Benjamin Carr and Jo Anne Patterson

Recorded September 30, 2010 Archived September 30, 2010 38:07 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ATL000501


Benjamin Carr, 34, talks with his mother Jo Anne Patterson, 61, about his having cerebral palsy, how she and her ex husband managed to raise him so well, and the challenges they both face with disabilities


  • Benjamin Carr
  • Jo Anne Patterson

Venue / Recording Kit


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00:07 My name is Benjamin car. I'm 34 years old today's date is September 30th 2010. The location is Atlanta and I'm interviewing. My mother was asking the first question.

00:23 Hi, I'm Joanne Patterson. I'm 61 today September 30th, 2010. We're in Atlanta and I'm going to speak to my son Benjamin.

00:37 Well, the first thing that I wanted to ask you, I mean not to just sort of get this off but I mean

00:45 When I was three that was when you found out that I had cerebral palsy actually, it was much much earlier than that. It was when you first started to crawl.

01:00 You could crawl you called just a little bit late, but you drug one leg just slightly and we had a really good pediatrician. He was a video not an MD but had excellent credentials and he was very funny. He was entertaining you like dr. Nicholson and it was very very observant. And so as you start to crawl across his office, he noticed that you hesitated with your left foot and that was when he realized that there was a chance that you had cerebral palsy when you were born.

01:34 They told us then that there was a possibility if you lived it all that you have brain damage in and side effects. And of course, I think you know that they used a young cat scan machine that only been in Atlanta 2 weeks at that point. So you got to avoid where they shoot dye in your brain to see whether or not you had issues. But the tests at that point didn't show you had any problems and all so it was sort of a surprise to us when you were six seven months old and we're crawling and we found out there was any possibility you had anything wrong and of course then it ended up you had a high IQ. So that wiped out there other synopsis or how did that make you feel when they told you?

02:24 I could tell that it was minor.

02:30 So as disastrous as that might have been to somebody else. It just life always is what it is. And so you just do what you doing go on and you work with what you got and I think I spent most of our time as you grew up exactly teaching you that

02:56 I can see why people start crying here.

03:02 But let's see what else.

03:08 Hey, I just I didn't know that I didn't you know, but I am because those were corrected things that we could do. We just tried to do what we could.

03:27 As you progress the meaning even as a tiny tiny baby, there was a book called The Baby exercise book and my sister Carol had given it to me and that was before we knew you had any troubles at all and we don't very lucky that I did a lot of that with you which was a lot of stretching back over your head. And so you were doing arm extensions. You were doing you no flexibility things and I really think that as you develop did that was Hawaii your CP wasn't as bad as it could have been, you know,

04:12 What were you most worried about?

04:20 Killer really I mean is it just is it's not something you can change because it's brain damage. So you just go day-by-day and you cope, you know, the one thing they told me as you were getting therapy and stuff like that was that you were the most well-adjusted CB kid, they'd ever seen is that

04:45 Well, I taught you that it wasn't a barrier. It wasn't something that needed to be in your way. You just it wasn't going to go away. So you had to just cope with it. So anyway, you learn to just I learned to talk first before I started walking toward people so that they knew so that they knew immediately that I was special that I was smart. I are you out of eggs with yolk.

05:22 First 6 weeks of I just I don't know when I was going to school in Buford like everybody treated me like like it wasn't anything so that so that I was always a big talker and always just very social and say hello to pretty much everybody. Like I think that one point I was 3 lost in a turtle trying to find like the children's music section or something and I ended up by you just sort of word streamly independent, but that came because he ended up with an IQ of like 146 or something when I tested you anywhere like giving kids time. They didn't think you were gifted all that was sort of funny. They didn't feed you lunch. You were in kindergarten and of course you could read when you were about 3 in by 4, you could read her books and I didn't teach you any of it you touch yourself at all. But anyway in kindergarten is when they actually test you do for the gifted program in.

06:22 Took you off to be tested with no lunch after a half a day of school and you didn't feel like doing it so they decided that you weren't gifted and I'm on the way back to the school. They pass a Kenny Rogers van. Is he worth filming that movie? What was the movie pack six pack and transmit all the Insignia of the all of a sudden they decided or maybe they haven't sufficiently tested you and that you were really gifted after also the second test proves it you definitely were gifted sounded only only guy out of your whole class that made it all the way through in the gifted program. The other just dropped out and did something else cuz it's not like we can't call any of the other people that I went to school with easy way out a little bit.

07:22 Okay.

07:26 So the surgery that you had the heel cord lengthening that was difficult because she had the double leg casts in a 3-foot bar in your legs and trying to get you in and out of buildings and and into the car was even challenged able to carry me like a suitcase up the stairs upside down and my legs are in CaCO3 made the front page of the paper with that one in my madness of that article on that was the reason we did the article was to save the title 1 reading program the whole program that you were participating it and you only got to participate coz

08:26 Even though your case was really really mild and you were the the least this is disabled kid in the whole class, but we were trying to save the program. They were trying to eliminate the whole program. That was 3 year old kindergarten program that you went to.

08:45 That was a title one government program. And so I wrote the article with my friend Lynn and we feature you in the article cuz we knew it would make the paper that way and get a better audience program for the disadvantaged children what that article was in the Douglas County paper that you are for a little while in the morning all the time.

09:30 I didn't do it. Like I like I felt like I like at this point now when I still have some physical difficulties cuz I have the like I have the arthritis and no trouble with my knee trouble with my hair if I have the hip dysplasia and I still walk and even I have to have the corrective shoes on the the things that I worry about now, I keep thinking like what if I just done the physical therapy been in such the something. I don't know if that would have helped and you always wonder what would have War II what would not have worked you did them? I don't know why you're

10:14 Having more difficulties later in life. You weren't supposed to get any worse, but it looks to me like the biggest problem is the inch difference in your legs, you know that has made it increasingly difficult to keep your balance in its

10:32 Not using correct issues more quickly. I think cause you other problems it was funny was that when I was growing up. I was thought the problem was with my right leg over my left leg. That was not the problem was with my left leg because it was I was walking pigeon-toed it was okay.

10:53 I always used my right leg the good leg to compensate for the left leg which was the bad lick. So now at age 34, I'm having all these problems in my right leg because I could you put all your weight on All These Years cuz I put all my weight on it all these years. So the things that are getting worse or actually the things that would be fine. It's just that at 34 I have the hip of a sixteen-year-old disorder because it's been doing double the amount of work all this time. And so it just sort of locked up and I was scared because I thought that it was just cerebal palsy and I didn't go to the doctor for a really long time to try and get it worked out.

11:34 And so when I finally did and I realized that it was something else that I'd caused because of the cerebral palsy.

11:45 It was good to have a name to it. Is it good to have a name for what was wrong because at first I thought that I was just going to get worse and that this was going to be what my life was. I was just going to walk around and I mean everyone gets older and it gets progressively worse, but then when I realized there was

12:06 Corrective measures corrective measures and that I didn't have to live like that.

12:12 Well, you know, I think you took some really good actions and taking control of of where you are at that point because accepting that the lift in the shoes was a tough decision probably but it's helped your gate tremendously and I think that was a brilliant move. I think losing weight pounds I was and I think that was a good move because carrying around the extra weight made it all the more difficult on a daily basis, you know in the movement and what you were hoping to do, you know, like the stage work and stuff. I think that encouraged you to go ahead and try to find Solutions because

13:12 Was starting to get in your way of your point you wanted to do in life, but I wasn't I just wasn't happy happiness isn't easy and I had to work through it.

13:25 Those were the questions that I had I want there is one thing that I wanted you to know.

13:35 In regard to you saying that you never thought that it was going to get worse and such like that.

13:44 I'm sorry. I just want you to know that that I'm going to be all right.

13:51 You're right, baby. You need to drink your water for those that don't know. It's physically impossible to drink water and cry. So for any time you're going to situation where someone is just crying and you really can't understand cuz on top of everything else. I'm deaf 60% deaf. So I have my own disability here. So when he cries, it makes it harder for me to understand what I'm talking to the recording. Right is right that are Justified to the recording. Let me know regard to your own disability did that affect anyway that you helped handled mine. When did you realize that you were that you had Meniere's disease? I have the measles when I was in the sixth grade. And so I lost one whole set in the sixth grade and then it was in the late 80s.

14:51 And they say it's stress-related course. I'm in the mortgage business. So I mean there isn't anything much more stressful than that, but they said that the stress was probably what caused my decrease in my hearing on my other side. So I most certainly 60% death on both sides. But as far as having a disability is sort of like yours. I mean, it's not something you can make go away.

15:19 It's something I do want you doing that is when I approached. We fly tell him up front. I'm deaf. You know, I doubt we're going to have issues here. I signed in today at storycorps. The girl said something to me, which was you can go to the lobby. I said, I'm sorry. What did you say cuz I'm doubt sucks. It's just sort of part of my everyday how I cope with life. It it gets in my way song. It probably irritates a fire out of friends and relatives, but I can't change it. It is what it is. You do the best you can and you take corrective actions to fix.

15:56 One of the things that some of my friends even say to me now is that like at times I don't act like I have a disability when I should like I don't acknowledge just how special I am because I'm trying so hard to act like nothing's wrong.

16:15 And that's okay. I know but at the same time it's not always primary and you're afraid to ask for it because you don't want to stand out or be different something like that. That's Pride. I think people are prideful and that doesn't that we do the same thing. I mean I try if I'm in the midst of an executive meeting, I try not to say, please repeat yourself and out and sometimes probably miss things that I need to know, but I know yours is slightly different than mine, but we both have a disability essentially.

16:54 I'm very stubborn about mine. Very stubborn. You're stubborn enough that there's a people with Disabilities Act that you refused. So there's no telling if you would actually use that to your advantage the years. He might have had other advantages. I mean when you are in college, you could have signed up for classes ahead of everybody else at the school, but you didn't want to do that because I can walk normally and I can talk normally a very smart and know it when I see other people with cerebral palsy who are seriously disabled more

17:31 Affected they can't move their arms are are spastic like lucky. I am and as a result of that it makes me not want not to want to take advantages that they can use because yes, I am disabled, but I'm also incredibly lucky. So I agree with you. So it's very hard for me. It is very hard for me to

18:05 To take on that I guess label of disabled because I feel like because I feel because I feel like I don't fit the mold and your situation is minor and yet it's not because now you're having pain in other issues, you know, but through the years it was it was really minor compared to lots of others I did and I never know how to act with people who have the same disability as me because when I was growing up there their parents would look to me like I was some sort of

18:42 Symbol or example or some sign of hope I guess and end at the same time.

18:49 I was just me and I had my difficulties and you can't really live your life as a symbol. You have to live your life like as a person and and

18:58 I saw a girl we were at the Mickey's hot dog stand in Buford last weekend. And this this girl was sitting next to me and and we're just chit-chatting. She was a teenage girl and she was talking about the karate school and I told her that you know, you had your situation and and and earned off white belt and then a yellow belt right? Karate yellow belt right exactly where the cute part is. She had gone the same thing same school and it turned out I couldn't tell but she had cerebral palsy.

19:33 Which I thought was in a really unique her father had taken her and they'd participated in that together. And she said you can't tell I have it and I thought no you can't tell it all you know, and and you were very lucky and so was I you know, it could have been so much much much worse and we both got great like it that point.

19:57 I do have some questions of my own and that one of them was what does her happy?

20:10 What can you think of that really makes you happy?

20:17 I've been going through a really tough time lately the things that make me happy are kind of hard to figure out.

20:27 Writing writing. Yes about that very clearly. I can do that without apology or I can do that without

20:37 Without holding back. I've always been able to do that. Are you reading anything now? That's the thing. Is that like when I get into these moods where I'm where I'm feeling down. I can't really find how to get back to myself. I can't go through this time though. Don't you think I mean to work such a difficult hours?

21:08 At the point where I was riding like the puppet show that I wrote.

21:16 I was obsessed with it. Like I would be at work and I'll scribble down a little pieces of paper like things that I would work out and every breakup that I ever went through. I would like to sort of write down dialogue of what I meant to say and what I should have said or something of that sort and then as a result of that I got to the point where I couldn't put it down I couldn't get away from it even went and my friend Lupo necessarily helping my friend Lupo says to me that that like no matter how depressed I get her no matter how sad I get or no matter how held back that. I I want to be

21:54 If I end up riding anyway, like he says that I'm talented and as a result of that did that's what just sort of.

22:04 Comes through and

22:09 And shine through that's what I think you need to spend you your free time doing, you know, your plays are fabulous. I mean, they really are annoying Prejudice cuz I'm your mother but ask it for a parking lot and you thought that it was really but they are all this French speaking squirrel that's you know, running around my car to see if I can run over in a I mean is always the center for puppetry Arts. It was very funny. I know that was good, but your big show inside was okay so us bit.

22:50 I like your humor stuff. You know that that's what I thought.

22:57 Like you're serious stuff to I know you know, I always like your funny stuff because it's entertaining. You know, I'm just not a real serious serious stuff, but it's not.

23:15 Service serious. I think I probably don't need to read but that's okay. Is there anything that you think you could put on this message? That would be helpful to other people?

23:39 In life to how to cope with having a disability.

23:44 Is there anything that you found it?

23:48 Would help others

23:54 Everyone has something that's absolutely true. Everyone has something and the thing that happens is

24:10 You can't do anything about it.

24:13 You just have to recognize that you have it and then go forward from it. You can only move forward.

24:23 You can't undo anything.

24:29 It won't go away. You can't make it go away that you can you have to play the hand. You're dealt in your grandpa taught me that actually like essentially no matter how much you

24:43 Grandpa taught me that like if I couldn't shuffle cards because I was having difficulty with my hand that like there was a way in which I would just stack the deck on top of stacking the deck on top of stacking the deck it would take longer but it's still got the job done. You found a way to do it. You found a way to work around it you

25:05 You live you survive the more than that you have to

25:15 I am when I worked in the bookstore, someone wrote down that then all of the tell-all books lately had been about how people have been through horrible situations in an abusive family something of that sort. And the thing was was that it was all about survival like they're running with Scissors or something of that sort was like survival.

25:37 But no one anymore Road about

25:42 Something Beyond just getting through that that what that one instead people talk about surviving but no one talks of driving and there again.

25:54 And as a result of that.

25:58 I don't know. I think that if I can accomplish learning how to be happy for myself that I can if I can never accept, you know.

26:11 Whatever being successful will come to mean to me.

26:19 That

26:23 Is that'll be the greatest, you know prize that I could win. I mean

26:31 I don't think that I'm saying this very clearly. I thought you didn't want the thing that gets me is that 4 time? I found that when I wasn't happy that I was shutting myself off that I was closing myself off in our room. The thing that I need to do the things that I needed to do was to get out there and join a theater group or take a class. Like I took a writing class because I found that what I needed was just discipline and an excuse like I needed an excuse to be productive. I need an excuse to go out and work. I needed an excuse to do what I wanted to do. I just needed to find a way to create a structure for myself that allowed for me to get up on stage and do improv comedy or get up at the center for puppetry arts and write a show and I'm

27:21 Or get up and be in that wrestling show that was on the thing when I play the disabled wrestler.

27:35 I just needed the excuse like I mean, you just have to create for yourself reasons enough to be happy with what I was given. I have cerebral palsy. I didn't have you know, the best child that I have like

28:08 Things went wrong and yet at the same time.

28:13 All right, so things went wrong, but what do we do about it now? It's right. What do you think about the past you have to move on? You can tell I am curious about this picture you brought this picture from when you were probably 6 months old, maybe now you were a preemie. Yo, you were only four fountains 13 oz in you don't look much preemie in that picture, but that's okay. I look much thinner. I like that part, but I'm curious why you happen to bring the picture the two of us today of themselves from before and I didn't know necessarily that was something they gathered at the time or if it was something else and also I did I brought the picture because

28:58 Will because it before and after shot.

29:09 Now like what they should have done differently or what they could have done better. Like I mean, would you told them anything? Are you happier now or then?

29:21 My happiness is a as of the moment. I don't I don't look back and I don't really look much the future outside of add like to have employment not starve to death. But you know as far as I just am as I am and I was happy then and I'm happy now I I make myself happy. I'm the only one that can make me happy. So those were great times. I mean you were cute you could have been really an ugly baby, but you were really cute.

29:59 And infants were good. Do you know we we had a good life? I can't say I really had any really bad times in life. I've been very lucky very very lucky. I mean, I'm not a multimillionaire. That'll be nice. But Lottery doesn't seem to play my way very often so I did but that was a good wife.

30:27 But the farm was is still a peacefulness to me. I wrote the guy that Farms Apartments Mike and I told him that

30:39 You know, I really think when I go up and Thanksgiving to Ohio. I really need to go home. There's something about the land and and always reminds me of Scarlett O'Hara yuno standing in the background saying Tara and the Farms up there don't have names will they do but I don't know most of them and dad. Let me come home that one time. I wanted to walk through the plowed field in my beer feet and Dad thought I was probably crazy but you know dad always let all these girls do whatever we wanted and I was probably in my fifties at the time but that's what I needed. It was there's nothing like walking through a wet plowed field in your bare feet. There's just nothing in life like it and there's a connection to the land.

31:39 That gives me peace. So, you know, I didn't have animals much on the farm. We had cows for a short. Of time and dad with your brownie, but we'll skip that story.

31:54 Anyway, so shortly after that we didn't have cows anymore. We had milk cows, but I didn't get to do that either.

32:08 You know the board rooster the only one last one left my cousin I chased around the house and killed it a bush.

32:17 Jagged cigarette Highway of that but I'm really was the land and as soy beans corn and wait and there's just a real peacefulness to the land and the peacefulness to Ohio, but I really don't want to live there again. I really like Georgia so does the farm as like cuz none of that was ever shown to me. I I didn't know you went out Road the tractors. I mean that was pretty obvious.

32:54 I mean that I didn't get to participate in. I mean we have bars but I didn't get a drive a tractor. You know, we were sort of spoiled girls. I understand that you think of music and the reason for that is because you were the music teacher and beyond that you also taught me to sing EIEIO when I was born and 8 months old and you could sing Old MacDonald had a farm e-i-e-i-o on Pitch. I mean that was pretty amazing. We took you home to Ohio to a church in I mean they were bringing people over to see this little eight month old kids singing on Pitch. That was pretty darn good for that age. I mean most kids can't talk your singing the song, you know, you just order all we had amazing unique qualities that you were always you were you were said you were partially Deaf from the time you had measles and yet you were a message.

33:54 1987 I mean I still performed in sang at weddings in church and was a choir director up to the 80s. So

34:05 Hot spine it's you know comes from the soul.

34:11 It's inspiring. I probably learned the majority of the scripture. I know by heart from singing religious song. I mean, it's it's how you learn if there's a regiment Haitian to it. That's good for you. I mean they say that music actually increases your ability to succeed in school. So you just always have me sing with you and I was in the choir and

34:43 When you when you return quieter after you pull me up on stage and we would sing the Duets think you probably remember what age or older to.

35:03 But that was the only time we ever perform together, but

35:08 How do I say it was fun? Both of your sisters were music teachers as well. I didn't understand how that quite happened. It was a ground by my mother with a game plan and a life plan. I mean you were supposed to do this in this order and get married and have children and none of it was allowed to be out of order and that's why it was so devastating to her when we moved to Florida and she cried till her face bled literally bled because she didn't believe that she would ever see me over a few times in life. So

35:48 It we were programmed and that's okay and probably 2-degree you and Dan were programmed and you know, I always dressed you in Georgia closed and I was just him and Georgia Tech closing surprise. That's exactly where you guys ended up. So I think that's part of being a mother and Andrew one of these questions on the website was like, is there anything that you would pass along to them? What sort of like, what would you want them to know that? I love them? I think everybody needs to feel loved whether it's my son's or my grandchildren. I think that's what people need more than anyting always said to me when I was in college and I came out of the closet to you.

36:43 One of the things that you said to me was that you just wanted me to be happy and you were afraid of difficulty getting in the way of my happiness, but the difficulties have always been like basically, right? Yeah. I don't try to change you and don't want to change you. You just need to be happy. Anyway. So I always love you.

37:22 I'm trying to be happy. I know you are and you're the only one that can make it that way. That's it.

37:34 Did you have any other questions you wanted to?

37:37 Not really. I just want you to be happy.

37:46 Thank you very much for coming and I think that you did you say thank you and have enjoyed it. It's probably a conversation. We might never have had if we hadn't done this, so it was a good day.