hip hip hippo.

As you know, I am totally pumped about doing some new designs for Greetings by Grant, among other goals for this year. I have had folks ask me how I take Grant’s drawings and turn them into art on a tee or notecard. Well, you guys are going to get a peek at how the magic happens.

Grant begins with a sketch on paper, usually done in his all-time favorite tool, the Sharpie. He’s not particular on the color. I am proud to say this son of mine is a lover of all Sharpies, and would never discriminate.

Grant uses around 250 to 300 sheets of paper a week (yes, we recycle). I try to keep favorites before he throws it into the recycle bin. He does not like it at all if he sees me rooting around the bin, as those drawings are not up to his standards. The funny thing is, those are often my favorites because they have a tiny mistake that makes the drawing even more lovable.

Then, I use the sketch to create an image that can be colorized. More on that to come. The most important part of my job is to keep the integrity of his drawing.

So, here are two drawings that I am starting to work on for my April order. I will show you the process in more detail as I move forward.

This little guy was dubbed by Grant to be a “hip hip hippo.”

And I am thinking these guys are going to be “dino-mite!”

Stay tuned and you will see how I bring these cuties to life.

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Meet Mr. B

Somewhere in a little town in Indiana, an elementary special education teacher gets paid way too little for what he does. That same teacher has 15 extraordinary children that probably will never fully know how lucky they are to have him. And that teacher has a note propped on his desk that says “When you have a bad day, read this so you know how blessed these kids are to have you.”

I know all this because I live in that little town, and my kid is one of those 15. And I wrote that note.

That teacher’s name is Mr. B. He’s been Grant’s teacher for four years in the Explorer’s Program, the program for children in our schools that are mildly to moderately mentally handicapped. And if he ever needs an organ, he can totally have mine.

Why do I love this man? Because he took it upon himself to find funding to take a Greyhound bus full of special needs children to Chicago. To see the aquarium and Navy Pier of course. And as a treat for doing well on an assignment, he once let Grant sit in his “wheely” desk chair and raced him down the hallway like it was the Indy500.

If you could see Grant and Mr. B together, it would truly warm your heart. Grant gravitates to him like he is the sun. And Mr. B loves him back. But don’t think that means he goes easy on Grant, because he doesn’t. He knows what Grant is capable of, and doesn’t accept less. He is the exact right combination of encourager and hard ass. Not an easy recipe, as any parent can agree.

So how did this fabulous person come into our lives? Well, we were lucky, that’s how. School systems across the U.S. report shortages in special education teachers. And statistics show that most of them only stay in the field for five years.

And since these folks clearly go into the field for the money and glamour – NOT – what does that tell you? It tells me they need more support to do the nearly impossible jobs they are given. Because of the 15 children under Mr. B’s tutelage, none have the same diagnosis/challenges. I can’t fathom the difficulty of his task.

The only thing I know to do is tell him how much we appreciate him. And hope he stays. Because he is one of the good ones. And there are lots more kids he hasn’t even met yet that need him.

“A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove,
what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank … but the world
may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child.” — Forest Witchcraft

The real story

I am totally obsessed with the library. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. Mostly. But books are my crack.

On my night stand right now is Sense and Sensibility (I am into classics for the summer); Breaking Dawn from the Twilight series (Team Edward all the way, baby); one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s original nine stories (yes, I got that from the young reader section, what’s your point?); and the final Harry Potter, quite possibly the best book I’ve ever read. Did I mention I have already read all of these books (um, multiple times)? I love new books, but an old favorite is bliss.

That said, I never get to just hang out at the library. You know, enjoy the smell. Because books smell awesome. Anyway, today I just had Avery with me, so I got to browse. And I found an entire section with books dedicated to parenting special needs/medically fragile children. How had I not seen this before?

So I sat down criss-cross-applesauce style on the floor and eagerly started poring over them. What gem might I find in all of these? But I was soon disappointed. I didn’t check out a single one. Even skimming them, I couldn’t relate to much of what I was reading.

So here a few of my own gems for parents of exceptional children (I totally love that word, by the way). Five lessons learned that I thought I would share:

Different keeps things interesting. Most kids with an autism spectrum disorder have some sort of sensory dysfunction. But what this really means is things like wet clothing will send them over the edge. Because it feels weird. And that means that you may be taking a shower, like I was this morning, and find that your autistic child accidentally spilled his apple juice all over his clothes. And then you might come downstairs to find him, like I did this morning, sitting naked, except for his Crocs, at the table, drawing a camel. With his clothes on the front porch.

A spoonful of sugar doesn’t compare to a good chaser. Books also don’t say much about disguising the taste of yucky stuff like liquid seizure medication or oral chemo. But if you think back to college, you already know the answer. Get a chaser. Root beer or a milkshake are solid choices. And pudding disguises most meds in pill form, but the best thing to do is to teach your child to swallow them whole. Grant learned at four, but I’ve known lots of two-year-olds that could do it. The secret to success: practice with M&Ms.

Sticks and stones are so much easier than words. Books don’t prepare you for the words that are going to hurt. Sticks and stones are a million times better than “moderately mentally retarded,” “delayed,” or our latest, “borderline functional intelligence.” I mean, what does that shit even mean? How could those words apply to my beautiful child that draws like a 10-year-old Picasso? Hearing them is pain that takes your breath away. But give it a minute. I promise you’ll breathe again. Because sometimes you also get to hear words like “remarkable improvement,” and the best one ever, “remission.”

Lean on Your Peeps. Speaking of these horrible words, sometimes you may find yourself really pissed at the people that use them when talking about your child. But I promise you, they don’t like them any better than you do. You will be hard pressed to find a special ed teacher or pediatric therapist that doesn’t consider their job a calling. God knows that whatever insane amount of money a pediatric oncologist makes, it isn’t nearly enough. Not even in the hemisphere of enough. So let these folks have your back. Realize they love your kid just like you do. Because, hello, how could they not?

Realize a New Normal: Books won’t prepare you for that day when you’re at a wedding, and you realize that your oldest child, your first baby, won’t ever get married. Or have his own family. And then you’ll cry. Not because the wedding is beautiful. But because life is sometimes ridiculously, tragically, unbelievably unfair.

But out of the blue this happens: You realize that the normal you never thought you would have is really okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. All the hard and horrible makes the good and joyful even more so. And that changes you for the better. So when you’re cleaning under the couch like I was this morning, and find a melted green popsicle, you won’t be as quick to yell. Because you will have the hard-won understanding that it is, after all, just a fucking popsicle.

And you will look at that stinking cute kid of yours, and you will be completely, 100 percent okay. Because, hello, how could you not?

(On a serious note, I have read some wonderful books over the years about autism, and several really good books on childhood cancer. I would be happy to recommend a few.)

Got art?

Have you met Grant? He’s sorta famous. It’s true. I mean, not like Jonas Brothers famous, but he does have his own little group of fans. You can’t quite put your finger on his star quality when you meet him, but you know it’s there. And you can’t help but love his art.

But what I think is so special about him is the passion he has for his drawing. At the age of four, he figured out that art was his thing. It makes him happy. He does it every single day, no matter what. It doesn’t matter that he rocks at it. Whatever. He could care less what we all think of it. All that he knows is he simply must draw, just like he must breathe, and just like he must eat goldfish crackers everyday for lunch.

And you can’t help admire how he owns this passion of his. If he wants to draw a lion, that is what he is going to draw. The first child psychologist to evaluate him found this out firsthand. Grant was almost 6, and the psychologist was attempting to find out his IQ so that they could determine what special services he would need in kindergarten. The test was a bit of challenge, as Grant was not really in the mood to be evaluated that day. If I recall, he was much more in the mood for pudding. That said, Jim did the best he could. I believe he ended up assigning an IQ of about 70 to Grant. Which makes him mildly to moderately mentally handicapped.

This number is sorta useless, however. That much was clear when we found him ordering DVDs from Amazon (after enabling one-click checkout). But back to poor Jim. At the case conference that year, he showed us the test results. Poor guy, he couldn’t even get Grant to copy a circle. Of course, then the speech therapist whipped out what could only be described as a landscape that he had done that morning. Jim had the good grace to snicker.

So what the hell is my point here? I do have one, I promise. And that is this. Grant’s lucky. Don’t get me wrong, the whole autism, seizure disorder, leukemia stuff undoubtedly blows. But despite all of those roadblocks, he loves his life. Everyday. And he does what he loves. Everyday. And he gets up in the morning happy. Everyday. And he finds art where the rest of can’t always see it.

In just one afternoon, he drew enough pictures to fill up our living room walls. They were covered with art. Just like his little 10-year-old soul.

So my question is this: where’s your art? I say you learn from the kid with the IQ of 70. Find what makes you happy and scotch tape it all over your soul.

And now, just for fun, a little photo collection.

“Don’t worry ma’am, I’m going in …”

Two important things to know to understand my blog. Well, at least this post anyway. (1) Grant is completely obsessed with his Fisher-Price camera, and has had one by his side day and night since 2004. The blue one with the wide red button. Which they do not make the same way anymore, by the way. In 2008 they replaced the button with a smaller one that he can’t push very easily. Still waiting from a response from Fisher-Price from my tearful emails to their customer service. And when this one bites the dust, I am totally screwed. I found it by the grace of God covered in dust pushed to the back of a Walmart shelf when his last one kicked it. My plan is to canvas ebay and hope for the best. Anyway, I digress. (2) We go to the zoo a lot. We have a membership, and pretty much know and love every nook and cranny of the Indianapolis Zoo. You could call us zoo groupies. In short, the zoo is Grant’s crack.

So, me and kids got up early this morning and went to this magical haven for all things animals. Mike had worked super late, so we left him sleeping and headed out to be there when they opened. Yes, we open the zoo a lot. Because we are cool like that.

All is going well, and we are making the rounds. After a while we head into the desert exhibit. Now, I normally am not a big fan. It smells kind of funny, and it is terribly hot in there. But, it wasn’t very crowded and the beautiful 60 degree-day made it bearable. So in we went.

Grant was occupying himself taking pictures of some huge tortoise, so Lily, Avery and I wandered just a bit ahead to peer at the meerkats for a bit. That’s when all hell broke loose.

You probably heard his screeches from wherever it was you were this morning. Because they were loud. Very loud. It seems he accidentally dropped his camera, which somehow bounced off the tortoise and into the exhibit. If there had been a fan in there, the shit would have been flying off of it.

So I went running, Ave and Lils on my heels. Sure enough, there was his camera, down below under some rocks. Holy balls, this was no kinds of good.

There were maybe 20 people in the whole desert area, and none of them were moving. They were transfixed by the scene, looks of horror and pity on their faces. Surely they didn’t know the importance of the camera, but Grant’s horrific wails were a pretty good clue.

I thought to myself, “You gotta go get it. I mean, suck it up, you are super mom. Climb your ass in there and get the camera. And hope we don’t get escorted out of here.”

But here’s the thing. Aren’t there, like, snakes and shit in the desert? I am frantically trying to read what is in this enclosure because if there are snakes I am going to have a heart attack. And there isn’t a damn zoo person to be found. I know this because at least 10 of our 20 fellow zoo goers are trying to find one for us.

It appears to only house some iguanas along with this big tortoise, so I hoist my leg up to climb over into the enclosure. Then Grant becomes more hysterical. God love him, did he think the giant tortoise was going to eat me? I will always remember that for at least a second, he valued me over his camera. Or maybe he was just afraid the tortoise would take me out before I rescued the camera.

That’s when this stranger, a huge dude in a plaid shirt, approached me. He calmly laid his hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry ma’am, I’m going in.” I could have kissed him. But the woman with him looked like she might have taken it the wrong way and kicked my ass. So I didn’t.

But right as he was about to climb in, a zoo worker came running in. She was talking into her walkie talkie, and clearly, this was a zoo emergency. She went right in there and got the camera. Grant grabbed it to his chest, clutching on for dear life.

For that shining moment, there was rejoicing all over the desert.