Go back in time just a few years ago to January 2004. Kurt was 14-years-old; Kelly 11 and Keith 17. Snow was coming down hard. According to Channel 5 News, River Falls schools were starting two hours late.
Kurt was decked out in snow pants, blue jacket and turtle-print fleece scarf. His glasses were wet from the snowflakes and he was behind his brothers. I watched from the picture window while all three shoveled the driveway.
"Kurt," Kelly said. His cheeks were bright red and matched his unzipped coat. "Can't you go somewhere else?"
Kurt ignored him and continued his haphazard shoveling, creating a maze of strokes with his shovel while dumping each shovelful back on the drive.
"Mom," Kelly opened the door from the garage. "Can't you get Kurt to move? He's not helping."
Outside in my slippers, holding my denim shirt closed over a turtleneck, I asked Kurt, "Why don't you take care of the sidewalk? Or the deck?"
He ignored me too. I gave up, seeking the warm house. Let them work it out.
Back at the window sipping hot coffee, I watched Keith land a snowball on Kurt's hat. He laughed as he wiped the snow away, packed his own ball, approached his big brother and hit him square on the back of his yellow letter jacket. Keith spun around and a snowball fight ensued. Once over, Kurt began shoveling the yard.
As he tried to clear the yard of snow, I wondered, once again, why Kurt thought this was necessary. This was the typical scenario each time the boys tackled the drive. Kurt would shovel wherever he pleased, Kelly would get frustrated with him, and Keith would handle the ordeal in stride, and often break the tension in some playful way.
What seemed obvious to the rest of us (i.e.: shovel where the cars go or where people walk), Kurt didn't comprehend. His lack of concentration, perhaps, maybe even subtle seizures, or attention deficit, caused him to change direction, shoveling here for a few seconds and over there next.
Come back to present: January 2010. The boys are 23, 20, and 17. We had gotten a few inches overnight, and the snow hadn't stopped yet. Keith was home from college, but had left early for his job in Minneapolis. Kelly had left for school and Kurt was eating breakfast before I took him to his day program.
"I'm not going to shovel this morning," Paul said, as he rubbed his arm. His bad elbow was acting up.
"I will when I get home," Kurt said.
Paul and I looked at each other. "Hmmmm," my eyes widened.
That evening, when I brought Kurt home, he kept his winter gear on, grabbed a shovel and got to work. Keith and Paul weren't home yet and Kelly had left for ski instructor class. I went inside and watched from the living room. Kurt started by the garage, ran the shovel in a straight line across the driveway and threw the snow onto the yard. He took another pass and another, row after neat row, until the job was complete.
What changed? Even last year, he couldn't shovel the driveway. Now he has the skills. But this change is more than that. Some time since last winter's snowfall, Kurt decided to willingly take responsibility.
We made three changes last year that I believe have contributed to his growth. In May, we put Kurt on a good multi-vitamin with Bs and Omega-3 fish oil. Both are beneficial to brain function. In June, we let his personal care attendant go, so he was less reliant on someone else. And with that, we changed his schedule so that he spends five days a week instead of two, with peers, working and socializing.
I couldn't have guessed we would see these positive changes so quickly.