An Awesome 24 Hours of Firsts!

The trip to Dallas was an overwhelming success!

It began with my arrival at National Airport and my happiness to discover the TSA pre-check notation on my boarding pass, which allowed me to avoid the long security line. It was also my first time on Virgin America airline. Everyone was very friendly!! The entire staff wore very cool bright red uniforms too. The gate area was awesome with almost every seat having an electrical outlet!!! No more searching for wall outlets in the terminal!

The plane itself was great too!! Lots of leg room, and tv monitors on every seat!! Their safety video is one of the best ever made!!

There was one small matter about my flight however!! I thought I was going to the huge Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) airport BUT turns out the ticket I purchased was to DAL as in Dallas Love Field. Uh oh!! DFW was only 12 min from my hotel. I wondered how far away DAL was. But I didn’t panic, and after checking with Google Maps, it was only 22 min to my hotel !! Woo Hoo!! This was another first because I’d never been to Love Field!! BUT I can honestly say it won’t be my last!! The airport was gorgeous!! It had unique stores and even a museum!! And the shuttle bus ride to the rental car lot was 2 min as opposed to the average 10 min over at DFW. I loved it!! Not to mention the ticket was more than $300 cheaper than anything going to DFW, so my client is happy too!! It was one of the best “accidental” purchases I’ve ever made.

I’ve been to Dallas many times, having spent weeks at a time there during my Corporate America days, but I don’t remember the hotels bring as fancy as the Hilton I stayed in less than 5 min from my speaking engagement!! I thoroughly enjoyed chilling in my hotel room for two hours before heading to Arden Courts in Arlington TX for the event. The room had a very Zen-like feel to it.

When I arrived at Arden Courts, I was relaxed and energized!! Like all of the Arden Courts folks, the Arlington staff was beyond welcoming! There were hugs and high fives all-around! I hadn’t even started, yet talks were already underway for me to return to Dallas and to make a stop in San Antonio as well! I’m excited!!

Dinner was fabulous and I mingled with and signed books for the staff and guests as they ate. I grabbed a few bites of dinner too before starting the presentation. One of the female attendees had alerted me that her mom was an Arden Courts resident and would probably try to wander in during the presentation. I thanked her for the heads up. There’ve been other times where residents have attempted to attend the presentations before being tenderly led away by a staff member. The heads-up I had been given turned into reality about halfway through my presentation when the woman’s mom appeared at the door to the community room. But for the first time ever…. A true ruckus unfolded. The woman yelled and screamed and demanded to be let into the room. Several different staff members tried calmly to appease the woman to no avail even as they tried to get her away from the door. Several staff members in the room left temporarily to try to help. Her daughter was sitting about 50 feet from me and burst into tears as she listened to her mom yell, scream and cry. Several other attendees began to cry as well in true empathy for the situation caused by this horrific disease.

I stopped the presentation briefly because I was about to approach the “humor is healing” part of my presentation. It just wasn’t the right moment to discuss humor. Instead, I went to the woman in tears and we hugged and held hands. We’ve ALL been there with this disease!! Several other attendees appeared to be consoling each other and a few appeared to be praying. It was the First time my presentation had ever been interrupted for more than a few seconds.

Out in the hall a doctor appeared and the woman finally sat down with the doctor and the yelling and crying stopped. I asked my audience if it was ok to continue and everyone clapped! They then roared with laughter as I told some of the funniest stories about my mom! In spite of the brief interruption I finished on time and then answered more than 20 minutes of questions. As the woman’s daughter got ready to leave, she came up and told me how special I am and thanked me for being so understanding about her mom. I explained to her that her mom’s outburst could have been ANY one of our loved ones and that it wasn’t a problem at all.

Just as I had done with the Chicago staff four weeks ago, I hung out and talked with the Arlington staff too for about 30 minutes. One of the staff members gave me several cookies to take back to the hotel. As I was starting to leave, the woman who had caused all of the ruckus called out to me from where she was sitting with a staff member. “Where are you going with those cookies?” She asked. I asked if she wanted some and she said “yes, come sit right here!” So I did. She proceeded to eat all of the cookies, but we had the most awesome time together!! It was the First time I had ever engaged with a resident for an extended period of time.

I learned that to finally get the woman to calm down during my presentation they had told her I worked for the government and was having an important meeting which required a top secret clearance so she couldn’t attend. She shared with me that she didn’t know I was important and giving a big speech, but that they had told her she caused a huge ruckus while I spoke which she didn’t remember. She said “I didn’t mean to, I just wanted to come in to see if you knew what you were talking about!” I laughed hysterically and she let me know that I was a good person and she really liked my cookies. We spent about 20 minutes of the most “real” moments I’ve spent in quite a while.

The staff gave me a stack of brownies to take with me to replace the cookies that my new friend had eaten. As I finally got up to leave, my friend announced that I should “come back again and bring more cookies!!” If my eyes had been closed I would have sworn I was talking to my Mom! I told her I would return and she added “don’t forget!” Hmmmm. Given all that this disease robs people of, not forgetting is something we would all love to promise. But we can’t ….. So instead, I simply said “take care!” and headed for my car as my eyes filled with tears. “Don’t Forget” could clearly be the title of my book in large part due to its irony.

As I returned to Love Field this morning, I had another TSA Pre-check! The first time ever I been lucky enough to have it on both segments of my trip! It’s was truly a blessing because the regular security line looked a mile long! This was truly an amazing 24 hours of Firsts!

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Happy 75th to Me!! 75 isn’t “Getting Old”, it’s “Just Getting Started”!

If you know me well, you certainly know that today is not my 75th birthday! But it’s still a very special day in November!! Today marks the 75th presentation I’ve given on my book, Being My Mom’s Mom!!!

It’s exhilarating just to write that fact down! The only reason I know how many I’ve speaking engagements I’ve done is because of a question I was asked yesterday. I had driven an hour to Leesburg, VA to give a presentation as part of a very appropriately titled Alzheimer’s and Dementia workshop called “The Road Ahead”. At the end of my presentation, the woman who invited me to speak told me what a fabulous job I’d done, as the audience of 55 people was still cheering wildly. In the very next breath, she asked me if all the presentations I’ve been giving was “getting old” (she hired me on the spot after seeing me at another workshop last year).

I had to think for a minute about her question. How ironic, I thought… She was asking me if talking about an epidemic for which there is no cure that primarily affects older people was “getting old”. I thought about saying “hell no, it’s not getting old” but didn’t want to get testy just as a long line was forming for me to sign books. So I simply said “nope, it’s not getting old. I hope to keep talking about this disease until there’s a cure!” She added, “well you’re certainly the right person because I’ve never met anyone with your energy and enthusiasm! I’ve seen you speak before of course but all of your presentations are awesome and they’re all different, a mark of an exceptional speaker”. As I began signing books, a woman in the line asked me how many presentations I’d given since my book was published. I paused and said “I honestly don’t know”. So, being curious to find the answer, when I got home last night I pulled out the book of programs and photos of all the places where I spoken and discovered that I’d done 74 presentations in 19 months as of yesterday. I was very surprised, and very pleased!!

So today, I was beyond excited to be giving my 75th presentation to a group that was going to include a member of my family!! Our nephew Damon Byrd, a social worker extraordinaire at the DC Government office of Adult Protective Services, invited me to speak at their Joint Cluster Meeting as part of National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Damon was the best host ever, coming outside to meet me and paying for my parking, carrying my bags, and introducing me to every single person who walked by the entire time I was there!! I not only had an Awesome time, there was even an unexpected surprise for me that was the icing on the cake!

When I walked into the conference room Damon immediately introduced me to his boss Clarence Craig, who got up from his seat to shake my hand. As he came toward me, I said out loud “I know you!!”. It took us less than 10 seconds to realize we attended Catholic University together!! Wow!! We not only remembered the classes we had together, but he even remembered where I sat in the classes!! Clearly Clarence doesn’t have ANY dementia issues, given that we haven’t seen each other since graduating from college 34 years ago!!! AND He’s been at his current job for 29 of his post college years!! How amazing!!!

As I signed a book for Clarence, we hugged and shared our mutual admiration for each other and the work we’ve done on behalf of others who may not be able to speak for or take care of themselves. The mission of Adult Protective Services is tough!! They provide protective services to reduce or eliminate the risk of abuse, neglect, self-neglect and exploitation of those 18 years and older.

During my presentation it became clear to me that many of the adults they serve are older adults with dementia. It’s yet another reason for me to continue to speak out about this disease and push for more funding for research to find a cure. Dementia is bad enough when there is a support system in place to care for a loved one, but it can be even more devastating when a person with dementia has no appropriate person to provide care for them. Several people told me that my presentation had “motivated them” to do several things within their own families. I’m happy about that. But truthfully, being with them today and hearing about some of the things they’ve experienced as part of the tough work they do, motivated me as well. I love my Mom to the moon and back, and who knows, there may even be 750 more presentations in me to bring more awareness to and hopefully a cure for this horrible disease! So, nope this isn’t “getting old” I’m just getting started!!

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them…..

as long as we’re paying attention…. Usually when I’m with Kendal, we are running and jumping and having a great time! But tonight was different in the most marvelous way! Tonight was Parent Visitation day at Kendal’s Montessori school. I had no idea what Parent Visitation day was, but of course since I was invited, I was going to go!! I learned that the point of parent visitation day was for the child to “show” their parent one or more tasks that they accomplish during the school day. Each child got to choose what activity they wanted to “demonstrate” for their parents.

After Kendal decided that she would show us “cloth washing”, Kim and I sat down in the really cool little chairs. I thought to myself, “what is cloth washing”? Turns out it’s actually exactly what it sounds like… there is a pile of cloths, a double sink, a bar of soap, buckets, and…. wait for it …. a washboard!!!!!! When was the last time you saw or used a washboard??? It was so cool. As we sat and watched, Kendal said “I have to get some water”. So she trudged off with a bucket, went to a big sink and filled it with water. She then trudged back to the “cloth washing” area where we were waiting anxiously.

kendal 1

She carefully poured the water into the sink, grabbed the soap and cloths and began to scrub them against the washboard. Holy Cow!!!! This is serious manual labor!! Who knew???

Kendal 5

Then Kendal would rinse each cloth and take it to a different area of the room where she hung it up. Kim and I both were sitting in these little chairs beaming with joy as if we had just won the lottery!!! Now the fact that Kendal always volunteers to help around the house makes so much sense to me!!! They do chores in school!!! A month ago during her first overnight with us in the camper, she stood on her little stool and did the dishes after dinner. And she’s not even three yet!! I love this kid more every day!!!

Other kids in the classroom were showing their parents matching games, a map exercise of some sort, and a dad in a three piece suit was down on the floor with his child immersed in the lesson he was receiving from his child. This was the coolest thing ever!! As the kids talked, the parents listened intently or did the activity too by following their child’s lead. The teacher strolled around the room, but only helped if the child needed it, and most didn’t. When it was time for Kendal to empty her sink she did need a little help carrying her heavy bucket. At one point, when Kim tried to stand behind Kendal at the sink, Kendal told her she needed to wait behind the blue line on the floor. Lordy, there’s a line to use the sink!!! So Kim stood behind the little blue line on the floor as Kendal instructed. I was beyond impressed!

Kendal 4

On this night in particular, I really missed my sister Renee. She taught in a Montessori school for years prior to opening her own day care. I bet she would have loved watching Kendal at work. Kendal seemed to be one of the youngest children in the class, yet she moved around with such confidence, pointing out the various boxes, and bags and clipboards in the room and explained what they were used for. As I looked at all of the kids in that room, I could picture future doctors, lawyers, CEOs and maybe even a President or two!!

Then a bell rang and the teacher advised that the instruction session was over. The kids were instructed that it was time to clean up and put things away. Kendal was given a mop to clean up the water on the floor that had spilled from her bucket. Really?????? This was almost too much for me.

kendal 7

The kids seemed to put their items away in the proper places with as much enthusiasm as they had retrieved the items at the beginning of the session. Most adults don’t even do that (without grumbling at least a little). As a teacher myself for many years now, tonight I realized that some of the best lessons in life can come from our kids (or grandkids). Tonight Kendal taught me that there’s no such thing as being too young to lead, and that if instructions are delivered with knowledge and confidence, people will follow. I know that tonight, with us in her school environment where she is thriving and happy, Kim and I would have followed Kendal to the ends of the earth! Lead on Kendal, Lead on!! Can’t wait to see what you’ll teach us at the next Parent Visitation day!