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Austin’s preschool teaches physics. And geology, biology and chemistry. They also teach astronomy and astrophysics. Human psychology with a special focus on group dynamics. Geometry, measurement, civil engineering, thermal dynamics and heat transfer (melting crayons in an electric skillet) art therapy, art history and just plain art.

There are lots of other things they do, like listening to books, singing songs, rhyming words, counting by fives and tens, gross and fine motor skills, and so on and so forth.

But don’t tell Austin any of this.  He thinks he’s there to play all day long.

And play he does. The focus is entirely child-centered, with the teacher’s plans taking a backseat to whatever the kids come up with. In fact, instead of handing out a weekly calendar letting us know what they’ll be doing each day, she sends out a Friday email, explaining what they did (often very different from what she may have expected them to do). They are exploring, creating and discovering. They work individually, in pairs or large groups, depending on the task. They must plan, lead and follow, confront problems and invent solutions. And there is a lot of trial and error.

In our results-oriented world, where “kindergarten is the new first grade” and everyone is worried about faster, better, higher, this school is an incredible gift to the children attending it. There are no worksheets, no direct instruction, no gentle correction of the backwards 15 a child writes on the board after counting the 14 students in the class. Our society places such pressure on parents, who in turn place such pressure on their kids, to learn more and to learn it earlier. Mozart in the womb, flashcards for babies, reading at age 4. But, in my humble opinion as both a mother and a former teacher, there is no benefit — and certainly no need — to structure the curriculum that way.

When Braedan started kindergarten, he could read just a handful of words: definitely mommy, daddy, Braedan, and Austin, and probably love, stop and grammy.  There were many kids in his class who were far ahead of that and I will admit I had a few brief twinges of worry: Is he behind … before he’s even begun? He’s now halfway through second grade and reads at an almost sixth grade level. And every bit of that he learned in school. Granted, we read a ton in our house and we constantly discuss what we read and do, all of which builds vocabulary and understanding, which in turn lays the foundation for a strong reader. But I never taught him to read. That’s what school is for, and I don’t mean preschool. Heck, I would be okay if they didn’t teach reading until first grade and let kindergarten be all play and discovery too, especially for the kids who don’t have the advantage of a high quality preschool experience. But, at least in our public schools with their intense focus on meeting state standards, the curriculum has been pushed down to the point where Braedan learned the words rhombus and trapezoid at age 5. I will never forget his kindergarten homework assignment to play “I Spy” with shapes in our kitchen and I’m saying things like, “I spy a circle” (the clock on the wall), and Braedan says, “I spy a trapezoid.” There I was scanning the room, thinking trapezoid, trapezoid, you’ve got this, Krissy and finally my eyes settled on the perfectly trapezoidal backs of our island stools. “A ha!”

He no doubt benefited from the foundation of his preschool, where he gained independence and confidence in his abilities, without ever hearing the word “phonics.”  I trust Austin is benefiting as well and I am so thankful that Mark and I chose to give him this extra year. He is learning the most important skills a five-year-old could learn. All through play.

Oh, and they do yoga too.

My dad and I balanced on our skis at the top of a mountain in Colorado and watched. In front of us, a little critter all bundled  up in his snowsuit and helmet went whooshing by, in a classic “pizza” snow plow, heading confidently down the blue square. His big brother, taking a break from his newly tackled black diamonds, zoomed in front with near parallel skis.

“Not bad,” my dad said, “for a kid who should be dead.”

Sounds crass, I know, but he’s only putting words to the thought that runs through my mind each and every day. As I watch Austin ride his two-wheel bike all the way to school or execute a perfect front flip on the trampoline or master the Rocky Mountains.  “Not bad,” I can’t help but think ….

I prefer the less certain “could be dead” though. Because he should be doing exactly what he’s doing: biking, flipping, laughing, skiing, living.

Here’s a link to an article I wrote for the St. Baldrick’s website, which was posted today.  They had originally asked me to write something about the sibling aspect and the friendly competition we set up between Braedan’s and Austin’s teams. But that can be a bit of a touchy subject around here, especially as Austin’s team was both larger and raised more money than his big brother’s.  Fortunately, Braedan hasn’t seemed to notice that, in part because their individual donations came out so close (thank you, everyone, for taking the time to split your money between them), but I didn’t want to draw any more attention to it than necessary.

So, I switched my focus long after the kids’ bedtime last night and here’s the piece, which I’m pretty pleased with.

There’s also an article written by one of the doctors at Rainbow, Alex Huang, focusing on his St. Baldrick’s-funded research. He was never Austin’s direct provider, but it’s a pretty small world over there so we’ve certainly known him over the years. It was really interesting to read his background and how losing childhood friends to cancer drove him into this career.  And I love his closing line: “Most importantly, my personal involvement in St. Baldrick’s fundraising efforts affirms my commitment to pediatric oncology research every year, so I don’t ever lose sight of why I am doing what I do in the first place.”

And, at the risk of boring you all with my repetitive lines, here’s an article from the April Heights Observer about our event, written by — ahem — Mark (his wife was clearly referenced and quoted too often to be the author).

I’ve finally uploaded all of Dallas’ pictures to a Kodak Gallery, found here. I have more to add from both Mark’s and my dad’s cameras. The cool thing about these public galleries is that you can all add your photos to the one album and then we’ll have a huge array of images to look at and choose from to represent that very special day.

Also, I finally received a link to the piece on Fox News. There are actually two, one from last Sunday and another from this past Friday that has our event intermingled with the A.J. Rocco’s and U.S. events. (U.S., by the way, has passed us by, having raised a total of $46,365 with 65 heads shaved. Oh well, it was all in honor of Austin and it all goes to the best place.  But … next year!). The clip of our event (the second one down) is sort of silly because the cameraman picked the worst possible moment to interview me, right between introducing people and while Breadan was shaving (which I completely missed).  But I’m pretty sure I had done a fine job, explaining St. Baldrick’s and the value of raising money and awareness and so on, when he asked me how this all makes me feel. How does it make me feel?  Well, you can see my jumbled response! I was trying to say something about Leah, because she had just finished shaving and the shock and awe and emotion of that moment was still fresh in my mind. But I got sidetracked and first mentioned Kristi and finally ended up looking over my shoulder to catch a quick glimpse of Braedan and whatever I said after that is laying on the cutting room floor.

Oh well, I guess they captured true emotion.

Speaking of true emotion, Saturday was another really special day. Just really … special.  These past five years of being involved with St. Baldrick’s has made St Patrick’s Day into a pretty significant holiday for our family.  And this year, with the boys being the national face of the head-shaving campaign, that significance has only grown.

We headed downtown into an extremely crowded and party-like atmosphere in the mid-afternoon. AJ Rocco’s was as crowded as ever, if not more so. We pushed out way through to the back where we gathered with family and friends and climbed onto a bench so we could watch the festivities from on high.

Finally, it was our turn and we pushed and shoved and squeezed our way to the stage in the corner. Mark and Kirk and Jay were all shaving together, with special permission granted to Braedan and Austin to help with Mark’s shearing. I love this photo below as the MC announced that it was us on the huge poster on the wall:

And then they began.  Braedan, naturally, hopped up and grabbed those buzzers and happily started shaving Daddy. Austin, naturally, hung back in my arms until watching his big brother have all the fun made him jealous enough to brave the crowds and he too scooted into Daddy’s lap and took his turn. Once they got started, there was no stopping them.

I have moments, every once in a while, when the enormity of all we’ve been through hits me like a ton of bricks.  All the years of fear and worry, of calling the hospital “home” and of waiting through eight and ten hour surgeries, of poking and sticking my poor boy’s battle-scarred body, of never knowing what fresh horror the next day might hold. And it came crashing down around me, right then as I felt so overwhelmingly relieved to watch my two healthy children shave their father’s head, so incredibly honored to have them represent this very special event the whole world over.

Now, some of you may say, “That’s great, let the feelings come, don’t hold back.” But really, standing in a crowded bar on a holiday in the middle of downtown Cleveland is neither the time nor the place to really break down. So I shed a few tears and choked the rest back and took a lot of pictures and cheered them on, so full of pride and amazement at how we’d come through, so grateful for all the love and support we felt and still feel around us.

And then it was over. They were done and stood up to show off their nicely shaped domes. Then it was more beers and sending the kids home with their aunt and take-out so we could spend the rest of the evening celebrating.

There was one other moment worth mentioning though. As you might imagine, bringing your kids into any downtown bar on St Patrick’s Day in Cleveland is risky business. And while A.J.Rocco’s has given our city a huge gift by hosting this event over the past ten years, it is, nonetheless overcrowded with post-Parade partiers.  Most of the people were there specifically for St. Baldrick’s, but some had undoubtedly wandered in off the streets.  And while mine were not the only kids there, they were among just a handful. So, as we were waiting our turn, tucked away in a corner, this one woman walked by a few times and shot some very dirty looks in our direction. Later, as Mark was watching one of our nurses shave her head, with Austin perched on his shoulders, this woman leaned in to say, “He shouldn’t be here.”

Oooh, man, I wish she’d said it to me because I’ve been fantasizing about what I’d have said back ever since Mark told me. But my husband, Mr Cool and Collected, just calmly replied, “You’re gonna regret saying that in about ten minutes.” She clearly had no idea what was going on there that day.

Because of every one of the hundreds of people squashed into that narrow little bar, Austin deserved to be there most of all.

I know I promised links to the media coverage of our event but they are impossible to find! Strange, because I was under the impression the internet was just one big archive of everything that’s ever happened to anyone, anywhere, especially video news coverage from just a few days ago.  But I’ve sent messages to Fox 8 and 19 Action News, which both covered the event on their 10pm news Sunday and again Monday morning.  In fact, when I went through the line at the grocery store Monday, the cashier took one look at Austin’s bald head and said, “So that was you on the news this morning!” I have both shows DVRed on my TV but can’t for the life of me locate a link online.

But here are a few other options: Cleveland Heights Patch did a great video, found here, that makes me cry every single time I watch it. It’s a follow-up to the article about Austin featured on the site last week, which those of you on Facebook have already seen.

Bob Rosenbaum, whose son shaved on Sunday, wrote a post for the Heights Observer that can be found here. He’s right: the threads that connect us are many and they are strong.

I also promised that I’d upload all of Dallas’ photos to a public site, but I just haven’t managed to do it yet. Among the regular busi-ness of everyday life, Austin had his upper GI exam this morning. Remember this little bump in the road? It actually turned out to be nothing — all the potential problems were ruled out and his stomach seems perfectly fine. Which is pretty lucky, because had there indeed been adhesions or an intestinal blockage caused by an old surgery, he might have required a new surgery. Of course, I’ve learned to take all the “maybes” and “mights” with a grain of salt and worry only about what is really and truly happening.

The test itself (a series of x-rays and images taken over several hours, after drinking a Barium “milkshake”) was also no big deal, although he sure didn’t like not being allowed to eat this morning (even though most mornings he refuses breakfast!). Just another few hours wasted wandering the basement hallways, killing twenty minutes here and twenty minutes there between procedures. Austin was a trooper as always, finding fun in the oddest places. But there’s something about being in that building — it just sucks the life out of you. I always come away feeling completely exhausted, even when we didn’t actually do anything.

But we were home in time to enjoy most of this summer-like day outdoors, riding bikes and getting muddy. Like any regular five-year-old should.

There’s more, more, more from yesterday.

St. Baldrick’s has hit the $15 million mark and our kids are there to help celebrate. Check out their picture and a sweet little tribute to our sweet little Leah here. It’s impossible to expand the size of photos on their website, so here it is for you:

I forgot to thank the incredible crowd of supporters and cheerleaders who came out on Sunday, sacrificing the glorious weather outside to sit and cheer and laugh and cry for our shavees inside instead. You really helped make it feel special for everyone involved and gave the nervous kids (and adults!) a little boost.  I love these shots:

And people were indeed nervous. The images I posted yesterday showed mostly happy, eager faces, but there were some looks of hesitation, “What have I gotten myself into?” and downright terror. Which should remind us all that courage is not defined by the absence of fear, but by being afraid and still doing what’s right.

But no matter the butterflies in stomachs or hair in eyes, they all got up there and they all followed through.And they were all smiles afterwards:

I’m fairy certain there was not one person in that room, especially not one girl or woman, who didn’t wonder to themselves, “Do I have what it takes? Could I actually do that?”

But fifty people had what it takes and here’s what they accomplished: Our event has raised more than $31,500 as posted online right now.  We have about $2,000 in checks that will be mailed in later this week. And, because it’s not too late to donate, I do believe we will end up breaking $35,000. Which, considering my initial event goal of $10,000, is pretty remarkable.

Some of you have apologized for not raising “enough.” Perhaps this is my fault because I spent considerable time on Sunday congratulating those shavees who had raised really significant amounts, like the first grader who brought in more than $1,300 in all of eight days. But I really and truly mean it when I say that every dollar counts. I’m going to steal something I read recently on St Baldrick’s Facebook page, credited to a shavee in Greensboro, NC: “I know my small contribution may buy the petri dish that holds the cure.” Somebody needs to pay for the little vials and droppers, the gloves and the swabs, heck even the coffee that keeps the researchers awake. So whether you donated $10 or $1,000 and whether you raised $50, $695 or $3,217, you have put us one step closer, one petri dish closer, to a cure for childhood cancer.

And that is what it’s all about.

It was wonderful.

In addition to all the time I’ve spent preparing our final paperwork today, not to mention being distracted by the continuous updates and beautiful photos posted on Facebook, the real reason I haven’t updated yet is that I don’t even quite know where to begin.

I guess I’ll begin with the most obvious words: THANK YOU.

Thank you to absolutely everyone involved in every way. Thank you to my tireless volunteers, the beautiful registrars who welcomed everyone to the event: Becky, Ann (Austin’s old nurse practitioner, who’s not old at all) and my mom. Thank you to the brilliant and trustworthy (and also beautiful) treasurers who collected all your money: Julie, Brenna and Mark.

An extra thank you to Mark for doing every single other thing I asked of him, including not complaining about the state of our house over the past week or so. Instead, he up and mopped the kitchen floor on Friday.  Love that man.

Thank you to the happy faces who sold (and gave away) the delicious treats from our Bake Sale table: Betsy, Luci and Peg, and my mom and dad.  And thanks to the talented bakers — I don’t even know who made all of that food, but everything I saw (or tried!) was fabulous. We made an additional $213 (thanks to people who read my sign):

Thank you to the City of Cleveland Heights, who were gracious and supportive and easy to work with, every step of the way.

Thank you to the endlessly hard-working women of Cut Hair Studio: Laura, Breanna, Mandy and Britney. You worked quickly and tirelessly and put everyone at ease.

Thank you to Dallas, who took all these beautiful pictures and many many more. I will upload them all over the next day or two to a public site so everyone can browse them and even order some if you want. Dallas, as with everything you do, these are just perfect.

Thank you to Balloon Bender Dave, who I never met but I could see him there in the back of the room entertaining the kids. Thank you to Faith and the kids from the MacConmarra Irish dance Academy, who drove all the way from Akron to show their moves and add a bit of Irish flair to our event.

Thank you to the Heights High Singers who got short shrift because we were so engaged in the head-shaving when they arrived that we simply didn’t give them the attention they deserved.

And now … now that I’ve warmed myself up a bit, now it is time to say thank you to the incredible and incredibly brave shavees. Oh, I wish Braedan were still awake because he’s my walking thesaurus and I don’t know how many times I can use the words wonderful and generous and fantastic and brave and, oh what else would he say? Maybe stupendous and stellar and spectacular… Inspiring and uplifting and moving. Heroic. You were all all of those things.

Kid after kid, some seeming much smaller than they had just a few days earlier, walking right up to those seats and hopping up and scrunching their little eyes shut as the hairs began to drift down their faces. They sat still, with very few tears, and let strip after strip of hair fall to the floor. And they were so proud; those bright clear faces, no longer hidden behind shaggy bangs, just beamed. They beamed.

So many parents told me what I already knew, that this was an incredible and rare opportunity for these kids, some as young as three, to truly make a difference, to feel the impact they’re having on the world. Those little kids impacted their world.  That’s a big deal.

It wasn’t just kids, of course. We had several adult shavees, including a couple of fathers who shaved alongside their sons, beautiful images of families doing something big and important side-by-side (which is exactly where we should be when we do things big and important).

There was a sweet older man who stopped me on the way out to say that he’d sent a message to his brother to tell him what he was doing, only to hear back that the brother had already signed up for an event wherever he lives, somewhere like Florida, without knowing!

And, of course, there was Kristi. I knew it would be a big deal, for me and for everyone there, but I can never quite predict which moments are going to get me. This moment got me. As I started to introduce her, right in the beginning because she was afraid to wait around too long and had requested an early slot, I just lost it. I couldn’t even begin. I pulled it together but I’m not even sure what I said, except for leading the crowd in a brief — but I hope rousing — round of “Glaaaa-sier! Glaaa-sier! Glaaaa-sier!”

I know that I did say what a hugely powerful statement she was making to all the young girls gathered there, especially her students. In fourth grade, they’re right at that age when physical appearance starts to take on an enormous and often unfortunate value in their lives. Here was a role model telling them that there are more important things in life than having nice hair:

I know for a fact that at least one of these sweet girls is thinking seriously about shaving her head next year.

Now that was the only moment, nope, not at all. As you know, there was a woman, a fellow Fairfax mom, who shaved her head on Austin’s behalf two years ago. You can read that story here, because that was definitely another St. Baldrick’s high. This year, her three sons, in second, sixth and eighth grades, shaved their heads:

 

As soon as they’d finished, I had turned away from the seats for one brief minute, when Mark came and tapped me on the shoulder, urging me to look back.  There, scrambling into the barber’s chair, all eager and certain, was their little sister, sweet four-year-old Leah, pigtails and all. She had been toying with the idea of shaving over the past two months, one day she’d want to join her big brothers and next door neighbor, the next she’d rather be Rapunzel. But after watching her three heroes and then seeing Kristi shave her own head, well, that did it … Leah was in.

And, if you can believe it, that’s still not all. There was a mother-daughter team who shaved together this year for the second time, in honor of their little cousin, who lost her battle at age two.  Well, it wasn’t until I announced them and mentioned the girl’s name that Ann, the “old” nurse working the Welcome table, realized she had treated that girl. Oh, there were lots of tears and hugs following that one. Peg, the mom, had emailed me a few weeks ago to see if I knew of any children who had survived cancer who might help shave her head. Uuuuhhh, yeah, I think I know one of those:

What a day. There’s still more, including countless more pictures, and links to all the media from yesterday.

But, for right now, all I can say is THANK YOU.

I’ll save all the fabulous details for a moment when I’m not so darn tired, but suffice it to say that we raised over $30,000 today at an event that was, well, really wonderful.

As I tucked my beautiful bald boys into bed tonight and told them, yet again, how proud I was of them, I thought of all the other mothers out there saying the exact same thing at the exact same moment.  Mothers and fathers, and wives and, yes, husbands, uttering those very words. Just down the street from us and on the next block over and a mile away and clear across town, all of us leaning over to kiss those fuzzy heads and whispering, “I’m so proud of you.”

Because they’re heroes. Every one.

Twenty-four (or should I say twenty-three?) hours from now and I’ll be sitting back and counting up the dough. (Heck of a weekend to lose an hour, huh?) But right now, it’s time for that last final push.

After raising our event goal by tiny little amounts, from $10,000 to $15K to $18K and then to $20K and finally $22K, I decided to just go for it and make a goal that is actually a goal, as in something we have to work hard for. So right now, our goal is $30,000, but I think even that might be easy.

You all are awesome. All of you who’ve donated or who are shaving and raising money from your own circles. It has been really awe-inspiring to watch the numbers go up every single day, to see all these little kids, five-year-olds and seven-year-olds, bring in amounts nearing or surpassing $1000. What a huge statement you are making, on behalf of Austin and on behalf of sick children the world over. I, we, thank you.

Yesterday morning, I went to Fairfax and spoke with the three second grade classes about cancer. The sixty combined kids sat quietly on the floor and listened carefully the entire time. I think the weeds-in-the-garden analogy really really worked for them. The best was in the beginning when I asked what weeds do to your garden and one child said, “They can spread through the dirt and wrap themselves around the roots of healthy plants.” Another piped in, “They can use the sunlight and the water and the healthy soil that the other plants really need.” Uhhhh, yeah. Just like the Big C.

Towards the end of my 45 minutes, I had the eight second grade boys with green hair stand up to be acknowledged for their bravery as shavees.  One of the teachers reminded the students that a vocabulary word for the week was “noble.” “What these boys are doing is a noble act,” she said. Well, noble is not a word I use very often but that captured it pretty perfectly.

Speaking of the incredible acts of kindness committed by these young children, my dear friend Peter Richer, who organizes the AJ Rocco’s event as well as one at University School, has thrown down the gauntlet. He has issued a challenge to see who can raise more money: the shavees at our Cleveland Heights event or those at the University School event next Thursday. They have 53 shavees and a female teacher, just like we do, and are currently trailing us with $25,884 raised to our $27,437. Of course, all the money goes to St Baldrick’s and so, no matter where it comes from, that’s a good thing (and I am, of course, proud of and touched by all the US boys shaving too). But you know I love a little competition and you know my support of our community and our public schools is something of an obsession, so I am accepting this challenge and am determined to win. Our event has shavees from Cleveland Heights, University Heights, Shaker Heights, Lakewood, Bedford, Solon, North Ridgeville and beyond, including an impressive nineteen students from the CHUH Schools, and that is certainly something to be proud of and to celebrate.

So…if you’ve been thinking about giving, NOW IS THE TIME. Every dollar matters. Every dollar saves lives.

Austin is here, Braedan is here, 4th grade teacher Kristi Glasier, who is sending a loud and powerful message to her students, especially the young girls, about what really matters in life, is here.  And the event is here.

I just keep raising that goal and we just keep meeting it.  We’ve now raised over $23,500 and are well on our way to exceeding our $25,000 event goal. Not only are we doing well, but St. Baldrick’s events across the country are breaking all previous fundraising records. Every time another million dollars is raised, there’s a short piece in the “Head”lines section of the website’s homepage, featuring shavees or researchers or kids affected by cancer. A photo of Braedan and Austin was used to announce the $5 million mark and we’d been planning to take a picture of eleven kids with shaved heads at our event on Sunday the 11th to announce the $11 million mark … but they reached it yesterday! They’re assigning us another number for Sunday, well into the future.

But the kids and I are in the $12 million picture, taken last week at the Bluffton event, which just appeared on the website, a mere 24 hours after the $11 million picture! Austin (in green hat) and I are over to the right and Braedan is hidden right under the number 12. .

Tomorrow is Green Hair Day for the shavees at both boys’ schools, so I’ll be outside spraying away (nothing like breathing in hairspray fumes first thing in the morning).  It’s a nice way to raise awareness of childhood cancer and St. Baldrick’s among the staff, students and families, as well as a chance to celebrate the bravery and generosity of so many young people. The kids have really taken this and run with it. I think we parents all struggle with finding the right opportunities to engage our kids in meaningful giving.  I know I’ve tried to involve the boys in charitable endeavors, especially during the holiday season, but they’re often kept so separate from the actual beneficiaries of their kindness that it loses some of its impact. Participating in St. Baldrick’s gives them a chance to really DO something tangible and visible, to make a true difference in a way they can feel and understand.

Not to mention, the events are fun! I’m so looking forward to both Sunday and the AJ Rocco’s event the following week (and, of course, I’m looking forward to Monday when it’s all over and all I have to do is write thank you notes and mail in our checks!). But for now, we’ve got three days of nonstop St. Baldrick’s: Tomorrow morning, I’ll go in and talk to the three second grade classes about childhood cancer (I’ll use my old weeds in the garden analogy), highlighting the impressive engagement of eight of Braedan’s peers. Then in the afternoon, Austin and I will go down to Rainbow, where the doctors and nurses who usually shave at AJ Rocco’s will be shaving instead with the young patients as their audience.  That one should be moving, to say the least. Then Saturday morning is the pancake breakfast at my nephew Van’s day care. Have any of you seen that enormous sign out in front of First Baptist on Fairmount and Eaton? I came across it on a run the other day and was stopped in my tracks by those three gorgeous faces, who look nothing like my current shaggy little beasts.  And then, of course, Sunday.

And then, … rest? Relaxation?  Nah, there’s always something else coming down the pipeline …

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