Thursday, August 16, 2012

Making Memories in the Midwest

Pamela and I popped into Kansas and spent a lovely week with our menfolk. Steve and I were discussing how differently Pamela turned out from the dire stories in the few books about autism that existed back in 1991. Even though she is not completely independent and self-sufficient, the joy she gives us makes our hard work worth while.

This post is a hodge-podge of memories stored in my heart from this trip. One afternoon, while I was doing a Wii Fit routine, Pamela popped onto Steve's laptop and recorded this recitation of Cinco Pollitos. In case you don't understand Spanish, Pamela said, "Cinco pollitos tiene mi tia. Uno le canta, otro le pia, y tres le tocan la symphonia." It means, "My aunt has five chicks: one sings, the other peeps, and three play a symphony."
Life with Pamela also takes you to places you never expected to go. On the way to Kansas, she begged me to eat dinner at the "Dinosaur Cafe". After careful investigation, I figured out that she loves watching the PBS television show Dinosaur Train when we stay with Steve, who has an HD digital antennae at our place. Somehow, she became aware of a restaurant in Kansas City, KS called T-Rex Cafe (there are only *two* in the whole world). Steve, David, and I were a bit leery about eating dinner at a "kiddie" place, but the food was surprisingly good. Or, maybe the hour-long wait for a table sharpened our appetites. The enormous portions offered another meal the next day. You can see Pamela's extreme joy in the few dark, blurry pictures I managed to take.

Watching Pamela interact with people she has not seen in a long time helps us see how far she has come. Because David has spent the summer working in Kansas, Pamela has not spent much time with him. Sitting in the back seat of the car on the way to dinner was the first opportunity to bond. Pamela said a single word to him and waited for him to reply. She did this so often that it became clear she was initiating conversation with him. After each prompt, David commented on the word, leading to a brief exchange. Then, she came up with another single word, which began another round.

This morning, she showed David how much she cares about him. She walked to the door of his bedroom, where David stood with his cup of java. She looked him in the eye and said, "I'll miss you." He smiled and said, "Let me put down my coffee." Then, he gave her a bear hug and Pamela leaned into her big brother. Friends and family know how much this simple act means. One wrote on Facebook, "That is such a huge statement." My sister commented, "That is amazing, and you know she understands and feels what she is saying."

During our stay, we headed over to Iowa to see my youngest sister and her family. Her only child is about fifteen months old. Pamela longed to engage with him but did not know exactly how. While I was holding him, she came up to us and put out her arm, expecting him to play tickle games with her. I tried guiding her to tickle him, but she didn't quite grasp what she needed to do. I guided her to a seat to let her hold him. She gave him a hug and kissed the top of his head.

As I watched Pamela and the tot, a wonderful thought hit me. Our Charlotte Mason study group is planning to have an enrichment day once a week this year. One of the mothers in our group is due any day now. I am seriously considering skipping the science lesson to hang out in the nursery and show Pamela how to interact with babies. Pamela could mature in her ability to connect to babies and the wee one matures.

On the way back from Iowa, we stopped in a town of population 422. My parents, who are camping not far from where my sister lives, saw a segment about the man behind the mural on Independence Day. The reporter at the Des Moines Register quoted my mother, "We saw it on the 'Today' show and just had to come." The story is about a man named Todd Spaur, who flipped his car and landed in some underbrush where he lay for sixteen hours, unable to move or call for help. Doctors predicted he would never walk, but, after a extended recovery, he can get around with his cane. The people of Bussey helped raise his children and supported his family. Between the pain and difficulty walking, he is not well off financially, so he took some art classes with funding from the town and painted their portraits in the mural as a thank you. Todd even enlisted the help of local children for the final touch-ups. This human interest story reminds me of the importance of relationships in the lives of differently abled people. Bussey, IA showcases what makes our country great!

Pamela loves music. On the road, she brightened when she connected the lyrics of "Mockingbird" by James Taylor and Carly Simon to the folk song we learned awhile back. She's also fallen in love with the "Symphony Hall" channel on Sirius (a relief from listening to videos she has recorded on her iPod which are accessible to the car audio system thanks to bluetooth). The other day, we heard some unfamiliar music after I started the car. Then, it shifted to speaking parts. We looked at each other as if to say, "That's odd." So, I changed the display from navigation to the music band we saw the title A Midsummer's Night Dream by Mendelssohn. A huge smile of recognition hit her face because (a) she adores Shakespeare and (b) she enjoys Puck's adventures in Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill. Yesterday, after a couple of bars of music, Pamela turned to me and said, "Bach!" Since I knew it was one of her favorites I asked, "Do you know which one?" She flashed a smile and said, "Brandenburg!"

Driving through Missouri, Pamela knowingly made a play on words and called the state "Misery." we stopped for breakfast in a fascinating town called Bolivar. The city was named for Simon Bolivar, the hero who led South American countries in their quest for independence. The first thing that caught our attention was the YMCA's aquatic center which brought Prince Albert's Crystal Palace to mind—we read about it in Tappan's In the Days of Queen Victoria this year. Pamela looked at me and said, "Is it future?" While I was dwelling on the past, she was focusing in the other direction of time.

After we ordered breakfast, I saw more evidence of Pamela's progress. Because of the extensive reading aloud we do together (half and half), her articulation has improved greatly. Since the restaurant wasn't too busy, I let her go back to ask the fast-food employee for forgotten items. Pamela managed to get her fork, mayonnaise, and mustard without any help from me.


Bright Side of Life said...

Tammy and Pamela, this post had me grinning from ear to ear. I have to admit that I also got a bit choked up when you told your brother that you were going to miss him... that really touched me. You both inspire me every day.

Bonnie said...

I love every bit of the details of Pamela's life! I know you miss those men folk.

walking said...

Di, he choked up too! He knew what a big deal it is to get unsolicited affection from Pamela.

Bonnie, I have a few more fun posts in the hopper. :-)

Brandy Vencel said...

Can I ask you something, Tammy? How old was she when you began doing CM with Pamela?

I wish my sister would do this sort of thing with my autistic nephew!

walking said...

CM is something you don't shift to overnight. I began changing my thoughts in 1999. We took our baby steps in 2000 when AO came into being. We worked through the first four years of that with Pamela (yes, she processes at a much slower rate). We have really sharpened our "game" in the past four years. What I love most is that she knows how to live and she is very much engaged with the world and with people (within her developmental level).

Anonymous said...

Terrific post. :) The emotion it created was powerful.

Karla-clay1416 said...

Hi Tammy! loved this post! I bet my son and Pamela would get along great! My son LOVES dinosaur train (he wants to collect all of the dinosaurs!) and would love to go to the T-rex restaurant. It seems they also have a similar taste in music :) he loves Bach, I even caught him dancing around the kitchen this week while listening to his music. I really enjoy your blog! what a blessing :)
Your "cyber friend" from the AO forum (clay1416),

Karla :)