Friday, June 27, 2008

A Taste of Home

I don’t think that I learned to appreciate the fact that my mother made wonderful meals every day, all year, until I was grown myself and feeding four children. And she did it without the convenience of a break from the routine with Fast Food Night. Oddly, I don't remember much of the routine of childhood meals except for the summer time bounty.

In the summer, we had "dinner" at noon, often with friends of Daddy's joining us when the Alabama Legislature was in session. These dinners usually included Fried Chicken or Pork Chops, perhaps roast beef, three or more vegetables, one always being sliced tomatoes, and cornbread and biscuits. Daddy insisted that certain vegetables needed cornbread, others biscuits. Mama accommodated his every wish so we always had both. Strangely, I don't remember any desserts, probably because the younger ones usually were sent back outside to play before it was served, but I suspect there was a Caramel or Coconut Cake on those occasions. Mama's cakes were famous. There was always iced tea.

We stopped at a roadside market on the way home from camp yesterday and bought blackberries (Highway robbery price of $7 a quart but happy to pay it!), peaches (Only $9 for a big basket.), sweet corn, and a small loaf of banana bread. The first bite of my first peach of the summer took me home to Mama’s kitchen and Guy McKee’s regular delivery of a huge basket of Elberta Peaches from Chilton County, Alabama, during the summer. Guy was an old Marine buddy of Daddy’s and one of a group that had a lifelong relationship. When the last of them died, Daddy did too.

On the occasions we travel home to Alabama in the summertime, we still like to stop at “Peach Park” near Clanton, Alabama, and indulge in a scoop of homemade peach ice cream and perhaps split a fried peach pie. Although I'm sure that those more widely travelled might disagree, I recommend Peach Park above all the fruit stands in the Universe!

I look forward to the opportunities each year when our whole family is together and I can indulge in making some yummy things that we never have for just the three of us. They are mostly desserts, and probably not heart healthy, but they evoke a taste of an era when how things tasted counted more than how many grams of fat and carbs they contained.

My daughters are all better, and healthier, cooks than I am, but my Peach Cobbler will inevitably disappear. The recipe wasn’t Mama’s, but one I stole from a friend so long ago that I’ve forgotten who gave it to me. Mama borrowed it from me, but always claimed hers wasn’t as good as mine. Maybe eating something someone else cooks makes it taste better whether it’s your mother or your daughter or a friend. It's one of my favorite, and simplest, recipes. Although we have always called it a Cobbler, this is really what some old timey recipes call a "dump". The topping is more cake like than short like pie crust. No rolling pin necessary.

Peach Cobbler
About 5 large or 7 medium peaches, peeled and sliced and sweetened with 1/4 cup sugar
(This also works with about a pint and a half of blackberries.)
1/4-1/2 cup butter, melted
1 ½ c. Sugar (I sometimes use part Splenda instead—about ¾ cup of each)
1 ½ c. Self Rising Flour
1 ½ c. Milk
Melt butter in a pan about 12” square or equivalent. (I use an old Corningware one.) Beat together Sugar, Flour, and Milk just until all moist and pour into the melted butter. Spoon sweetened peaches over the batter. Cook in a 350 degree oven, uncovered, for about 45 minutes, or until topping rises and turns brown with no evidence in center of raw dough. Cool a bit, and serve with vanilla ice cream.
Note: You can increase or decrease the recipe easily by just keeping the amount of flour, sugar, and milk roughly equal and using more or less sweetened peaches and butter.

I hope my children and grandchildren will enjoy my cooking a special dessert for them, and always be willing to indulge in a bit of a splurge to celebrate the season. I hope you do too.


Home Again, Home Again

Dad and I rode out to Camp Goodtimes this morning, and were greeted by some of the nicest young people imaginable. Some of them have known Walker for years. His counselor, Pieter, has been a volunteer counselor since he was only fourteen. I think that perhaps Pieter originally needed some volunteer activities for his high school transcript, but he has stuck with it for a long time now. Even the year with almost a hundred kids throwing up didn't dissuade him.

Walker chatted all the way home. He offered more information about the camping experience than ever before. He told us who had a boyfriend (a tiny little girl named Caroline) and who was disruptive (no one in his cabin) and what they had to eat (healthy kid-friendly food). As we rode along, he began unloading his bag and sharing photos and crafts projects and awards (for artistic ability and being most helpful) and talked about making ice cream and peanut butter balls. The coke thing was a non-issue. They had lots of lemonade available all the time. He was the happy, affectionate Downs Kid that everyone thinks we have all the time, at least for a while. He headed straight to the laundry room to do his wash when we got home.

All this outgoingness just has to be a result of Walker's improvement in his speech. Not only is he speaking more clearly, lots more clearly, but he told us things about his fellow campers indicating that he had actually talked with them. I never knew that Louisa's grandfather worked at Home Depot, the one near our house, and Walker engaged enough to find out details I never thought he'd be interested in. Apparently the fact that Louisa has "Chinese Eyes" no longer bothers him! It's heartwarming to see him reconnect with old friends in a new, and perhaps less judgmental way.

The most excitement came into his voice when he talked about movie night--"High School Musical" !!! There was a dance, with some Johnny Cash music. And on, and on.

Sarah will be coming home tomorrow, and Walker's ready to go to the lake for the whole family to be together and celebrate Little John's fifth birthday.

Like most of us, Walker is revived and invigorated from his break from the routine of sacking groceries, unloading the dishwasher, and sorting his Polaroids. He can't wait to go out with Theresa today to buy his weekly ten pack of Polaroid. He has exhausted the packs Ben so generously donated to the cause. For those that were concerned about the impending demise of the Polaroid instant film, he'll be okay with it. Walker knows that things change, and given enough notice, he adjusts. In the meantime, we'll enjoy a great weekend. I hope each of you do too!


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Greatest Gift rerun

My husband, referred to as Walker for this post since Little Walker is at camp, gave me the greatest gift today. For the whole day, we did exactly what I wanted to do. No we didn't go antiquing or shopping for diamonds. We worked in the yard. This gift is even more precious because I know that he'd rather be shot than do yard work. We've been pecking away at some overdue tasks this year because we both had major surgeries last year.

I believe it was April a year ago on our anniversary that I told him that the only thing in the world I wanted was rocks. Not the glitzy kind that he had given me for Christmas, although I feel really cute when I wear my sparkly earrings, but real rocks for my garden. I repeated the request again for my birthday last October and at Christmas this year. For one reason or another, mostly my not feeling like dealing with something so overwhelming most of the time, I didn't get my rocks until this summer.

One nice day in early June we hauled me into the pickup truck and went to the rock place. I shopped around for about two minutes and picked out a nice pallet of medium sized rocks that had lots of mossy character. As the guy loaded the big, and I mean really big, bundle onto the truck, I felt the truck sink. Oh my! Those rocks were not only going to have to go down I 40 to get home, they would have to be unloaded before the truck was usable and although Walker owns a tractor with a lift, it was at the farm, not at home. Those rocks were going to have to come off one by one.

I got on the phone when we got home, and found a couple of workmen we have used on occasion to help us out, and by the next day they, and Walker had unloaded the rocks. In the process Walker had made a pretty little path up to the small "memorial garden" where my 60th birthday bench that the girls gave me gives me a quiet place to catch my breath. My sweet dog Lilly is buried right next to my bench. Her successor, Charlie, sits beside me, happy to have me scratch under his neck, just like Lilly.

Today, we got another area of the yard all tidied up and finished, at least for a while. Walker and I both trimmed hedges and pulled weeds for most of the day. I stayed in my bathing suit all day, because I simply could not have taken the heat without a drenching every couple of hours.

I hope that one day soon I'll return the favor and do just what Walker wants to do for a whole day. For tonight, I'll go to see Indiana Jones with him. His choice, not mine this time.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

It's The Real Thing rerun

I've had Walker on my mind a lot today. The house is quiet. I wonder how camp is going. I didn't pack any self addressed notes this year, because they've come home unused the last few years.

A week away isn't all that long, except for the coke issue. Walker packed a small cooler with several diet cokes, both with and without caffeine, but I'm not sure whether he got to keep them. Even if he did, they wouldn't last but a day or two. I know I'd be miserable if I were stuck somewhere with no iced tea.

The issue with cokes began in his teens, about the time he started having some money of his own. He rarely passed up an opportunity to buy a drink in the machine at church, and liked to ride his bike to the country store near our home. It wasn't much of a problem, because he usually only had enough money for one or two at a time.

Then he came into some real money.

We were at Southern Methodist University for Sarah's Parent's Weekend. After the football game, we were invited to a really nice tailgate party with Memphis Bar B Que, and a Texas band.

It was hot as blue blazes in Dallas that weekend, and no one was dancing to the Texas band hired for the occasion. Our host took the mike and announced that he was going to have a dance contest, and that the prize would be a hundred dollars. Walker’s ears perked up, and out he trotted to the dance floor in the parking lot. He wanted that hundred dollars. That might be enough to buy a video camera, and he knew how to dance.

Walker joined several others in competing for the prize. Sarah danced with him for a while, and when she tired of it, our host's daughter became his partner. When Gwen gave out, Walker danced on his own, doing a variety of moves that he had seen on television. I stayed in the RV where it was cool, mostly hoping that Sarah wasn’t embarrassed at his antics.

When the prize was announced, two winners were selected: Walker, and an attractive young couple from Houston were each awarded a crisp hundred dollar bill. We were all astounded when the young couple presented Walker with the money they had won. Sarah was aghast. Walker had two hundred dollars, and she had a seventy dollar phone bill to pay.

”Hey Walker, since I was your partner, how about giving me one of those hundred dollar bills.”

Walker eyed her skeptically and then reached in his pocket. “How about a five,” he offered. Sarah just rolled her eyes and didn’t press him any further.

Later, as we drove back to campus, Walker quietly slipped one of the hundred dollar bills into his sister’s hand. The other one was his, and no matter how much I urged him, he refused to give it to me for safe keeping. For almost three months he kept it beside his bed in a little box.

One cold November day, Walker asked for permission to ride to the store to buy a coke. I was so pleased with my success in persuading him to ask permission to leave the house before taking off that I rarely denied his requests. As he rode off down the driveway I noticed that he had thought to put on a heavy jacket. Walker was back in about ten minutes, but instead of slipping into his room by way of the back stairs as usual, he came into the kitchen.

“I don’t have my hundred dollar bill anymore.”

“What,” I snapped, “did you lose it? Is it somewhere in your room?” I was angry with myself for not being more insistent that he let me keep it in a safe place for him. I also visualized having to sort through all of his junk in a search for his money.

“Nope,” he announced with a big grin as he opened his jacket, revealing the soft drink cans stowed there. “I bought five cokes with it!”

“You did WHAT! Walker, where is your money?” I demanded.

“I spent it,” he patiently explained to me once again, “on five cokes.”

I attempted to stay calm enough to get some information out of him about his purchases.

“Walker, did they give you any change?” I asked, hoping that we wouldn’t have to deal with the people at the store to get his money back.

Umhum,” he said as he reached in his pocket and produced several coins. I had a sinking feeling, but I didn’t want to lose his cooperation at this point.

“Is that all they gave you?”

Umhum,” he answered again as he began to edge out of the room, tired of the inquisition.

“No, Walker, I mean did they give you any dollars, any bills?”

“Oh, yeah,” he replied coolly as he produced the rest of the money from this coat pocket. I quickly counted the money and verified that he had indeed gotten all the change back. Ninety six dollars in small bills. Walker was happy to be the proud owner of five cokes, his dream of a video camera temporarily forgotten.

I hope he's able to somehow get a coke or two at camp. If not, I hope he'll learn, as the rest of us have, that the experience is worth the sacrifice.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

All About the Outfit

Conversation with a four year old: “Where’s Da. Is Da gone camoing? I love camoing. I really want to go camoing. I have camo. I have camo pajamas and camo pants and a camo shirt, but it may be too small. I really want to go camoing.”

With William, it’s all about the outfit. He might not have had a clue about which end of the soccer field held the goal for his team, but he looked good out there, despite his shirt tail being about six inches below his shorts, making him look like he was running around with no shorts at all. He has really, really “fast” shoes. They didn’t make him run faster, they are just way cooler than his old Keds. Grammy didn’t have fast shoes. Why doesn’t Grammy have fast shoes???

Walker and his dad got packed for camp last night. He’s excited to go back for about the thirtieth time and will be helping in the kitchen and with the little kids. He has carefully folded his work shirts away for a week, has discussed the arrangements for getting his paycheck so he can go shopping the day he gets back, and picked out some of his coolest shirts. He likes the ones with Rooney on them best. That’s his brother in law’s band, and they are almost as cool as the Jonas Brothers. He will most certainly use sunscreen and bug spray this year, because even if that isn’t cool, he remembers previous summers when he couldn’t be bothered. He’ll make a big splash with a cannonball off the high dive, and he’ll have camp friends, mostly the counselors. They’ll have some outings and a dance with a dee jay.

I’ll probably use his absence to sort through his closet. I’ll give away the clothes he has totally rejected (pretty much anything too geeky or too uncomfortable) and see what he might need. He stays the same size from year to year, so frequency of use is the criteria for what needs to go and what needs to stay. He knows that a nice dinner out requires a shirt with a collar and church requires a shirt with a tie and a blazer, except in the summer.

For a week he won’t have to shave, although he has packed his shaver. Perhaps if a girl shows some interest it might inspire him. He knows that all the cool dudes wear a little scruff, at least sometimes, though.

My husband and I will get a weeks respite from the minimal services we provide for Walker. No ride to work at eleven and six. No arrangements for any appointments. No concerns about someone not liking leftovers for dinner three nights in a row. This week, the wonderful volunteers at Camp Good Times will deal with Walker. The same kids that were his first counselors at camp now run the operation. Some of them have grown up, had children, gotten post graduate degrees, one is even running for public office in the fall. We’ll know that Walker is in the best possible place other than upstairs in his room.

I hope we’ll always feel good about sending Walker off for different experiences. Perhaps we’ll try to include his camp friends in our daily life a little more this year. I hope he is safe and happy, not too sun burned and itchy. I hope he comes home soon.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Talk It Out

I had a pretty in-depth discussion with my twelve year old grandson about the economy and global warming this afternoon. I don't know how unusual this is. Maybe all twelve year old boys think more deeply today than they did in my day when their main area of expertise seemed to be baseball stats and which of the girls wore a bra, or needed to.

As I struggled to explain supply and demand and what the industrializing of China meant to fuel prices, his little brother was also bombarding me with how much he really, really liked the Legos we had bought at Target today, and the Legos I had given him for Christmas, no maybe his birthday, and the special charms of the Star Wars ones. My head was spinning by the time I got home to a too quiet house.

I've watched each of my children and grandchildren learn to talk with great delight. Some of them have had huge one-word vocabularies by age one, and others seemed to struggle to make an intelligible sound until nearly two, then share their wishes in full blown sentences. The common thread has been that each one has had a burning desire to be understood, including Walker.

Most kids with Down Syndrome have at least some degree of delay in speech, and many have to struggle mightily to master adult speech patterns. Walker talked a little later than the girls, but his biggest problem has been eliminating the "baby talk", which mostly results from his problems with certain sounds, especially "r" sounds. He received routine speech therapy throughout his school years, but once he was out in the world, I watched his desire and ability to talk diminish as he began to realize that people lose patience with his "jabber talk".We have had the good fortune to receive home based speech therapy for the past two years after I asked his physician to recommend it. This may have been the greatest gift I, and the great state of Tennessee, have ever given him.

Julia has helped Walker strengthen his muscles used in speaking in much the same way his Special Olympics coaches helped him develop physically, with lots of exercises. She comes armed with fun lessons on her computer, lots of whistles, and some improvised "dumbells" made from a strip of plastic with pennies taped on each end. Walker's dad made him a "pacing board" to help him space his words. Julia brought a funny sqeeze monster to do more of the same.

After some initial embarassment, Walker has come to realize that the rewards of being better understood are worth giving up a couple of hours in the sack on Friday mornings. He is always up and dressed, and has two glasses of water waiting on the table in the small study where they meet. (One of Julia's greatest accomplishments might just be getting him to drink one glass of water a week.)

I have seen Walker's increased willingness to spend a few minutes with his dad and me before and after dinner lately. He volunteers info on the pop stars on Entertainment Tonight, and lets us know what movies are opening and when. When we go shopping together, he often runs into fellow employees from the store, and his interactions are what I suppose is appropriate in teenagese today. I actually think his singing range has improved from monotone to some tone. I've even noticed that his jaw line looks stronger and his smile more natural. He's a handsome guy.

Julia will be here in the morning, she's almost as reliable as Walker, and I hope I remember to tell her what a difference she has made in our lives. I think she knows it, but I'll make sure.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Hard Part rerun death

I've been away from my computer, partly by circumstances, partly by choice. I had a nice tribute to my husband for Father's Day mostly written when I heard that sound that MSNBC puts on when something important has happened.

Since September 11, 2001, when I'm in the house, the television set is on, usually tuned to one of the news channels. It's mostly just part of the background noise for me as I do something else. I usually just sit down to watch the late afternoon pundits banter about Hillary and Barack and my friend John McCain. The real reason I have it on, though, is that I am still hypervigilant, afraid I'll be surprised again at horrific news events like I was on that brilliant September morning. Stuff happens all the time. There are floods and fires and crazies firing at strangers from overpasses. There are babies missing, perverts caught and tried. Our own local politicians are caught doing things they shouldn't be doing and get hauled off to fancy federal facilities for a few years. Once in a while, though, it's just too much.

Strangely, the sudden death of one of my television friends, Tim Russert, was one of those things that was just too much. It's odd how I can be so numbed to the fact that thousands are killed in an earthquake or that dozens are dying in the bad weather we've had this summer, or that the numbers of soldiers they cite daily as battle losses is ever growing, and still feel the loss of one guy I never met so strongly.

I guess it was because it was Father's Day weekend and that Mr. Russert left behind not just a son, but a father, that added to the enormity of this loss. It just all seemed too sad.

We packed up and went to the lake as planned. There was no real reason not to. I wasn't involved in any way with this guy or his family, but my husband and I turned on MSNBC as soon as we got to the lake to watch the continuing coverage of a good son and a better father.

The next morning, I was reading a book--more about dying, this time the plague deaths in a small village in England--waiting for the signal from my husband that it was time to drive him down to the neighbor's ramp to put the boat in the water. I got lost in the wonderfully written Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, but after a while it began to seem that I had been waiting an awfully long time.

I looked out the front window and saw Walker and his dad scrubbing and vacuuming the old pontoon. They could have been any father and son, doing what needed to be done--together. By lunch time the two guys came in, hot and sweaty, but both proud of the spic and span boat all ready for launch. Walker gave an embarassed smile and nod of his head when his dad praised him for sticking with the job so long. I went down to the local grocery shack and got burgers for all, and that afternoon we had a wonderful time riding around the mostly quiet lake, pulling Walker on Big Bertha. This day he didn't belt out patriotic songs as he rode. He just enjoyed the ride and we did too.

I don't suppose it would be possible to be equally sad for every family at every death or I'd be wearing widows weeds year round. I found that out when I was doing Pastoral Care for my church. Eventually you just realize that it's not a matter of if, but when and how we die. More importantly, it's a matter of how we live.

I'm not sure Mr. Russert would have approved of his MSNBC family having all Tim Russert all the time for almost a week. I'm sure that I wasn't the only one who eventually turned away from the endless loop of footage just because it was too sad. I did learn that he took time to honor his father and his son while he was still alive. Would that we all could do that. I found a copy of his book, Big Russ and Me, on the shelf at the lake. I brought it home to read.

I hope I continue to learn from others about how to live, as well as how to die. That's the hard part.


Friday, June 13, 2008

The Bad Seed rerun

One of the most difficult jobs in our family is running interference for Walker at work from time to time. If there is a pay problem or schedule problem or a personnel problem, I generally turn it over to his dad and his more laid back nature. A while back, we got a call from Walker's boss that they were going to send him home because he had been rude to a customer, had called her a name. I sent Big Walker to deal with it, because I was afraid I'd get either angry or emotional if they fired him, and this sounded pretty serious. While I stayed home and worried myself sick, Walker handled the whole incident calmly, and they let Little Walker finish the work day after all, much to my relief.

By the time they got home after work, I had calmed down enough to ask the magic questions and figure out what had happened, one thing I'm much better at doing. Something just didn't add up. Walker gave up curse words many, many years ago after a mouthful of our favorite cursing remedy, a drop of Ivory Liquid on the tongue. About the worst thing he ever called anyone was when he announced that Sister Judy was a pig when he was about five years old. He might get angry, and he had even fired his boss a couple of times when he was unhappy, but cursing just wasn't in his repertoire anymore.

Even my son-in-law, John, who has initiated Walker into the kind of guy repartee that he never learned at Catholic School, had never aggravated him enough to get him to curse. He just doesn't do that. Not that he doesn't occasionally hear an expletive from his dad or me, but he knows better than to use one. Or so I thought.

Now he had called a customer a bitch. He had apologized, somewhat under duress, and wasn't going to lose his job, but I couldn't let it rest.

"Walker, could you just tell me exactly what happened today at work," I asked as he sat uncomfortably on the couch, shifting around and avoiding eye-contact.
"Well, this is really embarrassing...." Long pause.
"That's okay. You're not going to get in trouble. I just need to know what happened. Did you call a customer a name?" Another very long pause. He knew I knew.
"Well, yeah, I'm really sorry...I did...but she was really rude to me...I just can't tell you..." Tears welled up in his eyes.
"It's okay. Just tell me what you called her." Tears welled in my eyes too.
"Well...I called her a Bad Seed...She really was...She said she wanted paper instead of plastic, and I didn't hear her, and when I started loading plastic she yelled at me so I called her a Bad Seed. I promise it won't happen again. I know I might lose my job."

Now this made sense in Walkerese...almost. He talks in movie talk a lot, but most of the movies are Disney and at the most PG rated. I was kind of bewildered that he might have seen "The Bad Seed", a movie about a wicked little girl that came out in the '50's and one that I didn't remember from his shelf last time I had cleaned and sorted out. Turns out, there was a reference to the old movie in one of his newer favorites.

The customer, the cashier and his boss had heard what they expected, and probably knew was true about her deep down. They heard him call her a bitch, when he really called her a Bad Seed.

After some lecturing about the customer always being right, the matter was put to rest. In my heart, I knew who the Bad Seed was, though. I think Walker's boss did too.

I hope I'm not a Bad Seed too often. I hope people hear what I really mean to say, and not what they think I say.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

If It's Wednesday rerun

Walker had a bit of a change in his regular Wednesday schedule because his speech therapist needed to make up some time. She and his PA met Walker at work and took him to dinner. He had hardly gotten home before he was busy gathering up all the trash cans and heading to the street to put the garbage out. He never needs to be reminded, and it never occurs to him that he might just announce that he's too tired to do it after a long day at work. He just does what he's supposed to...99.9% of the time...without question. Then he noticed that I had unloaded the dishwasher, usually his job, and thanked me. Wow, I don't think anyone has ever thanked me for unloading the dishwasher.

Walker knows that work comes before pleasure, but when his chores are done, he unapologetically claims the rest of the evening for himself. He doesn't like to be bothered once he has holed up in his room with Hannah Montana or High School Musical or his hero The Fonz. He's earned that.

I hope I remember to thank those in my life for all the little things they do. I hope I'll be more like Walker when I grow up.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Reading and Writing rerun

Sometimes I'm questioned about why I write about what might be boring personal experiences, particularly in a public blog. One of my daughters commented that sometimes I lean toward working out my own issues a bit. She's probably right. That same child does read my blog regularly, and is learning things about her family that she never knew. She thinks that's a good thing, I think.

I am a very visual person. I made my way through school, despite being a terrible listener in lectures, by writing down, practically verbatim, every word my teachers spoke. I think I began this practice in grammar school. In college, I would absorb material by copying my notes, reorganizing them, applying some silly rhyme to things I needed to memorize, then giving myself a written test. I was a quick learner from the reading required, it was just the listening that failed me.

I found out that I am not alone in this "disability" relatively recently. I have a young doctor friend who attended only the medical school classes with mandatory attendance requirements and learned from reading and studying the notes of others. He graduated near the top of his class.

I actually prefer writing to talking because I often need to "fix" what I initially say when carrying on a conversation, and sometimes people don't realize that my initial comment wasn't really what I meant to say. It's hard to undo what you blurt out once it's said. I'm not one of those people who can modify what I need to say and put it into socially appropriate phrases in my head.

Having a computer and learning to cut and paste eliminated a lot of my problems of "fixing things" before I blurt them out. I am usually my own harshest editor, unless I'm in a hurry or distracted or just being dumb.

In the Morris Home Child Development Laboratory we have both kinds of learners. I think it's important to identify any child's strengths and capitalize on them, and so I've done that with Walker as well as his sisters.
We were fortunate that Walker learned to read and write at an early age, because his speech has always been difficult to understand. He is also a decent speller for the most part. The first time I remember him using his writing skills was when he was about ten or eleven. He had lost his beloved, and bedraggled, "Pink Panther" doll which he had had since he was a toddler. After a thorough search in the jumble of toys that occupied every available square inch of space in his room, it was obvious that Pink Panther was gone. A few days later while making his bed, I found a note on his pillow. "Dear Pink Panther, Where are you? We are looking for you. Sincerely, Walker Morris III." We all continued to look for Pink Panther, and had pretty much given up when we got a call from his grandparents. They had found the beloved animal "hiding" in the pull out sofa at their house. We all rejoiced.

Now Walker leaves me notes of all kinds, mainly so he won't have to discuss his needs with me, I think. He makes me lists of things he wants me to look for on E-bay. They are usually old records or books he remembers from his childhood that somehow disappeared over the years. I think they take him back to a happier time when all his sisters were home. He gives me grocery lists, usually loaded with specific kinds of diet drinks, chocolate milk, and perhaps hotdogs or buns if the number isn't working out to his satisfaction. It's a really useful skill for him...and for me.

I hope we'll all keep trying to make people understand us in the ways that work for them. I hope I get better at saying things right the first time. I hope every child has someone who takes the time to discover the best way for him to learn.


Friday, June 6, 2008

Baby Girl Coming Home

We are all excited that Sarah Jane is coming home for a few days. For those of you who might not know, this is our actress daughter who is on "Brothers and Sisters" on ABC. Since she "outed" me on her blog for Cosmo ( I don't feel so uncomfortable about disclosing my stage mom-ness.

Sarah will be coming home for a wedding of an old friend. We'll have a laid back family dinner on Sunday, then maybe she'll help me hang some family pics on Monday, then back to LaLa Land.

After Walker was born and I realized that caring for him wasn't going to be a full time job, something in me cried out for another baby. In the beginning, I think I needed to know that I could do something right again. I don't know if all mothers and fathers of children with disabilities feel that way, but I did, as did several other mothers in our Early Intervention Class.

We were on the cusp of all the technology that can tell you whether your baby has any genetic defects, and I opted to have an amnio. Although I was terrified of the prospect of having a needle that appeared to be about the size of a railroad spike aimed at my baby, I just had to know. I'll never know what my decision would have been had that baby had an extra chromosome, but the peace of mind that knowing everything was good with my baby was worth going through the experience, which ended up being pretty much a piece of cake.
That baby brought so much life into our family. We could be happy again after what had seemed like an eternity of mourning, even as we cared for and began to love Walker. I wanted to hold her next to my heart twenty four hours a day, and all that loving and having Walker and two older sisters to learn with and from made her into a really special person. She's coming home, and my heart will be especially happy.

I hope I remember to tell each of my children how very special they are to me more often.

Molly is special because she made me a mother, the only thing I'd ever wanted to be, tolerated my youthful experimental motherhood, and turned out to be my dear friend and wise counselor. Katie is special because her free spirit and diligence combined to lead all of us along paths we might not have travelled and she gave me my only grandaughter. Walker is special because he taught me that all people are worthy of love just because they are. They are all children of my heart and each is the best he or she can possibly be--at least most of the time.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Night rerun

Last weekend's trip away with Walker brought to light that I'm not quite so wise and observant a parent as I thought I was.

On our first trip to the Smokies three years ago, Walker had commented on a rather ferocious looking dog tied to a stake outside a small house as we turned off the main road. He asked if that was "Cujo", a reference to a Stephen King movie he had watched several years ago and decided was too scary. This led to a talk about fantasy things that are scary versus real things that are scary. I made a mental note to monitor his viewing habits a bit more closely. I thought that was the end of it.

Our large family filled all the bedrooms on that trip, and Walker was assigned to a lovely loft, on an air mattress, but with a large television set. This suited him fine, or at least I thought it did until our hosts commented at breakfast that they had found him asleep on their bathroom floor in the wee hours of the morning. After a lecture about respecting the space of others, I again thought that was the end of it. It hadn't occurred to me that the scary movie reference and the intrusion in the private space of our hosts were somehow connected.

Imagine my surprise when we drove past the same small home this year and Walker once again mentioned "Cujo" even though the dog was nowhere in sight. I repeat the same lecture about reality versus fantasy. I make a mental vow to put parental controls on his television and sort through his movies while he's at camp.

Since there were fewer people on this trip, Walker was assigned his own bedroom. A beautiful room overlooking the mountains. The next morning, however, he announced that he really wanted to move to the loft where he had slept before, because his room was "lonely". A lecture about being courteous about assigned accommodations followed. He then brought up the scary dog movie yet again. He also made some references to the house looking much like the church where he had attended a funeral in recent months. Walker presented his case like a trial lawyer, much to the amusement of my son-in-law who struggled mightily with keeping a straight face while Walker and I debated. I lost that battle myself once I caught his eye. Walker was not amused. This was serious, he insisted. Turns out that part of the problem was that he didn't have a television set in his room.

I realized that I wasn't going to win this battle. No matter how nice his accommodations, Walker was miserable, and until he was happy, none of the rest of us were going to be either. A bit of shuffling of rooms followed, and after the swap, Walker regained custody of the television and was once again content. I guess I lost the battle, but it was worth giving up the only room with a bath tub to put the room assignments to rest.

This whole incident kept rattling around in my brain as we drove home. I had thought Walker was certainly mature beyond being fearful of a scary movie he had seen over ten years ago. He is not. I searched my old books on child development, because I remembered some discussion of fears, but I think I'll need a newer book to understand exactly what's going on with him right now. Maybe it was just the television thing. We can work on that...maybe.

I'm so grateful to have in-laws that are also friends as we work through some of the remaining kinks with Walker. Our discussion led to some chatter about our own childhood fears, making the whole incident less embarrassing.

I hope I'll get better at figuring out Walker, and all my family. I hope I'll be kinder and less preachy when there's a problem. I'm thankful for an understanding extended family. I hope maturity will bring Walker peace from his fears. I hope maturity will bring me peace from my own fears.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Picking Battles

My daughter and son-in-law left us and the other grandparents in charge of her three children for about twenty-four hours last weekend. The range of ages, one and a half to twelve, with four adults and Walker added into the mix, made for an interesting time. It rained a good part of the day on Sunday, so we played a lot of board games and pseudo-charades. (The youngest ones don't quite get the idea, but are enthusiastic participants.) We tried to include Walker in all these things with very little success. At one point I pretty much insisted that he play Yahtzee with us, but when he was equally insistent that he really didn't want to, I gave into him returning to his Polaroids and the television. I could tell that Robert, age twelve, thought I was a really wimpy parent for letting Walker off.

I can remember a similar experience with my father when Walker was about five, also during a weekend of togetherness. We were at the family lake cabin, on pristine Lake Martin. Walker left our group on the dock and headed up the hill to the cabin alone. I called out to him, he ignored me, and I didn't enforce him "minding" me. During that same trip Daddy constantly corrected Walker every time he said "yeah" or "no" in response to an adult. Daddy was certain that I had totally failed in my duties to raise a proper Son of the South by not teaching the requisite "Yes, Ma'am, No Ma'am, Thank You Ma'am, Please" manners to my son. I finally had my fill of feeling like a failure and more or less blew up at Daddy, something I had rarely done, saving most of my tantrums for Mama throughout my life.

My parents had not been around, in the same city, to see the struggle that it had taken to get this particular little boy to the degree of civilized behavior that he had achieved. They didn't realize that there were millions of niceties that the average child picks up almost by osmosis that Walker just didn't notice. He had to be taught them one by one. By that time I had four children, Walker and his sister both barely out of diapers. Yes, I should have made him mind. Yes, I probably should have not given him a choice about participating in some family games last weekend. We all pick our battles, or we end up with battle fatigue. The course of history isn't usually changed by some of the battles we choose not to fight.

When my daughter returned from the wedding, she joked that she had imagined how her children would be dressed when she came back. She only got one right. William was indeed sitting at the counter eating lunch in nothing but his underwear. We had dressed the baby, and Robert had dressed to go out, but at some point William had stripped. If any of the adults noticed, I guess we decided it wasn't a big deal.

I hope I am understanding about the battles others choose to fight. I hope I'll drum up the energy to fight a bit harder for the things that are worth fighting for. I hope I'll have some success at convincing Walker that participation in family games are part of what we do---just because.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Road Trip

We have just returned from a marvelous long weekend with our oldest daughter and her family to her in-law's year round retreat. We've made this trip several times now, but it was the first time in two years that we'd been in the car with Walker and our oldest grandson for such an extended drive.

The last time we took Walker and Robert on a trip, only to St. Louis, it was like having two ten year olds in the car. There was a lot of "he touched me" and sneaky jabs and tattling from both of them. Sharing a room was not easy. Walker declined to go up in the arch; Robert couldn't wait to go. At the zoo, Robert was all about photographing every exhibit. Walker was all about mimicing the apes. Robert recorded that antic too. About the only thing they agreed on was that the "Throwed Rolls" at a cavernous country eating place in Arkansas were awesome.

This trip was more like four adults travelling together. Robert and Walker listened to a murder mystery tape along with us. Travelling with us gave Robert a chance to visit his eighty-nine year old great-grandfather. We all enjoyed a lunch with Grandaddy and his second wife, this time in an Alabama country cooking joint, breaking the long trip into tolerable segments

When Walker's younger sister got married a few years, it began to dawn on him that she was beginning an adult life and he was not. He recently announced that he was married to his job, a quote from a movie, I'm sure. I wonder how he's going to feel in a few years when he realizes the nephew he remembers as an infant has also outgrown him and left home and started a family.

I hope we will be able to ease the next transitional crisis for Walker. I hope he'll continue to think that being married to his job is a cool thing to be. I hope our wonderful in-laws will provide us a pleasant retreat in the cool mountains again in years to come and that we'll soon enjoy another road trip.