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Dear Mrs. Obama,

As one mother to another I would like to ask you a huge favor…could you please change your porch light to blue for this Friday and Saturday night?  You see, this Saturday is World Autism Awareness Day and all over the world people and institutions will be shining a light on Autism by finding ways to “Light it Up Blue.”  My family will be stringing blue LED lights onto our condo balcony, but I have to be honest, your home is much more visible to the world audience.  Your help and support would be so appreciated.

My son Jem is seven years old, just a little younger than your girls.  He is a bright little boy who still believes in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  He loves LEGOs and anything to do with space or robots.  He is just one of the world’s children who is living with Autism.  He is my hero.  I would never ask you for myself, but I will ask you for my son and for all of the children who are affected with Autism, could you please send a message to the world by lighting your porch blue for two nights?

You can’t imagine what it would mean to the children.  Thank you in advance, Mrs. Obama for understanding the importance of this small gesture.

Sincerely,

Shannon Penrod
Jem Miller’s Mother

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By Shannon Penrod

Oh, Oprah, Oprah, Oprah….What are you doing to me now?  This has become my new mantra.  I love Oprah…I just don’t like her very much right now.  This is not at all fair because the reason I am so fetutzed with her is that she opened my eyes to something I really didn’t want to see, and now it has upended my whole life.

You may have heard that last week Oprah did a show about cell phone use when driving and she asked everyone to take a pledge to stop using their phones will trying to navigate thousands of pounds of metal around a world of obstacles.  I did not want to watch the show; I did not want to hear the message.  I like my phone.  I drive sensibly while talking on speaker phone.  I stood in my living room and said, “Don’t go there Oprah.”  She did go there.

I found myself watching the first few minutes of the show through clenched teeth, was she really going to try to talk me out of my phone?  I was so relieved when she started talking about the dangers of texting.  WoooooHoooooo! I was saying to myself,  I don’t text, don’t get it, don’t know how to do it, can’t read it and I’m just not interested in learning.  No problem, where’s the pledge, I’ll sign.  Then… Uh-oh!

Just when I’m feeling all smug and comfortable Oprah starts trotting out parent after parent with soul wrenching stories of how their children died because someone thought there phone was more important than keeping everyone safe. Ugggggghhhhhh!  Direct hit! Sound the alarms!  Then she said it.  “Everyone thinks they can handle it, the truth is none of us can.”  What!!!!  That sounded suspiciously like she was talking to me! “If you are driving and talking on the phone, even hands free, you are four times more likely to be in an accident.  If you are a parent, why would you risk that?”  Full bowel impalement.  Oh, Oprah!

So that was it.  How could I use my cell phone after that?  I couldn’t.  My husband came home from work and was greeted with “We have to talk….I was watching Oprah…”  We all know how thrilled men are to hear that!  We talked and agreed that not only would we stop using our phones while driving (even hands free) we would also stop talking to anyone who was driving while on the phone as well.  All week I have been calling people and starting my conversations with, “Are you driving?”  When I get a “Yes” I then say “Okay, I love you, so I’m not going to talk to you while you are driving. Call me when you aren’t driving.”  You can imagine how well that has gone over; like a three tiered cheesecake at a meeting for the lactose intolerant!  But I have stuck to my guns.

The worst has been realizing how addicted I had become to my phone.  I am like a junky freshly booted out of a methadone clinic.  I’ve been jumpy, a little itchy and definitely crabby.  I actually found myself shopping for gum because my jaw needed something to do while I’m driving now that it’s not flapping on the phone.  I’ve dug out CDs I haven’t listened to in years.  Is this what we used to do before we had cell phones stapled to our ears? 
Last night I drove home and literally broke out into a sweat when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to talk on the phone and then something amazing happened.  My right brain took over and I spent a lovely half hour in a creative space I like to call the “blue place”; it is the place where all good ideas seem to come from.  I realized it had been a while since I had been in the “blue place”.  I used to always come up with my best ideas in the car, when had that stopped?  Oh yeah, right about the same time a cell phone started growing out of my ear.  Hmmm.  Something to think about.

I took the pledge, because it was the right thing to do.  If you look at the statistics there is no way that a sane, responsible person could do otherwise. (Yes, I’m talking to you.) I took the pledge because I am a parent and there is no phone call that I have to make that is more important than any child’s life. I took the pledge because the world has already lost too many wonderful souls because someone thought they could talk on the phone and they turned out to be wrong. I took the pledge and I hope you will too.  And then we can both be mad at Oprah.

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by Shannon Penrod

Last night Barack Obama was elected President.  Personally, I was thrilled.  I recognized that in addition to being the right person for the job there was also a historical element to his winning.  But I was dismayed when so much was made last night about him being “The First African American President”.  I was annoyed that so many of the pundits and the newscasters went on and on about it.  Come on!  He wasn’t elected because of or in spite of the color of his skin; he was elected because of the content of his character!  Okay, he was also smart, eloquent and savvy enough to surround himself with other smart and eloquent people.  I went to bed dismayed to think that we had come so far only to have the entire evening reduced to a discussion of the color of his skin.

Then this morning I had the Ah-ha moment – I turned on The View – yes, I will admit I wanted to see Elizabeth crying into her conservative coffee.  But Whoopie Goldberg said something that took my breath away.  She said that she was shocked by her own reaction to the election. She shared that she had always viewed herself as an American, but when the call was made for Barack Obama for the first time in her life she felt she could “put her suitcase down.”  I was stunned.  Whoopie Goldberg felt like that?

For all of my 46 years I have lived in an America that I had no doubt would and could one day elect an African American President, just as I have lived in an America that I am certain will one day have a woman President.   What I didn’t realize until Whoopie so eloquently voiced it this morning is that I have been living in a different America than many of my fellow citizens.  I confess that I really did not know that African American children have been told for decades that they cannot group up to be President.

When I was four I remember a member of my family asking me what I would like to be when I grew up.  I said that I wanted to be the 1st woman to walk on the moon; this is especially hilarious to all of my friends and family now as I get car sick on a stationary bicycle!  In 1968 saying I wanted to be a female Astronaut was pretty progressive, and one of the adults in the room laughed and said, “Sure, Honey you can be what ever you want, except the President.”  Everybody laughed.  Except my Grandmother, who very loudly said, “That’s not true.  If you want to be the President you can.”  That was it.  I had permission.  And I never ever doubted it from that moment.  I also never doubted it for any of my friends, regardless of their skin color.

It never occurred to me until this morning that everyone did not have a Grandmother or Teacher or someone who handed out Presidential permission slips.  I am glad that Barack Obama had the opportunity to hand out a billion or so belated permission slips last night.  I am confidant that it will be the first of many great things he will do to heal our broken nation.  I am relieved that white America, myself included, has passed a test I didn’t even know we were taking. 

Please understand that I have not been moving in a bubble where I thought that there was no racism in America.  I am well aware that is exists, even now, despite the election.  I just thought that everyone knew that those thoughts belong to a select portion of the population, not to all of us.  Much the way that I hope the world looks at the actions of our government over the last 8 years and realizes that many Americans have not agreed with George Bush and his policies.  I don’t know Whoopie Goldberg personally but it made me sad to think that someone as giving and brilliant and talented as her would ever feel even slightly unwelcome in a place that I consider home. 

In listening to Whoopie today, I found myself hoping that in the coming days more Americans will come to live in the nation my grandmother gave to me 42 years ago.  I mistakenly took it for granted, but I am gratified to know that the American Dream that was given to me as a child is alive and well. Welcome Home Whoopie!

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