Monday, September 16, 2019

About My Son, Clarkson

I want to tell everyone about someone. My son, Clarkson, is 2 and-a-half years old. He is energetic, loves to laugh, adores foods that are crunchy (apples and almost any kind of chip are arguably his favorites), enjoys kisses as well as tickles, and has autism. His developmental delays started becoming noticeable after he had a follow-up NICU appointment at 1-and-a-half years of age (due to being a preemie he had consistent check-ups until he turned two). Whereas once he had seemed to mostly be on-track developmentally, some regression was noticeable (less babbling, minimal interest in responding to people to the point it was wondered if he might have a hearing problem, and so forth). We started working with a number of organizations that help children with delays such as Parents as Teachers which then also referred us to First Steps (we didn't qualify for First Steps when Clarkson was initially born due to his being too big, but we did qualify after a later First Steps' evaluation confirmed he had some notable delays).

We worked with those programs and saw improvement and development, but Clarkson still seemed to be lagging behind. He was mostly nonverbal outside of, "Mom," "Dad," and, "No." He never wanted to look at people or really interact with them--adults or kids. He was object-driven and not people-driven. At his last NICU follow-up after he turned 2 they said the delays were bigger, and while they could not officially diagnose anything as their specialty was as neonatologists it looked quite likely Clarkson may have a form of autism. That was March of 2019. From that point we started getting more services from First Steps by adding in more behavior therapy in the form of ABA and enrolled Clarkson in half-day daycare three days a week to work on his socialization with other children as the daycare we wanted him to try only took kids two-and-up, which he had just turned. We began the lengthy process of filling-out and submitting paperwork to have Clarkson tested officially for ASD--Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Story-time at Barnes and Noble last weekend!
On July 30th, 2019, we saw a number of specialists, reviewed everything about Clarkson with them, assisted with a variety of tests that Clarkson did in addition to his being observed, and were told that yes, Clarkson has ASD. We were informed he had the most severe level, level 3, due to the delays being at the point where overall developmentally he was at about a 1 year-old's level of development and his speech and language was at the point of an 8 or 9 month old child. The diagnosis was not a surprise, it was expected, but it still was anxiety-inducing and stress-causing as we did not realize just how delayed Clarkson arguably was. I will freely admit to feeling sad, worried, and otherwise upset at knowing my son was not neurotypical. Perhaps I wished he would be as I am someone with my own issues in the form of depression, anxiety, and so forth.

Knowing my son Clarkson had autism put me awash in a sea of emotions. Being reassured that a number of people with Autism live very fulfilling lives without the need for much extra assistance and others do need help was of some comfort, yet still I was worrying. Being told the statistics on speech and talking and wondering if my son will have much of any vocabulary was often being thought-about in my mind. Feeling guilty about being upset because there are children who are born with extremely severe disabilities like missing limbs, being unable to even breathe or eat on their own, because here was my son who has stellar motor skills (those are not delayed, he can jump and run like nobody's business) and is generally very joyful as long as he doesn't need a nap (then he gets really cranky) who happens to have ASD but is otherwise perfectly healthy. You feel a lot of ways coming to an understanding that you are a parent of a child with special needs.
Enjoying the trampolines at Flying Spider earlier today.

With Clarkson's diagnosis we were able to increase the hours of some of his therapies but also still make sure he has plenty of time to have fun, nap, and otherwise enjoy life as a 2 year-old. The people we work with for Clarkson's therapies are amazing and understanding. They have helped us immensely on the journey of noticing delays, to getting tested, to having an official diagnosis of ASD. I do not love my son any less or feel any different about him knowing he has ASD, but I will say I worry about the difficulties he may face in life. The World is already hard, and being different in any way can make it even more tricky. Clarkson has many people who love him however, from his aunts and uncles to his grandparents and our family friends so no matter what challenges he'll face, there are people eager to back him up.

As Clarkson starts to grow older and with the assistance of therapy he is now much more interested in people and loves to interact with kids his age, playing with toys and sharing laughter with friends. Clarkson is learning how to do stuff at his own pace and we are there to encourage him to engage in both independent and social play, learn about sorting, counting, and shapes--all of that stuff that maybe requires he puts forth a little bit of extra effort compared to other kids because he has his autism making learning certain things a little bit more strenuous. He is learning though, and developing new skills and interests everyday.
I took this picture from above his crib as he woke the other day.
He was still pretty groggy, clearly.
No one should ever tell you how you can or cannot feel as a parent of a child with special needs. You can be sad and worry. You can be happy for the small accomplishments that others maybe take their kid being able to do for granted and the big accomplishments as well. You as the parent are not, "Broken," due to having a child with special needs. Your child is not broken either, just different and working on things in their own way with help from others. When it comes to ASD there is a lot of information online, and a whole heaping ton of misinformation as well which can make finding accurate data and facts a little trickier. There are some extremely false beliefs about autism and off-the-wall theories about how everything from vitamin-shots to special diets can, "Cure it," as well as if it is caused by everything from radio signals to vaccines due to one fraudulent study decades ago. We do not know an exact cause of autism and there is no special treatment or cure. However, working with your child to help them grow and develop with peer-reviewed and scientifically-proven practices is going to help them a lot more than denying your child is different or buying into outlandish theories with snake-oil salesman peddling cures and fix-alls that are more quackery than medicine.

Clarkson having autism is not a secret. We have told friends, family, and even strangers out-and-about who ask questions about why he makes little hissing sounds when he is happy or slaps his legs when he's excited. We explain he does not yet know how to talk but is working on it, and his slapping of his legs is a form of stimming he does to help with processing everything he is taking-in. I just have not really talked about all this on Facebook (outside of some groups for parents I joined) or on my blog as it has taken some time to process everything. That, and I just did not feel ready to deal with the possible ignorance I may face due to all the aforementioned incorrect opinions and misinformation/outright lies about autism. I am at a point now however where I won' hesitate to tell a person claiming vaccines caused Clarkson's autism to shut their idiot mouth, and I will feel zero urge to apologize for calling them an idiot due to the fact I will always defend my son from ignorance.
He stopped enjoying all the toys at one of our favorite play-places, "Grandma's Playroom,"
because, "The Price is Right," came on the television that morning.

I am also now in a mental place where I do not feel self-conscious if he starts having a sensory meltdown or gets loud at the grocery store. People can stare and assume he is simply behaving badly, they are wrong. I do not need to loudly announce, "My son has autism," to these people, they can incorrectly guess whatever they want, but should someone inquire about Clarkson's sounds and behaviors, I will without hesitation provide information and education. I want to inform people about ASD and I also want them to know it is not the only thing they should be aware of when it comes to my child as that is not what defines him. I will tell them how Clarkson has ASD, yes, but I will also let people know he is a big fan of jumping on trampolines, how one of his favorite shows is inexplicably, "The Price is Right," because he seems to love how much people on the show shout and cheer, and that Clarkson used to not really be into books but in the past month has developed a strong affinity towards ones about animals such as a short book about a duck with a book of his own he shares with the other farm animals and another about a bear who steals honey from bees (not Winnie the Pooh, this is some random dumb bear who also gets stuck in a bunny's burrow when he tries to escape the angry bees, it is pretty funny).

My son is named Clarkson and he is one of the most important people in the world to me. When he and my wife, Samii, are with me on the couch that means the two individuals I love more than anything else are sitting by my side and that makes me feel so happy. I would not change Clarkson in any way and every single day I am thankful he is in the life of my wife and myself. Today before he fell asleep for his nap he laid-down next to me, looked in my eyes,  and gave me the biggest loving smile. I told him I loved him and gave him a kiss on the cheek at which point he dozed-off and I moved him to his crib so he could get in a quality nap (again, he is very cranky without his nap). That is just one moment out of many I get to treasure thanks to having Clarkson as my son. I wanted to tell you all about him, and now that I have done so I hope you see just how incredible a person he is too.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Schnuck's Brand Soda is Tasty

If you live in the Saint Louis region you are probably familiar with a number of grocery chains that are local. Dierbergs, Straubs, and of course Schnucks. Schnucks recently introduced a new line of sodas that are quite tasty (for the most part). They are very inexpensive but don't taste, "Cheap," as you sometimes hear said of other less-costly soda brands like well-known punching-bag Vess. There are your usual flavors of Cola, Diet Cola, Dr. Lou (like Dr. Pepper), Grape, Black Cherry, and Root Beer. In addition, some more out-there flavors exist which are pretty interesting like Pineapple, Strawberry, Red Cream, Fruit Punch, and so forth.

I have tried most of the flavors (I'm too scared to give Pineapple a chance) and would say that the only flavor I outright disliked is Black Cherry--this is strange as I generally like that flavor. Besides that, however, I have been a fan of the colas, Dr. Lou, Root Beer, Grape, Strawberry, Red Cream, and so forth. Schnucks sodas are really yummy and if you find yourself around the Saint Louis area at a Schnucks grocery store I would recommending trying them out.

Note: This is an opinion piece, nobody asked me to write this and Schnucks is not paying me or anything. That said, if Schnucks wants to send me some free soda anytime I would welcome a few 2 liters of Red Cream.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

If I Were A Super-Villain My Evil Plan Would Go Kinda Like This...

I was thinking the other day about how I an not a super-villain, and I have zero desire to be one. That said, if I did want to be a super-villain, I do have the best evil plan ever. To see what I mean, please refer to the super-detailed and complicated drawing I did above and then read on...

Basically, my dastardly plan is to purchase a vacant strip mall on a little hill and then at opposite sides of it install a Walmart and Trader Joe's. These two establishments are notorious for having some of the worst parking lots ever, so between the slight incline that is just steep enough to cause trouble and these two businesses at separate ends of my parking lot there is sure to be mass mayhem, confusion, and otherwise lots of people honking their horns and cursing with displeasure. I am not doing this evil plan simply to cause trouble however--I am not some chaotic evil person who just wants to, "Watch the World burn."
An actual Trader Joe's parking lot.
Just picture this multiplied by a Walmat lot!
No, I am doing this plan because the inevitable news stories and memes about this, "Worst parking lot ever," will allow me to get famous and in the process score all kinds of sponsorship deals as the super-villain America loves to hate. With this money I will then donate most of it to charity so that in the ultimate twist I am a super-villain and super-hero at the same time, allowing me to both cackle with evil glee at the turmoil in my parking lot from my perch to the side (as pictured) and still feel like I'm doing good in the World. Also, with the bit of money I do keep I'll go buy some more, "Everything but the bagel," seasoning at the Trader Joe's in my plaza because that stuff is delicious.

Friday, September 13, 2019

"Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child," Features an Artist in Their Prime and a Writer Well Past It

Frank Miller is a man who has created some amazing comics but I think 99% of people will agree is way past his prime in terms of his creative output as a writer. He does not do too much art anymore either, but I have an affinity for his style even at its roughest so while I'd dismiss much of his recent writing I still like his drawing. That said, hearing he is going to be writing another one-shot set in his, "Dark Knight Returns," Universe that gave us one amazing book ("The Dark Knight Returns,") and a lot of garbage (everything else) which is to be titled, "Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child," made me feel completely uninspired...until I heard who the artist is.

Rafael Grampá is an absolutely incredibly artist whose style reminds me of if Geoff Darrow and Paul Pope somehow had a baby and that baby grew-up to draw insanely gorgeous and kinetic comics (I know they both are not much older than Grampá, but shut-up, its my metaphor and I'll do what I like). Upon reading about this 48 page one-shot that features the writing of Miller and the art of Grampá  I felt the weirdest mixture of dread and joy that is hard to describe--it is kind of like how you would feel if it were an incredibly hot afternoon and the ice cream truck was coming around the bend blaring an announcement about how all the ice cream is free today...but you also notice it's being driven by scary clown covered in blood (another weird metaphor, I'm aware I am on quite the roll today).

I guess my point in all this is I'll probably buy, "Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child," but I expect the actual plot and dialogue to be terrible whilst I spend most of my time just ogling the incredible visuals. For all I know the story might actually be decent too, but as this is Frank Miller in 2019 we are talking about, I do not plan on it. Again though, Grampá  will be superb.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

My Thoughts on Mountain Dew's Mystery Flavor, VooDEW

I am that odd person who does not really like Mountain Dew itself but enjoys a number of its offshoot flavors. I love, "Code Red," and was a fan of, "Livewire," which I think still sometimes comes out. I did not hate, "Pitch Black," and the Lemonade flavor you could get at Taco Bell for awhile was pretty solid. I know I'm forgetting a number of temporary flavors because there have been many but my point is I tend to like at least trying them. That brings us to the Fall/Halloween 2019 Mountain Dew event flavor, the humorously titled, "VooDEW." It is a mystery flavor, meaning Mountain Dew won't tell us what it is supposed to taste like, we just have to figure out for ourselves what it is. I took on this challenge because I am naturally curious about mysteries even if I suck at solving them (I never could figure-out who the real villain was in any, "Scooby Doo," episodes). I bought a bottle at my local Schnucks grocery store, drank it, and have thoughts to share.

VooDEW presents itself in a somewhat unappetizing way. It is a weird milky-white color with a dark orange and purple label that causes the white to stick-out even more. Thankfully, the taste is better than the color. It is a bit like carbonated orange skittles, which if you like skittles is a good thing (should you hate skittles, you will be quite disappointed). One person online (Kotaku's Zack Zwiezen) said it reminds them a bit of an orange cream soda which I kind of see where they are coming from, but I tasted less of a cream-sensation so much as a that slightly chemical-vibe you would get if you were to eat (you guessed it) orange skittles mixed with club soda. That maybe sounds a bit odd, but I liked it even if I didn't love it.
I found VooDEW to be decent if lacking in any sort of, "WOW factor. It is another welcome addition to the Mountain Dew family of random and wacky flavors and even if I don't adore it, I can say with 100% confidence it is much better than the all-time worst flavor, Baja Blast (come at me, internet). Should you want to try it I recommend you visit your local grocery store/pharmacy/gas station/extreme skate park, you know, anywhere Mountain Dew products are sold. Should you be unable to buy VooDew anywhere close you can always buy it online right from Amazon as well if it is not temporarily sold-out as seems to happen sometimes. Overall, I rate this soda as 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

9/11/2001 Was 18 Years Ago

It was 9/11/2001. I was living in West Virginia at the time and in 8th grade. I was in my first class that morning after our initial Homeroom that I can't quite remember the subject of--it was English-related but had more to do with reading literature than learning grammar or such. The class had just ended and someone said how on the news they were saying one of the World Trade Center towers had been hit by a plane, a gas leak had gone off inside, or some other freak accident, people were not sure. Not too much later in my Algebra class we were told that the 2nd World Trade Center tower had been struck by a plane, and clearly America was under attack. The day all that happened felt like simply too much to take in and I was unsure how to respond. I just felt numb and confused. Then the Pentagon was hit and one other plane crashed Pennsylvania, the passengers had fought-back against the terrorists aboard. It was overwhelming.

The next day is when it really hit me, as all the images of sheer terror played-out on the television screens, collecting what had been recorded of towers falling, people running and screaming, the death-total made me and pretty much everyone else in my school cry as basically every class had the news on with us watching instead of doing our classes. Eventually the Principal had everyone just shut the televisions off in our classrooms because it was just bringing everyone undue stress and misery, but whether we had our T.V. screens going or were browsing the still-quite-basic-compared-to-today internet, something had changed for the many of us who had never lived in an America which had suffered an attack from a foreign entity on our home soil--the last time that had happened was Pearl Harbor decades ago.

Some years later I would move to Upstate New York, some hours from the city, and meet people who had lost loved ones on 9/11. My heart would ache for them then, and it still does. It was an awful day and thinking back to it 18 years later it is weird how some parts of it feel incredibly distant and other memories of that day feel immediate. Many politicians have used 9/11 for political gain while not actually caring about those affected, and countless civilians (famous like Jon Stewart and non-famous alike) have worked tirelessly to care for those first responders who now years later suffer health ailments from exposure to all kinds of chemicals, dust, and debris in the wreckage of the Towers and Pentagon.

9/11 has at times been reduced to more of a talking-point and some people like our so-called President Donald Trump would rather make the occasion all about them than the thousands of people who died or lost loved ones. Trump make everything about him however, and it would be hoping for too much to think he'd realize a day like 9/11 is about a lot more than one person (even a huge narcissist like him). Some people will never learn. There are still those who try to make all kinds of conspiracy theories sound true about that day, ignoring the simple and depressing truth that there was no master plan, it was just a huge intelligence failure on a massive scale that illustrated how vulnerable our Nation could be if someone really wanted to hurt it, but again, some people will never learn.

Now there are people who will be old enough to vote this year who only know of 9/11 from their history books or watching old footage, that is how much time has passed. I won't claim there was some lesson to learn or try to make foolish silver-lining claims about how it, "Brought us together," or other platitudes, because it shouldn't take a terrorist attack to make a Nation feel unified. It was a tragedy and the best thing we can do is honor those we lost and try to prevent something similar from happening again. The most darkly ironic thing is that now, 18 years later, our Country may be at its most divided since the 1960's and we are facing an epidemic of homegrown terrorists committing mass-shootings at an alarming rate.

It isn't Al-Qaeda we most need to fear now, it is our own hatred towards whoever we think is, "The other." 9/11/2001 was 18 years ago, but humankind's ability to hate one another is unending, be it foreign powers flying planes into our buildings or our own citizens shooting-up public places. I have no solution, the only thing I can do is hope that eventually love can win-out over hate, because as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." I hope eventually the burden of hate can be cast-off by more of us, because it seems all-encompassing in our Country right now. I can only dream and do the best I can to spread more love than hate.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

My Latest Post is Up on Cinemaways!

I have another contribution up at the great website, Cinemaways. This time I'm discussing the top 10 movie sociopaths or psychopaths who AREN'T villains. We are so used to those kinds of characters being the bad-guys it is was fun to write about individuals in flicks who are basically terrible, but within their film maybe garner some sympathy or are even heroes. Check it out if you enjoy my style of writing (e.g. the ramblings of a man who either needs more coffee or has had too much coffee).

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Dreamcast Came Out 20 Years Ago Today (In America)

I know it launched in Japan in 1998, but for me the U.S. launch of the Sega Dreamcast holds a special place in my heart. 9/9/1999 was the day the console that was just too ahead of its time and too beautiful to exist went on sale in America. That is 20 years ago today. It had awesome and quirky games I still fondly recall ("Crazy Taxi," "Sonic Adventure 1 & 2," "Seaman," "Shenmue," and the list goes on), was capable of connecting to the internet for multiplayer gaming back when that was a shockingly new concept (outside of PCs). It was a console ahead of its time and the last one Sega released before deciding to focus instead on making games for everyone else's consoles. Nowadays it is commonplace to see Sonic and Mario popping-up in the same game, but back in the 1990's that would have been unthinkable.

The Sega Dreamcast provided some of my happiest video-gaming memories, and it was beloved by countless others too. It literally changed lives and I hold fond memories to this day of the last and best console Sega released--heck, it arguably was the best console ever. 20 years on so many of us still crack that little smile of joy when we think about time playing the Dreamcast, that proves more than anything just how much of an impact it made on those of us lucky enough to have enjoyed it in its too-short prime.

That controller was honestly pretty terrible though.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

"Trench Dogs," Review

"Trench Dogs," is an original graphic novel that came out last year from newer publisher, Dead Reckoning. Dead Reckoning itself is owned by the Naval Institute Press, which is, "The publishing arm of the U.S. Naval Institute, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit, professional military membership association. Through Dead Reckoning, the Naval Institute seeks to broaden the community of those who understand the history, dedication, and experiences of all who serve." Basically, it  has the goal of publishing comics that explore military and naval history through both nonfiction and fiction means. As I am a history nerd this appeals to me.

It is interesting when a nonprofit enters into comic-book making, as it can produce works that don't have to sell a ton of copies or be super-commercial. The announcement of a different new publisher the other week that is non-profit, Fieldmouse Press, shows it is a growing group of entities who want to make comics published by their organizations. Anyways, the reason, "Trench Dogs," caught my attention when I heard about it coming-out from Dead Reckoning is that it happens to focus on World War One, a war often give a lot less attention. Also, "Trench Dogs," does the clever thing sometimes seen in other comics about war (such as the seminal, "Maus,") where it turns the people fighting the the wars into different animals depending on their Nationalities.

"Trench Dogs," was created by Ian Densford and he does a stellar job mixing the anthropomorphic soldiers and civilians with scenes of both peaceful everyday life and a war that was brutal. If this comic had the soldiers as humans it would maybe be too grotesque for many readers to handle, but thanks to thanks to the slight cartoon-element it allows people to witness how horrific war back then was (and still continues to be) in a manner that informs without shutting-down the reader. "Trench Dogs," is presented with very little speech from any characters or narrative captions, but Dendsford and the Dead Reckoning website helpfully provide a detailed study guide that goes in-depth about much that is in the book and provides further explanation about the historical elements of everything Densford draws in the comic.

"Trench Dogs," is a fascinating read that touches-upon many aspects of World War I and is a good way for those less knowledgeable about the first, "War to end all wars," to learn a bit about it in a visual manner. Ian Densford is a fantastic illustrator who portrays how ugly and terrible war is with some of the edge that might turn-off more sensitive readers a bit filed-down thanks to the anthropomorphic art-style. It is quite a good read and I recommend it to anyone who is a history buff or loves comics that are a bit more out-there than the norm.
5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Is Nicki Minaj Retiring or Just Trolling Us?

I have never made it a secret I lack much of any enthusiasm for Nicki Minaj. Unlike the rapper who has taken a lot of press that Nicki used to get, Cardi B., whom I have at times been really hard on but will admit has some solid jams and is a pleasant person, anything I've ever heard Nicki rap on has only suffered from her presence. Also, she apparently is a huge, "Meanie," to put it politely. Nicki Minaj tweeted yesterday how she plans to retire from rapping and focus on starting a family with her love, Kenneth Petty. This announcement of course had nothing to do with how none of Nicki's songs were hitting the radio/streaming/etc. lately and how dare anyone state she is desperate to troll us all for some press.

I don't know what Nicki Minaj's long-game is here, but if she is indeed retiring or simply taking a break from rap to truly focus on starting a family I honestly wish her the best as I love being a parent and would tell you having a kid/kids is awesome. If this is just a ploy to get media attention however, then that is honestly par for the course with Nicki doing whatever it takes to get headlines besides actually, you know, making good music.