“I just want to sharpen my pencil…”

pencil-sharpener

I’m wondering how many of you remember the item in the picture? Did you use this kind of pencil sharpener at school when you were little? Some will readily recognize the item, while others will simply not have a clue. But what you need to know is this little object had a lot to do with shaping me as a person. Here’s this week’s story…

As a child, I was very, very small; not “bigger than a minute.” In fact, I pretty much stayed that way until I reached young adulthood. In college, I would eat a Whopper hamburger each night and wash it down with a pint of half and half, just to break 100 pounds! I could hold the weight for only a few days, and then I would drop back down to under 100. And oh my, would it not be nice to have that “problem” now…

Each year, on the first day of school, the maintenance man would choose the shortest, smallest child and take a measurement as to where the pencil sharpeners for each room should be mounted. Each year, up until the fourth grade, I was that child! I would go up to that pencil sharpener, in front of the entire class, hold my little arms up as if I were sharpening a pencil, and they would take the measurement. After the first time, I caught on and realized that I was being singled out as the smallest child, and it would make me so upset. You see, to me, my height, or small frame, did not matter. I always thought that I was as big an anyone else, and that I could do anything that they could do. So it came as quite a shock that anyone considered me “little,” or “small.” In my head, it meant that I was “less” than the other children, that “less” was expected of me, or worse, that I “could not do” things as well.  I DID NOT LIKE THAT!! And you see, I had been taught, loved and supported by my family for those first five years of my life to believe that I could do anything….that I was no better or worse than anyone else, and no one was better or worse than me. I kept thinking, I will just show them…I worked hard to excel in everything!! No one was ever going to “out do” me! I even tried to eat more so that I could be bigger each year (not that it worked…). And so it began…all A’s…fastest runner on the playground…biggest, fastest talker (I’m sure all of you who know me are getting a real chuckle out of that one!)…best singer in the music shows…best actress in the school play…”must” win at games…most “popular” in school…it went on and on…Most of my school life was spent accepting “challenges,” and proving people wrong…all because of that dad-blasted pencil sharpener…

My senior Chemistry class was taught by the football coach, and my particular class was filled with the entire football team. There were only three of us ladies in the class. If we won the game on Friday night, we had a party in class on Monday. If we lost the game, we had a pop quiz. Early on, the coach began “picking on” me. For the first time ever, I failed a test…and received a big, old fat “F!” In front of the class, he held the test just out of my reach, giggled with delight, and told me that I was going to fail his class. I was humiliated!! I went home and all of those old “pencil sharpener” feelings bubbled up. It had been years since I had experienced anything like that! It made me angry, and the anger prompted action. I decided that I would never give the coach the satisfaction of failing me for chemistry! I decided that he would eat his words, and that I would prove him wrong. It was a very long year, with him pushing me and making fun of me in front of the class. I aced the class, and was exempt from even taking the final exam. I had come through once again, all because of that goofy pencil sharpener…

In today’s world, the coach would have been called a bully, and certainly, rightfully so! However, because of my experience as a child, with that pencil sharpener, I was equipped to face the challenges that were thrown at me. I know it probably sounds so silly, but most of us are “shaped” by “defining moments” in life, and our response to them. I could have let the “measuring” experience defeat me, but I just could not accept an image in my head, being smaller and “less” than anyone. It just would not compute!!

I don’t think that I could have ever been a parent. Actions, words, habits…you never know which “one little thing” is going to impact a child’s world negatively (or positively), and shape their future. The experience with the pencil sharpener could have defeated me, but my parents had already laid the foundation. They had already made me strong, no matter what my physical size might have been. I don’t think adults think hard enough about the effect they have on children’s lives. A spirit can be broken, or nurtured/cultivated, so easily. We need to think! How we face current challenges, disappointments, and failures is usually determined by how we were taught to face them when we were little. I’m going to continue to “prove them wrong” every time, and I intend to always be aware of my teaching “opportunities” with children and young adults. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“Sticks and stones…”

As kids, we all learned those old “comebacks” to win an argument: “Oh yeah? Well, your Mama…” “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah!” “I know you are, what am I?” And of course, the best one, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me!” As we grew older, we learned very quickly that words could indeed harm us. In his book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” Robert Fulghum gave us a new quote regarding “sticks and stones.” He writes, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.” I would like to add to that statement. Words will also break our spirit. I am sure you have guessed by now that the “power” for this week is WORDS.

At conferences, I am often asked to present a session entitled, “They’re ONLY Words…” In that presentation I tell of a little girl in the second grade. She was very tiny for her age, and had a “clubfoot.” (Also called congenital talipes equinovarus (CTEV), a congenital deformity involving one foot or both. The affected foot appears to have been rotated internally at the ankle. Without treatment, people with club feet often appear to walk on their ankles or on the sides of their feet.) In addition to this deformity, she had a “cauliflower ear” and could not hear very well with that ear. (Cauliflower ear is a condition that occurs when the external portion of the ear suffers a blow, blood clot or other collection of fluid under the perichondrium. As a result, the outer ear becomes permanently swollen and deformed, resembling a cauliflower.) I have told you the exact definition and descriptions of those two deformities because I want you to get a good visual image of this small child. This was quite a few years ago, before we had all of the latest technology to test someone’s hearing. The way they tested a child’s hearing in school went something like this: the teacher would call up one child at a time, whisper a phrase into their ear, and ask them to repeat the phrase they heard…all conducted in front of the entire class. The little girl remembered last year when this was done…how she was embarrassed and humiliated to have to go before the class, dragging her little foot, and hoping against hope that she could hear the phrase well enough to repeat it. I can just picture her…her heart pounding so loudly in that little chest that you would think it might explode…trying to remember to walk as straight as possible, not limp or drag her foot…and praying so hard that she might actually hear what the teacher would whisper in her ear. (I can never tell this story without tears springing to my eyes. I am such a visual person, and I can see this little girl in minute detail every time I recount this event. Even now, I am writing this with tears in my eyes.) So, it was time for her to walk up to the teacher. She took a little longer getting there than the rest of the children. As she was walking to the front of the class, she heard the comments: “retard,” “gimp,” “not right in the head…” Oh yes, she heard all of that!! She finally reached the teacher, turned her “good” ear to her, and tried to hide the tears already forming in her eyes. The teacher leaned down, scooped the child as closely in her arms as possible, and whispered tenderly to her, “I wish you were MY child!”  And right there, in that moment, those words made all the difference in the world to that child. Just from those few words, she discovered that she had worth and value; that someone wanted her…defects and all. Those words gave her hope!

I hear what people say to their children. I hear what people say to the people they supposedly love. I hear what people say to, and about, the people they work with. I hear what neighbors say about other neighbors. I hear what husbands and wives say to each other. I hear what children say to their parents. And my heart breaks over and over again. When did we become so cruel? When did we become so uncaring? Once a word is spoken, you can never take it back. There are no “do-overs.” You can never really correct it. Oh, you can apologize, but the memory, and that you said it in the first place, will ALWAYS be remembered. Words can absolutely destroy a person. Words can lift and encourage one’s  heart and spirit.

I always think that if this was the last time I saw a person, what words would I have left them with? Would the words be fault-finding, cruel, disrespectful, harmful, and destructive; or would the words be loving, comforting, encouraging? I want my words to be tender to the heart and soul…loving in every way. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“I love all people….”

Happy New Year!! I hope that everyone has a year filled with hope, excitement, love, success, etc., etc., etc… (You catch my drift, right?) I hope that each of you attain your heart’s desire! And…it looks as if I am going to keep blogging past my one year’s commitment. We will just see how it goes…So, for now, keep checking in each week to learn of my latest adventures and/or misadventures…

Working in aging services, I have always questioned the credibility of certain tests and evaluations utilized to assess an individual in specific areas, especially those used for the assessment of cognition and mood state. I think the “scores” of said tests can label and stereotype an individual. The person becomes defined by how well, or how poorly, they did on the test. They  become a “score,” as opposed to maintaining their autonomy and individual  uniqueness. Because of professional standards of practice, and mandated requirements, I have given the Mini Mental Status Questionnaire more times than I can remember. I know all of the questions by heart. So when it came time for my own Mother to experience this test, I was anxious! I knew how the score would be used.

It was our very first visit to the neurologist, and I knew that they would need a “base scoreline” to determine the progression of her disease, as well as utilize the data to determine appropriate medications and treatment. She wanted me to stay in the room with her, so I got to listen as she responded to each query. If sheer will could have affected the outcome of the test, she would have scored 100% accuracy, simply on my nervous energy alone!! With each question, I would sit there, willing her to state the correct answer. In my head, I found myself trying to come up with suitable answers that would be convincing enough to assure someone that I had all of my faculties about me. Under duress, and immeasurable anxiety, it was a lot harder than you can imagine. I found that I was not really sure of the actual date, or the day of the week. I did know the year!

The last item of this test states, “Write a complete sentence.” Now, I’m sitting there, thinking and thinking…”what would be a good, intelligent sentence to write?” I pondered and pondered; however, my Mother wrote down a sentence almost immediately! That first test, she did rather well! On the drive back home, I asked Mother, “what sentence did you write down?” “I couldn’t think of anything!!” She laughed and said, “I just wrote, I sure hope I pass this test!” I was laughing so hard that I almost had to pull to the side of the road. How incredible a response!!!

As her disease progressed, the tests increased, and the scores began to worsen. She began to dread going to see the neurologist. She would ask, “Are they going to give me that test?” She knew that she was having more and more difficulty coming up with the correct answers. And we both knew what that meant…With each test, I was always interested in that very last directive – “write a complete sentence.” She never used the same answer twice, but with each test, her sentences became shorter and more simplistic. On this particular day, we did not know it, but it would be her last visit and her last test. As before, on the drive home, I asked what sentence she wrote. On this occasion, she smiled sweetly and said, “I love all people.” And there, in that one sentence, was the defining truth for my Mother, for she, in fact, DID love all people.

I wonder how many of us can remain true to who we are in the midst of physical and mental decline. That even when we are debilitated, and see the losses that are occurring, can we be certain that the “pure self” – who we really are on the inside – will be evident to us and  others? I want to live such a life, that even when, or if, I cannot direct my thoughts or actions, that my sweet spirit, and “true self” will come through naturally. For you see, just like my Mother, “I love all people.” Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

You stole something from someone???

Hope everyone has had an excellent week! I cannot believe we are in August already. WHERE did the summer go? School is upon us, so I thought another “going to school” story would be in order…

I have twin sisters who are three years older than me (something I like to remind them of on occasion…). Being older meant they got to go to school before me. They would come home each afternoon telling me of all the activities, events, and fun times they were having. I just could NOT wait until I was old enough to go to school. I pictured myself sitting in a little desk, learning how to write, add and subtract, having such fun at recess, and making a lot of new friends. The day finally came around and my dream came true…I was going to school! For some reason, however, it just did not turn out as I had planned. I got THREE zeros (out of a possible score of 100), AND I got a spanking on the first day! You won’t be able to guess what it was for….OK, I’ll tell you…TALKING!!

We were in our little reading circle, and the teacher was called out of the room for a moment. Before she left, she told us to remain quiet (which I guess is the meaning of “not talking”). Of course, as soon as she vacated the room, I could not possibly have sat there and kept my mouth shut. (Those of you who know me personally, know this to be true…) I started talking, and as a result, all of us in the reading circle were talking when the teacher returned. She simply went over, got her little paddle, and “made the circle,” lightly tapping each of our legs. I was devastated! However, I learned a valuable lesson that day: you don’t talk when the teacher leaves the room and has told you NOT to talk. As an aside, I will tell you that throughout my school years, I had to write the sentence, “I will not talk in class.” about a zillion times…And by the way, I ended up having the teacher, Ms. Bertie, for first and second grade, and loved her so much that we kept in contact till her death (and she lived to be 90+). She taught me more than I can convey, but that is not really the story for this week. It is just the “lead in.”

My family was poor. We never lacked food or clothing, or any other item that was a “necessity,” however, there was never any money left for “frivolities.” We were rich in family and love! (And to be honest, I did not KNOW we were poor until I became an adult…) When I went to school that first year, I saw students who had EVERYTHING…the neatest erasers, the neatest notebooks, the neatest book sacks. As a young child, it was extremely hard not to notice those things. This one kid (and I will be honest, I cannot remember whether it was a boy or girl) had a way cool notebook. I would watch them open it, write in it, close it, and place it in the little “cubby hole” under their desk seat. I coveted that notebook. I dreamed about that notebook. I wanted that notebook. And I was going to get it….One day, the notebook was left out, unattended. No one was in the classroom, and certainly no one was watching me. I grabbed that notebook, placed it in my little cubby hole, and sat with my jacket covering the seat of my desk, so that no one could see the stolen item. The minute I took it, I felt horrible; however, I wrapped it up in my jacket and took it home with me. Once I got the notebook home, I hid it in my room from my sisters and parents. I could not even look any of them in the eye. I was so ashamed of what I had done, that I could not tell anyone about it…and I certainly could not USE the notebook. I was so filled with guilt and remorse, and I couldn’t return the stolen property, without confessing what I had done, so I just threw the notebook away where no one would find it. I never stole anything from anyone EVER again for the rest of my life. Lesson learned.

Now here is the kicker to that story…to this very day, I wish I could have confessed to that person, and asked their forgiveness. If I knew who the person was, I would track them down, right now, tell them the story, apologize, and ask them to forgive me. It has bothered me that much! There are very few incidents in my life that I regret, but this is one of them…I knew right from wrong, and I knew that you NEVER took something that did not belong to you. It was not, and is not, who I am. You see, I DO have a conscience. I think you should earn what you have, not just take it from someone else. Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

You’re not smart enough to do that….

Not too long ago, I gave the opening keynote at a large state association annual conference. The title of my session was: “The Power at Hand.” Basically, I explain to people how much power they have within themselves (most don’t realize this…), and I encourage them to discover that power, and use it for good in their own lives…and subsequently, impact the world in which they live. As is the norm in these type of situations (and a part of my work that I love…), attendees will come up after the session, introduce themselves and we “visit” for a little while. The same routine was occurring at the end of this particular presentation.

As I was talking with some of the people, I noticed a lady over to the side, by herself, waiting to talk with me. She was crying. She very patiently waited for all the other people to leave, and she slowly made her way to me. As she walked towards me, she went from silently crying to almost convulsive sobs. When she got within reaching distance, I stretched out my arms to this perfect stranger, and clutched her to my chest, just like a mother trying to comfort a child. I let her sob for quite a few minutes. 

As the sobs began to subside, she began to tell me her story. The first words out of her mouth were, “I ALWAYS wanted to be a nurse.” I looked at her and asked the obvious question, “Why did you not become one?” She looked at me so pitifully and said that when she was in high school, the career counselor told her she was not smart enough to be a nurse. My first reaction to this revelation was one of total and complete sorrow. The second reaction was one of righteous ANGER!! I wanted vengeance for this woman…I wanted to correct the situation…I wanted that “career” counselor to grovel, prostrate, in front of this broken women, and beg for her forgiveness. But, being the professional that I am, I did not indicate any of that. I realized that the words I spoke to this sweet, sweet woman, were going to be just as important as the words of that high school counselor. 

With my arms still around her, I asked, “What is your current position?” She said, “I am Supervisor of the Activity Department at a nursing facility.” I then asked a question that I already knew the answer to, “Do you have annual state and federal surveys (inspections)?” She indicated that she did. I asked, “Have you ever received a deficiency, or citation for noncompliance?” She said, “No, never!” And then I said, “Then you must be pretty smart! I know the regulations, as well as the survey process, and I am quite aware that an unintelligent person would not be able to pass those surveys.” She looked at me as if she had never thought of that, and said, “You’re RIGHT!!” We talked for quite a while longer, and then I told her that she could still become a nurse if she wanted to…that she had time to do so. I also encouraged her to stop giving that old high school counselor the “power” over her life and how she perceived herself. We parted ways at the end of our conversation…her, a much happier, determined woman…me, a little sadder that she had lost so many years, believing the words of a “professional in authority,” yet, I was also a little happier in that I do believe the words I used actually helped her realize the possibilities and potential of her life.

What words of encouragement to others have you used today? I hear parents telling children how dumb they are, how they are “driving them crazy,” how “bothersome” they are…and my heart breaks for that child. I hear couples continually finding fault with each other, using words and “negatives” to describe actions, intelligence and decisions…and my heart breaks for those couples. I see friends use sweeter words with perfect strangers, just in passing, than they use with the friends of their heart…and my heart breaks for those individuals. A physical blow will at some point heal; that does not diminish its severity. However, words pierce the very souls of children, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, friends, elders, parents, and even though time heals most incidents, “words” are almost always remembered. What do your words say about you? Do your words encourage and comfort those in your life, or do they continually berate and harm? You see in my story that “words” caused a young person to lose belief in a dream, and impacted how she viewed herself the rest of her life. I want my words to be remembered because they were kind, supportive, encouraging, and most of all…LOVING! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

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…