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

Posts tagged ‘stepfather’

Wonky LED’s and an amazing brain

My wife is home schooling Preston, as the local school system could not really cope with his unique needs and abilities.  Children who are on ‘the spectrum’ are not like neurotypical children.  In Preston’s case, he not only is bright, but gets bored and pays attention to things that most people would not, like the order of books on a shelf or a sign that should not be up. Things like that. So, because his needs were not being sufficiently handled by the school system-and, don’t get me wrong, Hanover Schools are excellent, for most.  I have nothing against this school system or even Preston’s former school–they just are not equipped or staffed to handle one, let alone many-which they claim they do.

Anyway, as part of Preston’s home school curriculum, I am teaching him programming and how computers work.

To my delight, he has a knack for the programming part. I think he will for the hardware as well, though his mind wanders a great deal when I am teaching him about the hardware.  A good programmer should know the basics of how the computer works.

Along those lines, I dug up a small computer (one with very little capabilities called an ‘Arduino’, they are used for controlling things) and an old laptop and we made two LED’s blink in varying patterns and duration.  While he got a bit bored while I was setting it up, he got very excited when we made the LED’s do things. 

That was fun, but it also showed me a bit about his very anal attention:  those LED’s HAD to blink at precise intervals.  He could not cope with random intervals of on or off. He also did not like the brightness. I explained that, while we can control the brightness, we were not doing so then, that was for another lesson.  He, reluctantly, went along with that, but those LED’s blinking differently, he could not take that.  So, we changed the program so they would blink at a constant rate. I had him tell me how to do that.  With only a few lessons, he was able to do that. 

Of course, by that point, our four year old was interested and, he too, wanted to make the LED’s blink.  Preston and I changed the code so that you could type a number and make the LED’s blink at that rate.  Xander was just as excited as Preston.

It is amazing how Preston reasons things and how well he remembers. This was the first lesson in a couple of weeks and he remembered the last things we did–I did a verbal quiz and he was 100% correct. 

HIs tendency to be so anal, though, can be a slippery slope.  We will work through the rough spots, but I think he will be able to use it as a strength.  In this case, the randomness of the blinking LED’s  made him a bit nuts, but he worked through that and came up with a solution.

Of course, the notion that a dollar’s worth of parts would provide he and Xander with so much fun is, itself, amazing. Like his brain. 

I love that kid.

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The Extended Family

Last night, Preston was having a bit of a difficult time. He had a concussion in November and is still suffering from the ill effects of the injury. He was a little upset that the weekend was over and he wanted to spend more time with his father. I may be step Dad, and treat him like my own, but I’m not DAD. I explained to him that I knew exactly how he felt. He gave me a funny look as if to say ‘yeah, how would you?’ I told him how lucky he was, he had two Mom’s and two Dad’s who love him very much. When I was growing up, I didn’t know my ‘birth’ mother or my Dad. I had spent some time with them, but didn’t really know either. The lady I called MOM, adopted me when I was his age. I told him that I didn’t really get spend any time with my Dad until eight or nine but got to really know him when I was a teen. I told him it was OK to feel the way he did and never be afraid to talk to me about it. He gave me the biggest hug, like a burden had been lifted. He asked me a few more questions about my childhood, which I answered. I reassured him that his Dad was welcome to drop by anytime he could to spend time with Preston. It also made me think about ‘FAMILY’.
They say blood is thicker than water, which may be true, but FAMILY trumps it all. And, in my book, there doesn’t have to be any blood relation to make a FAMILY. Yesterday was my SISTER’s birthday. We are not related by blood and, it seems, we don’t even share the same mother…but, that is OK. I grew up knowing who my family was, just as I want Preston to know his. Mike has been part of my family for six years now and it does not matter, to me, how that came to be. He, too, is part of my family.
Ann, the sister who had the birthday yesterday, and her late husband, treated me like a king when I was little. I remained very close to them until they moved to New York. I always had a problem with that, but, I really do not know why. They moved to be closer to their son and grandchildren. As that happened after the deaths of my Mom, my Dad and my first wife, it kind of felt like I was being left alone. That scared me. I don’t know why, as I still had a big family right here at home. My son, my then girlfriend (whom I married a short time later) and the rest of my family-which, just seemed invisible.  Ann and I grew apart, but not very much. The death of her husband had a big impact on me, he was, after all, like a Dad to me for most of my life. And, even though I don’t talk to her as much, I still love her and nothing will ever change that. I have three other sisters too…Mary, which Mom also adopted; Katy, who is my blood sister (meaning we are actually, biologically, related-have the same parents) and Rose. I could write a book about this.
Each one of those three ladies are awesome in their own ways and, as a result, I feel like I am a better man because of things I learned from them.
Mary was always unapologetic and adventurous. She showed me that following the rules was not always the best thing to do…I know how that sounds, but, she was right.  She’s had some rough times, but got through them and is now a fine lady, content with the way things turned out. Even now, when things don’t always go the way they should, she maintains that same attitude. It is a quality I wish I had.
Katy is my more liberal minded sister.  Polar opposite of me, more like the way my Dad thought.  She is very much like him, her sense of humor, the way she looks at things and the way she just accepts people. Well, OK, my Dad was not quite as accepting of a lot of people.  I didn’t grow up with her, we saw very little of each other as the ‘social workers’ in Chesterfield did their best to keep us apart.  We keep in touch now and I’m very glad we do.
Rose was a foster child Mom had for several years.  When she was released from the foster care system, she chose to stay with us. Rose has a physical disability–cerebral palsy–that left her not quite as mobile as most are.  She complemented the rest of my expanding family, only moving out on her own when she was in her late twenties.  Over the years, we’ve drifted apart and I do regret that.  It is one thing I need to work on. It isn’t because of an argument or anything like that. For the longest time, I convinced myself it was the distance-she lives in another state with what is left of her family. Distance, though, is a cop out. I just need to do it.
Suffice it to say, that there is actually very little ‘blood’ in my family and that’s OK.
That brings me back to Preston.  The difficulties of just trying to cope with the big world and Autism is hard enough.  Having your life change so much and in such a short time is overwhelming.  When he started to melt down last night, I though ‘oh my lord, what did I say this time’, but, this time, I think he was just looking for some comfort, even though it took a bit of effort to get him to open up.  And, he isn’t one to just blurt out what his problem or problem really is.  You have to piece it together.  That’s tough to do.
Little dude is having a difficult time dealing with his now bigger family. The two small one’s, Sam and Xander, bug him. He has to share a room with Sam when he goes to his Dad’s house and, soon, will be sharing a room here, with Xander. Sam is step brother (and cute as a button) and Xander is half-brother. Both are just annoyances to him. I suspect, in a few years, that will change. He still sees Xander as a bother, but warms up to him when he thinks it is necessary and plays with him, from time to time, without being prompted to do so. He still thinks that both are out to kill him, even though they are just playing.  In Preston’s view, there’s little difference between play and non-play action. It is something he is trying to learn.  He’ll figure it out. He’s one smart kid.
He also thinks he doesn’t get much time with Dad.  He’s right, he doesn’t.  That’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just the way things are…it’s not always fair. However, having said that, it isn’t quite the lack of time that Preston perceives it to be.  Dad picks him up Friday afternoon and brings him back, early evening, on Sunday’s.  Once in a while, that doesn’t happen for various reasons…vacation, work, illness, etc.  It isn’t because Dad doesn’t want him or we don’t want Dad to get him. Those are infrequent.  Not to Preston, though. One of the Autism traits he exhibits is perception distortion. That is, two days to him is more like two hours.  This past weekend, Dad picked him up for physical therapy and then took him home. He came back a bit early for a birthday party that he had been invited. Now, we are only talking a couple of hours difference from the norm, but, for Preston, it was like a day. Add in the time that Dad spends with Dad’s new family and Preston feels like he doesn’t get enough Dad time.  And, try as I may, I’m not Dad. Nor am I going to pretend to be. I will treat him like mine, but never try to replace Dad.  And, that’s the way it needs to be.  I think Preston has accepted me as ‘dad 2’ and, in this case, I’m happy to be number 2.
We are all working with Preston to not look at his brothers as anything but brothers.  Preston has fully accepted Chase as big brother and Chase loves him the same way. They get along great. He also seems to have accepted his new sister–also older than him. It is just the young ones he has a problem with…they are, after all, trying to ‘kill’ him, you know, when they are not playing with him. He has yet to realize the support system he has or how big his family has become.
In time, though, I hope he will come to appreciate his expanded family as I have mine.

Being the step Dad

My stepson, Preston, had a birthday recently. He turned five and we celebrated with presents, cake and ice cream.  His Dad, my wife’s ex-husband, was coming over along with my father in law. Now, there was a time when the idea of my wife’s ex coming over here, and staying for awhile, would have bothered me. Sometimes, I suppose, it still does, but, for the most part, I’m over that.

Marrying someone who has children from a previous marriage carries along a certain amount of baggage and a ton of patience. The interests of that child ALWAYS has to be first, no matter what you and the ex think of each other.  I know I am not this man’s best friend. I don’t even know if he considers me a friend or not. I think if circumstances were different, we could be very good friends and, maybe someday, we will be.  For now, I think it is tolerance of each other. I am not sure. Tenuous, yes. Hatred, no…not on my part anyway and I don’t think he hates me either. I don’t hate the guy. Not at all. I don’t agree with everything, but I respect what he does (he’s a counselor and has seen and dealt with things I probably would be unable to cope with) and respect the fact that he is a Dad, Preston’s Dad. I think we’ve gotten past the early distrust and, now, we even help each other.  He took it upon himself to prop up our fence. Neither myself nor my wife asked him to do that. I’m sure he had Preston in mind, but, nonetheless, he did help us (a tree had fallen on the fence during one of our freaky snow storms…several inches fell, but was all gone in a day. Typical, for this part of Virginia.)

Sometimes, being the stepfather is hard. Seeing the disappointment on Preston’s face when his Dad leaves and I’m still here. Being only five now, he doesn’t understand. Someday, he will. 

Preston and I get along great and we have fun, but I’m not his Dad and he knows that. I try to comfort him, in times like that, but his mother usually is the one who gets him calm and relaxed. I’m still learning how to do that.

Discipline is another tricky and slippery slope. When both Mom and Dad are around, I will usually defer to one of them when it comes to correcting Preston. Of course, sometimes I have to interject and that’s OK.  When it is just myself and my wife, I do correct him.  Even so, we have different ideas as to how to do that. Sometimes my way works, sometimes its hers. We learn together.

Our situation is unique and I am glad that Preston’s father is the way he is…making Preston the focus and working with us and not against us.  I’ve seen how nasty things like this can get and it is the children that lose in the end.

Preston is fortunate in that he has three parents who do love him. I think of him as my own, but I would never stand in between him and his Dad.  A father-son relationship is very special, I would be the last person on the planet to interfere with that.

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