Detective Work

Siobhan Turns 21

Dog wearing nor'wester rain suit at the wheel of a boat with wild waves crashing against the rail

The Sailor Dog

Born at sea in the teeth of a gale, the sailor was a dog. Scuppers was his name.Margaret Wise Brown, Garth Williams, Golden Press, 1953

During a fearsome thunderstorm, after a 49 hour labor, Siobhan was born on the evening of July 17, 1992 in Montour Falls, New York. We finally had our baby. After an incredibly draining ordeal like that we were ready to order up a steak dinner, but the kitchen was closed. Order a pizza? The town was shut up tight, no pizza. They scrounged around and found us one tuna-stuffed tomato. Linda got the tuna, I got the inedible tomato. Expectations were in free-fall already.


At the appropriate time during the pregnancy we had amniocentesis, a process where fetal cells are examined for chromosomal abnormalities. Of the list of abnormalities checked for during the test, none were found. Before the test, the doctor talked with us about our chances for having a child with abnormalities. She also asked us if we wanted to know the sex of the child. Linda said no. I said yes. When the time came, I was told, and Linda was not. Thus began a period of time during which I had every conversation and made every plan as if I didn’t know the sex. Circumcision was discussed. At length. LOL. Used baby clothes were offered, should we accept very nice clothes for a girl? I said, why not? we can always pass them on if not appropriate. Names were discussed, and two names were picked. I never revealed what I knew, even to the point of waiting until the nurse announced it to Linda after the birth. This level of fortitude on my part was to prove vital for the next stage of events.

Hatching My Egg

The Emperor Penguin female lays one egg and the male spends the winter incubating the egg in his brood pouch, balancing it on the tops of his feet in indescribably harsh conditions for 64 consecutive days until hatching. I am hatching my egg, but the incubation period has lasted longer than 21 years. I’ll be hatching my egg forever. Well, not actually forever, but that is a future phase of life and another story to tell when it comes.

It Takes A Village

Indeed, it does take a village to raise a child, but the village Siobhan requires is vast and very complicated. Many of the villagers do not live in our home. In fact, there are only two villagers here, Linda and me. Well, there’s Harriet, Siobhan’s Canine Companions for Independence skilled companion dog. And there’s Achoo! the Tonkinese cat. Dog and cat notwithstanding, Linda and I are it. Living with Siobhan means seemingly endless labor and minute details, it really is quite intense for two people. Constant observation and interpretation are especially required.

Detective Work

Interacting with a non-vocal person requires detective work. This story is one that I think will illustrate our methods. Siobhan went out with some friends last weekend. They went to Downtown Disney, a never-never land between Disneyland and California Adventure in Anaheim, California. I could tell before Siobhan went that there would be trouble. Being within sight of the hallowed gates of Disneyland and not going in? How was that going to play?


During her stay in Downtown Disney Siobhan was yawning a lot. She’s very cute when she yawns, patting her mouth with her hand. Her companion concluded that Siobhan was tired during the outing. Siobhan has not taken a nap since she was two. She is never tired. I took the yawning as a sign of disaffection and I said as much. Siobhan went rummaging looking for something while I was talking with Linda and the person who accompanied Siobhan. She didn’t find what she wanted so she used her talker. I want train, she said, using the generic train icon, and I immediately made the connection. Of course, she wanted the Disneyland train, she wanted to be in the park, and on the train. Then Siobhan pouted. She almost never pouts, but there was the lip, her eyes misty. It was out in the open. She was disappointed that she was so close and yet so far away from her love object. Linda dug out what Siobhan was looking for, her Disneyland PECS page and Siobhan said “I want train” with the Disneyland train icon. Mystery solved. We found Disneyland train videos on YouTube on Siobhan’s iPad, and she sat there entranced for a long time and she found more ride videos on her own and played them over and over.

Birthday Present

Siobhan does not love things. Stuffed toys? Games? Never has interacted with them. She does not read, so although I believe she gets something out of birthday cards, they are inaccessible to her. What Siobhan loves is experiences. One Christmas we got her a suitcase, something she really needed, but the suitcase came with an immediate, that morning, instant trip to San Diego on the Amtrak Surfliner. We have been discussing a trip to Las Vegas for her 21st birthday. She loves car trips with Linda and Harriet and me. She loves the Bellagio. But after determining that she was disappointed about not going to Disneyland, we knew what her birthday present should be. This Sunday I will take Siobhan and Harriet to Disneyland. We’ve already added a whole page of ride icons to her talker, and she immediately began using all of them. This is a big win for teaching vocabulary. PECS is a reinforcer based system, and powerful reinforcers make learning easy. To quote Mary Poppins: “And snap! the job’s a game!” It’ll be a real pleasure to experience her joy at being back at Disneyland (we used to be regulars) and it is a pleasure to be hatching my egg.

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