Shared Stories: Robert Todd

Cynthia Vanasse has chosen to share this story in the belief that it will benefit others.  She treasures her memories of a beloved son. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Cynthia Vanasse

Abraham Lincoln had a son with the same name as my son – Robert Todd.  Of course, the last names were not the same and neither is the degree of fame and place in history.  But for my Robert Todd, his place in my heart and in my family’s history is high on a pedestal.    

My son Todd was a very unusual child. He started talking when he was seven months old. We were out with his cousins for Halloween, the moon was full and bright. We pointed to the moon and repeated the word several times.

Todd picked up the word “moon” and started saying it over and over.  We were all very surprised. Usually a child’s first words are “Mom” and “Dad.” From his first word, Todd began picking up everything he heard – forming sentences at one year old.

Things continued to be “different” with our son. He totally toilet-trained himself around fourteen months. This was my mother’s favorite accomplishment. But other surprising situations were to follow.  

After telling Todd to do a task a couple of times, at 18 months he told me in a very commanding voice, “Don’t tell me something twice, Mother. I understand you the first time.” As this was my first child, I did not know that this was very unusual.

When Todd entered Kindergarten, the principal contacted me for an appointment. I could not imagine what the problem might be, as the teacher gave Todd all good marks on his report card.

With some apprehension, I went to the principal’s office. It turns out that I had nothing to be upset about. The meeting was to show me my son’s very high scores on intelligence tests and to let me know that based on his performance, Todd was capable of doing whatever he chose in this world. This conference helped to explain some of Todd’s rather unusual behavior.

When he was in the sixth grade, I had another conference – this time with his teacher. I was again wondering what the reason would be for our “talk.” Turns out, the teacher wanted me to know that Todd had an auditory retentive memory. I didn’t know for sure what that was. 

It turns out that a person with this ability remembers everything he hears. No wonder Todd did very little homework. Not only in school, but in many professions this is a very useful ability. Remember Johnny Cochran who was O.J.’s attorney?  He had this gift.

Todd continued to achieve high marks in all that he tried. He taught himself to play the guitar. He was a star athlete. He was an all-A student. He was a gifted writer, and he had many other accomplishments. His school performance gained him entrance to the University of California at San Diego.

I learned about the end of Todd’s career at UCSD from a phone call that no parent ever wants to receive. Todd committed suicide by jumping off his dorm. We now know he inherited bipolar tendencies from me, his mother. We did not have any idea of this beforehand.

Todd wasn’t famous to the world; he was the world to us!