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Thursday, February 26, 2015

You don't talk very much. I like you!

Once upon a time there was a happily married husband and wife who lived in Jacksonville, Florida. They were approaching the age of thirty years old and had a few of life's ever so important questions that needed answering. Before we get into those questions it's only fair that I help you paint a proper mental picture. The once upon a time I am referring to is way back in the year 2010 and the couple I am referring to is Casey and Daphne Grice.

Yes, that is me and my beautiful wife. It was time for us to make some important life changing decisions. You know the kind of questions couples without children begin asking themselves around this time in their life together:

Q: What's next?

A: Uhh...

Q: Do we buy a boat or something?

 A: No. If I don't accidentally sink it, it will inevitably break down and just end up being an eyesore in our yard. I'd rather have a child. As crazy as it sounds, a child just seems like less trouble.

Q: Do we get a dog?

A: Absolutely not. Growing up I was forced to take care of my sister's dogs. She couldn't take care of them so she dumped them off on my parents. My brother and I had to feed them, walk them and scoop up their poop for the better part of a decade. And oh yeah, coincidentally they just happened to be chained to my dad's old broken down boat in the yard for all those years. My prior experiences with boats and dogs have scarred me. If I'm going to be cleaning up poop I want it to be the poop of someone who's not going to end up tied to a boat collecting fleas.

Q: Do we have a child?


So, on April 3, 2011 we had a son. 

We named him Cooper.

The Grice Family in early 2011.

Daphne, Casey and Cooper.

Meanwhile, approximately 10 minutes down the road lived another couple who were going through some of the same life changing decisions. At the time we did not know these people even existed. Two University of Florida graduates who were married in 2007. I introduce to you Adam and Amy Anker:

They already had a boat. They already had a dog. What was next for these two love birds?

Q: Should we have a child?

A: Sure, it seems like the right time.

Q: Do we sell the boat?

A: Yes. We have no family in Jacksonville and few (if any) baby sitting resources. This means the chances of us actually using the boat in the next few years are slim to none. The marina fees are too
 expensive and the last thing we want is for that beautiful 17 foot Chaparral to become an eyesore in our yard.

Q: Do we get rid of the dog?

A: Yes. We chain her to the boat and make it a package deal. Just kidding. Just kidding. What kind of person would chain a dog to a boat?!? We keep the dog. Non-negotiable. We sell the boat, keep the dog and have a child. 

So, they begrudgingly sold the boat.
They kept the dog. It was never truly a question. The plan was made.

On April 22, 2011 they had a beautiful baby boy.

They named him Grayson.

The Anker Family in early 2011.

Adam, Amy, Grayson, and Layla
Beauties, all of them.

Two baby boys born with only 18 days between them. The decision to bring a child into this world is what brought us into each other's lives. How we met is a story in itself. I had never met anyone in this fashion before this day and I seriously doubt I'll ever meet anyone in this fashion again.

It was a typical hot summer Saturday. Daphne, Cooper and I headed to the beach to one of our favorite old spots for lunch. Cooper was only 6 or 8 weeks old at the time so we were still able to leave him in his seat asleep (No, not in the car) and only worry about feeding ourselves. We could actually still use both hands and eat our food while it was still hot.  We had no clue how meal time was about to change. 

Anyway, I'm sure we just talked about Cooper for the entire meal like first time parents tend to do, then we headed to the parking lot to get in the car. About half way between the restaurant and the car we passed a couple on the sidewalk carrying an accessory similar to the one we were carrying: a tiny brand new bouncing baby boy. 

We all four smiled as if to acknowledge that we all recently joined the same new and exclusive club of sleep depravity. There may have been some of your typical first time parent pleasantries exchanged:

"Awe, he's so cute!"

"How old is he?"

"Congrats and have a nice day."

Or maybe not. I don't particularly remember. We continued on our separate ways.

What I do remember was about 30 seconds later when I was putting Cooper in the car and a homeless person approached my wife begging for change. I thought it was a homeless person begging for change anyway. Turns out it was Amy...begging for friendship maybe? She must have prepared for this moment. She started with a pretty smooth pick-up line. 

"Hey, do you know of any Mommy & Me classes around here or anything?"

I don't remember Daphne's reply. All I know is that a few smooth lines later and this strange gal had coerced my ladies phone number from her lips. Literally, like 3 lines from this silver tongued she devil and she scored my wife's digits. Impressive.

Now that I think back to our dating days, I scored the digits pretty easily too, so maybe I'm giving Amy a little too much credit. 
I digress.

They chatted for a few seconds, exchanged numbers and then Daphne sat down and closed the car door. We looked at each other with a look of bewilderment and I asked, "What was that all about?" Daphne replied something along the lines of, "I don't know. She seemed normal enough so I gave her my number. We might get together with the boys." I couldn't believe it. Now, I could see me doing the same thing if some lonely new dad came up to me in a parking lot asking my son and I on a play date because I always feel compassion for people but Daphne is not the most compassionate broad in the world and she is very on guard about stranger's intentions so this seemed out of character for her.

Turns out, Daphne made a great decision that day. Actually, Amy is the one who made the great decision. Amy wasn't some lonely new mom who didn't have any friends because she had some freaky deaky skeletons in her closet. (Although I haven't personally checked the closet.) She just didn't have any friends with kids the same age and thought it would be a great idea to try to find a playmate for little G. Pretty great intentions if you ask me.

It worked out.

Years down the road we've talked about our atypical meeting multiple times. Amy's version of the story goes something like this: "When we passed you guys on the sidewalk I thought you looked normal. I wasn't going to let you get away!! Plus, Cooper had on those cute Gator shoes. Grayson had them too. It was a sign."

Here we are almost 4 years down the road and the Anker family are some of our best friends in the world. I even happen to like Adam just as much as Daphne likes Amy. It's hard to find friends who are married that you and your wife get along with equally. I would suggest that the chances of this mutual admiration plummet significantly with two strangers who harass you and your new baby in a parking lot. But for whatever reason it worked out.

We have so many memories of the boys growing up together. Most of them are fantastic.
Some were a little tougher to deal with. Regardless, these boys are each other's first friend and you can never change that no matter what happens.

Daphne and Amy started taking the boys to a place called My Gym. Grayson and Cooper learned to play, climb, roll, grab, clap, slap bang and hang together. They have learned to do almost everything together. Here they are literally learning to hang together at My Gym.

They learned to swing together. Even tandem swing sometimes when they were small enough to fit in the same swing.

We even tried cookin' 'em up for Thanksgiving dinner that first year. They weren't having it.

 So we dressed them up as Pilgrims and Indians and forced them to play nice!

Even though they are Jewish and we are Christian they still came over for the ugly sweater Christmas party to celebrate friendship. Cooper and Grayson had matching sweater vests.

Tell me these little cupids couldn't turn that spark into a flame!

We take them to the pumpkin patch every year. It's tradition.




 Grayson, Fletcher (our second son) and Cooper

As you can see, we have had some great times. Too many to count, actually. But it hasn't all been as smooth as we would have liked. Far from it actually. Throughout all these amazing memories something just wasn't "right." There were multiple signs along the way. 

If you noticed earlier on I talked about all the things Cooper and Grayson learned to do together. I wanted so bad to type the words, "They learned to do EVERYTHING together." But I just couldn't. There were a few things I had to omit. You see, Grayson never rolled over and he wasnt much for crawling. He took his time getting around to those first steps. One might say he was a little behind schedule, but for Grayson, he was right on time. When Cooper was learning to communicate and talk to mom, dad and his friends, Grayson was not. Grayson was diagnosed with Autism a few months after his second birthday but Adam and Amy say they knew since he was 6 months old. 

When Grayson was in social settings that he wasn't comfortable with he would have some major melt downs. They would tell us about other situations that would set him off and none of us could understand why. I remember trying to give them parenting advice on things to try; Things that worked for us, but it never worked. They had already tried it all. 

I was just trying to be a good friend, but as it turns out, I had no idea what I was talking about. At that point I guess none of us did. It was frustrating for me. I just wanted to help them figure it out. I can't imagine what it was like for Adam and Amy. I would guess that parenting an autistic child who you do not know is autistic might be one of the most difficult things to do on this earth. I'm sure at some times they felt like incompetent parents. I can assure you that they are anything but. Adam and Amy have no idea how much they have taught me about parenting, dedication, love and resolve in the 4 years that I've known them. 

Once  Grayson was diagnosed with autism (non verbal; he still does not talk) Adam and Amy took the bull by the horns. I'm sure it's been much more difficult than they let on but they've learned how to communicate with him in his "language." They are potty training him with flash cards and he's starting to make progress. Are you kidding me? Potty training Cooper with words was the hardest thing I've ever done as a parent and I whined about it all the time. Adam and Amy have stepped up to a much tougher challenge and I know they will succeed. I didn't know anything about autism before Grayson's diagnosis but I've learned my fair share since. Not only about autism in general but how to be a better friend and how to be a better parent.

Here we are in downtown Jacksonville at the Annual Autism Speaks walk.

 I've learned that parents of children with autism don't need you to feel sorry for them. They don't need anything special from you. They just need support. I've learned that children with autism are different. They are unique and special. I would hope that no one would take offense to that statement. True, I don't know first hand what it is like to have a child with autism but I do know what it is like to love a child with autism. 

Adam and I recently had a moment with the boys that taught us a great lesson. A few months back when the they were  3 1/2 Cooper must have all of a sudden realized that Grayson has never talked. We were at Zaxby's after dinner and as we were headed to the car Cooper made a point to make eye contact with Grayson and he asked, 

"Grayson, do you talk?" 

Grayson doesn't talk yet so he did not answer Cooper. This left the explaining up to me. I dropped the ball and said something along the lines of, "No buddy, he doesn't" and I apologized to Adam. I clearly wasn't prepared for this. I thought for sure we had at least another year until we needed to explain this to Cooper. I had no need to apologize to Adam. Adam wasn't offended. He made that very clear but I guess I was just put in a situation I didn't know how to handle so my human nature took over and I apologized while completely dropping the ball on an explanation as to why Grayson doesn't talk. Cooper deserves to know why his very first friend hasn't spoken a word to him since they met so long ago and Grayson deserves to have someone speak up for him and explain to his buddy why he doesn't talk to him.

It all hit me on the way out to the car and I explained it to Cooper the best way I knew how. I told him that Grayson is our quiet friend. I told him that he doesn't talk right now but we hope that one day he will. I told him that he is special to us and that we love him no matter what and then I used one of his favorite movies to help him understand.


"You don't talk very much. I like you."

For some reason he has always loved this part of the movie when Ellie tells Mr. Fredrickson (when they are kids) that she likes him because he doesn't talk very much. We would say it and he would laugh or he would randomly say it during the day. It just struck a chord with him.

He smiled really big and said "Okay Daddy."

I think I got the point across.

A few weeks later Adam and Grayson came over for a guys play date. We were playing with the boys in the playroom. Cooper brought it up again. He said something along the lines of  "Grayson doesn't talk." I reminded him that Grayson is our quiet friend and that he is very special to us. When Adam told this story, he said that Cooper's response was innocent, positive and matter of fact:

"He'll talk one day."

Adam also said that it's not the easiest thing in the world to stay positive about Grayson one day being verbal but if he ever needs a glass half full kinda guy he's going to head to the playroom to find Cooper.

There are no words to describe how proud it made me feel to read those words when Adam typed them. I guess that is fitting.

Since the day that Cooper was able to communicate with us it became obvious that he has a very tender heart. When his little brother Fletcher would cry as a baby, Cooper would cry too. He would get sad because Fletcher was sad. There is one instance that stands out in my mind when Cooper accidentally ran into a little girl at the zoo and knocked her down. He stood up and he was fine. He noticed she was hurt and crying. He helped her up, gave her a hug and a kiss and then cried right along with her until her mommy came and got her. He's tender, caring, supportive and understanding. When he learns how to harness those emotions as he gets a little older he'll be the perfect teammate to be in Grayson's corner. Grayson might need a friend to understand him and speak up for him but maybe, just maybe Grayson will just need a friend to encourage him to speak up for himself. It is my responsibility and my challenge to continue to teach Cooper how to be that friend.

The further we get away from that day in the parking lot at the beach when something told Amy not to let us get away, the more I'm convinced that we didn't meet by chance. There is a reason why we've been put in each other's lives and it might just be this special little friendship or it might be something more. I heard a rumor that God works in mysterious ways.

We're only 4 years into this story.
To be continued.

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  1. Casey, that is quiet a story. I don't think that I have heard the story of your meeting Adam, Amy and Grayson in such detail. I am also glad
    that Amy didn't let you get away that day or your mom and I would not
    have the pleasure of knowing them. We also love them and feel they are part of our crazy family.

  2. I absolutely loved this post and I am going to go straight back and read it all over again.

  3. Wow man. This was such a powerful post. Thank you for sharing a glimpse into a world I know little to nothing about. I imagine this was emotional to write, it was very emotional to read. I'm at a loss for what else to say. Thanks for writing this. Keep up the amazing work.

    1. I think I teared up like 12 times while writing for both happy and sad reasons. It's just flat out emotional.

  4. You've got me crying here, what a beautiful post, love that that chance meeting led to years of friendship and love for you all, amazing.Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts

    1. Thank you Vicki. I've been told this one should have come with a "tissue warning." Thanks again for hosting.
      #brilliantblogposts #brilliantblogposts #brilliantblogposts

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. What a truly fantastic post. So beautifully put. Friendship can come out of anything at any moment. The fact that you've stayed friends too is a testament to you both, your friends and children. Love how the boys get on and how understanding Cooper is. It must be tough. My friends boy is autistic and like you I have no idea how they do the normal parenting chores like potty training with a child who, for the moments, a no speaker.
    Beautiful and so glad you linked up with us on the #bigfatlinky

  6. Thanks Martyn. They are truly amazing people and I'm blessed to know them. #bigfatlinky

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Can't help but notice you had more hair before your baby... ;)

    1. haha. Al, I totally blame it on them too. Especially, my 2nd born Fletcher. He's 90% to blame. :). I'm blogging about him this week.

  9. This is just lovely. I don't have anything else to add apart from that.

    And no, I'm not crying. SHUT UP!

    1. :). Great comment Jonathan And I'm not crying either... reallt, I'm not!!!! Ha. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  10. Thank you for sharing this sweet story. I don't think it was a coincidence you all met in the way you did. Will keep these boys (and their parents) in my prayers. Blessings to all of you.

    ~Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

  11. I agree with Heather, I dont think this was a coincidence. Your two families were put together for a reason. Thank you for sharing your story.
    Thank you for tossing your hat into the ring at the Party Under The Big Top! I hope to see you again next week!

    1. You are right Mary. It wasn't coincidence. Thanks for hosting #bigtopblogparty and thanks for reading my post. I will surely see you next week.

  12. wonderful story! great blog! A perfect outlet for you, you old show dog!

    1. Show dog!!! Ha. Thanks Natassja. Miss you guys. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. It means alot.

  13. This is a truly heart warming story, best wishes to Grayson and his family as I've had friends going through the same thing. Support, support, support is all they need and lots of love. Great story

    1. Gary, thanks so much man. You are right. They can never get enough support. I'm sure I'll be updating this story throughout the years. Thanks for taking the time to read the post #bigtopblogparty

  14. Oh my gosh Casey... I am bawling like a baby over here! I also love a child with Autism and my daughter is borderline Asperger's so this story was an emotional one on many levels! I don't really have much more to say except that the rumors are true... God does work in mysterious ways and both of your families are blessed to have found one another in such a random way!

    Oh, and thanks for stopping by Party Under the Big Top and linking up this post. I hope you will join us again next week as well!

    Wishing you a fabulous week!

    Much love,

    Lysa xx
    Welcome to My Circus

    1. Thank you Lysa. It was surely an emotional post. I hope you had the tissues ready. The "rumors" are definitely true. Ha. I thoroughly enjoyed the #bigtopblogparty and you can expect me to throw my hat in the ring often. Thanks again!!!!!

  15. Love this story! My brother was autistic and although he did talk, it was only ever a few words or basic sentences. My parents had a really difficult time growing up and you're right, the more support, the better. Sadly, my brother passed away when he was 17 (not autism-related) but I love reading stories like this that remind me of him and how other parents deal with life with autism.

    1. Verbal or non verbal, Autism is definitely a challenge. Thanks for sharing about your bro and I hope this was a kind reminder of him. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

  16. Love this. All of it. The story and the retelling of it. Don't take this wrong, but I love it even more coming from a male perspective. What a wonderful husband and father you must be. The ability to put this in words, on paper, shows how in touch you are with your emotions. Your wife and children are very lucky.

    1. What a heartwarming and kind comment. I'm so appreciative that you took the time to leave it (although my wife will tease me about having a big head/ ego) haha. Super encouraging!! I try my very best to be a better husband and father everyday and comments like this help me know im doing a decent job. ;)Thank you Nikki.

  17. A beautiful story for so many reasons! Tenderly and perfectly told. Thank you for sharing it with us and making our lives richer for knowing the precious people in your life!

    1. Diane, thank you so much. I'm glad this stoey was able to reach and touch you.

    2. Diane, thank you so much. I'm glad this stoey was able to reach and touch you.