• Jennifer Widemire Smith

3, 2, 1 Impact...

This week my son was given a book titled, “Chompsey Chomps Books” by Candice Marley Conner. He had your typical big kid/preteen boy reaction, “Hmm a book. Cool,” and plopped it down on the counter. When we weren’t watching he’d sneak a look at a page then quickly close the book again. Candice and I left him alone with it, and I wondered if he understood the significance.

Candice was Landon’s Reading Buddy for three years beginning in First Grade. She volunteered at his school which randomly paired her with my son. At the time we barely knew each other. Our daughters however, were two friends determined to knit our families together. And they succeeded. It was on a playdate that I learned Candice was pulling Landon out helping him with his reading each week.

As we learned about dyslexia and what Landon needed from his teachers, Candice learned right alongside us. She read every blog post, every article, and meme I’d share—a true friend and supporter.

She took all that knowledge and applied it during her time as Landon’s Reading Buddy. She became an oasis for him. If his head hurt she’d listen and let him take a break. Candice was more concerned with inspiring Landon to love reading. Not to make him a perfect reader. And I love her for that!

Her relationship with my son did not end during his last year in the Reading Buddy Program. In fact, last year she let him go through her extensive home library. Landon picked out the next book in the Percy Jackson series that he’d been reading. The book was rarely ever out of sight. I found it under his pillow at night, under his seat in the car, buried in his sock drawer. I even found it once in the refrigerator where he’d put it down to get something to eat and forgotten (something he still swears didn’t happen).

When he finally finished reading it the pages were stained, bent, the spine was cracked, and peeling. I felt horrible and found a replacement on eBay. When I showed Candice the book and gave her the nice one to take its place, she took the worn version instead, “This only shows how much he loved it. My job has been accomplished.”

Her impact on my son is tangible, and his impact on her is now in a book for all children to read. Candice took Landon’s struggles, his desire to throw books across the room when his frustrations were too big for his little body to handle. She took his experiences and let them swirl inside her mind, exciting her imagination, and a little dyslexic alligator named, Chompsey was born.

When we returned home with our new Chompsey books in tow the kids curled up in bed and I read them the story. Lyla looked over at Landon and said, “He’s us!” Even before the word “dyslexic” was used they knew what was coming. It excited them more than I’d been expecting. Landon’s eyes twinkled as he listened. Lyla’s fingers touched the beautiful illustrations.

When Heron taught Chompsey different ways to learn and my son heard the words, “Eyes hurt? Take a break…Head hurt? Take a break.”

Landon smiled and said, “That’s what Ms. Candice would always give to me—a break. She’s Heron!” When we finished the story I read them the dedication. Both kids sat up in awe. “She wrote a book about Landon!” Lyla said.

Landon was quick to correct her, “No, she wrote a book about us! And all kids like us!”

I cried big happy tears. I held my kiddos and told them how proud I was of everything they have already accomplished in their short lives. Kissed them good night and read the book again.

Josh read it too and his eyes glistened. “How cool is this? And how much would our kids have loved to have this when they were first learning to read?”

I had already thought about that and bought a copy to give to Read Write Learning Center. The place of refuge for dyslexic kids to go and learn with tutors who knew exactly how to help and had stepped into the gap for my family.

I walked in with my kids who were no longer so little and handed the book to Ms. Julie, the Director. Goosebumps flew up her arms as she turned the pages. “How amazing is this!” The secretary also began crying.

To be seen and understood is such a powerful human experience. And that is the true gift from Candice. She not only saw my kids, but she also stepped into that gap with them and then turned their story into an inspiring book for all children.

That’s the thing about inspiration. It leads to greatness. Greatness is never achieved inside a comfort zone. We become great when we encounter obstacles that knock us back on our butts and we are left with a decision to make. Do I quit? Stay right here and go no further? Or do I step back, look at what is in front of me and find a way to conquer the obstacle?

Often that obstacle teaches us failure. How many ways to not invent a light bulb. It is through this process of failure that true passion begins to form. "Come what may I will find a way or I will make my own!" This passion leads to greatness.

And greatness inspires others. When you walk down the lighting aisle of your hardware store how many kinds of lightbulbs can you count? It took Edison 10,000 attempts before he finally found the right combination to give us a single light bulb. And now that bulb has 100’s of styles, wattages, and shapes. Millions of jobs were created and billions have been impacted.

Inspiration is different than motivation. Motivation is something we use to keep engaging in an action we have already committed to doing. More often than not it is a reaction to a negative emotion when we feel like quitting.

Inspiration, on the other hand, is having a meaningful impact that creates engagement. It excites the mind. Spurs us to action. Creates change. And is a rippling impact that affects others. A lightbulb.

One particular sunny day Candice and I were just beginning to get to know each other. Our kids were playing in an open field near their pre-school when I asked her if she was a writer and what she had written. I can’t remember her exact words, all I remember was connecting to the struggle to own the words, “I am a writer.” Her words were a mixed bag of yes and no. The emotion behind them was one so many women feel, “I am not enough.”

We were being asked to collaborate on a writing project by a mutual friend and I hadn’t said yes yet. Instead I was feeling my way around the women whom I would be spending a great deal of time and effort.

I instantly connected to that emotion of “not enough” in Candice. But equally if not more powerfully I connected to the underlying desire to succeed in her as well. The courage that despite how she felt she was going to keep writing. I too struggled to call myself an artist, a photographer, or simply creative. I was always weighing my accomplishments against others I saw as true artists and felt infinitely inferior in their presence. And being asked to become a writer? Oy Vey that was a tough one. And yet the desire to find a way to overcome our weaknesses was stronger.

Ultimately, it was the training Thom Shea put me through that finally knocked that weak emotion out for good:

"Name what you want to be so that your whole being can focus on becoming it."

"Start with, 'I am _______," he'd say.

Candice received those words too. As we collaborated, critiqued, and pushed each other by our own unique skills we became stronger, greater, more confident women both willing to proudly and without hesitation say, “Yes, I am a writer.”

We are writers simply because we write not because we have been published. Although we are now that too.

The impact of a simple decision to openly discuss and share three simple words, “I am dyslexic” has had an affect on too many people to count. It is a sentence I taught my children to say. Taught them to own. Taught them to be inspired by it. For what the dyslexic mind can do is indeed limitless. Nothing is impossible if you focus your whole being on who you are and what you wish to achieve.

Find people who inspire you and be that inspiration for them. After all, you never know the impact you might have. You might just find yourself holding a book that wouldn’t exist without you being exactly who you are.

Visit The Haunted Book Shop to purchase a signed copy of Chompsey or Visit Candice Marley Conner to learn more about her Kidlit published works.

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