You’re not a part of our group…

For over 30 years, my parents operated a personal care home for older adults who were mentally challenged. They kept adding room after room, until the house that all of us children grew up in could accommodate approximately 12 additional people. My parents loved each person and felt they were a part of our family. In fact, all of the residents called my father “Daddy,” and my mother, “Mama Jo.”

When this “extended” family was younger, we would take them on vacation each summer. They loved country music, and more times than not, we ended up vacationing in Nashville, TN…which leads me to my story for this week…
On this particular trip, we were going to spend all of one day at the Opryland Amusement Park, and then finish the day by going to The Grand Ole Opry. If you have never worked with an older adult who is mentally challenged, you need to understand that it is difficult for them to “adapt” to a new environment. On outings, it is so easy for one of them (or several) to get confused and wander away from the group. So, all day long we had been “counting,” making certain that everyone in our group stayed with us…and that we ended up with the correct number of people each time.
 
We were in the amusement park, going from musical show to musical show, when suddenly the bottom fell out of the sky, and it was pouring down rain. It was just a summer shower – no thunder or lightning, so I gave everyone a choice: we could buy rain slickers and continue to go to all the musical shows, or we could leave the park and go explore the Opryland Hotel. Now, they did not know what a “slicker” was, but they wanted to stay in the park, so that was their choice. I went to a nearby store and purchased said slickers. (Just to give you a complete picture, and in my defense…the slickers were either orange or blue, and once you put them on, all you could see was a face and legs…)
 
I began removing the slickers from their packaging, and put one on each person in our group. As I did so, I would place my hands on their shoulders, and line them up together…always counting, making certain that we still had everyone with us. I stopped suddenly when I realized I had my hands on the shoulders of a man that I did not recognize. (I had lined both him and his wife up with our group…) I didn’t even have sense enough to remove my hands from his shoulders. I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “You’re not a part of our group.” He said, “We know it.” I then said, “Well, why did you let me line you up with our group?” He gave me the cutest little grin, winked, and said, “Ma’am, we thought it was best to do EXACTLY what you said…”
 
So…this week I am going to recognize and understand that I don’t have all the answers…that I don’t need to “direct” anyone’s actions. I don’t HAVE to take care of everyone else. I am going to fully appreciate that others can contribute and be responsible for their actions. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…
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That’s MY baby…

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I am sure a number of you were wondering if I would post an article tonight, as my Mom did die this week, and we buried her this past Friday. To say that my heart is in a million pieces, would be a slight understatement. I know that the days are going to be long this week, and the next week, and the next…However, one thing that my Mama always taught me was to honor my commitments, and I committed to each of you that I would write a weekly article for at least one year. So here goes…

My Mama told me a number of years ago that each of us children (there are four) were “planned,” and our births were looked forward to with great anticipation. She said that she and Daddy viewed each pregnancy as a “sacred event,” a special gift from God. There has not been one moment of my life that I did not know how proud she was of my accomplishments, or of me as a person. Even as her disease progressed, she would ask me, “How many people did you speak to today?” I would tell her the number. She would then ask about the audience’s response to my presentation. Sometimes I would say, “well, they want me to come back…” or I would say, “I got a standing ovation in New York City!” She would just be thrilled and would ALWAYS say, “That’s MY baby!!”

No matter how old I got, it was wonderful to hear the pride in her voice and to know that I was still considered someone’s “baby.” It has been hard for me to understand, and imagine, a parent not letting their child know their worth and value. I know individuals who have never known that support, acceptance, pride and warmth from a parent. So HARD to believe…

During my Mother’s wake/visitation, one of my great nephews came up to hug me. (He’s a senior in high school this year.) I loved on him and asked about some of the activities in his life. He proceeded to share his school and sport accomplishments. When he finished, I hugged him again, and said, “That’s MY baby!” He grinned from ear to ear! Someone nearby leaned over and asked him, “Are you going to let her call you a baby?” He smiled, put his arms around me, and proudly stated, “I will always be Aunt Cat’s baby!” So you see, all of us want to be someone’s baby…and we all want to be “bragged on…” our accomplishments recognized and valued.

My little three year old great niece sat down by me at home, after the funeral, and wanted to draw on her “doodle” pad. I asked her what we should draw. She said, “a flower!” She then said, “but I don’t know how to draw a flower.” I explained (and showed) her how to draw a flower. When we got through with it, she was so pleased, and said, “I will go and show Grandpa. He will be so proud!” And I thought again, here is yet another child looking for someone to be proud of her. My brother did not fail her – he bragged and went “on and on” about how wonderful her drawing was.

So, here is my challenge for this week…If you are a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a sister, a brother, a friend – ANYBODY, let the children and young adults in your family (world) know that they are valued, loved, and worthy…let them know that you are proud of their accomplishments and of them! Say to them, “That’s MY baby!” That’s what I will be doing…Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

I will always love you….

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As I am writing this article, I am sitting in a nursing home, holding my Mother’s hand, and literally watching her die. So many thoughts are running through my head. Most of them center around what this woman has given to me, the legacy she leaves behind, and the hole that will be in my heart. But because Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, the obvious topic for this week’s article is true love.

April 3rd of this year, my parents would have been married 65 years. Because their love was so much a part of our daily lives, I never gave it much thought as being extraordinary. As I grew older, however, I realized how phenomenal their relationship was. You see, I can’t ever remember a time that they argued. I’m sure they “discussed,” but I never, ever heard an argument or cross words. They went through hard times, slim times, and good times. Their love never wavered…it only grew stronger. His eyes have always “lit up” when she came in a room, just as hers did at the sight of him. The nursing home staff cannot seem to fathom a love this deep…that adoration can be this lasting…but it is. Even as sick as my Mother is, her blood pressure and heartbeat “jump” at his voice.

While traveling for business, I get to observe numerous couples and their “dynamics.” I watch husbands and wives sitting in restaurants, not speaking to each other the entire meal; couples waiting in lines, staring straight ahead, never conversing. The neglect and lack of consideration is so evident. It makes me sad to see that these individuals are missing the love that my parents have. And I wonder what happened to them…why did their love apparently “die,” while my parents’ love grew fuller and deeper each day.

I think I have it figured out…my folks were in it for the long haul. They did not attempt to “jump ship” when times were tough. They respected each other and treated each other with consideration and love. They genuinely liked each other, and they shared the same values and faith.

Loving relationships do not come easily…they take effort…nurturing…patience… understanding…communication…and so much more. So this week I don’t actually have a challenge. I would simply encourage you to cultivate and nurture the love that is in your life and not take that person for granted. Show them how much they mean to you – not “just for this week,” but for always…

I Can’t Feel My Toes!!

Hi to all! Hope everyone is continuing to do positive acts of kindness for others, as well as yourself. I have been enjoying your stories and comments! It has been a rough week for the Selman family, as my Mother is declining rapidly, and we know that she will win her battle with Alzheimer’s soon. Since it has been a pretty heartbreaking week, I thought a little humor and levity was necessary. So here is my story and challenge for the week…

As most of you know, I speak at conferences and conventions all over the United States, and am certainly a seasoned, road warrior. I KNOW how to travel…I have two of everything…one suitcase is always packed, ready to go. I never travel without at least two outfits (even for one presentation), because you just never know! 

I was scheduled to make a one-day presentation for an association, in a small town. For some reason, I only took one dress with me. Once I arrived at the hotel (make that “motel”), I realized that I had not brought any pantyhose to wear with my dress.  (This was before it became popular to go “hoseless.”) Since there was no huge merchandise store in the area, and nothing open, I found myself at the local truck stop. Now, the sign did say “one size fits all,” and I thought, “Well then, they should fit me.” (As an aside, I would like to point out to all of you that one size does NOT fit all!) I returned to the motel and turned in for the night, secure in the fact that I would be properly attired the next day for my presentation.

I got up the next morning, took my shower, and began dressing. Everything was going great until I began putting on those “one size fits all” pantyhose. The crotch of the pantyhose would only come up to my knees…no matter how hard I pulled and tugged! In my head I was trying to visualize the individual they used as a measurement for the “one size….” I began to panic at this point, thinking, “It’s winter, my legs are too white…there’s no way that I can make a presentation with BARE legs!” It was then that the creative side of my brain kicked in…

I thought, “cut the pantyhose in half at the crotch, and find something to hold each leg up, like the old-fashioned garters that your grandmother used to wear.” I quickly found a pair of scissors and cut the pantyhose in half. Then I began frantically searching for two rubber bands…NONE to be found! I called the front desk asking for rubber bands. They said, “We’re so sorry, Ms. Selman, we’re out – have them ordered.” I really began to panic then, as the clock was ticking, and I STILL had those white legs…

I began wildly looking for anything in the room that might hold those pantyhose up! My eyes finally came to rest on my tennis shoes, and I thought, “Yay, the shoe strings!”  (It is hugely important to note at this time, that the shoestrings were NOT elasticized…) I quickly put each leg of the pantyhose on, wrapped a shoestring around the top of them, and rolled them up tight, just above my knees. I then put the dress on and stepped in front of the mirror to check everything out. I thought to myself, “no one will ever be the wiser…”

I got to the meeting, introductions were made, and I began my presentation. (Just so you know, and to give you a completely visual picture, when I speak, I move constantly and am obviously energetic and  enthused.) Fifteen minutes into the presentation, my legs began tingling, and I realized that I had probably made a huge error in judgment regarding the shoe strings. They were too tight and I had most certainly cut off the circulation to my legs. So, as I was speaking, my brain was screaming, “What are you going to do…you’re going to lose all feeling in your legs, fall…and everyone is going to see this mess under your dress! DO something!”

So….I began walking about a little more, flexing my calf muscles as much as I could, trying to ignore the curious stares that I was beginning to get…By this time, I could no longer feel my toes, and knew that I was in deep trouble. I realized that I could not keep up the charade any longer. I stopped my presentation, looked at everyone in the audience, and said, “I have a confession to make. ” I then lifted my dress high enough for them to see the garters, and said, “If I don’t untie these immediately, I am REALLY going to give you a show!” They all cracked up laughing, and my sorry story came out…At break, one of the participants ran to a store and got me a pair of pantyhose that actually fit, and I finished the day.

We take ourselves far too seriously, apply needless pressure to an already pressurized life, and fail to see the humor in many of our situations. This week I am going to try harder to believe that most people are understanding and will “follow my lead.” If I can be calm, and see the humor, then usually, they can too. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…