Episode 9: All in the Family

7 months ago

I talk to Rick and Marissa Roderick about how Marissa came to be adopted by Rick and his wife, Carol, and my daughter, Sayer, puts in an appearance to ask a burning question from one child of a disabled parent to another.

Thanks to Chris Ankin for use of his song, “Change.”

The book "A Celebration of Family: Stories of Parents with Disabilities." is available from Amazon here.

Send comments and questions to [email protected]

Demand and Disrupt is sponsored by the Advocado Press and the Center For Accessible Living.

Thanks to Steve Moore for the transcription which you can find in the show notes below when they become available.


Kimberly Parsley 00:06 Welcome to Demand and Disrupt, the disability podcast. Here we will learn to advocate for ourselves and each other. This podcast is supported with funds from the Advocado press, based in Louisville, Kentucky.

Computer Voice 00:21 Marissa Roderick was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. She had six foster homes, but only remembers one of them. She currently works at the American Printing House for the Blind in the proofreading department as a copy holder. She said it's literally a dream come true – she gets paid to read. She said she has a wonderful better half named Josh who has retinitis pigmentosa. They have Josh's German Shepherd guide dog, Gingka, and a beloved tripod cat named Izzy. Marissa holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology and American Sign Language from Eastern Kentucky University. She is a strong ally and advocate for individuals who are deaf-blind.

Rick Roderick said he started out as a Hoosier, being born in Richmond, Indiana, and later moving to Martinsville. When his parents wanted him to be able to live at home during grades in high school, they moved to Normal, Illinois, where his dad got a job at what is now Illinois State University. During grades in high school, the schools had resource rooms where Rick got the help and support he needed to attend school. He attended the University of Illinois, obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Counseling. He then got a Master of Divinity at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1975. He worked for 10 years as a rehab counselor and for 18 as an assistive technology specialist for the Kentucky Blindness Agency. He married Carol in 1978 and they adopted Marissa in 1985 when she was 16 months old.

Kimberly Parsley 01:31 Welcome, Rick Roderick and Marissa Roderick, to the Demand and Disrupt podcast. How are you guys doing?

Rick 01:38 Oh, I'm just fine.

Marissa 01:40 I'm good! Good, good, good. Having, having a good weekend.

Kimberly Parsley 01:45 Excellent! Excellent. Rick, you have been around a long time. You are a staple in the disability community, at least in Kentucky. But I know I've heard your name mentioned on a podcast from Mosun at Large, who is a New Zealander. So, you certainly do get around.

Rick 02:05 Well, that, he will send out emails bringing up questions or things he wants discussed and I replied a couple of times to those.

Kimberly Parsley 02:16 Excellent! Excellent. You've got a lot of good advice. I remember being at the McDowell Center before it was even called the McDowell Center and you were teaching me how to use a computer. And that would have been a very long time ago, back in the 90s. So, it is good to get to talk to you again. So, tell me about your story in, in the book. It, it, getting Marisa into your life was kind of a long and winding road, wasn't it?

Rick 02:45 Yes, it was. We, we got into infertility treatments; Carol had, had those for a while and nothing was happening and, you know, that just gets really expensive and we finally said, ‘We're giving up.’ And the adoption scene did not look good, you know: if you, if you just, if you put in for a child – if you want an infant, then it just takes, it may be years if you get one at all. And, so, we started listening to Wednesday's Child, when I, which is a program on our CBS affiliate, and they break down different, different children and family groups. And they were older – most of them are, there's more than one. When there was a younger one, we thought, ‘That’s not really what we feel we can handle.’ So, all of a sudden, on June 26, 1985, we hear an announcement that there's going to be a baby on and that’s, that was highly unusual; it never happened before. So, we listened and we heard, ‘She's legally blind,’ you know, they kept stressing that. But we both felt at the same time, ‘That's our child!’

We were told that we, you know, we went into; I call the next day, we got into classes, we were told there's no assurance that you will get this child, you'll get Marissa, so, we, but we persevered. We tried, because of the uncertainty, we tried to private adoption that fell through. We also looked into another private adoption. And Carol said to me, you know, ‘Why don't you call Special Needs and see where you are with that? See where we are.’ And, so I did that and they said, ‘Well, let's, we'll get back to you; I think we can make a decision pretty quickly.’ And her name was Joanne Harrison and she called back and said, ‘If you want her, she's yours!’ So, that started the whole process of home visits. And she was supposed to say goodbye to her last foster family where she was only briefly (the other one had some things come up and couldn't watch her). And, so, we, we never, she never got back to say goodbye to them, because there was about, you know, a minor ice storm and Carol said, ‘I'm not going to the other end of town!’ [chuckle] And, so, the day, so, really, December 12, 1985, was that very special day! And maybe I've got into too much detail here.

Kimberly Parsley 05:42 Oh, no! No. It's a beautiful story.

Rick 05:45 I was scared to death! I thought I might drop her. I might run into her. And I'm not very good with babies. But it worked out. And, but, you know, as we got older, you know, I was able to do more. And we, I used to read to her at night. And I was able to help with things like college, college assignments. You know, I could sometimes look at something she'd written and come up with something that I think sounded a little better, whatever. But, we, we had those kinds of things and those are some of my memories. And that's, that's about all I have to say about that! [chuckles]

Kimberly Parsley 06:29 Marissa, you were a celebrity early on, right?

Marissa 06:33 Apparently! And another rarity that I don't think happens too much is they did a follow up segment later on from Wednesday's Child, kind of, you know, seeing how we were after the whole process and seeing how well things were, you know, thriving and surviving and whatnots. And they kind of segued into other Wednesday's Child families after that point. So, yeah, I was kind of a celebrity from the get go! [laughter]

Kimberly Parsley 07:10 Absolutely! So, have you gone back and watch that? Like, as an adult, you've gone back and watch those segments?

Marissa 07:18 I have! My aunt and uncle, they still have the video tapes. And, yeah: they're like really old and scratchy, but they still work. Goodness! It's adorable! I still remember the (garbled) I was playing with in the segment! [chuckles]

Kimberly Parsley 07:38 Oh, wow! So, so you are visually impaired and your dad is blind and has hearing issues, right? Marissa Yep.

Kimberly Parsley What, what? I don't know, what’s the best way for me to say that? Hard of hearing? Deaf-blind?

Rick 07:53 I, why, I like hard of hearing, since the definition was broader than I thought it was. You know, I'm not totally deaf, but I have a problem with noise and, basically, people or things have to be close. You know, that's, that's how I would describe it.

Kimberly Parsley 08:12 Yeah? Yeah, I understand. So, Marissa, what was it like growing up with a dad or a parent who was disabled?

Marissa 08:22 I don't think, for the longest time ever, I don't think it really clicked with me that there was something off or different about my dad or my mom in anybody else's family. Like, at some point, I thought, ‘Okay, well, all dads have dogs and all moms drive cars.’ And I remember a childhood friend of mine and I was just baffled, because her dad was driving, and she didn't have any dogs in her family. So, I think that was the moment that kind of clued me in that maybe, okay, something is different. [chuckle] I don't know when I became a daddy's girl, but I just kind of remember really early on suddenly having to help my dad and I realized my mom could sort of kind of fend for herself. [laughter]

Rick 09:25 Well, that came kind of gradually, because, you know, when you were real little and your mom was dominant, I would say, as far as I could, there was something going on, you would, you felt stressed, you'd go to her. And then, later on, you’d come to me, you know, when you got older.

Kimberly Parsley 09:42 So, did your dad teach you, teach you blind tricks? You know, like how to, I don’t know. Like, how to read Braille or use screen reader? Things like that.

Marissa 09:53 I always would kind of sit in his office and I knew his computer was talking and stuff. But he has it so fast, so I couldn't understand it. I just knew, at some point, you know, he could slow it down. But I remember he did kind of teach me Braille. At least grade one, not the whole shebang.

Rick 10:17 I gotta tell you what, what I did. You know, this was a DOS computer. It was the first one I had. And it was what a much more primitive synthesizer, map. I would, she would write her name and that, at that time she went by Molly (it’s Mary Marissa). Anyways, I would have her, she could write Molly on the computer and it would say, “My name is Molly Roderick. I go to presents for school.” [laughter]

Marissas 10:51 I do remember that. [laughter]

Rick 10:56 And then I would change, I would change the, the DOS prompt, which it was then, to say something else that I had. It would say, “You turkey! You turkey!” And I would switch it back, but try… [laughter] Kimberly Parsley 11:11 It sounds, it sounds like you two had fun with it!

Rick We did.

Marissa 11:15 Oh, yeah! [chuckles] Kimberly Parsley 11:18 That’s awesome! That's awesome. Rick, I know you said in the beginning you were afraid you might drop, you might drop her?

Rick 11:28 Yeah. Or I might knock her over. I mean, going up and downstairs, I might knock her over and, fortunately, that never happened. And she's very resilient.

Marissa 11:37 I remember I used to play tricks on my dad and, to see what I could get away with. I would act helpless, like I couldn't climb out of the crib. And he caught me climbing out of the crib one time. [laughter]

Rick 11:54 Well, I never…

Marissa 11:56 I would, I would always hand him stuff, whether it was things I should be handing him or not. [chuckles]

Kimberly Parsley 12:02 Like, to play a trick on him?

Rick 12:05 I'll never forget when she, I get to sit, I used to get cassettes from the library. You know, talking books. One time she took quite a bit of and unrolled it. Never took that thing back. [laughter]

Marissa 12:24 But I handed it to him! [laughter]

Kimberly Parsley 12:26 Yeah! [chuckles] You didn't steal it or take it away, you know! Could you get the cassette tape ever reeled back up?

Rick No. Never did! [chuckle]

Kimberly Parsley No? Sometimes you could! I remember back when cassette tapes and sometimes, if you, you know, accidentally cut it. Sometimes, if you worked real hard and were real patient, you could get them all rolled back up. But…

Rick 12:48 Now they don't use cassettes anymore.

Kimberly Parsley They don't.

Rick They're all electronic. So, they’re really pretty much indestructible. Cartridges for some, you know. But I usually just download them.

Kimberly Parsley 13:01 Yes! That’s what I do, too. And I appreciate it, because I can't, can't tear, tear up a cassette or lose a cassette or something anymore. Marissa, how was it going through school? Because all the people I’ve talked to about parents with their kids, how was it going through school with your visual impairment?

Marissa 13:23 I'm not gonna lie school was not, not always great. You know, I think the younger years, you know, K through five, et cetera. I think the teachers did try. They didn't have a whole lot of experience or exposure with a visually impaired student, so they weren't really sure how to attend to certain needs, you know, during class time. But there was a lot of parent teacher conferences and a lot of discussion that I remember my parents having and sitting down with the teacher as well. ‘This isn't gonna work this way. Could you try it this way?’ You know, ‘Sit in front of the classroom?’ ‘Could you verbalize what you're writing on the board?’ ‘Could she work with a lab partner?’ Things of that nature. And I was bullied quite a bit by most of my peers [nervous laughter] up until, I would say, college. College was the defining moment where I felt like I didn't have to fight to fit in. I didn't have to prove that I was smarter than, you know, my disability. I mean, I was just a person. They didn't care that I had a visual impairment, they wanted to hear about me: what I wanted out of the class, why I was there in college, what my hopes and dreams were. So, it was nice to finally feel kind of, ‘Ahhh…’ you know. ‘I can breathe! I can actually focus on my education!’

Kimberly Parsley 14:58 So, when you were in school, there was, they didn't mainstream kids, right? That's what they call it.

Rick No. I was mainstreamed.

Kimberly Parsley Oh, you were. Okay.

Rick 15:07 I was. Okay. I was, originally, I was living in Martinsville, Indiana, where my dad taught, taught music, high school students. He taught both grade and high school by that time. Born in Richmond, Indiana, and then moved to Martinsville. Then, the, we looked at the Indiana School for the Blind and, you know, I might have gone there and that would that would have been if I’d, if he'd stayed at that job I would have. And, then, we ended up moving to Normal, Illinois, which is in the central part of Illinois where Illinois State University is and he got a job there teaching college students. Eventually, he got his doctorate and he lived, they lived there, the rest of their lives. And I lived there until I, you know, I went to college and seminary and then that.

And, so, that was my story. But, I used, I was in places, the grade school had a Braille resource room in those days. I don't think it's been practice since, because there aren't as many of us, but the people who used Braille and the people who used large print were in different resource rooms. And, so, that was also true when I was in Champaign, Illinois, where my dad was working on his doctorate at the University of Illinois. But, then in high school, the situation was a little different, because we had a resource room for all disabilities. I was in that, just the resource room, I was usually in there just a part of the day. But I spent most of my time in the regular classroom and the resource room would, you know, they would help with reading and sometimes I'd take tests there and, you know, things like that. Actually, I was in a, I was in a high, a grade school that had a wing for people with different disabilities and I had classes when I was younger with people with physical disabilities. It was a small class. It was almost like a one room school. It had first through fourth grade. In fifth grade, I was in just a regular classroom and I was when I came back.

Kimberly Parsley 17:39 Well, did you experience bullying when you were in school?

Rick 17:43 Not a lot. There were a couple of kids, but I experienced it more, I think the worst cases of bullying that I experienced were when I was, lived, you know, in the place, in the student housing that we were in when my dad was getting his doctorate. There was one girl who could be very nice, but she also had a way of sometimes tying my shoes together. I didn't know how to tie my shoes at that point. I learned, I did eventually learn, but. Then, there was, but, you know, I really. And there was one, there was one, there were a few instances, but not very often. I really didn't have trouble. The trouble, I felt like, I did feel, though, that there were times I didn't fit in and there were times I was lonely. I think that was more of a problem than bullying.

Kimberly Parsley 18:36 Yeah. I, I, I can relate to that, also. I felt, you know.

Rick 18:38 Eventually, you know, the thing that happened, you know, and then I got into high school and the thing that really helped me was getting into activities like speech and chorus and a couple of different clubs.

Kimberly Parsley 18:57 So, I always ask this to everyone. What, will ask it to the parents, at least. So, Rick, what would you say to someone who's a parent who's maybe deaf-blind and is considering becoming a parent? What would you say to them?

Rick 19:15 I would say it can be done. You know, think in advance how you're going to do things, how you're going to divide things up, as far as what you do. And my, you know, part of my situation is my hearing. Although it was not good then, it was a lot better than it became, you know. I had a gradual hearing loss. Like, when I was in high, right in high school, the hearing loss was not an issue, but it became more of an issue later. I would say, you know, persevere! Work out what needs to be done and, you know, make sure you can work those things out. You can still give your child a lot of support. You're more likely now than you used to be able to get your kids’ books, like schoolbooks, in a format you can use, so you can maybe follow along and help, and that's always something that I thought was a problem.

Kimberly Parsley 20:15 Yeah. Okay. I get that. And Marissa, you are in luck! Because, instead of me asking you your question, I am going to get my daughter, Sayer, and she is going to ask you I don't know what. And, so, I apologize in advance. So, she’s got her questions. So, Michael’s gone to get her now and she will be here in just a second. I'm gonna hand over the headphones, so I'm not going to be able to hear your response. So, like I said. All right, here we go. Give her just a second to switch headphones. And this is going to be Sayer. Again, my apologies if it's required.

Sayer Hello.

Marissa 20:56 Hi, love!

Sayer How are you today?

Marissa I'm wonderful! Happy Friday.

Sayer 21:05 Happy Friday to you, too! What's it like to be a child of a blind parent? In your case?

Marissa 21:10 I think it's pretty cool! I feel like my dad is a genius. My mom is equally of a superwoman. And it just, not a whole lot of people like my folks out there. When I was your age, at least. I think it's really cool!

Sayer 21:34 I have one more question. What's your favorite type of cookie? [laughter]

Marissa 21:39 Oh, no! You’ve hit that one! Oh my gosh! That's a tough one, because I absolutely love chocolate. So, I'm gonna go with the double chocolate chip cookie.

Sayer 21:53 Okey dokey. Are you scared about losing your sight?

Marissa 21:57 I am. Believe it or not, I am. But I know that it, it can happen and I'll be okay. It's gonna be difficult, it’s gonna be sometimes sad and sometimes it's gonna make me mad and it's gonna make me scared. But I have an infinite amount of resources, I have family, I have friends. I'll figure out how to be okay, if I lose my vision.

Sayer 22:29 I have one more thing I'd like to tell you. Have a good day and weekend!

Marissa 22:34 Awww! Have a lovely weekend!

Sayer You, too!

Kimberly Parsley 22:38 Hey, Marissa, thank you.

Marissa 22:40 We put her on the spot. I think she was nervous.

Kimberly Parsley 22:43 She was a little nervous. And I had told her to be thinking. I told her, she must be hungry to ask about a cookie. She must be hungry.

Marissa 22:50 I kind of gathered that! [laughter] My parents taught me to enjoy life. So, eat the dessert first. [laughter]

Kimberly Parsley 22:58 Yes, we have…

Rick 23:00 We were always, I was always told growing up, ‘Don't. Eat dessert last, don't spoil your supper.’ But, now I know that to eat dessert first does not spoil my supper and, of course, now on my, since Carol has been diagnosed with diabetes, we both and I need to lose weight. We're not eating nearly the desserts we used to.

Kimberly Parsley 23:25 We have a rule in our house and that is ‘Do not let say or get hungry!’ [laughter] I hear that! [laughter]

Kimberly Parsley 23:33 We get what we call the Sayer monster. So, alright guys, is there anything else that you want to tell any of our listeners?

Marissa 23:42 I guess this would be kind of a broad spectrum thing. But, something that I have had to accept every time and it's taken me years to figure this out. If nothing goes right, go left! Whatever left is, go left! [laughter]

Kimberly Parsley 24:04 That is that is a good life lesson right there.

Rick 24:06 That's called having resilience. And, then, and Marissa, you have had a lot of setbacks over the years. I'm not gonna go into all that, but we both know what they have been. And now you’re, you did go left. You have a job you love and probably, in some ways, it's the best time of your life, I think.

Marissa It's a dream come true.

Rick You know, I think also finding your own space, finding somebody you love and, you know, all those things also formed you. And we recognize that you make your own decisions, we’re not going to try to pressure you to make decisions. Yet you're not going to make this, we know you're not going to make decisions just because we made the other one. So, it’s, it’s where it should be.

Kimberly Parsley 24:57 Yeah, rebellion is important. So important. [laughter]

Marissa 25:03 I mean, everybody, everybody goes through that rebellious stage in some way, shape or form, just like every parent has a hard time, you know, letting go of the decision making. [laughter] I think it's a win- win overall.

Kimberly Parsley 25:22 Well, good! I'm so glad! I'm so glad. Thank you all so much. I appreciate it! And, as Sayer said, “Have a Good Friday and good weekend!”

Marissa 25:30 Thanks for having me.

Kimberly Parsley 25:31 Bye. Thank you both very much! Thanks to Chris Onken for our theme music. Thanks to Steve Moore for providing our transcription. Comes from the Center for Accessible living in Louisville, Kentucky and you can find links to buy the book A Celebration of Family: Stories of Parents with Disabilities in our show notes. Thanks, everyone!

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Kimberly Parsley