Building a World for Kids

 

 

orange and yellow tentWe just got the official news that our summer camp for kids with trachs was cancelled this year. With all the closings due to COVID-19, it’s no surprise, but it’s absolutely gut wrenching for the campers and the volunteers who go each year. Especially for the campers. Last summer, as we packed up to leave, the little boy I drove up from Savannah asked me what day it was. I told him it was Friday. He promptly replied, “Then I want to come back Saturday.” He meant the very next day. Camp is a world of its own. It’s an escape from reality.

I’ve been reflecting a good bit this past week about camp. About what it means for kids with special needs, whose daily lives are filled with treatments, procedures and medications. Kids who are often singled out and maybe even bullied at school because of their differences.

This reflection led me to remember a hectic day last summer. We’d just gotten our group of campers into the cafeteria for lunch, when two of mine said they needed to use the restroom. One of them uttered those dreaded words, “I don’t know if I can hold it.” SO, we set off at top speed for the bathrooms. The two  campers in my care had just shimmied through a row of other campers seated at long tables, when a little guy I didn’t know from a different special needs camp jumped up and stood between me and my little guys.

Before I could say a word about needing to catch up to my charges, he said (in such a serious tone of voice it was almost alarming), “I’m in that house too.”

He stared at me. Expectant. Waiting. I had no clue what he was talking about for a good 10 seconds (as I’m hoping we won’t completely miss lunch because we have to walk back to our cabin and changes clothes before the next activity). Then it hit me. I was wearing a T shirt with a printed Gryffindor logo on it. Luckily, I recovered fairly quickly, considering. “Oh, yeah,” I said. “I’m a Gryffindor through and through.” His face. It just lit up completely. We’d connected. Not through that physical place, as magical as it is. But through a world built by J.K. Rowling.

This is why I’m passionate about writing books for kids. They can’t always escape physically to a place where their problems feel miles away. But, hopefully they can always pick up a book and escape to a world built by an author. In these days of isolation, we need this more than ever! We need to build connections with people we might not get a chance to see in person like we used to. We need to see someone across a crowded room, and stop them to say, “I’m in that house too.”

Gryffindor Emblem Wall Cut Out HARRY POTTER WIZARDING WORLD

 

2020 Spring Fling Entry

Hi everyone! I’ve decided to enter the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest for the first time. The rules (in a nutshell) are to find a GIF and write a short story for kids inspired by the image you choose. The story can’t exceed 150 words, and has to appeal to kids. Thanks for stopping by to read my entry, and thanks to talented authors Kaitlyn Sanchez and Ciara O’Neal for sponsoring the contest! Here’s my GIF (from gifimage.net) followed by my story. Enjoy!

best-gif-on-the-internet-5

Mac’s Stage Fright

My class is meeting online today! When it’s my turn to share, I have a perfect plan.

My hamster, Mac, loves carrots. He does the silliest little happy dance—flipping over in his scramble to gobble it to bits, while making some hilarious squeaking sounds. It never fails.

I can’t stop smiling as I set up for my video. I know it will make them laugh. My mom’s a nurse, so I worry about her these days…an awful lot. Sharing what makes me happy will help my friends too.

I get some broccoli for my brother’s hamster, Malware—I can’t risk him making any moves on Mac’s carrot. I’m all set. What could go wrong?

Ms. Ratchford calls my name, my heart pounds.

Lights, Camera, Action…Rolling…

I wait. Nothing.

Mac, how could you?! I want to cry.

Then I look at my screen. Everyone’s laughing. So I do too!

 

 

Treasures from the Past

So, there’s plenty of sadness when our parents and grandparents die. It’s not only missing them, but also the gut-wrenching efforts of clearing through their belongings to see what to keep, what to give away or what to simply toss out in a large black trash bag. You know the drill. But, it doesn’t make it any easier to do it when the time comes.

I’m currently in the process of clearing out my parents’ home, since my dad passed away and my mom has moved into assisted living. I’m not only finding things that were theirs, but also things that belonged to my grandparents–on both sides of the family. Yesterday, I spent hours digging through a box of photos, disintegrating scrapbooks, souvenirs, letters, a travel diary and even a script for a play. I was overwhelmed with nostalgia and gratitude for the loving grandparents I had and the chance to learn about their younger years, before I knew them.

Talk about a trip down memory lane! I don’t know if this will interest a single other person out there, but I thought I’d share some of the sentimental treasures I unearthed. 🙂 As a writer, I can’t help but think these will be a part of a book one day! I’ll keep you posted.

Witch Missy

Happy Halloween Everyone. I wrote this 100 word story for the 9th annual Halloweensie contest on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website. Click the link to check out contest rules. 🙂 Enjoy!

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“I’m a witch,” Missy chants—red curls poking messily from her black pointed cap. “I need a wand.”
She snaps a twig from a leafless branch. Perfect.
Her costumed group reaches a spooky darkened house.
Missy stops.
A friend tugs her arm. “We only stop for lit porch lights.”
Cobwebs litter the deserted porch. Owls screech.
Missy shivers.
“Come on.”
Missy ignores.
“We’re leaving.” They really do.
Missy stares.
A nearby chorus of “Trick or treat!”
A cauldron! A real witch’s house! It could hold potions.
Missy moves.
Inching closer, squinting.
Then…
“MEOWWW!!!”
Missy screams.
The cat dashes.
Missy laughs.

Just One Child

Happy Halloween Everyone. I wrote this 100 word story for the 9th annual Halloweensie contest on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website. Click the link to check out contest rules. 🙂 Enjoy!

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Creak. Her rocking chair broke the eerie silence.

“Just one child,” she thought.

She adjusted her pointy black hat, and rubbed her gnarled hands together greedily. “Just one.”

Yet, none came.

Her eyes scanned fake cobwebs and tattered scarecrows with disgust.

At long last, she rose to go inside—heart heavy, lonely.

Then, a chorus of voices behind her.

Trick or treat!”

A potion for her soul! She turned. Not just one child. Her great-grandchildren!

“Sorry we’re so late. It’s a long drive, but we wanted to visit on your first “nursing home Halloween”.

A full heart. A smile. Happy.

Living History

After my dad passed away last year, Mom decided to move into an assisted living facility near my home. She wanted to be as independent as possible, and not be “right on top of us” in my house. It’s been a tough transition for all of us, in some ways. But I’ve also had the opportunity to grow my extended family through the fascinating friends Mom has made in her new home.

One of those new friends is Betty. Betty is 96 (turning 97 later this year) and still volunteers at the Mighty 8th Air Force museum in Savannah on a regular basis. She shared the story of her younger years with me recently, and we decided to make her story into a children’s nonfiction book. Here are some highlights:

Betty in Uniform
Betty in her Navy uniform during the World War II.

She was a part of a top secret project (Ultra) during World War II.

I wasn’t even aware that Americans were a part of this code-breaking effort. Like many other Americans, I watched the movie about Alan Turing a few years ago, and learned that researchers at Bletchley Park in England cracked the German Enigma code. It turns out, that was only part of the story. Betty was a part of the “rest of the story”. She worked with other Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in Dayton, Ohio to build machines that we used to break the German Navy Enigma codes. Apparently, the German Navy added extra rotors to make the codes more difficult to break, and the British needed our help. Betty’s work on the project was so secretive, even she didn’t know the importance of the work she’d done until 1995 when she received an award from the National Security Agency (NSA). You can see the one remaining machine built by Betty and other WAVES at NSA’s cryptologic museum at Ft. Meade.

Betty and Waves in Classroom
Betty (top row, second from left) with other WAVES during a training class in Washington, DC 1943. Photo from Betty’s personal collection.

Betty was a National Swim Champion. Betty swam competitively during her teen, college and even Navy years. She won several National swim titles, but never realized her dream of competing in the Olympics as both the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were cancelled due to the war.

Betty on diving board
Another photo from her personal collection: Betty poses on the diving board of the National Cash Register’s Sugar Camp pool in Dayton, Ohio during the war years.

She met famous people. Betty swam with future movie star, Esther Williams when they were both teenagers. Ms. Williams’ Olympic dreams were also thwarted by the war. In addition, Betty had the chance to meet Orville Wright, of the famous Wright Brothers. Mr. Wright asked for permission to meet Betty after reading an article about the young Navy WAVE defending her swim title. One of the world’s greatest visionaries chatted with young Betty about her own dreams. She also remembers drenching Mr. Wright’s shirt when he gave her a hug, as she’d just climbed out of the pool. It’s a meeting she’s never forgotten. Interestingly, that newspaper article almost got Betty in major trouble. Her swim coach didn’t go through the proper channels to secure permission for her to compete, and since she was in the Navy, her commander wasn’t happy! When the next championship rolled around, her swim coach knew exactly how to secure permission the right way.

WAVES poster
One of the recruiting posters advertising the WAVES.

When the Navy began recruiting women into active duty, Betty wanted to do her part. She was raised to hunt, fish, swim and even solder wires with her father. It wasn’t in her nature to sit back and let the men go to war.

I recently interviewed Betty about her experiences during the war and looked through photo albums with her. It was such an honor to have her share her story with me. It felt like I was interviewing living history. I’m polishing up the manuscript of her story, and hoping to get it into the hands of a publisher! I’d love to see kids inspired by her story too.

Betty and Melissa

 

The Empty Spot

amazing-beautiful-breathtaking-cloudsHappy Fall Y’all! This is my entry for the Kidlit Fall Writing Frenzy contest.

The Empty Spot

196 words, Image 5, Picture Book category

This used to be our spot. On dark nights when the moon was full, we’d dash past Rachel’s feet and scurry up this tree. Full moons were always the best—especially when drifting clouds made it look like cheese. Sometimes, on nights like this, we would reminisce about the pranks we’d pulled or the ham we’d snitched from Rachel’s sandwich when she left it unattended for a minute. She loved us anyway. Even when she called us “her little stinkers.” Some nights we just sat, and rubbed our necks together.

 

I remember the day Rachel brought us home from the rescue in a cardboard box. She’d only planned for one cat, but ended up bringing us home together. Last week he stopped eating. When Rachel walked in the door with the empty carrier, I’d paced and paced. “I’m so sorry,” she’d said. Where was he? When would he be back?

 

Tonight, I sit alone. One, in a spot made for two. My purr is stuck somewhere in my chest. I wonder if it will ever come again?

 

I stare at the same moon. I sit in the same place. But nothing is the same. Not anymore.

 

Ripples of Kindness

I’m sure all moms can remember a time when the random kindness of a stranger mattered. Maybe it was it the cashier at the grocery store playing peek-a-boo with your restless toddler so you could check out. How about the teenager who held open the door as you were struggling through with your double stroller? All of it matters. But when your a special needs mom, it really matters. I mean, really.

You see, we aren’t immune to the dirty looks or irritated sighs from people. We’ve endured the rude comments about our child making noises. So when strangers are kind–even go out of their way to help, it’s huge. I’ve seen stories in the press lately about employees at theme parks going out of the way to help kids on the spectrum who become overwhelmed. And yes, when your child is on the spectrum, even good things can cause a meltdown. Things they’ve begged for, talked about constantly, and looked forward to for months. Why? Because when that big moment finally gets here, it’s just too much. It’s overwhelming. And when they can’t process all of that stimulation, even if it’s something they’ve wanted, they can shut down.

Adam Levine gets it. So does the young lady who portrays Snow White at Disney. And the employee at Universal Studios. And, I’m so glad they do. But there are so many more people out there who still don’t get it. I’d love for people to do some research on the autism spectrum, Tourette’s, OCD, ADHD, and all kinds of “invisible” causes of behavior that might look like simple tantrums. Then, you can be one of those people showing kindness. And it matters. So much. Thanks for taking the time to read!

Superhero Success Foundation, Inc.

I’m thrilled to announce that our Georgia nonprofit, Superhero Success Foundation has been established. Through this IRS approved charity, we can create exciting children’s books featuring superhero characters that just happen to have special needs. Through the organization, books can be donated to children’s hospitals, camps for special needs kids, schools, and more.

Already, we’ve been asked to provide books for the campers attending Camp Trach Me Away this June. This will give the kids at camp a chance to see a character in a book who also has a tracheostomy tube in his neck–but also happens to be a superhero!

Our board of directors is looking to our next steps, such as creating a website, a logo, and drafting a mission statement that matches our articles of incorporation and by-laws. Overall, we hope to break barriers in children’s book publishing through creating amazing characters, who just happen to have special needs. Our first book, Jeremiah Justice Saves the Day has exceeded our expectations, thanks to the amazing talent of illustrator Rashad Doucet. We are so excited to share this book with the world and start making a difference in kids’ lives!

StoryStorm 2019

story_storm_winner_2

Thanks to the amazing Tara Lazar and her guest bloggers, I’m happy to say I completed StoryStorm 2019 with 30 ideas for stories. If you have any interest in children’s publishing, I highly encourage you to subscribe to Tara’s blog here. You won’t be sorry!

Now, to get busy turning these ideas into actual full blown, developed stories…

But, you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Wish me luck!