Wednesday, May 28, 2014

That Day

This weekend I had my first book signing at Black Dog Books in Zionsville, IN. My story was chosen to be featured in the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias. The day was stressful and strange from the beginning. The thoughts - “Am I really signing books for people? Will people, other than family and friends, show up?” - crossed my mind many times. The answer to both questions is “Yes”, and that outcome will forever affect me.

After setting up this book signing, I quickly realized I had no idea what to do for a book signing. What was expected? What was protocol? Were there rules? (I am all about the rules.) Other than making sure I didn't stink, knowing that I should bring a pen with which to sign said books, and to pray that someone showed up, I had no idea what to do. I was a rookie. So, I did what anyone from 2014 might do - I Googled “What to do for a book signing.” Dorky yes, but helpful, too.

My search told me I should use a permanent archival quality pen that was not black, because this would make a statement and not ruin books. I learned to be sure that I sign the date, because signed books are worth more money the closer they were signed to the release date of the book. (I am sure that people will be fighting each other in 50 years for this book signed by me!). The article told me where to sign the book and warned me not to use my legal signature, as it might end up on the internet. You wouldn't want someone to be able to use your signature for identity theft. I needed to have something to drink, preferably water. I was not to serve candy, as that only attracts kids, and kids don't buy books. Finally, I was to practice my “new” professional signature and to make sure that I have some catch phrases ready to use for when I am signing books. You see, I might become overwhelmed with the sea of folks wanting my autograph and would need something catchy to write.

Off I went to Michael's to pick up two purple book signing worthy pens. My sweet husband helped me have bookmarks made up to include with the books. These included my blog site, Facebook page, and Twitter handle. I figured out my outfit, wrote down my catch phrases, practiced my signature, and waited for the big day.

Saturday came and my first responsibility was my daughter's soccer game. This happened to be her last game, so I didn't want to skip the game to get ready for the book signing. I got up early, got myself ready and fifteen minutes before we were supposed to leave to get her to her soccer game, I realized that my son and husband were downstairs hanging out, still in pajamas. My son had not been fed breakfast and my daughter was still in bed sleeping. All of a sudden a tornado of waking, feeding, and getting dressed swept through the house and somehow we managed to get to the game on time, although my blood pressure was sky high.

At half time, I decided to go home to freshen up, change my clothes, and gather everything I needed for the event. My husband called to say that he was running by Kinkos to pick up the bookmarks and that he had corrected the “mistake” that had been made on my Twitter account name. He is not on social media and did not realize, while trying to be helpful, that he had messed up my Twitter account name and, in turn, the bookmarks would all be printed wrong. Nerves already shaky, I hung up the phone, cried for about two minutes and then realized I had no time for tears. I had to leave soon to be there early enough to talk to the owner of the book store, to the Alzheimer's Association representative who would be there, and to get set up.

Off I went, a half hour before the signing, to make a quick trip into the Village of Zionsville, a drive that usually would have put me in the store five minutes later. I had somehow forgotten and not factored in the fact that the Brick Street Market Day event was going on in town and this meant limited parking. Twenty minutes later, after lots of circling, calling my husband (as if he could magically, over the phone, make a parking space appear), I found a place to park. I parked the “land barge,” ran blocks in my wedged heels and made it there just as I was being called on my phone because they were wondering where I was. Deep breaths and the zen, cozy feeling of Black Dog Books helped me calm down and focus on what was ahead.

I sat down in one of the red leather chairs in front of the fireplace, gave Sophie the “black dog” a few scratches, and got myself set up and ready. No sooner had I sat down than someone came in to buy the book. Whew, at least one person was buying a book, right?

The four hours that I spent at Black Dog Books went quickly. Friends, cousins, aunts, uncle, and in-laws all showed up to show their support and get their books signed. Tania, the owner of the bookstore, had lovingly made homemade chicken soup for the chilly day. The soup even yielded a heart-shaped bay leaf that seemed to be a sign to all of us. Taking care of my mom, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, writing our stories, sharing those stories with the world, all while people supported me throughout, was a journey that could not have succeeded without a courageous heart and a whole lot of love. Those moments of chaos that morning were of no matter, there was something bigger happening.

Among the familiar faces that came in that day were many I had not known, at least not before they came to the store. People I didn't know were buying three books at a time. They wanted them signed for sisters and brothers, for caretakers and parents, and for themselves. They had seen the article in the paper. Their friends had told them about my blog. I was being talked about and in a good way! While I was signing their books, I was also able to talk with them. I heard about the heartbreak they suffered because of the disease. They shared the guilt that ate away at them for not being in the same town as their loved one who suffers from Alzheimer's, and feeling as if they were not doing enough. They told me about their sadness and their worry for a parent who wouldn't give up any of the caretaker responsibilities. They asked questions. I listened and let them know I understood everything they were saying. I. Got. It.

Every story in the book, every story I heard that day, was familiar to me. Every single one. They were all relatable to our ongoing struggle, but it wasn't about the book. Today I got the bigger message. That day was not just about people supporting me, it was also about me supporting others. I give support through my stories, my blog, my words. People hear about my mom's journey with Alzheimer's disease and they can relate. Although all of our journeys, filled with stories of and struggles with this disease, are our own, there is something comforting in knowing that we are not on our own. All of us must work together to win the fight to remember.

If you would like to help the fight against Alzheimer's, please click on the following link. It will direct you to the two events that I will be participating in. Any little bit will help. Can you give up your Starbucks for a day and donate $5? Help me, help my mom.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Butterflies and Fireflies

I read a blog post this morning by Hands Free Mama, Rachel Macy Stafford. Her post “Children Who Shine From Within” has touched me. I cannot get it out of my head. I cannot shake it. I ask that you read her post before you read mine, so you can understand the references I make.

I have a firefly. Actually, I have both a butterfly and a firefly.

My butterfly lights up a room the second she walks into it. Her smile, energy, and passion for life are contagious. You cannot help but have fun around her simply because she is having fun. When we lived in Colorado and she was just a little thing, not even a year old, we attended church on Sunday, two kids in tow. Our son was well behaved. He read his books, ate his snacks, and as a baby, simply slept with his little head resting on my shoulder. Our butterfly was very different. We would walk into church and she was immediately excited. She was not excited about sitting and listening to the homily (sorry Father Steve) or the music. Oh no. She was sure there was a party going on and all of these people had gathered there to hang out and party with her.

My beautiful butterfly believes that the majority of your day should be spent having fun and, honestly, who can blame her? School is fun (thank goodness). Her friends are there! She learns new things! She loves her teacher! She wants to be a teacher too! My butterfly is good at sports and catches on quickly. She loves to read, dance, do art, sing, play with her friends, help her Dad with stuff in the garage, talk with her Mama and tell her stories, go out to dinner and go, go go. She has the energy to match her list of interests, too.

Like a butterfly, my girl loves to look good. She can't resist painting her nails, begs me to curl her hair, and loves putting outfits together. But don't tell her what outfit looks best or what color to paint her nails. Oh no! Her wings have been spreading since I can remember. Things must be figured out by her, on her own and then must be done by her, with as little help as possible.

I took her ice skating, for the first time, when she four or five years old. The management had placed large orange construction cones on the ice that the kids could use to hold onto. This would help them balance while they learned to skate, and the cones pushed smoothly across the ice, allowing them to skate without Mom or Dad having to hold their hand.

My son gladly took one and was off. He felt like a stud even with an orange cone. Would my butterfly use the cone? No, in fact she was furious at the suggestion. I offered my hand and said that I would help her. As the tears streaked her cold and rosy cheeks, she let me know how angry she was. Angry that I had suggested the use of the cone. Angry that I was at her side offering to hold her hand and teach her how to ice skate. No. She was furious that she couldn't automatically skate. She was going to figure this out on her own and I was not to offer help. As she clung to the wall around the rink, I backed away. Far enough away so she had room to spread her butterfly wings and figure this out on her own. Full of determination, she slowly circled the rink, testing her balance, scooting those tiny skates along. If she fell, I was there to swoop in and help her up, despite the tears and the demands to let her do it herself. And she did. Soon enough she was off of the wall, though inches away, slowly scooting and skating around the ice rink. Huge grin on her sweet face, proud that she had done it herself, with no help from Mama.

My butterfly flits into a room and right into your heart.

My firefly has always been cautious. He enters a room and sits back and takes it all in, watching, waiting. Observing and deciding who and what is safe, at least in his mind. Then he has to make the decision of whether to let you in, into his circle of trust.

You must be somewhat like him, to be part of his pack, allowed into his circle. Kind. You must be kind. He is one of the sweetest, most genuine people I know, and he cannot stand to see others be mean. Not only can he not stand it, but he truly doesn't understand it. He doesn't understand why someone would deliberately say or do something that would hurt someone else. And when I say he doesn't understand it, I truly mean that. He sees no reason for it and it shocks him that people could even consider these unkind gestures.

The kids who he calls “popular,” although I am not sure he grasps the true definition of the word, are the kids who are loud and boastful. They brag. They push and shove and they have no awareness of people around them. They bump into you. These kids want to be noticed and not always for things they have accomplished and should be proud of. To him, these kids want to stand in the spotlight no matter what. He just wants to do his own thing- no stage or spotlight needed.

You don't like what he likes, so what. You're really short, he is average. You play baseball and he does Brazilian Jiujitsu. Macaroni and cheese is your favorite dish and his is beer butt chicken. Eleven years old and still can't swim? Doesn't matter. My firefly likes you for who you are. The real you, not the “I like him because he always wears Under Armour” you.

Just like everyone else, he wants and needs praise and validation. Tell him he has a cool shirt on and it will make him feel good. He just doesn't have to have the praise from everyone. Congratulate him on doing well on his science project, he feels awesome. Even give him a ribbon because it won a contest, great, but don't make him go in front of everyone to receive it. For him and his pack, in his circle of trust, knowing is enough.

My firefly says he doesn't want to be noticed. In his mind, being noticed means having to get in front of a crowd and sing, dance, or perform in some manner. It means you get straight A's, can sink a three and are really tall (you know, like 5'3” at the age of 11). If you are noticed, then someone might see the things he doesn't want you to see. That he is different.

My firefly is different. I explain to him that his being different is what makes him so wonderful. We are all different. At 11, this kind of comment is seen as something a Mom has to say. To him his differences are a bad thing, to us they are his uniquenesses. They are why we love him so much. He wants to hide those differences. My firefly is hiding in the dark, his light blipping on and off. Almost as if he is the child running barefoot through the dewy evening grass to catch that firefly. Holding himself, the firefly, stifling his own light, not realizing the beauty of its' luminosity. Waiting for reasons, unknown to us, to release that light and see it with his own eyes. But only when he is ready.

I and so many others see his bright light. It is steady and dependable. His light illuminates from within, deep within his soul, his kindness, curiosity, and authenticity radiating outward. Fireflies sometimes are hard to find. You see their light and then it's gone, flickering. Is it enough to catch your eye?

The butterflies. Let them spread their wings. Praise them for their beauty, but also for their hard work. Butterflies can brighten our day with their mere presence, but don't forget the beauty and mysteriousness of fireflies. A firefly's light brightens even the darkest nights. Let them know that you see the radiance of their light, no matter the time of day, no matter the number of butterflies that are around, and their light will always shine bright. There is room for both butterflies and fireflies in our lives.