Day 139: Dayan’s 15th Birthday

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What a fun first for today, celebrating my oldest grandchild as he turned 15. While celebrating birthdays in my family is not new, during this year of firsts, I acknowledge each milestone birthday and the specialness of each of my family members. Dayan’s birthday, which actually is today, is a big one for him as he is now old enough to get his driver’s permit, a first for him and a first for me….a grandson old enough to begin driving.

From the moment of his birth, Dayan Aaris Reynolds has been creating firsts for me: first grandchild, first grandson, first to call me Yaya, first school programs and band concerts and art competitions, and many first opportunities to see the world afresh through a child’s eyes. When he was a small boy, we began a tradition called “The Adventures of Dayan and Yaya” where we created stories together, each of us contributing a few sentences at a time to the story as we took turns narrating it. We’ve been happily creating adventures ever since.

Dayan was a joyful, loving , bright child who was always quick to laugh or dance or sing. He was a friendly boy who never knew a stranger and was gifted with the ability to see the best in people, in all people, and compliment them in the most sincere way. I have learned so much about life from this amazing child, who is now a young man.

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Dayan, age 1, experiencing bubbles for the first time. He’s been laughing ever since.

A few years ago, when he was about 8 years old, the trolley system came to Joplin. Wanting to experience a trolley ride, Dayan and I stood with a group of people outside the Joplin Public Library, waiting for our turn . As we watched for the trolley, a man moved slowly down the sidewalk, in a wheelchair, toward our group. He was a double amputee, missing both legs from the thighs down. The adults all carefully averted our eyes, out of pity or discomfort. I glanced at Dayan. He was watching the man intently. I thought, “Oh Dayan, don’t say anything…” and tried to distract him, fearful he might ask embarrassing questions. As the man stopped near the edge of the group, Dayan stepped toward him, bowed at the waist, and said in a bright, cheerful voice, “Good day, good sir, how are you?” The man’s face lit up. As he and Dayan had an animated conversation the adults looked at each other sheepishly. While we tried to pretend we didn’t see the man, Dayan not only saw him, he engaged him. When the trolley pulled away, that man energetically wheeled away in his chair, waving to Dayan. I learned a huge lesson that day, one of many from this kid, about really seeing people and recognizing their shining souls.

I continue to watch this young man study people and find the perfect words to draw them out or light up their faces. He doesn’t engage in flattery, he engages hearts and encourages others by pointing out what’s true. I once thought he had encountered a person who could not be encouraged. She was frazzled by a day of running the register at a busy store and her words, demeanor and appearance all suggested she had had a bad day. I didn’t think even Dayan could find anything good to say. How shallow of me! He studied her, while I studied him, hoping he would just let this one pass. I had heard her sharp words to the customer in front of us and I didn’t want her to snap at my grandson. Suddenly Dayan said softly to her, “You have beautiful eyes.” She melted….and her eyes, which were indeed beautiful, once I really looked at her, filled with tears. This dear woman transformed before me, chatting easily with Dayan as he loaded our purchases into the cart. As we left, she told me what an amazing boy he was. I agreed.

And I believe that still. I am proud of him for all his accomplishments, in school and beyond. But even more so, I am grateful for Dayan and for his perspective on life and his compassion toward others and his fearless way of speaking up. I am grateful that I am his Yaya. And I am grateful for the way my heart and life have opened and expanded because of him.

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Birthday dinner at Red, Hot & Blue

Day 102: Missouri State DI Competition

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On March 1, Day 60 for me, I attended the Carl Junction Destination Imagination (DI) competition. My grandson, Dayan, and his team competed and won 2nd place in their category, qualifying them for the state competition. Today, for my first, I attended the MO State DI Competition, conveniently held in Joplin this year, to watch Dayan’s team compete at a high level.

The last 6 weeks have been challenging for this group of teens, most of whom are freshmen in high school. They have school, homework, extracurricular activities and lives to enjoy with families and friends. And yet, they dedicated themselves to spending a great deal of time preparing for the state competition, staying late after school and conferring with each other via texts and phone calls when they were away from school.

Their skit, “Live and Let Fly”, dealt with the challenge they were given for DI: EXTREMES. Their points of interest were to explore an extreme environment, present a story in which the characters must survive in an extreme environment, design and create extreme gear that is demonstrated, and design and create a depiction of the extreme environment. As I noted in the earlier blog post, the kids create and write the skit, develop the characters, create the backdrops and props and put together the costumes, all without adult help. At the local competition I was amazed at their creativity and ingenuity.

For the state competition, this energetic group decided to improve on their skit and focus more on the extreme environment they had decided to explore, Venus. This was not an easy task when you have a team of seven, with seven different opinions and ideas. However, two of the important skills learned during Destination Imagination are compromise and learning to work as a team, giving each member a voice. They worked diligently on creating the best skit they could, that met the challenge they had been given.

I was a bit nervous this morning, as I took my seat in MSSU’s Phelps Theater. I loved their original skit. How could they improve on that? Dayan’s group was the first team to perform. As they set up their backdrops and assembled before the judges, I had a moment of panic. I couldn’t find Dayan! Surely they wouldn’t start the skit without him! Then my eyes came to rest on the tall, slender figure in the long black cape. With the hood pulled up and a mask over his lower face, only his bright, dark eyes were showing. There he was. The costumes had changed slightly. My grandson had been trying to get my attention and I had almost missed him.

I was, once again, amazed by their performance. Humorous, scientific, technology based and relevant to the challenge of surviving in an extreme environment, the skit was spot on. This is one talented group of young adults. The judges asked questions after the skit and thanked them for starting their day, and the competition, in such a great way. I loved their performance, and apparently, so did the judges. They took 3rd place at State. I’m so proud of Dayan and so proud of the team for their creativity, persistence and teamwork. Way to go! And now, enjoy some of the free time you’ll hopefully have back, after weeks of hard work!

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Judges, in the bright costumes, ask the team questions after the skit.

Day 72: Geocaching

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Who doesn’t love treasure hunting? As a kid, I dreamed of finding that hidden treasure worth a fortune, and I loved scavenger hunts! Deciphering clues and the thrill of the hunt were as fun as actually finding the hidden objects. So when I heard about geocaching, I was excited to try this as one of my new experiences. Today, for the first time, my grandson Dayan and I went geocaching.

Geocaching is a treasure hunting game played outdoors, using a GPS to hide and seek containers. Once a container is hidden and the coordinates recorded, you can search for the cache. I downloaded the geocaching app on my iPhone. The Joplin area has dozens of caches hidden. Dayan and I selected one that was close to my house and off we went!

The first cache we searched for was hidden in a public park. We used the compass on the app to find the general location. We knew we were in the correct area, but being our first time to hunt, we weren’t quite sure what we were looking for! We searched the pavilion, looking beneath picnic tables and around the perimeter of the concrete base.  A group of moms and kids were watching us as we searched. One asked if we had lost something. We explained the game we were playing and that we were new to geocaching and they joined us in the hunt!

What fun! Dayan and I and a group of strangers who quickly became allies, searching for a small container hidden in the pavilion. I looked up the hint and found a single word: rafters. We all began looking up and Dayan and one of our new friends found the cache, a small key holder type box held in place by magnets. Success! I opened the box and inside were folded up sheets of paper for the purpose of recording our names and the date we found the cache. Then Dayan returned the container to its hiding place for future participants.

We were elated! We had a limited amount of time, but we hurried on to our second hidden cache. We quickly found the right location, a bean tree in another public park. We searched and searched, knowing we were in the right spot, but time ran out before we found the container. We had family to meet for dinner, so we planned to return to this location another time.

Dayan and I agreed, geocaching is fun and will most likely become addictive! As he nears the end of this school year, we foresee happy summer days spent looking for a variety of hidden caches and ultimately, creating and hiding our own cache! This is a great group or family activity, incorporating thinking skills, exercise (we walked a ways to locate our second hiding spot) and cooperation. As we discovered today, you can also make new friends along the way! And as one of the moms commented, after we explained how we use a phone to help locate the treasure, “At last, a great use for a cell phone!”

Day 60: Destination Imagination: Live and Let Fly Skit

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As a grandmother, Yaya to my two grandkids, I do my best to attend all their activities. It’s not that I have to force myself to go! I enjoy having both of them living nearby and participating in their lives. Today’s first, watching my grandson Dayan and his team perform their Live and Let Fly skit in competition, was a special treat.

Dayan, who is a freshman in high school, and his six other team members, took part in the Destination Imagination competition today at his school. Destination Imagination (DI) is a non-profit, volunteer-led, cause-driven organization with the purpose of inspiring and equipping students to become the next generation of innovators and leaders. This unique drama program gives the kids a challenge and then steps back, allowing them to create and produce their own solution, in the form of a skit, without any adult input. Dayan’s group had the challenge of “extremes”.  They chose to create a skit about a ship traveling toward Venus. Their fuel source runs low and they are forced to make use of “extreme” technology to survive in an “extreme” environment.

I was amazed by the creativity and ingenuity of the team. They worked together many weeks, meeting after school, creating characters, writing a script, memorizing lines and making props and costumes, all on their own. And the actual skit was incredible. The lines were clever, the storyline humorous and they nailed the challenge. I was quite impressed with their props, especially the “botanical air supply and sulfuric protector” device that they dreamed up for their extreme technology. Someone may have a future in space exploration!

I admire these young people. At such a tender age, they are stepping beyond their comfort zones and letting their creative souls shine brightly. They are also learning the power of teamwork, allowing each member to have a voice and share ideas. And they have fun. Watching the way they encouraged each other and joked and laughed brought a smile to this Yaya’s face.

Apparently the judges appreciated Dayan and his team’s efforts as well. They won 2nd place and now advance to the state competition.  I’m so proud of them all! Live and Let Fly, indeed.

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Day 17: Random Notes of Encouragement

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This weekend, beginning today at noon, is the 2nd Annual Pay it Forward Weekend, as promoted by a Facebook group on that social media site. This event fits wonderfully with my desire to experience a first every day, and I have three days to come up with ways to anonymously show kindness to others.

For today’s first, I came up with the idea of writing encouraging notes to post on random cars in a retail parking lot. I enlisted the help of my grandson, Dayan. We parked my car in a sea of other vehicles and discussed what encouraging words to write. We each wrote several notes and then something magical happened. Dayan began to draw on each note, beautifully illustrating our words with inspiring designs. I was so moved, I had him do the artwork on all the notes.

Then came the fun part.  I explained to my grandson that we would select cars randomly and carefully tuck the notes under the windshield wipers. I also gave Dayan the option of observing this part if it made him feel uncomfortable. He thought it over briefly and then decided he wanted to move beyond his comfort zone also. Yes! We divided the notes and off we went.

We moved quickly among the cars, letting our hearts guide us to the car whose owners most needed the encouraging words. When we met again a few minutes later, we were laughing, our hands empty and our hearts full. We have no idea how the notes were received. We don’t need to know. We moved as we were inspired to move. Whatever unfolds next, is BEYOND us!

Day 15: Give Sincere Compliments Day

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My grandson, Dayan, is amazing at seeing the best in others and giving them sincere compliments. I’ve been watching him make people smile and melt hearts since he was old enough to talk. Today’s first, giving sincere compliments to as many people as possible, was inspired by him.

This was a fun experience, and also challenging. Being intentional about giving genuine compliments required a great deal of awareness. Sometimes, it is quite easy for me to move through my day and speak to people without really looking at them. To sincerely compliment others, you must look at them, and as Dayan has shown by example, find the best in them and be unafraid to speak up.  I also didn’t want to be “cheesy” or creepy about it, so I attempted to work the compliments into conversations as much as possible instead of tossing them out there.

I had a great time today, watching people, smiling at them, and then offering a simple compliment from my heart. The effect was enchanting. People smiled back. Said thank you. Laughed.  Offered a compliment in return. I felt lighthearted, grateful and expansive.

This beautiful quote sums up the day well:

“I will be generous with my love today. I will sprinkle compliments and uplifting words everywhere I go. I will do this knowing that my words are like seeds and when they fall on fertile soil, a reflection of those seeds will grow into something greater.”  Steve Maraboli