Yesterday evening, I can say without a doubt in my mind, was a life-changer for you. For as long as I can remember, you have wanted to meet Dr. Laurie Marker, and last night, you finally were able to do so. For years, we have been checking every issue of "Cheetah Strides" and the cheetah.org website hoping that Dr. Marker's travels would bring her close enough to where you could go see her--and finally...FINALLY...she landed right in Houston.
You looked so beautiful last night. You don't like to dress up; you're not a fancy kid. But last night, with your thick hair wrapped into a low, side-swept bun and organza flowers in your hair, you looked gorgeous. Your leopard-print feather earrings, and cheetah-spotted sandals were a nice touch. :)
On the way to the country club, you were quiet...you finally spoke up and said, "I just don't know what to say to her, mommy."
"She's a normal person, Jen. Just talk to her like you would a normal person."
"But she's NOT a normal person!! She's DOCTOR LAURIE MARKER!!"
And our ride continued in silence.
When we pulled into the country club, you were visibly excited. We walked to the front, and were greeted by a cart-boy who asked, "Are you here for the VIP event?" I nodded yes, and he mentioned how cool it was and how he hoped to catch a glimpse of the cheetahs. Of course, Jen, you took that as your cue to begin talking about Dr. Marker, and how you couldn't wait to meet her! That young man so nice--he listened to you as you went on and on about saving cheetahs--with a smile on his face. You held my hand as we entered the clubhouse and I practically had to hold you down to the ground as we came upon the first welcome sign.
We walked into the reception area, and were greeted by a lovely young woman named Kaitlin. She was tall, blonde (had her hair in a ponytail), and was wearing a cheetah-print skirt. A REAL cheetah-print skirt--not a leopard-print skirt, as you pointed out. You immediately became charmed with her. Turns out that Kaitlin volunteered at the Cheetah Conservation Fund a few years ago, and is now a PhD student at Texas A&M studying cheetahs. Being kind, she began chatting with you, and then, upon realizing that you could hold your own, REALLY began talking to you. Jen, she was so very impressed with you. She gave you her business card and told you to email her whenever you wanted, and she would be happy to talk about cheetahs with you. Then, we met another young woman named Imogene. She is at West Texas A&M and is working on her PhD studying bobcats. She invited you to come up to Amarillo anytime, and she would take you in the field with her! Baby, these young woman were overly impressed with you and your knowledge about the conservation efforts for big cats. I actually just sat back and watched you. And honestly, I tried not to cry. And then...the big moment...
You were standing next to me, just beaming, and I said, "Jen...look who it is..." You turned, and saw the back of Dr. Marker as she was hugging someone. You grabbed my arm in a death grip, and started to cry. You led me out of that room so fast! We had to sit around the corner, as you whimpered, "Mommy, mommy, I can't do this!! I can't breathe, mommy! That's my hero!!" with tears running down your face. I had to sit there and fan your face with our copy of "Cheetah Strides," and just kept saying, "Jen...it's okay, it's okay...just breathe!!" After about 3 minutes, you finally regained composure and walked back around the corner. As you did, Dr. Marker saw you. A huge smile spread across her face, and she walked right up to you, and embraced you in a big bear hug. She looked at you and said, "Jenna, it is SO good to finally meet you!" Again, I tried not to cry. I apologized to Dr. Marker for your tears and told her, "She's so overwhelmed with finally getting to meet you! She's waited so long for this to happen!" And Dr. Marker said, "Oh, me, too!" and hugged you again. THEN, then...she introduced you to several of her friends as, "This is Jenna, my very special 'cheetah friend'!" and my God, I thought your face would explode. She wrapped her arm around you, and invited you, an 11-year old, into her conversations with the other adults at the reception. She spoke to you as if you were a working conservationist, and it was fabulous. As she flitted around and talked to other people, you were going right around speaking to other adults about cheetah conservation, and every time, they'd look at me with this look in their eyes, and i'd just smile and shrug my shoulders. I don't know how many times I heard, "She is amazing!" "What an awesome young lady!" and more times than I can count, "THAT is the future of cheetah conservation!" Again...I am SO PROUD, Jenna!
By the end of this speech, many of the group were walking to the front to get pictures with the cheetahs. You asked if you could go talk to some of the people. Of course, I said, "Sure," and let you go. I sat in my chair with a glass of wine, and watched you carry on conversations with three of your new PhD-student friends. You guys literally sat there and talked about cheetahs for 15 solid minutes.
We eventually moved inside to grab something to munch on, and after you fixed your plate, you asked, "May I go outside? I need to tell Dr. Marker something..." You walked through the doors, and I sat at the table--totally out of MY element, but watching you in yours. A few moments later, you walked back in, and struck up a conversation with a lion/tiger conservationist at our table. Whom promptly teared up and said, "I'm sorry I'm so emotional, but it is SO NICE to see a child so knowledgeable and with so much passion about this! It gives me hope for the future!" Agreed.
As the night began to wrap up, Dr. Marker came back inside and said, "Could I get one last picture with my dear friends?" a few people (those that have worked at the CCF, and two of her best friends walked up) and Dr. Marker looked around, and said, "Jenna! Get up here!" HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR LIFE.
Dr. Marker hugged you goodbye, gave me her business card, and told you that she was SO proud of you, and that the sooner you can get to Namibia, the better.
All the way home, from the moonlight shining through the sunroof, I was blessed with the biggest smile I have EVER seen on your face.