My 11-year-old son Ryan isn’t on facebook yet, so he has to find other ways to waste time on the internet.
My kids (ages 11 and 9) are getting more and more familiar with the internet, and enjoy spending time on the computer. Mainly they play games and watch funny YouTube videos (“Simon’s Cat” is their favourite), but a few times Ryan has mentioned facebook and chat rooms and instant messaging and such, and they are both heavily into a game called Minecraft, which is all the rage these days. They have gone to message boards and watched videos on how to mod the games, and recently Nicky wanted help in downloading a mod which required modifying .jar files. There’s enough scary stuff on the internet that I’m getting less and less comfortable with them just perusing at their leisure, so I looked into various parental control software packages.
Step one was made a couple of years ago and was amazingly simple. I set up a free account on OpenDNS.com and changed my router to use it for DNS rather than my ISP. Not only is it faster, but they have controls that filter various categories, so I selected things like porn, nudity, adware, dating, gambling, hate, and a few others. It doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to get to these sites, just that if you try to get to bigboobs.com, the DNS server will simply not tell you where it is. (bigboobs.com is just an example I
grabbed chose at random. Not surprisingly, it turns out to be a real web site.) The DNS setting is done on the router, which means it applies not only to the computers, but the Wii, Ryan’s iPod Touch, and anything else we add in the future. That was a very easy first step and blocks a fair bit of the stuff I don’t need my kids seeing. As part of research for this article I actually went to bigboobs.com to make sure OpenDNS was blocking it. It wasn’t, so I had to fix my OpenDNS settings. I guess I will have to visit bigboobs.com periodically from now on, just to make sure everything is still working. With OpenDNS, I mean.
Step two has been ongoing for a while, though it seems to be at least temporarily solved. I’m looking for a software package that will allow me to monitor and limit my kids internet usage. I first tried a free solution from Blue Coat Software called K9 Web Protection. It looked pretty good, but I couldn’t make it work at all. I installed it, rebooted the machine, and got nothing. I wasn’t able to connect to the internet at all, and every time I tried to run the administrative program, it crashed. During the uninstall procedure, it brought up a window and asked me why I was uninstalling, so I told them. To their credit, a Blue Coat support guy responded via email within a day or two and sent me a newer version to try. It had the same problem only this time when I uninstalled it and replied to the original email, I got no response. Strike one.
The next one I tried was Kidswatch. I installed the trial version and it seemed pretty extensive. It allows you to limit exactly what times you are allowed to log on to the machine, what times you are allowed to use the internet, what web sites are blocked, what types of web sites are blocked (i.e. social media, online shopping, etc.), all kinds of stuff like that. The list of options is actually pretty impressive. It can also send you daily or weekly email reports of internet usage – which web sites were visited, how long was spent on each of them, stuff like that. It can send you immediate emails if a site is blocked or certain keywords are found on web sites, chat rooms, or IM sessions. This sounds great, but I started getting false positive reports all over the place – unless Ryan is doing google searches for “Megan Fox boobs” while sitting right next to me. It reported that he went to facebook when he didn’t, it reported all kinds of other web sites he didn’t visit and searches he didn’t perform. It ended up being more trouble than it was worth.
I had been using the free trial of Kidswatch for a week or two, not sure yet whether I wanted to buy it or not. It’s not that expensive – $45 allows you to install the software on up to three computers. But then I got an email saying “we’ve noticed you’ve downloaded our software but haven’t bought it. If you use this code, we’ll give you a $10 discount”. I know this is standard practice in many industries, but it seemed backwards to me — if I had originally been thrilled with the software and had bought it right away, I wouldn’t get the discount? It’s the same with banks – the loyal long-time customers who never consider switching banks pay the highest mortgage rates, while the people who threaten to move to another bank pay less. That doesn’t seem fair to your best customers. Anyway, I didn’t end up buying it because of all the false positives. Strike two.
There’s another package called NetNanny which is supposed to be good, but I haven’t looked at it. It’s the most expensive though – $40 per PC. I was almost ready to install this one when I asked around on Twitter and someone said that they were “just using the free Microsoft one”. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but there is – Windows Live Family Safety.
Vista and Windows 7 have parental controls built in, so you can limit when you can log in to particular user accounts as well as the total amount of time they are logged in per day or week. This package adds more stuff, allowing you to set up multiple computers to have the same limits, modify these limits from anywhere, as well as adding web filtering (general categories as well as specific sites), game and program restrictions (eg. I have Skype and the webcam software blocked) and contact management if your kid uses Windows Live. It can monitor IM activity if you use MSN Messenger, but not other IM software. It would be nice if you could allow the child to log onto the computer at certain times but not use the internet, but that doesn’t seem to be an option. You also can’t combine the time restrictions with the web restrictions, so you can’t say “Allow minecraft.net on weekends but not Monday-Friday”.
So this is what we’ve been using for a few months, and it’s pretty good. If I run into problems with the Windows Live stuff or I need more functionality than it provides I may give NetNanny a try, but I’d want it on at least two computers, and I’m going to have to be damned sure that it’s going to do what I want before I spend $80 on it.
Nicky’s soccer team played in the consolation final yesterday, since they lost their semi-final game last week. The game was tied so they went to penalty shots and ended up losing. (Note that there are only four teams in this league, so fourth place is the same as last.) Nicky’s teammate’s mother and little sister (I think she’s six) were sitting next to me, and this conversation occurred after the game:
Little Girl: Did we win the first place cup?
Mom: No, honey, we didn’t.
Little Girl: Did we win second place?
Little Girl: Third place?
Mom: No, not third either.
Little Girl: Fourth place?
Little Girl: Oh. That’s the Stinker Cup.
We had a good crop of pumpkins this year. Each of us did one and then I did a second one. Ryan actually stuck his hand inside the pumpkin and pulled the guts out! First time ever! Nicky was not so brave – he didn’t want to get his hands messy, so Gail had to clean his out. We do not have mud-pie kids.
Halloween was dead this year! I’ve written this entire blog entry without being interrupted once by kids at the door – and it’s currently 8:45. We bought a box of 95 mini chocolate bars and still have about 1/4 left – and I was giving two out to each kid. Didn’t even open the second box. Our first year in this house, we went through almost three boxes @ 1 per kid.
|My Toronto Rock pumpkin. I printed out an image of the logo and Gail and I (mainly Gail) figured out how I could carve it into the pumpkin.|
|Yes, I’m a geek. ;-)|
|Gail did the kitty cat from a template, but added the stars herself.|
|Ryan carved this one himself from a template. Pretty tricky.|
|This was from a template as well, but once his pumpkin was cleaned out, Nicky carved it himself.|
While watching TV the other day, the word “barista” was mentioned. Ryan asked what it meant and I told him it was the person who makes you coffee at Starbucks. His response: “They have a whole word for that?”
Nicky is in a summer camp this week called Fossil Hunters, run by a private school up on Hamilton Mountain. On the way home today, I asked him what they had done today, and he said that they made a fossil. Being the amusing father that I am, I asked him “Did you find a dinosaur, bury him in sand, then wait a hundred million years and dig him up again?” Nicky said that this is not, in fact, what they did but laughed at the idea, while telling me that they couldn’t do it that way because we’d be dead in a hundred million years. Thanks for that bit of insight, Captain Obvious.
Anyway, as my children often do, they took the idea of burying a dinosaur and ran with it. The conversation went something like this:
Nicky: Maybe we could bury something…
Ryan: Yeah! And then we’d tell our kids where it is, and they’d tell their kids…
Nicky: Yeah! And after a hundred million years, they could dig it up and have a fossil!
Ryan: Yeah! That’d be cool.
Me: What happens if one of our descendants doesn’t have kids?
Ryan: Then we’re screwed.
We bought a rain barrel about a month ago, and my father-in-law installed it for us. There’s a short hose that comes out of the bottom of the barrel so that you can use it to water the garden, but I was never able to get the hose to work. I’d take the nozzle end out of the clamp and open it, but no water came out. I’ve done this at least four or five times over the last month before I told Gail the other day that there was something wrong with the barrel.
This morning I was talking to my father-in-law on the phone, and mentioned this hose problem to him. He suggested that maybe there was some kind of cap that should have been removed before the hose was attached, so I might have to remove the hose and see what’s there. Nicky happened to be playing Wii in the next room while I was on the phone, and heard the conversation (well, my end of it, anyway). Once I was off the phone, he told me that he’s been able to get the hose to work, but he had to hold the nozzle end of the hose lower than the level of the water in the barrel, otherwise the water would have to travel upwards.
I quite literally smacked myself in the head. Of course the water won’t go upwards unless something’s pushing it, and there’s no pump inside the barrel to push it. Thank goodness I had an eight-year-old around to help me with this, or I’d have been out there pulling the barrel apart.
We took the boys to see Toy Story 3 tonight (mini review: lots of fun! Shrek people take notice: this is how you make a really good sequel), and on the way to the theatre, for no particular reason, Gail and I decided to keep our destination secret. Nicky kept asking where we were going and when we wouldn’t tell him, he finally asked “are we going somewhere fun?” In my best “I-can’t-believe-you-asked-that” voice, I said “Fun? Of course it’s somewhere fun! We always go to fun places! When have we ever taken you anywhere that wasn’t fun?” With almost no hesitation, he said “The hospital?”
I had to give him that one. Nicky 1, Daddy 0.
In the four and a half years that I’ve had this blog, I’ve written over six hundred articles (and trust me, nobody is more stunned by that number than I am). Most are about sports, technology, music, movies, and my family, as well as the occasional article on things like religion and politics. None of them are as important as this one. If you are only a casual reader of this blog, regularly skipping articles about subjects that don’t interest you, I implore you to read this one to the end.
I first met Cindy Marshall in 1994, when her sister Kerri married my friend (and best man at my wedding) Jeff. I don’t know a lot of my friends’ siblings, but Cindy and Kerri (and their parents) are very close, so you can’t know one without knowing the other. Cindy had her first child, Sarah, in February 1997, and Kerri had hers, Rachel, in June. But the fact that both children were girls and both were born in the same year is just about the extent of the similarities. Rachel’s most significant physical problem is that she needs glasses. Sarah, on the other hand, had surgery before she was born, has had a number of surgeries since then, and has been close to death more times than I care to remember. The fact that she is still alive has been called a miracle.
Part-way through Cindy’s pregnancy, a routine ultrasound showed that the baby’s bladder was enlarged. Upon further examination, doctors discovered that it wasn’t draining properly, so she underwent two surgeries (called “bladder taps”) in-utero. At this point the doctors thought there was an obstruction of some kind and believed that it was a relatively mild problem. Sarah was born five weeks early on Valentine’s Day 1997, and weighed less than five pounds. She wasn’t yet two days old when she had her first major surgery, an attempt to repair her twisted bowel. Immediately following the surgery, her appendix ruptured and had to be removed – the first of a number of organs to be removed from Sarah’s tiny body.
After three more surgeries in two months looking for bowel obstructions, Sarah was diagnosed with “megacystis microcolon intestinal hypoperistalsis syndrome“. In a nutshell, her bladder was enlarged, and her intestines were pretty much non-functional. Sarah spent the next five months at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto. She was started on TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition), which means that she was fed completely intravenously. This is not a big deal for adults – many adults can live on TPN for years – but it’s very hard on an infant’s body. It kept Sarah alive, but at a price – within a couple of months, it destroyed both her liver and pancreas. She already needed a bowel transplant, but now she needed a new pancreas and liver as well. In May, Cindy was told that Sarah’s only hope was a multiple-organ transplant and she was placed on the transplant list. At that time, no child as young as Sarah had ever survived such a transplant. I don’t know if Cindy knew that then.
Sarah’s life expectancy during this time varied, but was usually measured in months or even weeks, and at times much less. I remember being at a gathering at Jeff and Kerri’s house in Newmarket (for Jeff’s birthday, I believe) when the phone rang. The call was from Cindy at the hospital, basically saying “You better get down here now“, and Jeff and Kerri immediately grabbed their coats and left. I was standing right by the front door as they left, and as long as I live I will never forget the look on Kerri’s face. The party broke up shortly after they left as we all contemplated what was likely to happen that night. Thankfully, Sarah made it through that night and a number of others like that before something both terrible and wonderful happened – another infant died.
I feel like a monster for even using the word “wonderful” in a sentence describing the most painful thing that could happen to a parent. But on what must have been the worst day of their lives, the parents of the child who lost his life (all Cindy knows about him is that he was a ten-pound baby boy) made a decision that saved Sarah’s – they agreed to allow their child’s organs to be harvested for transplant. Sarah was flown from Toronto to Children’s Hospital at the University of Western Ontario in London and at the age of 5 months 24 days, she received a new stomach, pancreas, liver, and bowel. In addition, both her gall bladder and spleen were removed. The date of the operation was August 7, 1997, a day that Sarah and her family and friends still celebrate as “Life Day”.
The transplant saved Sarah’s life, but it hasn’t all been roses since then. She spent the next five months in the hospital in London before finally coming home for the first time at the age of ten months, and to this day returns to the hospital regularly for treatment and checkups. Transplants are funny – the body can live with a transplanted organ for years, even decades, and then suddenly decide that it’s a foreign body and needs to get rid of it. As a result, Sarah has to take several different kinds of medication every day to avoid rejection, and will for the rest of her life. The medication has serious side-effects as well. She never crawled as a baby because she simply didn’t have the strength and needed help on stairs until the age of four or five. Sarah is a full foot shorter than her cousin Rachel (who is younger by four months), and despite being twelve years old, she weighs less than 60 pounds. She has very thin arms and legs with little muscle. She loves to dance and has been taking dance classes for years, partially because she enjoys it and partially to help her build up her strength.
Not only did the operation save Sarah’s life, but it was special in a number of other ways as well – it was the first pediatric multi-organ transplant in Canada, and only the second ever with those four organs. Sarah became the youngest multi-organ transplant recipient in history, and has a certificate from the Guinness World Record people to prove it.
Despite all the hardships she’s had to deal with, the surgeries, the medication, the procedures she still has to have done every day, all the trips to the hospital in London (did I mention that she lives in Cobourg, about 300km away from London?), Sarah remains a happy, bubbly, delightful little girl. She doesn’t have the physical strength to do things that other kids do, even some much younger than her, but I have never once heard her complain about it. Now don’t get me wrong, she gets grumpy now and again like any other kid. And Cindy has probably heard her complain on numerous occasions, but note that I said “I’ve never heard her complain”. Seriously though, Sarah is almost always smiling, she loves having her picture taken, she adores her baby brother Austin, and she’s just always fun to be around. She’s spoken at public events about her experiences, and has been interviewed for a number of magazines. You may remember a Wal-Mart TV commercial a couple of years ago, where a number of people said “I was one”, “one” being a child whose life was saved at children’s hospitals. The little girl at the end who whispered “I am one” was Sarah.
Like all of my friends who know Sarah, Gail and I have signed our organ donor cards and quite honestly, other than having religious beliefs prohibiting it, I cannot think of one compelling reason not to. If Sarah had not had her transplant, she would almost certainly have died within a year of her birth, and those of us who have gotten to know and love her over the last twelve years would have been deprived of that. I signed my donor card so that I might be able to help others have a similar experience. Please sign yours.
The boys are going to a camp at Hillfield-Strathallan College in Hamilton this week (and next), and I dropped them off the other morning. They went to this camp last year as well, but I couldn’t remember exactly where to drop them off. Gail had done it the previous couple of days, so I asked Ryan to direct me to where we needed to go. Here’s how the conversation went:
Me: Where do I need to park?
Ryan: Right here is good.
Me: Like right here?
We got out of the car and start walking towards the building.
Me: What door do we go in?
Ryan: See that door way down there?
Ryan: Right after that, around the corner, is the door we go in.
Me: You mean right next to all those empty parking spots?