Apr 042017

April 4, 2017 — Today is our son’s 27th birthday. What richness Alex has brought to our lives! He is a wonderful person, full of laughter and intelligence and compassion and love.

As we celebrate his birthday, I’m also reminded of another anniversary.

  • Twenty-five years ago today, we took our son to the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center for the first time.
  • Twenty-five years ago today, we heard the word autism for the first time.
  • Twenty-five years ago today, our lives — and his — changed forever.

A much-wanted baby, he took his sweet time, showing up nearly two weeks late. His infancy typically processed until eighteen months.

We visited my brother and his family in Iowa. Our nephew, three months younger, was running circles around our boy. Our nephew came early and weighed four-and-a-half-pounds, but at 15 months was stronger, faster, and even said a few words.

While it is never a good idea to compare cousins or siblings, seeing the boys together punched us in the gut. Our nephew nearly solved equations, compared to our son. Alex, the larger of the two, was awkward and had no cogent vocabulary.


Sitting in a high chair during our visit, he looked at my brother’s video camera and said what sounded like, “Hello, Uncle Andy.” That was the last thing we understood him to say until several years later.

That trip woke us up. We noticed Alex loved ceiling fans and watched for minutes at a time. He was highly impatience if he lost a particular toy, his precious Toddle Tots. We named all of them. He had more than one “Jerome,” which he clung to so tightly he rubbed their eyes off. He drank only from his red sippy cup with a particular lid. His eye contact was poor, and while he interacted with others at daycare, his play patterns were unusual. (Later in his pre-school days, a teacher told me he liked to have “meetings.”  She thought this was odd. I thought it was normal for the only child of two parents with lots of meetings.)

I consulted our family doctor who told me I was “a nervous mother and I should get over it.” Over the next few months, our son’s behavior and actions differed from the other children we knew.

After several similar visits with our family doctor, I had had it. I sought a female physician (whom I still see). On our first visit, she suggested we have our son evaluated for developmental issues.

On April 4, 1992, we walked into the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center for a lengthy evaluation. Alex was screened by a visiting neurologist from St. Louis Children’s Hospital (whom he would see several more times) and physical, occupational, and speech therapists. The specialists felt he had PDD-NOS, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified. In 1992, the word “spectrum” had not come into use.

All we heard was the “A” word, autism, about which we knew nothing. We left the Rehab Center with more questions than answers. Would he ever talk? Did he understand the language? Would he always live with us? What was his ability to learn?

The Rehab Center recommended weekly therapies, and within a year, he also started their therapeutic pre-school. He improved, slowly.

At the Rehab Center, all three of us learned more than Alex’s therapies taught. Our son was by far the least impaired person in his classes.  Many children had severe physical defects, used wheelchairs, and lacked support at home. I am certain Alex’s empathy as an adult derives from learning about others with differing abilities and backgrounds as a small child.

Language came fully along by age four. The child who screamed for his sippy cup now read everything to us, from words on television to signs at Sam’s Club. Many of his behavioral issues may have been caused by his frustration. We believe he fully understood language and read very early, but his inability to communicate made him furious.

At his pre-school graduation in 1995, he spoke to the crowd. “My name is Alexander Abbott, and I’m going to kindergarten at Chandler Elementary School.” His vocabulary was well ahead of his years, yet his ability to speak was still halting and stilted. He stayed in special education until second grade, also receiving an IEP for speech until fourth grade.

His challenges were more social after early elementary school, and those are his stories to tell. We are grateful he had friends from Scouting, who sometimes pulled him out of a bully’s harm. I neither want to maximize or minimize his issues.  Likely, he has Asperger Syndrome, with its bundle of impaired social skills and understanding.

Today he is a college graduate working and living in Washington D.C. His life is rich with friends and activities, kayaking and hiking on weekends, enjoying baseball and board games and nights out with pals. Early intervention from the Rehab Center gave him a self-awareness most neurotypical people lack. He knows his limitations and works through them, which is more than most people do. Unless you know him well, you likely won’t know he is on the spectrum.

On my desk, I have his last Jerome, a late model with eyes intact. I keep it there as a reminder of how fortunate Alex was to have dozens of teachers, therapists, and mentors who care about him.

Happy birthday, son. We love you, as the song says, just the way you are.


Apr 012017

April 1, 2017 — We’ve known about the three family weddings for a year.  Three of our nephews are getting married this spring, each blessed day six weeks apart.  The first wedding is a week from today. Somehow, it evaded me that I might need to have something to wear to these special family events.  My Beloved bought new Florsheim’s a month ago, so he’s a bit ahead of me.

As aunt and uncle, we have no visible role.  We buy an acceptable gift. We show up and try to stay low key.  This means looking normal, not like a flamboyant Auntie Mame character or Marvin from “Office Space.”

The bride and groom tell everyone the same thing; we want you to be at our wedding.  Don’t worry about the details.  You being there is the most important thing to us.

But we know the underlying message is that we need to stay in the background. Our day is past.  Basically, we want to have a Low Profile. This is difficult because we both possess qualities of each character, well, mostly me.  (Ones of my prized possessions is a red stapler I won from Radio WOWO in 1973.  Sad life.)

My Beloved generally knows how to stay beneath the radar. He looks nice every day, because (unless it is Saturday) he won’t go out in jeans and a sweatshirt. He wears nice slacks and neatly pressed collared shirts (by the dry cleaners, not me) every weekday. (We’re not counting that time we ate the 100 Swiss franc lunch in Lugano when he was wearing his Allis-Chalmers orange sweatshirt from Rural King.  I’m telling you, he’s Ralph Lauren business casual most of the time.)

We rarely dress up. The suits I wore when I worked for a Fortune 100 company are long gone.  Husband has the requisite weddings and funeral suits.  Wednesday night we canvassed his closet and had a “try-on” session.  He was wearing no shirt and Marvin the Martian fancy pants.  Real sexy stuff.

He found three identical blue sports jackets.  Nice for when we summer in the Hamptons.  Seriously, why does he have these?   My theory is that in the last 21 years (that’s as long as we’ve lived in this house), some occasion arose that he needed a blue sports jacket, so  he bought one.  And then another.  And then another.

Then he found five nearly identical suits in dry cleaning bags.  One of the suits had two red Christmas tapers packed in plastic attached to the bag.  Was it a giveaway from the dry cleaners?  Were they in his pockets when he took the jacket in?  We thought we might surprise the bride and groom as we walked up the aisle each carrying a red candle, but realized that would put is in the Being Noticed category.

Four of the five suits fit, and I insisted he put the fifth (a leftover from about twenty years ago) in the Goodwill pile.  He didn’t want to, but I reminded him that having four identical suits that fit qualifies him for a new career as a funeral director.  He’s not really interested in changing careers.  We agreed to find a shirt and tie to match whatever I wore.  This is problematic.

I have nothing to wear.  

Nothing.  I purchased a dress for another nephew’s wedding in 2015, and well, the dress was hideous.  There was also a minor incident with a slip.  A slip is a piece of women’s lingerie from Queen Victoria’s era.  The only other dress I have is my “funeral dress.”  I wore it to my mother’s funeral because my father requested I wear a dress. (I will not be wearing one to his funeral, should he proceed me, as he won’t be there to observe.)  There is something acceptable I can wear to Wedding #3 because it’s colors are black and gold and I happen to own a summery, shimmery black and gold two-piece top with a pair of black summery, shimmery slacks.  This fits into the vision of looking gracious but not overly visible.

I made a trek to the mall today (a place I never ever visit) and found a helpful clerk and found something acceptable and low key.  Now if I remember not to call the groom by his childhood nickname, not carry lighted tapers down the aisle, pull my red stapler out of my purse, and for God’s sake, not dance at the reception, we will be under the radar.







Mar 252017

March 25, 2017 — Today is Elton John’s 70th birthday.  I’ve been a fan since I was a young teenager and am still a fan.  Randy and I have been fortunate to attend two Elton John concerts, one in Tampa, and the other at the old Roberts Stadium in Evansville.

Early in my career when most of my focus was on public relations, I met many celebrities (hate to tag anyone a celebrity but let’s say these are people with some form of national recognition.)

There is, however, no one who stands out like Elton John.  In September 1986, my Beloved and I saw Elton in concert for the first time at the University of South Florida Sun Dome.  Randy was in his second year of graduate school. The concert was beyond our dreams.  Elton gave 86 concerts all over the world that year.  In September 1986, he played Tampa with Denver a few days later.

A few days after the concert, I traveled on business to Denver and stayed at the Fairmont Hotel.  (Yes, healthcare WAS different then!)  A Denver friend met me for drinks and we decided to go out for dinner.  I needed to retrieve my purse so we went up to my room.  Standing waiting for the elevator was Elton John.  Funky glasses and wearing an orange and pink suit that resembled a domino piece.

Not shy,  I engaged him in conversation by telling him I heard his concert a few days before in Tampa.  He asked me a number of questions about the concert, and seemed genuinely interested in my answers.  He was kind to us, gave me an autograph, and let the elevator go as he was speaking with us.  I was “got.”  We did not ride down with him, but went back to my room and called my friend’s daughter who was sixteen and had tickets for a concert that night.  We giggled like sixteen-year-old groupies for a few minutes!

I had no camera with me.  This was before cell phones,  but he was so nice I suspect he would have allowed us to take his picture.  I framed his autograph, no doubt on some scrap of paper my friend had, and kept it on my desk these thirty-some years.

My friend and I eventually recovered, got back on the elevator, and when the door opened in the lobby, there stood John Madden.  Madden is a huge man, and hard to miss.  Neither of us could have cared less about seeing another famous person.  We saw Elton, enough fame to last a life time.

Take a trip with me and listen to the anthem of my youth, which still gets me rocking.


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