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St. Baldrick’s is less than one month away and we are well on our way to the most successful year yet. As of this moment, there are 84 people signed up and nearly $17,000 raised.  This is way ahead of where we’ve been in the past, so I am super excited, especially since the vast majority of fundraising tends to happen in the final week.

I feel like the movement I’ve been hoping to start in our community is really and truly happening.  We have teams of kids from four elementary schools in CH-UH and four in Shaker plus a Gesu Team, a Rox Middle team, and several from Heights High. We also have tons of girls, not just cutting and donating their hair, but many actually shaving, including four Heights High girls (the Bald Babes) and 4th graders from both RoxEl and Fairfax and my sweet little friend Sara Schubert, a Fairfax second grader. These girls display a sense of self-confidence and self-awareness that is most impressive to me.  I’ve spoken with several of them about their decision, trying to make sure that they understand the impact of what they’re doing (as well as the dreadfully slow growing-out period they’ll have to endure!). They’ve all responded to me with such maturity and careful thought, that I am sort of blown away. We hear a lot in today’s society about how girls are bombarded with princess images and made to believe that their looks are of singular importance in their lives. And yet these girls have stated their goals with such simple clarity, as though physical appearance were far down on their list of defining characteristics: “I know I may look funny, but I’m doing to for something good so that’s okay.” Or, “Well, I think I’ll look cool with a shaved head!” I am completely moved by their commitment and their gutsiness and can’t wait to celebrate them at our event.

Another thing that I’m very excited about for this year is that I’ve finally convinced Mark to shave at my event instead of downtown like he usually does.  This is his seventh year, which means he’ll get inducted into the Knights of the Bald Table, an exclusive St Baldrick’s club for long-term shavees (that’s written with a wink and a nudge since there are no real perks to such knighthood). But now I will have the honor of knighting him, which I believe will be highly motivating to the kids present who are in their second or third year of shaving. Braedan will be next in that regard and is already eagerly awaiting his own knighthood in two years.

All in all, I think this event is extremely empowering for young people, as it gives them an opportunity to truly make a difference in their world. They are giving away a literal piece of themselves on behalf of others, and while it’s certainly a fun and cool thing to participate in with their friends, it is also a meaningful and often very powerful experience. I am so proud to be able to bring them this chance to change the course of someone’s life, as they raise money to save the next kid diagnosed, someone they don’t and will likely never know.  We have a seventh grader from Rox Middle who’s currently in treatment for leukemia and his mother said he was initially very hesitant about being honored by this event, as he’s usually the one raising money or doing good for others. I told her to make sure he knows that his participation in this event is for others. Unless he remains in treatment for many many years (which I sincerely hope he doesn’t), the money that is raised today in his name and in his honor will be used for treatments for some child diagnosed well into the future. Likewise for Austin, who is always a bit overwhelmed (and even surprised) by the number of kids who say they’re doing this for him, while Austin will never benefit from the new cancer research that gets funded by St Baldrick’s. At least, I hope he won’t since I hope he never needs treatment for cancer again. If we wanted to do something truly for him, we’d raise money for kidney research! But this isn’t about us, this is about the families who come next, the families that don’t yet know their world will be rocked by childhood cancer. This is to ease the path of the next child and the next mother and the next brother who have to bear this terrible burden.

This is why we do what we do. This is why people shave. And this is why we come to you year after year asking for your financial support. I will keep coming back to you because you also have the chance and the power to change the course of someone’s life. You too can sign up to shave your head, by linking to our event page here. Or you can make a donation on the heads of any of these brave men, women and children. Austin is here, Braedan here and Mark here.

On behalf of my extremely lucky family and on behalf of all those who don’t yet know how unlucky they may be, we thank you.

My, what a difference four years can make. Last night was the fabulous Fairfax Cabaret, an every other year talent show that takes place on the high school stage. There’s a full stage crew, spotlights, headset microphones and all the accoutrements of a professional production. And it is so much fun, with everything from piano and violin solos to groups of girls singing and swaying to Beyonce. It is, at its essence, classic Cleveland Heights, capturing all that we love about our school and our district.

Because it’s only every other year (just too much darn work for the PTA to do each year), we’ve only been to two prior to this one. And the first, held in January 2010, was quite a different experience for us. Braedan was in kindergarten, Austin was in treatment, and I was understandably absent from all volunteer activities at school. On this rare occasion, we left a severely immuno-compromised Austin home with a sitter so Mark and I could take Braedan to the big event. It was the end of a horrible week, in which Austin’s mediport had failed during our week of in-patient chemo and he’d had a surprise mediport-repair surgery (“Surprise!”) scheduled mere minutes after he consumed two grapes for breakfast (two grapes!), rendering him unable to be anesthesized for a full and excruciating eight hours. That particular surgery, which was supposed to be “quick” and after which we expected to go home, was instead long and unsuccessful and left Little A with a PICC line instead of a mediport and left the two of us in the hospital for yet another night. We were on edge, exhausted and beat down, by the time we arrived at the high school for the next night’s festivities. I don’t remember much about that particular show, aside from multiple tear-filled conversations with people who innocently asked me how Austin was doing.

But all of this is beside the point, or maybe it is exactly the point, because last night, four short (and very, very long) years later, Austin was up on stage doing this. He’s the first one to somersault toward stage left (your right) and is in the far right of your screen for most of the performance (or the front of the right line of dancers). Click the HD button in the bottom of the screen to get a clearer version.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10153725590750162&l=1682386138915907952

And of course, we cannot let this review of the night go by without highlighting the brave and confident and funny and super cool Braedan, in his Cabaret jammies:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10152539377551679&l=8507375228421995668

And now I can confidently look ahead to Cabaret 2016 and Cabaret 2018 and all the years after that.

Time to move on to the next big thing . . . St. Baldrick’s!

For those of you new to my blog (or for anyone who needs a refresher course in just how awesome people can be), check out these old posts to learn about the incredible St. Baldrick’s Foundation and the even more incredible men, women and children who shave their heads each year to raise money for pediatric cancer research. These are last year’s highlights: The I’m-Actually-Doing-This! Moment, “Great Things,” and Pride. And these are from 2012, the first year we held our own head-shaving event in Cleveland Heights: Noble, Heroes, Thank You, The Petri Dish, and Most of all.

I know, it’s only December (only December?!) but registration opened early this year so our 2014 event is live online and ready for shavees.  We’re booked at the Cleveland Heights Community Center for Sunday, March 16 from 1 to 4pm.  I might make it longer if we have too many shavees (a problem I’m willing to handle!) or perhaps add additional barbers. Whenever you’re ready, get on there and sign up your kids. . . or yourself.  We will again be cutting and donating the hair of girls and women who have at least eight inches of not-color-treated hair to sacrifice (pas moi). That raised an extra $1,500 last year. And I’m really hoping to have teams from more and more schools this year. I know we’ll have a strong Team Fairfax, as well as one from Roxboro and hopefully Heights High and Gesu.  I think Canterbury School will represent this year and maybe we can get Boulevard and Noble in on the action too (hint, hint). Shaker is ready to revive old rivalries as I expect serious teams from both Fernway and Onaway (and if you’re a member of tiger Nation, that should really get you psyched up to shave). There are a couple other exciting additions to our usual crowd of shavees, but I’ll reveal those a bit later.

Leading up to our event in the past, I’ve visited schools during the day and spoken directly to kids in their classes about childhood cancer, St. Baldrick’s and what they can do to get involved. This gets the kids plenty excited, but (being kids) they also tend to gloss over some of the important details and I inevitably get phone calls from confused parents, saying, “Uuuummm, hello? I was told to call you. My son says he wants to shave his head and I’m, like, okay with that, but I have no idea what for….” So this year, I think I should cut out the middle man/middle child and speak directly to the parents. If you have an interested group or even just a potentially interested group at your school, contact me and we’ll try to plan for me to attend a January or early February PTA meeting.

I’ve decided to go big and bold this year and raise our event goal to $60,000. The first year we made $37, 271 and last year $45,030, but I’ve had enough of this slow inching upward and am confident that this is our year. Heck, I think we could make $75,000 if we really got enough kids involved, but I don’t want to stress myself out trying to reach that goal. Each of the past two years, I’ve felt a surging panic in the weeks prior to the event, certain that everyone’s forgotten us, that they’re “over” childhood cancer and there’s no way we’ll reach our stated goal. And then the last week arrives and, with it, at least one thousand dollars in donations per day. We surpassed our goals in both 2012 and ’13, so I don’t see why we won’t carry on that tradition in 2014.

St. Baldrick’s is a fun and playful celebration, a beautiful way for people, young and old, to feel the power of making a difference. We laugh and spray our heads green and eat shamrock cookies. But it is also very serious work. There are thirty-seven children who will be diagnosed with cancer today. One fifth of them will not survive. Another two-thirds will live with lifelong health complications as a result of their treatment. This is not okay. We can change things. You can change things. Right here, right now.

Take a good look at this picture. Really, I mean, click on it and take a nice good look at the enlarged version.

photo(274)

Look at those faces — the delighted smiles, the obvious bonds formed over the course of a season playing side-by-side, the pride and (no doubt) exhaustion. Do these look like losers to you? They don’t to me. And that’s pretty darn remarkable because this photo was taken at 11:15 last night after the Rangers lost their twelfth straight game, a perfectly imperfect season without a single win in it. And not only did they lose all their games but, in most of them, they got trounced. The mercy rule was the only thing that got us out of dreadfully long innings in which batter after batter was walked all the way home.

They are a young team, clearly lacking the experience at kid pitch of their competitors. They struggled all season with finding a single player they could rely on for consistent pitching. One kid would strike guys out in one game and walk every batter the next. And their fielding was, let’s be honest, here, rather atrocious. All Bad News Bearish with balls rolling between their legs, uncertain hesitation at critical moments, and cringe-worthy overthrows while runners gained base after base. It was rough, on all of us, . . . rough.

But, it was also completely inspiring. Because these kids cheered like mad, encouraged along by their level-headed coach. They smiled and shouted and hugged each other after games. They patted each other on the backs for small accomplishments and big mistakes, and they learned one of sport’s — and life’s — hardest lessons: how to lose well. These boys and one girl are excellent losers and that is a skill that will take them far in life, buoying them when things get tough and humbling them when things go well. I can’t wait for the day any one of these athletes is on a team that crushes their opponent, because I hope they remember what it felt like to be that player.

And last night’s game — a single elimination playoff game in which they faced the number one seeded team — was positively spectacular. Because if our kids can’t field, they sure can hit. And they were on fire, with every single player hitting hard and hitting well. They had faced this team twice before: in a 24-0 loss to open the season and a 19-8 loss midway through. Well, last night’s final score was 23-19, a scramble-from-behind, messy and completely victorious loss (no, that’s not an oxymoron in this case, trust me).  The game had tons of exciting moments, including our first and only and much-needed grand slam in the second inning in which we saw the score rise from 9-1 to 9-8. But my very favorite moments were smaller and quieter, as my favorite moments so often are: when one of our pitchers accidentally hit a batter in the foot (not an uncommon event in this league — the pitching gets a leeeeettttle wild) and as soon as the batter took first base, our guy ran straight over to apologize and make sure he was okay. And when one of Braedan’s best friends struck out to end the game and Braedan walked right up to put his arm around his buddy and assure him he’d done well.

These kids may have lost week after week, game after game, but they did it with their heads held high, with smiles on their faces, and with some of the best displays of sportsmanship I’ve ever witnessed. And I couldn’t be more proud.

There are seven kids in my backyard right now. Four boys and three girls, ranging in age from 4 to 10. Most of them just appeared, by biking around the block or by climbing the fence at the edge of the yard.

They’re hard to see but there’s one on the trampoline, two on the monkey bars and four in the treehouse.

And it’s not just today. Almost every afternoon, Braedan brings one or two friends home from Fairfax, racing down the block with backpacks slung over their shoulders. Then another one or two (or sometimes four) neighborhood kids will appear, usually on their bikes, which lay scattered over our driveway.  The remaining daylight hours are filled with laughter and screeches as they jump, climb, slide, swing, bike, kick, chase, or scoot from the back to the front and back again.

I love this. I love that few of them are preplanned playdates, with drop-offs and pick-ups.  I love that I can glance out my kitchen window and check on them when I can’t tell if the screams are of pleasure or pain (they’re usually of pleasure), but can also just let them go, trusting that they’ll find me if they really need me. It reminds me of my own childhood when all the neighborhood kids played together, no matter our age, endless twilight hours of Ghost in the Graveyard.

This is how it’s supposed to be.

You know how once you start thinking hard about something, it seems to pop up everywhere?

Well, this kindergarten things seems to be popping up everywhere. Yesterday, I read this article from a recent Newsweek, which focuses on parents who hold their kids back from kindergarten (often upon the recommendation of the private schools to which they’re applying) in order to give them an advantage over their classmates, particularly when it comes to standardized test scores.  Reading stories like that make me absolutely want to send Austin “early” (on time) because I find it so frustrating that parents constantly push their kids to be the best best best.

Then today I read this (worth your time, I promise), not specifically about kindergarten but just about how we’ve turned childhood into some kind of race, a massive competition between the super-successful and those lagging behind, and about how we should return to a time when kids were allowed to be kids for as long as possible. It made me second guess sending him for a completely new reason, one that only a few people have mentioned thus far. Everyone keeps talking about how holding him back will give him advantages later — in his schooling, in his  social life, in his future. And so much of it smacks of having advantages over others — being the best, the brightest, the oldest.

But this little essay made me think about the advantage of just letting him be a kid, right now, less stress, less structure, fewer expectations, for an entire extra year. Like a freebie. Here, little Austin, you’ve had to do lots of grown-up things already (way too many way too grown-up things; you should hear my four-year-old talk about “bwood pwessure cuffs”), so here, take a break. Stay in preschool, build fantastic vehicles out of popsicle sticks, run on the playground, sing songs and do kiddie yoga, don’t fret your pretty little head about phonemic awareness and SmartBoards and Mandarin Chinese.

I’m not so concerned about my kids having advantages over other kids (although admittedly they do — parents who’ve read to them incessantly since birth being chief among them). But I am certainly all about them enjoying the advantages of well-rounded, old-fashioned childhood — freedom and exploration and creativity and self-expression.

Hmmmm, back to the drawing board.

Santa returned with a late present yesterday, this time for me.  A new hybrid SUV, now allowing me to transport kids and their friends (and gear) without the guilt!

It’s not likely that I will enjoy my new ride a la Austin, but on the off-chance it happens, you won’t be seeing any pictures here!

And yes, to you moms who’ve gently reminded me that Austin will be none too pleased with the posting of those recent photos, I can go back and edit everything I put here and will do periodic purging of all embarrassing images and text from this site (long before the kids reach middle school, I promise!).

While I’m on the subject of cute things Braedan has said, I might as well share the very funniest thing to ever come out of his mouth. This was right after Austin was born, around the time Braedan referred to “Mommy’s milk containers” (I’ll let you ponder for a moment which body parts he was talking about with that one). I was in the bathroom getting undressed to take a shower when he walked in, pointed at my still swollen belly and shouted, as if he had just made some terrible discovery, “Mom! They left a little bit of Austin in you!”

Ha! A little bit of Austin, indeed. I had given birth a mere ten days earlier!

Ask most moms though and they’ll tell you, even years later, . . . maybe the doctors did leave a little something in there. (See beautiful belly roll here.)

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