Will is a nice kid; you'd like him if you met him. But he has something unusual: his last name. Will is going to tell us what it's like being William Roger Christmas Jr. And there's something else a lot more different and a lot more important about Will than just having an unusual last name...
Hi. My name is Will. Actually, that’s my nickname. My full name is William. That’s also my dad’s name, William, but he got the nickname Bill, and I got the nickname Will. William is an OK name, and Will is an OK nickname. There aren’t a lot of other kids with Will as their nickname, so I don’t get confused with other kids very often.
“OK, OK,” you say, “boring! Why should I care about all of this name and nickname stuff?” Here’s why. I’ve only told you about my first name and my nickname. It’s my last name that’s different. My full name is William Roger Christmas Jr. Weird, right? I’ll bet that you’ve never met anyone or even heard of anyone whose last name is Christmas. But if you do a search on Google you’ll find that it’s an old English last name. I found a web site that says it’s “the surname of someone who was born on Christmas Day or had some other particular association with that time of year”. That’s not me, my birthday is on July 17. That’s not my dad, either, his birthday is on March 21. Or my mom, though she’s close, her birthday is on December 6.
Whatever, I’m going to tell you about what it’s like being William Roger Christmas Jr. And there’s something else a lot more different about me than just having an unusual last name. But you’ll have to read my story to find out what that is.
I was about 2½ years old when I really understood that my family’s last name was also the name of my favorite holiday! It was quite a revelation, and it made me real happy.
My dad is a project manager for a huge construction company that builds skyscrapers all over the U.S. He’s in charge of completion. That means he goes in to make sure everything is finished to corporate standards. This usually takes about six to nine months right at the end of a project. Because he has to go to where the projects are, we’ve moved a lot. A LOT!
Each time we moved, we moved into an apartment. That’s because we moved so often my folks had to rent month-by-month. When we’d move there was always a hurry to find an apartment to move into when we arrived in the new city, and because we were renting month-by-month some of the apartments weren’t very nice or were in crummy areas of town. Also, I didn’t have all the stuff other kids usually have. I didn’t have the endless number of toys, games, books, and other things because every item would be something that would have to be packed and moved sometime soon, so I just had the few things that I’d get on my birthday and for Christmas. I never even had a bike, so I never learned how to ride. And I never finished a grade at the same school where I started until I was in the seventh grade.
The hardest things about moving all the time? Worst of all was saying goodbye to kids I knew. Second was that I never seemed to have a best friend, partly because I didn’t stay in one school very long and partly because I was kinda shy. Third was having to move to new cities all the time where I didn't know anyone. It was specially bad when we moved in the summer. Since school is out, it's real hard to meet other kids. As a result of all the moving, and going to new cities where I didn't know anyone, it got so when I went to a new school at the beginning I didn’t want to say anything in class, because I didn't want to take a chance on giving a wrong answer and having the kids make fun of me. But I found out that some kids would make fun of me anyway.
I was five years old when I started going to school. I started kindergarten in Salt Lake City, finished kindergarten and started first grade in St. Louis, and finished first grade and started second grade in Chicago. In all three of these cities the kids I went to school with were all into Christmas and thought it was neat that my last name was Christmas. I was a happy kid!
Then we moved to Atlanta. I transferred into the second grade with just 6 weeks left in the school year. The kids there weren’t impressed with my Yankee accent, or with my last name. I was constantly teased about my accent and my name by both the kids and even by my teacher. It was mostly taunts like calling me ‘Christmas’ or ‘Santa Claus’ instead of Will, then laughing at me, or saying meaner things like “What a stupid last name, ‘Christmas’, what kind of stupid Mom and Dad would give their kid such a stupid name?” My teacher would call the other kids by their first names, but she always called me “Will Christmas?” like it was a question, which made the kids laugh at me. I was NOT a happy kid any longer!
As soon as the teasing started, I went home and complained to my folks. They didn’t seem to think it was as important as I did, and told me that it would stop in a few days. It didn’t. I kept after them about the teasing and finally at the end of my second week at school they decided to visit my teacher and try to put a stop to it. My teacher told my folks that I was overreacting, but that she’d talk to the class and solve the problem the next morning. She gave me a permission slip and told me that I should go to the school library for the first fifteen minutes before going to class.
The next morning I went to my classroom after spending the fifteen minutes in the library. My teacher’s solution was to tell the kids not to talk to me at all. She was close to retiring, so my folks said that they figured that she didn’t want any hassles. I also think that she threatened the class, because they wouldn’t even look at me when I was in class. That’s how the rest of the second grade was for me. Once again, I was not a happy kid!
I started third grade at the same school, but with a different teacher, and a different bunch of kids who had been in a different second grade class. Things were better though some kids teased me about my name, and I even made some friends. I was a happy kid! After about two months, my life changed again. Dad came home from work one Friday and said we were moving to Fort Lauderdale where he would work on a new project. I’d have to start over somewhere else, again.
We moved to Florida. The weather was lots better in Fort Lauderdale than it had been in Atlanta, there was a nice breeze from the ocean most of the time which made it feel less hot than Atlanta. We had a nice apartment with a view of the ocean from our balcony, and I could walk to the beach. Cool! I went to a new school, and when I was introduced to my third grade class there were a few giggles, mostly from the girls, when they heard my name. There was teasing about my name, but most of the kids seemed friendly, and I started to settle in and even made a few friends.
But then there was a huge change. I began blinking my eyes, and I started blinking more and more. My folks took me to an optometrist and he checked my eyesight. He said there was nothing wrong with my vision, and I didn’t have a sensitivity to light that would cause me to blink. He said that my blinking could be the result of nervous childhood tics that would disappear in a while, or might be caused by allergies, or by nerve damage.
Mom took me to the doctor to have allergy tests done. The tests came back negative, no allergies. The more anyone talked to me about it, or told me to stop, the more I'd blink, but the doctor told Mom to ignore the blinking and if it got worse she should take me to a nerve specialist.
Kids at school began teasing me about my blinking, which made me blink even more. It was December, and all of us were looking forward to Christmas. That made the teasing of my name increase. One of the boys, a kid who seemed to tease me more than any of the others, started saying “Will Christmas blink all the time?” and he’d point at me and laugh. When the teacher heard him she told him “Gregory, stop that, NOW!” and made him come up to her desk where she talked to him for a couple of minutes. The next time when she heard him say that to me she gave him detention, he had to stay after school. He stopped saying things out loud in class, but he’d whisper them to me, and tell the other kids that I was a weirdo or a retard or a dork when he knew the teacher couldn’t hear him. He and his friends would jump away from me when they saw me outside of the classroom, and yell “Look out, here comes the weirdo retard! Blink, blink, blink! Careful, it’s contagious!”
My teacher, Mrs. McMasters, never said anything to me about my blinking, she treated me just like she treated the rest of the kids, and I had good grades, all A’s except for a couple of B’s. I think she liked me. I liked her, and I liked school.
When we got our grades in January there was a note from the teacher to my folks with my report card. I didn’t know what it said because it was in an envelope addressed ‘To the Parents of William Christmas, Mrs. McMasters 3rd Grade Class’. I was nervous, and it made me blink even more. A few times when I was walking home from school that day I even had to stop and close my eyes real tight for a while. When I got home I gave Mom my report card. She looked at my grades and hugged me.
“Will, you have been doing so well in school. Your dad and I are so proud of you!” She kissed me on my forehead.
I looked at her and grinned. I was glad she was proud of me. I wasn’t as nervous and I wasn’t blinking so much. “What’s the note to you from my teacher?”
Mom opened the envelope and read the note, then looked at me. “Mrs. McMasters wants you and your dad and I to go to a parent-teacher conference. She says it’s something she does with all of the students and their parents at the end of the semester. She wants me to phone her at home tonight or this weekend to let her know when we can be there. I’ll talk to your dad about it and we’ll set a time.”
That made me even less nervous. This was something Mrs. McMasters did with all the kids, so I wasn’t in trouble. Mom called her that evening and they decided that we’d meet her the next Tuesday at 7 p.m. She told Mom that I should bring my binder with all of my work so she could review my progress with them.
That Tuesday we met Mrs. McMasters in my classroom.
“Thank you for coming. We only have about 15 minutes, I have a series of conferences this evening. So many students!” She smiled at me. “Will is an excellent student. As you can see, his conduct is an A. I’d give him an A-plus if that was allowed. Will, you are doing very well on all of your studies. Let’s show your parents your binder so they can see what you’ve been doing.”
I opened up my binder, and for the next few minutes we went through my homework, assignments, and tests.
“You can see Will is very studious, and always has his homework on time. His handwriting could improve, it seems that he thinks so much faster than he writes that sometimes he’s a little sloppy, or forgets to write some words down.” I blushed. I actually didn’t like writing using a pencil. It never looked exactly right, and I made the side of my hand dirty from rubbing it across what I’d written when I was erasing and rewriting something. Yuck! Mrs. McMasters looked at my dad. “Do you have a computer and printer that Will could use? I think that might help him in doing some of his homework and preparing his assignments.”
Dad looked at me, then back at Mrs. McMasters. “Isn’t 8 years old a bit young to use a computer?”
“Of course not. He will take a computer class in the fourth grade, so using a computer now will give Will a head start and he will breeze through that class. There’s another reason I recommend that Will use a computer.”
Mom looked at her. “What’s that?”
Mrs. McMasters looked at me. “Will, please go into the art room and get your paintings and drawings and bring them back so we can show them to your parents.”
I knew they were going to talk about me, and I was nervous. I started blinking, the first time I’d done that during our meeting with Mrs. McMasters.
“OK, I’ll be right back!”
I ran out of the classroom, but stood just outside of the door. I wanted to hear what Mrs. McMasters was going to say about me! Had I done something wrong? Was she mad at me? I thought she liked me! I held the door open a bit so I could hear.
“Mrs. and Mr. Christmas, what I want to talk about is Will’s blinking and other symptoms.”
I could hear Mom’s voice. “Other symptoms? Of what?”
“Will’s blinking is sometimes referred to as a tic. I’m sure you’ve noticed his blinking.”
“Yes, we have. We’ve taken him to an optometrist and an allergist, and everything is fine.”
“He is starting to exhibit other kinds of tics. He’s started bouncing his legs when he concentrates on his work in class. Sometimes he’ll jerk his shoulder or his head. Have you noticed these other tics at home?”
Both Mom and Dad responded the same, “No!”
“Often children will exhibit some symptoms in school that they don’t at home. There’s more stress at school, and children who have tics will show some types only when they are in stressful situations.”
“But what does this have to do with Will using a computer?”
“Will has started doing something else in class. It’s not a tic, but is a symptom. He is starting to make corrections to what he writes, erasing and rewriting words or sentences, when what he wrote originally was correct, and without changing anything, just erasing and rewriting what he had already written. I can tell from his homework and assignments that he’s doing this at home as well. Look here, you can see where there are an increasing number of erasures on his recent work, and there were almost none here on his earlier work. And as you can see, almost all of these erasures aren’t to make corrections, just to erase and rewrite the same thing. On some of his papers, like this one, he's erased so much in one place that it's worn through the page.”
Things were quiet for a little while. I thought about what Mrs. McMasters had said. I realized that I did sometimes bounce my legs in class, and I even did it at home when I was doing my homework. I didn’t remember jerking my head, but I sort of remembered jerking my shoulder when I was hunched over a book at my desk. And I had to erase my writing sometimes because my handwriting wasn’t good, and I wanted it to be perfect. Mrs. McMasters started talking again, so I paid attention to what was being said in the classroom.
“Use of a computer will allow Will to write without the need to continually erase and rewrite. Mrs. and Mrs. Christmas, I’m not a doctor. But I have a nephew who has a son a little older than Will. Kevin displays the same tics and other symptoms as Will. I like Will very much. He’s my favorite student! And I’m afraid that he may have the same condition as Kevin. Have you heard of Tourette Syndrome?”
I could hear my dad. “I’ve heard the name, but I don’t know anything about it.”
Mrs. McMasters continued talking. “Tourette Syndrome is an inherited genetic neurological disorder. About one out of every 2,000 children has it, and boys have it about four times more often than girls. Tourette Syndrome, or TS, can have symptoms that are very mild, through those that are very severe. Kevin has some of the more severe symptoms, which are called chronic motor tic disorders that continue for long periods. They include uncontrollable vocalizations, and OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, for example he can’t walk up or down stairs without counting them out loud. Will is displaying the mild symptoms, transient tic disorders that stop after a short time. The erasing is an OCD symptom. While you should see a specialist for verification, if Will has Tourette he may start displaying some of the other symptoms. There’s medicine that is helping Kevin. The symptoms usually become milder with time, and about two-thirds of children with TS outgrow it, about half of those completely.”
I was in shock. I had some sort of horrible disease that was making me blink, and other things like jerking and erasing! Gregory was right, I was a weirdo, a retard, a dork! I slumped down to the floor and started to cry. I hated school! I hated Gregory! He was a butthead! He even looked like a butthead! Thinking about Gregory looking like a butthead, having a huge butt on top of his neck instead of a head, made me laugh, and I stopped crying and started thinking about what Mrs. McMasters had said. I could take medicine that would help, and I’d outgrow it. She also said that I was her favorite student! That made me blush, and blushing made me giggle. I thought about Gregory always teasing me and calling me a weirdo retard, and that got me mad. I’d show that butthead Gregory and his butthead friends that I wasn’t a weirdo retard!
I got up and wiped the tears off my face onto my shirtsleeve, and ran to the art classroom. I collected my paintings and ran back to show them to my folks and Mrs. McMasters. They seemed surprised when I walked into the classroom.
“Here’s my pictures!”
We spent the next few minutes going through my pictures, with Mom and Dad ooing and ahhing over each one of them. It made me feel good. Drawing and painting were things I really liked to do. Finally Mrs. McMasters told us she had to get ready for her next conference, she said I was doing very well, that she was proud of me, and that my folks should consider what she had told them, then we left. I took Mom and Dad to the art classroom and put my paintings away, then showed them around the rest of the school. They seemed more quiet than usual. Dad took us to get an ice cream cone on the way home, and I had chocolate chip, my favorite!
When we got home I looked at Mom and Dad. “I heard what Mrs. McMasters told you.”
Mom looked at me, and it looked like she might cry. “Oh, honey, that’s just her opinion, you know! She’s not a doctor.”
“But Mom, what she said her nephew Kevin has sounds like what I have! And she said there is medicine that would help. Can we go see the specialist she talked about? Please?”
Mom pulled me into a hug and kissed me on the cheek. “Yes, Will, we will take you to a specialist. We don’t know about Tourette Syndrome, or if you have it, but we’re going to find out and lick this together. Remember that your dad and I love you, totally!
This made me so happy I started to cry.
Dad asked me, “Will, why are your crying?”
“Because I love you too and you make me so happy! I’m crying a happy cry, and maybe it’s a little bit of a scared cry ‘cause I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
My dad walked over and joined us in the hug. “Will, your Mom and I will take care of you and we’ll get through this together.”
It took a couple of weeks to get an appointment to see the specialist, and we had to go to Miami to see her. I had lots of tests, some of them hurt like when they took blood, and I had to pee in a little plastic cup which was hard to do without splashing. The doctor told us that there was no test for Tourette syndrome, that they had to check for other possible causes for my tics.
A few weeks after my tests, we went back to Miami and met with the doctor. She told us that based on the tests other possible causes had been eliminated and her conclusion was that I had Tourette Syndrome. She said that because my tics were mild she recommended that I not take any medicine. She said there were serious side effects that would require constant monitoring. If my tics got worse, or if I started having other more serious symptoms, then we could consider medication. Mom told her that we moved a lot because of Dad’s job, and she would like to be able to get a referral for another specialist the next time we move, and the doctor gave her a list of Tourette specialists in every state. She also recommended that we join the Tourette Syndrome Association, that we could get all kinds of information, and there was a section for kids.
When Mom and I got home from Miami, Dad had a big surprise for me. A laptop computer and a printer! My own computer! He helped me set it up, and gave me a book about how to use the computer. It was fun learning how to get on the Internet, and Mom showed me how to use the program for learning how to use the keyboard, to do what Mom called ‘touch typing’. It was a lot easier to do my assignments on the computer instead of writing them by hand. Everything I wrote always looked perfect!
I spent a lot of time on the TSA web site. There’s a guide for teachers that tells about Tourette and that kids that have it aren’t dumb and aren’t doing things on purpose, and I printed a copy for Mrs. McMasters and wrote the address of the web site, http://www.tsa-usa.org, on it so she could look at it too. The kids section has a brochure that explains TS that I printed so I could give copies to my friends at school.
Mrs. McMasters was glad that I told her about the TSA web site. She said that she’d never heard of it even though her nephew Kevin has TS. She talked to the class the next morning about TS, and that I had it, that it isn't contagious, and that it was like other kids having asthma or diabetes or who have to use a wheelchair. Mrs. McMasters asked me to come up to the front of the class and tell the kids how it felt to have TS, and answer their questions. I was nervous about standing in front of the class, so I started to blink. I laughed, and said when I blink that’s a tic and it happens when I’m nervous or was being teased. I gave a copy of the brochure I printed to each of the kids. There were lots of questions. The best one was why couldn’t I just not blink? I said it’s like a sneeze or a cough or a yawn, you can try to hold it back but usually you can’t. Another question was do I blink when I’m asleep? I said I didn’t think so ‘cause my eyes are closed and I didn’t really know ‘cause I was asleep, and I laughed and so did the kids. At recess the kids all came to me to say thanks for telling them and that they were sorry I had it. I was surprised when Gregory came to me and said he was sorry that I was sick.
Two months later Dad’s project in Fort Lauderdale ended, and I was really sad. I was leaving Mrs. McMasters, who figured out that I had TS, and the kids in my class who understood about me, and the ones that I had become friends with. It also meant that we had to move again, this time to Seattle. Same story, I was teased about my name but nothing too mean, I talked to my teacher about TS, we talked about it in class, most of the kids seemed to understand, and I made some friends. Then we moved again, to Minneapolis, same story. Then again, to San Antonio, same story. Then to Cincinnati.
Dad’s new project in Cincinnati was larger, and as a result we were going to stay there a few months longer than usual. We moved from San Antonio to Cincinnati in the summer. It was hard to make friends, there were no other kids living in our apartment building. Finally, school started and my teacher and I gave a presentation about TS. No one teased me about my blinking, and there were only a few giggles about my name. The school I went to was small and had kindergarten through eighth grade, and I was able to make a few friends. Best of all, I started and completed seventh grade in the same school! This was a first for me! I even started the eighth grade with the same kids that had been in my seventh grade class. Everything was great until the beginning of November when Dad came home with that look on his face that told me his job in Cincinnati was finished. “Well, it looks like we’re moving again. The bad part is that I have to be in San Francisco at the beginning of December, and that means that we have to move over Thanksgiving. The good part is this is a huge project and my boss told me that we’ll be there for at least five years!”
I was sad, and I was glad. I had been going to school with kids I liked and who understood about my TS, and I had made some friends. I liked my school and I liked where we lived. Our apartment was real nice, and I had a larger room than I’d ever had before. But the winter in Cincinnati was cold, real cold, and after living in San Antonio and Fort Lauderdale where it was warm in the winter, I was ready to leave the cold Cincinnati winters for California! My blinking tic is worse when I’m outside in cold weather. Other than that, I’ve been really lucky, my TS hasn’t gotten worse. In fact, it’s gotten better, I don’t have the tic where I’d jerk my head any more.
For me, a best part of living in San Francisco for five years would be that I’d be able to finish eighth grade through high school in one place. That was a huge change for me! Our time in Cincinnati was the only time I’d started and finished one entire grade in one school, seventh grade. And I’d be in one school long enough to make friends, maybe even a best friend. I was looking forward to San Francisco! I went on the Internet and looked up everything about San Francisco, the neighborhoods, parks, schools, the downtown and shops, where movie theatres were, places kids could go to have fun, how to get around on public transportation, sports teams, everything I could absorb. I wrote up an analysis for my folks with recommendations about where we should look for an apartment and where I should go to school.
So, one night after dinner a couple of days after Dad made his announcement, I made my announcement.
“Uh, Dad. And Mom. I’ve been looking up things about San Francisco on the Internet, and I’ve done some research about it. I printed copies, one for each of us.” I waited to see their reaction.
Mom was the one to respond. “That’s nice, Will. What have you found out?”
“Well, probably the best place for us to look for an apartment will be the Marina district. It’s on the north side of San Francisco, near the bay, and there are lots of apartments there and Marina Middle School is a good school that I can go to. There are buses to go downtown that Dad can use to go to work and Mom can use to go shopping, and there’s parks and a movie theatre and lots of stores and restaurants in the neighborhood. What do you think?” I looked at them eagerly, expecting that they would be delighted with my research and my conclusions.
Dad looked at me and smiled. “Will, that’s wonderful. But since we’re going to be in the Bay Area for five or six years, your mom and I have decided that we’re going to buy a house. What do you think of that?”
“Oh, wow, that’s fantastic! Will there be a yard? And maybe a pool?”
“Well, I’m sure there will be a yard, but I don’t know about a pool. Your mom and I have a real estate person working on finding us a house. Now, it won’t be in San Francisco.” I was shocked! I guess Dad could see my expression change, and I started blinking. “Will, houses in San Francisco are very expensive, too expensive for us to afford. My company’s real estate department has recommended several places in the suburbs east of San Francisco. The one we’ve decided on is Walnut Creek. It’s in an excellent school district, it has a nice downtown for shopping, and there are local bus lines, and a rapid transit train line, BART, to get into San Francisco, sort of like MARTA in Atlanta, you remember MARTA, right?”
“Yeah, I remember MARTA.” I must have looked disappointed. I sure felt disappointed!
“Look, Will, I know you did a lot of research on San Francisco, and I guess we should have told you about deciding to buy a house and about choosing Walnut Creek, but things have happened so fast that it just slipped our minds. Don’t be disappointed. Since you’ve done your research you probably have become an expert on how to do research about cities, so why don’t you help us find good neighborhoods in Walnut Creek by looking that up on the Internet?”
I grinned. “Sure, OK! I can do that! I can start tonight!”
Mom looked at me. “Just be sure you finish your homework first. You want to have all of your assignments finished before you leave so that will show on your records.”
“Yeah, I finished everything except my social studies reading assignment. That should take less than a half hour, and then I’ll start finding out about Walnut Creek! Can I be excused now?”
“Will, help your mother clear the table and put the dishes in the dishwasher first, OK?”
“OK, Dad!” I got up and got the dishes loaded into the dishwasher and Mom told me I could go finish my homework.
It actually took me almost an hour to read the chapter and make notes for tomorrow’s social studies class. Because I wanted to finish fast I was stressing myself out and my blinking started and I was bouncing my legs. You try to read when you’re blinking all the time! When that happens I lay down on my bed, close my eyes, and try to relax, and that usually works. It did this time, and after about 20 minutes I was able to get back to and finally finish my homework.
When it was done, I got on the Internet and began searching for information about Walnut Creek. It looked like a nice city, not very big but with lots of stores and a big movie theatre and a Regional Center for the Arts. I noticed that lots of things in Walnut Creek with the name ‘Diablo’. There’s a mountain in Walnut Creek, Mount Diablo, which means ‘Devil Mountain’ in Spanish. That made me laugh! It’s a state park with hiking and picnic areas. Neat! There is one middle school, Walnut Creek Intermediate School. Elementary schools there only have kindergarten to fifth grade, and the Intermediate school has grades six through eight. The things that would be most different than my school in Cincinnati is that it has a lot more buildings, and I’d be going to a different classroom for each class. It’s also a lot bigger school, almost three times as many kids in only three grades. I printed up a bunch of stuff and gave copies to Mom and Dad so they could read about Walnut Creek.
The next weekend, the weekend before Thanksgiving, we flew to Oakland and drove to Walnut Creek to meet Mr. Reynolds, the real estate agent, and look at houses. It was amazing, but the very first house we saw was perfect! It was a brand new house that had just been finished and was ready to move into. It had three bedrooms and three bathrooms, an office, a living room, a family room and huge kitchen with all the appliances and an eating area all joined together that Mom called a ‘great room’, a laundry room with a built-in washer and dryer, and a three car garage that Dad loved ‘cause he would have space for a workshop. The backyard was small, no room for a pool, but it already had a patio and trees and plants, and the front yard had grass and trees and plants. One of the bedrooms looked perfect to be mine, and I loved it! It was bigger than my bedroom had ever been, and there was a huge closet and a cable TV connection and a phone jack with an Internet connection too! The window looked out onto our back yard, and I could see some squirrels sitting on the top of the fence. Perfect!
Mom looked at Dad and at me and asked, “I love this house! Do you guys like it as much as I do? Is this the right house for us?”
Dad and I both said “YES!” real loud and at exactly the same time, and all three of us began laughing.
Mr. Reynolds said we should consider looking at some other houses, but he saw that we’d already made up our minds so he gave up on that idea. We went back to his office and my folks signed a bunch of papers and Dad wrote a check and Mr. Reynolds said “Congratulations, the house is now officially yours!”
We changed our reservation to fly back to Cincinnati the next day. We spent the rest of the day driving around Walnut Creek using the map Mr. Reynolds had given us. We found Walnut Creek Intermediate School, and we wandered around for a little while. It’s huge! We went downtown and went into some of the stores, and Mom was impressed because it was like a downtown in a bigger city with Macy’s and Nordstrom and even an Apple Store! That was neat, and I drooled over the iPods until Mom and Dad practically had to drag me out of there! We went into a card shop and Mom bought a bunch of ‘We’ve Moved’ cards to send to friends and relatives. The clerk asked her if she was moving away, and Mom said no, just the opposite, we’re moving here! The clerk smiled, and said she was sure we’d love living here. We went to dinner at McCovey’s, a big restaurant owned by Willie McCovey who was with the San Francisco Giants. I guess you’ve figured out it has a baseball theme! There were big TVs all around the restaurant showing football games. It was neat, and I liked it even if I am a Reds’ fan!
We drove back to Oakland and stayed at a hotel near the airport, and flew back to Cincinnati early the next morning.
The next week was totally crazy. I had school off, which was lucky, ‘cause we had to pack everything. The movers were coming on the Friday after Thanksgiving to pick up all our stuff, and we were going to start driving to Walnut Creek that day. The mover was supposed to arrive on Monday, so we only had two full days to drive all the way. I called and emailed my friends to tell them I was moving, and some came over to see me and say goodbye. That was kind of sad for me! On Wednesday I got real stressed, and my blinking came back big time, and I was so frustrated I started to cry. I mean, I’m 13 years old and here I am crying like a baby! That made my blinking even worse! I started feeling like life sucked and I had no control. Mom found me sitting on the floor between my bed and the wall crying, and she helped me up and hugged me and kissed me and whispered to me that she knew that it was tough for me. After a few minutes I started feeling better, and I stopped crying. I realized that I wasn’t blinking any more either.
“I feel like such a baby!”
“Will, moving is stressful. And look, you have almost all of your things packed already! The movers are bringing boxes for the clothes that are on hangers, so except for the clothes you need for tomorrow and Friday and that you’ll pack for our trip, I think you’re done.”
I looked around, and realized that Mom was right. “You’re right, Mom. As usual!" That made Mom smile. I looked at her, and she looked sorta tired, so I asked her if there was anything I could do to help her pack.
“I have everything that the movers won’t be packing all done. There’s a few food things for dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow and Friday, and to make sandwiches for our drive. I made reservations at the Palm Court Grille at the Hilton for Thanksgiving dinner. It should be very festive!”
“Will they have turkey?”
“Absolutely! And they have great desserts, too. Unless you eat too much so you won’t have room for dessert!”
I laughed. “Fat chance! Dessert, here I come!”
Thanksgiving dinner was great. The restaurant was real nice, much fancier than where we’d normally eat out. They even had live jazz music. On Friday we had to get up early ‘cause the movers were coming at 7 a.m. and we had to be finished cleaning up and eating and packing our suitcases. It only took a few hours for the movers to get all our stuff into the moving van. It was a big moving van, packed with the stuff of other people who were moving to California. It left around 11:00 and so did we.
The drive to California was boring. It’s a long way from Cincinnati to California! The moving van had a three-man crew cab with space to sleep, and they told us that they were going to drive non-stop. So we had to be there Monday morning, for sure, ‘cause our stuff had to be unloaded first since it had been loaded last. I read, and slept, and played games on my PSP, and read some more, and just stared out the window at whatever we were passing. I didn’t complain, it wouldn’t have done any good, and it would have started stressing me out. We drove in two cars, my dad’s and my mom’s. I rode in one until we stopped, then switched over to the other, in order to keep Dad and Mom company. We stopped every couple of hours for a pee break, or to eat. We stayed at motels Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday evening we pulled into Walnut Creek. Amazing! We stayed overnight at the Marriott hotel, and were at our new house by 7 a.m.
We went in, Dad turned on the heat, and we all sat on the floor in the living room waiting for the moving van. And waited. And waited some more. I discovered that you can’t sit on a hard floor for very long, even if it has wall to wall carpeting, before your butt gets totally sore. I got up and walked around. Then Mom and I put on our jackets and took a walk around our new neighborhood. We got back, and Dad and I drove to the Longs Drug Store and bought three lawn chairs and pads, and brought them back to the house. It was more comfortable to sit on the chairs, the pads helped a lot. After a few minutes I took the pads off my chair and using them as a pillow I lay down and went to sleep.
It was almost noon when the moving van finally arrived and honked its horn. That woke me up, and we got out of the movers’ way as they started bringing in our stuff. They told us that they were held up by a big accident on the freeway just a few miles from Walnut Creek! They said they tried to call Dad’s cell phone number, but got his voicemail. Dad pulled out his cell phone and discovered that the battery was dead! Mom used her cell phone to order pizzas and sodas, and they were delivered and we shared them with the moving guys.
The movers put tags above the doors of each room, and we’d tell them which room each piece of furniture was supposed to go into. We’d marked each box with the room name already, so that made it easier. After everything was in, they helped us move things around the way Mom wanted them, and they set up the beds. Dad gave each of them a $50.00 tip. They deserved it!
I unpacked my stuff, made my bed with Mom’s help, and rearranged the clothes in my new closet. It was like three times as big as my old closet! Then I helped Mom and Dad unpack the kitchen stuff and put it away, and Dad and I connected the TV to the cable but it didn’t work yet. Dad phoned the cable company and they said they’d be there on Tuesday to set it up and install Internet access in my bedroom and in Dad’s office.
Mom had phoned the TS specialist in Walnut Creek and made an appointment for him to see me on Friday afternoon after school.
Mom had phoned Walnut Creek Intermediate School from Cincinnati, got my enrollment papers, filled them out, and sent them and had my records sent too. This was something that she was used to doing because we were always moving.
I was getting nervous about school. It was going to be real different going to a different classroom for each subject. That also meant I’d have to meet with the teacher in each class to explain about my TS and tell the class about it. It was always stressful to go to a new school, and that would make my tics worse. I was going to start school tomorrow. I hoped everything went OK. Mom went to Safeway and brought home some steaks and veggies and a box of fries, and cooked our first meal in our new home. It was awesome!
We were all tired, from everything we’d been doing this week, but specially from the driving and unpacking. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but as soon as I got in bed I was out!
It was hard to get up Tuesday morning. I didn’t want to get up. I wanted to get up. I didn’t want to go to school. I wanted to go to school. I was confused. I was nervous. As I lay in bed thinking, I realized that I was blinking. I yelled at my self in my mind: ‘Stop, stop, STOP!’ It didn’t work. As usual, it made me blink more. I got out of bed and it suddenly sunk in that I was in a new city, and was in a new house. A house! I started laughing out loud and jumping around. It was so amazingly fantastic! Mom must have heard and she came to my door, which I had left open. She looked in at me and grinned.
“And what’s this little dance number all about?”
She startled me because I hadn’t seen her come to the door. “Uh, well, I just realized that I’m living in a real, honest-to-God house. Mom, we’re living in a HOUSE! It’s so absolutely FANTASTIC!” I grabbed her arm and pulled her into my room and started dancing around with her. We both laughed and then she stopped and held onto my shoulders.
“Will, this has been a lot of fun, but I think you need to take your shower and get ready for school. But especially you need to get dressed!”
I realized that I was wearing nothing but my boxers. How embarrassing! I actually ran out of my room into the hall. Then I realized that I didn’t remember which way the bathroom was! I burst out laughing again and turned to Mom.
“OK, where’s the bathroom?”
She laughed, and pointed down the hall. “First door on the right.”
After I showered and brushed my teeth and combed my hair I went to the kitchen for breakfast. I wasn’t really hungry, but I knew Mom would rag on me if I didn’t eat, so I had a bowl of cornflakes and a piece of toast with jam. When I finished Mom smiled at me.
“OK, sport, time to go.”
I blinked a few times, then smiled at her. “I guess I’m ready.”
We got in the car and she drove like she knew exactly where she was going. And she did, because it only took about ten minutes to get to the school. There were a lot of cars dropping off kids. Mom pulled into the parking lot and we went to the main office. Mom introduced herself and me to Mrs. Phipps, the woman at the counter. She smiled at both of us, and looked directly at me. I wasn’t very nervous, but I still blinked a few times.
“Welcome to Walnut Creek Intermediate School, Will. We’re glad to have you join our student body. I’ve received your records from Cincinnati, and the admission forms that your mother filled out.” I was impressed that she was talking directly to me instead of to my mother. It made me feel good.
“Will, we see from your admission forms that you have Tourette Syndrome. I want to make sure that you know that we’ll support you fully. We’ve let your teachers know that you have TS, and they have the teacher’s guide from the Tourette Syndrome Association and their video made by kids who have TS. Your teachers will show the video in each of your classes. You will be the third student at WCI who has TS. We’ll introduce you to those other two children later this week. I also want to make sure that you know that we have a very strict anti-harassment policy in our district. Physical, sexual, and verbal harassment is not tolerated. We also have a very strict non-discrimination policy, and expect all students to be tolerant and accepting of other student’s race, national origin, gender, sex, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or economic status. Do you have any questions?”
“No, ma’am, I’ve gone on your web site and read the information there. I understand it and I’m real glad you have these policies.” I was real surprised. I’d never met anyone who had TS, and it was exciting and a bit scary to think that I’d meet two Tourette kids.
“Thank you, Will. I’m sure you’ll find the students at WCI to be a very friendly group who will understand about your TS and accept you like any other student. Now, I’d like to go over your class schedule with you and your mother, and talk about our buddy system.”
She told me that I had been signed up for classes based on what I had been taking in Cincinnati. I wouldn’t be able to make any choices because I was coming into the school year late. But the classes were OK. The one I was most interested in was the computer class. Cool! My first period class was Social Science, the same class was called History and Government in Cincinnati, and second period was English. She took my picture and it was printed on a school ID card they gave me. She told me I had to have that card with me at all times on campus. Then she gave me a printed copy of the campus rules and we went through the most important ones. That took about a half hour, and I had to sign the form that said I had read and understood the rules.
I was going to have a buddy to take me around, someone who had most of the same classes I was in. Mom and I sat down to wait. After a few minutes an Asian boy came in and looked around. When he saw me he smiled, and came over.
“Hi. Are you Will Christmas?”
Mom and I stood up, and I grinned. “Yes. Are you my buddy?”
“Yup. My name is Kyle Wong. Glad to meet’cha.”
“Kyle, this is my Mom.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Kyle.”
“Nice to meet you too, Mrs. Christmas.”
Mom turned to me. “Will, it looks like you’re in good hands. I’m going to head home now. I’ll be here at about 3:15 to pick you up.”
“OK, thanks, Mom. See you later.” She smiled at me, and then left the office. I was glad that she didn’t hug or kiss me, that would have been totally embarrassing. I turned to Kyle. “I guess I’m ready.”
“Great. Turns out that we have exactly the same schedule, so it’ll be easy for me to show you around. By the way, welcome to WCI, uh, Walnut Creek Intermediate. I’ll show you your locker first, then we’ll go to our second period class, English.” We walked out of the office and headed to another building. “This is your locker. The combination is in this envelope. Take it out and let’s see if it works.” I opened the envelope and took out a piece of paper that had ’25-7-39’ written on it. I tried it and it worked the first time. “Wow, that’s cool, Will. Most lockers won’t unlock the first time a new student tries.”
“Well, it works just like my locker in Cincinnati, so it was pretty easy to open.”
“Let’s head over to English. It’s in room 301.”
We walked along a planted area between two buildings. “I think I’m gonna like going to school here, this is real nice. This is a lot bigger school than where I went in Cincinnati.”
“There’s about 1,200 kids here this year. How many were in your school?”
“Less than 500, kindergarten through eighth grade. There were only two eighth grade classes. About 25 were in my class. We didn’t go to a different room for each class, we stayed in one room except for art and music, and for science.”
“We have lots of rooms here, and even a couple of bridges you use to cross the canal. The biggest problem is that there’s only four minutes between classes, so you really have to move to get from one class to another. Did you have PE?”
“Yes, but only two days a week.”
“Wow. That’s sure different than here. Did you like your school? Did you have lots of friends? It must have been tough to leave and move all the way to California.”
“Yeah, it was a good school, and I had friends there. My Dad’s job moves him around all the time, so I’ve been to lots of different schools. Now we’re going to be living here at least 5 years. The first time I ever started and ended one school year in the same school was seventh grade in Cincinnati. But I hate the winter in Cincinnati, so I’m real glad to be here. No snow! I hate the snow.”
“You don’t ski?”
“No. It makes my tics worse.”
“You have ticks? Uh, do they jump off you?”
I laughed. “Not t-i-c-k-s ticks. I have Tourette Syndrome, it’s a neurological condition that makes me do things I don’t want to, like blinking over and over. It’s kinda like if you have to sneeze or cough you can’t help doing that, for me I can’t help blinking or jerking my shoulder or things like that. They’re called tics, spelled t-i-c-s. I don’t have it too bad, and I don’t do the vocalizations that some kids with TS do.”
“I’ve heard of that, Chuck Summio is in our SS class, uh, that’s Social Science, and he has it. Sometimes he says words out loud and he can’t help himself. We saw a video about it at the start of the year. They showed it in most of my classes. I’ve never talked to Chuck about it, I don’t know him very well, that’s the only class I have with him. You’ll meet him tomorrow morning. And tomorrow is late schedule, school starts at 9:30 instead of 8:30 and each class is a little shorter. We get out at the same time.”
“I’ve never heard of anything like that. We didn’t have late schedule in Cincinnati. When’s it done?”
“It’s every Wednesday. Here’s our English class, room 301. The teacher is Mr. Curran. He’s cool. I like English. How about you?”
“Yeah, I like most classes. Maybe not PE so much. I don’t remember, when do we have PE?”
“Fourth period, then 5A lunch. I’d die of hunger if I had to wait all the way until 5B lunch!”
We walked into the classroom and Kyle introduced me to the teacher. He asked me a few questions about what I’d been studying, then asked me to sit next to Kyle. I was surprised there were no assigned seats in this class.
Mr. Curran introduced me to the class, and I had to stand up front and tell a little about that I came from Cincinnati. No one laughed when Mr. Curran said my last name, and I didn’t know what to think and that made me nervous, so I was blinking more than usual. After I finished telling about Cincinnati and my school, Mr. Curran stepped behind me and put his hands on my shoulders.
“Class, Will has Tourette Syndrome. Remember that we saw the video about Tourette at the beginning of the year, and some of you know Chuck Summio and Brian Wilcox, both of them have Tourette. Be sure to remember our code of conduct, and treat Will with respect. Now let’s give Will Christmas a WCI ‘hello’”.
The whole class called out “Hello, Will Christmas!” I walked back to my desk. There was a tall boy sitting on the other side of Kyle who was looking at me and smiling. He looked at the teacher.
“Hey, Mr. Curran, now we know the answer to the question ‘Will Christmas arrive early this year?’ and it's yes!”
The class laughed at his comment, and I have to admit that I did too. It was funny. Mr. Curran looked at him as I sat down.
“Well, Mr. Rector, since you seem to be once again providing us with one of your awful puns, why don’t you come up here and tell the class exactly what is a pun?”
The class laughed even more than they had at his comment about my name. The kid blushed, and walked to the front of the class and turned to face us. “Well, a pun is a play on words, when you say something that twists the meaning of words so it’s funny. Like how I used Will’s name, Will Christmas, so the ‘will’ part wasn’t just his first name but was also the word ‘will’ which means asking if something is going to happen. It wasn’t a very good pun, because if you think of Will Christmas as his name the sentence doesn’t make any sense. You can see that if you change the name so it’s ‘John Christmas arrive early this year.’ A pun’s gotta work both ways. Right, Mr. Curran?”
“A good explanation, Jeffrey, if a little convoluted. You can take your seat. Now, who can tell me what ‘convoluted’ means?”
A bunch of hands went up, and Mr. Curran picked a girl in the back corner. The class really got into the lesson, and it was interesting how Mr. Curran was able to use Jeffrey’s pun to start his lesson. What a neat teacher!
I watched Jeffrey walk back to his desk, and he looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and grinned. I realized that he hadn’t really been teasing me, he was just using my name to make a pun. So I grinned back at him.
After class Kyle introduced me to Jeffrey. “Will, this idiot is Jeffrey Rector. He’s the class clown. Avoid him at all cost!” Both Kyle and Jeffrey laughed.
“Will, I apologize if you think I was teasing you because I wasn’t. I’m always looking for puns, and this morning there wasn’t much available material! And by the way, I’m not the class clown. No, certainly not! I am Jeffrey Rector, official WCI clown, accept no substitute!”
All three of us laughed. I liked Jeffrey, a lot. He was fun and funny. I decided that I wanted to be his friend, and Kyle’s friend too.
A boy walked up to us. "Are you Will Christmas?"
"Yeah." I wasn't sure what he wanted.
"I'm Chuck Summio. Mrs. Phipps told me you have TS. Do you?"
I looked at Chuck, he looked pretty normal, like me, and thinking that made me smile. "Yeah, I have TS. You know, you're the first person I've ever met who has TS besides me."
Chuck grinned. "Mrs. Phipps said you have first lunch. Maybe we can eat together?" He looked at Jeffrey and Kyle, who smiled and nodded.
"That'd be great."
"OK, I'll see you in the cafeteria. Gotta get to my Spanish class. See ya!"
"See ya!" Wow, another friend, on my first day, and a kid who has TS. Amazing! I was sure liking it here!
Kyle looked at us. “OK, we’ve just about blown it guys! We have to get to geometry, now, or we’ll be late! Let’s go!”
As we headed down the hall Jeffrey said to me in a loud whisper, “Kyle hates to be late. Geometry is just around the corner in room 212. It will take us 30 seconds if we crawl there on our hands and knees. I think he’s just practicing so he won’t be late for his own funeral!”
“Funny ha-ha, Jeffrey. And YOU will be late to YOUR own funeral.”
Jeffrey was right. We were early for geometry, which was almost next door to English. I took a seat between Kyle and Jeffrey and began thinking about how I was finally going to live and go to school somewhere for a long time, and how great the rest of eighth grade was going to be. Specially for a kid named Will Christmas who has Tourette Syndrome. Cool!
This story is fiction, but Tourette Syndrome is real. It primarily strikes kids, and it's tough on them, especially when they're pre-teens and teens. The Tourette Syndrome Association is one of the organizations that helps kids and adults cope with TS, and that is sponsoring research to find medications that can improve those who have TS, and perhaps even find a cure. Visit their web site at www.tsa-usa.org for more information. They can use your support!
There's an interesting article from the Contra Costa Times newspaper about Tourette Syndrome here. It tells about American Idol contestant James Durbin who has both Tourette and Asperger's syndrome. The focus of the article is how seeing Durbin on American Idol is helping pre-teen kids cope with having Tourette by letting them see how someone with Tourette can live with it and be successful.
If you enjoyed reading this story, please let me know! Authors thrive by the feedback they receive from readers. It's easy: just click on the email link at the bottom of this page to send me a message. Say “Hi” and tell me what you think about A Christmas Story. Thanks.
This story and the included images are Copyright © 2008 by Colin Kelly (colinian). They cannot be reproduced without express written consent. Codey's World web site has written permission to publish this story. No other rights are granted.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.