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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Over the past week, I’ve been called an inspiration, a powerhouse and — my personal fave — a force of nature. While that all makes me feel really, really good, this is not a one-woman-show, people. There is an army of volunteers who stand behind me and beside me without whom our event could never happen.

First of all, the barbers. They are on their feet shaving head after head after head for hours on end. They hunch over the little kids and let the very littlest stand up in the chairs. They calm the nervous shaking bodies and they comfort the crying. They laugh and they cheer and they do it with style.

So, a most enormous and heartfelt THANK YOU to Alex Quintana and his crew from Quintana’s: Theo, Mike and Jessica.

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And, of course, to the fabulous Shawn Paul, aided and abetted by Bethany and Angela.

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Thank you also to Rachel and Megan from Kreate and Rick, Laura, Racheal and Caroline, without whom there would be no bald heads (and what would be the point of that?).

Thank you to my tireless Treasurers and Registrars: Becky, Ann, Christie, Nancy (mom), Mark (honey), Jennifer, Julie, Julie, Kristy, Brenna, Ashlie, and Melissa. No one could check in and no one could give money if it weren’t for your hard work (and what would be the point of that?).

Thank you to everyone who worked at the Bake Sale table, especially Shari, Sheryl, Joe, Simon, and Logan, and of course, to everyone who baked for the Bake Sale, even though I have no idea who you are or what you brought. When I headed over to start emceeing, there were maybe two items on the table and when I finished four hours later, there was only one item on the table and I asked a volunteer if there had been any food at all. “Oh yes!” she assured me, and she must have been right because it brought in an additional $338. Nicely done on that!

Thank you to Simone Quartell for donating the American Girl Doll and to Nancy, Nicole, Kristi and Amelia for selling raffle tickets. We made one little girl very happy, plus raised another $478 for cancer research.

Thank you to anyone and everyone who stepped in and did jobs small — sweeping up all the hair off the floor (Nancy and Caroline) — and big — taking all the beautiful photos which you will soon get to see (Dallas and Sagi).

Thank you to the City of Cleveland Heights for so graciously hosting us year after year.

Thank you to Jason for helping me celebrate my own knight in shining armor, Mark, as he was inducted into the Knights of the Bald Table. I think your bagpiping skills served a recruiting tool for next year and the year after that as we now have lots of little boys (and girls) eagerly awaiting their own knighthoods.

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I couldn’t hold the microphone, the St Baldrick’s-issued wand and the script all at the same time!

And, of course, without question, the biggest, deepest, most well-earned THANK YOU to all the men, women, boys, and girls who shaved their heads or donated their locks on behalf of sick children. The entire room was overflowing with raw and honest examples of generosity and kindness. The incredible bravery of our shavees was matched only by their pure joy at having done something so special.

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This is a composite of kids from Team Fairfax centered around Becca, in whose honor they all shaved. And, yes, those are four GIRLS in the pics on top, demonstrating the truest meaning of friendship. Braedan happily reported that no one was made fun of at school today (and good thing because if they were, I would have marched my ass in there and gone house on those kids whose classes I spoke to all day Friday) and that they were congratulated by many, many, many. He feels like they’re all part of something bigger, like they’ve shared an important life experience that has brought them closer (“even,” as he noted tonight with some amazement, “the girls”). It is a powerful lesson these children have learned together. And I am so glad to have been part of it.

I have a thousand other stories to tell and about that many photos to share so check back in the next few days. But for now, I simply say Thank You.

It was wonderful.

In addition to all the time I’ve spent preparing our final paperwork today, not to mention being distracted by the continuous updates and beautiful photos posted on Facebook, the real reason I haven’t updated yet is that I don’t even quite know where to begin.

I guess I’ll begin with the most obvious words: THANK YOU.

Thank you to absolutely everyone involved in every way. Thank you to my tireless volunteers, the beautiful registrars who welcomed everyone to the event: Becky, Ann (Austin’s old nurse practitioner, who’s not old at all) and my mom. Thank you to the brilliant and trustworthy (and also beautiful) treasurers who collected all your money: Julie, Brenna and Mark.

An extra thank you to Mark for doing every single other thing I asked of him, including not complaining about the state of our house over the past week or so. Instead, he up and mopped the kitchen floor on Friday.  Love that man.

Thank you to the happy faces who sold (and gave away) the delicious treats from our Bake Sale table: Betsy, Luci and Peg, and my mom and dad.  And thanks to the talented bakers — I don’t even know who made all of that food, but everything I saw (or tried!) was fabulous. We made an additional $213 (thanks to people who read my sign):

Thank you to the City of Cleveland Heights, who were gracious and supportive and easy to work with, every step of the way.

Thank you to the endlessly hard-working women of Cut Hair Studio: Laura, Breanna, Mandy and Britney. You worked quickly and tirelessly and put everyone at ease.

Thank you to Dallas, who took all these beautiful pictures and many many more. I will upload them all over the next day or two to a public site so everyone can browse them and even order some if you want. Dallas, as with everything you do, these are just perfect.

Thank you to Balloon Bender Dave, who I never met but I could see him there in the back of the room entertaining the kids. Thank you to Faith and the kids from the MacConmarra Irish dance Academy, who drove all the way from Akron to show their moves and add a bit of Irish flair to our event.

Thank you to the Heights High Singers who got short shrift because we were so engaged in the head-shaving when they arrived that we simply didn’t give them the attention they deserved.

And now … now that I’ve warmed myself up a bit, now it is time to say thank you to the incredible and incredibly brave shavees. Oh, I wish Braedan were still awake because he’s my walking thesaurus and I don’t know how many times I can use the words wonderful and generous and fantastic and brave and, oh what else would he say? Maybe stupendous and stellar and spectacular… Inspiring and uplifting and moving. Heroic. You were all all of those things.

Kid after kid, some seeming much smaller than they had just a few days earlier, walking right up to those seats and hopping up and scrunching their little eyes shut as the hairs began to drift down their faces. They sat still, with very few tears, and let strip after strip of hair fall to the floor. And they were so proud; those bright clear faces, no longer hidden behind shaggy bangs, just beamed. They beamed.

So many parents told me what I already knew, that this was an incredible and rare opportunity for these kids, some as young as three, to truly make a difference, to feel the impact they’re having on the world. Those little kids impacted their world.  That’s a big deal.

It wasn’t just kids, of course. We had several adult shavees, including a couple of fathers who shaved alongside their sons, beautiful images of families doing something big and important side-by-side (which is exactly where we should be when we do things big and important).

There was a sweet older man who stopped me on the way out to say that he’d sent a message to his brother to tell him what he was doing, only to hear back that the brother had already signed up for an event wherever he lives, somewhere like Florida, without knowing!

And, of course, there was Kristi. I knew it would be a big deal, for me and for everyone there, but I can never quite predict which moments are going to get me. This moment got me. As I started to introduce her, right in the beginning because she was afraid to wait around too long and had requested an early slot, I just lost it. I couldn’t even begin. I pulled it together but I’m not even sure what I said, except for leading the crowd in a brief — but I hope rousing — round of “Glaaaa-sier! Glaaa-sier! Glaaaa-sier!”

I know that I did say what a hugely powerful statement she was making to all the young girls gathered there, especially her students. In fourth grade, they’re right at that age when physical appearance starts to take on an enormous and often unfortunate value in their lives. Here was a role model telling them that there are more important things in life than having nice hair:

I know for a fact that at least one of these sweet girls is thinking seriously about shaving her head next year.

Now that was the only moment, nope, not at all. As you know, there was a woman, a fellow Fairfax mom, who shaved her head on Austin’s behalf two years ago. You can read that story here, because that was definitely another St. Baldrick’s high. This year, her three sons, in second, sixth and eighth grades, shaved their heads:

 

As soon as they’d finished, I had turned away from the seats for one brief minute, when Mark came and tapped me on the shoulder, urging me to look back.  There, scrambling into the barber’s chair, all eager and certain, was their little sister, sweet four-year-old Leah, pigtails and all. She had been toying with the idea of shaving over the past two months, one day she’d want to join her big brothers and next door neighbor, the next she’d rather be Rapunzel. But after watching her three heroes and then seeing Kristi shave her own head, well, that did it … Leah was in.

And, if you can believe it, that’s still not all. There was a mother-daughter team who shaved together this year for the second time, in honor of their little cousin, who lost her battle at age two.  Well, it wasn’t until I announced them and mentioned the girl’s name that Ann, the “old” nurse working the Welcome table, realized she had treated that girl. Oh, there were lots of tears and hugs following that one. Peg, the mom, had emailed me a few weeks ago to see if I knew of any children who had survived cancer who might help shave her head. Uuuuhhh, yeah, I think I know one of those:

What a day. There’s still more, including countless more pictures, and links to all the media from yesterday.

But, for right now, all I can say is THANK YOU.

I just keep raising that goal and we just keep meeting it.  We’ve now raised over $23,500 and are well on our way to exceeding our $25,000 event goal. Not only are we doing well, but St. Baldrick’s events across the country are breaking all previous fundraising records. Every time another million dollars is raised, there’s a short piece in the “Head”lines section of the website’s homepage, featuring shavees or researchers or kids affected by cancer. A photo of Braedan and Austin was used to announce the $5 million mark and we’d been planning to take a picture of eleven kids with shaved heads at our event on Sunday the 11th to announce the $11 million mark … but they reached it yesterday! They’re assigning us another number for Sunday, well into the future.

But the kids and I are in the $12 million picture, taken last week at the Bluffton event, which just appeared on the website, a mere 24 hours after the $11 million picture! Austin (in green hat) and I are over to the right and Braedan is hidden right under the number 12. .

Tomorrow is Green Hair Day for the shavees at both boys’ schools, so I’ll be outside spraying away (nothing like breathing in hairspray fumes first thing in the morning).  It’s a nice way to raise awareness of childhood cancer and St. Baldrick’s among the staff, students and families, as well as a chance to celebrate the bravery and generosity of so many young people. The kids have really taken this and run with it. I think we parents all struggle with finding the right opportunities to engage our kids in meaningful giving.  I know I’ve tried to involve the boys in charitable endeavors, especially during the holiday season, but they’re often kept so separate from the actual beneficiaries of their kindness that it loses some of its impact. Participating in St. Baldrick’s gives them a chance to really DO something tangible and visible, to make a true difference in a way they can feel and understand.

Not to mention, the events are fun! I’m so looking forward to both Sunday and the AJ Rocco’s event the following week (and, of course, I’m looking forward to Monday when it’s all over and all I have to do is write thank you notes and mail in our checks!). But for now, we’ve got three days of nonstop St. Baldrick’s: Tomorrow morning, I’ll go in and talk to the three second grade classes about childhood cancer (I’ll use my old weeds in the garden analogy), highlighting the impressive engagement of eight of Braedan’s peers. Then in the afternoon, Austin and I will go down to Rainbow, where the doctors and nurses who usually shave at AJ Rocco’s will be shaving instead with the young patients as their audience.  That one should be moving, to say the least. Then Saturday morning is the pancake breakfast at my nephew Van’s day care. Have any of you seen that enormous sign out in front of First Baptist on Fairmount and Eaton? I came across it on a run the other day and was stopped in my tracks by those three gorgeous faces, who look nothing like my current shaggy little beasts.  And then, of course, Sunday.

And then, … rest? Relaxation?  Nah, there’s always something else coming down the pipeline …

There are so many reasons we love St. Baldrick’s. Of course, the very necessary research they fund is the main one. But these events and the shavees give us so much more than that.

Here are some of the gifts, large and small, we’ve received from our involvement with St. Baldrick’s this year.

There are tangible gifts, actual boxes that arrived in the mail and were excitedly torn open:

And then there are the gifts that could never pack up and mail, no matter how big the box. One middle school boy, who’s shaving at our event, is honoring his aunt who died nearly one year to the day of March 11. He originally set a goal of $500 but, upon seeing the reaction of his friends and family, quickly raised it to $1000 and had now increased it to $1,500. The husband of one of my best friends is also shaving, as part of Team Gallagher at AJ Rocco’s (along with Mark and my brother Kirk). This friend said he would happily have donated $1,000 on his own if he could, but since he can’t, he’ll raise it instead. And raise it has, in a mere 24 hours.

And there are more gifts, sometimes in place of gifts: One of the six shavees from St Paul’s Cooperative Preschool had his 5th birthday party over the weekend and requested donations to St Baldrick’s in lieu of presents.

The youngest shavee in our group, my four-year-old nephew Van, has spawned an event of his own. The staff at his day care were so inspired by what he was doing that they’ve organized a pancake breakfast to be held the day before our head-shaving, to which all the families have been invited. Austin and I will attend also and I will give a short talk. They’re making faces on the pancakes so they’ll resemble perfectly oval bald heads. All the money they raise, which they predict could be $500, will be donated on Van’s head in honor of his effort. Austin loves pancakes and, as you an see from his St Baldrick’s Valentine (which was posted on their Twitter feed last week), he loves bald people too:

There are currently nine students from Fairfax Elementary shaving their heads alongside Braedan, seven of them his second grade classmates. Last night at dinner, he was asking how much each kid had raised and I told him that some of them were still just beginning and didn’t have much or any money yet. Without missing a beat, he said, “I think I should give some money to them. Maybe one dollar each.”  So tonight, my sweet charitable eight-year-old, will hand over some crumpled dollar bills (and a lot of coins) while I go through every page and place single dollar donations with my credit card. Love that boy.

And then there’s Mrs Glasier, fourth grade teacher at Fairfax, who set an extremely ambitious goal of raising $10,000. I will admit that I tried to talk her down to something more easily attainable, but she wouldn’t hear it. She’s only a small way there but this is a determined woman and I trust that she will keep asking, begging, pleading, cajoling and threatening until she reaches that goal, even if it’s not til after the event.

Another teacher in on the act (though not in the shaving kind of way!) is the boys’ preschool teacher who has insisted on going through and making a small donation on the individual pages of each current or former student and their siblings. I has suggested she could save a lot of time by making a few bigger donations, perhaps one to Team Austin and one to Team Fairfax, but no, she said she wanted each child to see their amount go up and see her name in their online lists of donors. She has spent years working with young children, after all, and she knows them well.

There’s another woman shaving at our event alongside her young daughter, who emailed to see if I knew any child who has or had cancer who might want to help shave her head.  Huh, do I ever! I told her I couldn’t guarantee the quality of Austin’s head-shaving skills but she didn’t bat an eye (this obviously isn’t for the vain).

So, we receive these gifts large and small, a dollar here, a dollar there. One more shavee registered today and another tomorrow. One more sign of love and support for us and for all the others who’ve traveled this road before and all those who will travel it after us. It all adds up to something big and powerful. Actually, it all adds up to $5 million, raised in record-breaking time. Check out today’s St. Baldrick’s headlines. Recognize anyone underneath all that hair?

And then take a second (four minutes actually, but it’s worth it) to watch these two brothers. The wisdom of kids ….

 

 

 

My boys have a bad case of the gimmes. And the early arrival of the holiday season is only making it worse. Breadan has already circled every single toy in the Target and Toys R Us catalogs, with the exception of princess and Barbie gear. He then stapled together seven sheets of paper to create a scroll for recording how much money all his gifts would cost, carefully adding it all together, remote control car by remote control car. He’s smart enough to round up (no $0.99 for this kid) and counted by tens to a whooping grand total of $1,940.00!

Okay, I thought. This is fine for a math lesson. But not so much for a life lesson.

So Mark and I have been trying to figure out how to help them see outside themselves and their ever-growing list of wants, wants, wants.  Especially considering that last year, they were the recipients of another family’s kindness and generosity. My, how quickly we forget.

I did a little online searching and found a few good options that will allow them to actively participate in giving: One is at Bellefaire, where they have Wish Lists — 2,300 of them in fact! — written by the children and teens they serve. Each list contains only two items, one “need” like cold weather gear and one “want.” This in and of itself is eye-opening for boys like mine who wouldn’t think of gloves or boots as a worthy Christmas present. Maybe something you get, sure, but not something you actually ask for. So we’re going over on Wednesday to sift through the lists until we find some written by boys aged 4 and 7 and then it’s off to Target.

Then there is  Providence House, which is a “crisis nursery” (that name sort of says it all, doesn’t it?). Their holiday wish list was sad to even read because it had such basic needs on it: diapers and wipes, toilet paper and laundry detergent, canned veggies and baby formula. We talked about it tonight at dinner and the boys were amazed that someone could lack such basic items. Braedan wanted to make sure that the kids still got gifts from Santa, which I answered in a roundabout way — “Well, yes, because they’re still good children, they haven’t been naughty, but usually only one gift.” (I didn’t want to ruin the magic of Santa but also didn’t want to let him take the responsibility of these children off anyone else’s hands.)  Austin immediately suggested we count out the money in our change jar so we could go to the grocery store and start filling boxes. We spent the next hour on the dining room floor, stacking out coins, Braedan carefully counting the nickels and quarters while I tackled the dimes and pennies, and discovered we had an impressive $77 (not including the $5 worth of quarters we set aside so Mark can park near the courthouse). That, coupled with the change in Braedan’s “give” jar and whatever else they find over the next two weeks ought to make for a lot of canned veggies.

I figure if we can turn even just a little of their get-get-getting into give-give-giving — and actually make it exciting and enjoyable — then we’ve done a pretty good job.

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.

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