From Daddy’s Arms to the Commencement Stage: Part Three – Caleb Strikes Back

[Author’s Note: My original subtitle for for this piece was going to be “Odds Are For Cowards”. My LYE (Lovely Young Editor) and my wife both decided that “Caleb Strikes Back” was more fitting. They were correct. Having said that, Caleb is living proof that odds are for cowards.]
I am sure that any of you who have read my previous writings are wondering: “I wonder what Shane is going to talk about this time”. I have previously written about my daughter, Brianna, on her high school graduation. I have also written about my daughter, Shayna, on her college graduation (which also included her getting engaged). I feel convicted to inform you that I have four children. Two of them are still in college. This means that this series of writings will most definitely continue. For this writing, I am going to orate about my youngest son, Caleb, as he has now reached the point of HIS high school graduation.
When Caleb entered our lives in 1993, he was a ball full of energy that kept his mother and me on our toes constantly. He was always running at top speed and climbing the shelves in our pantry all the way to the top. He also had the same obsession that drove most boys – FOOD. This was usually the reason Caleb climbed the pantry shelves. Caleb would stack soup cans three high. He would then stand upon the stack in order to get on top of the pantry counter. From there, the pantry shelves were an all too easy reach. The next thing you know, Caleb had a handful of whatever food we had placed on a top shelf to keep away from him. Needless to say, my wife and I frequently faced new challenges of strategic food placement.
My wife and I would face another challenge we did not anticipate. As Caleb was going through the first two years of his life, things appeared to be, for lack of a better word, awry. Caleb did not seem to be as talkative as we expected of a young child his age. Also, he also seemed to have somewhat of a distant look in his eyes. It was as if he was tuned into something completely different than what was going on in the room. His mother and I just couldn’t figure out the frequency (and he seemed unable to tell us).
Caleb then went through an array of tests. This included auditory testing as we all thought perhaps there was something wrong with his hearing. We finally got a report from a developmental test that gave Caleb the following diagnosis: Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified). We took Caleb to the pediatrician with this diagnosis. The pediatrician who saw him was a very competent doctor with a rather thick Germanic accent. My wife asked her: “What does this diagnosis mean?” Without hesitation, the pediatrician said: “That means he’s autistic”. While I know the doctor did not intend it as such, her thick accent made her response sound extremely harsh as if my wife and I were overlooking something obvious. Simply put, it was just not a response we anticipated.
Over the months that followed, we had doctors, therapist and specialists attempting to prepare us for some other harsh possibilities: “He may never become fully verbal.”; “He might only get as high as a middle school education”; “It is possible that he may be dependent upon his parents throughout his life”. Even as I read back the aforementioned possibilities, it is hard not to be as overcome as I was when I first heard them. I know the professionals were just doing their jobs by telling us this. They would have been derelict in their professional duties if they did not tell us these things.
While I hold no grudges against these professionals, it gives me great delight to state that none of their predicted possibilities came to fruition. Over the years, I have seen Caleb exert his independence by making a simple meal for himself whenever the mood strikes him. As a matter of fact, he prepared a fine meal for the family as part of a home economics assignment. As far as verbosity, Caleb can tell you anything you need to know about Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario the Plumber, or Jack Bauer. He also converses quite well with his mother as they discuss a bill that is waiting for the governor’s signature. This bill (once signed into law) would ensure that people with autism receive insurance coverage for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders. As far as his education goes, Caleb spent the day of this writing registering for his fall college classes (quite surpassing middle school).
To my son, Caleb, I would like to say that you have earned the accomplishment of walking across the stage and receiving your high school diploma. I hope that as you continue to grow into a young man that I will still be able to enjoy your company for a conversation, a movie, or a Rochester Redwings baseball game. I will do my best to support you during your college education. You may be our youngest child. But you are clearly no longer our baby. Just try to grin and bear it if your parents still call you that.
To the rest of the world, I present Caleb Hugh McAfee – a young gentleman and a scholar.


Confessions of a Defiant Mule

It started off as an annual trip to Georgia. The plan was to spend a week with my sister and my Dad. I had already enjoyed baseball game at Turner Field. Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and Dan Uggla tried their noblest since Jason Heyward was on 15 day disability. Alas, they lost to the Cincinnati Reds that night. That’s OK. A bad game at Turner Field is still better than a good day at my cubicle. I even helped my brother in law renovate my Dad’s room. Between pulling up carpet and making multiple trips to the neighborhood pool, I had a lot of quality time with my brother in law that I truly enjoyed. It was a great week of diversion and respite.

Unfortunately, such trips often cause some very old addictions to resurface. I had hoped that I would be able to keep most of these addictions under control. Yet, there I was taking 48 individual wrapped 1 ounce packages and dividing them between two large zippered plastic bags so that I could take them back to New York in my luggage. I was doing fine until one of the individual packages ripped. The precious, grainy, substance spilled onto the floor. I had travelled far for this stuff. Nonetheless, I decided to take the single ounce loss and vacuumed it up. I sat there pondering on what just happened. I asked myself: “Self, how did I get to this point.”

I suppose it all started back in 1988 when I first relocated to Western New York. It was a bit of a cultural adjustment at first but I was handling it well. At least, I thought I was handling it well. I was browsing through a local grocery store and missing my home state. I figured I could fix myself a simple meal to remind myself of home and lift my mood. I went down the breakfast aisle and viewed the different items: cereal, oatmeal, farina (YUCK!). I then thought I was getting closer to what I wanted. I found a nice cylindrical canister of grits. I then looked at the boxes of instant grits and nearly wept. They had butter flavor and original and THAT’S ALL. There was no bacon bits flavor. There was no country ham flavor. To add further insult to injury, there was NOT ONE SINGLE, SOLITARY CHEESE FLAVOR. I approached the store manager about this. As soon at he heard me say grits, I had clearly lost him. I drove to store after store after store all with the same results: original and butter flavor and THAT’S ALL. I then came to the conclusion that President Grant MUST have written some law during the Reconstruction period that made such varieties of instant grits illegal north of the Mason-Dixon line.

I tried to find a way to right this grievous wrong (at least in my own home). It started with me calling my Momma and asking her to send some in a plain brown package from Georgia. I often made these requests from a payphone in case my conversations were being tapped by the FBI (Farina for Breakfast Investigators). It ultimately escalated to the point where I was even making long distance trades with friends and family members. My wife even made a deal with a sister of hers in Florida. Her sister would send instant grits from Florida for a variety of pasta that is apparently illegal there (Curse you, Ulysses Simpson Grant). I almost feel ashamed for bringing my wife into my addictions. I say almost because my wife loves grits as much as I do (bless her beautiful heart).

I now had the incident of the aforementioned package ripping behind me. I had made it through the security checkpoint in Atlanta and was now back in Rochester. I felt sort of like Johnny Depp in the movie “Blow”. I picked up my suitcase from the carousel and tried to think of something. I tried to think of my kids’ birthdays or something festive like that. I actually transcended myself to that place if you will. I tried to think about anything except what could happen to me if I get caught with the 47 ounces of instant ground hominy in my suitcase. I began to walk out of the airport. I was stopped by a government official with a badge. He was a Farina for Breakfast Investigator. I was surrounded by four other investigators. They had caught me dead to rights. I was busted. I looked at the investigator and asked “Parlay?”. The eyes of the investigators were wide with frustration. “We have to let him go” said the lead investigator. Another protested: “But he’s referencing the WRONG MOVIE!”. I walked away with my victory, my suitcase, and my grits. I thumbed my nose at the Anti-Grits government conspiracy. And I must confess, if it means I get to exercise my God given right to more variety of instant grits in my Western New York home, I’LL DO IT AGAIN!!