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What a week. Braedan has his last day of first grade tomorrow, complete with a picnic and field day at the park (complete with Mom and Austin of course). He has requested dinner at the Colony, true to form, so it’ll be grilled cheeses and chicken tenders out on the patio for the Gallagher boys. And then there’s the big Kick It kickball game on Friday.

Our teams are slowly filling up and if I combine them into one (which will probably be wise for the under-6 set who hasn’t had much experience with kickball), I should have the requisite fifteen players. It’s supposed to be a really fun evening, with food for sale and a bounce house obstacle course and a community-wide game of musical chairs. CNN was there last year to do a national feel-good news story so who knows what kind of media coverage it might get this year.

And … it’s not too late to sign up! (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?) A few people have had trouble with the website, so here’s the best instruction I can give you: Click here, then scroll down to find either of the two Team Austins. Click “Sign Up”and after you kindly decline to create an individual fundraising page (unless you really want to), it looks like nothing’s happened, but you just need to scroll down to your team again and fill in the boxes. And if you are coming, wear a red shirt.

Some friends of Austin and Braedan had a lemonade stand yesterday to raise money for Kick It. When I told them, they naturally wanted to have one too. So we’re gonna have a Kick It, Drink It, Cure It Lemonade Stand early on Friday afternoon (I could have used one today on my run in this 90 degree heat!). Braedan, ever the negotiator, asked if they make $100, could he keep $50 and I said no, if they make a hundred dollars, then they’re one hundred dollars closer to a cure. Not to be discouraged, he asked if they make $1000, could he keep $50. “Sure!” I replied and he said, “Great … except we probably won’t make $1000.”

Probably not, honey, probably not.

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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 . . . .

In a day and a half, I will be surrounded by baldies (yet again). I know both Mark and Braedan look spectacularly handsome without their hair — Braedan in particular becomes all eyes and eyelashes (and man, does that kid have eyelashes!). Here they are, following Braedan’s first at-home head shaving last Christmas:

But my little Austi-bean. I’ve only known him bald when he was really really bald. As in hairless. No eyelashes, no eyebrows. Of course, he was still darling but he was also undoubtedly sick. So I feel a tinge of sadness as I prepare to send him up on that stage for his first official St Baldrick’s ‘do.

But here they are now, all long overdue for a haircut:

Braedan’s Devo dance moves

This one even has hair on his back!

Attitude

Tonight, after the final shampooing

Funny, it’s bedtime and only Mark looks tired.

No surprise how this one ended up . . .

Thank you to everyone who’s pledged on their heads. The boys are thrilled with your generosity. Team Austin has raised over $7,500 which is really fantastic considering it’s just the three of them (and they’re all hitting up the same pool of donors!).  Here are their pages again, just in case (but honestly no pressure, they’ve done great already):  Braedan, Austin and Mark.

And now, onward to St Baldrick’s Day . . . and the better-be-right forecast of sunshine and warmer weather.  Lots to look forward to.

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.”

It’s that time of year again … head-shaving time!

Team Austin is once again registered for this year’s St. Baldrick’s events and currently has three members:

Four-time shavee and proud father Mark, two-time shavee and proud brother Braedan …

and … introducing … first-time shavee and proud survivor AUSTIN.

Yes, that’s right, the little guy has asked to join his dad and brother at this year’s event. Not totally sure how I feel about that (we had to work pretty hard to get a headful of hair back on this boy), but they’re all plenty excited.

Mark will be shaving at the adult event on St. Patrick’s Day at AJ Rocco’s downtown following the parade. The boys will shave the following Sunday, March 20, at the Chagrin Falls Township Hall at the more family-friendly event (where they serve cookies and juice instead of green beer). Please consider joining us, either as team members or at least as cheerleaders, on one or both of those days.  Both events are moving and lots of fun (albeit in different ways).

And maybe your kids would like to join the team this year? There’s no minimum amount to raise and I think it would be more about the statement they’d be making than the dollars they’d be raising. Although the fabulous St Baldrick’s did raise a whooping $22 million last year for pediatric cancer research.

I’ve explained to my boys that they probably won’t raise as much this year as they did last ($4,460 for Braedan and more than $18,000 for Team Austin) for a few reasons: 1) Austin is no longer in treatment and the sense of urgency that existed last year has (thankfully) diminished. And 2) all their donations this year will have to be divided in half.  Yes, divided in half. Please pay attention, you potential donors: Please please please, I beg of you, if you give any amount to one child please give the exact same amount to the other. I don’t care if it’s tiny little bits, five bucks for one kid and five for the other, but just please keep it as even as possible. Braedan was super proud of himself last year for being the top fundraiser on Team Austin and the top fundraiser at the family event, and he’s old enough now to read the lists of donors and amounts on the website, and trust me, he will be keeping score.  I thank you in advance for helping me maintain some sense of peace in our household.

Here are their pages for all you generous souls: Mark here, Braedan here and Austin here (they’re all currently listed at the AJ Rocco’s event but I’ll move the little people once the other one is registered).

So, six weeks from now, my little Austin will be bald for the third time in his short life. But this time, for only good reasons.

Austin’s appointment this afternoon with the orthopaedic surgeon went well.  We soaked his hand in sterile water and peroxide until we could peel the bandages off and the doctor was quite pleased with how it looked. He could tell right away from the way Austin was holding his fingers that there was no nerve damage (phew) and said the skin tone looked good and pink which meant it was already reconnecting (phew again). Austin, yet again, has ended up extremely lucky in his own extremely unlucky way.

Stitches can be removed in a week, although the doctor did caution that the nylon kind used in the ER will be painful to remove.  Not awful, but at least a pinch which will certainly get tiresome when there are 42 of them. He even said he was going to call the ER to tell them not to use that type with kids anymore.

By the way, you’ve gotta click directly on the photo below to see up close the full extent of damage.

Thanks for all your comments, both here and on Facebook, which fully convey the horror and commiseration that such a story deserves. I heard from at least three separate people who said they read it out loud to a group to much gasping and groaning. We too felt horrified as we watched this all unfold and were weighed down by a deep sense of the injustice of it. Especially because it had happened on Austin’s requested outing, his special celebration, the thing he’d been awaiting for so long.

But at the same time, Mark and I were both slightly relieved (only slightly) that it was Austin forced to endure this and not Braedan. Braedan is marvelous in many ways, but tolerance for pain is not one of them. He has, however, encouraged all of us to eat (and color) with our left hands until Austin regains use of his right (coloring is easier than eating). Another grand and mature display of brotherly affection between the endless bickering.

And I agree that at least this falls within the range of “normal” little boy accidents but I also agree that we should be exempt from such things. In fact, I hereby apply for our official exemption and can write a powerful and convincing essay to the universe describing exactly why my family should no longer be subjected to such “ordinary” calamities as broken arms and bicycle accidents, and most especially not such major calamities as teenage car wrecks or middle-aged heart attacks.

Now I know (oh, do I ever) that suffering is not evenly distributed but I do indeed think we’ve had enough.

A huge thank you to everyone who donated so generously on Breadan’s head and a huge bravo to my big boy who sat bravely sat in that chair and had his hair shaved off “to be like” his little brother.

Despite the cold gray rain, today was a lovely day for the Gallagher family.  In the early afternoon, we drove out to Chagrin Falls for the annual St. Baldrick’s event, with an excited but increasingly nervous boy riding in his booster seat. I gently reminded him that he had offered to do this and that it was okay to be scared. “Being brave,” I told him, “doesn’t mean not being afraid. It means being afraid and doing it anyway.” As we mingled through the crowd and saw friendly faces, including one of his favorite classmates shyly armed with $17 worth of her allowance, Braedan retreated to a table with a plateful of pretzels and quietly declared that he wasn’t going to do it unless Daddy shaved his head for him. Of course, St. Baldrick’s rules allow only lisenced barbers to do the honors, so I was starting to get a little worried that we might have a scene on our hands.

But after about twenty minutes of watching other kids and grown-ups happily get shaved (and one poor tween-age girl who burst into tears afterwards and rushed to the bathroom with her also crying best pal), Braedan’s name was called. And there was no scene at all, except for a happy one. He walked wide-eyed but straight-backed to his spot and listened proudly to the MC introducing him as the event’s lead fund-raiser with just under $4000 (just over counting his friend’s extra $17). Then he took his seat and donned his cape and smiled sheepishly at his audience.

Austin watched from my arms with a big smile on his face as the hair fell in clumps around Braedan’s feet. As far as we could tell, Braedan was the only one there shaving for such a personal reason. Austin got his share of second glances as people realized that this particular child’s head didn’t have any of the fuzz left on the heads of other shavees. This particular child was bald not by choice but by necessity.

Braedan got a heartfelt round of applause amid tears (ours not his) of happiness and sadness and pride and excitement for Wednesday when the whole world will be a little balder. As of today, St. Baldrick’s has almost 28,000 shavees signed up (10% of whom are women) and has raised $10.2 million.   Team Austin is coming in strong with over $14,000 and is still holding a slight lead over the Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital Team (which, in a way, is also “our team”).

If you’re still planning to give, please consider donating on the head of my sweet little (big) brother Cory, who just yesterday organized an impromptu St. Baldrick’s Day event at his house in Park City, Utah where he’ll shave his head for the third year in a row in honor of Austin (nothing like planning ahead there, Cory). I just visited his page on the St. Baldrick’s site and he put it quite simply: “My nephew has been battling cancer for most of his life so please take a moment to think of him when you donate.”

That’s what this is all about, really. Just taking a moment to think of Austin and the 160,000 other children who will be diagnosed with cancer this year, scared children who have no choice but to be brave, small heroes who never asked for such fame.  Just sitting there quietly and thinking of them, and their parents and brothers and sisters and friends, may not seem like much in light of the battles they face.

But it is.

Less than a week until St. Patrick’s Day — that holiday devoted to green beer, shamrocks and bald heads.  Team Austin is now nine shavees strong and, as of this posting, has raised more money than any other team in Cleveland. We’ve just increased our team goal to $15,000 and Braedan’s individual goal to $3,500, having surpassed numerous less ambitious goals.

A huge warm thank you to everyone who has so generously donated so far. Braedan is extremely proud of himself and duly impressed by the sum of money his head shaving has generated. And it’s not too late! You can continue to wow him with your support through the rest of the week and beyond by visiting his St. Baldrick’s page here.

As for the event logistics, Braedan will shave his head this Sunday at 2pm at the Chagrin Falls Township Hall. This is the family-friendly alternative to the downtown event next Wednesday. Austin had labs this morning and was cleared to attend with us, which I am very pleased about. Feel free to bring your kids out and cheer on my brave boy if you’re free.

Then on St. Patrick’s Day, Mark and I will go to A.J.Rocco’s for the “adult” version of the head-shaving.  It’s not quite as racy as that sentence makes it sound but does involve considerable amounts of Irish ale. It’s a great event and we’d love for as many of you as possible to join us. The barbers start shaving at 3, following the end of the parade, and it lasts for a few hours. We usually head out for a bite to eat afterward at the Winking Lizard across the street.

It’s quite impressive to see the number of bald heads (usually spray-painted green) in the crowds milling about. They don’t all know us, those brave shavees, but they are doing this for us nonetheless.  And that’s really something.

Guest blogger here, it’s me, Mark (and yes, Krissy is watching over my shoulder). I know she’s told you that I’m shaving my head again for St. Baldrick’s this year and I know you all know how important this event is to me and my family. But I wanted to put in a word here for Braedan.

He was nervous about signing up for this, mostly because he didn’t want “people watching” him. But he offered to do it for his brother, and Krissy and I are both so proud of him. Although they fight like cats and dogs, Braedan loves Austin a ton and wants nothing more than for him to be able to do all the things regular three-year-olds do.

We all want to raise as much money as we can for pediatric cancer research and we’d all love for Team Austin to be the first-place fundraiser at the Cleveland events. But more than anything, Krissy and I would like Braedan’s courage and sacrifice to be rewarded with pledges of support from his friends and family (just click on his name above and follow the instructions)). It doesn’t have to be a lot; ten bucks makes a difference. And now that he’s learning to read, he loves decoding the names of his donors. He IS pretty curious about his friend “Anonymous” though!

Now, back to the master for her hacking (I mean, revising). . . .

We had Braedan’s first official school conference yesterday and, among other glowing compliments, his teacher said he is one of the happiest children she has ever known. “Always happy and always positive,” were her words.

Through my years as a classroom teacher,  I have glimpsed the inner lives of many different types of children, each with their various strengths and weaknesses, each with their own individual comforts or struggles, and I always knew that I would most want to parent a child who was the happiest and the nicest over one who was the smartest.  And trust me when I say they are rarely the same child!  Many happy and kind children are also very bright and very conscientious students, as I know Braedan also is, but I don’t think I ever had a class where the very smartest kid was also the nicest, most well-adjusted or well-liked child.

So I am thrilled that my boy is so happy and that he both likes and is liked by his teachers and classmates.  And, man, I hope it stays that way.

We talked with him the other night about the possibility (probability) that Austin’s cancer has returned and what that might mean for us all. I told him, as we have many times before, about all the emotions he might feel — anger and jealousy and sadness and fear and maybe, just maybe, abandonment — and how okay they all are and how open we are to hearing about them. We talked a little bit about dialysis and when I mentioned that Austin wouldn’t pee for two years, Braedan, like any typical almost-six-year-old boy, dropped his jaw and said, “But will he still . . . poop?”

After explaining how a kidney works (in my best kindergarten language) I said that Austin wouldn’t be allowed to drink very much and my sweet Braedan said, “But won’t he be thirsty?”  Oh yes, Little B, oh yes. And later, I cautioned that we hadn’t yet told Austin any of this and he said, with great conviction, “Oh, I don’t think you should.”  I agreed, offering up what Braedan could already sense, that it was too vague and too scary for Austin to have to hear before we knew if it was really happening.

So we will move forward from today with these images of our two children, happy and kind and able and good, and will carry that as our goal.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Goofy

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