No Surprises: Raising a Son with Asperger’s–and Training His Dad

A trip to Disney Land–what could be a better gift for your small child? Certainly Parent-of-the-Year awards were likely–if not for originality at least the East German judge would most likely hold up a “7.8” for enthusiasm. My wife and I had been giggling to ourselves for over a month as we prepared for the look on our four year-old’s face when we pulled into the parking lot. We knew he’d see Mickey Mouse on some billboard and it would be magic time. Wrong. Again. Aidan didn’t see a mouse; he smelled a rat. As my wife unpacked the video camera during a supposed routine morning drive while in Los Angeles visiting friends, he looked suspiciously at her. It was third day of our visit to the coast and both kids were pretty numb after going in and out of seat belts in various cars, airplanes and strollers. We watch… Read More…

Woodward Dream Cruise: Happy Days, Unhappy Neighbors

My wife and I started a Yahoo Group in our neighborhood that’s grown to over 100 residents.  It’s come in very handy as a local Angie’s List for handymen and landscape companies.  It’s also found many a lost pet and alerted folks to local burglaries; we even sold some furniture and donated a piano to a little girl around the corner. But like any forum, it can get a little dicey–particularly with the boon (or bane) just down the street from our Royal Oak home–The Woodward Dream Cruise.  This southeastern Michigan 18-year tradition of classic cars from the 1950’s through the early 1970’s involves close to a million participants up and down the first paved highway in America.  And our neighborhood, near 13 Mile Road has been celebrated as the epicenter of all memories brought forward by American Graffiti and Mel’s Diner from Happy Days. It wasn’t a problem with… Read More…

Kid-with-Fish Picture: Leon, Jerry and a Free Ticket

There’s something very romantic and nostalgic about a kid holding a fish–especially if it’s a first-catch. There’s that mix of pride, fear and joy that is far different than you find with most any other kid-meets-creature encounter.  Far different than the parent holding a camera shouting: “Nope.  Go back to where you just ran over that worm with your bike.  Get down on your hands and knees and smile!” It’s nothing like stepping on a spider or worm-steamrolling–both instances are necessary for sanity or unavoidable just after a rainy day…or one of my more vivid bits of cruelty as a child–Ray-of-Death with a magnifying glass and a pedestrian ant. And I’ve been that parent.  When we’re on the dock and accidentally actually catch something, it’s a big deal!  “Go get mom,” I would holler to the other kid.  “Have her bring her camera or phone or something!”  And there we… Read More…

Father’s Day Legacy: Jim’s Love of “Now”

I was doing some vital, long-forgotten yard-work in 1995 when my neighbor Beth yelled across the street, “Happy Father’s Day!” It took me a minute to realize she was talking to me.  Aidan was already a day or two over-due, so officially the greeting was premature.  But I smiled and realized that she was right.  I was in the club.  And someday, if I did things right, my kids would dread that holiday, as much as I did.  Jim Walsh was impossible to buy for and it didn’t help that his birthday fell on June 28th, so we needed to double our futile efforts as soon as school got out. I have taxing memories of Saturday odysseys through the sporting goods and office-supply aisles of  K-Mart trying to find something, anything, for my dad.  And when I  was wrapping up the golf-score clicker, the “World’s Greatest Dad” trophy,  the back-scratcher,… Read More…

Paper Route Days & The Creepy Underwear-Man Under the Stairs

Kids with paper routes didn’t make it past the eighties.  And probably odd guys like The Grouch didn’t help matters… *** I don’t have high hopes for my first encounter at the Pearly Gates… “Let’s see…Walsh…Walsh…” as  St. Pete examines his pearl-handled clipboard.  ”You’re not Kevin Walsh, are you?” “Yeah.” “Not the one from Clawson?” “Um…yeah.” He shakes his head and grabs the lever.  ”You had to go there, didn’t you?” Knowing exactly what he’s referring to, I feel the floor suddenly give way. *** This evening, at the age of 48, I was a little nervous looking down these stairs, through the apartment lobby window, snapping a quick photo with my phone. That’s where The Grouch lay in wait every morning for four years of my life, just under the stairs on the left, like a troll–365 days a year. ** On warm muggy nights like this evening, I… Read More…

Are Fire Hydrants Too Socialist?

There were bodies everywhere. I’d never seen anything like it before–especially on a dog-walk… It was a dream of mine since I’d first read the <em>How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs</em> to work on a dig. I dreamed of buried treasure–triceratops horns, a mummy (without a curse), a Neanderthal skull or my sister’s bracelet that I buried in the mud under a neighbors’ swing-set. I checked on it periodically for the mud to turn to stone with the intention of cracking it open and impressing my friends. (I’m still waiting on that one–sorry Colleen. The next time I’m in Cincinnati I’ll see if it’s ready yet.) Nothing quite as glamorous on that dog-walk, but I did have that chill run down my spine when I heard, then saw, the bulldozer.  My dad used to take me on rides in Detroit on Saturday mornings looking for steam-shovels, probably started by… Read More…

Disney’s Bid for World Domination

   A world domination planning session? Walt Disney had an insidious plot astounding in its evil audacity. It was a plan for world domination so complete, it rivaled the greatest plans of Lex Luther, Ernst Blofeld or even Dr. Evil. Using an ever-expanding cast of animated characters, led by a giant, falsetto mouse, charged by a driving beat devised by a group aptly named They Might be Giants, Disney’s plan was to attack the American populace at its weakest point, its children. Capturing the hearts and souls of these impressionable children was the first and necessary step in ultimately seizing control of the minds, and more important, the wallets of people all over the world. Soon, like a cult derived from a science fiction novel, Disney’s reach spread into Florida, Los Angeles, and then Europe. A quick visit to one of its indoctrination centers referred to as “Epcot” will make it… Read More…

“The Meanest Mom on the Block” – Misdiagnosis of a Four Year-Old

You wouldn’t know she would win the award to look at her–the picture of innocence at 22 years.  She even took pains to perpetuate the illusion, showering me with exotic presents like wooden mallets and fancy ribbons, my favorite chocolate cake, even my cousins Pat, Sharon and Susie standing by as witnesses on my second birthday. I can see it so clearly now; I was already on my way out–like the crooked candle on the right.  Somewhere out of frame, lurked my upgrade–the 1966 Katie. And in two years it would be official; the election results would be in. Ann Walsh, by unanimous decision, would be voted the “Meanest Mom on the Block.”  Apparently, when she was informed of the official tally she was reduced to tears.  My misdiagnosis of my mother’s parenting style came back to haunt me in a tattered album that I’d pretty much ignored most of… Read More…

Tragedy and Media: Safety in Numbers

Times Square on New Year’s Eve has always seemed a bit too claustrophobic for me. How can anyone enjoy themselves in such a giant crowd?  What’s the attraction?  The image of 26,000 runners heading off together seemed similar–like pedestrian rush-hour. I can’t even shop at the mall at Christmas time. One of the pivotal scenes in Gone with the Wind follows Rhett Butler’s ominous words, “In a town called Gettysburg.”  The scene shifts to a giant crowd gathering at the Atlanta railroad station’s telegraph office to get the long casualty lists arriving from Pennsylvania.   Scarlett reads down to the “W’s” then is crying tears of relief that her beloved Ashley isn’t on the list.  Many grieving families clutched the sheets with their sons’ names as the only connection they had left. Monday at work, when my phone flashed the quick message “Two explosions at finish line of Boston Marathon,”… Read More…

Lawn Kayaking: Distractions and Default-Settings

  We were at Aunt Cathy and Uncle Steve’s house in 1999.  The kids and their cousins were enjoying a kayak ride through the lawn, courtesy of their Aunt Claudia, who always shared in the unique moments of her nieces and nephews. We always laugh that the perfect gift for a baby shower would be an abandoned car.  Just stick it in the backyard and you’ll never need to assemble that expensive play-structure or worry about broken necks on a trampoline. Some children’s barbers actually give their victims a giant ball of masking tape and by the time the kid is finished de-sticking his hands and re-sticking the ball to his face, the chair or his mom the haircut is done.  New barber shops for tots have the same idea. In Detroit, a local chain has made some pretty good money using this tactic for guys in what has become known… Read More…

Tiger Stadium: What Makes a Ballpark

  I’ve often wondered about the emotional hitching post that is a ballpark.  And when anyone says “ballpark” we all know that it’s not referring to any other sports field besides baseball. I only live a few miles from five little league fields that I spent five summers of my childhood praying that the ball wouldn’t be hit to me in right field.  (That, of course, was in the final two innings, when the coach decided it was safe to take me off the scorebook.)  After a brief try at second base where I smoothly fielded a grounder and sent it sailing fifteen feet over the first baseman, into the startled bleachers, I decided that the slower-paced outfield was probably my calling.  Unfortunately, with the leisure of right field came its lunar surface that could easily send the ball to the right, left, straight up, between my legs–or worse, right… Read More…

The Bobber: A Life of Crime Diverted

It was a great fishing hole only a few blocks from our house in a suburb of Cincinnati.   My dad was transferred by Ford from Detroit and we were all still getting used to having so much nature around.  Crayfish and creeks were scarce in Detroit, but “craw-dads” were numerous in the “cricks” just down the street. There was a reservoir and a public park that offered a ledge where we took our gear on Saturdays.  I wasn’t having much luck but the kid next to me was.  Searching for the rationalization for my poor angler skills, I noticed that the other seven year-old had something I didn’t.  His bobber was red and white, while mine was yellow and orange.  That had to be it.  Apparently, the bass responded much better to the floating red plastic on the surface compared to the floating orange plastic on the surface.  Forty-one… Read More…

The Three Things Babies Don’t Want You to Know

This is Sophie, my two year old daughter, in a diner in Davie, Florida. I posted this photo on Facebook with the caption, “Go Eagles!” In an act that took me 30 seconds, I enlisted my innocent two year old into my plan to annoy as many Dolphin fans as possible. Raising my three girls has been a pleasure not just because I find ways to express my fundamental obnoxiousness, as important as that is. It’s also a joy for all the reasons everybody talks about—unconditional mutual love, having at your constant disposal little balls of indescribable cuteness, the pride in self-perpetuation, blah blah blah. But there are effects of parenthood that nobody tells you about, effects that you should be warned about before taking the leap into parenthood.  So, in the style of Cracked.com (without the sense of humor), here are the secrets babies don’t want you to know: 1. They… Read More…

“Cobbler and the Cowboy” — My Grandma’s Poetry

  66 years ago, this poem was proudly cut from the newspaper and placed in a scrapbook.  My grandmother, Melanie Vier McAleer died just two and a half years ago at the age of 94–an accomplished woman by any standard, winning a national doubles championship in tennis for women over 70. But her greater love, one that stayed with her through her entire life, was poetry.  She was a regularly featured writer in Detroit papers throughout my mom’s childhood in the 1940s and 50s.  Her whimsical style and clever insight into the human condition was spot-on.  I remember being flattered as a 12 year old to be asked to illustrate some of her children’s poetry about animals–one of them a squirrel. It was always a dream of hers to meld her two loves into one–a book of poems about tennis.  Her son Joe and I put ourselves on this task… Read More…

Getting Rid of Old Photos: Confessions of a Packrat

Logic has to end somewhere.  Sure it all worked in theory.  Representing the years from our marriage in 1992 and our purchase of a nice digital camera in 2005 we somehow stopped creating nice photo albums–perhaps the same reason we took all those pictures–two kids.  It’s not often you hear parents of a four and two year old say, “Wow, they’re finally asleep.  Let’s scrapbook!” But we kept snapping those pictures and getting the film developed.  We’d pick up the envelopes and negatives, look through them, mail a few off to relatives and put the envelope promptly in a box. The box soon spawned another box–a bigger banker’s box. And they both sat patiently in our basement storage room for another eight years while the electronic cousins of these boxes filled up with photos on my computer’s hard drive.  Everytime I was dragging out the Christmas decorations, those two basement boxes… Read More…

Building a Mansion to Last Forever–or at least 8 years

This oddball-house that was torn down forty years ago keeps popping up–two years ago in a box of china and yesterday in an e-mail. The certain things in life that Benjamin Franklin mentions, death and taxes, can also include another item–that certainty is anything but certain.   In 1923 my great-grandfather Henry Kelly moved his law firm and large family to Detroit from Ottawa, Illinois where his Irish immigrant grandfather James had settled after helping build the Erie and Illinois canal systems as a mason.   James had left Ireland with a conviction that he was going to the right place with the right job.  His son, Martin, decided to become a farmer.  At the risk of invoking Gone With the Wind’s Gerald O’Hara, “Why land’s the only thing that matters.  The only thing that lasts.”  For Martin, the chance to finally own land and not be a tenant like his… Read More…

Ever Want to Knock on Your Old House Door?

I love this picture.   It was taken in 1966 in the basement of my parents’ home on Ward in Detroit.  It almost looks like a Norman Rockwell painting, the way my Uncle Bill is leaning back with the cue, my Uncle John is supervising in his vest, and my Uncle Joe is taking the shot with cousin Matt advising.  My dad is holding me and even my grandpa is watching from the booth. It’s a perfect image of this nostalgic time that I can’t even truly remember.  We moved from the house in 1970 and those pre-6-year-old memories aren’t too specific–just a collage of images mixed with feelings.  A fire hydrant we climbed on, the curtains I set on fire by moving a candle too close to the window, burning leaves in a can in the backyard, the cardboard lunar module, complete with Neil Armstrong’s footprints.  My dad even… Read More…

Brother-Sister Relationships: Solid as a Bungee Cord

My daughter’s first sentence, “Aidan pushed me!” can accurately sum up most sibling relationships in the ebbs and flows of a life.   As a family historian and generally nosey individual, it’s been interesting to watch them grow apart, together, apart and together again–even before they’re out of high school. The default setting of a new family member is encouraging–a two year old’s inquisitive look in the hospital and sloppy kiss.  Then the parents go through stages of trust and fear as the toddler gets close–but not too close to the baby. …even if he tries to cover his tracks. Abby came into this world as a trusting soul and continues to be that way toward nearly everyone, except her brother.  He’s earned that distrust.   After ten years or so of offering him half of her allowance and a “bite” of her ice cream that became 7/8 of her… Read More…

When Bad Quality Meant Good Times: Drive-In Speakers

We took the kids on a trip to the Detroit Historical Museum today.  After its amazing renovation, there’s even free admission for a full year.  Well worth the trip and a great place to bring visitors to the Motor City. On the floor dedicated to the “Mo” part of Motown, near the Cadillac assembly line demo and some great old photos of Woodward avenue during its cruising days of the 50’s and 60’s, I spotted an ugly old sight that warmed my heart–the drive-in speakers.  You know, the ones you might find accidentally tagging along with you at 2 A.M. and a close relative to the A&W trays and those deposit tubes at the bank pull-up windows–just souvenirs of amnesia. At the tail end of the drive-in’s existence, when they had decided to get their own little radio stations in the projector-huts and let you hear the movie on your… Read More…

Philanthropic Trash Day

It should be gone in an hour or so. Our neighborhood has three pickups on Wednesdays, two of them are legitimate. Prior to the recycling and the trash, you’ll see a few beat-up pickups slowly trolling the streets looking for valuables–either for resale or scrap. Everyone knows this, so the more caring donors will put their items out in the daylight the day before trash-day, giving the collectors ample time (and warmth on a 4 degree day in Michigan like today). My donation this morning was a 1979 Craftsman snow blower I purchased with my paper route money after months of savings. I was in ninth grade and a big spender with my $20 per week. Gas money was still a year away, so I decided to be magnanimous and offer my parents a deal–we’d split the cost 50/50. It was purely selfish and stemmed completely from envy. Snow throwers… Read More…