cringing and shaking, but okay

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When I was a junior in college, I took an Old Testament class. It was a small class and most of it consisted of open discussions around a large round table. One week in, I approached the professor and told him I was sorry, but I needed to drop the class; “I just can’t do it. My heart races just thinking about speaking in front of everyone.”

Had you known me at that age, you might find my anxiety surprising. I wasn’t someone who hid in a corner or didn’t like attention. It was the combination of academics and public speaking that made me panic. School hadn’t been easy for me thanks to some learning issues, so when I was at school, I did my best to stay safely in the back of the room. I saved my loud, social self for after class time.

To make a long story short — the professor would not let me drop the class. He bargained with me, promising that he would not make me speak until the last class of the semester. I sat silently for months in a class of maybe a dozen people – until the last day. Of course that made things rather awkward. Everyone had thought there was something wrong with me and couldn’t believe it when I actually opened my mouth that day. I did manage to get my words out, but not without a whole lot of “Ahhhhhhh”s and “Uhmmmmmm”s.

After that class, I promised myself that I would never again speak in public. Then, I decided I wanted to be an art teacher. My first few attempts to model lessons in graduate school were painful, but I got over it and managed to become comfortable . . . in front of a classroom of children.

As an adult I have done a little more public speaking. I spoke at a fundraiser for The PG Chambers School, and to some small school groups with our service dog, Keegan. I even spoke at Listen to Your Mother. Each time I walked away cringing and shaking, wondering when it would get easier.

Since Smiles and Duct Tape was published, I’ve had the opportunity to speak more — at bookstores and schools. And, it’s really ramped up this month. I spoke to a psychology class at Seton Hall University about “exceptional children” and was honored to speak at a CPNJ fundraiser sharing our story and our love for CPNJ Horizon High School. Next week I’m speaking about ALD up in Boston and then heading to Wisconsin for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. I can’t say I feel completely comfortable as I start a presentation, but I do think I am getting the hang of it.

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It’s so strange how life can send you in a direction that you never expected. The girl who got Cs in English, wrote a book. The girl who couldn’t stand up in front of a small group of classmates, now speaks in front of large audiences of ADULTS. It’s not without plenty of nerves and a whole lot of shaking (honestly – it’s unreal how my whole body shakes), but I am doing it. If it helps other families going through similar situations or helps students trying to understand what “special” looks like or helps people understand ALD or if it encourages people to support wonderful organizations like CPNJ – I’ll do it.

It’s my way of taking back some control. It’s my way of proving that our family has reached the other side of hell. It’s my way of not letting ALD win.

 

Love, Jess

 

 

 

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I have all these words swimming around my brain today – audience, organic, engagement, analytics, platform. I’m trying to quickly sort out everything I learned at the Blogher15 Conference before my brain returns to focusing on my usual words – laundry, diapers, groceries, medications, and reality television.

When my friend, Brooke Lefferts http://www.carpoolcandy.com, encouraged me to sign up for the conference, I was intimidated. Then I remembered that she had motivated me to audition for Listen to Your Mother and that seemed to go well, so I dove in.

Friday morning I boarded an early morning train with Brooke, our new friend, Christine Carlisle http://www.chewnibblenosh.com, and what seemed like thousands of commuters. We found our way to the NYC Hilton, signed in and were given our badges. I felt like an impostor, like at any moment I would be asked for proof of being a “real blogger”. Luckily, there was no security or verifying of site stats.

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I believe strongly that people laughing WITH me is far better than people laughing AT me, so I played the role of naive newbie as I stumbled around the conference. I did get more than one laugh referring THE Twitter and asking how one would find their “analytics”. Truthfully, I didn’t need to put on much of an act — I was out of my league. But what option did I have? There is no Blogher for Dummies. So, I laughed my way through the speeches and sessions and managed to get a ton out of the experience. I left the conference with a pile of knowledge, a huge amount of motivation and some new friends.

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Introductions are constant at any conference and this one was no exception. Cards were thrown around like confetti at every opportunity. I quickly learned that “parenting” is a very crowded space, so in an attempt to differentiate myself form the “twenty ways to pack a healthy lunch” category, I started to describe myself as a “special needs blogger”. That was greeted with sad faces, so I changed my approach. “I write about my family. How to have a normal family with a special child.” Positive, upbeat and honest.

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The conference was full of incredible speakers and activities, but the most meaningful moment for me came at a session I attended called Storytelling about Special Needs Parenting and Disability. The first speaker was not a blogger, but a parent. She’d lost a child and has another with special needs. She referred to herself as “a silent reader”. Wandering her way through the internet searching for people who could relate to what she is going through. I was that person eight years ago. Desperate to find my peers – people who understood me, people who could help my family navigate through this new and rocky territory. My goal for Smiles and Duct Tape (both the blog and the book) is to help people learn that even when life takes crazy turns, that it doesn’t need to derail your family. You CAN HAVE A NORMAL FAMILY WITH A SPECIAL CHILD.
So, it’s time I broaden my reach (sounds fancy, right?). Please help me spread the word.
Thank you Brooke!

Love, Jess

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After two long days we enjoyed a great dinner. Meet two other great ladies and incredible writers — Amy Byrnes http://www.amynameisamy.com and Emily Nichols Grossi http://www.em-i-lis.com.

listen to your mother

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Generally, I do my best to avoid failure. I rarely set myself up for disappointment. But, thanks to the encouragement and support of a good friend (actually a huge pile of friends and family, but one friend who actually sent me the link and twisted my arm a little), I went out of my comfort zone and auditioned for LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER – a live production (hosted in 39 cities across the country) celebrating motherhood. An incredible event where a cast of local writers share their stories “ . . . on the beauty, the beast, and the barely-rested of motherhood, in celebration of Mother’s Day.”

I went to the audition to prove to myself that I could do it. If sharing our family’s story is the goal, I need to start taking some risks. Knowing the caliber of the cast last year, I doubted that I’d be considered, but needed to give it a shot.

I left the audition sweating and wishing that I could have a do over – an opportunity to read the piece again, minus the tears and the shaky voice. Writing alone in my den and hitting “send”, is very different then sharing the words out loud. But, I did it. I stood up and shared a piece of my writing about my family, my boy and a reoccurring dream.

Returning home, I was proud of my attempt and already considering what I could submit next year. When I got the call that I’d been selected for the cast I was shocked. Literally, I found myself running around the house like I’d just scored a prom date. It’s been over a week and I’m still overwhelmed by the news. No disappointment this time!!

Buy your tickets now. Seriously, it’s almost sold out;-) YIKES!!!!
http://listentoyourmothershow.com/northjersey/

Love, Jess