Saturday, February 11, 2017

Week's Best - Fifth Edition

A bit of a departure today, before I launch into the "best of" list.

When our first grandchild was born we, like every other grandparent in the world, discovered that the most delicious part of parenting happens after your children are raised and start their own families. My not-really-all-that-tough old bear of a husband had pined for a daughter after we had our two sons, but he let me be the one to call the shots about expanding our family, and I was done. When our son's daughter Rosemary was born, then, it was especially sweet for her old Pop and, truth be told, for me, too.

When she was a toddler, we all noticed that she just wasn't hitting those marks that other kids do. What little speech she had was nearly unintelligible. She didn't invite people into her world, didn't ask questions about every little thing, didn't try to get your attention if you were busy doing something else.There was no doubt in the world that she was very bright, and very curious, but she just had a way of staying on her island with all of that. So marked was this delineation that neither my husband nor I will ever forget the first time she picked something up off the sidewalk, looked at it, then turned around to look at us and said, "Look! A STICK!"  The moment was so profound we both teared up. She was about 4 years old at the time, and it was the first time she had chosen to initiate sharing one of her experiences with us. 

Her parents undertook what has been an arduous, more than three year journey to discover what it was, exactly, that was at the heart of these questions we all had. From speech therapy to communication and occupational therapists, the support they asked for and got for her allowed her to blossom and thrive. She underwent an exhaustive battery of multi-disciplinary testing at the Communications Disorder center at Sparks Clinic at UAB a couple years ago, and what they learned was reassuring -- she doesn't have ADHD, she doesn't have any hearing issues, she doesn't have any of a very long list of other communication, psychological, or neurological disorders. But there was one final concentrated area of testing the clinic wanted her to undergo, and after more than a year on a waiting list, she and her parents went back to the specialized Autism Clinic less than 2 weeks ago. After an exhausting day of evaluation and tests and observations and tedious questionnaires and parent interviews, we finally got the diagnosis we had been advised we probably would:  Our beautiful granddaughter lives her life and copes with the rest of us from her place on the autism spectrum. This diagnosis opens up avenues for further support for her, and while her diagnosis comes as a surprise to people in our lives who have been only casual observers, that is just testament to the unerring, utterly devoted and dogged determination of her parents.

Recently, an adult who is an important part of Rosemary's life asked me to help her understand. This is what I told her. (Keep in mind I am not a professional; I've done a great deal of research, talked with parents of children who have autism, and read whatever I could get my hands on that has been written by adults with autism to try to understand what it is like, and these are my general observations from all of that.)  Every minute of our waking day, we are bombarded by visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile and gustative input into our brains. Typically, without having to make any real effort, our brains prioritize the information in a way that allows us to respond to the most urgent messages appropriately. The brain of a person who lives on the spectrum, though, gives equal or inappropriate weight to all those things at once. It is no surprise, then, that people on the spectrum struggle, each in their own way, with this chaos. That can evidence itself in so many ways: frustration, temper tantrums, locking down (If I can't take it all in, I will shut it all out), or one or more sorts of physical or verbal releases, called stims.  Rosemary's most common stim is verbal: in response to stress or fatigue she "runs lines,"  generally from movies she's watched (often after only one viewing), and she's pretty damned good at it.

Of course, nobody hopes and prays that their child or grandchild is diagnosed with something that may well cause her to be a square peg trying to get into round holes for the rest of her life, so what's the good news about this?

It's that the elephant in the room now has a name, and that her parents made a choice to be public about this, and that Rosemary herself is now taking part in that conversation, although to be truthful, right now she doesn't find it terribly interesting.  Nothing about her changes, of course. She is funny, and smart as a whip, and loving, and talented. We are all excited about where her road can lead, now that we know which one she's on.


So, on to what made this week's list....

Sister Barbara Ann has her standards.

On Tuesday, my Central Alabama Community Foundation co-workers loaded up in a car and presented our third surprise $3,000 grant, this time to The City of St. Jude. Sister Barbara Ann served as our tour guide through their food and clothes bank.

They truly serve the least of these every single day. The one-armed statue of Jesus that overlooks their clothes closet stands as an eloquent reminder that He was broken for us, and that He expects us to treat those among us who are the most broken just as He would have.

I confess we all cracked up when Sister Barbara Ann showed us where she hides contraband clothes for the most firmly entrenched homeless men she encounters. They (City of St. Jude) generally don't accept donations of used underwear or socks, but there's nothing hot water and bleach can't fix, and if it's down to going without or having clean used things, she's going to err on the side of dignity every time. But honestly, folks? Next time you're at a warehouse store, grab a big old bag of new briefs or boxers or socks, send them to The City of St. Jude, and call that just a tiny bit of rent for being able to live on this planet, under a roof.


This guy was sitting on the curb in front of our office Friday morning when I got to work. I asked him what his cat's name was. "Emmaline," he answered with a big smile.  She appeared to be very well-fed, and very much loved. I hope the same can be said for him. 


One of the most famous landmarks in Montgomery is Chris' Hot Dogs. It's been around for nigh on 100 years. During lunch in our board room on Thursday, I discovered that one of my co-workers had never been there.  I was gobsmacked. The entire staff went to lunch there with her on Friday, because this situation just had to be remedied. I am very pleased to report that she was quite taken with the whole experience and with the hot dogs and the very special sauce and with being introduced to the most famous of the employees -- Eleanor the Waitress -- who promptly told us that one of the other waitresses was her granddaughter, whose mother she finally had to make "get fixed," because she kept "droppin' 'em like they was hot."  Her words. At work we would hashtag that -- #YCMTSU.  Chris' Hot Dogs is where you really can get an idea of my beloved hometown at its best, because folks are just folks there. 


And finally, last night my sister-in-law and I attended the Broadway-bound production of Because of Winn-Dixie at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. It was a real treat to see so many Tony award winning and/or nominated professionals in and around a production, but I'll confess to a certain prejudice for local actor Charlie Hill, whom I've known since he was a bun in the oven. He's going to go as far as he chooses in the performing arts, mark my words. 


Books I Finished This Week: 
(click on titles to read my very brief reviews on Goodreads)

The Lewis Man by Peter May

A Breach of Security by Susan Hill

Best Meal of the Week (other than Chris' hot dogs and fries): 

The Sunday Dinner Noodle Bowl at Kudzu Noodle Bar.

(Fried Chicken, Ramen Noodles, Soy Marinated Deviled Egg, Charred Okra, Grilled Squash, Chow Chow, 
Garnished with Diakon Sprouts)

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