Freelance Writer
The Outsiders
07.08.14 | No Comments

Isolated, detached and misunderstood, kids once marginalized get the help they need. And Worcester is setting the example.

Ricky Simone can relate to Columbine. Not that he would ever do something so drastic, but let’s just say he’s “been there.”

He’s one of the Worcester kids that could have easily gotten lost in the system, a statewide system that critics say is terribly flawed, but one that advocates (and those very critics) maintain is not only better than most, but on the way to being fixed.

From a young age, Simone knew he was depressed. He didn’t know why, but he’d think about hurting himself or other people. He admittedly fails to see the gray areas in life; with him, things are black or white. He’ll be laughing and inside he’ll feel fat and ugly. It’s hard to know why a kid will become this way. It could be environment, or it could be genetics — or a combination.

Simone’s dad left his mother because “she did too much drugs and would come home high all the time.” She was gone from his life when he was about four. Since then, he’s lived at home with his dad and older brother and sister. For a long time, Simone thought he was bipolar, but was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.

“When they explained it to me,” he says, “I was like, ‘Ohhh.’ It’s when you get panic attacks from something that reminds you of a traumatic past experience. Sometimes if people yell or raise their hands, it’ll become like that for me. Or if they say something, it’ll trigger something for me and I will get suicidal because I cannot really control it. This is a reaction to the beatings from babysitters and kids in school.”

By the time he was nine years old, Simone was made fun of to the point that he says he’d have visions of leaping from the third floor. Kids can be cruel, and Simone, in their eyes, was different — a target.

“I was born with a cleft palate,” says Simone. “My nose is crooked. I had really bad teeth when I was younger. They were crooked. I had braces, which I got made fun of for. Just everything. I was also really small back then. I was very small and skinny, so with kids, I got the worst. After my mom left, things went downhill from there and it just ended at the point where, when I was in the 10th grade, I just snapped. I couldn’t get out of it.”

He gets aggressive sometimes when he’s in panic mode, but has little recollection when it happens.

“That’s why I have had to be put on medications and restrained and put into programs and hospitals,” he says. “Sometimes I know why I am panicking. One time, I threw a hacky sack to my brother and he was going to throw it back and said ‘Let me hit you where I want to hit you,’ and that just made me react and I started crying. People yelling constantly will make me go into one of those panic states. Teachers yell, too — even the ones who are supposed to deal with issues yell at me. One slammed on the desk and I had to actually leave the school. If I stayed in the school, I was going to cut my wrists open. I go through suicidal feelings. They don’t go away. It’s something you need to work on and work with and try to overcome when they occur. It’s not something that is just going to go away. It’s not like a cold.”

It isn’t like a cold, no, but those affected by a child’s mental illness are trying to squash not only the stigma that surrounds it, but also push for programs, laws and initiatives that treat the illness as if it were like diabetes.

The kids who are struggling

Though the children were chatty and upbeat at the Children’s Friend offices (where they meet for various groups), it isn’t indicative of how they are outside of these walls. But here, they find solace.

At school, a lot of these kids didn’t really talk — and still don’t — not to other students, not to teachers and not to their parents. Or they acted out in bizarre ways. Some of them landed in hospitals, juvenile court or foster care. That was both the result, and a contribution to their condition.

Chris White, who’s 16, has been going there since he was 13, and today is gearing up to give a speech at the mayor’s proclamation. And he’s led this talk for years, as well as at other presentations that advocate for children struggling with mental health issues. He, like Ricky Simone, is in a group called OTHERS (Other Teens Help Everybody Respect Self), which sits under the PAL umbrella. Open to teens 13-21, it’s a group that gets together both for fun and to give a youth’s voice to promoting anti-stigma campaigns and other initiatives relating to children’s mental health.

“They already feel different as it is,” says Jannelle Correa, youth director of PAL. “They feel like people don’t include them in a lot of things because they are different. ”

Remarkably well-spoken, outgoing and bright, White first came to OTHERS because of his half-sister Ashley, who was one of the original members.

“When my sister was in OTHERS, they went to Washington, D.C., for a national mental health conference,” says White. “They are presenting public service announcements. I went and saw what it was about and wanted to join.” Ashley Prew (right) and friends at the Children’s Friend House participating in the OTHERS program.

White has been diagnosed with a mood disorder, depression and ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), and has a “lot of behavior problems in school.” He also struggles with a learning disability due to hemispheric brain damage that happened when he was very young. The clues started as far back as preschool, where he’d throw things, launch into temper tantrums and not listen to teachers.

In therapy since he was five, White lives at home with his grandmother, and has since he was three, when DSS took him. Both of his parents were drug addicts and also had mental health issues, so he just couldn’t live with them, he says.

“I would be dead if I didn’t live with my grandmother,” says White. “It was a really dangerous situation. I never got any food, never was taken care of. They were both heroin addicts. They have gotten help. They have both been to prison and rehab. My dad was in prison for the majority of my life. And my mom has been in prison on and off.”

Because of his behavior issues, including pronounced anger issues, White was shuffled through 13 different schools. White complains a lot about how his needs were not met, or even noticed, from a very young age, and says he was picked on.

Frustrated by ignoring his demands, he feels bitter toward the public school system.

“In the beginning, I don’t think they dealt with me adequately,” says White. “I don’t think they understood how to best treat my needs. The schools weren’t following my accommodations. They had me in a class with learning disabilities. I have a learning disability, but it doesn’t affect my ability to do work. It affects my ability to learn. I actually passed the MCAS and I have good grades. But they had me in a class with kids that were really low-functioning, so I didn’t learn anything for like two years. I was with kids who had dyslexia, but I read at a very high level. I was made fun of all the time for being in that class.”

Now, White is at Central Mass. Academy and is “doing well.” Since his initial diagnoses, he’s been labeled with ODD, which is an inability to control his impulses appropriately.

“If someone tells me what to do, I want to do the opposite most of the time,” he says. Because of medication and getting into the right school, White is improving and plans on heading to college.

Ashley Prew, who turned 16 this month, initially came to OTHERS to support her friend. Now, she continues to attend, and her friend rarely goes. Labeled as being bipolar, having depression and being short-tempered by her psychiatrist, she hasn’t started taking medication yet.

Since her mom passed away unexpectedly in 2004, she says she’s been angry. Her mom had been off drugs for a good two years, but died of heart failure.

“It was really hard,” says Prew. “My grandmother signed me up for counseling. I live with my grandmother. I have a dad, but he left when I was, like, seven. I’ve been with my grandmother on and off my whole life.”

Her grandmother, she says, knew she needed help the day she punched a wall and ran away. Yeah, she ran to her friend’s house and went swimming, but we all know how that goes. Quiet in school, but prone to irrational outbursts, Prew is looking forward to getting on the right medication. And for her, OTHERS is an oasis.

“It’s just a place to see people that have, like, the same problems,” she says. “Just seeing how they deal with problems helps you deal with them.”

“Mario,” 17, also benefited when he found OTHERS. A big fan of bands like Tool and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mario plays the bass and hopes to someday play as well as his idol, Flea. At night, he’ll play with his band, and by day, he wants to be a marine biologist, as he loves being near the water. Right now, he does landscaping, goes to school, and is into sports. He’s popular in school, too. He’s got a stage name picked out, for when he’s famous: “Fro Boy.”

But there was a time he wouldn’t have spoken so positively. There was a time when he would steal cars, and he dabbled in drugs. Since the age of five, he’s been in and out of foster care. He landed in the hospital once, too, but doesn’t elaborate. “It’s hard for me to find structure,” says Mario, who has been diagnosed with a mood disorder. “I have to work a lot. I also have anger issues. I was on medication, but got off it because I was doing good and I’m doing good now.”

Heading out the door to attend the proclamation, we have to quickly ask about those cars: “No, I would never steal a car now,” he laughs.

Many argue that it is a crisis, as Dr. Douglas Ziedonis, professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, stated at a recent Children’s Mental Health Regional Forum. At the forum, it was reported that approximately 100,000 children in the Bay State are lacking the appropriate mental health care. There is a disconnect, they say, between the court system, the health system and the school system — as well as insufficient funds and systems in place to connect the school, the doctor and the court to the child.

Epicenter for mental health

On Tuesday, May 6, the offices at the Children’s Friend building on Cedar Street were hopping. Later that evening, the mayor was to declare Children’s Mental Health Month in Worcester for the eighth year. Worcester is the only city that recognizes the entire month, as opposed to the week that most mark. OTHERS gather at the Children’s Friend House in celebration of Children’s Mental Health Month.

Excited kids of all ages swarmed, eating pizza and ice cream sundaes and getting ready for the proclamation that kicks off an important month for them. For Worcester, this building is the epicenter for children and their families struggling with mental illness. It’s the home of the Worcester chapter of the Parent/Professional Advocacy League (PAL).

The chapter doesn’t only serve as an organizing arm for mental health advocacy; it is also part of an important model for the country because of its success. Worcester, it seems, has its act together.

“Worcester is definitely a leader,” says Meri Viano, who is a family support specialist working with PAL. She also has two children suffering with mental health and behavioral issues. “It’s a leader because it’s organized. We know how to collaborate and there is a level of respect for families.”

Rina Cavallini started the Worcester chapter of PAL five years ago, and her input is a crucial piece to this very model and movement. It started in earnest eight years ago, when Cavallini joined a group of parents and providers to drastically change the way children with mental health problems were dealt with. Together, this concerned group nabbed a $7 million dollar federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant to assist entire families affected by children with serious emotional disabilities.

The group had momentum and a focus. So along with the UMass Medical School, it established Worcester Communities of Care to properly use the money, which broke down into about $100,000 a year.

The group put families in touch with other advocates to assist them with issues such as understanding the school system. While involved with Communities of Care, Cavallini was hired at Community Healthlink to come up with a creative way to handle the funding and provide children and their families with “wraparound” services. Worcester has become innovative in its approach.

“Central Massachusetts has some standing models,” says Ziedonis. “In fact, this is the model of the country on wraparound services.” The wraparound approach recognizes that children with mental illness or emotional disturbances have a unique need for integrated and distinct services.

“It is a proven theory that when families are better able to deal with stress, children have better clinical outcomes,” said the press release announcing the federal grant. “For example, the entire family of a child with severe emotional disturbances who soils himself will be better able to cope with the disorder’s challenges if a treatment program can offer them financial assistance to purchase a washing machine so they don’t need to go to the Laundromat every day.”

Dr. Peter Metz agrees. Metz is the director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department at UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Medical Center, and is a principal investigator. Metz says Worcester is easily a leader in the state, marked by the advantage of having those two successive six-year large federal grants. The first, he says, targeted children at risk of out-of-home placement, and the present one focuses heavily on diverting those with serious issues from the juvenile justice system.

“We had the attitude of being strength-based,” says Cavallini. “Let’s not look at the family and say what is wrong with the kid. Let’s talk about what is right with the family. You have no idea what a huge shift of thinking that was, especially to people like us who already felt so much shame. Parents were so beat up by the old way.” Suzanne Hannigan, project director for Communities of Care.

The “old way,” she says, lacked cohesiveness between schools, parents, providers and the kids. The rest of the state started to look at Communities of Care as a model of a “program that was actually working.”

“Families all over Central Massachusetts started coming to family support night,” says Cavallini. Five years ago, Cavallini was given money to start the Worcester chapter of PAL after Community Healthlink saw the strong united family movement that was growing in Worcester.

Renting a space at Children’s Friend, Cavallini was the director, and formed a steering committee of parents.

“We continued a lot of what we had been doing,” she says, “but the beauty was there was this autonomous family movement. It wasn’t connected to Community Healthlink anymore. It was bigger.”

Not only did the grant give Worcester federal recognition, but the landmark decision in the Rosie D. v. Romney case in 2006 helped validate the need for better mental health support as well. It found that the state was violating the federal Medicaid Act by failing to provide home-based mental health services to around 15,000 children. The decision drastically shifted, at least in its thinking, the way the state deals with mental health issues. Jannelle Correa, youth director for PAL, the Parent and Professional Advocacy League.

Cavallini passed the torch to newest director Cindy Cefaitis last year. Cavallini, who has a son who is bipolar, says she’ll continue to work in the field in some capacity.

“Other grant sites have actually used this model,” says Suzanne Hannigan, project director of the Central Massachusetts Communities of Care. “The effect it’s having is that the Department of Mental Health is talking to other sites about them doing the same thing. Parents are starting to get a voice in decision-making in state agencies and guiding public policy and procedure. They’re realizing it’s an important voice.”

Building on the Rosie D. case, Hannigan talks about the new legislation, called the Children’s Behavior Health Initiative, which would bring about many changes in the state’s system. More and more agencies, such as Children’s Hospital, are signing on to the legislation, which argues that screening should be routine in the schools and that private insurance providers must be required to play their part in addressing the crisis.

You’d need a degree in legislative deciphering to understand how this initiative works, who facilitates it, and how it intertwines with services and organizations that are already in place. Basically speaking, Metz says, it’ll provide an array of clinical services that are not currently available to children. Only children, that is, covered by MassHealth.

Still, Ziedonis warns that where other states have failed is when a decree such as the Rosie D case goes away, if legislation isn’t in place to support it, the resources fade away. “That is why people are speaking out so strongly,” he says. “It’s good that we have the initiative, but we want to make sure there is more of a guarantee that this will happen.”

The initiative’s effects will be gradual. The plan is to issue a request for responses from providers by June, and after an extensive bid process, announce contracts by Sept. 1, with the services up and running by April 1, 2009. This would only affect MassHealth children and their families, which roughly involves 7,000 to 12,000 eligible recipients.

“There is an awful amount of concern,” says Metz. “We know that there are many with private insurance who need a similar kind of approach. At the moment, they are not in this. There is certainly interest on many people’s parts that as this gets started, private companies are pressured, but this is a start.”

More resources needed

It’s what Simone and a lot of kids say would have helped them. He gets agitated when talking about school, arguing that they did little to stop the teasing he endured.

He harbors resentment toward the way his life was handled. He felt alone and largely ignored in terms of his special needs by the Worcester Public School system. Although he’s the funny guy in school now, he laments over being the odd man before, and how that stigma shattered his well-being.

“When I was young,” he says. “Nobody asked me questions that I thought were relevant. ‘How do you feel in school today, Ricky?’ Nobody asked me that. The schools fall short. They should make it where, when you go in for a checkup with your child, they should take the parents out of the room and give the child mental-health testing as if they were checking for scoliosis. They have to see a dentist. They have to see a doctor. They have to go to school. Testing should be in all of those places.”

Ziedonis maintains that the Worcester Public Schools have been extremely collaborative with partners, families and providers, and are just as eager as the families for legislative process to match their needs.

“Across the nation,” says Ziedonis, “schools are having to take on some of these mental health issues. And when you enrich the neighborhoods with resources, the school can more effectively partner with the kids and family and get the help they need.”

While the children repeatedly complain about their experience at school, Metz argues that they, too, are waiting for resources to be able to help. The system gets a disproportionate amount of children in the state with complex needs, as there is a program to accept undocumented immigrants, and there are a lot of clinical services available in the area. The schools have developed referral mechanisms both with providers, agencies and emergency mental health services at UMass.

“It’s no secret that schools have been struggling with less support from the state,” says Metz, “and with an economy that is not providing tax revenues that had been projected and needed. They’re struggling to do what they want to do, but I can’t say enough positive things about the Worcester school system in terms of their concern.”

Mary Lambert, who has four children — two of them with special needs — argues that where the state falls short is within the legal court system. Kids that have challenges and land on probation or in court are often seen as troublemakers. But few, she and many of these kids say, peel the onion to realize that the trouble stems quite often from a severe imbalance that could be corrected.

“Those are the kids that are falling through the cracks,” says Lambert. “It’s clear-cut. Either you’re a criminal or need mental health treatment. If you land in juvenile court, you’re lost. Look at the prisons. I mean, look at juvenile detention. You look at probation and lock-up programs; there are a significant amount of kids who have mental health needs in that system.”

Metz adds, “That is where many of the children are ending up — in the courts and in DYS — who really don’t belong there.”

Simone is doing better because of attending things such as OTHERS (Other Teens Help Everybody Respect Self) meetings, and is searching for the right mix of medications and presently sees a therapist. Because the medication wasn’t working, he’s struggling in school.

“I want to either be an art teacher or an art therapist,” he says, “because, for me, it’s hard to talk about a lot of things. I think it’ll be easier to communicate through art with somebody rather than actually talking about issues.”

Once you understand your condition, or disease, it’s easier to move on and deal with it, says Jannelle Correa, who is the youth director at PAL.

“A lot of these kids were diagnosed later on,” she says. “They knew something wasn’t right, but no one listened to them.”

Story appeared May 29, 20018 in Worcester Magazine

The Nixons Life Changed ‘In the Blink of an Eye’
09.02.13 | No Comments

Then Senator Mitt Romney visited the Nixon family on Christmas shortly after the accident.

The Nixon family marks April 4 as the anniversary of an event that would forever changed their lives. On that evening 18 years ago, Sheryl and Mark Nixon’s sons, Rob and Reed, were severely injured in a car accident.

Reed, driving a minivan from a church function in Marlborough back to their home in Northborough, carried passengers that included his brothers Rob and Kent, his sister Natalie, and two friends. Quickly turning a corner with a van that had faulty rear brakes, that minivan collided with a telephone pole, then a curb, and flipped on its head into the wooded area.

Still, for a family you might not expect to think this way, their message is, “You can choose to be happy.” It’s their mantra, and if you spend any time with them, you quickly realize it isn’t a message that is casually thrown around; they live it.

Reed, now 37, is paralyzed from the neck down, needing 24-hour care. Rob, 35, has some movement in his upper body. He’s able to perform a lot of tasks, he’s a successful accountant and he’s married, living in Irvine, CA.

While the circumstances physically crippled two intelligent, thriving young boys, it did not cripple their will to live, and brought a family even closer than it had been. Now, this family inspires others to see the beauty in their own lives.

It was, of course, an evolution.

“I think it happened for Mark more early on,” said Sheryl of grasping the reality after the accident. “For me, it wasn’t for weeks before I think I actually started seeing what was going to happen.”

Sheryl said that the defining point for her, and perhaps for her sons, came during a meeting at the Roxbury VA hospital, where both underwent rehabilitation after their initial stay at UMass. Doctors and nurses held separate meetings to discuss Rob’s and Reed’s condition. When Mark and Sheryl heard Rob’s assessment, realizing he would be able to dress himself, feed himself, and even drive, they thought, “OK, we can deal with this.”

Reed’s assessment threw a blow that they could have never expected.

“When they held that second meeting with Reed, oh my God,” said Sheryl. “We just couldn’t imagine how life was going to be, because they said they didn’t anticipate him ever regaining movement in his body.”

Reed would need 24-hour care, for help with virtually everything, and would “always need someone within earshot.”

“Mark and I were both crying,” said Sheryl. “I felt beside myself. The head nurse said I could go into her private office, and i went in and cried and wailed for five minutes and I realized, this is only going to make me worse.

“I haven’t cried like that again, I don’t think, because it is what it is. And no matter how sorry we felt for ourselves or how sad we are for our sons, it doesn’t change the facts. We needed to unify as a family and pull together our faith and trust in God and do whatever it was that was necessary to pull it together and make it the best it could be for Reed and Rob.”

The rear quarter of the Nixon home is a spacious, bright addition defined by a large family space lined with windows to allow natural light to pour into the room. With high ceilings, soothing shades of painted walls, a large digital clock on the wall, overstuffed recliners and couches, and a large flat screen, off this room are two bedrooms and a bathroom.

All of it was equipped to satisfy the physical, and emotional, needs of Reed and Rob when they came home from the hospital. Reed and a personal assistant, Cindy, as well as Sheryl, spend a majority of their time in that area of the house.

Reed is engaging, upbeat, and speaks candidly about his situation, and the past, never shying away from tough questions or reality.

“It was a sad time,” said Reed, “but as I’ve looked back on that time, I really feel that the way that they look at spinal cord injuries …. they are always looking at the rehab phase and not as living life and enjoying life. I know they were trying to paint a picture of the future, but no matter what the situation, life can always be enjoyable. There are friends to have and love to share with people. Even though you’re not always happy with your situation, it’s not going to change and you can still enjoy and have a happy life.”

Doctors predicted that Reed, initially, would live three to five years. Then, they said it would be five to seven.

“Tomorrow, it will be 18 years,” said Sheryl, beaming at and clutching Reed.

“I still am hopeful and I hear of progression that has been made in the medical and electronics fields,” said Reed. “My health has improved. It may not be prevalent to someone in the medical field, but I lived more life and did more thnings than anyone expected or anticipated. You can never say one thing will be certain. New things happen and we learn new things and education changes and grows.”

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When Sheryl broke her ankle and leg slipping off a ladder in 2005, she ended up bedridden for six months. Not only did it open up a lot of mental space to re-examine the traumatic car accident that injured her sons severely years ago, it gave her time to sift through all of the journaling she had compiled during that time. She combed through the journals, as well as some songs (Sheryl is a professional singer and songwriter), and transcribed the cassettes Mark had recorded while driving to and from the hospitals.

“I’ve always kept a journal since I was young,” said Sheryl, “so it was already a habit that I had. Once the accident happened, I continued writing and had a lot of time sitting at the hospital with the boys.”

The result is a poignant recollection of the accident, and the subsequent acceptance and hope erupted from it. In the Blink of an Eye: The Reed and Rob Nixon Story painstakingly details the unfolding of the events that started with the accident, through the realization of her sons’ condition, through rehabilitation, to a profound acceptance—not only by her, but the sons who would never walk again.

Her song lyrics are peppered throughout the book to emphasize emotion, and provide a soulful transition between paragraphs. Sheryl also suffers from depression, as well as fibromyalgia, which she developed in 1989 after she was hit square in the face with a baseball. That, too, is briefly addressed in the book.

Deeply spiritual, she and the family often reference their faith as the anchor that helped keep them together, and heal. The outpouring of support, too, was remarkable, and included neighbors and friends donating airline miles, providing rides, holding fundraisers and a group of contractors who built the Nixons’ 1,100-foot addition. Sheryl said she was shocked at the reaction, particularly since the family had only lived in Northborough for a year and a half at that point.

“Because we had four kids in the schools around here, they were well known,” said Sheryl, “but we had been here for such a short time. When we went to move here, people said, ‘Oh, people in New England are so cold.’ Well, after only being here a year and a half, this town treated us like we were lifelong residents. Rob and Reed were on the cross country and track teams, and they had a lot of friends at school. This town was absolutely a miracle … this town and the surrounding towns.”

While she was working on transcribing and organizing these journals, never did Sheryl think it would materialize into a book. Originally, it was going to serve as a family history.

“No one was more shocked about writing a book than I was,” said Sheryl, who, sometimes self-deprecating, will remark, “I’ve always just been a homemaker and mother.” Reed, quick to counter his mom’s comments, will add, “Mom, that’s just not true. You’re an accomplished writer and musician. You’re very creative.”

The book, while it brings the reader through the tragedy, projects a strong message of hope and peace. Rob and Reed’s attitude, almost from the beginning, is what inspired Sheryl to publish the book for others, she said.

“Life goes on and you can choose to be happy,” said Sheryl. “People don’t realize that it’s a choice. Sometimes, they get stuck in those horrible feelings and are never able to pull out of it, so there is a negativity around it. Rob and Reed have shown from the very beginning that they chose to be happy, and wanted to be happy.

“At first, how can you look at the situation with Rob and Reed and think there were any blessings there? Well, they were alive, and their brains weren’t damaged. You have to step aside from the awfulness of the situation and think what is something I can be thankful for? The more you try to be thankful, the more your attitude is uplifted.”

It hasn’t always been easy, particularly when you’re “in the midst of it,” added Reed. When the information comes in fast and furious, life can be confusing and frustrating.

“When things calm down and you can focus, and realize this is going to be longer,” he said, “there are things you can do, and it won’t be the end all. There are lots of things you can do out there, whether you’re able-bodied or not.”

Sheryl Nixon will lead a discussion and sign copies of In the Blink of an Eye: The Reed and Rob Nixon Story on Saturday, April 13, at 10 a.m. at the Northborough Free Library. Reed will possibly join his mom for the event. Space is limited, and you can reserve your spot here.

Editor’s note: for excerpts of the Northborough Patch interview with Sheryl and Reed Nixon, click on the attached video. A full-length version of this interview will be also be soon be available on Patch.

This story originally ran in Northborough Patch, May 7, 2013

The transition to gay conservative: how one gay man explains and defends his position
09.22.10 | No Comments

As printed in Central Massachusetts Pride Magazine

The words conservative and gay don’t often end up in the same sentence. Especially in some areas of the country, being gay and also a conservative are as rare as a lesbian who doesn’t like Melissa Etheridge’s music. Yeah, it may sound like a stereotype, but mention you don’t like Etheridge at a lesbian gathering and the record scratches, and people stare. Really. Try it.

The same thing happens to the gay conservative.

But Christopher Budden says there are more gay conservatives, and “objectivists,” coming out of the political closet.
A 39-year-old gay male, Budden writes his blog, “The Conservative Rainbow,” for everyday right of center political commentary. He reserves the other blog, “The Objective Chronicle,” to try to “dispense with the left/right paradigm and comment on current events from a strictly objectivist point of view – leaving the down and dirty, in the mud politics, aside.” Budden also contributes to and Right Pride.

“I think many gay men and women operate like this,” Budden said. “They think, ‘Since I am gay, I must be a democrat and support the Democratic Party at all costs.’ It’s an extremely myopic attitude not based in any deeper philosophical thoughts about freedom other than ‘What can I get for free from the federal government?’ As we know, nothing is free.”
Currently unemployed with a strong background, professionally, in kitchen and bath design, Budden is considering going back to technical school to get a degree in technical drafting. Once transitioned back into the work force, his goal is to take courses from the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights so he can give lectures to students and businesses on the philosophical constructs of rational egoism/objectivism.

Politically, he considers himself a Libertarian Conservative, but wasn’t always.

Throughout his teens and twenties, Budden leaned toward very socialist beliefs, though he didn’t necessarily identify them as such. “Most people, I tend to believe, get their politics from their parents,” he said, “and then they never question those positions after that. I didn’t really have that experience. My folks were, most definitely, more conservative but we never discussed politics and they certainly never forced their beliefs on me.”
Since he was not educated in politics, Budden says he didn’t know what socialism was. He just knew that “I used to believe in equality of results rather than equality of rights.”

When 9/11 happened, it was the seminal moment of his transformation. After that horrific day, Budden says he started to pay attention to news, current events and the world around him like never before. “I became much more attuned to the political spectrum,” Budden said.

“Very simply, I found myself agreeing, more often than not, with conservatives rather than liberals. It simply seemed to me that every time I heard a democrat or liberal speak, it seemed like lies coming out of their mouths. They said things that I knew were not true, at least from a philosophical perspective. “
Budden submerged himself into studying the American form of government, libertarianism, conservatism and how “freedom was necessarily dependent upon constitutionally limited government.”

As his political views shifted, so did his concern grow that he was siding with a viewpoint that was often at odds with the gay person. It caused conflict, even within himself. So he searched further.

“It led me to search out and find other gay conservatives,” he said. “I knew that I couldn’t be the only one. Eventually, I came across the Log Cabin Republicans, GOProud, and gay conservative spokespeople like Tammy Bruce, Steve Yuhas and Al Rantel. “

The fact that Budden had disagreements with more religious people in regard to civil recognition of marriage didn’t matter in the end. He sought out social networks actively with people he used to believe were against him. He realized, in fact, that if there was hope in recognizing these relationships, he’d have to talk to these people.

“I preferred talking and opening the lines of communication,” Budden said, “as opposed to engaging in the tactics the gay left is famous for, and for which I now find to be extremely immoral and distasteful; that of intimidation and tearing down one’s opponents. I began to understand how throughout history leftists sought to conquer the countries they wanted to take over, and intimidation, tearing down, destroying capitalism, lying and deception were all important elements. Once I made the realization that my former beliefs, which in essence were socialism, I dropped them like a hot potato. I knew I was supporting tyranny if I continued to hold on to those beliefs, and I knew individualism was, in fact, the core of what I needed to retain my freedom as a gay man.”

In terms of creating enemies, and losing friends, over his political beliefs, Budden says he’s “been lucky.” He hasn’t lost any friends due to his views, yet. Not actively seeking to date at the moment, that issue hasn’t come into play, either.

“I must say that it is comforting to know that there are more and more gay conservatives and objectivists coming out of the political closet all the time,” he said.

Budden argues that there are some gay liberals who are “liberal in the classical sense,” meaning socially liberally but fiscally conservative. “However,” he said, “they don’t make the connection that the democrat party, as it is currently configured and run by modern liberals, is really run by leftists. In other words, they don’t understand the philosophical difference between the two types of liberalism. I have run into gay liberals who, once this is explained to them, they have an ‘ah ha!’ moment and proceed to say, ‘Well, that’s true, I’m not a leftist. I never understood this before.’ Then they begin to modify their thinking in regard to their political positions.”

Other gay liberals, he says, are very aware of the difference between classical liberalism and modern liberalism. The former, he argues, is based on freedom, while the latter is based on tyranny. Still, he maintains, “they are leftists and they know what they’re doing.

“They want to destroy capitalism, believe in a welfare state, and want an all-encompassing powerful federal government in order to tell them how to live their lives. I think much of the hardcore gay left falls into this category. They operate from the belief that you must tear down the civil society in order to destroy it, so it can then be rebuilt into a tyrannical structure.”

What Budden has noticed, by and large, is that many gay people feel they must vote democrat based on the gay marriage issue alone. To him, this is extremely damaging to the rest of their freedoms, and reminds people that it is not the federal government’s job to be involved in marriage, gay or straight, in the first place. That, he says, is a state-level issue. Abortion issues, he says, should have remained at a state-level as well.

“The problem with politicians is that they create issues on the federal level,” Budden said,” which should not even be issues, most times in an effort to divide people to get themselves elected or to retain their jobs. Conservative states should have been allowed to keep abortion illegal if they chose and liberal states could have had legalized abortion. The whole purpose of the federalist structure, as set up by the founders, was to restrain the power of the federal government. They knew what happened when too much authority was concentrated in one place – you end up with tyranny. Under federalism, people can vote with their feet. If they don’t like the policies of a particular state, they are able to move to a state that reflects their values.”

Federalism, too, Budden says, was constructed to act as an incubator of sorts, in the sense that if a state wanted to try socialized medicine, for instance, they could. But it wouldn’t affect an entire nation. If it worked, or didn’t, it wouldn’t have affected – and in some cases destroyed – a country.

Modern liberals, Budden maintains, tend to be leftists who disguise themselves as classical liberals. To Budden, this is deceptive, and ultimately has destructive consequences if not challenged by those who know what true freedom means.

“Leftists, or progressives, do not operate psychologically from a reality-based view of the world,” Budden said. “They believe mankind is perfectible, or at the very least that his existence can be perfectible, in a Utopian sense. They honestly believe that all of the worry that accompanies free existence can be gotten rid of – that mankind can live in some kind of Utopian Heaven-on-Earth existence in which he is relieved from the burdens of living. And many times, a very nihilistic world view, the idea that existence has no meaning, accompanies the thought processes of these types of people. This is why you so often see denigration toward all moral and ethical thought.”
Budden also maintains that progressives are quite aware of what their policies have created throughout history. But, he says, that fact is usually ignored.

“Usually, they continue to believe what they believe because they think, ‘It just wasn’t done right or it wasn’t tried by the right people’ in all those failed experiments throughout history,” Budden said. “As much as they view themselves as ‘open-minded’ they, in essence, are really close-minded. They shut off their reasoning faculties because if they actually began to think critically about what it is they espouse, many times their belief system would fall down around them, and they can’t face it. It’s like a five year old having a temper tantrum; there is no room for acknowledgment of that which life and nature does not guarantee to anybody – a worry free existence. Due to this, modern liberals and progressives have learned to disguise their speech and policies amidst lies and deception. Leftists of history many times would have taken over a nation with an armed revolution. Today’s leftists have to be much more subtle in their deceptions – they know people do not give up their freedom that easily.”

Often, conservatives are portrayed as racists, bigots – ignorant fools who wave flags in the face of rational thought. The tea party member who holds the misspelled sign. The republican who “just needs his gun and God.” It’s a misperception, and a damaging one at that, Budden explains.

“Conservative and classically liberal people, I have found, tend to be much better educated,” Budden said, “especially in the areas of philosophy and economics. You have racist and ignorant people in any sub-section of society – no matter what group you are talking about. Many of the gay left are extremely intolerant of those who espouse religious views. They demand tolerance for themselves but refuse to give it – even to the point of shutting their ears to any further conversation. That is the mentality of someone not operating with a grown up, mature attitude – it is still the temper tantrum on an adult level. What I have discovered, since opening myself to more communication among religiously-minded people, is not that they are intolerant of gay men and women per se. They simply see heterosexual marriage as necessary for the sound bedrock of any civil society. That makes them sociologically responsible – not necessarily homophobic; the two conditions are not necessarily interchangeable.”

And where does Budden see the future of the Republican Party headed? For him, he thinks the party has given up its limited government role to the ideas and attitudes commonly expressed by the left. He has heard some say that’ democrats have already won the notion of the need of the welfare state. But the republicans, in fact, think they can manage that welfare state better.”

“This is extremely dangerous,” Budden said. “To a certain degree, republicans have already admitted defeat. They don’t know how to communicate capitalism as a necessary element of any free society – unhinged from the welfare state. It is a morally superior position, but they have, in many respects conceded defeat to the left. If that attitude is not changed with an intense degree of roll-back of left-wing ideological statism, then I truly believe this country will fall just like many other republics have fallen throughout history. It will only be a matter of time before the collapse. We may already be there for all I know.”

Budden has become a sound advocate for objectivism as outlined by Ayn Rand. Having studied much of her work, he considers Rand to be the spokesperson for outlining answers conservatives need to defeat statism. Still, he thinks many continue to shut their eyes to lessons and realities she discovered, and uncovered.

“Republicans have their own demons to exorcise,” Budden said. “They can be collectivist and statist-oriented as well in regard to theocratically collectivist notions. Morality and ethics need not be tied to religious belief. Morality and ethics can be studied and passed on through a philosophical spectrum. The republicans, oftentimes, defeat their own arguments by trying to approach them from a faith-based position. God is not provable. When you begin your argument by basing it on something like God, which is not provable, you’ve already defeated your own argument and helped your enemy. The faith of the right is as mutable as the emotions on which leftist rely, which is why both positions can go horribly wrong.”

Raising Adam
11.30.07 | 1 Comment

As it appeared on the cover of Worcester Magazine, August, 2007

Recently, Adam Davis’s mom, Nancy, took him to a ‘50s concert at a country club in the area.

At first, Adam looked agitated, as he can easily become in crowds. Elderly folks and children can especially intimidate him. But he scored a deck of cards, and sat cross-legged on the floor between the dinner tables sorting them. That made him happy for the night, as it often can. For years, cards have occupied hours, and he has some 30 plus decks in his room. If Adam visits your house, he’ll inevitably rifle through your drawers and cupboards looking for decks. If there aren’t 52 in the pack, someone had better fix it quick.

Other things make him happy, too. He’ll crack you up with a knock-knock joke he’s made up: “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Nancy.” “Nancy who?” “Nancy Davis!” He’ll yell random phrases such as “get out of your pants!” that can bring you to hysterics. He carries around items such as key chains for weeks on end, sometimes stuffing them into a sock. He loves fans, and turning on lights and clicking on hundreds of files on a computer (“triangles,” he calls them). He’d eat hamburgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you let him, and he likes cookies and brownies a lot, too. He gravitates to the catholic mass and cartoons on TV, listens to ‘80s music and watches the movie The Big Lebowski

, which he called the “fuck movie” because the F-bomb drops so much in it. Recently, they took a trip to Overlook Farm in Rutland and he fell in love with the pigs.

But keeping Adam happy, and calm, is a challenge, and that is putting it mildly. Watching Nancy interact with her son for any length of time will at once break and warm your heart.

Adam suffers from autism as well as mental retardation, and a few related and unrelated issues that include anger and inability to control his bowels. His mom has been taking care of him since birth at home in Charlton and for a majority of the time. The task is immense and endless, and a glimpse into Nancy’s life could make the most stressed feel guilty that they had ever complained about petty problems. Calm, patient to a fault, intelligent and kind, she’s grown and adapted to Adam’s condition with quiet dignity and some silent suffering.

She’s “lost it” a few times with Adam, and knows when it’s escalated to the point where he should stay in his room. It usually happens when she’s overtired, and he just won’t stop yelling in her face. Echolalia, they call it – when you say something and the autistic person repeats it endlessly back to you.

“I definitely do have periods of depression,” says Nancy. “I have always had periods of depression. I think my way of coping is to escape mentally. Blocking Adam out is a form of survival because he repeats things over and over and over again. It drives you mad if you don’t tune it out. And sometimes it does escalate. It’s true. To insert someone new into this situation is much harder than growing with it.”

But Adam’s 27 now, and Nancy finds herself stepping toward the most major decision of her life. For parents with severely handicapped children, there usually comes a time where they’ve got to put their faith in another caregiver. Those “kids” have got to move to another living situation. Adam’s got to go on so Nancy can finally live, as he is engrained in her daily existence so much so that there is little separation; he is an integral part of his sister Sarah’s and father Rich’s as well.

“I have been alone for 12 years,” says Nancy, who is divorced from Rich, who is remarried with two children. “I had one boyfriend after we got divorced, and to insert somebody in a situation with Adam is very hard. I have no life of my own, and yeah, in order to make a life with someone else it would be very hard on both to learn how to live with each other. I’ve learned it as he’s grown, so I’ve been able to bend and learn how to deal with things.”

Sarah, Adam’s sister 20 months his junior, slid into a protector-caretaker role with Adam, which laid the groundwork for her career, as she works at the New England Center for Children and is working on her Master’s in counseling psychology at Framingham State College. Like her mom, it’s remarkable to watch her interact with Adam.

“My mom has sacrificed a lot, and continues to,” says Sarah. “It takes an immense amount of patience. My brother is the most influential person in my life just because of the patience he’s taught me and I really appreciate the life’s lessons I’ve learned from him about accepting others. It does make me sad to know that my mom doesn’t necessarily have a life of her own. She works every day and works more when my brother gets home. She never ever gets a break. We have conversations about Adam because ultimately, when my parents are gone, the role falls on me. And the waiting list for places to live is long. I’m trying to encourage her to start looking for a place for him because finding a good place is difficult.”

In November, when Sarah gets married, she hopes Adam will be able to be in the wedding. No one can predict if he can fulfill the role he’ll be assigned in the festivities. Last year, at their grandfather’s funeral, instead of bringing the gifts up to the altar for the mass (as was the plan), Adam head butted Sarah in the church.

He can, on occasion, head butt, punch and bite. Years ago, when a man came to Nancy’s house to pick her up for a date, he hadn’t been in the doorway five minutes when Adam was in his face yelling. “He picked him up by the neck off the floor,” she says. “It didn’t end that relationship instantaneously, but I have never forgotten it. I just decided then that I cannot do this right now. It wasn’t fair to Adam and it wasn’t fair to me.”

Just as Nancy can “lose it,” so can others who care for him for any length of time. A couple of years ago when Nancy headed to Vermont to visit her sister, who was dying from cancer, Adam was staying at another caretakers home. He wasn’t sleeping, and “going nuts.” “Finally, this person called another person and said, ‘Can you please talk to Adam and try to calm him down?’” says Nancy. “As she went to hand Adam the phone, she said a few choice words to Adam because she was tired and angry. The person on the other end heard it and reported it. I had to come home from Vermont and pick him up. But, I’ve lost my temper with him, too, and said things that I’ve regretted. It’s human. There was this big investigation and she lost her ability to work with kids in Massachusetts.”

His inability to truly relate to others emotions, says Sarah, can be maddening, as it was on the day of her grandfather’s funeral. “I wanted to just say, ‘Adam, do you have any idea what is going on? Are your problems so problematic that you can’t just put the friggin’ gifts up on the altar with me?’ Everything is just such a production. But I don’t want to paint a picture that he is a monster. He has great qualities. But it’s moments like that. The thing with autism is that they are self absorbed. You might be crying next to them, and they say, ‘I’m hungry.’”

Having afflictions like Adam’s, and anyone having to take responsibility for them hardly seems fair. As anyone with an autistic or handicapped child will tell you, it drastically changes the scope and view of your world – for worse, but for better.

@DROPCAP: It’s difficult to even clue in to the fact that your child isn’t developing “normally,” never mind accept it when it becomes apparent. Everyone’s got a different take on when your little boy or girl should be walking and talking or how and when they should drool or utter a word. For new parents Nancy and Richard, it would take a good year or so to realize there was anything wrong, and 10 years to hear the words “autistic tendencies.” Nineteen before Adam was called “clearly autistic.”

Nancy endured, as she recalls, a “pretty normal pregnancy” with Adam. But it was difficult from birth; by the end of January, 1980, she was overdue by 18 days and doctors finally induced her. It didn’t work, and Adam was born C-section on Jan. 28. “He was only five and a half pounds,” says Nancy. “So they were watching him from day one. They put him in an intermediate nursery, and he was having blood sugar issues. He was shaking a lot. My mom told me later that the first time she saw him – she had had five babies, and she knew something was going on.”

After a week in the hospital, she, Adam and Rich headed home, and the signs that things weren’t quite right were apparent to Nancy early on. It was nearly impossible to nurse him; he’d stiffen his body, push straight up and scream. “He was such a challenging baby,” says Nancy. “He never slept. He had projectile vomiting constantly. He was screaming all the time. I didn’t sleep for a long time.”

That first year revealed more question marks that are easy to see now in hindsight. Rich has a small picture of Adam taken at a photographer’s studio during the time. His hand is under the blanket holding Adam up because he couldn’t sit up. “He was delayed in learning to stand up and walk,” says Rich. “He was even more delayed in his speech. This was the more heartbreaking experience over time. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to tell someone something and the person doesn’t understand. It was Nancy who recognized his delays over time.”

Nancy had a book that highlighted developmental milestones, and was also watching friend’s babies hitting those milestones. Adam just wanted to sit on her lap and look around. He didn’t roll over, crawl, walk or talk.

The delays prompted Adam’s pediatrician to set up a meeting with a neurologist before his first Christmas. For Rich, it was startling and devastating when he found out his son was diagnosed with microephaly and was probably going to be mentally retarded. “I remember asking if he would catch up,” says Rich, who was a music teacher at the time. “When the doctor said, ‘not totally,’ I wanted to know how much he would be delayed. I didn’t understand what it would mean for all of us, but I suddenly understood as a parent that not everything is under our control, and that some of our life’s plans and expectations hang on assumptions that we probably had no right to make.”

Nancy wasn’t shocked; the diagnosis tagged a title to Adam’s actions. She does battle depression, but tends to have an accepting philosophy about life. “That’s how I’ve always been,” she says. “I’m a quiet person and I don’t depend on a lot. I guess my expectations have never been really high. Oh, that doesn’t sound too good, does it? It’s just that I depend on myself. That is what I’m trying to say. I’ve never had a big plan in my life, like this is what I’m going to do when I’m 30, etcetera.”

Rich admittedly had a hard time at first, but his denial and depression dissipated. “Later, I became more faith-filled because of the challenges,” he says, “but at first, I felt like Adam’s disabilities were a punishment for my own selfish attitude toward life.”

At a year and a half, Adam was able to pull up to stand, and by 19 months, he could walk.
By age three, he used his voice to yell and would frequently cover his ears. But Adam seemed so oblivious to sound that they tested his hearing by calling his name from behind, also ringing bells behind his back. Both times, he responded immediately. But he didn’t follow verbal directions and his scores were below a six month level in language skills. He “prefers solitary play, has short attention span, skills are severely delayed, especially cognitive and language skills,” read a report from the Early Learning Center in Sturbridge.

They wanted him to go to a typical preschool, at first putting him at St. Joseph’s in Leicester with his sister. But when they tried to place Adam at a program at the Mason Road School in Dudley, it erupted in an arbitration battle with the Special Ed Director of the school system. Ultimately, the Davis’s won after a stressful fight. “He was little and didn’t have behavior issues yet at all,” says Nancy. “He was really easy going and fun and happy. He was just slow, and he never played with other kids. That’s another trait of autism. They call it parallel play. You know, two kids playing with a truck next to each other but not interacting.”

Other programs followed, including the Mercy Centre in Worcester, Dawning Place at Oxford Middle School and a year-round program at the Leicester High School. Puberty proved to be a marked change. Once a fairly easy-going kid, Adam’s nature turned more angry in elementary school. It was also the start of bowel issues that have gradually resulted in him losing full control of them. He started to suffer seizures, too.

“Two things happened after puberty,” says Nancy. “The anger increased and the happy kid disappeared. And around 13 or 14 – and this is a little graphic – um, his bowel movements became huge. He would go longer and longer between bowel movements. They were so huge that they were not flushable. I had to cut them with a plastic knife. One time I was at a party and he had a huge bowel movement in the toilet, and there were no plastic knives to be had, so I had to pick it up and put it in the trash. So I have lost my sensitivity to the whole thing long ago.”

Though he has “attractions,” Nancy says for Adam they would never manifest in a physical thing because he wouldn’t allow himself to get close to a person. “He would never be able to tolerate having someone close to him. He does like girls better than guys, though. It’s so funny – this morning, he’s yelling at me when I am getting ready to go. And the woman who picks him up in the morning he loves more than anybody right now. She’s a pretty young thing. He’s yelling at me as he’s going down the steps, and I hear the door open to the van and he goes, ‘hiiii, Melissa.’ His tone is so funny.”

In 1992, Rich and Nancy divorced. “Adam became the focus of our family,” says Rich. “Sometimes this can be a unifying force and in other cases this can be a separating force. In our case, it did both of those things at different times. Nancy and I ended in divorce, but I don’t see Adam as the reason that I happened that way.”

A doctor finally called Adam “clearly autistic” in 1999, putting further titles on what the Davis family already knew. His “toilet” issues, too, got to the point where Nancy was having trouble balancing work because of such things as trips to the gastroenterologist.

Today, Adam’s day starts at 5:30 a.m. He gets up, walks to the top of the stairs and yells, “bathroom!?” “Yes, Adam, go to the bathroom,” his mom replies. If he doesn’t ask and she doesn’t answer, he won’t go. She and his caretakers have to remind him throughout the day.

“He understands a lot,” says Nancy. “He is more intelligent than he appears. It’s hard for him to express himself. When Randy [their dog] had to go to the hospital, I had to get Adam out of bed. I said, ‘We have to take Randy to the hospital.’ He asked me what was the matter. I said, ‘Randy doesn’t feel good.’ Adam stayed in the waiting room there. They took him out of the side door when we left. They wanted to cremate him, but I asked to take him. They wrapped Randy up like a mummy on the gurney and took him to the car. Adam didn’t say anything until we were almost home. He pointed at Randy and said, ‘All gone?’ I said, ‘Yes, Adam, he’s all gone.’ He knows a lot. He can operate machinery. Computers. I’ve been told he’s just borderline retarded. It’s the autism that affects his ability to function in this world.”

@DROPCAP: Servicing people with disabilities, the 7 Hills Foundation is the largest private non-profit agency in the state. Linda Cournoyer is the family support area director for 7 Hills, blanketing the south valley area. That makes her the coordinator for Adam’s respite program and the flex funding (which is the reimbursement for medical supplies and additional respite hours) that Nancy gets from the Department of Mental Retardation. She not only helps Nancy and knows Adam well, but can relate. Her 37-year-old daughter Denise has disabilities, who she had to send to live in a group home when she was 13 because of extreme behavior issues.

“Between the Center of Hope, 7 Hills and the DMR, we give her what she needs to keep Adam home,” says Cournoyer, “but we all know that down the road she’s going to have to find a living situation for him. That will be so difficult. When Denise went off, it was like nobody needed me. It was devastating. You don’t know what to do with your life because your life has been Adam or Denise or any other kid with disabilities.”

Sarah agrees, saying she sees not only her mom, but many families struggle with the same decision: “Parents could be the parent of the year, and still feel like they failed. They feel guilt that they even had thoughts about sending their child to a residential setting. It just further shows how selfless they are, and what sacrifices they made for their kids. You cannot imagine the accommodations that parents have to make for these kids.”

Services for the disabled after the age of 22 are vastly different than when they are for “education age.” Not only is Nancy craving a life of her own, but financially, she has had to adapt to freelancing (she’s a graphic artist) and gets her health insurance by belonging to the Chamber of Commerce. Adam’s is covered by his dad’s insurance, and MassHealth kicks in when that stops.

Sue Loring is the director of the Autism Resource Center of Central Massachusetts, which is funded by the DMR. The Center is a portal to help those affected by autism sift through services and navigate information. A trained RN, Loring had a long, protracted struggle to get her son diagnosed. Edward, who is now 22, lives at home still because his cognitive impairment is such that he’s eligible for services through DMR. But 22 being the magic age, Loring is seeking a suitable living situation for him.

“He’ll be in a shared living situation,” says Loring. “It’s where another family sort of fosters them and they become part of another family that isn’t worn out and tired. But I just know when I breathe my last breath, I will say, ‘Who is going to take care of Ed?’”

And that’s what Nancy asks. Who is going to take care of Adam? Who is going to understand his quirks and know how to quiet him? Who will deal with administering the frequent stool cleanings he’s got to endure because of his bowel situation? Who’s going to care?

Waiting lists are long, and options are not plentiful, especially for a hard placement such as Adam. The staff turnover rate at group homes is high, and being in shared living isn’t necessarily ideal, either. “I’m going to have to pick one,” says Nancy. “And it’ll be within the next two years. That’s what my plan is. I mean, we do overnights every week and that was a big deal because eight years ago he couldn’t tolerate one overnight and now I get them all the time. So I think if we do it gradually, it’ll be better. I’d rather do it under my control then having him plunge into that situation.”

Working at home, which she has done for the past seven years, has reduced the stress level greatly for Nancy. But, as she’s given a good portion of her life to her son, it’s time to have one of her own. “I can’t do this forever,” says Nancy, “because I will die someday, or there will be a point where I cannot physically handle it. There have been times where I had pneumonia and I had mono, and it was very hard just cleaning him up in the bathroom. It’s normally hard for a parent when a child leaves. But it’s going to be doubly hard because I know he doesn’t want to leave. He wants his life to stay like this forever.”

Breaking the chains of ignorance and cruelty
04.10.07 | No Comments

Breaking the chains of ignorance and cruelty
Massachusetts is another place where Dogs Deserve Better

As published in Pets! Magazine, January, 2007 (

In the ‘70s, many of us cried when we read Alex Haley’s “Roots” and saw the mini-series later that decade. Scenes of Africans chained in the dark cubes of that boat are haunting. It is blatantly obvious to most that it is wrong, and disturbing that it wasn’t considered “wrong” at one time.

Someday, we might find that same reaction to witnessing a caged or chained animal on the screen. Dogs Deserve Better sure hopes so.

All of us have seen or heard about a dog that spends his days on two feet of chain, his dirty dishes on the pavement in the driveway. His owners space out to the TV inside while the dog paces in circles, maybe dreaming of running with a pack through the woods. He might just dream of playing, walking or sitting next to his owners while they watch that TV. Excessive chaining and caging is a huge problem in this country; we’ve all had neighbors who thoughtlessly chain their dog outside for countless hours. “Oh, he’s fine out there. He loves the air.” Perhaps it was the relentless barking that brought them to that interestingly convenient conclusion.

Tammy Grimes started Dogs Deserve Better in August of 2002 to combat this important issue, establishing it with the strong belief that dogs don’t deserve to be treated like prisoners. They long to be pets. Since this non-profit advocacy organization has mushroomed, there are now representatives throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and France. Read more..