Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Grandparents-part one

I was never close to my dad's parents. They were around 70 yrs old when my parents got married. My dad was the youngest of 12 children. I only have one memory of my Grandpa Adams. He was very sick at the time and died not too long after. My Grandma Adams was intimidating. I was a nervous kid, but in this case, I wasn't the only one who was afraid of her. ;)We all were. It wasn't because of anything she did. She just seemed gruff. (Does anyone else use that word or just me? ;)) I don't ever remember seeing her smile. And she was much more likely to reprimand you than to say something kind. I don't think she meant to be prickly. But she was. She was easier to understand as an adult. She was old and not very cheerful. She was more of the "we just endure life" type. But she was a nice person once you got past all that.
My mother's parents, on the other hand, were still pretty young. I think they were in their mid 40's when my parents married. And they were much more grandparent like. There were always treats when Grandma was around. She loves to cook and bake. It just seemed like good things always happened when Grandma was around. She and my mother are extremely close. We were at Grandma's house at least once or twice a week. She and my mother are each other's support system.
My Grandfather has (He died 5 yrs ago.) a lot of similarities to my dad. But I think my Grandfather was a little better with people than my dad. I was closer to my Grandfather. He was always sweet to me. I remember reading my Weekly Reader with him. And he always had something he was reading and wanted to talk about. He was always interested in the world around him. He would tell me that my shoulder blades were my angel wings. And when my dad forgot that he was supposed to take us to see Mary Poppins for my birthday and no one could find him (very typical), my grandfather saved the day and got us there just as the nannies were blowing away. :) Thank you Grandfather! He liked to hear me play the piano, but it would bug him if I slumped while I was playing. So he'd always remind me to sit up straight. :)
Grandfather was very entertaining, because he had a lot of quirks. He was very OCD, but luckily most of his obsessions weren't annoying. The only one that made me crazy was the "don't hold your brakes down cause you'll wear them out" one. It gets kinda scary when Grandfather keeps rolling into the intersection during a red light and you're halfway through the intersection before the light turns green. ;) Otherwise, they were just funny. He did, however, drive my Grandma crazy. ;)
When I was younger, he didn't want any dirt in his car. So he would have all of us kneel on the seat or in the back end of the station wagon so he could use a handheld whisk broom on our shoes before we got in. It was this funny ritual everytime we went somewhere with Grandfather. But we didn't mind! It was kinda fun waiting to have your shoes brushed off. I'm trying to remember if he'd whisk off his own shoes. I kinda think he did. I should ask Grandma if he wanted her to brush off her shoes too. Probably! But most likely she refused. LOL! It wasn't quite such a fun game for Grandma. ;)
Grandfather was very adamant that he didn't want to be called grandpa. So he was Grandfather. Brandt called him Gransrawr or just Rawr when he was little. It kinda stuck. So he's Rawr or Gransrawr when anyone's in a silly mood. Grandfather had quite a few pet peeves. He hated crumbs on the table or the floor, so he kept a Dustbuster on the wall in the dining room. But more often, he'd sweep them off into his hands. And it was normal to see Grandfather going down the hall, picking up bits of things off of the carpet at church.
He also hated wasting anything. One of Cameron's first Grandfather experiences was at a family reunion at my grandparents' house. Grandfather came out of the bathroom saying, "Someone's been using too much toilet paper. (There were 30 people in their house that day. ;)) I think it was Loren!" Poor Loren got the blame. LOL!
Also, if you were spending the night at their house, all of their grandchildren knew that Grandfather would sneak in after he thought you were asleep and turn off the fan that was blowing to keep you cool or the heater that was keeping you warm. But that was normal. You'd wake up when he came in and pretend you were still asleep and just turn it back on when he left. ;) It really bugged him that I would sleep rolled up in a blanket even in summer with only my nose uncovered. So he'd come in after I was asleep and move the blanket off my face to keep me from getting hot and I'd just put it back after he left. ;)
He liked to superglue things like his shoes if they started coming apart. After he died, we even found socks with holes that had been superglued. It wasn't that he couldn't afford new socks or new shoes. He just couldn't stand to waste them. He also wrote "These shoes belong to Bob Lovett" on the bottom of the shoes he used at the YMCA, presumably to prevent them from being stolen. :)
He loved to play volleyball and would play every week up until he got too sick. He was very healthy despite having a heart murmur that was so bad that doctors told him he wouldn't live past 30. But he lived into his 70's without any problems.
He was very patriotic and very involved in politics. He would write letters to the editor of their newspaper or letters to politicians regularly.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nervous Breakdown--Continued

I feel like I really need to write about what it's like to parent Robert, and I want to do it, and I'm glad when I finish a post about him. But it is kind of emotionally draining. Luckily I can stop whenever I feel like it's wearing me out.
For another accurate glimpse into what it's like to parent an autistic child like Robert, the Temple Grandin movie is really excellent. It was actually painful to watch because it was like watching some of the hardest things in your life play out on screen. Luckily we're past Robert's most difficult years, we hope. And now we're somewhere in the middle and working towards an independent Robert someday.
Okay, back to my story. :) I was sitting on the swing on our deck after a bit of a nervous breakdown, praying and thinking about what I should do. I realized that most of my stress was coming from having a child who always had crazy days at school and couldn't do his work properly, etc. I had convinced myself when he was little and very difficult, that he would outgrow it all by the time he started kindergarten. But he didn't outgrow it and now he was struggling a lot in school.
I realized that I had to get used to the fact that Robert's school career wasn't going to be normal and straightforward like it would be for my other boys. I had to get used to doing whatever worked to get him educated and not worrying if it didn't always go as planned.
So after Robert struggled through his first semester of kindergarten with Mrs. Wallace's help, the powers that be finally decided he wasn't ready for kindergarten this year and put him in a special pre-K class for kids like him. He was more comfortable there and there was less stress for me too. If only they had listened to me from the start! It would have saved us all a lot of pain! But Robert had learned to read and speak in complete sentences. So it wasn't lost time. Oh well, what can you do! Turns out that this is how things tend to work in the schools for Robert and me. I tell them about Robert, they don't believe me or listen, and a couple of months later they finally do what I suggested they do all along. And thus it is!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Me and School

When I was about four, we moved from a house outside Amarillo city limits into a house in Amarillo so that Juliene could start kindergarten. It was the first house my parents owned. It had three bedrooms. My parents had four kids now. Neil, the baby, had a room to himself and me, Juliene, and Brandt shared a room with 2 bunkbeds. So it was the big kids in one room and the baby, who still cried at night, in the other. Brandt was 1 1/2 to 2 yrs old. But in our family you were a big kid when you reached 18 months, because there was always a new baby.

So Juliene started kindergarten. The school was about 4 or 5 blocks straight down our street. So of course, Juliene walked to and from school every day. I'm pretty sure I was jealous that she got to go to school. We always did everything together and I thought it wasn't fair that she got to go and I didn't.

So the next year I got to start kindergarten. I LOVED it, except for the time I accidentally knocked over a jar of black paint that had somehow appeared behind my elbow. I swear I didn't put it there! ;) But it made a huge black stain in the carpet that was still there years later. When I'd help younger siblings find their kindergarten room, I would tell them that that was the stain I made in the carpet. I was kind of proud of it! I had left my mark on the kindergarten classroom. LOL!

I remember that it frustrated me a lot to learn to read. I don't think I had any trouble with it. I just didn't like anything I couldn't figure out quickly. I actually had to struggle with it for a while before getting it and I didn't like that much!

But I caught on and I loved school. In first grade, I remember that I got a paper back that the teacher had marked in a way I didn't recognize. I asked one of the other kids what it meant. They said I had made a bad grade. I was horrified! I decided that that was never going to happen again if I could help it! I hated feeling like I'd failed at anything. It's probably the thing I fear most in life. I'm much more reasonable about it than I was then. But failing at anything important, (marriage, raising kids, etc.), is still my worst nightmare.

So then school became a contest for me to win. I wanted to be the first one to know the answer, the first one finished with the assignment, and the one with the best grades. And I hated to get into trouble for anything. I felt horrible if my teacher was just unhappy with me for something.

So I took great pride in being the smartest one in my grade. (If I'm starting to sound like an annoying little smart aleck, you're right. I probably was. :) I wasn't intentionally mean to anyone. But I did have to be the smartest. Don't worry, though, it didn't last much longer. :))

I was the only one in my grade in the gifted program for 1 year. What I didn't realize was that I was at a small elementary school in a lower middle class neighborhood. There were definitely smarter kids out there. But I was blissfully king of the hill for a couple of years. :)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Nervous Breakdown-Part 1

About a month and a half to two months into kindergarten, the lady from Emory (we were very lucky she did school visits) finished evaluating Robert. I remember getting her diagnosis. Cameron had to work, so I was there with baby Tyler. She said Robert was autistic, specifically Aspergers. I still vividly remember how it felt to hear that, a lot like getting punched in the stomach. We had thought he was just delayed in his development and would eventually grow out of it. Hearing that your child has a condition that he'll have to deal with the rest of his life, is heartbreaking.
About a month into Robert's kindergarten, I very nearly passed out in the shower. Made it to my bed and called Cameron to come home and take me to the doctor. Called my obstetrician (I had had Tyler 3 -4 months before and thought I wasn't recovering well from the birth.) and demanded that they see me (receptionist said they couldn't that day) or I'd have to go to the ER. The doctor said I was fine physically and wrote me a prescription for an anti-depressant. Oh, is that what this is! I'd never had a real nervous breakdown before!
So Cameron drove us home and I went out to the back deck to think and pray about all of this. I know not everyone is religious. But for me, there isn't any other place to turn when you've run out of options. And with a child like Robert, you reach your wits end pretty often. I remember struggling with a 2 yr old Robert and a tiny Jonathan by myself at home. I couldn't, for the life of me, get Robert to cooperate and Jonathan needed constant attention. (Most people will ask at this point, why on earth I had another child after Robert. Good question! :) Reading my blogs about my family growing up might help with that. But the real reason was because I wanted more kids.) Anyway, I was struggling with the two of them and an idea came into my mind that I know was inspiration from Heavenly Father. It was the idea that I had to let everything that wasn't really important go and had to even turn a blind eye to some behaviors that wouldn't be acceptable in an average child. Otherwise, he would literally be in trouble constantly and we'd always be struggling with each other.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Infinite Patience and Calm

I'm going to try to describe what it's like to be Robert's mom. It's actually very difficult to describe. People understand best when they see for themselves. But since very few people see Robert's less pleasant side, and more people should understand what it's like, I'm going to attempt it.
First of all, I love my son very, very much. Or more accurately, I love my son's sweet personality very, very much. I also love him when he's hellishly difficult, even though it might not seem like it sometimes. We actually have as good of a relationship as I think we can. Other's might disagree.
All I can say is, I may not always be as sweet and understanding as those who've only seen his angelic side wish I was. But I do my very best 85-90% of the time. Yes, there are days and times when I'm cranky and everything he says and does, gets on my nerves. Even in his sweetest state, he has quirks that can be challenging. The main quirk is his incessant talking. 75% of the time, Robert is talking nonstop. Cameron always jokes, and sometimes he's not joking, about wishing there was on "off" button somewhere on Robert. It would be a very convenient feature! ;) Then the next time he's about to meltdown, we could just switch him off and wait until we think he's cooled down sufficently, and turn him back on again in a good mood. Boy, wouldn't that be nice!
But unfortunately, that's not the way it works. And since they don't usually issue tranquilizer darts to parents (lots of parents would appreciate them, not just us ;)), we use much more ordinary and boring methods. :) Raising Robert is a lot like raising a lion. Just like a young lion, he's very cute and lovable when he's in a good mood. He's very amiable and fun too. That's when it's easiest to be his parent. But just like with a young lion, he's also unpredictable. I've found that anyone who says they understand Robert or that they get him, doesn't understand or get him at all. Because anyone who has seen all of Robert, never says things like that anymore. They've seen the lion roar or attack, (Robert rarely hurts anyone. But he does throw amazing tantrums.)
and they know they can't always predict it. Even Cameron and I can't always predict how he will react. We just have the most experience reading his moods and are they best at predicting.
(I love to write, but writing about Robert at home, is surprisingly exhausting. Too much emotion and history involved, I guess. So I'll write more later. :))

Friday, September 16, 2011

Growing Up Me

I guess I'll start at the beginning. Best place to start, right? Whenever I'd ask Cameron for ideas for what I should write (I meant fiction), he'd always say, "Write about your family." So this is a first attempt, writing about my life and family growing up.

I think I grew up in a unique home. I've met other people who grew up in a very large family. But I think it's still a little unique. I guess you can decide for yourself. :)

I was born in the summer of 1975. My parents were living with my mom's parents in Amarillo, Texas at the time. My dad was still finishing his degree at BYU. But they were at my mom's home, I think so that my dad could work.

Anyway, I was born 2 months early. My mom still talks about how surprised they were and how they didn't have a name picked out. But I'm an impatient person. So I'm pretty sure I decided that 7 months was plenty of time to gestate and decided it was time for me to make my appearance. Luckily I didn't have any health problems. I only spent a week or two in the hospital so they could make sure my lungs were working well.

I was tiny though. Only 4 lbs 8 oz. I think my grandma has a picture of me in a shoebox to show how tiny I was. They never found out why I came so early. My mom had 9 other children without any issues, one even 3 weeks late. Like I said, I'm pretty sure I just got tired of waiting. :) My dad called me the million dollar baby because I cost so much. It wasn't really that much, but to college students, a few thousand seemed like a million at the time.

I had one older sibling. My sister, Juliene, was 13 months older than I was. We were alot like fraternal twins that were born separately. When we were little, we both had white-blond hair. I was slightly taller, so we were about the same height. And my mom always cut our hair the same and we usually had similar outfits. People thought we were identical twins all the time. We're not identical, but lots of people don't actually look. They see the same hair and the same clothes and decide you're identical. I liked being my sister's twin when I was young. But when you're in high school and people can't tell you apart, it gets a little old.

We all moved back to Provo, Utah after I was born, so that my dad could finish his Master's degree in art. One of his professors told my uncle years later that he still remembered my dad. He remembered how talented he was and how my dad only wanted to paint. Most students planned on teaching to make a living. But my dad had no desire to teach. He was just going to be an artist.

My brother Brandt, named after Rembrandt, was born a year and a half after I was. Can you see a pattern developing? My parents had 10 children. The longest gap between kids was 3 years. So this was a normal thing in our house. Relatives would say to my mom, "Every time I see you, you're either pregnant or have a baby with you." It was true. My mom loved babies and had easy pregnancies. So there were lots of kids in our house. :)

After my dad graduated, we moved back to Amarillo so my mom could live near her mom. This was a very good idea, since we were very poor and my grandma could help with the finances and the kids. My dad's first job was in a tiny museum in Panhandle, Texas. He painted the backdrops for the museum displays and I think he painted a portrait of someone also. Judging by their website, things haven't changed much since I was last there in high school. So probably his backdrops are still being used. The rest of the time and when that job was over, my dad just painted and tried to sell his art. Problem was, no one knew him and he wasn't a good salesman. Still isn't. But he's better at it now than he was then.

My dad was painfully shy all growing up and into his adult years. When someone set my parents up on a blind date, he hardly spoke to my mom. She obviously was the right woman if after sitting beside him while he was silent for an hour or two, she still wanted to go out with him again. She wanted to make sure he knew she liked him, so she took him cookies later that week. My dad didn't know any other girls, so when he needed a date for an event soon after, he called her. And that's how they started dating.

My dad went on a semester abroad to Spain not long after this and wrote my mom while he was gone. That's how she got to know him, because he barely talked. They got engaged when he got back to BYU. They were both on the lawn reading. My dad stopped reading long enough to ask my mom if she wanted to get married. She said yes, and they both went back to reading. They had their first kiss at their wedding.

But they had no problem having children! Neil was born a year and a half after Brandt and Caleb was born two years after that, and so forth. My mom was very good at running the household and getting by on nothing. She would borrow money from her parents or one of her brothers until my dad sold a painting in a few months. My dad did some odd jobs for extra money here and there. But mostly he would ride his bike to his studio and paint all day. He started teaching night art classes at Amarillo College after a while. It was a good thing, because the art alone wasn't enough.

When I was nine and Juliene was 10, my dad finally got a real job. It was kind of against his will. He didn't want to teach and didn't like teaching. But finally realized he had to. So we all moved to Borger, TX, an hour away, so that he could teach at the college there. My parents had 7 children at this point. My dad has been an art professor ever since. First for 9 years in Borger and now in Barnesville, GA where he's been for 18 years.

He's a very talented artist. He's a realist. He has the ability to nearly photographically reproduce pictures or stilllifes. He's a very capable portrait artist, but he isn't good at flattering his subjects. He tends to paint them or draw them like he would any other object. People usually prefer to have their portraits flatter them. His landscapes are phenomenal! He likes to do gigantic landscapes, say 6-8 ft x 4-6 ft. They're his favorite. They take forever though. :) But his art sells well now.

His art is at or or

Monday, September 5, 2011

Robert's First Day at School

Before kindergarten started, they had an open house, where you could meet the teacher and see your classroom. So of course we went to show Robert his class and to talk to his teacher. We hadn't counted on the fact that at least 5 different parents would be trying to talk to her at once and that it would be hard to get a word in edgewise. But we tried. When she finally had a moment, we said something like, "Robert might have some trouble in kindergarten." (Yeah, we tend to understate things.) "Oh no, he'll be fine!" she said and was already talking to another parent. Well, so much for warning her. At least Robert seemed interested in his new classroom and liked his new desk.

Cameron drove Robert to school on the first day, took him to his new classroom, and made sure he was settled. And the day began. I was on pins and needles all day long. It was hard to do anything but imagine what might be happening and hoping things were going well. So after a tense day, the phone rang just as school ended. It was the principal. "Your son had some difficulty today. We need to put him with a more experienced teacher and work on an IEP (individualized education plan) for him." Me, "What did he do?" Principle, "He stood on a table in the middle of the classroom and yelled." I laughed. (I'm sure she thought, "No wonder this kid had problems. His mom laughs at his bad behavior.") Principle, "He also cried a lot in the cafeteria." Okay. So tomorrow he would start with Mrs. LeVeau who had been teaching for ages and had another child with challenges in her classroom.

So school, take two, began. Cameron would drive Robert every morning on his way to work and talk to Mrs. LeVeau before school started. Mrs. LeVeau had an assistant teacher in her classroom. She also had a very special lady named Valarie Wallace in her room, who was assigned as an all-day aid to the other child with issues. And that's when our miracle happened. You see, in order for Robert to be assigned an aid to help him, the IEP had to be completed. But the evaluation and IEP process took 4 months to complete. In the mean time, my little five year old with the maturity and speaking skills of a three year old, was supposed to go to regular school without assistance.

And so, a miracle happened. The child Mrs. Wallace was assigned to help all day, didn't need the help after all. So instead, Mrs. Wallace spent all her time taking care of Robert. She became his school mom. She even went to lunch with him to help him get used to the cafeteria. And when the fire alarms would go off for fire drill and Robert would become hysterical, she worked to find a solution. She had the principle warn her if there was going to be a drill, so she and Robert could go outside before the horrible noise started that would set him off.

Robert was having a terrible time doing any of the school work at this point. He could recognize his own name but was only starting to learn letters. And Robert hated to write anything. But Mrs. Wallace would work with him and take him to another room if he got frustrated and agitated, which happened pretty often. Robert would get frustrated when his teachers couldn't understand what he wanted or what was bothering him, like mom could. He would yell gibberish and cry when he couldn't make them understand.

Very quickly, though, because there was no other option, Robert started speaking in complete sentences. Also, as he would walk with Mrs. Wallace down the hall from the classroom to another quieter room, he would pass a bulletin board of the solar system. He was fascinated by it and liked to look at it with Mrs. Wallace. He surprised Mrs. Wallace one day, by telling her all of the planets in order. So Mrs. Wallace would get books from the library about the solar system to read to calm him down. They flew through all of the books for younger kids. Robert would soak up and memorize the information and want to know more. He still couldn't read and was struggling to do any work, but soon Mrs. Wallace was checking out books intended for the 5th graders and reading them to Robert. So Robert was now memorizing what each planet was made of and all of the names for each planets moons and even learning what those moons were made of. He would ask me and Mrs. Wallace questions we couldn't answer. So back to the library for more solar system books.

Two or three months into the first semester, the light went off in Robert's head and he suddenly got this reading thing. And when he got it, he got it. By the end of that semester, he was communicating well and reading solar system books to himself on a 2nd or 3rd grade level and memorizing all of the facts in them.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Robert Starts Kindergarten

My son, Robert, started kindergarten in 2004. He had a partial diagnosis at the time of developmental delay, maybe autism. I had told people in the school district offices that we wanted to put my son into school, but that he belonged in pre-K, not kindergarten. Unfortunately, the state rules said that pre-K was only for 4 yr olds, but the school district agreed to evaluate him. Robert was on good behavior when they tested him. Even though he was only speaking on a 3 yr old level and wasn't even good at saying the answers (they let him point), they decided he was fine. Just delayed with his speech. "He can go to regular kindergarten," they said. They should have been around to see him panic and throw a fit as we were leaving, because he was afraid to go down 5 stairs. Which resulted in me having to carry him down the 5 stairs, while he yelled his head off. But of course, they didn't see that. They only saw him during his 30 minutes of great behavior.
Robert's first grade teacher once said, "He's like that poem. 'When she was good, she was very, very good; and when she was bad, she was horrid." I'm not saying Robert is a bad child. He's definitely not. But he's a lot like Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. One day or morning, angelically sweet, kind, helpful, and smart. The next day or afternoon of the same day, yelling, hysterical, or throwing a tantrum, and refusing to do the simplest things.
But that's life with autism.