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Sunday was wonderful. Sad, happy, moving, chaotic, upbeat, serious, silly. Wonderful.
Thank you to everyone who helped the day run smoothly, so smoothly, in fact, that we finished shaving 170 heads in just over three hours. All of the volunteers, from the hard working barbers to the kids hawking baked goods, made our event the success that it was.
And it was indeed a success! Right now, we have $100,201 online plus another $3,381 in checks that I mailed today. I struggled a bit with our goal this year, after such a remarkable 2014. I knew that having two sick children in our neighborhood contributed in a big way to the $124K we made last year. From Carolyn’s unprecedented $12,000+ shave to the impressive showing at Roxboro Middle School, we would have been hard-pressed to match those incredible earnings. But still, I went big and set our initial goal at $125,000. About two weeks ago, I was feeling a bit disappointed at our mediocre progress (I’m not sure whether I’m an eternal optimist or just plain greedy because there was nothing mediocre about what we accomplished!), but I began debating what to do: Should I lower our goal? To a more attainable and realistic $100,000? That felt so defeatist. I didn’t want to give up! But we simply weren’t going to raise $125K, even I had to admit that.
I finally settled on $111,000, a nice in-the-middle sum that included my favorite number. And I’m glad I did, because I’m fully confident that we’ll reach it. I’ve followed my participants’ pages and their totals are rising every day, especially those of the women who did the full shave. No doubt, they’ve gotten enough stares and questions and shocked responses (“You really did it!”) that they’ve garnered additional donations. All of that, plus the couple thousand we should make from the Dewey’s Pizza School benefit in June and I think we’ll be there.
But once we’re in that room, putting the “community” in Community Center, the money matters less and less. Whether you raised $50 or $3,000, every one of you who set foot on that stage made a powerful statement. To sick children, you said, “I stand with you. You are not alone.” To your peers, you said, “I can see outside of myself. There are things more important than how I look.” To the world, you said, “I am willing to sacrifice on behalf of others, even others I don’t know. I can make a difference. You can too.”
Everyone in that room heard you. Everyone was moved by your generosity, your kindness, and your courage. We all watched our children, the little people who are supposed to look up to us, do things we might not be brave enough to do (I’m certainly not). And we watched our own peers do the very same things. We witnessed people growing closer, mother and daughter teams shaving, fathers and sons, brothers and cousins and classmates and friends doing something big, side by side. Which is the only way we should ever be when we do something big.
I saw three children, two boys and a girl, pay tribute to their father in the way that he would have chosen had he had the chance. They climbed on a stage and sat with their friends and schoolmates to make the world a better place. And then they went to his funeral. It’s not the way the childhood should work, there’s no doubt about that. It’s far, far from fair. But they did it and it made them each smile. At least a little.
I watched a beautiful young woman shave her head in memory of her mother, with tears streaming down her face. And another young woman, with full pregnant belly, making the world a little safer for her unborn child. I watched a six-year old girl and her mother holding hands with the clippers buzzing above their heads, their eyes on each other, their hearts with their lost friend.
And the boys. I know I spend a lot of time highlighting the girls and the women, but this is a big deal for the boys too. It requires courage and a willingness to stand up and truly be seen, stripped of that thing that makes you simultaneously stand out and blend in. One, who’s shaved with us since the beginning, said that he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue this year now that he’s in middle school. Looks matter to the fellas too, you know. But then (and I quote), “I thought that this might save my future children from having cancer, and I never looked back.”
And that’s why we do this. So that not one single one of those kids who joined us on Sunday, not one 4-year old or one 15-year old, has to hear the words, “Your child has cancer.” And that they certainly never, ever have to hear the words, “There’s nothing else we can do.”
This might be part one in a series titled Death in the Age of Facebook, about which I have a fair amount to say. But let’s start with this:
Positive thinking does not cure cancer. A good attitude will not help you survive.
It’s a lovely idea, of course, one that makes us feel like we have a tiny bit of control over our destinies. Be strong, keep your chin up, and this too shall pass. Only that’s not true. And not only is it not true, but it’s harmful and hurtful to those who don’t survive, those whose cancers simply can’t be beat with a smile and a sunny outlook.
Look at the language we use around cancer: This person “succumbed” to the disease, while that other one “overcame” it. Patients are warriors fighting a battle that requires strength and courage, a willingness to charge forward and face any challenge, no matter how terrifying and no matter how futile.
There is a lot about Facebook and social media that is wonderful when you’re faced with a crisis. You’re able to connect with others who’ve experienced what you’re going through, you’re able to share information in an honest and direct way with large numbers of people, and you’re able to draw strength and love from the strength and love of those around you. The online response, even if it’s just the click of a Like button, can be overwhelming and heart warming. It’s a sign of the invisible thread that ties us all together, caring about one another, wishing each other well.
But it also gives us a glimpse into how differently people handle the tragedies that befall us, tragedies like death sentences for five-year olds. Now, I know these are treacherous waters to wade through, that no one truly has the right words, that no one can take away the pain and suffering of the family, no matter how badly they may want to. And I know that any of us might say the wrong thing at the wrong time, in a misguided attempt to be helpful.
But one thing that I wish no family would have to bear is the idea that they should “keep their heads held high” and not “give up.” As if they themselves, their grief and their despair, are somehow responsible for their lack of options. Sometimes, as horrid as it is, there simply are no options. Or no good options at least. Now I’m not saying give up; I believe in holding on to hope until the very last second. But be sad. Let your head hang down and cry when you need to because this is devastating. There is no “chin up” attitude that can bolster a family faced with this reality, no “rah rah” mentality that can keep death at bay.
Although I sure as hell wish there was.
This will be the final installment in my Why You Should Vote FOR Issue 81 series, followed — I hope! — by tomorrow’s Thank You message. I had a couple other posts drafted in my mind but Halloween and pumpkin carving, muffin baking, costume crafting followed by Mark’s birthday complete with a party got in the way.
But I do feel like this campaign has covered every base we can think of, and I hope we have no regrets when those ballots are counted tomorrow evening. So, without further ado, my final plea:
In my last post, I wrote so much about the responsibility our school district has in educating poor children that it almost sounded like they are our only audience. Indeed, they are not. Our schools serve many children from highly educated, professional middle and upper middle class families. And they do it well.
The very thing that is our district’s greatest challenge is also its greatest strength: the extremely diverse range of backgrounds, cultures, abilities, needs, values, educational levels, priorities and perspectives of our students and their families. We are not just one thing to one group, pigeon-holed as a poor urban district or an affluent suburban one. We are a little of this and a little of that. And while that is difficult and expensive, it is also incredibly valuable. For every special ed teacher and guidance counselor, social worker, intervention program, or night school for teen moms, there is also an advanced science and math class, foreign languages starting in kindergarten, award-winning vocal and instrumental music programs, Power of the Pen, Model U.N., courses for college credit, and extra enrichment programming. And kids from all backgrounds participate in and benefit from those wide and varying opportunities. And it is this rich diversity, this microcosm of real world problems, challenges and achievements, that make our district so unique.
I am proud to send my children to these schools and I am proud to do it as a choice. I know many others who could afford to send their kids elsewhere but don’t because they know that they’re getting all they need and then some in CH-UH. I know families who have pulled their children out of the area’s most prestigious private schools precisely to access the academic rigor they’ve only found in the Heights Schools. Our district’s graduates go on to the nation’s top tier universities, state schools and community colleges. Some move straight into trades and others join the military. Some become or are already parents. These students represent the broad and varied world in which we live. And our schools are working hard every day to prepare them for it.
I sometimes wish the discussions around this bond issue focused solely on the physical realities of our buildings. But the conversations have veered, as they so often do, into the realm of what our children deserve. “Our” children, “their” children, “those” children. Blame has been placed on the shoulders of kids and especially teens who don’t always behave the way we want them to. I actually saw a comment on someone’s Facebook page that suggested that the district construct new buildings for the kids who “want to learn,” and use a GPA cut-off point to determine who gets to move into them and who has to stay behind. “Let the others earn their way to the nice stuff by improving their GPA in the existing spaces,” this woman said. And, because she just couldn’t help herself, she added, “They’ll only destroy the nice stuff anyway.”
Wow. Is that who we are? Is that who we want to be?
Let me tell you something about my own kids, who happen to be high achieving and well-behaved elementary students. If left to their own devices (literally and figuratively), they would sit on the couch and play video games all day. They’re not hard-wired with some “want to learn” gene. They do their homework and practice their instruments because I make them! Because my husband and I model responsible behaviors every single day and have since they were born. Someday, by the time they’re in high school, I imagine they’ll be self-motivated and self-regulated enough to do what’s right without being told. But if and when they get there, it will only be because we laid the foundation here at home.
There are plenty of kids without that. Who are essentially going it alone, without the guidance or role models that are inextricably linked with success. Some of these kids will find something deep inside themselves and will thrive against all odds. Others will squeak by, doing just the bare minimum. And some will be disruptive and even destructive, fighting back against a world that has always seemed unfair to them.
Leaving those kids in classrooms that are swelteringly hot, with leaky ceilings and moldy locker rooms, while waiting for them to “prove” themselves, is not the answer.
I believe that my two sons deserve physical spaces that are inspiring, comfortable, safe and healthy. I believe that they shouldn’t be subjected to wild swings of temperature or rusted, leaking roofs or over-stretched mechanical and electrical systems that are costing all of us way too much to maintain. I believe they deserve state-of-the-art science labs and modern technology, access to the best athletic, musical and performance spaces, and buildings they can be proud of. And I believe that the kid sitting next to them in class, the one whose mom works three low-wage jobs and may not have time to read to him or ensure his homework is completed, deserves the same kind of spaces. And even the kid next to that one, you know that kid? The one whose mother failed to show up at her scheduled conference — again — because she didn’t bother to read the reminder that came home because she doesn’t bother to read anything that comes home … I believe that kid deserves the best kind of spaces in which to learn. If we’re gonna make this issue about who deserves what, about how we value our children and the children of those around us, then so be it. I value all of them. Even the ones who are failing. Even the ones who screw up. And I believe that they all deserve safe, healthy, inspiring, comfortable and, yes, beautiful school buildings.
That’s why I will vote FOR Issue 81 tomorrow. And that’s why I’m asking you to join me.
This is part two of a multi-part series addressing resident concerns about the upcoming bond issue (Issue 81) to fund facilities renovations in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District. Part 1 can be read here. Please feel free to share any and all of these posts with any undecided friends, family, colleagues or neighbors.
Another concern that has been voiced by a few people is, “Does this plan ignore the needs of the district’s 2,600 elementary students?”
Short answer: No, not at all. Long answer: Phase 1 of this plan, which is what we’re voting on in November, only funds renovations to the high school and Roxboro and Monticello Middle Schools. The elementary schools will be addressed in Phase 2, which won’t take place until another bond is approved in about seven years. The district would love to wake up tomorrow morning and have all of its buildings fully renovated. But it is completely unrealistic to do them all at once. Not only would it be even more expensive, it would be a logistical nightmare to oversee eight to eleven construction sites, not to mention figuring out what to do with all those simultaneously displaced children. As the plan stands, only one age group is affected at a time, allowing Wiley to consecutively serve as swing space for the next ten to twelve years.
If we were to flip the current plan and start with the elementaries first, we would disrupt the education of students multiple times. Take, for instance, a current second grader. If this bond passes in November and next year is used for planning and design, that child would spend 4th and 5th grade in swing space while elementary schools were renovated. Then, construction would begin on middle schools, thus displacing the same child during 6th and 7th grade. There would likely then be a one to two-year break for additional planning and another bond. Lo and behold, that child would enter high school right as construction was set to begin and they would again spend two years in swing space, meaning they would be displaced from their home schools for half their educational career. That is unacceptable.
The board and administration have promised to do their best to provide as smooth a transition as possible during the construction years, maintaining current academic, athletic and extra-curricular offerings no matter where students are housed. But those years will no doubt be difficult ones, as hundreds of students converge on a single site with varying expectations, routines and loyalties. It is one thing to ask our current students to spend one or two years making that sacrifice; it is another thing altogether to ask them for five or six years. The current plan ensures that no single students is affected by building construction more than once, for at most two years. This is a shared sacrifice for the common good that seems reasonable and that most of us can swallow.
Furthermore, and this is important, the elementary buildings won’t simply be ignored in the years between now and Phase 2. They should, in fact, get extra attention. The district currently uses funds from a 2002 permanent improvement levy for facility maintenance and repairs. That dollar amount is not large and is spread across all eleven buildings, with the majority of it focused on the high school, which, as one of the oldest buildings, represents 40% of the total square footage in the district. If the bond passes and the new funds it generates are designated for the high school and eventually the middle schools, the permanent improvement funds are freed up to be used solely by the elementary schools. This is a good thing, and will not only provide those buildings with more money but also the time and focus of the district’s maintenance crew, who will be separate from those firms newly hired to do the construction.
One last thing, of considerable import: It is the current elementary students who will benefit from this plan. Our investment is in them and their futures. My 4th grader will spend his last year of middle school in swing space before moving into a newly renovated, state-of-the-art high school. And my 1st grader will spend his first year of middle school in swing space before moving into a newly renovated Roxboro, followed by the newly renovated high school. It is today’s kindergarten class, the smallest among us, who will be the first cohort of children to squeak by with no disruption to their educations and get to enjoy their full middle and high school careers in newly renovated spaces.
This plan does not ignore the elementary students. It is, in fact, for them.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. To everyone. To all of the hundreds of people who donated money on the heads of our shavees. To our tireless barbers from Quintana’s and Shawn Paul for putting everyone at ease and working without complaint in such good spirits for so many hours. To Mike Kenney who entertained the kids with juggling and balloon art. To all of my friends (including both my mom and my honey) who volunteered their afternoon to check people in, collect cash and checks (tougher than it sounds), sell baked goods or take more than 1,500 pictures (Dallas was a busy woman!). Thank you to everyone (I have no idea who) who baked those yummy looking treats, which brought in an additional $220. And of course, the biggest and most enthusiastic THANK YOU to every man, woman and child who shaved their head or cut and donated their hair.
As of this moment in time, we have raised $43,101.71. Yup, that’s right: seventy-one cents. I wasn’t kidding when I said every penny counts. And the total continues to rise online. We may reach my original $45,000 goal after all.
That is really something. Really really something to be proud of, for all involved, certainly not just me. And more than anything, everyone should be proud of the very brave souls who climbed into those barber chairs and allowed strangers to shave their heads completely bald. It is not a small thing to do. It is a big thing, even for the men with little hair. Even for the littlest kids who don’t care what they look like. Especially for the women and girls who do. It is a serious and powerful statement to make to the children currently battling cancer. And to all those who love them.
I’m only gonna mange to tell a couple of the stories tonight, so you’ll all have to check back tomorrow. But let’s start with the father-son team who went head-to-head in a heated battle to see who could raise more money. The younger won (ah, youth always wins, doesn’t it?), by about $80, but together they raised more than $6000. Now that’s a competition we can all support.
We don’t actually know them all that well, but when asked why they shave, the father simply said, “We do this for Austin.”
And then there was Erica, who emailed me out of the blue a few months ago asking if women could join our event too. “Sure,” I told her, knowing women generate lots of buzz (and donations!). She wasn’t the first or only woman to sign up, but I could tell from the beginning that she was serious about this. She was driven, as I mentioned in an earlier post, by an intense fear that one of her young children might one day have cancer. And like a true hero, not one spurred into action by disaster that’s already struck, she saw this as an opportunity to do something before she was ever impacted. To do something right now. And boy, did she ever. Erica raised more than $3000, taking the coveted first place fundraising spot for our event. And she did it with courage and grace and beauty.
There were so many more fabulous parts to the day but a picture is worth a thousand words and I have a few hundred pictures, so I’m going to add some more here and then post again tomorrow, including about a mother-daughter team and all the CHUH kids. I’m still working on a public photo gallery on Flickr, but it’s not quite ready. For now, I’m inspired by this image that was posted on the St Baldrick’s Facebook page last week:
And here are our very own, “Oh my god, I’m actually doing this!” photos:
And with those slightly stunned, pretty excited and damn proud faces, I leave you. But only until tomorrow, I promise.
We are in our final days before the clippers start buzzing and the hair starts flying. And the ticker on our event page showing how much money we’ve raised keeps moving moving moving ever closer to our goal. Our 60 shavees and 5 hair donors are now at over $25,000 and seem to be raising more than $2000 a day!
But of course, that’s not fast enough and it’s not beyond me to make one final push on behalf of my children. They are each about 75% of the way towards their $2500 goals and with just a few extra donations could reclaim their first and second place fundraising spots. Braedan’s page can be found here and Austin’s here. I know there are many children you all know who are shaving so if you’d rather put that money down on someone else’s head, that’s perfectly fine — it all goes to the same place, after all. But, while I know it seems easier to just give a general donation to the event or to a specific team, the kids really do love to see their own dollars raised go up. So if you could just pick one, even one you may not know, especially if they’ve raised very little, and give in honor of Austin or your school or anybody you wish to acknowledge, that would make the kids feel so special.
There have been a few really sweet things that have come out of this experience, as always. The little brother a shavee handed over some carefully saved up bills to his mother and was concerned about how to split them up among all the kids he knows who are shaving. His mother assured him it was easy to divide that twenty (doesn’t look easy to a 6-year old, of course) and took the time to make small donations on the heads of about six or seven Fairfax kids. The kindergarten teacher of a preschool friend of Austin’s highlighted how this child’s sacrifice reflected the IB learner traits of being caring, risk-taking and principled. She sent this message home to parents and the following day, all the little students brought in handfuls of change and crumpled bills to donate.
There’s also a father-son shaving team engaged in a head-to-head (get it?) battle to see who will raise the most money. They are both well over $1,500 and a mere $25 separates them as of this posting. If the father wins, the son has to clean his room. And if the son wins, he gets to write on his dad’s head with a permanent marker. I don’t know about you, but room cleaning seems mighty boring so I’m rooting for the son.
And tomorrow, I will go to Fernway School in Shaker to speak to their kindergarten and first grade classes about cancer and St. Baldrick’s in honor of that school’s shaving team. Then in the afternoon, I get to speak with the three kindergarten classes at Fairfax, which is really something because not only is Austin allowing me to do such a thing, he actually asked for it! And on Saturday morning, the preschool/day care center of my nephews Van and Hill is hosting a pancake breakfast to raise funds for St Baldrick’s. So, yet again, we are moved and touched by the broad community support we’ve received so far.
And now, there are just four days left. If you’ve been planning to make a donation, NOW would be a fabulous time to do it. And if you want to bake treats for the bake sale, just let me know. I’m requesting St Patrick’s themed goodies, but anything will do.
Of course, you are all welcome to come and cheer on our shavees on Sunday afternoon. We’ll be at the Cleveland Heights Community Center from 1 to 4 pm and I guarantee you’ll have fun and be plenty inspired. Heck, you might even decide to hop in the barber’s chair yourself!
Twenty days from right now, I will be surrounded by bald children. And I hope that you will be too.
Our St. Baldrick’s head-shaving event for kids and teens (and adults) is fast approaching, now less than three weeks away. We currently have 31 registered shavees, which isn’t awful but I know there are many many more out there who’ve said they plan to sign up. Now is the time, people! If you need to be re-inspired, go back and look at these posts from last year’s event: Noble, which talks about the bravery of the Fairfax students: Heroes, short and sweet, but gets me every time (and I wrote the darn post); Thank You filled with pictures from our event; and The Petri Dish, with more pictures and the very important message that every single dollar raised makes a difference to children living with cancer and their families. I also urge you to spend three minutes and watch this video put together by St Baldrick’s.
And then, right when you’re feeling sufficiently emotional, visit our event site to sign up or donate. Braedan’s page can be found here, and I must tell you that this boy loves his hair. He wills it to grow the second he’s done shaving and isn’t satisfied until about six months later, when it starts to skim his eyebrows again. He really loves it long. So much so that I told him he didn’t need to shave this year if he didn’t want to. But oh no, he said then his friends would be less likely to shave and he wants everyone to do it so he will too. He is now motivated by the prospect of earning his knighthood by the time he’s in 6th grade, as shavees who’ve been involved for seven years are welcomed ceremoniously into the Knights of the Bald Table.
And then there’s Austin, who cares little about how he looks. His message is linked here and copied below because it’s a good one (what a little writer that 6-year old is, huh??):
Numbers, numbers, numbers . . . here are my numbers: I’m 6 years old; I’ve had cancer twice; this is my third year as a St. Baldrick’s shavee; I’ve had six abdominal surgeries, 13 months of chemo and 12 rounds of radiation; I have half of one kidney; I am a two-time cancer survivor and I am two-and-a-half years CANCER-FREE.
More numbers: Last year, I was one of 5 St. Baldrick’s Ambassador Kids and helped the organization raise more than $33 million. I was joined at the Cleveland Heights head-shaving event by 48 other shavees, including 9 kids from my preschool and 11 from what is now my elementary school. Altogether, we raised over $38,000.
This year, I ask you to consider these numbers: 38 children are diagnosed with cancer every day, 46 if you count teens and young adults. One in five of them won’t survive.
So join me. Shave your head, donate your time, contribute some money. Let’s solve this.
As I said in my email appeal for donations, I sometimes feel selfish for asking so often for others to support our causes. But then I remember that this is not about us, this is not about Austin, as he will hopefully never need to benefit from the medical advances that St Baldrick’s funds today. This is about who comes next. This is for the kid who’s diagnosed today and the one who’s diagnosed tomorrow. This is for their siblings. And this is for their parents.
So join us. Shave your head, donate your time, contribute some money. Let’s solve this.
How’s this for a little feel-good magic?
Is that not the coolest thing ever? My boys are wowed … and inspired! I’m sending them out to the backyard with some boxes and duct tape tomorrow. And I hope hundreds of thousands of other parents are too.
I guess we’ll have to add that cardboard arcade in east L.A. to our list of Must-Visit places with the kids. Along with Breadan’s current obsession, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home and museum in Mansfield, Missouri. (What can I say? He’s well-rounded.)