopped feeling alone.  I started to feel that sense of excitement and wonder well up again. The feeling I had had for a long time.  After the previews were done (no ads back then, just a couple of preview and then…) that Paramount logo popped up. The crowd went nuts.  I remember that long intro music and, then, that first scene.  You could have kicked me between my legs and I would not have noticed.  For the next two-plus hours, I was enthralled.  Man, Admiral Kirk sure seemed nervous and that twit Decker…who the hell was this guy anyway? It took me awhile to connect him with the Doomsday Device Commodore Decker.  Oh, and the bald chick? Yeah, being a teenager, well, lets just say I REALLY dug her. Oddly enough, though, Mr. Spock made me hate him at first.  It wasn’t until V’Ger injured him that I started to like him again. He was more of an arrogant ass than normal. And, the others, they were just there, I didn’t give a crap about them.

When then end finished, I was pumped and disappointed, at the same time.  Pumped over the movie being so big in scale and, yet, not very fulfilling. Disappointed because I didn’t get share it with my Dad.

I don’t know why he chose not to see it with me, we saw the next two together. We saw the Star Wars movies together.  I never asked him why.  I had gone to bed not long after the movie.  I didn’t want to see him that night.  I talked his ear off the next day about the movie, but, that night, I didn’t want to have anything to do with him.

He never said he was sorry, or even mentioned it again.

I finally stopped being mad about it. And it seems so petty today, but, when I was 14, it was a pretty big deal to me.  An experience I wanted to share, with person I looked up to the most.  Something we both shared a love for, yet, he chose to work instead.  This is something I swore I would never do if I ever had children. And, for the most part, I have put my kids ahead of my job. There have been a few times where I absolutely had to work and either miss or be late for something, but that has been rare. And, sometimes, I catch myself putting myself ahead of them.  I try, very hard, to not do that, but, I too, fail. One of the things I never thought about, until I had children of my own, was why he chose to work.  It is very possible that it was one of those ‘absolute’ moments I spoke about. I am going to go with that.

The father-son dynamic is very important.  Fathers should experience all the ‘firsts’ they can, with their sons. (Ok, daughters too.) They are moments you will NEVER get a chance to relive.  Even with multiple children, what one may value, another may not give a crap about.

I still wish we could have seen the movie together though.  Maybe I’m not completely over that.

We finally made ‘the trip’…to Cedar Point

WP_20160824_17_37_05_ProMy oldest son, Chase, is a theme park junkie.  He always has been.  Like myself. Like my father. It was prevalent on his mother’s side as well. She loved them, so did her father.  For the first few years of Chase’s life, we only went to Busch Gardens, in Williamsburg, Virginia.  When he got old enough to start riding the kiddie rides, we began getting season passes to Kings Dominion, a theme park just north of Richmond, Virginia.  Chase always had a fascination with rollercoasters, playing the game ‘Rollercoaster Tycoon’ on our computer. It was an impetus behind his desire to learn to read.

Once he actually rode one, though, he became obsessed with the rollercoaster. His first one was the Barnstormer, 4EC3E5D0-4C3E-47C8-9BA0-B64E95AB6678 (1)which was—oddly enough—at Disney World in Florida. From that point on…and once he could read…he started learning all he could about the various rollercoasters in Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens.  Riding each one with him, as was able to ride them, was such a thrill.  Not only for the ride itself, but seeing his reaction.  The sheer joy he got from riding them.  The sense of accomplishment when he could, finally, ride that ‘big boy’ coaster or the one that had tallest inversion or this or that.  It was just as much fun for me seeing his reaction as it was for him to ride them.

Indeed, when he was able to ride the Hypersonic XLC at Kings Dominion, you could not smack that smile from his face.  See, this thing was a launch coaster, went straight up and straight down. The whole ride was done in just seconds. It looked menacing.  His sense of accomplishment was off the charts.  This particular rollercoaster, though, did not become a favorite. The next time he rode it, it gave him a really bad headache.  I felt horrible for that.  The rollercoaster was dismantled shortly after that anyway. But, that first ride…I don’t think I have ever seen that much enthusiasm, joy and wonder from him.  It was awesome.   He hasn’t been that way since. Oh, sure, there were times where he came close, but nothing has really matched that … until recently.

WP_20160824_18_33_30_ProBefore I share that, though, lets continue with his journey into rollercoaster enthusiasm excess.

Every vacation we had was planned around some kind of amusement or theme park trip.  Be it to the great land of of Orlando, Myrtle Beach South Carolina, or where ever, there was an amusement park close by.  We hit parks like Disney World, Carowinds in Charlotte, the two in Virginia, Six Flags America, small ones like Family Kingdom, the Pavillion and Hard Rock Park (all in Myrtle Beach) and Trimpers and Jolly Roger in Ocean City, Maryland.  Recently, we made it to Dorney Park in Pennsylvania, but that was just a day trip. There was one park, though, that remained elusive.

All through his young life, Chase would read all he could and watch all he could about rollercoasters.  He read about the tallest, the fastest, the longest, etc.  One park kept showing up with all of these wonderful machines:  Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. 

He desperately wanted to go.  For years, my late wife and I had planned to take Chase.  We even got as far, about ten years ago, as reserving a room near Sandusky.  Unfortunately, life kept getting in the way and we never made that trip.

In 2010, Chase’s mom passed away.  Early that year, before she became ill, we had talked about going in 2011.  As her health declined, so did our plans, once again. I took Chase and his cousin on a sort of rollercoaster ‘tour’ that summer, but Sandusky wasn’t in the cards.

Two years ago, Chase got his drivers license and decided to go to work.  He fulfilled one of his lifetime dreams and worked as a ‘scare actor’ at Kings Dominion.  He is really good at it too and is doing it again for the third year.  WP_20160824_18_06_23_Pro

Chase and I had talked about going to Sandusky last year, but, as was always the case, it just did not work out.  But, as he always has, Chase did something I never expected.

He gave me one of the best Christmas presents ever:  a rollercoaster tour that was to include Sandusky.  We started out by going to Carowinds, a place special to us both for reason I won’t go into now.  Sentiment aside, it really is a nice park and, if you get there, ride the Fury 325…one of the best rollercoasters ever.

As summer went on, we kept hitting this snag or that and our trips were delayed or altered quite a bit. Our trip to Dorney Park was to be a two day trip, but turned out to be a day trip…quite a drive to ride a handful of coasters, but the time we spent in the car was well worth it.

So, getting back to the sense of awe and joy he had with the Hypersonic…well, he showed it once more when we actually pulled into the parking lot.  I felt it too.  After about twelve years of trying, we finally made it. Walking through that turnstile, seeing the old Carousel and, looking to our left, the bus used for the Hallow weekends and seeing the Raptor…well, seeing the look on his face…was priceless. Even at 19, that sense of wonder shone through his very adult face.  My eight year old boy from 2005 was with me once more.  We were both quite, walking around, taking it in.  The park was not busy and we were able to ride one of the coaster he had only dreamt of riding just a few years ago…the Raptor. 

The next day, we spent walking around, riding the coasters, taking photos (that was me) and not believing we were actually there. Fortunately, the park was not busy and we were able to walk on to most of the coasters.  Millenium Force has to be one of the smoothest rides ever. Exciting, fast, TALL…this was THE coaster he wanted to ride. Of all the coasters anywhere, this was the one he had talked about the most, since he had first seen an on ride video.  Getting to ride it, for the first time with him, that was special.

We spent that day, not really saying much, but bonding and have a great time.  The place is massive and we have to go again. But, any other visit there will not be the same or as special as this one.  Sure, it will be great to have my other two sons and my wife with me (I was lucky to have another wife who also loves the parks, she’s pretty awesome) but this visit, well…after so much anticipation…well, it was just special.

WP_20160826_12_38_25_ProPerhaps the most ironic thing was that it ended up with Chase taking ME instead of me taking him.  And that’s pretty damn cool.

Dealing with the meltdown

For the last couple of years, it seemed that Preston’s loss of temper had subsided.  In the past, it would not take much to set him off. Indeed, moving a book from one side of a table to the other would be enough to cause him to meltdown.  Generally, though, when he was like that, it might also mean he was getting sick.  His outbursts were often tied to his health.  I don’t know if that is an Autism trait or not, but it was certainly his.

As he got older, he learned to deal with things a lot better. With coaching from us as well as an intolerance for his outbursts, he has learned to cope with the situations that cause him so much angst.  I say intolerance because he had begun to get somewhat violent.  And, he is a strong child.  The fear of him hurting himself, one of the other kids or even us led us to deal with it a bit more harshly than before.  He knows his outbursts will get him punished, either loss of electronics, no friends coming over to play or some other appropriate form of punishment.  While this may seem over arching for a child with his issues, it has, nonetheless, helped him with boundaries. And, he definitely needs boundaries. More on that in a bit.

He is a second grader now and has matured a great deal.  We thought those tantrums were about done.

They aren’t.

Lately, he has regressed back to the tantrums.

Like today.

My wife signed the family up for the local YMCA.  So, she takes the three year old and Preston. My 18 year old followed later.  While at the Y, Preston and Xander were in the big kids and little kids areas. Xander played and had a good time.  Preston had a good time as well, until…

…he wanted to do the rock climb wall, which was closed.

Oh boy.

Preston misunderstood what my wife had said about it and took her comment as a hard fast promise that he could climb the wall.  The Y, however, said otherwise.  Preston melted down.  This wasn’t just a melt down for a few minutes. Oh no. It went on for quite some time.  She brought him home this way. He refused to get out of the car. She called me to help.

So, I go out to help him. Find out what happened, that sort of thing.

One of the things I learned about him, early on, is that he needs a lot of physical connection while he is this way, either holding him down, hugging him or simply sitting close to him with an arm around him. It’s a reassurance, I think, that he is loved.  He’s never said that, but I think that is what he believes. Any way, I sit on the edge of the car seat and hug him. He almost immediately calms, but not all the way. 

I could not understand him, so I had him calm down some more.  I hugged and had him squeeze my hands.  That usually distracts him and I make a dumb comment about it and he usually laughs.

Not tonight.

So, I resort to Dad and tell him he needed to suck it up and tell me what was wrong.  The way I said that (and not with those words, but something close—and clean) must have struck him as funny because he half smiled, settled down and told me about the wall.

I reassured him that Mommy would not lie and that she did not know that the wall was closed.  And, that sometimes, things he is told are just wrong.  I shared a short story about an experience I had (he seems to like that) and then suggested that we go inside for some good old ice cream. That always makes me feel better. He agreed.  I told him I would not talk about this incident anymore tonight, but we would discuss it again.  He seemed to get better after that.

The thing with Preston and situations like this is that he is quite literal.  If I say ‘I am going to jump down your throat and kick your liver out’ he will sit there and try to figure out how I would really do that. I had to explain that it was just a saying…a joke…nothing serious, because, after all, I am far too big.  He understands that, but the original statement was over his head. But, when his mom said he could do that wall if it were available was interpreted by him as ‘you can do that wall’.  The rest was lost to him.  And that is his biggest problem now:  trying to figure out what he should take as fact and what he can ignore.  He often chooses to ignore and that is just as bad.

A long time ago, we started to set boundaries for him.  No more playing in our bedroom. He has his own PLUS a room downstairs he can play in.  No more using our bathroom in our bedroom: there is one in the hall for him to use.  Things like that.  Why? Well, as he is both literal AND a rule follower, this was the start of his education on how to act socially AND deal with a teacher in school.  Plus, our bedroom is just that: OURS.  It is not his, nor anyone else’s in the house. This also taught him that other bedrooms were also off limits.  It was an adjustment, but came through very well. Unfortunately, he has not quite figured out that there are boundaries outside of our house, but he is close. Very close.

It is interesting to see and understand how his brain processes and acts out situations.  While it can be problematic, such as today’s problems, it is also a very cool thing.  For all of the meltdowns, we have had many, many more great conversations about the stars, science, religion, racing, video games, war and a host of things. Mostly games and science.  The  breadth of his interest can, at times, be very cool.  I often forget how old he is.  He asks better questions than many adults I know.  How freaking cool is that?

Tonight was the first time he’s had a melt down like this since we got his diagnosis. Let me tell you, it was far easier to deal with, knowing WHY he is like this, than it ever was prior to the diagnosis. I felt so much more calmness in talking to him and not once did I lose my composure…something that has happened in the past.  When this used to happen, and we did not know why, it was frustrating.  He’s melted down over something so trivial as not using what he thought was the right door to exit Applebee’s.  Not knowing why he did was frustrating. Not knowing that there was a reason for this and he wasn’t just being stubborn made it very difficult at times to stay focused on calming him down and not resorting to threats about his toys or, worse, losing one’s composure and yelling.

Tonight, I knew why he did this (but, not the trigger) so it was easier to sit there, let him be him and try to calm him with out getting excited myself.  Staying calm certainly helped him to get calm and I was also able to determine that things that used to work, no longer do. 

And that is key.  Watch, regroup and try again.  But, stay calm.  His Mother figured out this out a long time ago, it took me a little longer.  He also seems to react better with me than her.  I don’t know why, it is not anything she is doing wrong. No, she is very caring and very loving, especially when he is that way.  I am a little more gruff.  I don’t know if that is it, may be he needs a little toughness, maybe it is the father figure (his biological father can also get him calm) who knows.  And don’t misunderstand, she does a great job with him.  She knows how to talk to him and can sense when he gets out of sorts. She changes her voice and supermom comes out.  Most of the time, she can fend off a melt down, which is probably why they got fewer and fewer.  Sometimes, though, he just snaps.  Like tonight.

We complement each other, I think. I’ve learned a great deal from her…when not to continue a line of thinking, when, and when not to talk to him about something, what battles to just let go and more.  I’ve taught her that certain things, even with his issues, just cannot be allowed.  The boundaries.  And also that it is OK to NOT blame oneself.

Children like Preston are the way they are because they are different. It does not mean it is your fault as a parent. It is not your fault they scream and throw fits in public. It is no one business, even in a public gym or restaurant. Embarrassing, maybe, but not your fault.

After the outburst tonight, we had ice cream and Preston went on to, happily, do his chores and watch a couple of YouTube videos. It was like nothing had happened.  And, that is the way with him. After these episodes, all is good.  He may have a headache, but he tends to forget that he had even had the meltdown.  Tomorrow, he probably won’t remember.

We will.

What if my other children are also Autistic? What if I am?

When we began the process for getting my step-son evaluated for Autism Spectrum Disorder, I did not know much about it. I still don’t, but I do know more that I did.  I have also changed my perception of people with ASD.  My first hand experience with my step-son has been all over the map, but mostly a huge, positive one. That, for several years, I just thought he was spoiled speaks volumes about his condition. If you did not know, you would think he was ‘normal’, maybe a bit mature, for his age.

However, thinking back about some of his quirks, outbursts and other traits, I see that in my other two kids.  My 18 year old exhibited many, but not most.  My three year old, again, shows many of the characteristics but not all.  And, then there is myself.  I fit the bill on many of the characteristics but, again, not all. And, this begs the question I posed in an earlier post: how many have either been misdiagnosed or, worse, not at all but should be?

For example, Xander, my three year old, is prone to outbursts, much like Preston did.  He does not ‘melt down’ as much or to the same degree as Preston once did, but, nonetheless, Xander still does.  He also is beginning to show some of the same texture issues that Preston does.  Xander tends to get fixated on one thing for days or weeks at a time.  However, the one big sign that Xander exhibits but Preston does not: Xander has a very vivid imagination.  He can take anything make it into a toy and play for quite a while.  You can hear him acting out things.  He also bursts into song, exhibits empathy and will engage total strangers.  Preston does none of this.

And then there is myself.  I can be rather rigid in my thinking.  And, though I thoroughly enjoy being around others and participating in conversation, I don’t really care much for people in general.  I do not get scared or anxious in crowds, but it is uncomfortable at times.  Sometimes, I find myself not caring when I should and also tend to gravitate to one, maybe two people when in a group.  Generally, when she is with me, that person is my wife.  She is my comfort zone and I tend not to leave the ‘zone.’

As far as imagination goes, I have tons of that.  But, what’s odd is that I cannot always ‘see’ what’s in my head.  I know what things look like, but I often cannot ‘see’ the object in my head.  I found out, via a friend, that this is an actual condition called aphantasic.  You, literally, are ‘brain blind’ in that you cannot imagine or picture anything in your head. I’m not quite like that, I can ‘see’ dim images, but no detail and lack of color.  I would make an awful witness. I am terrible with names and faces for this reason.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, I don’t quite know except that the brain is a very delicate and complicated device.  I don’t think Xander is autistic, but, honestly, I think it is too soon to really know.  I think he is more the three year old than an autistic three year old.  ADHD, maybe. 

Since getting the diagnosis, I see Preston more as a child that needs our help, needs my help, more than seeing him as a spoiled child (which, like most children, he is to a degree.)  Knowing WHY he does what does makes it much easier for me to understand and cope just as he has to.  It also helps me be me…see, I share many of his quirks too.  I always denied it, my wife loves to point it out, but, I think she is on to something.  Who knows, maybe I have Aspergers (which, apparently, is no longer discussed.) Whatever the case, I have learned that the world doesn’t give a darn about me and that was one of the biggest eye opening moments of my life. It does not revolve around me or anyone else.  Preston will figure this out too.

As odd as it sounds, I am looking forward to embarking on this journey with him.  And if Xander does turn out to have the same thing, I look forward to walking with him as well.

Love and patience, my friends.

We have a diagnosis…followup

I recently wrote about my step son’s autism diagnosis.  I want to expound a bit on that post.  I thought about just editing it, but decided to write a new post, I don’t want to confuse anyone who already read it and I’d like to say more.

Early on, right after my wife had moved in with me, I thought my step son was spoiled and that he got by with a lot.  And, that is true:  my wife will tell you that, yes, he was spoiled and he did get by with a few things. There are reasons for that and I will get into that in a bit.  I also thought ‘well, he isn’t acting that much different than an ‘x’ year old (supply any number for ‘x’.)  Well, yeah, he was.  See, my problem has more to do with MY perception of how a child SHOULD be.  It is different from yours, I am sure.  We tend to compare things with that we know.  For example, I tend to use my first son as a reference, even though I know he was unusual. Unusual in that he was quiet, liked to play on his own, etc.  So, that was my reference point.  Add to that, my mother was a foster parent and she also baby sat children.  So, having been around children my entire life, I thought I knew what I was seeing.  And, yes, some of that behavior was normal and very appropriate for his age. Most, though, was not. And that is what I missed.

Now, when he was younger, he had many, many sensory issues and, as such, was unable to play outside.  The dirt, grass, rain, snow…most things that we would take for granted, he had major problems with…especially sand and snow.  So, since he could not play outside, he was allowed to throw things inside.  Let me tell you, I was appalled the first time I saw it and went off the deep end.  All I could see was my expensive gear getting broken, broken glass everywhere and a lot of money to replace the broken stuff.  Even after the reason he did that was explained to me, I still had (and still do) had issues with throwing balls-or anything-in the house.  Yes, it is still forbidden.  We had to figure out how to get him to play outside and understand that, here, it was not allowed to throw things in the house. 

As time went on, though, it became less of an issue as he learned to play outside and, now, he loves it—when he does not want to play video games, this is.

Once I knew WHY he did what did and WHY he ‘got by with it’, I adjusted and adapted.  Rules are rules, even for him.  The key is to figure out how to implement them in a way to accommodate his issues.  So, we started out by allowing it in one large room of the house, where there were no expensive things to break and we limited it to only softer balls. It was also allowed in the hall up to the room.  This worked well.

The sensory thing was a big indicator of a problem.  Most of us have some kind of sensory intolerance, be it loud noises, the feel of a fabric, the texture of a food. We all have experienced this at some point in our lives. For some, though, there’s a multitude of issues and my step son had a bunch.  From food textures (he is the ONLY kid I know who cannot tolerate mashed potatoes, as soon as they touch his tongue, the gag reflex kicks in and…boom!  Out go the potatoes.  He also does not like certain fabrics touching his skin.  Sand used to freak him out.  Anything with a non-smooth texture bothered him.  His socks being ‘twisted’. 

Some of these I understood. The sock thing? Over my head. I just could not fathom that idea that he could feel that or that it felt wrong. I just couldn’t.  I would often just brush it off.  And, let me tell you, that is something you SHOULD NOT DO. Period. NEVER ignore it. NEVER think ‘well, that’s just crap’. Never. Don’t do it.  It means something to those who experience it and should not be dismissed. Ever.  Help them with fixing it.  If it takes a few minutes, deal with the delay yourself, don’t put it on them.  It will just make it worse.  I know first hand.  Little dude, I am so sorry for that.

For children like my step son, there is a time for ‘the lesson’ and a time for just letting them do it their way.  If there are two doors that go to the same place and they pick the right door instead of the one you were going to use, just suck it up and go through the door they want.  That is a small battle you do not need to win.

The battles you DO want to win are the ones that teach them something.  The ones that keep them safe.  The ‘lesson’. 

So, what’s the ‘lesson’?  Well, that’s when they do something they think is the right way, but you know it isn’t.  One that will get them laughed at or scorned later in life in a job, school or other social setting.

And, that’s the key: social setting.  Children like Preston, my step son–my son–lack many social skills, including when to be polite, when to take feelings into account, when to back off.  He’s got the basics down, he knows how to introduce himself and he will participate in things, but he will also tell you if he thinks something is stupid, not thinking about that would affect the others.  That is a foreign concept. And that is where you give ‘the lesson’.  I’m not going to go into much about that for now.  I am going to write about that in another post.

Thinking back, there were many signs I just could not see due to my own preconceptions.  This makes me wonder how many children out there need help but, likely, won’t get it because of someone like me.  Fortunately, Preston has a great support system in my wife, his father, his grandparents, brother and myself.  Recognizing that the melt downs — NOT the other stuff — I realized that, yeah, something was off and, after several years, we finally know why.

What I am trying to say, is that you need to have an open mind and throw out any ideas you have about how children SHOULD be.  It’s tough to do,  and, at times, you will regress back into that comfort zone, but, don’t do it. 

Remember, it is about them, not you.  They need your help more than you need for them to be perfect.

The Road Trip, part 1

WP_20160416_09_50_39_Raw_LIAs a fifty year old father of three boys, I think I have a pretty good understanding of this dad thing.  My first son is now 18 years old.  My middle son is 8 and my youngest is now 3.  That’s a big range in ages and it makes me, for the most part, young.  Oh, my body says otherwise, but, mentally, I feel pretty young.  Maybe it is all of the cartoon watching or the playing with toys designed for  five year old or a combination of all of that. Whatever it is, I like it. I get to play with toys and no one thinks it is odd. I can watch Spongebob Squarepants and laugh at it.  Yeah, I can do all of that and it’s fine.

Perhaps the best thing is just spending time with them, collectively and individually.  So, it was a special occasion when I got to take a road trip with my 18 year old, go to an amusement park three hundred miles from home to ride one of the tallest rollercoasters in the country and then go back home the next day.  Long drive, yes, worth it? Oh yeah.

See, this was something that we had planned to do for years, not necessarily to this particular park, but the road trip and amusement park visit was.  So, now, we are going to take a summer long rollercoaster trip.  Not all at once, but, as time allows. We made the first leg, to wonderful Carowinds theme park in Charlotte, North Carolina.

WP_20160416_12_03_56_Moment(2)We started talking about doing this shortly after his mother passed away.  We did an abbreviated trip then, going to Carowinds, our two parks in Virginia, a nasty Six Flags park, just north of DC and to Ocean City, Maryland (a wonderful little beach town.)  But, we had company then, his cousin went along. Now, though, it is just us.

The drive down to Charlotte from Richmond was long but, fortunately, uneventful…no breakdowns, tickets, sickness, etc.  We talked.  We talked a lot.  Told stories, shared political views, talked about previous trips and vacation, school and more.  I had a great time.

WP_20160416_10_00_42_Raw_LIWhile we planned to stay the weekend, we cut it short by a day.  He wasn’t feeling well and we decided to come home early. That was fine. We did all we had wanted to do in the park anyway…rode the Intimidator, a rollercoaster named and themed after the race car legend, Dale Earnhardt.  We road Flightdeck, a jet fighter themed coasted originally themed for the movie ‘Top Gun’.  It was fast…and gave me a headache.  But, the ultimate thrill there…the 325 foot tall, 6600 ft long tracked behemoth called Fury 325.  It was fast, tall and so smooth. Not jerky and did not do anything more than make me a tad queezy as I had eaten very greasy pizza beforehand. 

As awesome as the coasters were, however, nothing was more awesome than just spending time with my son.  He was upset over having to leave early. I told him it was fine.  As I told him, it wasn’t the destination, it was the journey.  And an awesome journey it was.  I am looking forward to the next trip.

Watching him become an adult

DSC_5358June.  The start of the summer season, vacations starting up, school ending and graduations.  Among the events that have taken place, for me, in June…my oldest son graduating from high school and turning 18.

I thought the graduation was going to be tough for me. I was very proud of him.  Watching him walk across the stage, getting his diploma and remembering a time when we sure if it would ever happen.  When he was a child, Chase had an immune system deficiency and took several meds and received monthly, then weekly infusions. We never knew what the long term effects of the medication he took and the blood infusions he received would do. There was even concern on how it would all affect his cognitive ability.  Well, I am happy to report that it all kept him alive as well as not doing anything to hamper is learning and mental growth.

He has turned out to be a fine young man.

Fine young man. 

Wow.

It seems to me that just a few short years ago he was five and just starting school. But, I woke up one day and he’s 15 and in high school.  How in hell did that happen?

Now, he’s 18.  Out of school, driving and has a job.  Soon, he’ll have two jobs as he will be a ‘scare actor’  at a local theme park for the Halloween season.  My otherwise quiet son will be scaring the pants off of grown people and kids alike.

He’s good at it too as we saw him in action last season.

Over the years, I’ve watched him develop and grow. Often, telling him he needed to stop that nonsense and be my little boy forever.  Of course, that didn’t happen.  Well, the stop growing part, anyway. 

I think back at his many goals…like being tall enough to reach the light switch on his own.  Being able to read just enough so he could play Rollercoaster Tycoon while daddy was at work (I used to put him on my knee and play the game with him. We built many, many amusement parks together.) Getting tall enough to ride the Tomb Raider.  Being able to ride to ride the Volcano. Wishing he was in high school. Wishing he was out of school, etc.

And watching the awe and amazement coming from him when he discovered something new as well as having those goals met.  Watching his excitement when he was able to reach the light switch, play the games, ride the rollercoasters and tomb raider.  The pride, walking across the stage, in getting his diploma.  Even today, he still gets excited. Not as much, perhaps, as he used to, but he does. (Seeing the joy on his face when we went back to Disney World was just as cool as it was the first time, some 12 years ago.)

Time doesn’t stop and Chase will, eventually, move on and, hopefully, find out how awesome it is to be Dad. And, it has been awesome. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

And, I get to do it again.

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