ā€œIā€™m Going to Read ALL of the Books in this Library!ā€

I clearly remembering saying that to my Mom on one of our first visits to the incredible Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. as she was explaining how many books were contained in the Library. I was about 6 years old at the time.

We visited the Library often, sitting in its massive Main Reading Room researching and writing whatever assignment was due for school, or simply reading for pleasure. As a child I used to get dizzy holding my head back in attempt to see the room’s ceiling which to me seemed higher than the sky!

When I proclaimed to Mom that I was going to read every book in the Library of Congress she never corrected or discouraged me. Instead she said “then you better get started!” I remember reading two chapter books in the reading room that day and was so proud of myself for getting a good start on reading ALL of the books.

Those visits with Mom to this breathtaking place helped to make me the person I am today! My love of all things printed (and now on Kindle) were shaped by Mom’s love of them too. I wouldn’t be an author today were it not for Mom.

I still get goosebumps when I enter the Library of Congress – the marble, the statues, the millions of books, the exhibits – all of which emphasize for me the importance of reading and learning.

When I turned 12 Mom reminded me that the next year I would be a teenager, and at that time she expected me to share with others (including strangers) what I had read and learned in the Library so I could hold a conversation about the topic to get “a different perspective” from my own.

I so looked forward to turning 13 and starting on the mission Mom gave me! Countless people of all ages and ethnicities engaged me in conversation and contributed in a huge way to my personal and spiritual growth.

This past weekend I went to the Library to see the Holiday tree and the Rosa Parks exhibit. As I walked up the marble stairs to the exhibit, tears started to roll down my cheeks! The tears really surprised me, but at that moment I missed my “pre-dementia” Mom so much!

Though I miss going to the Library with her, she’d be very proud that I still go! In spite of the tears I also realized we’ve also received one huge Blessing along our dementia journey. Unlike many others in the late stages of dementia Mom can still read! She can no longer comprehend, but she can proudly belt out all the words on any given page. I read to Mom a lot and she still reads to me (she also makes sure I’m paying attention!)

As I always do any time I visit an exhibit, I took Mom the brochures on the Rosa Parks and the We Shall Not Be Denied exhibits. When I arrived at the group home, Mom was eating dinner and as I sat down to chat with her I put the brochures near her plate. She said hello to me, but never took her eyes off the brochures. Then she put her fork down and started to read, which is very surprising given how much Mom loves to eat!

After watching her read for about 15 minutes I asked her if she wanted to finish her dinner and then read later. What was her answer? “I’m learning something right now!” I love the intensity with which she does everything, and she seemed to really resonated with the black and white photos! As I sat with Mom I reflected on all the fun times we spent in the Library of Congress! Mom used to joke that it was the ONE place I felt honored NOT to talk. I am comforted by the fact that I can cherish those memories for me and Mom! I also reflected on how grateful I am to Mom for teaching me to love learning, something I pray I’ve passed on to my students over these last twenty-two years.

People keep asking me what I want for Christmas and my response is always the same, that I need nothing and that I already have so many gifts in my life! One of the main gifts I’m thankful for is that God has chosen to let Mom keep her ability to read, the ability she cherishes more than anything in this world! There isn’t any gift I could receive Christmas Day that is better than that!

What gift do you already have that’s better than anything you’ll open Christmas morning? My plan is to read a short story to Mom on Christmas Day and I hope she’ll read to me! Best gifts ever and I can’t wait! Love you Mom!

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A Ton of JOY mixed with a Little Bit of Pain!

I was determined to start this holiday season early and take in as many of the DC area’s holiday lights and events as I possibly can! Last year I started late, missed a lot and regretted it when the season was over! So there I was on November 30th with Kendal at 5pm in front of the National Zoo waiting for the opening of Zoo Lights, the annual event with beautiful holiday lights that span the entire Zoo property.

We’d started going to Zoo Lights in 2012, the year after Kendal was born, making our first trip while she was still in a stroller. The entire family went each year, including Paul Roberts Abernathy who’d become part of our family years earlier! We’d ride the train and carousel and “oh and ah” over the colorful lights. We took a 3 year hiatus after Tim died in 2016 but I really wanted to restart our tradition.

Imagine my surprise when we discovered that Kendal had no memory of ever attending Zoo Lights with us and Pappy. That made me sad, especially because she has memories of lots of other events from the same time period. Thank goodness for all the pictures and videos we have to share with her.

One advantage of restarting the Zoo Lights tradition now that she’s almost 8 is that she can now ride an inflated tire down the big zoo hill!! That was a blast!! Kendal yelled and screamed during her ride and smiled at, admired and photographed so many of the lights with Tim’s camera. We walked every inch of the Zoo admiring the new animated and life-like animals. Even Kendal’s doll Luciana went with us! Kendal was so exhausted after all her running and playing for 4 hours that we had to catch a Lyft back to my car that I’d left at work. Needless to say we will be back at Zoo Lights next year!!

On December 3rd I left my car at work to take in the many areas in holiday decorated areas in downtown DC without having to look for a parking space. I first went to the upscale area called City Center with designer stores and incredible restaurants! The Center’s Christmas tree and reindeer are HUGE and I felt surrounded by JOY!

That night I also took in the DC Christmas Market, Union Station’s Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony and the tree at the U.S. Capitol! What a night!

On December 6, Kendal was recognized in a ceremony at school for making honor roll, so we celebrated by going to an indoor trampoline playground called Sky Zone! We jumped for JOY for almost 2 hours having the time of our lives. Then all of a sudden Kendal stopped right in the middle of a jump, ran to me and said “I miss Pappy”! We hugged for a long time and I told her it was perfectly ok to miss him and I absolutely miss him too. Then it was back to jumping! One of the things I remember saying right after Tim died was that the wrong Grandparent died, and that Tim was made to be the Best Grandparent Ever, but could only do so for four years. I was determined to ensure I was the fun Grammy doing all the crazy things I knew Tim would do with her! I think I’ve done that so far!

This past weekend was loaded with events and with JOY! On the same day I attended my cousin Bonita’s annual holiday brunch which was filled with fellowship, food and holiday music, and the amazing holiday boat parade at the newly renovated DC Wharf. It was the first time I’d attended that event!! I was reminded at my cousin’s event of how much Tim loved her voice when she and her fellow choir members broke out in an impromptu song!! Tim would have been yelling “Sing Bonita”!! Tears cane to my eyes! Tim would also love the new wharf, and I’m sure that as much as he loved crabs we’d be down there all the time!

Even Mom was able to get in on the holiday fun as Lifesprings Eldercare held their annual holiday event with a red and black theme! I was worried how Mom would do during the two hour event, and packed lots of fidget toys for her to keep her busy, but I was worried for nothing because she was mesmerized for the entire event by her holiday napkin. She even missed the dancers dancing and kids choir singing thanks to her napkin filled with large print words including the word JOY !! Though I was sad she wasn’t aware of what was happening, I was thrilled she had found her own entertainment!

My weekend ended with another first! I trekked up to Brookside Gardens in Montgomery County and walked for two hours to see all of their holiday lights. After my hectic couple of weeks the walk was energizing and very peaceful! I’ll definitely be going back there next year too!

If I had to rate my holiday season so far I’d give it an A+! I’ve smiled and laughed, been sad and have cried and literally have allowed myself to feel every emotion that comes upon me!! The pain I felt in my heart without Tim has been brief and replaced most of the time with the feeling that his spirit was enjoying all the adventures right along with me! I thank God that I’m able to clearly see and feel the JOY of the holiday season while also embracing the moments of pain as just a part of my life! May this be a Holiday Season that allows all of us to feel what we feel and to do only what we want to do!