ChatterChops and Molly


I first discovered the Owl Box in mid March, 2010 when a fellow MicroMiniature artisan posted the link to our online group. I lurked in Social Stream for a week or so, not realizing there was a chat. Social Stream was not really my cup of tea (we don’t do Facebook, Twitter or any of that other stuff) so I did not join in at all.

 But then I noticed that chat button. I clicked on it and the rest is history. I was hooked. At first, I was really hesitant to involve Colleen in the chat. Her special needs tend to hinder her communication skills. We had tried before to have her participate in a chat with me, but it did not go well. Others in the chat saw her as a “bother” or couldn’t or wouldn’t take the time to try to reason out her misspellings or skipped words. She was never really welcomed there, even though they had told us she would be. I vowed then that I would not attempt to involve her in chat again. There was just too much pain involved.

One of the first things I noticed about the Owl Box chat, however, was the camaraderie, the acceptance, the feeling of family. Perhaps it was the shared love of nature or the shared awe at being able to watch these beautiful creatures together, but it didn’t take long to realize that this chat room truly was a family. It gave me hope that perhaps this would be a chat where Colleen could find acceptance.

I spoke to a couple of the moderators about our situation and about her limitations. They informed me quite enthusiastically that she would be more than welcome in chat. Before she signed in the first time, I introduced myself in chat and told them a little about her. All the chatters encouraged me to let her join in. They all thought that this would be the perfect place for her. And they were right!

From the very first time she signed in, she was embraced by 1000’s of adopted grandmas and grandpas from around the world. Seeing the multiple “Hi ChatterChops!” scrolling on the screen each time she logged in brought a tear to my eye and lump in my throat every time.

And she thrived! Almost immediately, we saw a couple of benefits that we’d never anticipated. Colleen has always been a very sensitive child, with her emotions very close to the surface. We often experienced what she called “melt-downs”, where her emotions would get the better of her and the only way she knew to release was to cry – for a long time – with loud, heart wrenching sobs. Within just a couple of weeks, her father (aka TheDaddyBird) and I realized that we had not experience even one of her melt-downs since she began visiting the Owl Box. I don’t know what it was about this experience that allowed her to maintain control of her emotions. Maybe it was the acceptance and friendship she found. Maybe it was the owls and experiencing nature so close and so personal. Maybe it was just as simple as having an outlet that allowed her to be her.

There are so many different instances that stand out in my mind. The first was watching Wesley hatch. Colleen had been so worried about the eggs, afraid that Molly or Max would break them. We didn’t get to watch Wesley’s hatching live, but we did get to see the video. She was enthralled. She said to her father and I, “Wow! Molly’s babies are tiny and pink and loud just like I was!” (She was a preemie and only 3 pounds when she was born.)

And then there was Easter! It started with her worries about the Easter Bunny and the owls. Once we got past that, we were in the chat room when Carlos was chatting with us and then he said, “We’re having an earthquake!” Chatters from all over southern California chimed in to share their experiences with the earthquake. We had just lost a good friend (Colleen’s pediatrician) in the earthquake in Haiti. Although she did not know (and still doesn’t) about Frank’s death, the quake and devastation there was very upsetting to her. She still showed fear if a big truck drove by outside and rattled the windows. Hearing (seeing?) folks talk so calmly about an earthquake and seeing for herself that they were all okay and that Molly and the owls were fine did so much to help alleviate her fears. She learned that although some earthquakes can be devastating, not all are like that.

And then the live bunny delivery that night! What can I say? I was so proud of how she dealt with that. While the adults in the chat room were hysterical, Colleen was pretty philosophical about it. She came thundering up the stairs from her computer and said, “Mom! I know it’s nature and all that, but . . . . it’s a BUNNY!”  She then looked at her dad who was still muttering, “I just can’t believe it, I can’t believe it . . . “ and said to him, very soothingly, “It’s just nature, Daddy. You’ll be okay. I promise.”

One evening in chat, a new chatter joined the room. She had not yet met Colleen and knew nothing about her or her situation. She saw Colleen’s typos and remarked, “You need to learn how to type! Are you drunk or something?” Colleen was devastated, but then, seeing the way the other chatters jumped to her defense was amazing. Over and over we saw people typing, “You leave our ChatterChops alone!” It all made her feel so good. (The new chatter later became one of her staunchest supporters, once she knew her story.)

Colleen came to me the next day and said, “Mom, The chat folks love me. My family loves me, but they have to 'cause they're family. The folks at church love me, but God says they have to! But these folks love me just 'cause I'm me."

Each night when she’d logout before going to bed, she’d say goodnight to her friends. Then she’d sit and watch the “Goodnight ChatterChops” messages scroll. She’d read each message and say, out loud, “Goodnight” to each one. What a perfect ending to her days—to have so many friends sharing their love with her each night.

Over the course of these months in chat, we watched her develop. Learning has always been a struggle for her. Although the doctors and teachers will not put a “cap” on her learning level, she will always be very significantly delayed. She’ll continue progressing, but what might take another child a few months to learn may take her 3-5 years. She can read, but at a reading level, not much above about 7-8 years or so – she much prefers the beginner level books.

That’s why it came as such a shock to us to realize that she was suddenly reading things she could never read before. Somehow reading the scrolling chat each day triggered something in her that helped her reading skills skyrocket. In just two or three months in chat she progressed about 2 or more YEARS in reading skills. We took her to the library and instead of going immediately to the shelves of beginner books, she brought me “Little Women” and “The Princess Diaries”, telling me, “I don’t need baby books anymore!” And . . . she actually read them! It took a lot of work and a lot of help from us, but she read them! She’s now reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series of books and will soon be reading the “Guardians of Ga’Hoole” books from Scholastic (all about owls).

Reading was not the only area in which she made progress. Her spelling also showed vast improvement. So much so, that after a couple of months, I had someone PMing me almost every day commenting on what a difference they’d noticed in her since she started in chat. The night she tried to say that the owlets were rambunctious and came close enough to spelling it right that folks knew what she was saying was just amazing to me. Most adults I know won’t attempt that one!

Her confidence also grew. We had met a couple of local chatters (BurghRoots and MamaCarole) at an indoor playground one morning. She was very shy when she met them, but as soon as she saw Burgh’s grandsons, she brightened right up. She LOVES children. A month or so later, when we had the Kansas City Owl Watchers’ Picnic, she went up to Burgh and gave her a big hug and said, “I’m not shy anymore.” And she’s really not. Her confidence and self-esteem have grown so much, it’s phenomenal.

 She could really relate to the owlets. Every time they struggled to learn something new, she could recognize her own struggles and relate. She could especially relate to Wesley because she was slower and later to “bloom” than the others. Colleen said more than once, “She’ll learn it, Momma. If I can learn new things, so can she.”

She’s made many friends. One of the ladies in chat who says that her ministry is “making children happy” heard that Colleen doesn’t have any grandparents anymore. She has become Colleen’s pen-pal grandma, sending her little notes and cards every few days. Colleen’s never had that and she is loving it!

Sharing her recipes (and they are hers – she makes most of them by herself – especially her lime pie) in the chat and in the cookbook was so very special to her. Hearing folks say that they plan to make her pie this weekend or sharing “pretend” lime pie in chat is so fun for her.

She loves playing games and even found a way to do that in chat. She had hundreds of people joining in and playing her “Alphabet Game.” She’d choose a category (flowers, animals, birds, food, cities, etc.) and then name a letter of the alphabet. Folks tried hard to outdo each other in naming something in that category beginning with her chosen letter. After a bit, she’d toss out another letter. I would get so tickled watching her run her games. Occasionally someone would join chat in the middle of the game and kinda’ sidetrack the conversation. After a minute or two, Colleen would say in chat, “Let’s get back to the game now, people!” It was so funny seeing these adults saying to my child, “Yes, Ma-am, Miss ChatterChops!”

So many people have come together to brighten the life of this child. At the San Marcos picnic, a couple of the chatters decided to print out a sign that read “We love you ChatterChops!” They held it up during the filming of the picnic. When Colleen saw it, she was bouncing! And then there’s the day, that Carlos said “HI” to her in chat. She was over the moon. VacaDude did a wonderful drawing of Molly and Colleen together. At the most recent gathering at the Elephant Bar in San Marcos, they had a sign that read “Hello ChatterChops! We love you.” Each of the people there had their picture taken holding the sign. They emailed all the pictures to her and she was so thrilled.

On the last night of broadcasting, when folks were rather melancholy about it all coming to an end, one of the moderators PMd me, asking if we could help her type something special to all the chatters. They made her a moderator in the Owl Box chat room for just a few moments and let her post her message to the other chatters. Seeing her name in blue brought tears to my eyes, and I later found out, to many others as well. Clowney, who was well known for joking and never being serious, said that nothing in the owl box really affected him emotionally until then and that he was crying when he saw her name in blue.

She wrote, “Thank you for being my friends and cheering me up when I am sad. I love you all”.

 It was such a special moment.

Besides all that she got from the chat, she gave a lot as well. So many people have told me what a blessing she is to them—how her “can do” attitude inspired them. When folks would get teary about something or other, she’d say to them, “You don’t have to cry. Just be happy and then you’ll feel happy.” Many chatters have told me that getting to know her in chat has really enlightened them to the abilities of those with special needs. Some have even gone so far as to seek out special needs children to befriend and work with.

And then there’s the very special recognition she received even after things were winding down. When VacaDude began broadcasting his VacaChat, he came to her and asked her if she would be willing to be a moderator in his chat room. He told that she didn’t’ have to kick out trolls or delete bad posts – other moderators would do that. He said that her only jobs would be to keep people happy and to make them smile. She came to her father and said, “Daddy. I have a job now! And I can do it. I’m really good at making people happy.” She loves to tell people that she has a job online.

Colleen tells everyone we meet about HER owls and the friends she’s made in chat. While most just don’t “get it”, they can see the difference in her. Several friends have commented on her new-found confidence and maturity.

Colleen had asked us if we could put up an owl box in our yard. We live in the heart of a very urban area. I looked up on the net about barn owls in Missouri and found that they are considered endangered, almost non-existent in Missouri. The Dept. of Conservation says there are a few small "pockets" of barn owls in rural and/or wooded areas.

About a week after the live feed was turned off, my husband came in from the back porch and said, "You need to turn down the sound on your computer. I could hear it all the way outside."  I didn't have anything playing on the computer then.  He said, "Well, I heard those durn owl babies screeching."

The next night he was out at dusk and saw a barn owl fly overhead. He landed in the big tree behind our shed. We've seen the parents several times, at dusk and at dawn, and can hear the babies then too. We're just amazed that we have barn owls! I've told some folks about it and all agree that they somehow sensed that Colleen lives here! Or that they were sent just for her.

She's named the parents CC and Ferty. We're guessing that there are 3 owlets. We've not been able to see them yet. She's named the owlets Fifi, Birdie and Vac.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This whole experience—the owls, the chat, the friendships, Carlos—has been a miracle. We’ve received a gift that cannot be defined.


The Owl Box Experience According to ChatterChops

I think most of you know how much this whole experience has meant to my daughter and how it has impacted her life. She fully immersed herself in the experience and loved every minute of it.

As the time of broadcasting neared its end, she came to her father and I and told us, "I'm not gonna' be sad. Our babies are growing up and they're gonna leave, but the best part of all of this is all my new friends. They're not gonna leave. I'll always have them."

On the night that Carlos and Donna told us good-bye, of course she shed a few tears. They were more tears of shared empathy for all her friends in the chat room who were expressing such strong emotions.

ChatterChops has, in her short life, always faced much adversity - not just in her learning and developmental difficulties, but also with experiences of bullying and misunderstanding. She makes a conscious decision each morning to be happy. Some days she's more successful than others because her emotions are so very close to the surface, but it is a choice on her part to dwell on the happy.

My husband and I are both disabled, so this adds extra stress on her, but again, she does not let her fears of losing us rule her life. She dwells on each happy moment and lets the other go.

That is how she has chosen to deal with the situation with the owl box. She chose to take her happy times, her many memories, and her many new friends and keep them close to her. She chose to let her sadness and her fears go. (I only wish it was that easy for me - but I do learn from her each day.)

As I said, it is a very conscious decision on her part. She can at times be a very emotional or melancholy child, but once she has made the decision to move on, she does not look back and dwell on the "what ifs." She chooses to be happy, she smiles and she laughs and she enjoys what is.

This experience will never be forgotten, by any of the three of us. It has changed our lives - all for the better. It brought us joy, peace, many new friendships, and it brought her a new found independence and many new abilities and skills. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything and neither would she.