Changing Clothes

Yep, it is that time of the year! Graduation! My son said recently he thought the year would go by very slowly and he could not believe how fast it went! I have held my emotions in check pretty well, remaining so thankful to have the opportunity to celebrate this occasion. I have been overwhelmed with gratitude that Justin has the chance to get a first class education, close to home and complete high school. We are thrilled that he will start college this fall. We are incredibly fortunate to have a son who has worked hard to get to this point.

A couple of weeks ago, I drove past the high school and many kids had dismissed after exams. Hundreds of kids flooded the sidewalks. As I looked at them chatting, texting, checking their phones for goodness knows what… the floodgates opened. I realized my son would not be on the sidewalk next year because the time has come for him to move on. Holy moly! Where have I been the last 13 years? I thought back to his “Star Student” day in Kindergarten when he wrote a book about himself and I got to come share class time with him. I remembered his beloved first grade teacher, Ms. Loeffler, and going to read a book he had chosen for his class. It was a Tuesday morning. That afternoon I fell in Target. After that our family reevaluated what was important in life and soon after I became a stay at home mom. I will never forget the complete joy Justin had the first day he got off the bus at home and not at after school care. This, yes this, these times helped to mold and shape him into the young man he is today.

I remember so well finding out I was pregnant with Justin. Like all new parents, we set up the nursery with carefully chosen furniture, colors and bedding. We had waited so so long for this beautiful child. I lost a baby before Justin and we prayed for a very long time that God would give us another. We did not find out whether I was having a boy or girl and we kept our name selections a secret too. I will never regret the joy my husband experienced surprising everyone in the waiting room after 11pm with news that our boy had been born. We passed him off to my grandmother as the first to hold him. She deserved it having blown off a bridge game to be at the hospital when her first great grandchild arrived. We announced his name, Justin, because we liked it and middle name Willis after his paternal great grandfather. I could not wait to put this precious soul into his carefully selected going home outfit, with cap and socks of course. Someone probably should have told me a mid July baby won’t have issues retaining body temp, but the outfit had to be complete, right? You must have a cap and socks to match! The clothes mattered so much!

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I don’t want to belabor the point that this chapter has come to a close. I want to celebrate this victory and the next chapter that he begins. Like so many of you, we are remembering with joyful tears the years that have passed and are ready (not ready) to move on to the next chapter. I am in my living room now listening to my son drum. In a few months his room  will not be so loud and we will miss that. We are also incredibly thankful that a plan is unfolding for his next steps. In the meantime, his drums, oh how his drums beginning in the 6th grade emerged as his passion. Blame it on me I reckon. I insisted he take band to learn to read music. Now he is writing music and playing in two bands and touring to different venues in NC to play. He was the baby for which we prayed, the child for which we prayed and now the young man for which we prayed. Last fall he sweated bullets as he diligently worked on college applications. Apply early folks! It will save you so much agony during Christmas and keep you out of the general application pool! We anxiously awaited letters in February. Mom brag moment…he was 3 for 3 on college apps! He was thrilled to accept the invite from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte as his first choice. Dorm life awaits, and mom made scrambled eggs and coffee for breakfast do not. (Giggle giggle)

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We traded in the carefully chosen baby clothes for an equally prayed over and carefully selected cap and gown (not really… Herff Jones still owns the rights to all graduation gear. That is the only thing the same since I graduated back in the ice age.) My tears flow because I am thankful that my son is experiencing this precious step in his life. I am proud of him. I am proud that he loves his brother unconditionally and his mom and dad unconditionally. I am proud that he took care of me so many times when I could not. I am proud that he took care of his brother when I could not. I am proud that he has successfully held down a job to pay for his own expenses from the time he could drive. I am proud he has kept school as a priority and maintained good grades. I am proud because he just knows what he needs to do and will step in and do it. As life took detours, I am proud that he used his life experiences and dedicated his senior exit project to the need for more epilepsy awareness and government funding. I am proud that he has discovered his passion through music and has found a way to share himself with the world! Above all else, I am proud that he has Jesus front and center in his life and is not ashamed to share his faith in Jesus Christ.

We will miss him next year in ways I can not begin to fathom. Support meetings may be necessary. I am as proud as the day he was born. God gave us this child and this child has given us so much more than we ever could have imagined.

To my son…You were so little when you were born and your sweet yellow outfit was way too big for you. Your clothes have changed since the day you were born and we are just as thankful today to see you in your cap and gown that you earned. Yes, the cap does indeed matter, even if in the heat of mid June, you need the cap! Your cap and very long gown await your 6’3″ body. My heart is so full because I am so excited for the world to get to meet the person we know as our son. The time has come to open the doors to your world and share you. This isn’t closing a chapter. It is just the beginning and I am honored that you call me Mom…

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, June 2016

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It Matters

We are just a couple of days away from the start of National Epilepsy Awareness Month. Our family and I have been working together to come up with original ways to incorporate Epilepsy Awareness into each day of November. We will be headed to Charlotte on Friday November 1st to see the Wells Fargo Duke Energy Building in all her purple splendor. The Epilepsy Foundation of North Carolina is thrilled that this building will again light up purple to show support in Charlotte. The following day our family will be attending the Epilepsy Foundation of NC Annual Fall Stroll at UNCC. Hunter and his friends are making purple Rainbow Loom bracelets to sell with all money going directly back into the foundation. The Town of Huntersville has jumped on board and Mayor Swain signed a proclamation making November Epilepsy Awareness month right here in town.

Amidst all the excitement, today I opened Facebook to read about a life lost too soon. A beautiful 27 year old woman from Maryland, taken by SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy).

http://www.clarkstonnews.com/Articles-News-i-2013-10-30-253051.113121-sub-Parents-warn-of-epilepsy-sudden-death.html

I paused, for a long time and looked at her picture, thought of her future that is now lost and I thought of her parents. It reminded me to keep talking, keep sharing and keep pressing on with my purple ambition to let people know why it is so important that people simply know the facts about epilepsy.

I have seen so much change and conversation in the few years that I have become involved with Epilepsy Advocacy. It matters because people matter. Please start off November right by wearing purple and TELL people why! Email me if you want a ribbon to wear and we will mail you one homemade by the Campbell family.

© Copyright Gatewood Campbell, October 2013

It’s a Small World After All

Last Friday Shaken, Not Stirred had our first fundraising event for the Epilepsy Therapy Project at sweetFrog Frozen Yogurt. The owner’s, Steve and Sandy Anto graciously welcomed our crew and even brought in entertainment and games for the kids. Their son, my son, and another young man who works at sweetFrog play in a band together. I dreamed up the idea several months ago to have a fundraiser and have the band play. The Antos were all in from the start and with a debut date on the calendar, it was all business for the band.

I’m from the non-profit world and I did a LOT of event planning, way back when, but I’m a bit rusty these days. Thankfully, this time I had a full team of people to call on and the work was spread out with hands grasping for more. This is a special group of people and they not only see a task, they just take it and roll. We used every resource of labor we had available, including child labor. Sharon’s daughter, Addyson, spent one entire day making purple Epilepsy Awareness Ribbons. I apologize now for every hot glue gun burn and pin stick she has, but you should know we gave away every ribbon she made! We got donations from Taco Mac at Birkdale, Hickory Tavern at Birkdale, Chili’s in Huntersville, Longhorn in Huntersville and Carolina CAT and my kids assembled 150+ kids’ goodie bags to give away. Each business was overwhelmingly generous and not a single one turned me away!

I didn’t know what to expect on the day of our event. I had advertised, our team had advertised and sweetFrog had advertised, but you just never know. It’s not so much about the money, OK, well yes, it is about the money that we are raising for the Epilepsy Therapy Project, but I want people to have the chance to learn about something that is so misunderstood. For years I flew under the radar because I was afraid of being misunderstood. I was embarrassed by how I had changed and my inability to cope in certain situations. Is that going to keep me from living my life to my fullest? It shouldn’t. I’m learning that. I’m learning to embrace change. That’s what this race in Philadelphia with ETP is about; stepping out and being a face of epilepsy and brain injury. I hoped we would have the chance to share with people.

The people, oh the people, the flood of people, and the endless flood of tears and emotion that I felt all night. It’s been a week now and I still can’t wrap my mind around it. The show of support spoke volumes. Every set of eyes came to see and to learn about what we were doing. These eager faces wanted to understand. Faces from my childhood, from my husband’s days in elementary school, faces from my high school, from college, from our wedding, my mother’s former colleagues, families from our small group, our devoted RUN-agades, my TEAM in Training Coaches (including my Coach who saw me fall in LOVE with running in Nashville back in 2008), my neighbors, from our church, my Mom (also our Shaken, Not Stirred head cheerleader), my Mother-in-law and Father-in-law and people I had never met that read about us and came out to support our efforts. In a very busy big world, on a Friday night in August, all these people converged on sweetFrog Frozen Yogurt. For six straight hours, there was laughter, friendship and celebration among the hundreds of people who made time to stop by. Having grown up in a small town, I often feel the strain of the quick growth of our area. Friday night showed me, it’s a small world after all.

Friday night I met a woman and her family who came out because they read about our event online. She introduced me to her 11 yr old son. He was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 3 years old and she was 8 months pregnant. For the last 5 years she has been working (I would say slaving is a better word) to secure a seizure dog for her son, and just last week they brought their new dog Chip home with them! I cried tears of joy with this mom as we watched her son play with Chip and I knew the immediate sense of relief she felt. This was an event worthy of celebrating!

I tried my best to share my gratitude and most importantly the reason Shaken, Not Stirred came together. My thoughts were so raw and discombobulated I couldn’t even get people’s names right. As I looked on the crowd and no words could come from my mouth and only tears could flow from my eyes, my very small world was a loving world, an understanding world, an accepting world and the silence was ok.

The night was a tremendous success! It was everything I had envisioned with music, fun and frozen yogurt all night long! I’m proud of my family for working so hard on this project with me and I’m proud of this team for running away with the vision and pressing on to raise $1000’s of dollars for the Epilepsy Therapy Project. I’m thankful for the generosity of the Antos and sweetFrog Frozen Yogurt for supporting our cause.

We have already raised over $8,000 and it’s only the beginning! We got some very exciting news just today that we will be sharing soon! We are SHAKEN things up, purple style… You just wait and see!

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, August 2012

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Reaching Beyond Comfort

There have been two hot topics in our town recently. One is just annoying, and the other raises moral and ethical issues and also gives all of us the opportunity to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone.

One is the new quadrant left traffic pattern which someone in Raleigh claims will alleviate congestion. That remains to be seen, amid a sea of solid red brake lights. I can’t speak directly to this as I have managed to completely avoid this area of town for 9 solid days and will continue my boycott as long as possible (on the advice of all those who have attempted to navigate said quadrant).

The other hot topic is the Town Board’s decision to deny a rezoning request that would have allowed a mental health facility offering both inpatient and outpatient care. The Town Planning Board recommended the rezoning 8-1 yet the Town Board voted down the request 4-2. I didn’t attend the meetings, but I did keep up with the information that was published and I was bothered by what I read.

The rezoning became a debate because the 17 acres in question is adjacent to a neighborhood. Here it comes, Not In My Back Yard.  Oh yes, loud and clear, that’s what the neighbors said over and over and over again. Some said they weren’t against the need for the facility, again, just not right in their backyard. I cringed as I read comments from opponents who said they were afraid of patients who might do something stupid. Stupid? Oooo, I didn’t like hearing this word used when discussing this issue. I get it. The problem is fear. We fear what we don’t understand. We steer clear of what we don’t understand. It makes us uncomfortable, so we dodge it.

Here is what I do understand. People with mental illness are still people, living breathing people. They have families who love them and are searching for qualified professionals to help them get better. They need proper facilities to help them, whether we are comfortable or not. The whole thing really struck a chord with me. Why is it ok to turn our heads or close our eyes and not look at the need, whatever it may be? 

I was disappointed that I didn’t hear anyone offering solutions or compromises that would have swayed the Town Board’s decision, or perhaps educated both sides of the issue. I was frustrated that 60 much-needed inpatient beds as well as outpatient facilities in Mecklenburg County will not be ready in 2013 which puts even more people out of help. I was frustrated that our town had a chance to employ over 150 people and missed out on it, not to mention the construction that it would have brought (as well as broken equipment, cha-ching CAT). My Grandfather spent many summers volunteering his time at Broughton Hospital to relieve the overworked Chaplain. My Grandmother and I talked about it last week. She cried as she recalled the desperation she saw in families who needed professional care for their loved ones. She shook her head and said it was a shame Huntersville had missed out on the chance to really make a difference for a lot of people in need. When you have seen it first hand it always brings a different perspective. She has seen the other side and it made her weep.

As I thought about this over the last week, I had to take a long hard look at myself. OK, Miss Priss, just what are you doing to make a difference for someone else?  Was I guilty of turning my own head too?

BOOYAH! OUCH!

Guess who else has a comfort zone? Uh huh! I can give you a list a mile long of reasons why I have a comfort zone and they all make sense, medically, emotionally and Gatewoodally. But seriously, I had to look at myself and wonder if I was going to ask others to step out, then I had to be willing to do the same myself.

Do I have any extra time to do anything else? Well, what exactly do I do with my time? I go to the gym 3 times a week and aside from the really old lady keeper and the obvious endless chores and tasks of a car-pooling and sometimes seizing stay at home mom of 2 boys who sits at home and eats ice cream all day, I guess nothing much. Oh yea, and I run. OH YEA, I RUN! That’s what I need to do! It hit me like a sign blown over by the wind! There is a 5K/10K at our local high school this Saturday to benefit the Exceptional Children’s programs in our local schools. I’m running a half marathon the following weekend so the 10K would even be the right mileage for my schedule. Perfect, except that I didn’t know anyone else running the 10K. That threw a mild kink in my plan, but Johnny and the boys planned to go with me so I wouldn’t be there by myself. Great, I can use my running to help a wonderful cause! Fantastic! So I signed up for the Run TOO Overcome, this Saturday, March 17th at 8 am.

Together Overcoming Obstacles!

The mission of the Run TOO Overcome is to provide awareness and support for the children, families, and teachers whom meet the daily challenges, and celebrate the joys, of supporting our special needs community. The Run Too Overcome unites our community each year to raise funds to provide our special needs teachers with the equipment and supplies needed to provide differentiated instruction to enrich and engage students of all ability levels.

I finished my registration and picked up Justin from baseball practice and he told me when his next practice would be – yep, Saturday morning, 9am. AH, HELLO? Guess what that means? No Johnny and no kids with me at the race on Saturday. God really does have a sense of humor folks because I’m going WAY outside of my comfort zone for this one. It’s all solo on this one. OK, so I had to get over myself and move on. The Run TOO Overcome isn’t about my comfort zone anyway, it’s about celebrating the awareness and support of the special needs community and raising funds for our local schools. If reaching beyond my comfort zone celebrates others who have overcome adversity, Amen to that!

(Don’t worry Mom, I’ll carry my phone with me during the race just in case, though seriously, I’m with Michael Scott, In Case of Emergency, just call 911).

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, March 2012

The Power of the Purple Ribbon

November is not just about the turkey. November is also National Epilepsy Awareness Month. It’s a little known fact and one that my family decided would become better known this year. This was a conscious decision that I made, and not one that I took lightly.

The most difficult part of sharing this blog is letting people connect the diagnosis to me. My blog lets people know I have the disorder. Sometimes that can be a tough pill to swallow, literally. When you pin on a purple ribbon the whole point is to raise awareness and hope that people will ask what it represents. It’s one thing to wear a purple ribbon and tell people you are wearing it because you know someone with epilepsy. It’s another can of hot tamales to tell a complete stranger that I’m wearing a purple ribbon because I have epilepsy. Get ready for some awkward moments, stares and comments. People have preconceived ideas about epilepsy and whether the information they have is true or false, and I had to be mentally prepared. I learned a long time ago (from our dear Kathleen) that awkward moments are more about the other person than me, and in the end, the cause is worth a few weird minutes of my day. After all, everyone has issues, I’m just bold enough to tell people what mine are.

Epilepsy Awareness at our house started with one spool of purple ribbon and one box of pins. Johnny came home and saw me with a glue gun (which is the absolute extent of my crafting skills) and asked what I was planning to do. I told him I planned to make a few lapel ribbons for us all to wear in November and maybe a few extras to give away. I made 10 ribbons that night.  I never could have dreamed what I would see unfold over the next 30 days!

One spool of purple ribbon and one box of pins is where Epilepsy Awareness in our house started. Here’s what it became…

my husband wearing a purple ribbon every single day, even if he never left the house.

my children wearing purple ribbons on their shirts, jackets and backpacks everyday and carrying extras everyday to share.

my 13 year old proclaiming Epilepsy Awareness Day at his middle school, speaking to his entire school, educating them and asking them all to wear purple to support the cause. All of his teachers, most of his classmates (some even in purple socks), many in his grade and dozens of others in the school supporting the cause by wearing purple and wearing the 200+ ribbons he shared.

my 8 year old following his brother’s lead, speaking to his entire elementary school about epilepsy and asking them to wear purple on the day he chose as Epilepsy Awareness Day. His classmates, decked out in purple (leggings and headbands included), students, faculty and staff wearing purple or one of the 100+ ribbons he shared, all because a little boy told them he was doing something for his mom.

posts on Facebook from friends saying that all the kids at the bus stop were wearing purple.

posts on Facebook from friends letting me know they were wearing purple.

my Mom wearing the same purple shirt day after day after day (I do so love my Mom).

my Mom’s co-workers sporting their purple duds.

my mother in law wearing her purple ribbon at Thanksgiving dinner.

my sister in law wearing purple on the day my son chose as Epilepsy Awareness Day at his school.

my friend wearing her ribbon at the school where she teaches and hearing how she is sharing about epilepsy with her students.

seeing one of my purple ribbons pinned neatly on a friend’s sweater when I met her for lunch.

a picture on Facebook of a friend wearing her purple ribbon and sharing the meaning behind it.

sitting down in church and seeing a friend wearing the ribbon we gave her the week before.

a relative who recognized symptoms I described in my blog, sought medical attention, and was finally correctly diagnosed with seizures.

a friend reaching out to me after experiencing break through seizures for the first time in years.

a phone call from an advocate in Tennessee who read my story and was looking for people willing to speak out.

an email from a lady in Nebraska who developed epilepsy from a brain injury and has never been able to explain how she feels to her family. They now read my blog and understand her emotions in a way she hasn’t been able to express.

one epilepsy fact or thought on my Facebook wall each day to educate and inform others.

our 4′ Christmas tree in the playroom decorated with the leftover purple ribbons.

A dozen spools of purple ribbon and 5 boxes of pins later, Epilepsy Awareness took on a life of its own in 30 days.

Where this goes from here and what my role in it will be, is anyone’s guess. The staggering truth is that Epilepsy affects nearly 3 million Americans and is still one of the least understood major chronic medical conditions. Unfortunately many patients have cases too severe to speak for themselves. They can’t speak up but they desperately need people willing to speak out. I’m among the fortunate, I’m able to speak up and I’m loud enough to speak out. Hang on folks, please remain seated with your seatbelt buckled and enjoy your ride. Something tells me this train is about to leave the station.

There’s power in that purple ribbon!

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, December 2011