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You’ve read my words of praise for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation many times over (here) and have witnessed all my boys as they’ve shaved their heads year after year (2010 here, and here, 2011 here and here). What you may not have known is that each year St. Baldrick’s chooses five children to serve as “Ambassador Kids.” The chosen children represent different types of cancer, various ages, geographic, ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds (since cancer does not discriminate), differing stages of treatment, and the sad fact that one of every five children diagnosed with cancer in this country will not survive.

Today, after months of keeping my big mouth shut (something I am so not good at!), I am finally able to publicly announce that Austin is one of the five 2012 Ambassador Kids. To be associated with an organization that does such valuable and necessary work (and in such a fun way) is an incredible honor, to say the least. And to have the opportunity to be a national face promoting research for this devastating disease is both inspiring and humbling.

Please read the St. Baldrick’s web announcement and visit Austin’s newly designed St. Baldrick’s page. And check out the rest of the beautiful photos taken by Tara Carmen of Carmen & Pugh Photography. And, of course, “like” St. Baldrick’s Facebook page to follow all the Ambassador Kids throughout the year.

Should be an exciting one . . . .

The transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas seems to get shorter and quicker every year. So now that we’ve all moved on to the next big thing, it’s time to think about giving.  Every year, I encourage my kids, with limited success, to weed out their toys to make room for the inevitable mass of new ones. And this year, we have lots of good options for what to do with all their extra stuff.

First (and this one is just brilliant), The Smead Discovery Center at the Natural History Museum is accepting broken plastic toys — yes, that’s right, all those tiny broken pieces that have no home or game parts with no game, the junk that clutters up the bottom of toy baskets and drawers in every room in the house.  They’ll take it all, more than just the action figure parts they accepted in the past, as long as it’s smaller than 12 by 6 by 6 inches. They then send them to the Toy Lab in Cincinnati where kids make them into new toys in an arts and science lab (how cool is that?).  But they’re only accepting donations through November 30, so get busy.

Next, two lovely organizations with which I’m affiliated are having toy sales next week.  Both Family Connections, where I sit on the board, and St Paul’s Coop, where Austin attends preschool, will be collecting new and gently used toys and baby gear over the next week.  Check out their respective websites for all the necessary details: Family Connections and St. Paul’s.

And finally, the one I am most excited about: Go Public! Great Schools Are Everybody’s Business, which is a grassroots movement to foster stronger ties between Cleveland Heights-University Heights community and the public schools, is having a learning material toy drive.  The motivating idea behind this is that children can’t learn if they don’t know how to play and they can’t play if they don’t have the right toys.  As I’ve mentioned,  a significant percentage of the students in CHUH schools live in poverty and I’m certain that few of them have appropriately educational toys in their homes.  I’m not talking just about flashcards here, but books and puzzles, legos and building blocks, art supplies and board games, anything that requires imagination or creativity.

The counselors at each of our seven elementary schools will identify the 10 to 20 neediest families in each school, who will then receive a box of gently used and/or new toys to take home before the holiday break. If you have anything to share, please consider this opportunity as it has an immediate positive impact on the identified students and their entire families. For those of you who think your materials would be too young for elementary students, everything will be sorted into age categories, including pre-K and K, which will be hugely beneficial for the younger siblings in our students’ homes.

There will be collection boxes at all seven elementary schools and Coventry from Monday December 5 through Friday, December 16.  I spent hours and hours today going through all the various baskets and containers that store toys (and bits of broken plastic) in our mudroom, living room, both boys’ rooms, and the third floor playroom. I weeded, sorted, repaired, repackaged and boxed up a storm.

It was much-needed and very satisfying and, most importantly, can truly make a difference to a child in need.

In this household, every day is a day of thanks giving. Not that it’s all hand holding and laughter around here (I say after sending the kids to their respective rooms so I can cook for five minutes without breaking up fights), but we are endlessly and eternally thankful for all that we have.

First and foremost, I am thankful that every time someone asks me how Austin’s doing, I can report that he is X months cancer-free (now nineteen) and can add, “the longest stretch without cancer in his entire life.” And I am even more thankful that each time I say it, he’s one more hour, day, week, month cancer-free.

I am thankful that, deep down inside, under the layers of resentment and rivalry, my boys love each other with intense ferocity (and that they still dress alike voluntarily!).

I am thankful that Braedan is earning a reputation as the boy who says Thank You.

I am thankful that both Mark and I still have both our parents in our lives.

I am thankful for a marriage that is, as marriages go, relatively easy: one filled with mutual respect and comfort and support and encouragement and laughter and love. And that in addition to taking care of the lawn and the shoveling, he’s also been known to clean the toilet or mop the kitchen floor, without being asked.

I am thankful for delicious food — yum.

I am thankful that I can do 100 burpies in a row without stopping.  Ok, I’ve only done that once and I didn’t like it very much, but I’m still thankful I’m capable of it.  (And if you don’t know what burpies are, be thankful for that!)

I am thankful for the extremely mild weather we’ve had this November.  Yay for sunshine — we Clevelanders totally deserve it.

I am thankful for strong coffee, good wine and an occasional glass of cold water.

I am thankful to all of you who keep coming back and reading my so-called cancer blog, even when I focus more on the mundane aspects of parenting and home remodeling more than the life and death aspects of childhood cancer.

I am thankful to no longer share my house with an endless stream of random laborers.

I am thankful for dresses with pockets so I have somewhere to hide my insulin pump.

I am thankful that the voters of Cleveland Heights and University Heights stepped up despite tough economic times and supported public education.

I am thankful to have so many venues in which I feel comfortable speaking up. And I am thankful that my voice is often heard and listened to.

I am thankful for brothers who challenge me and love me, even if they don’t always agree with me!  (Which is strange since I’m always right.)

I am thankful for friends to laugh with and cry with and share all of life’s important and unimportant moments with.

I am thankful that we have only spent one single night –and not even a whole one, really just a few ER hours — in the hospital over the past year. And I’m thankful that one day, I know we’ll be able to say we’ve gone an entire year without a single hospital overnight.  (Austin deserves at least one year like that is his life.)

I am thankful for the scientific research, modern medical technology, and brilliant doctors who saved my child.

And I am thankful for the kindness, caring and love that saved the rest of us.

I am thankful for today, and I am thankful for tomorrow.

Thank you.

There were a few good comments on Facebook following my last post.  One from my friend with a middle school aged daughter that perfectly addressed the tricky issue of privacy in a public realm. She said that she keeps passwords for her daughter’s Facebook account, email and cell phone and would only use them if she deemed it necessary for her daughter’s safety or well-being and (and this is key) if she informed her daughter first.  This is not snooping for the sake of “catching” your child doing something bad — it’s more of an “I’m your parent and my job is to take care of you and right now I’m worried about such-and-such” approach. She also made the important distinction between what her daughter says and does in a public forum (i.e. Facebook) and what she writes in her diary or journal, which is her own private world. One is more open to parental oversight than the other. That makes a ton of sense to me and seems to come from a place of respect and trust.

Another friend, the mother of one of Braedan’s classmates and best buds who also owns the famed Dude Diary, commented that she had almost the exact same experience as me: those few hours of feeling like, “Oh my god, when did my child get so old that he has a private life?” as she watched him hover over his book with his arm hiding his pages, followed by the relief in discovering that the Dude Diary does not actually draw out any deep dark secrets.  Her moment of revelation came at the dinner table when her son suddenly spit out his chewed food and said, “Cool.  Now I can write in my diary about when I last spit out my food.” Aaaah, the lovely boy prompts.  My favorite moment came when Braedan showed me his pages and in response to the question What are you thinking about right now? he had written, “I am thinking about writting in this book” (sic).

I guess we’ll save privacy and deep dark secrets for a future date.

I seem to have entered a new phase of parenting for which I feel most unprepared.  Braedan, currently completely engrossed with reading The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, purchased a “Dude Diary” at his school book fair the other day.  It came with a key and everything!

Of course, he worked extra hard to hide said key from Austin, which is sort of ironic since Austin doesn’t know how to read yet.  But it gave us an opportunity to talk about respecting each other’s privacy, which then gave me an opportunity to ponder how much privacy a parent should grant her child.  I casually asked Braedan in conversation if the diary was only for him or if anyone else could ever look at it.  He promptly said only for him to which I replied, “Oh, okay,” like it was no big deal. But I suddenly felt left out — like there were some deep dark secrets he was sharing with the Dude but not with me!

After one short day, he excitedly showed me the pages, which are a series of prompts, like “If you had one superpower, what would it be?” (Braedan’s response was “to make all the kids be nice.”) There was nothing private or personal about any of his entries and he shared them willingly and proudly with me. The whole thing turned out to be a silly teaser of what is yet to come.

But it brings about some important issues of parenting: How much privacy do you grant your children and when does that start?  If your eight-year-old were to tell you not to come into their room or not to look into that third drawer of their desk, how would you react?  What if it’s your twelve-year-old?  When does the dynamic shift from you controlling most, if not all, aspects of their lives to allowing them to make their own decisions and have their own space, both physically and emotionally?

I think sometimes parents use safety concerns as an excuse to overstep those boundaries, always checking up on their kids simply because they’re nosy.  I agree that the world, especially with the Internet, can be a dangerous place for teens, who often don’t have the sense or know-how to navigate potentially dangerous situations.  But I also think we need to let our kids grow up and make mistakes and experiment and figure things out on their own, without our constant interference.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say because Braedan’s not quite there yet and, boy, am I glad.  I’m not ready to give up the reigns or have a dark curtain drawn over his emotional life. I love that he lies next to me in bed each night and tells me everything he’s thinking. But I know the day will come when he doesn’t and I also know that I probably won’t be ready for that no matter when it comes. He will be his own person, with his own ideas and thoughts and feelings and he may only share those things with the Dude and not the mom.  It’s not today, thankfully, but it will come.

How have you handled it?

So, it’s taken a little longer than we expected (doesn’t it always?), but our renovation projects are finally coming to a close.

To refresh your memory (it has taken a while), here are some Before pictures and here, some During.

We moved into our new bedroom the weekend before last and are loving it. We have this enormous bay window with the most incredible view. This is the scene that greeted me each morning last week:

I have yet to order blinds, which is becoming more and more of  a problem every day as the trees continue to shed their leaves.  I should probably be doing that right now (there’s always so much I should be doing instead of blogging!), but those few days of glorious color inspired my autumn decorating theme:

Duvet cover coming soon

Love birds (thank you, Etsy)

The closet is done as well and what a joy it is to no longer have to rummage through the storage boxes under my bed to find clothes. Here are some pre-moving in pictures:

And my, how quickly we’ve filled this thing up:

I can’t quite believe I’m posting pictures of my closet for
all the world to see. I feel a little Kim Kardashian.

The glass for the shower was just installed today and now Mark and I have to tackle painting the bathroom. We’ve been doing all the painting ourselves to save a few bucks, which has been a huge job because of all the trim and cabinetry.  But every day, we’re a tiny bit closer.

And this evening, when Braedan walked into the bathroom to see the completed shower for the first time, he exclaimed, “Wow! This is like that dream house we saw on TV.”

Indeed.  And in so many ways.

I’m back and mostly recovered from my recent non-stop campaigning for our local school levy. I was eating, breathing, sleeping CHUH for a few days there, hence my uncharacteristic absence from the blogosphere. But we had a resounding victory here, with the community stepping up and supporting public education despite tough economic times.  The margin of victory was larger than any I remember, a whopping 14 percentage points.  Dare I say the tide is turning for the Heights Schools?

Last night, we hosted an Open House for prospective kindergarten families at Fairfax, of which we are one.  I watched Austin stand up there next to his future classmates, awaiting a turn at the SmartBoard, and I was struck by what a big and capable kid he has become. I’m pretty sure he would have been fine in kindergarten this year, but I have no doubt that we did the right thing giving him one more year of preschool.

I had his first parent-teacher conference of the year this morning and she said he is doing fabulously. Both academically and socially, he is absolutely on target — better than on target: he is thriving.  And it is really a joy to see.

He plays nicely with everyone, boy or girl. He is always engaged in classroom activities (as evidenced by that little tongue sticking out), and especially likes the weekly “challenge.”  He is getting mighty close to reading and has a mathematical mind that blows me away (much like his brother and unlike his mother).

His teacher has created a magical environment where the children believe they are just playing and yet learning is infused into everything they do. Each activity and project is carefully selected to enhance some specific skill, either academic, social or physical. I wish every child could experience this kind of classroom before moving into the big (structured) world of kindergarten.

For Austin, I know that this was a decision we will not regret.

First of all, as a follow-up to Halloween, yes, Austin did wear his rocket ship costume and, yes, he did indeed love it.  He was racing around shouting, “Intergalactic! Intergalactic!”  We did have some wardrobe malfunctions though, due to tripping on the flames as he climbed people’s steps. And twice, we needed to borrow staplers from random houses to re-staple him into his costume.  Next year, I’ve vowed to let him wear a much less cumbersome one so they can really run. But I’d certainly say that a good time was had by all:

And now, I apologize for the extreme local-ness of this but Cleveland Heights is abuzz with excitement over the upcoming weekend. Our high school’s nationally recognized and award-winning musical department will be performing The Sound of Music four times, a production that includes more than 600 students from all eleven schools in the district. (There are two full casts so 600 kids aren’t performing each night.) We happen to be going to the show on Saturday night which just happens to be the same night and same time and same location as Heights High’s first ever playoff football game, following our team’s undefeated season.

Needless to say, it’s going to be a bit of a scene out there. Between the sold-out show and the sold-out game, the district is expecting more than 5000 people (and hoping none of them plan to park a car there!). Mark was able to get some tickets to the game, so he and Braedan are going to that instead while Austin and I are bringing two families of potential CHUH students to the show.

I’m not sure if the diaspora of Heights readers know this, but this year every school adopted the Tiger as its mascot.  There has been a big push over the past few months to cultivate a sense of unity and pride in the district as a whole instead of in each individual school. As you might imagine, there’s been some resistance to this, especially from the middle schools who each have their own sports teams and colors and logos. But over the past few weeks, as the levy campaign has kicked into overdrive and as the music department has begun advertising its shows and as the football team (and girls’ soccer team) have been racking up win after win, there is a renewed sense of pride in the community. People are really coming together,  celebrating the successes of each student, club, team, event, building as their own.

It reminds me of our trip to the World Cup in Germany in 2006. The German team was doing well while we were there, having advanced a few rounds despite some heavy competition. The German people and media kept talking about how this was the first time they had felt free to come together and wave their flag with such pride after its long and tortured history of national pride gone awry. After all, nationalism in Germany turned into Nazism in Germany. In 2006, when reunification was still fresh in the minds of many, this opportunity to rally around something, even something that may be considered trivial like a soccer team (not that soccer teams are ever considered trivial in Germany) was truly meaningful. On a smaller scale, it feels that way here, right now. We have something to cheer for. In fact, we have many somethings to cheer for. And cheer for them, we are.

So, in order to further that feeling of belonging to something special, I tried to buy “Tiger Nation” t-shirts for my kids. I have one, as our PTA was selling them in adult sizes. And I know some of the other schools’ PTAs have sold them for kids, but the district had run out and I was getting frustrated, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. So, thanks to Logos on Lee (owned by a Tiger), I ordered 100 youth-sized black short-sleeved t-shirts with “Tiger Nation” in gold lettering across the front, (20 each of extra-small, small, medium, large and extra-large). They’ll be ready Saturday morning and I will bring them to the levy lit drop distribution in the parking lot near the Heights football field at 10am.  Then I will sell them near the main entrance at Fairfax from 10:30 to 11:30. After that, you’ll have to send me a message and come get yours at my house.

They’re 7 dollars each, which is what I paid for them, so I won’t make any profit at all.  I just want to see another hundred kids showing their Tiger Pride on Saturday (or any day!). Let me know if you want me to save some aside for you. Or, if you happen to be a member of that great Heights diaspora, I’m more than happy to send you some.

Hear that tiger roar.

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