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Weather is a funny thing. When you’re in the midst of it, at least when you’re in the midst of any of its many extreme forms, you feel as if what you’re experiencing is somehow special, unique. That you’re the only one who’s ever been that cold. That no other walk to school has been quite as brutal as this one. In a capital-B, capital-D Big Deal kind of way.
It’s cold outside. And, you know, that sucks. That little meme going around Facebook with the small sad soul all bundled up in hat and scarf who says, “The air hurts my face. Why do I live where the air hurts my face?” Exactly. So, we talk about it and post about it, and moan and groan and wonder why on earth we live here. Just like we did last winter. And just like we’ll do next winter.
It’s all sort of silly, but it’s real. The weather is indeed significant in that it totally affects your mood. Especially this time of year, that post-holiday dead zone with nothing ahead but long stretches of work and school, accompanied by unshoveled sidewalks and unsee-through-able windshields (I really looked for the right word there, but just couldn’t find it: opaque? blocked? impermeable?). Whatever the word for my windshield, the weather is depressing. We have hit the doldrums.
But being anti-doldrum kind of people, Mark and I have found an antidote to the nastiness of January. And so, today, in just a few hours, we’ll head over to Fairfax and call the kids out of their classrooms (“Please send Braedan and Austin to the office, prepared to leave,”), plop their stunned little selves into the car and drive to the airport. Where we’ll meet up with our friends the Schuberts. And fly to Disney World.
I am squealing inside right now. Squealing. We’ve been keeping this under such tight wraps since last September that I’ve been afraid to even allude to it in any major way. But unless you’re reading this blog on your way to Fairfax School, where you might accidentally tell my children to have a good trip, I think the secret is safe.
I’ve been incessantly hint-dropping lately, just in a playful way that they would never let them guess. “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just magically end up somewhere warmer today?” “I have a feeling this will be a good week,” and on and on. But I’ve also talked about all the fun things we’ll do over this four day weekend, like clean their bedrooms and catch up on our rest. They are clueless, to say the least.
We’ve been to Disney once, after Austin finished treatment the first time, when he was 18 months old. But he was 18 months old and has no memory of it whatsoever. And even Braedan, then just four, can barely recall anything except what’s captured in pictures. That was the trip where, one evening as we strolled through the countries of Epcot, Austin ran along behind his brother in soft-serve-soaked pajamas, and some man walked past us and remarked, all calm and casual like it meant nothing at all, “Now there’s a boy who’s happy to be alive.” And I stopped dead in my tracks and wheeled around to watch him walk off in the other direction, completely unaware of the significance of what he had said. Happy to be alive? You. Have. No. Idea.
So now we’ll spend the next five days being happy to be alive, in the happiest place on earth (and one day in Hogwarts, my geek fantasy come true). Check Facebook for videos of the big reveal, which I’m at least as excited for as I am for the whole damn trip.
No doldrums for us.
I’ve been thanked a lot in the past 48 hours. By my kids’ teachers and the parents of their classmates, by friends, neighbors, fellow Heights grads who’ve since moved many states away, random people I had no idea were in favor of this issue. And while all that feels good, the thanks really go out to you. To every person who dropped lit, toured the high school, made a phone call, forwarded an email, donated money, displayed a yard sign, read our words, listened to our stories and came out to vote yes on Tuesday. I thank you.
This unprecedented victory (truly: I do not remember a time when a school issue has passed in this community with 59% of the vote) has taken the work of many dedicated individuals and groups, and the trust and faith of thousands, and it means so very much. I am proud, I am thrilled and I am exhausted. There’s a part of me that wishes we never had to run this sort of campaign again. That the state legislature would take up an issue they’ve ignored for far too long and finally, once and for all, fix the way we fund our schools. I wish we could take the energy, dollars and endless hours people put into these campaigns and instead direct it to the schools themselves: fund a field trip (or several) with those donations, turn the hours of lit dropping into hours reading with kindergartners, use our passion in productive ways right in our own buildings. But that’s not how this works, unfortunately, and in a find-the-silver-lining sort of way, we’re lucky for it.
We are lucky to spend two months every couple of years pounding the streets in support of our community’s children and they are lucky to see it. We are lucky to engage in meaningful conversations with so many people, friend and foe, and to make new connections and new friendships in the process. We are lucky to read and hear the words of praise that so many of our peers have to offer our district’s students and teachers. While there is incredible contention around every school bond issue or levy, there are also many moments of unequivocal celebration of our schools. For me personally, it means so much to hear from my neighbors and friends with children in private and parochial schools, to have them ask for yard signs or hear them say that they always believe that public schools should be a strong option. It means so much to meet the parent leaders at other buildings and have us work together toward a common goal. It means so much to see Facebook friends in Indiana and New Jersey changing their profile pictures and updating their statuses in favor of Tiger Nation. It means so much to connect with elected officials and candidates on a shared vision.
There are many lessons to be taken from this victory, not the least of which is that residents seem to want their leaders to work with their schools, not against them. I do not think it’s a coincidence that the top two vote-getters in the Cleveland Heights City Council race were the two who endorsed and campaigned for Issue 81. Nor do I think it’s a coincidence that the solitary candidate in University Heights supporting this issue garnered the most votes from that city. The time is now for the two cities to come together and make us all stronger by engaging with and supporting our public schools. The citizens want that. The citizens need that.
There is much work to be done (and I’ll be writing about some of that soon). We have many difficult decisions ahead of us as we guide our leaders and especially our students through the upcoming plans and transitions. But for now, for today, I feel only lucky.
And I thank you.
The month of September always gets me. Not only is it Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, with the barrage of images and stories, Facebook updates and fundraising pleas. I wish I’d been more engaged this month, I certainly meant to post regular updates, but that never seems to happen anymore. (Some other parents did it for me though and they did it well and with anger and passion and jaw-dropping statistics: see here and here and here.)
Then there’s the fact that September 2007 was probably the worst and darkest month for us in all of our years of treatment, the calendar dates file past us with bold reminders of things we’d really rather forget. This was date when we realized his tumor was growing, big and fast and with terrifying mystery; this was the date they removed his right kidney, along with that hard to fathom six-and-a-half pound tumor; these were the six days when we waited and waited and waited, pacing the hospital room, searching for signs, for the results that would define our futures; these were the ten days we waited and waited and waited for Austin to be allowed to eat, hiding ice chips from his weakening one-year-old grasp. It’s a virtual landmine of anniversaries.
And then there is today: the sixth anniversary of my second baby boy’s first birthday.
Because today Austin is seven. Against all odds. Seven.
And so, just like that, another year goes by. My sweet boys finished school on Thursday and suddenly I find myself the mother of a rising first grader and a rising fourth grader.
Austin had a truly fabulous year: learned to read, made new friends and thrived in every possible way. After all that back and forth about when to send him to kindergarten, I can finally say that we did the right thing. I know a woman, the grandmother of some kids at Fairfax as well as at local private schools, who has tutored in our building the past few years and she recently said that if she had a kindergarten-aged child and could choose any single teacher in all of Northeast Ohio for that child to have, she would choose this one:
Braedan’s year was okay, with one good teacher and one, well, I don’t want to use this as a place to publicly criticize someone, but let’s just say we’re glad the year is over.
But he does have truly wonderful friends.
As for mama bear, I have finished my fourth and final course and have freshly renewed certification to teach first through eighth grades in the great state of Ohio. Unfortunately, the single district in which I’m willing to teach (ours) laid off 32 teachers in April due to a reduction in force and cannot even look at outside candidates until all those teachers have been rehired. Although information is hard to confirm (and that’s putting it lightly — I swear, this stuff is guarded by the CIA), it seems that most of the elementary classroom teachers have indeed been rehired by now and I am still fingers-crossed-hope-hope-hoping that there may be a spot left over for little ol’ me.
But for now, we look forward to a summer of friends, relaxation, Chautauqua, waterskiing and baseball, baseball, baseball.
Ah, what a difference a year makes. Last Mother’s Day was not so good. I mean, the weather was nice enough that we were able to go on our annual picnic and hike. But the cloud that hung over my heart at that moment, the horrible certainty I carried in me that this would be my last Mother’s Day with two children, could not be lifted.
Yesterday, on the other hand, was cold and rainy and we didn’t really do much (although staying in your pajamas until 1pm is pretty special), but it just doesn’t matter. I don’t need intricately planned outings or lavishly wrapped gifts to celebrate being a mother. A pile of school-made cards and two sweet boys snuggled up beside me as we wiled away the morning reading Harry Potter in bed is more than enough. (And bacon and eggs — thanks, Mark.)
But the icing on the Mother’s Day cake (oooh, now that’s a good idea . . . Mother’s Day cake) came Friday afternoon with our visit to Austin’s oncologist. Confirming all that I’d reported two weeks ago, his chest x-ray was clear and his kidney numbers hold steady. So, we can now say without hedging that Austin is truly and officially three years cancer-free, 60% of the way to the other, much more pleasant C-word.
Since his new doctor is still learning his case, she showed me an email she had requested from a member of Austin’s team at Rainbow, providing a broad overview of his five-and-a-half years of care. Much of it was formal and technical but I scanned quickly, with Austin quietly Minecraft-ing beside me, searching for any hint of editorializing. Maybe a little clue of his future or a confirmation of what we’d believed was, well, a pretty big deal. And it was there: “Austin has had an impressive and complicated course of treatment since his initial diagnosis in July 2007.” Impressive and complicated, indeed.
Today, we just use the word “impressive.”
I really am the luckiest. Not only do I get to visit exotic (and warm!) locations around the world, but I get to do it with a group of girlfriends that is fun, funny, smart, interesting, brave, adventurous, supportive, nurturing, loving, hilarious and — least I forget — gorgeous.
The little beach bar next door to our house, perfect place for drinks at sunset
The view from right outside our bedroom window
Beach bar again
These pictures are really nothing compared to the much better ones I need to download off Shutterfly. The jungle adventure shots of us ziplining, rappelling and aero-cycling are must-sees.
Thank you, girls, for making our trip such a super fantastic fabulous wonderful restorative and all-around special experience. Mexico should expect us back again soon.
And thank you, Mark, for taking such good care of the boys in my absence and never once complaining.
Did someone say lucky?
I guess that last one should have been titled The Year in Picture. This one can be the Year in Pictures.
2012 started with a family trip to Jamaica, with requisite swimming, horseback riding and playing with cousins:
Once back at school, Braedan was the youngest kid in the district to join Ski Club. He enjoyed it immensely despite record little snowfall:
At the end of February, Mark and I went to Charleston, South Carolina with friends. A wonderful weekend in a beautiful and charming city:
March was dedicated almost entirely to St. Baldrick’s events, from the Bluffton Basebald trip to our Cleveland Heights event to the always fun downtown head-shaving. I was surrounded by bald people all spring long, which could not have made me more proud:
Then we ventured off to Colorado for a spring skiing adventure, complete with an ambulance ride to the medical center for Austin’s low oxygen levels:
We fully expected May to kick off the grand two-year cancer-free celebration, only to instead plunge into sixteen days of darkness and despair upon believing Austin’s cancer had returned yet again. A lucky double rainbow and a long overdue MRI provided intense relief at the end of the month and our good-year-gone-bad reverted to great.
Then it was summer and all the joyous relaxation that comes along with it, including endless hours of baseball. baseball, baseball, swimming and waterskiing in Chautauqua and biking through Europe:
And of course, our tenth wedding anniversary and our super celebration-of-everything party:
Fall meant back to school for Braedan and off to school for Austin:
More travel, this time for Mommy and Daddy on their own:
Plus birthdays and fall sports, school events and some “little” surgeries, a lot of lost teeth and holidays, holidays, holidays. Of course, this was all interspersed with fighting, crying, whining, random ailments and injuries, complaints about school and battles over homework, boredom, sibling rivalry and the like. But I suppose that’s what makes it all worth it. The year ended with a few days of skiing in Chautauqua in near magical conditions:
It was definitely a year to remember, filled with significant milestones and an awful lot of globe trotting. But what matters most is what remains: health, happiness, family, friends, luck, love, laughter. We’ve got it all.
Mark and I are currently halfway through a five-day ten-year anniversary trip to Napa Valley. I know, are you just dying of jealousy yet? But do note that this little trip was five years in the making.
Five years ago, in the summer of 2007, Mark and I had the grand idea that we were going to travel to Napa in the fall, celebrating having made it through the first year of our second baby. I had done a bunch of research and had chosen a place to stay, whose name and contact information were scribbled onto my weekly To Do list, a room ready to be reserved with a single phone call.
Needless to say, that phone call never took place. And, instead of an autumn trip to Napa, we embarked on a three-year journey to the center of hell. Otherwise known as the world of pediatric cancer. I could launch into a litany of “instead of this (wine tasting), then that (chemo),” but I’ll leave it at this: this trip’s been a long time coming. (And I can only laugh to imagine having left a recently weaned Austin with my parents for a week, when I went on to nurse him til 25 months.)
But oh my, are we enjoying ourselves. Talk about indulgence! I think I’m consuming as many calories at breakfast (fresh pastries from the famed Bouchon Bakery delivered to our porch) as I usually consume in a day. And certainly drinking as much wine in an afternoon as I usually do in a week. And loving every minute of it.
Today’s tastings were part of a 30-mile bike ride, definitely the way to go (luckily the temperature had dropped from 100-plus to the mid-80s).
And we are staying in just about the most fabulous and charming place I’ve ever stayed (and I’ve stayed in lots of charming and fabulous places!). It’s eight cottages, each with its own mini-kitchen, indoor gas fireplace, outdoor wood firepit, all encircling a small grassy field perfect for croquet.
Mark and I seriously encourage seven of our favorite couples join us here for a repeat trip in the next five to ten years. Feel free to nominate yourselves!
Well, it wasn’t quite the party extravaganza we had last year (I told you I couldn’t beat that one), but Austin did have a very successful Lego Mania bash on Saturday.
We managed to fit in both the Lego relay race (carrying Lego pieces on a spoon from one bowl to another)
and the Lego pinata (filled with Lego candy)
before the rain storm (um, I mean, hail storm) hit halfway through the party.
Then it was twenty rambunctious (and mostly male) schoolchildren running around the house. We corralled them long enough for Lego-shaped crackers and cheese,
and Lego-shaped watermelon with grapes,
and (you guessed it): Lego cake
Then it was gift-opening time and I bet you’ll never guess what he got. Here are some clues:
What ever are we gonna do next year??
Yesterday was indeed another day. And a good one at that.
Started with an early morning Dunkie’s run by Mark (nothing like junk food at 8am to get the kids up and at ’em). Then off to school, with an end-of-Friday visit by Mommy and Braedan, complete with frosted zucchini muffins (not too junky, those) and a read-aloud by big brother to a class of cute and giggling kindergarteners. The whole event was tinged by a bittersweet encounter with a teacher’s aide I knew from my Coventry teaching days, who stopped me in the hallway with a hug and whispered in my ear how fervently she had prayed for this day.
His teacher using a magnifying glass to search for gray hairs.
More Lego gifts in the afternoon (god, I love how those keep them quietly engaged for such long stretches). Then homemade pizzas with the Gallagher clan, more presents and the as-requested key lime pie.
Today, a couple of hours of soccer accompanied by Daddy (so Mommy can finish last-minute party prep and cake decorating), followed by hopefully sunny skies and a gaggle of excited school children eager for Lego mania.
And as I said yesterday on Facebook, not a single day goes by when I am not keenly aware of how lucky I am to have this boy in my life. It’s been a crazy, unexpected, awful, wonderful, unlucky and extremely lucky six years.
Happy 6th Birthday to my sweet love, the one and only Austin Gallagher.