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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Our Morning 'Special K'

Lily met her Kindergarten teachers yesterday at a morning meeting we had to go over this upcoming school year.  She'll go about 50/50 typical Kindergarten (K. . . I'll call it K from here on out) and "special" or "adapted special" or whatever they call it K.  Special K sounds so. . . morning breakfast.

Anyway, she spent most of the time outside on the playground with her grandfather while we discussed what her daily schedule would look like:  where she'd start her day, who would greet her off the bus, would she participate in 'circle' or 'stations', would she have adapted music or attend the typical music class (the only class that I think she probably could participate in without having it specially adapted). 

It was a good meeting.  The K teacher asked if Lily might enjoy working on a laptop, and I had to reply, "She might enjoy working on a laptop, but YOU might not enjoy her working on a laptop."  Later, Leslie thought we might parlay that into a iPad for Lily, since if you get those sorts of things incorporated into an IEP, then the School District is required to buy one for her.  And I had to push down mounting excitement and differentiate between whether I wanted an iPad for Lily or I wanted Lily to have an iPad for me.

Honestly, Lily might benefit from an iPad; something that doesn't require the sort of fine motor skills to hit buttons that a laptop's keyboard requires.  I downloaded a couple apps for her to try:  a program that gives her pictures of three objects and asks her to select one.  When she pushes it correctly, it cheers and the object multiplies and music plays as the object in question cascades across the screen.  If she pushes it incorrectly it says, "uh oh" and she gets to try again.  That one seems alright.  Another one required that she push the item five times as it bounces slowly across the screen.  Honestly, I failed to read the instructions and tried pushing it myself and got frustrated when nothing happened.  I thought I just had to push the (in this case) star and i'd "win.  I feel fairly certain the need to push this star five times will escape Lily's brief focus, so as an app, I'm tempted to judge it useless (for now), but I have to trot it out for Lily.

The iPhone's screen is so much smaller than the iPad's, if she can make the apps work, and is interested in it, she might get more success with the iPad, and we could treat it as "pre-writing" or "pre-typing" sort of training for her.  And honestly, if she DOES have some success, she might be able to satisfy some of her page-turning obsessions graphically, sparing some paper books the ignominy of her less-than-gentle handling.  You can't rip a touch screen.  Although. . . if you CAN rip a touch screen, Lily will find a way to do it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Guilt Equity

It’s been three weeks since my wife got her iPhone. The “surprise” was an unqualified success. Not only does she enjoy it for itself, but she’s also able to enjoy it with Emma, who currently uses her iTouch as most kids use their Nintendo DS’s, giving her a little extra play time with her in a venue that was once my exclusive domain. Perhaps most importantly, it has allowed me to build some rare and precious guilt equity.

My wife has directed her disappointed looks, scornful glares, and incredulous brow-raised remonstrances if not for the last time, perhaps at a significantly discounted rate. Because you can’t yell, “I want you two to put down your ‘devices’ and play a game ‘together’” when you’re in the midst of a heated game of Words with Friends yourself, especially when your husband is watching you from the kitchen where he is doing dishes.

I don’t even mind doing the dishes at times like that, because I feel some of the pressure bleed slowly away, like maybe next time I won’t feel QUITE so guilty checking my Zombie CafĂ© a few minutes after I get in the door, when she’s ALMOST cracked the next “Ham ‘Em High” level in Angry Birds and hasn't yet uttered a "hello" from the table where she's sitting, or directed a curious glance in the direction of the sound of the opening door.  Which is not to say that the iPhone has consumed my energetic (at least until 9) and efficient, hardworking wife's attention.  It hasn't.  She still accomplishes all the things she ever accomplished. . . but she finds time to examine the screen, consider her move, submit her word, and THEN move to her next chore.  More like her husband.

And yeah, now we can put all our schedules on one mutual schedule and we’ll be more organized, and yeah, she can download her own music and apps and show Lily a Dora cartoon on her phone if she gets too amped up, and I feel good about myself for getting the phone for her for those reasons. But it’s also nice to watch that ivory tower topple. . . literally within the first day or two of having it. . . and feeling like, okay, maybe I AM being lazy and maybe I AM finishing this one last level of Fragger before I make the kids’ lunches. . . but nobody is hustling behind me, pushing through the evening fatigue and getting them done on HER timeframe, wordlessly ratcheting up my guilt with her responsible efficiency. . . because she’s on the couch, her neck bent, face lit by the pale fire behind the iPhone’s hi-res touch screen, getting one last turn in on Hanging with Friends.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Scary Funder

This morning at 4:40 a.m. there was a thunderclap so loud it woke me from my sleep and rattled the windows of our house. I had to go check on Emma to make sure she wasn't all freaked out. It was sort of a preemptive checkup since I felt fairly certain that if I DIDN'T check on her, I could expect to be startled awake, her form almost invisibly silhouetted against the wan light of the storm-dark morning to a gentle nudge and a whispered, "Daddy, I'm scared." fifteen minutes later.

She was awake and scared when I arrived, but not crying, which was a good sign, and I stayed at her bedside until the thunder was less frequent, counting the seconds between lightning and thunder so she could tell that it was moving further and further away. When it got to about 15 seconds I told her I was going back to bed.

A few minutes later I heard Lily quietly stirring over the monitor and went to check on her. Lily does not typically go back to sleep once awakened, at least not once awakened after having several hours of sleep, so I was reluctant to check on her. But because we're still fighting a particularly long battle to get her potty trained, and because when left unattended but awake in her room after an evenings rest we almost always LOSE that battle, I entered her room briskly but silently, preparing for soggy jammies and bedding.

I don't know if it was the thunder, or my sudden appearance at her bedside that startled her, but her eyes were WIDE open and she looked up at me and said quietly, "Funder scary."  This elicited a reflexive "awww" from me as I picked her up and checked her, cradling her as I lifted her to me.  She was dry, bless her little heart, and I draped her over my shoulder and swept her into the bathroom where I put her on the potty, saying quietly "time for Potty, Lily, then back to sleep," before waiting wordlessly in the hall for the tell-tale trickle.  I brought her back to her bed and settled her in as noiselessly and calmly as I could, telling her the thunder was alllllll over and that it was time to go back to sleep, hoping my gentle movements and quiet voice were calm and soothing enough that she would settle back into bed and slumber.

I went back to my own bed and slept until about 5:30, when my wife woke me with a gentle backscratch, and I, at length, made my way on sleep stiffened joints to the bathroom to prepare for my shower. In her bedroom down the hall, Emma had fallen back asleep almost the moment I'd left her, but I found Lily in our bed when I got out of my shower at 5:45. . . apparently she never really made it back to sleep, but my wife buried the monitor so it wouldn't keep me awake (since she was spending the day with her at home).

We're very fortunate that Lily sleeps as well as she does, but her early wakeups always seem to line up with nights where i've elected to stay up a little later taking care of something. (um. . . there was an MMA bout on. . . then I copied a couple DVD's. . . made lunches for the kids. . . important stuff). So my 1 o'clock bedtime, coupled with my 5:30 a.m. wakeup broken by anxious children left me with a scant 4+ hours of sleep. I should know better. I'll wake up at work with the buttons of my keyboard imprinted in the side of my face sometime this afternoon around 2:30, "QWERTY" it will say in mirrored text. Stupid "funder".

Friday, August 5, 2011

How to Ruin a Surprise

I decided my wife needed an iPhone. She dropped a few hints about her next phone being an iPhone and I'd asked a few probing questions. She wasn't dissatisfied with her Blackberry (like I had been with mine) but I sensed a hint of envious longing, too polite to be pained, too practical to be demanding, it was just a hint. And I couldn't figure out why I hadn't already bought her one. I guess because she's never really been drawn to the gadgets like I have. I guess a part of it was just selfish self-centeredness. I hadn't really given it a lot of thought. But I decided to buy her one.

There was no urgency to it, so over the course of a few weeks, I looked at Verizon's webpage to see what options she had. She qualified for an early upgrade, which was great, since Verizon's retail price for an iPhone was $650, and the upgrade price was $199. Black or white. . . black or white. . . I paused in the act of upgrading the phone and closed the website.

Later that night. . .



"If you WERE to get an iPhone, what color do you think you'd want?"

"What do you mean? Like the cover?"

"Nono, I mean, they come in black or white. Do you think you'd want a white one, or would you go with the black?"

She paused only for a moment before saying, "Black."

A week or so went by. I remembered my plans to buy her an iPhone and revisited the website. I hit "upgrade" and selected the black iPhone. My iPhone had 32G of memory in it. It was more than half used up, but I had all manner of songs, images, and apps on it. Would she use 32G? THAT phone was $299. 16G or 32G. . . 16G or 32G . . . I paused in the act of upgrading the phone and closed the website.

Later that night. . .



"If you WERE to get an iPhone, do you think you'd need the 32G version, or would the 16G version work?"

"Oh, I don't know, Jim," she said dismissively, "you'd know more about that than I would."

"Well," I said, "mine is 32G and is a little more than half full, but I have all our music on it. Some of it I haven't listened to for years, some of it I only have on there because I want it in case YOU guys want to listen to something. I think 16G would work, but wouldn't want to short-change you on it."

"I'd trust your judgement on something like that. Why do you keep asking me about iPhones?"

I love surprising, almost to a fault. I'm not saying I do it constantly or anything, but I think spontaneous, unexpected gifts/surprises are better. And sometimes they're just stupid little surprises. . . going to the eye doctor to have my daughter’s glasses adjusted when she already thinks it's something she'll have to do later. . . cleaning the garage even though we haven't really talked about it, because it's hard to get both cars in. And when she calls the house and asks what I'm up to, I'll wipe the sweat from my brow and lie, "just watching TV" so that the garage work, when noticed, seems more glaring, more dramatic. I don't like TELLING her what I'm going to do. . . I like to have her show up and see that it's been done.

That said, it's not like I'm any kind of home-project-surprise-dynamo. . . I do my fair share (maybe even a little more than my fair share) of sitting around the house, captivated by the television, playing Words with Friends, or reading a book when her expectations are that the dishes should have been washed from supper already, or the kids' lunches packed, while she's occupying herself with other things that need to be done.

So it always bums me out a little when I can see she's curious/suspicious I'm up to something. It feels like less of a surprise. Even so, I'd already made my peace with it. She's not a stupid woman. You can't ask repeated questions about a hypothetical iPhone from week to week after she's already dropped hints about wanting one without some suspicion creeping into it. I explained that I thought when it was time to upgrade (not NOW, of course, bills are due, we're not sure how the account will look, iPhone 5 maybe available in September or the end of the year, etc) we'd get her an iPHone and I wanted to know what we were looking for.

A week or so later I again logged into the website. Again I moused over "upgrade" and selected it, picking the 16G iPhone in black. I put everything in the "cart", adding accessories, selecting options, and preparing to check out. The phone was listed as $650. What the. . .

I backtracked, reselecting everything, verifying she was qualified for an upgrade, selecting the upgrade. $650. I paused in the act of upgrading the phone and closed the website.

I called Verizon. I spoke to a customer service assistant. She confirmed the upgrade status, she apologized obsequiously and redundantly for the website and my difficulties on the website on behalf of her company and my order (I found it amusing that she was apologizing on behalf of the order, like the order was sitting there glaring sullenly at me for tattling). She confirmed that it was a problem with the site. I felt relieved. But I didn't return to the website.

A week or so later I resolved to finish the "surprise". I logged in. I selected the phone. Again I felt concern at the price shown on the upgrade, and again I backed out, deciding instead that I'd order it over the phone rather than risk having to play phone tag with someone in the future about the $650 I'd already paid in error, but as I waited for the automatic operator functions to cycle through. . . "Press 1 if you're already a Verizon Wireless Subscriber", "Press 4 for new order and upgrades", etc, I went back through the motions of ordering the upgrade, thinking it would be easier to order over the phone if I had all the details on the screen at the same time. . . and the price was correct. I looked it all over, and before I had a chance to "hold for the next available representative" I'd hung up the phone and was proceeding to checkout.

What made the "surprise" better was that she would be home with our daughter all day. “Working from home”. The website would send my phone Fed Ex overnight to arrive prior to 3pm for the low low price of $12.99. I wanted that. That made it more of a surprise. Bang! Done!

It was all I could do to keep from telling her that the phone was coming the next day. The following morning I got up and went to work, checking the website for the tracking information obsessively like a child looking for presents under the tree on Christmas morning. No status change. No tracking information. "Your order has shipped" the email had told me the previous night. Where was the goddamn tracking information???

I waited another hour before calling Verizon again. It was 11:30. The phone was due to arrive in 3 and a half hours and they had no tracking information? Nobody knew anything. I was transferred. They assured me they'd get the tracking information to me as soon as they had it.

"You're not understanding the problem," I told them. "The whole point of shipping this thing overnight was because someone is at my house to receive it today. Nobody will be there tomorrow and I'll have to drive aawwwwlll the way to Pittsburgh to pick it up if they can't make delivery." I left off the part about it being a surprise. I left out the part about Pittsburgh being aawwwwlll of an 11 minute drive away from my house, and on the way home from work. Many apologies were provided. And then I was disconnected while held for more information.

I fumed. A smoldering ember of frustration slowly blossomed in my chest as I thought about having to call again. . . explain again. . . wait again. . . and the slow realization dawned that there would BE no delivery today. No surprise package.

In the end, after many apologies on behalf of her company, my order, the website, and various other things too numerous to mention even in a blog of this length, Verizon refunded my $12.99 (at least they SAID they did. . . hmmm) and I agreed (after fighting down the panic that warred with my decision) that Fed Ex could drop the order on my doorstep without a signature). All I needed to do was leave a note on the door that indicated no signature was necessary and reference the tracking number that I still did not have. It would deliver the following day. I had to make my peace with that.

I knew I'd never remember to put the note on the door later, so I wrote out the note at work and shoved it in my pocket. When I emptied my pockets for bed, I'd see the note and add it to the door. I recognized in myself the flawed memory that would make putting the note on the door after she left for work the following morning nearly impossible, so that night after I put the garbage out on the curb, I taped the note to the door and went to bed. She'd go out the garage door anyway and wouldn't notice it.

The following morning she left for work and I collected my laptop and coffee, the kids' lunches and backpacks and walked out the door to put them in the car. She had stopped her car's slow descent down the driveway, slowly pulling to a stop and getting out of the van to walk back to the house. What was she doing? Forget something? I put my things in the car and rose up, looking at her, eyebrow arched questioningly as she opened the door to the minivan.

"I saw a note on the door," she said in answer to my unspoken question, "I came back to see what it was." She didn't ask what I was expecting shipment of. She didn't ask about the note at all. She just climbed back into the minivan, waving warmly as she drove away.

"Fuck," I said.

And THAT, is how you ruin a surprise.