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Now that I no longer gasp in surprise every time one of my boys walks in the room with only fuzz on their heads, here’s the full scoop on our St Baldrick’s Day events:

Austin was excited all day, asking over and over again when we would go pick up Braedan. Finally, the moment arrived and we walked to school without coats for the first time in ages and gathered an equally excited Braedan twenty-five minutes prior to his regular dismissal.

We then filled the three rows of my car with eight people and headed into the amazingly crowded (and amazingly drunk) heart of downtown. More people come out for St. Patrick’s Day in Cleveland (especially with temperatures pushing 70) than for any other event, save some select (and now merely nostalgic) Cavs playoff games.

We strode confidently through the crowds and walked into AJ Rocco’s. And it was a zoo. Wall to wall people, like your worst nightmare of a frat party. We had to scoop Austin up or he would have been lost forever in a sea of legs. They called us up to the front immediately after checking in and suddenly it was our turn.

Except that Austin doesn’t like crowds. He doesn’t even really like people. At least not loud mobs of people he’s never seen before. He completely shuts down whenever he’s faced with strangers. He nuzzles his head into the shoulder of whichever parent is holding him, and lets his eyelids droop down as if to hide the sights in front him, and turns his full lips into a perfect little pout.

Oh, pathetic!

So, there they are, on the small platform with three barber’s chairs and three barbers with clippers buzzing in their hands. Braedan hops into his, smiling and ready. Mark hops into his, with Austin in his arms who refuses to leave. Or even look up. He wasn’t crying but he was definitely hiding.

You can’t see me if I can’t see you.

This child doesn’t mind the crowds!

The announcer assumed Austin was backing out and began to call the next shavee up to the chair, but the little guy kept nodding his head, insisting that he did indeed want to do this. We signaled the other barber, so one could shave Mark’s head and the other do Austin’s while they shared a chair. I’m sure people in the crowd thought we were crazy, forcing our poor child to shave his head, but he let out some small smiles while the hair fell around him and I (the only one of my family to shed any tears) knew that he was proud of himself for going through with it.

I see that sneaky smile

Watching his brother

Here we go

Almost done

And done

As soon as it was over and we made our way to the back of the bar, where we could actually put our children down without fearing they’d be trampled, it was all smiles.

Afterward, Austin described it as “Really really fun,” which is sort of like me talking about running marathons after they’re over. AJ Rocco’s raised over $189,000 on that one afternoon, adding to the more than $15 million raised by St Baldrick’s so far this year.

For the Gallagher family, there are no regrets. But just wait until you hear about the plans for next year . . . .

I just wanted to let you all know that we have moved both boys from the Chagrin Falls St Baldrick’s event to the one at A.J. Rocco’s. Although it’s not the ideal place to bring little kids, it is a much better organized event and the boys have opted to shave with their daddy, all three on the stage going bald together.

We’re gonna pull Braedan out of school a few minutes early that day and make sure the kids can be shaved between 3 and 4, before the post-parade crowd hits. They will then go home with their aunt and Mark and I will stay downtown for the rest of the event and into the evening, so we still hope many of you will be able to join us and cheer them on or celebrate with us afterwards.

So, I repeat, we will not be at the Chagrin Falls event on Sunday, March 20.  There are a fair number of young people participating at A.J. Rocco’s this year and a grand total of over 110 brave shavees. I think doing it this way will help make the event more special to the kids and having Mark right by their side will hopefully quell some understandable fears.

And again (hint, hint), here are the links to their individual pages: Austin, Braedan and Mark.  The boys have almost reached their goals and are very excited and proud of themselves. I’m still somewhat ambivalent about Austin being bald again, but know this is a wonderful and selfless thing for him to do.

I was reading through some of the pages on the St Baldrick’s site the other day and there’s a team in Cleveland shaving in memory of their grandfather, who recently died of cancer. Obviously, he didn’t have pediatric cancer, but they said that people were always asking him what the worst part of treatment was, chemo or radiation. His response every single time?

“The worst part is sitting next a child in the waiting room.”

Well. Wow. What a day.

I’m not usually at a loss for words (and I’ll surely manage to find a few now), but that was just a really great day.

Started off with me and Austin eagerly waiting through 50 painful minutes of the morning fluff on Fox 8 (my deep apologies to anyone else who also suffered through that — if you taped it, just save yourself and skip to the last ten minutes of the program, please!). But finally, there they were. First Mark and Dr. Letterio, sitting side by side with their half-shaved heads, talking about the importance of pediatric cancer research. And then, right when I thought the segment would end without Braedan getting his chance in the spotlight, they scanned back to the anchor table and there he was, sitting adorably on the anchor woman’s lap. And she looked just about ready to eat him up. With good reason too!  He was breathtakingly cute on that screen, all big eyes and pretty face.  I’m trying to find a link to it on their website but haven’t had any luck so far.

Then, by mid-afternoon, Mark and I and his dad were (wisely) in a taxi on our way downtown. A.J. Rocco’s was quite a scene — bottleneck at the door, people pushing their way through, sloshing the cups of beers raised high above their heads. It was reminiscent of my college years thankfully minus the bar smoke.  It was part party — hanging out with friends and drinking beer, and part hospital visit, surrounded as we were by our doctors and nurses strangely dressed in street clothes, not a white coat in sight.

The whole thing had an emotional tinge to it: random people hugging and crying, bits of heartfelt conversation wafting up through the ordinary bar noise. I was honored to meet some of the members of Team Austin we didn’t know, shavees who had simply picked my child from among the others on the St. Baldrick’s site, in part because of his cute smile and in part because they wanted to find someone currently “in the fight” (is he ever).  People who had never met us, for whom we were no more than a figment of the internet, but who nonetheless raised thousands of dollars in our name. And as I was gushing about my appreciation for all they did, they were likewise thanking me, telling me how proud they were to be part of this, how special they felt to be able to do this on behalf of Austin.

And then there was Cori. This woman had hair down to her waist, literally, to her waist.  We don’t even know each other all that well, but she just signed right up, like “Why not?” On her St. Baldrick’s page, she mentioned how when you see a child fall down at the playground, you just go and help, no hesitation. Well, this was the same thing for her: We walk to Fairfax together and wait on that playground, rain or shine or snow (mostly snow) for our boys to come dashing out the door, our little ones antsy in their strollers. We’re “playground friends” as she says. So when Austin “fell down,” she scooped in to pick him up.

She hadn’t raised a huge amount online, a decent amount but nothing worth the length of that hair. So when her turn came yesterday and her name was announced, the MC asked for extra donations. A few of us walked around the bar with leprechaun hats outstretched for people’s cash. Now remember, most of the people there had already given in one way or another, either money or hair. But most hands managed to fish out their wallets and give some more, because she came up with a whooping five hundred dollars on the spot.

And everybody watched with bated breath as the barber sniped off huge chunks of ponytail to donate to Wigs for Kids. And everybody teared up as the buzzer started working its way across that suddenly short hair. And everybody cheered when she stood up on the chair afterward to show how beautiful she looked.

The MC was standing next to me as I was cheering loudly and turned to ask if she was a friend. “She’s shaving for my son,” was my answer at that moment. But my answer right now is, “Yes. She is my friend.”

And that’s not all. Less than an hour later, one of Mark’s colleagues, the other woman on our team, walked in. And her hair was only an inch or two shorter than Cori’s! So the hats were passed around again and I was thinking, “These people just gave, there’s no way they’ll give again.” But give again they did, handing over another $377.  It made me feel a tiny bit guilty, these women with lush long locks willingly sitting on that stage, while I won’t do it and I’ve never even liked my hair! But I’ve suffered enough on behalf of pediatric cancer. I make my sacrifice every day. I’m keeping this hair.

Most of all I felt moved, touched, lucky. I don’t use the word “blessed” very often because it’s too religious for me, but I felt enormously fortunate. Fortunate that my life is so rich with generosity and kindness and friendship and love. That my husband and my children and I are surrounded by such an open and giving community. Yesterday made the heavy burden we bear feel, if not lighter, at least more tolerable. It made what should be an experience seeped only in negativity feel positive.

It made me feel full and whole and lucky. And so I thank you.

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