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This child’s road to kindergarten has been littered with eight-hour surgeries and the side effects of chemotherapy. More CT scans in two years than the recommended allowance for an entire childhood. Central lines and blood pressure medications fit for a retiree.

But despite the bumps in the road, the twists and turns and inevitable hills, the outrageous and unexpected detours, this child has reached his destination. The child has, against all odds, started kindergarten:

And it was surprisingly smooth. I’ve gotta admit that for the past few years, this day has loomed large in front of me. If I were a stage actor and needed to make myself cry, all I would have to do is imagine walking out of that building on the first day of school and the tears would start rolling.  Honestly, I’ve cried about it many times already as I lie in bed at night just thinking about it. But today was different. We walked, the four of us together, the boys’ backpacks bulging with tissue boxes and Chlorox wipes. Then there was the chaos at school of students and parents trying to find their new teachers before the flag raising. I had one quick moment when a friend asked how I was and I got choked up, before anything significant had even happened. But I hid behind my sunglasses, not wanting to make Austin any more nervous than he was already was.

Into the building we went, down the hallway hand in hand. I left him in his classroom to join the parents for paperwork and Q&A. And that was another moment; I had to go into an empty classroom first and gather myself, right on the verge of a full-blown sob fest. But that too passed, as I was swept up in the mundane tasks of listing emergency contacts and ordering gym shirts.  Then another goodbye, this one harder for him than me (but no tears). And that was it. I walked out chatting with parents and friends and headed down the street to my quiet house.

I did it. We did it. He did it. Austin is alive and well, as healthy and normal-looking as any child in that building. He is something we were never sure he’d be: a kindergartener. And next year, he’ll be a first grader. And then second and third. Before I know it, he’ll be a middle schooler. And he’ll graduate from high school and he’ll go on to college.

Because he is alive. And he is well.

He did it.

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Biking, walking, . . . how about mountain climbing?

The Climb for 5 team raising money for St. Baldrick’s has begun their journey up Europe’s highest peak, Mt. Elbrus in Russia. Today they’re climbing in honor of Emily, another of the five Ambassador Kids, complete with her favorite teddy bear and pink Mickey Mouse ears (atop one of the climbers’ heads). I’m not sure which day they’re dedicating to Austin but when they do, they’ll have his wishing star to guide them:

One side has Wishes for Austin and the other Wishes for the World, each with the same five wishes: Health, Joy, Love, Hope and Peace. I hope it isn’t too cumbersome for the climbers to carry in their packs (a malleable, unbreakable teddy bear is easier to stuff into small compartments) and that it doesn’t get too destroyed by the inevitable elements. But I guess if you truly have those five things, you really can’t complain about anything else, right?

So much for biking, it’s time for walking.

The CureSearch Walk for Children’s Cancer, to be exact. Many of you have walked with us for this event before, although it’s been almost a year and a half since we last had that pleasure because they moved the date from May to September to coincide with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This year’s Walk will be on Saturday, September 29 from 9 to 1 (it’s not truly that long, but the timing includes pre-registration, the walk itself and the ceremony afterwards).  I know it’s right smack in the middle of fall soccer season for the elementary kids, but I do hope many of you will be able to join us, even if just for part of it. The last one was very powerful, described here, and it means so much to all of us to see Austin and Braedan’s friends walking along beside them (and hey, I’m not asking you to shave your heads or anything!).

All the details can be found here and the homepage for Team Austin is here.  It’s only $10 to register and free for anyone under 16 (needless to say, though, a small donation is deeply appreciated).  Of course, I concentrate my fundraising efforts on St. Baldrick’s (more on that shortly), so I’m not asking for big donations or major fundraising campaigns from any of you, but that sea of red is a beautiful sight. Walk with us, if you will.

 

The whirlwind celebration year continues.

We’ve just returned from nine days overseas, mostly spent biking in Holland and Belgium. I know, I disappear for two weeks from your inbox and that’s what I’m up to? Remember when you used to worry that blog lapses meant we were stuck in the hospital, out of computer range?  No, nothing so serious these days; just our first ever Family Backroads trip, accompanied by my parents and a group of 26 intrepid travelers, cycling from Amsterdam to Bruges.

I know when you think “bike trip,” you picture roughing it: bedraggled travelers lugging everything they own on their bikes, sleeping in tents exposed to the elements, nothing but ride, ride, ride. But Backroads is far from it, trust me.  There’s always a support van, for one thing, should you decide the distance or the rain are too much for you. Plus they carry all your luggage from fancy hotel to fancy hotel, leaving you with nothing but a day pack filled with snacks, camera and hopefully (but not in our case) rain gear.  And there’s so much wine, cheese and chocolate that even if you do ride 190 miles in six days, you might pack on a few pounds. But most importantly, they make traveling with kids feel like an actual vacation.

We would bike together in the morning, Braedan on his own (logging in a total of 120 miles!) and Austin on a piccolo attached to Mark’s bike.  Morning rides were usually about 20 miles long, on entirely flat bike paths along canals or cow pastures, passing many a windmill. Then we’d gather in a town or park for lunch, followed by an additional (much faster) ride for the grown-ups while the small set was whisked off on some perfectly executed kid adventure, including a trip to the beach, canoeing, and the highly anticipated Kid Olympics. One afternoon the adults got a tour of a 15th century brewery while the kids went on a chocolate scavenger hunt. And yes, if you so desired, all were welcome to go scavenging for chocolate; Mark and I opted for Belgian beer instead. Even the dinners, which took place at restaurants much too fancy for my picky eaters and which lasted much too long for my antsy boys, were made enjoyable by the ever-present Kids’ Table.

Braedan does AmsterdamOn the ferry

The boys in Gouda

The view from atop the brewery

The other view from atop the brewery

Lots of cheese

Lots of bikes

Lots of windmills

Austin picnicking with Grampy

The view from my hotel window in Bruges

The super cyclist

When the kids are happy…

the grown-ups are happy.

 

We polished off our adventure with a quick trip to London to stay with friends for two nights.  It was a little hectic and a lot crowded but nice to catch up with my dear college friend after ten years. And the kids were beyond thrilled to ride the London Eye, a definite trip highlight, and to make yet another set of new friends. I think it’s time to set Braedan up with his own email account so he can keep in touch with all his new besties.

“Look kids, …” (you know what that is, right?)

Now it’s home for laundry, more laundry and back-to-school shopping. Oh and parents, if you’re ever looking for a quick way to shift your kids from their late-night summer schedules to a more school-friendly early bedtime, I’ve found the magic bullet: just drag them along on an eight-hour overseas flight with a six-hour time change. Piece of cake.

I love the Olympics. Love, love, love. I love the cheesy emotional pre-stories, focused on hardships real and imagined in the athletes’ lives. I love the over-the-top attention on America’s sweethearts, like the women’s gymnastics team, or on America’s heroes, like Micheal Phelps. I can still remember the feeling I had in the winter of 1994, sitting on the floor of my college apartment in suburban Boston and watching Dan Jansen in his last ever Olympic attempt. The lead-in story was all about his sister’s battle and eventual death from cancer and about how Jansen, clearly the best speed skater in the world, simply couldn’t manage to win gold. But he did that day and I will never, ever forget it. I love those moments.

But one thing I don’t like about the Olympics is the inherent assumption by media, audiences and athletes themselves, that if you don’t win gold, then you’re a loser.  These people are the absolute best in the world at what they do. Imagine being the second best in the world at something. The second best in the whole world. Heck, imagine being the eighth best in the world at something. That guy in the last lane of the pool, who straggled in to eighth place in the 200 meter breaststroke? He’s better than 99.99999999896825% of the people in the whole entire world (or something like that).  But, oh, at the Olympics, he came in last. Loooooo-ser.

Which brings me to my brilliant idea, which is not mine at all but stolen from our family friend affectionately known as Uncle Pauly: the ninth man. The Olympic committee should establish a ninth lane with a non-world class athlete.  Not just an overweight couch potato — that would be too obvious, but someone who’s in good shape. A college athlete or a weekend warrior, someone fit and strong who can run, jump, swim, dive, or leap next to the rest of the competitors. Can’t you just picture that neighbor of yours, the one who’s out early every morning running in rain, snow or oppressive heat, dashing along next to (or, more likely, lagging behind) the rest of the track runners? Or some young, strong, high schooler attempting the long jump after the other eight have competed … where do you think they’d land in the sand?

Of course, it would never happen — the legal wrangling it would take to allow some average Joe onto the parallel bars or the 10m springboard diving platform would be the first of many hurdles. But it sure would show the rest of us just how talented all those athletes are. Yes, even the ones who “lose.”

Mere minutes after that quickie marriage ceremony, my dad waved his hand at the army of workers behind us, busily setting up tables and chairs or creating extravagant floral displays and said (only half-jokingly), “Now you guys are married. What am I paying for all this for?”

Oh dad, marriage schmarriage. That’s for the wedding.

We never had any intention of forgoing the pomp and circumstance of a great big wedding celebration, but the man we’d chosen to officiate our ceremony, our grad school professor, mentor and friend Robert Lewis, was not actually “official.” But no question he was our guy. Brilliant and hilarious, his friends booked him to speak at their funerals long before it was necessary. I actually had the honor of speaking at his funeral, after he passed away on this very date seven years ago.

Fittingly, Robert, Mark and I all met on the same day, at grad school orientation. And I was equally taken by the tiny octogenarian in low-top All Stars as I was by the tall, dark and handsome classmate who sat down beside me in the lecture hall. So we worked around the legal requirements and got married the day before our wedding.

And what a wedding it was. My photos are somewhat limited, so here’s a picture of our ceremony spot taken today:

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And here are some shots from that glorious day ten years ago.

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. . . on Friday, August 2, 2002, Mark and I were married by a Chautauqua County Justice of the Peace in a tiny five minute ceremony on my parents’ lawn, witnessed by our two mothers.

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And today (yes, same skirt):

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But just wait til you hear what we did ten years ago tomorrow . . . .

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