I don’t plan these weekly columns very far in advance. But if I did, I certainly wouldn’t have been planning to write about having to wipe down Dar’s iPad, restart his entire communication system, and begin rebuilding it from scratch.

In the last 48 hours, I’ve spoken the following words so many times that it almost comes as a peculiar relief to type them.

Monday, while at work at St. Mary’s College, I got an email from Dar’s special-needs supervisor at his elementary school. “iPad has locked us out…we don’t know passcode…can you give us that?”

No. What I know is that when we bought the device from Apple more than two years ago, we specified that it should never have a passcode or password, for the same reason that you wouldn’t put a combination lock on the door to your child’s room. Dar’s talker is almost more important to Dar than a bedroom is to a child. Without his talker, he can’t communicate. And for two-plus years, it never asked us for one. Until Monday.

Monday afternoon, I arrived in the middle of Dar’s home session. They were working without his iPad. Its sleep-screen said that it had to be updated to IOS 11.0.01 (or whatever), and every time I swiped to wake it up, it demanded a passcode. Even though I knew we had never given it one, I tried a few things. Every time I got it wrong, it locked me out for more time. First, it told me to try again in five minutes. Then, to try again in fifteen minutes. Then, in an hour. Then, “iPad is locked, connect to iTunes.” But when I plugged it into my 2016 MacBook Pro, which contains my iTunes, the computer wouldn’t even show it the way it normally does.

I asked Dar’s therapist if she or anyone in her organization had any backups or even any old screenshots that might help us redo his app. Nope. I asked her to finish early so that I would have time to take Dar’s iPad, and my computer, to my local Apple repair place, M.A.C. at Shattuck and University. My expert there asked me if I had any backups of it. Stupidly, I had wiped them clean from my laptop a couple of months ago, in reaction to my laptop telling me that it’s running out of room. I don’t even have old photos of his main screens, which would be invaluable to me right now.

My guy told me that the only option was to wipe down the iPad and start again. Wifey suggested that I go to the real Apple Store in Berkeley (on Fourth Street) in the morning.

That night, I mentally prepared myself to wipe the iPad clean and just start over. But that was a difficult mental leap, because I would have to reprogram all these buttons and talking “trees” (example: for “cow,” from home screen he goes things -> animals -> farm animals -> cow). Many of the buttons had been updated with photos of things Dar knows; all those photos would have to be re-taken and re-uploaded to the icons.

Although I have long resisted using Dar’s iPad for anything other than his communication – no internet, no games, no ancillary camera use, nothing but his talking – I eventually caved when it came to videos as a reward for him. So there were some of his favorite videos on there. No more. Or…?

I woke up Tuesday, yesterday, took the kids to school, saw a plumber at 9:00 (it never ends), and went to the Apple Store when they opened at 10:00. Of course I’d have to wait at least a day to see a so-called “Genius.” I explained the problem to one employee. Then another. I asked if there was anything we weren’t trying. If this iPad held evidence in a criminal case, they could open it, right?

They put me on the phone to Apple Support. I sat in the Apple Store waiting for the phone call. They called. The initial person “shared” my laptop with me. When she failed to help, she got her supervisor.

I asked all four of these Apple employees the same question: how did this happen? How do I make sure this never happens again? They all gave the same non-answer. They said iPads sometimes do that on IOS updates. I said, why never before, in two years?

I wondered if Dar had pressed 100 buttons at the same time, or left it out in the sun, or thrown it in water, or out of a high window. I was repeatedly told that none of that should have made any difference. I said, okay, so how do I make sure this never happens again?

They said, “when you restore it,” just choose not to require passcodes/passwords. I said THAT’S WHAT I DID LAST TIME.

I also hate that they kept saying “restore.” “Restore” is what the Democrats should be saying they’re going to do for American jobs, dreams, competent government. But this iPad paperweight wasn’t getting restored. It was getting rebooted.

After more than an hour at the Apple Store, the supervisor on the phone hung up on me. Okay, maybe we just lost each other. Within a minute, the message on my computer said “Walter is no longer sharing your computer.” I thought, no attempt to call me back? I left the Apple Store to go to M.A.C. After I parked, I checked my emails on my phone: three from Apple Support said “We made attempts to call you but you did not answer.” WTF? I was sitting at the Apple Store with five bars. If my iPhone wasn’t ringing, isn’t that partly on them? Couldn’t they have IMd me on the computer we were sharing?

But by then, we were trying longshots. I threw up my hands. I went to M.A.C. and asked my guy for help wiping it down and restarting it. I pulled the trigger.

Charlie-Brown-level AUUGGGHH.


As I type this, I have a noon appointment with his “AAC Specialist” at school. I asked her if she or anyone at school had any backups or anything that might help us. Nope.

So now we’re starting from scratch. We’re reprogramming all the buttons.

And now I’ll be backing up his iPad every week or so, uh, forever. Not making that damn mistake again.

As much as anything else, Dar’s condition is a Time-Suck. I have deadlines. I have articles I’m trying to get published, contests I’m trying to compete in. To admit something publicly for the first time, the book that I wanted to come out in 2017 is now pushed to 2018.

Writing this piece almost doesn’t count, since this is all vomit-draft; here you’re getting pure unvarnished me.


But that’s enough, now.