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A few more juicy tidbits from yesterday.

Before we had our walking plan in place, we had indeed called Mark from the hospital to see if he could “swing by” and pick us up on his way home from downtown.  Now that I’ve seen the news reports and heard the stories of twenty minute commutes taking five hours, I realize how silly that was. When I wondered aloud about what people did who had to go to the bathroom, he said it was possible to just get out of your car while sitting in traffic because it’s not like cars were moving slowly, cars weren’t moving at all. He sat for one 35 minute stretch in front of CSU without moving an inch, getting out every ten minutes to brush the newly accumulated snow off his windows.

We definitely definitely did the right thing by walking, not only for us because we actually had fun, but for the rest of the city by not adding one extra car to the roads.  Braedan was most thrilled with the idea of being faster than the cars. He was hilarious the whole way — when I asked if they wanted to stop in at a coffee shop to warm up, he insisted we carry on. “Raise your hand if you want to keep walking,” he shouted from behind me. And then, upon noticing that my arms were full with forty pounds of boy, he amended his instructions to, “Or if you can’t raise your hand but still want to keep going, just carry someone whose name starts with ‘A’!”

Our only real moments of drama came before we even left the confines of the hospital, while in the cafeteria.  Austin discovered the display of potato chips and Doritoes, located conveniently at the eye level of a four-year-old, and threw an absolute fit when I refused to buy them, laying on the floor and kicking and screaming. I then discovered that the hospital, as part of its new wellness initiative, is listing the nutritional values of all their prepared foods and I nearly lay down on the floor to have a tantrum of my own when I read the sodium content of Austin’s beloved grilled cheese sandwich. Chaos was swirling and it was actually a relief when we made it outside.

Aside from the lines of angry drivers, the night was pretty spectacular. A quiet beauty, the heavy snowfall blanketing sound on the abandoned sidestreets, the stark outline of trees laden with white against the blue and purple sky. I wish I’d taken a few more pictures, but here are my troopers on the last leg of our journey:

This morning, we awoke to plowed roads, to Braedan’s delight since he is performing in the much-anticipated first and second grade winter concert today and was most worried about school being closed. I pulled them to their respective schools on the sled and then ran to the hospital to retrieve my car.

And yet again in the Gallagher household, all is well.

This was the day last year when . . . oh no, don’t worry, I’m not going to replay every miserable moment of last winter. If you want to walk through that heartache and misery all over again, you can scroll down to “Archives” on the left and click December 2009.  In the meantime, I have a somewhat lighter story to tell, still replete with drama and suspense.

Braedan had an appointment with the psychologist this afternoon and Austin was scheduled to have labs drawn. After about five hours of nonstop snowfall, I briefly considered canceling but figured, “Come on, it’s Cleveland, I’m used to snow.  We can surely make it the three miles down to the hospital.” I was largely motivated by the fact that Austin and I had baked zucchini muffins and pumpkin bread to bring to the families on the oncology floor, along with fresh fruit and coffee, for breakfast tomorrow. Plus I was finally going to clear all the donated toiletries out of my mudroom (even my mudroom gets cluttered) and deliver them to the Ronald McDonald Family Room.

So we bundled ourselves in snow gear and picked Braedan up from school fifteen minutes early (mostly so we wouldn’t get stuck in the mad rush of parents swooping in to rescue their children from the first major snowstorm of the year) and down we drove.  It was slow going, visibility was negligible but it wasn’t rush hour or anything (foreshadowing, foreshadowing) so we made it just fine.

Braedan had a great session, Austin’s hemoglobin has actually gone up a tiny bit instead of down, delaying the need for a blood transfusion yet again, renal numbers held steady and all was well.  We lugged suitcases and backpacks full of goodies clear to the other side of the hospital (Braedan: “This place is like an underground city, Mom.”). The nurses were thrilled, happy to see their healthy, thriving little ex-patient. We chatted and wandered around the halls hanging up signs announcing the breakfast, when someone asked us how we planned to get home. Well, drive, . . . how else?

Then the nurses pointed to the line of cars sitting dead still on the road, not having moved for nearly an hour despite ambulances coming through in both directions. Total and complete gridlock. The line out of the parking garage alone would have taken more than an hour. So I fed the boys some high-sodium junk in the cafeteria, unloaded as much gear as possible into my car, piled on extra layers of clothing . . . and off we walked.

Thankfully, my parents live about halfway between the hospital and our home, so it was less than two miles but solidly uphill and through a full ten inches of snow. But my boys dug deep and turned the whole thing into a wonderful wintry adventure.  Austin needed to be carried on and off (mostly on) but Braedan didn’t complain even once, except when I tried to enlist him in a rousing rendition of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. Even Austin, safe in my aching arms, was smiling and catching snowflakes on his tongue.

We arrived after 45 minutes of hiking, tossed our pants and socks in the dryer while we warmed ourselves with hot chocolate (them) and wine (moi).  Mark had driven about five miles in two hours before finding a place to stop and eat while waiting for the traffic to thin.  We were all home and ready to plow the driveway before 8.

The little beans are sleeping soundly in their beds, the snow is still falling outside, the families at the hospital will fill their bellies with homemade treats tomorrow and I will return to find my car in the parking garage, where, as Braedan noted, “it’s used to sleeping.” Better than last year, that’s for sure!

What a difference a year makes.  I find myself struck day after day after day by the power of the memories of last year.  Right before Thanksgiving (last Thanksgiving), Austin had an ultrasound that revealed a new spot. New, as in not the same spot we’d been watching and worrying about all fall. So we knew, at that point, we almost, mostly, practically knew what that his cancer was back. But we weren’t quite ready to commit yet, to actually do anything about it.

So we waited, a few more weeks, for a repeat ultrasound.  And that happened on December 7. One year ago tomorrow. And that, well, you can read it here. It was a Monday and then I sent Austin back to school that Tuesday and Wednesday because I knew these would be his last days there for a good long while.  We spent one quick night in the hospital that Thursday for a CT scan and then returned the following Sunday for the next surgery and big pre-Christmas stay.

But it’s that day of school on the 8th that I remember. I dropped him off in his classroom and walked out as he cried for me, held tight in the arms of his teacher. It wasn’t unusual, he cried when I left on most days last year (and many this year). He ends up happy, within mere minutes, so I knew in my head it would be okay. What I felt in my heart was another matter. That walk out was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.

One of my closest friends happened to be parent helping in her daughter’s classroom that morning. And I had stopped to see her for big hugs on my way in, but I didn’t want to stop again so I walked out the door and down the path to my car, and I suddenly just lost it. Another mom came walking up, one I know well who had already read the previous night’s update and I just fell into her arms. She was holding a baby bundled in a snowsuit but managed to hold me too. And I sobbed. And I really wanted her to go back in and get my other friend for me, but I couldn’t bear that one minute when I’d be standing out there alone in the snow, while parents who didn’t yet know wandered past me. So she did the job (thanks, Lisa) and I mumbled over and over into her winter coat, “I don’t know if I can do this again. I don’t want to do this again.”

But, boy, did we do it.

On this weekend last year, we chopped down the top of a pine tree here in our new yard and brought it back to our old house to serve as our Christmas tree.  Well, it turned out to be pretty spindly and lopsided and very Charlie Brown-like:

So we made up for it yesterday by buying two trees. One for the living room, which the boys are calling their own because they finally got their wish to have colored (as opposed to my preferred white) lights. And another for the dining room, where I finally got my wish to have a perfectly color-coordinated tree.

Yup, we definitely did it.

I know, I know, it’s overplayed. Surely (“Don’t call me, Shirley” — couldn’t help myself there), there are  a hundred more important stories for the media — and the public — to focus on today. And maybe it shouldn’t matter so much. But you know it does.

So today, I am Cleveland. And I hope, as it says in this excellent article (except for the “beleaguered” part), that you will be Cleveland today too. There are many many reasons we all choose to live in this city and not one of them is because of LeBron James. We can be great without him. In fact, we are great without him.

But we still really really want to win tonight.

Mark is going with my dad and brothers and I will choose to watch basketball over Grey’s Anatomy for the first time ever.  And no matter the outcome, I will be Cleveland again tomorrow and the day after that.

Who’s with me?

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December 2010
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