I am a lover of words. I love to speak them. I love to read them. I love to write them.
Words have power. Words…spoken, read, and written…make an impact. The right words possess the power to brighten someone’s day. The wrong words will do the exact opposite.
Finding the right words is my job. When I write, words are my tools to communicate a story. I choose them with care, willing my voice to leap off the page for the reader.
As a parent, I feel the weight of my responsibility to choose my words wisely. My word is law. Even when they become teenagers, much to their dismay. Every conversation becomes a teaching moment. And I don’t always get it right.
Sometimes I model words that aren’t meant for little mouths to repeat…
Me: “Verb, put your sneakers on…we don’t want to be late for school.”
Verb: Struggling, “I’m trying!”
Me: “Do you need help?”
Verb: “Son of a bitch! Yes! I need help!”
Interrogator: “Verb, you don’t say ‘son of a bitch’ when you’re putting on your shoes!”
Interrogator: “You say ‘goddamnit’.”
Verb: “Oh. Thanks.”
Sometimes I miss the boat…
Me, speaking to the nice girl at the Acme, who’s bagging my groceries: “Thank you for bagging.”
Nice girl, to me: “You’re welcome,” turning to the Verb, “How old are you?”
Verb: “I’m 3. What’s wrong with your eyes? They’re weird.”
Me: “Uh, her eyes aren’t weird, Verb. She is blind. She can’t see. Tell her you’re sorry.”
Waldorf: “Verb, you don’t call someone’s eyes ‘weird’! You call them ‘interesting’.”
Verb, to the nice girl: “Sorry. Your eyes are…in-ter-es-ting,” proudly to me, “See Mom? Even though her eyes are weird, I told her they were in-ter-es-ting! That was good, right?”
Over the summer, I read an article in The Huffington Post written by Kristen Howerton. Kristen has 4 kids…some biological and others adopted. The title of her article is “Parents, Please Educate Your Kids About Adoption So Mine Don’t Have to”. Kristen has an interracial family. It’s not uncommon for children she’s never met to ask whether she is her adopted kids’ “real” Mom. In her article, she makes a plea to parents to discuss adoption with their children. Kristen’s point is a valid one. It’s not her job to educate my children about adoption. It’s my job to educate my children about adoption. It’s my responsibility to find the right words to do so…through a book, through a movie, through a conversation at my dinner table.
3 years ago, I took a walk with a friend…
I have a mustache of sweat and damp pits, and I struggle to push my double jogging stroller…a Target hand-me-down from another Mom…along the rocks of Forbidden Drive, the trail that borders the Wissahickon. The Interrogator and the Verb are my passengers, and I keep them entertained by throwing goldfish and raisins at them. I silently curse the extra pounds that are hanging on for dear life after my fourth and final pregnancy. It’s going to take months of Weight Watchers and miles of trail runs to get back to my fighting weight once again.
I walk alongside a Mom from school. Her name is Dorothy. She is beautiful, smart, and kind, and she has a smile that illuminates her entire face and every room into which she walks. She pushes her youngest son in the coolest stroller I’ve ever seen. It has this fancy swivel seat so he can face her or face forward. They don’t sell this stroller at Target.
You know when you walk into a meeting and you peruse the audience? When you see that person who loves to hear herself talk. She’s the broad who raises her hand under the guise of posing a question, but takes that opportunity to spout off her resume. You see her and immediately think, “Son of a bitch, now I have to listen to her crap this entire meeting.” Well, Dorothy is the antithesis of her. When I walk into a meeting, I look for Dorothy. She always asks solid questions…she’s not afraid to ask the hard questions…but she does it articulately and always with regard for the feelings of others.
I walk alongside this friend on a cool morning, willing some of the post-baby weight off my thighs.
“So I’ve written a book.”
Her statement interrupts my preoccupation with my chafing thighs.
I turn to look at her, wiping the sweat from my upper lip, “You what?”
She turns to meet my eye and dazzles me with her megawatt smile. I notice there is no sweat on her upper lip. “ I’ve written a book. A children’s book.”
“Seriously? That’s amazing! Wait, don’t you have a real job? When did you find the time to write a book?”
“Well, it was hard to find time, but this was important to me. Really important.”
I already knew Dorothy’s talent. Our oldest sons had been in the same pre-k class, and she’d written and illustrated a book for their class. I smile with the flash of a sweet memory. The memory of sitting on the Kenyan’s bottom bunk while he and Waldorf snuggle on either side of me. I kiss the tops of their heads, intoxicated by the smell of their hair, still wet from the tub, and the lavender scent of their baby lotion. I read Dorothy’s story aloud to them, and they giggle at the words that rhyme and the image of her hand-drawn frog.
“I am so impressed! What’s the book about?”
“We have a friend who has a child on the spectrum, and my son is beginning to ask questions.”
“I don’t feel like there is anything out there for kids. To talk to them on their level in words they understand. My kids are not on the spectrum. But we know kids who are. And stories are a great way to connect with kids…to get them to open up and ask questions and start a dialogue. So that’s what I hope this book will do.”
She is amazing.
“You are amazing. I’m glad you’re my friend.”
“Oh, stop it. I wrote it. But it hasn’t been published yet.”
It’s now 2012, and Dorothy’s book is a reality. It’s titled Sam and Me. And it’s quickly become a favorite in our home.
Sam and Me is the story of a family with two sons, Alex and Sam. Sam has special needs. Alex doesn’t understand why Sam acts certain ways…Sam doesn’t talk much…he wants to play on the swings all the time…sometimes Sam is inconsolable. It’s up to his parents to find the right words to communicate with Alex just what’s going on with his younger brother. And they do it, just as Dorothy does, articulately and with regard for the feelings of others.
Dorothy’s done something very special. She’s written and illustrated a book that meets a need. She recognized the need first in her home…then in our immediate community…and eventually in society at large. In the same way Kristen encourages parents to educate their children about adoption, Dorothy’s book provides a springboard for discussion about children with special needs. She encourages parents to take ownership of educating our children about a subject that’s both prevalent and sensitive. Sam and Me tells a story in words that kids relate to and understand. Words like mad, happy, smiles, falling, sorry, freak out, safe. She doesn’t use labels. You won’t read words like autism, spectrum, sensory issues, or special needs in this book. Her book is a safe starting point for parents to begin a dialogue. She gives us a prompt.
Not all boys and girls think, talk, and act the same. As a parent, it’s my responsibility to teach my kids that everyone is unique, and some families face different challenges than others. Sam and Me helps make that part of my job a little bit easier. And I’m on board with anything that makes my job a little bit easier.
Dorothy is an enormous talent with a great message. She’s put her talent to use. And she is giving back. She is donating her share of profits from the sales of Sam and Me to organizations that support children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families. Yep, she is amazing. Her work on this book…and her dedication to seeing it come to fruition…are a shining example of precisely what we’re striving to teach our kids everyday…both in and out of the classroom…believe in yourself, be kind, capitalize on your talents, find a creative outlet, show resilience, educate yourself, be happy, give back.
I am a lover of words. Thank you, Dorothy, for choosing yours so brilliantly.
For local folks, Dorothy Potash will be reading Sam and Me during an educational forum at Barnes and Noble in Jenkintown, PA, on October 15th at 7PM. She’s scheduled for a reading and signing at O’Doodles in Chestnut Hill, PA, from 1-3PM on October 20th. Sam and Me is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.