My parents met at Southwest Texas State University. Now it’s called Texas State, but don’t bring that up with my dad. It’s a sore subject. It’s in San Marcos, Texas, which is just about halfway between Austin and San Antonio. When I was 10, we lived about an hour or two south of there.
One summer, my parents came across something new that was happening on campus. We’ll call it “Stuttering Camp.” My friend Joel, sensitive little twat that he is, when I told him this story he stopped me and was like, “Wait, so it was just a bunch of people walking around going D-d-d-d…. B-b-b-b…..G-g-g-g-…?” Yes, Joel. Yes it was. Morning roll call took an hour and a half.
I don’t have a lot of specific memories from the camp, but I remember there was a lot of crying. Me, for sure, but mostly my sister. Julie’s always been very protective of me, and this camp must have brought a lot of feelings of anger and sadness to the forefront. You wouldn’t think so, right? But that’s what I remember. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just remembering the bad things, so I got some backup. Here’s my family:
From my dad:
I believe the most memorable event was either late in the first week or early in the second week when a staff person, backed up by Dr. Mallard (the guy who ran the thing), informed us that what you did yourself in working with your stuttering is what the entire camp, in part, was about: giving you mechanisms to deal with stuttering. That was one of the most “proud of you” times in my life.
I know we all were involved in the sessions learning how to understand what you are struggling with and coping with stuttering. It was very emotional for us, but you, having lived with it your whole young life, taught us a lot.
One thing that we, your family members, had to do as an assignment was to go up to a complete stranger and “stutter” while ask for directions or some other form of communication in attempt to make us walk in your shoes. It was difficult and it took me a long time to actually complete the assignment. I was not sure I could do it. Finally, I went up to the security gate on a street and did fumble and stumble asking directions to a campus building. It did give me a sense of struggle and I realized I was struggling with my lack of self-confidence rather than seeing your day-to-day struggle and the confidence you had/have in yourself.
From my mom:
We were put in a classroom with maybe five other families with children who ranged in age from about 6-12. Mostly boys. Dr. Mallard headed the program along with a number of grad students. You were probably the most fortunate of the kids there, having been practically born and raised on a university campus with the chairwoman of the Speech Pathology Department having taken a special interest in you from before you were three. That and a high IQ that had allowed you to expand your vocabulary to that of an educated adult as you broadened your bucket of synonyms. So you appeared more in control of your stutter than you actually were.
We spent parts of our days together and part with the parents, siblings, and “subjects” divided into separate groups. For us, daytime activities were grueling. We had to “unlearn” all the adaptive behaviors we’d developed over the course of your speaking life and accept responsibility for those contributing to your continued stuttering. All of us parents and siblings were “rescuers” to some degree or another, and we had to learn the effect that had on you. We would order for you in a restaurant and never required you to answer the phone. We had already been coached by a previous Speech Teacher not to step in and help you with a word or finish a sentence, but I don’t think we were diligent. Watching you struggle when you were just a little tyke sent all three of us off in tears at one time or another.
In retrospect, a psychologist probably should have been brought in to deal with these issues. All our guilt and self-blame was brought to the surface with nowhere to direct it. All of the mothers and many of the fathers broke down in wracking sobs. All of our collective anger at our children having been burdened with stuttering roared to the surface. It certainly needed to.
I had some qualms about the program. You didn’t ask to go, and we might have been saying, “Randy, there’s something wrong with you we want to fix.” That was the message, in a way, just formatted differently: “We see you struggling with something. We all want to work with you to fix it.” I feel like the program offered you the tools to help with stuttering, but I believe that you chose to implement them. I know you still struggle with some things, but I see you in a very different place without the experience of that summer.
This is from an email exchange I had with my sister:
R: Can you send me some of your thoughts and memories about Stuttering Camp?
J: Will do!
R: Do you want to see what mom and dad wrote? Or would that maybe alter your memory?
J: To be perfectly honest I don’t really have that many memories about the week. I remember we stayed in a dorm. I remember this little boy Lex and thought he was so cute. Do you remember him? I remember him and his brother Logan but I can’t even remember which one had the stuttering problem. I think I remember Lex and Logan’s mom’s name was Frida Rae and she had a sister named Rita Faye. I remember the doctor’s name was Dr. Mallard and we called him Dr. Duck. I really don’t remember much about what went on during the day. Maybe that was by design? It was more about you and helping you cope and not so much about your very self-involved 13 year old sister.
R: The consensus seems to be it was a traumatic experience, so maybe you blocked a lot of it. I remember a lot of crying.
J: Quite likely. You are very brave for writing about it. I do remember speech therapy being part of your life at a very young age. I remember Mom or Dad holding me up to look in the window of room while a therapist helped you to roll out a word or a sound as you rolled a toy car on the table. And, that reminds me of Dr. Duck telling you or all the stutterers in the room how to relax and sort of soften your mouth to help you get words out. I wish I had more to say. I suppose I really did block it from memory.
So yeah, interesting, right? Julie’s point about being self-involved brings up an interesting thought that I hadn’t considered before asking them to do this with me. So much of my stutter and how I dealt with had to with “me” and what “I” was going through. I think this camp was a good way for me to see how it impacted my family as well. It’s clear from their memories that they learned a lot about what I was going through, but now I see it worked both ways.