Ordinary people, everyday lives

Family of little people raised to take pride in what makes them unique
2013-02-03T00:00:00Z 2013-02-10T20:09:54Z Ordinary people, everyday livesGerald M. Gay Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

As little people, members of the Morris family are accustomed to answering questions about their daily lives. Where do you shop for clothing? Do you drive smaller cars?

How tiny is the furniture in your home?

"We've heard them all," said Amy Morris, 33, who lives with her parents, Linda and Brian, her sister Andrea and Andrea's 12-year-old daughter, Alicia Shanklin, in a four-bedroom home on Tucson's east side.

Morris believes the answers are never quite what people expect.

Like many other consumers, they buy their clothes from places like Target, but have them altered to fit.

Amy drives a 2004 Honda Civic with extensions that allow her feet to reach the pedals. Her parents own a minivan.

With the exception of a few custom-made chairs, most of the furniture in the Morris household is of average size, ordered from places such as Copenhagen and IKEA.

Rubber step stools help the family reach higher shelves. Important items in the kitchen - things like plates, glasses and flatware - are stored in cabinets and drawers closer to the ground.

If something is too high at the grocery store and no one is around to help, Morris said climbing isn't completely off the table.

Otherwise, "We live pretty regular lives," said the Michigan transplant, who splits her time between teaching reading and math at Sylvan Learning Center and working as a library associate with Pima County. "Sometimes people are surprised to hear that."

No one in the Morris family shies away from questions.

They've been raised to take pride in what makes them unique and they see it as an opportunity to help people get past common misconceptions.

They've also done their part to foster goodwill and participation within the little people community, both here and nationwide.

Like other kids

Linda and Brian were the first little people in their immediate families.

Brian, 69, was born in England, the ninth of 10 children. Linda, 60, was the youngest of four in Tucson. Linda said her parents raised her just like they did any of their other kids.

"I remember the first time I saw another little person at Randolph Park, not knowing I was like him," Linda said. "I was the baby of the family. Nobody was taller than me because I was the youngest."

Linda received a degree in nutrition and dietetics from the University of Arizona and worked as a dietitian at hospitals in Tucson and North Carolina before moving to Michigan, where she married Brian, a certified public accountant.

It was in the Detroit suburb of Northville, where the couple had Amy and their first son, Josh, who today works as a story editor for television shows like "Jersey Shore" and "Snooki & JWoww" in Los Angeles.

Brian and Linda decided to adopt two more children shortly after. They chose a boy and a girl, also both little people.

Their son Zach lives in Tucson and makes a living as a touring member of the Kiss tribute band, Mini Kiss. Andrea, 34, was adopted from Mumbai, India, then called Bombay, when she was 7 years old. She works as a food server at an assisted-living facility.

All but Zach have achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, characterized by average torsos but smaller limbs. Zach has hypochondroplasia, a less severe form of dwarfism.

No one in the family is taller than 5 feet.

Linda and Brian had the choice of adopting average-sized children, but opted for little people so no one felt out of place.

"Because our birth children had been dwarfs, we chose to adopt fellow dwarfs," she said. "Had we had an average-sized child, we definitely would have considered it. It is nice to have someone who is like you in the family."

Active in community

The Morrises have long been active in the little people community.

Until a recent series of health issues for Brian, including a stroke, they were regular attendees of the annual conventions of Little People of America.

While living in Michigan, Brian helped launch the Dwarf Athletic Association of America in the mid-1980s. The group organizes athletic events for people of short stature.

The association hosts an annual national event, as well as the World Dwarf Games, which takes place every four years. The games have been held in Chicago, England, Toronto, France and Belfast and bring people from as far as Australia, Nigeria and South Korea.

This year, the activities are being hosted in East Lansing, Mich.

"It almost brings tears to my eyes," Linda said. "When you go now, there are so many people involved. It has grown so much."

Amy, who sits on the board of the association, plans to make it to the games this year.

For several years, she and Andrea were competitive swimmers. They each served as alternates on the 1996 Paralympics swim team.

"It has been nice to see the progression and growth of the games," Amy said. "There are more sports now, badminton, archery, curling. We were lucky to have it when we were kids."

Amy continues to advance recognition for little people in Tucson as the president of the local chapter of Little People of America, called the Tucson Roadrunners.

The group is still growing locally - it incorporated in 2010 and has about 15 members - but Amy hopes to bring in more participants in the coming year through different types of community outreach.

A recent meeting for the chapter was held at the Fiesta Lanes bowling alley on West River Road.

Linda believes having a support group like Little People of America is helpful. Average size people can overstep their bounds without knowing it, she said. Even today, it's common for her to see people taking photos with their cellphones or to be called a "midget," a term that's offensive to those with dwarfism.

Amy said with shows like "Little People, Big World" and "The Little Couple" on The Learning Channel, the general public is more accepting and informed about what short-statured people can achieve.

Still, she is always willing to help.

"We are pretty much like everybody else," she said. "If you have a question, just ask."

On StarNet: To see more photographs go to azstarnet.com/gallery

"We are pretty much like everybody else ... If you have a question, just ask."

Amy Morris, president of the local chapter of Little People of America, the Tucson Roadrunners

More Info

Find out more about the local chapter of Little People of America at tucson.azlpa.org online or by emailing lpatucsonroadrunners@gmail.com

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at geraldmgay@gmail.com or 807-8430.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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