Here we are!!! The two of us!!!! I can't believe that this is the only photo that I have of the two of us??? Thank heavens I have this one!!!! This is the woman who changed my life, everyone. Changed my life forever. Here she is!!! Meet Arlana Young. We are posed here smiling in a rest stop on a busy Italian 'interstate' the morning of our 'field trip' together, (we're headed to Reggio) the morning after I spent the day on her very own Army base(s), the morning following the family concert pictured below. [It will require a whole 'nother segment, let me just tell ya right now, to tell you the story of our field-trip day is a real whopper, even by Kweezletown standards.]
Through the years people have always asked, "How did you ever get that invitation?" They are asking in response to whatever amazing trip I am just reporting upon. Let me tell you, there are going to be a scadoodle of people that are going to ask, "How did you ever get to take that whole tour through Europe??"
The one word answer? Arlana.
The story behind the short answer?? Arlana and Renee and Allen.
NAEYC in 2009 was held in Washington DC. At the last possible moment we realized that my real-life pal Renee Sutherland didn't have lodging for the event & she bunked in with me. She gave a workshop on Conscious Discipline, that same ramp-up day as our presentation on the Arts and Movement & Music. We met up at the absolute end of the kick-off day in the Exhibit hall for it's grand opening festivities. As we are leaving the Exhibit hall via that very over-crowded escalator, Renee turns to me and says, "One of my workshop participants could be a real resource for you..... and she's from Italy."
No kidding, on that crowded escalator, the person on the step in front of Renee, turns around and says "I think my ears are burning, did someone say Italy?" Meet Arlana.
Out of 20,000 people in attendance. Seriously. What are the odds that the three of us would be standing one step apart from one another on the escalator? You do the math. Then you thank the angels.
The three of us then ended up walking back to our hotel laughing all the way and the initial scheming was launched. That began the journey I am now reporting. Through follow-up email Arlana asked me to sign up officially through the USO to be one of their approved acts for touring. I began that official process in December. To tell you the truth I didn't really fit their format. How many performers are in your group? One. How many thousand people can you perform for: 5,000 or 10,000? A couple hundred? Not a choice. No where on the form did it mention anything about children performances, or early childhood staff development presentations or family concerts. The proverbial square peg and round hole conundrum, the land of Debbie Clement.
At that exact same time as my attempting to jump through the USO hoops for their audition process, much closer to home, I learned of my own second diagnosis of Breast Cancer. For real. Thud. Exact same time frame. My mind can only hold so much & can only process so much. I totally & completely & utterly & abo-so-lutely forgot about ever returning to the USO proposal & audition process. Never once crossed my mind again in the midst of the surgery decision making, complications of infections yada yada, Physical Therapy going, shoulder freezing, regaining my "life" year of 2010 to ever think of Europe. Never once thought again about any of it. I was thrown back into the survival spin cycle and was working hard to keep my nose above water. The truth is, I dropped the ball.
Then came NAEYC time all over again. Again in Nov. This time across the country in Anaheim. The exhibit hall is open over four days in length. It is a marathon intertwined with sprints. I stand smiling all day after happy day long. The experience is delightful & gruelling all mixed together. I look at my watch on Saturday and realize there are only twenty-five more minutes of smiling, greeting, striking up conversations, engaging & planting seeds left. Through my exhaustion, I tell myself, "I can do anything for 25 minutes." [Drum-roll, please.]
Just then, the very next twinkle, someone stops and notices my two quilts hanging on my little corner of the Zaner-Bloser booth. She says that she's a quilter.... we talk about quilting for a couple of minutes and then I go on to explain that these quilts are actually illustrations from my brand new picture book, "Red, White and Blue" and that the book is actually a song I'd written & recorded earlier. She freezes and the expression on her face is priceless. It is at that exact moment when we each recognize the other!!! And I begin to experience life is offering me another profound opportunity.
What are the odds that a second time at NAEYC, in the midst of 20,000 other individuals that the happy universe of serendipitous odds would connect the two of us? You do the math!!!!!
She says, "Hey, I thought you were going to follow up with USO?" I respond, "Well, I started that and then very promptly was diagnosed with Breast Cancer..... but wait till you see my new book!"
The next words out of her mouth? "Forget USO. I'll just bring you over directly."
The rest is history. She put out an invitation to other bases across Europe to join our very own "USO-like" tour for the celebration of the "Month-of-the-Military-Child" and three other installations joined her base outside Vicenza to make for the whirlwind of a lifetime.
In retrospect..... it is the culmination of my previous 15 years of being the Rainbow-child that prepared me to enter this particular lottery. All of the incredible invitations over all of these years have prepared me for this one. I needed to be an "author/illustrator" to enter the lottery. Actually I also needed to have a picture book project filled with images of the United States of America flag to have my ticket selected for this lottery experience.
It requires an infinite amount of fairy-princess-wish-upon-a-shooting-star blessings to connect all of the dots together into one constellation. It takes good friends looking out for you to help connect the dots. Thank you Renee for introducing me to Arlana. It takes a good spouse to make all of the arrangements and connect all of the dots for the renting of a car, securing flight & hotel reservations and driving untold miles across new territory, schlepping boxes of books merrily along a new Continent, to connect the dots. Thank you Allen for supporting me through Arlana's brain-storm. It takes people in a position of decision making who have the perspective and clout to pull off the unbelievable and connect the dots. Thank you Arlana.
The short answer: Arlana. The longer answer? Renee, Arlana and Allen et. al. Where in your faith story and belief system do you allow for out-and-out miracles to weave together the fabric of your experience in every day life? Let the celebration begin!!!
P.S. It was Arlana that made arrangements for all of us to tour in Reggio. She made all of the strategic provisions for 14 of her staff to get to have a day of inservice and observation together.
P.S.S. Contrary to rumors we are not sisters. That was probably the most frequently asked question while we were together and apparently even asked prior to our arrival in Italy. For the record, I only have one biological sister and that is Rebecca, my co-illustrator of Tall Giraffe fame. Arlana and I are not even 'sistah's' of the great Breast Cancer sisterhood either (thank goodness.) We, me and Arlana, are only Sisters with a capitol "S" -- as in the sort of woman who affords you the opportunity to grow and to dream beyond your wildest imagination. It is truly wonderful to be a part of that Sister-hood.