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I gotta tell you, one of the hardest things about parenting is understanding a child who is deeply different from you. Of course, conventional wisdom always say it’s hard when you’re too much alike also, as when two strong headed personalities clash. But at least the parent can understand that; you can see where your child is coming from.

I’ve been struck lately by Austin’s extreme shyness. I don’t even know if it’s actually shyness, but he has this way of completely withdrawing from social situations that I find really frustrating. When he’s alone with any one person (Mark, me, my mom), he’s talkative and playful, creative and very very funny.  But when you throw the kid into any kind of group setting (even with people he knows very well, like family), he loses his ability to speak and simply hides his face behind me as if he’s two years old.

I know all kids are different and, of course, I know Austin’s been through a lot and relies on me for a sense of safety and comfort, but it is still so tough.  He won’t even look at people when they speak to him, won’t say hi to his cousins or grandparents, won’t accept offers from friends who want to play, and then regrets it afterward. He wishes he had engaged with the friends reaching out to him — friends he’s often eager to see but then rebuffs in person, wasting perfectly good opportunities to have fun.

I’m not sure what to do about it, or if there’s anything I can do about it, but I wish he was able to let his true self shine through.  I wish I could share the sweet and engaged and engaging Austin that I know and love with the rest of the world.

What a great trip. First it was four days in Cape Cod, with beautiful weather and old friends (well, they’re really Mark’s old Peace Corps friends, but they feel like my old friends, which is really really nice). Long lazy days of bike riding on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, kayaking around the pond and indulging in Maine Wild Blueberry ice cream cones (yum).

Note the labels on the benches

Note which side we’re sitting on

Long lazy evenings of grilled dinners on the deck, kids playing happily and competitive puzzle-building (yes, puzzles can get competitive!).

Then it was off to Boston, a city filled with nostalgia for me. The kids enjoyed the swam boats in the Public Garden and the Duck Tours past all the historical sites, ending with Braedan steering the amphibious truck in the Charles River. A rainy afternoon at the New England Aquarium, followed by an always-too-short visit with my college roommate and her kids at Quincy Market. When we woke up to rain yet again on Thursday morning, we decided to hit the road early, skipping the planned visit out to Tufts, which was really just for me and would have only been a bunch of brick buildings and grassy hills to everyone else (and probably another ice cream cone for good measure).

All in all, it was a perfect blend of beautiful nature and beautiful city, from cartwheeling in the sand along the ocean to running down the path along the Esplanade. Friends and family, old memories and new memories, good food and, well, … ice cream.

My kids survived their first ever major road trip — Cleveland to Cape Cod, 708 miles and Boston to Cleveland, 633 miles.

Look how they did it –>

Who needs a shirt when you’ve got an iPad?

Details to follow …

Our house has been invaded. Third floor to basement, inside and out, from 8 am to 7 pm every day of the week.

It all started with the porch project. This was one of those big plans we had when we first bought the house (exactly two years ago) but put on hold until we sold the other house (exactly three months ago). We happen to live on a lot and a half, which gives us an extra large side yard, most of which we’ve decided to turn into a huge Victorian-style porch that comes off our kitchen, without losing any of the play space in the backyard. We laid the foundation last fall and then began in earnest this spring. It’s almost finished and spectacularly gorgeous and I promise we’ll invite you all over for a drink one of these fabulous summer evenings.

We’ve also long planned to paint the exterior of the house this summer, which starts on Monday. And Mark and I are actively re-landscaping the front, shoveling an awful lot of dirt on these fabulous summer evenings (instead of enjoying a cool drink with friends on that lovely porch).

There were a few windows that had yet to be replaced, so that’s been happening this week, with a crew of five guys, who are very pleasant but reek of cigarette smoke, traipsing in and out all day long, upstairs, downstairs, in between. Which is just great when Braedan starts randomly opening doors as I’m changing my clothes and — lo and behold — there just happens to be a strange man on a ladder outside the window. Great.

I’m sure our neighbors love us!

And since the invasion was already underway, we decided to do it all at once (and get it over with) and tackle our master suite renovation. Demolition started last week and we are now sequestered to the front half of the upstairs, having lost access to our bathroom, three closets and two small bedrooms.

Our someday master bedroom

Our someday master bathroom

And the someday master closet …
It really will be lovely, I swear.

Now I’m not complaining or anything (am I?) because I know I am extremely lucky to be able to do all this and we are very very excited for the end product, which will basically be our dream house. But it is a little hard to feel so invaded (especially when I’ve been caring for sick kids). The guy who is doing our indoor renovation is also the guy who is building our porch and happens to be a friend of ours. The second day of demo, as I balked at the temporary walls he was constructing to contain the dust and debris, he kindly said, “Listen, this is your house. You have to tell me if something isn’t okay and if you want it done another way.”

“Well, sure,” I replied, “except that there’s no other way to do this. What should I tell you?  Finish tomorrow and get on outta here?”

No, can’t do that. Instead we’re the ones who’re gonna get on outta here.

More from the road ….

Surely you won’t be too surprised when I tell you who had a fever and was vomiting today?

That’s right: my sweet Brady-Bean, Brado-potato, the Braedanator. (Please, do everything you can to restrain yourself from ever repeating those pet names in his presence or he will disown me.)

Yup, came home yesterday afternoon and crashed on the couch with a mild fever. Woke up in the night to throw up off the side of his bed before falling back to sleep. Of course, this is just an ordinary (and sometimes extraordinary) kid with an ordinary sickness; no trips to the ER for IV fluids this time. He’s very philosophical about the whole thing too, as in, “Mom, isn’t it a good thing I didn’t eat those turkey burgers for dinner because then I’d have so much more inside me to throw up?” (Yes, indeed … good thing.)

He perked up as the afternoon wore on and is now feeling totally fine, but still using the “sick” excuse to sit on the couch glued to iCarly.

Nothing but ordinary over here.

Sooooo, here’s the rundown on our weekend.  The boys and I went out to Chagrin Falls (dang, is that far away) for the Kick It event Friday evening. Their team had fun despite being a hodgepodge of ages and sizes and ability levels. We literally had three year-olds who didn’t know which way to run after kicking and ten year-olds who were slamming the ball into unsuspecting opponents as they moved from base to base.

And Austin, the boy of the hour, was completely uninterested. Clinging to Mommy, begging to be held and only kicking when bribed by one of the organizers with his very own ball to take home. I was a little bummed that he didn’t participate more, but wasn’t shocked because his public M.O. is one of shyness and disengagement.

As soon as our official game ended and the kids were organizing their own mini-game off to the side, the tornado siren went off. Huge long wails circling around the community, while those of us on the fields looked at one another with raised eyebrows and shrugged shoulders. “Is that, like, … a tornado warning?”

Suddenly the refs blew their whistles and people started running for their cars, actually running, clearly not inner-ring dwellers like us who’ve never even heard a tornado siren (did I tell you the eastern edge of Chagrin Falls is far away?). Meanwhile, the sky was slightly gray but certainly not foreboding and there wasn’t a drop of rain or a breath of wind. So we hung out for a bit as the organizers quickly packed up the tents and unclaimed trophies before making the long trek home.

A half hour later (and still not a drop of rain), Austin was snuggling with Mark on the porch swing while Braedan and I walked up and down the block to retrieve the (adorable) signs from their (successful) lemonade stand, which raised an extra $52.52 for Kick It.

Breadan was complaining about the “stupid” weather people who blew that horn and I repeated ancient motherly wisdom: We’re better safe than sorry. But little did I know how that small piece of advice would come back to bite me in the ass.

When we finished our neighborhood walk, Austin was asleep on the couch and I didn’t move him up to bed until well past 9. And he was broiling. Sweaty hair matted to his head, red rosy cheeks burning with fever. Yes, a 102.6 degree fever. Not the end of the world, I told myself, he doesn’t have a central line, it’s not an automatic overnight in the hospital like it sued to be. I gave him Tylenol and he quickly feel back to sleep.

Only to awaken an hour later throwing up. After we cleaned him and the rug and the bedsheets and ourselves, we texted Austin’s oncologist just to let him know. Within a half hour, Mark and I were standing in the kitchen hovering over the speaker phone while Dr. Auletta suggested a visit to the emergency room. Mark and I were shaking our heads and mouthing, “No way” to each other — I mean, it’s just a kid with a fever, right? — while Dr. A repeated what we already know: One traumatic event of dehydration could destroy what remains of that kidney. Austin simply cannot get dehydrated.

Ultimately, we were advised to keep giving him fluids throughout the night and if he could manage to keep them down, we could wait until morning to visit our pediatrician for bloodwork. Mark and I sat at the kitchen table long after that conversation reminding ourselves and each other that Austin is not a regular child. Even when he looks like it and acts like it, even when we all feel like life is normal, it’s just not. And it could turn on a dime.

At about three in the morning, Austin was lying between us in bed shivering uncontrollably despite the blazing heat emanating off his body. And then he was throwing up again. We swooped him into the bathroom, washed him down, stripped the bed, and then I got dressed. Glasses, cup of coffee, charged phone (not that it works in the basement ER anyway). I was most bummed to learn that the brand new state-of-the-art pediatric ER doesn’t open until July 7 (bad timing, Austin), and off down that damn hill we went, one more time through the quiet and empty streets.

We walked in the old ER (yuck) and Austin, just for dramatic effect, puked three times in front of the registration counter. Finally, we were in a room with an IV placed, labs drawn, anti-nausea meds administered. He is a spectacular patient, braver and more mature about medical procedures than about any other aspect of his life. I slept fitfully next to him on the tiny bed, while he snored and blew stinky throw-up breath in my face. At 7:30 he popped up and announced he felt “so much” better, was able to keep some water down and we were out the door and home before 9.

He was in and out all day yesterday, some moments of playfulness and others of feverish misery. But he hasn’t thrown up again and, between juice and fruit popsicles and an occasional piece of toast, he seems to be fine.

As we left the hospital on Saturday morning, one of the nurses told us to come back and see the new ER when it opens. “It’s soooo beautiful,” she gushed. “Hope we don’t have to!” I called as we walked out the door.

But we probably will. Better safe than sorry, after all.

Another year gone by and all of a sudden I have a rising second grader. I know parents everywhere right now are marveling at the fact that their sons and daughters are graduating from kindergarten and elementary school, from high school and college, shaking their heads and wondering how on earth their babies got so darn old.

Braedan and his buddies at the first grade picnic

Lola’s ready for first and Braedan’s ready for second
(and no, I have no say whatsoever in what he
chooses to wear each day!)

The truest thing I’ve ever heard said about parenting is that the minutes go by slowly but the years go by quickly.  Just ask anyone who’s ever been home with a colicky baby or a fussy toddler. And just ask anyone who’s ever posed for a picture next to their proud graduate.

What a week. Braedan has his last day of first grade tomorrow, complete with a picnic and field day at the park (complete with Mom and Austin of course). He has requested dinner at the Colony, true to form, so it’ll be grilled cheeses and chicken tenders out on the patio for the Gallagher boys. And then there’s the big Kick It kickball game on Friday.

Our teams are slowly filling up and if I combine them into one (which will probably be wise for the under-6 set who hasn’t had much experience with kickball), I should have the requisite fifteen players. It’s supposed to be a really fun evening, with food for sale and a bounce house obstacle course and a community-wide game of musical chairs. CNN was there last year to do a national feel-good news story so who knows what kind of media coverage it might get this year.

And … it’s not too late to sign up! (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?) A few people have had trouble with the website, so here’s the best instruction I can give you: Click here, then scroll down to find either of the two Team Austins. Click “Sign Up”and after you kindly decline to create an individual fundraising page (unless you really want to), it looks like nothing’s happened, but you just need to scroll down to your team again and fill in the boxes. And if you are coming, wear a red shirt.

Some friends of Austin and Braedan had a lemonade stand yesterday to raise money for Kick It. When I told them, they naturally wanted to have one too. So we’re gonna have a Kick It, Drink It, Cure It Lemonade Stand early on Friday afternoon (I could have used one today on my run in this 90 degree heat!). Braedan, ever the negotiator, asked if they make $100, could he keep $50 and I said no, if they make a hundred dollars, then they’re one hundred dollars closer to a cure. Not to be discouraged, he asked if they make $1000, could he keep $50. “Sure!” I replied and he said, “Great … except we probably won’t make $1000.”

Probably not, honey, probably not.

The CureSearch Walk was lovely. Thank you so much to those of you who came or who donated money to our team. Northeast Ohio raised more than $47,000 for the important research of the Children’s Oncology Group.

Last year, because the weather was so awful, people registered quickly, walked with their heads down against the wind and took off before the rain came.  This year, on a gorgeous sunny morning, we had the opportunity to actually have a ceremony and what an emotional ceremony it was.

The event opened up with Steve Crowley, father of Olivia and co-chair of the Cleveland walk, saying these words into the microphone, “There are two things no parent ever wants to hear: Your child has cancer. And I’m sorry, but there’s nothing else we can do.” Well, the crowd of gathered families got quiet pretty quickly with that one. I’ve heard that first statement (three times too many) and hope to never ever hear the second.

He was followed by our own Dr. Auletta, proudly representing Rainbow, and then oncologists from both the Clinic and Akron Children’s, all repeating the same message: pediatric cancer affects too many children and families, is the number one cause of death by disease for young people, and is pathetically underfunded.

Then there was the balloon release. So we’re all standing around on the grass in front of the stage at Wade Oval and you can see this woman up there with a huge handful of helium balloons and you’re sort of wondering who’s gonna get to hold them and what they’re for (and you know the kids were all wishing they were for them), and then the MC invites up the families who’ve lost a child to cancer. And they slowly start to trickle out of the crowd, one or two at first, parents and grandparents and little kids who’ve lost their brothers and sisters, some individually, some in groups. And suddenly there’s this big crowd up there, much bigger than it ever should be, and Sarah MacLachlan’s Blackbird is playing over the loud speaker and it was just devastating, crushing (play the song before reading on if you really want to experience this). Everyone was crying as all those families slowly let go of their balloons (how many times must they let go?) and up they floated, a crowd of dead children in the air above us, hovering for a moment and then taking off with the wind until they were nothing more than tiny white dots in the sky.

And then, while I was still wiping the mascara off my eyes, they invite the survivors up to the stage. So I popped my sunglasses on my face and carried Austin up with the others. A line of children, some young, some teenagers, many with hair just growing in, plus one grown man — a twenty-year survivor — standing up with his own healthy children,  received their survivor medals from Mayor Jackson, Austin hiding his head in my shoulder the whole time.

And then, the heavy moments behind us (in more ways than one), we walked, in front of the Art Museum and around the pond, now more interested in ducks and geese than chemo and doctors. Kids just being kids, running ahead, lagging behind, laughing and chasing each other. Families just being families, enjoying a beautiful summer day. Together. As it should be.

OK, we’re getting down to the wire here. The CureSearch Walk is this Saturday morning, starting at 9:30. (I think I said earlier that it was 9, but now you can get an extra half hour of sleep!)

We have a slowly growing team, now at 20-plus people. Not quite the 90 we had last year or the 50 I was hoping for, but I guess that’s what you get with a mostly healthy child (I won’t complain). If you still want to sign up, here’s the link. Once you agree to the waiver, click “Join A Team” if you’re an individual or “Register Multiple Walkers” if you’re a family. Then scroll through the team list to click Team Austin and proceed to register. They do ask for children registered, even if they don’t have to pay the fee.

The event should be quite fun: they have the Cavs dancers and Moondog there, plus face painters and jugglers and other kid-friendly activities. Plus the weather is supposed to be fabulous, which will be a welcome change over last year. And the kids always love to visit with the mounted police that roam Wade Oval. (And it will get the rest of us in the mood for Wade Oval Wednesdays … as if we weren’t already!)

If you’re coming, try to wear red, Austin’s favorite, to show team solidarity.

And if you can’t walk (or even if you can), you can also join our Kick It kickball teams for the June 10 Chagrin Falls event. Click here and then scroll down to Team Austin for 7-9 year-olds or Team Austin for 4-6 year-olds and click “Sign Up.” That registration process is super fast and easy, so you don’t even have to put it on your list of things to do later — you can finish it in the next 90 seconds.

Click, join, donate, walk, kick … make a difference.

June 2011


June 2011