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There’s something about your own kid growing up that makes it feel unique to you, as if no one else has ever had the surreal experience of watching their child — the one they’d rocked to sleep and pushed on a swing — suddenly morph into a tween or a teen or (horror of horrors) an actual adult.

I’m feeling that way with Braedan right now, as we look ahead to his 5th grade promotion ceremony, a mere six weeks away. From this little critter, so eager to walk to his first day of kindergarten . . .

First day

September 2009

. . . to the mature and confident (and sports and tech-obsessed) eleven-year old he’s become.

I am so glad he’s spent this six-year journey of growth and discovery at Fairfax School. I’m one of those parents who doesn’t actually think you should shop around for schools. Might sounds strange coming from a former teacher, in a world where all good parents search through every possible option to pick the very best for each individual child. I had fleeting moments of guilt, in those early days, for not putting more effort or thought into it. But I tend to think, unless something’s seriously wrong, you just attend your local neighborhood public school and take what comes. That’s what most parents did in my day. All the kids on the block, with the exception of a few Catholic families, simply went to their public school.

Now there are state rankings and test scores and data to pour over, tours and interviews and “educational philosophies” to consider. Like so much of modern parenting, picking a school for a five-year old requires an advanced degree. And causes undue stress, because no option out there is ever going to be perfect and yet our kids will still be okay.

In our case, we signed Braedan up for the one we could walk down the street to and that was that. He hasn’t always been thrilled with school, he had one year in particular that was less than stellar. But it helped him grow, it taught him he could be resilient and thrive in any environment. And taken as a whole, especially from this reminiscent vantage point, Braedan’s elementary experience has been wonderful. He’s had teachers he loves who he knows love him back. He’s learned an extraordinary amount (way more than I learned when I was a student in the same building). He’s had the chance to enroll in after-school activities that range from drama and racquetball to cycling and skiing. He’s done things few elementary kids have the opportunity to do, like sing on the stage at Severance Hall or spend three nights in the Cuyahoga Valley with his classmates exploring the great outdoors.

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And his friends. Well, being that he’s a very social creature (understatement), his friends have been the highlight of it all. And he is friends with everybody. Especially this year, with his grade so deeply connected by their role as building leaders and their shared history, I can think of very very few children he wouldn’t call friends.

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I’ve watched him rally his schoolmates around causes he believes in, like Purple for Becca Day or St. Baldrick’s. In kindergarten he was the lone shavee in that building. By second grade, he had a few friends alongside him. This year. . . take a look.

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More than anything else, I’m so happy that he and Austin both attend school in a building and in a district where there is such a high premium on nice. That’s the biggest difference I see between the Heights schools I attended in the 70s and 80s and the Heights schools of today (I guess Heights has changed, after all). I don’t think we were particularly cruel or anything, but we were much more concerned with being cool than with being nice, even by 5th grade. Kindness and tolerance and acceptance are now celebrated and honored from kindergarten through 12th grade. Of course, this isn’t the case for every single child every single day across the board (they are human). But when I hear from parents who’ve moved their kids from local private and parochial schools into Heights schools (and especially into Heights High), one of the things they rave about the most is how nice their children’s peers are.

I’m so proud of Braedan for all he’s accomplished in his first six years of schooling. And I’m so excited for all the incredible opportunities that lie before him as he moves into Roxboro and eventually Heights.

But I still can’t believe that this little LeBraedan is actually growing up . . .

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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.”

Every once in a while, it’s nice to be reminded of all that is right in the world. We hear stories every day of death and destruction, fire and hatred and political wrangling. Incompetence and sickness, war and poverty. This is what glares from the headlines and blares from the news programs.

But there are bright spots that too often get overlooked. Of course, Thursday my faith in the inherent fairness of our system of government was “upheld.” But politics aside, here are two really great clips if you’re feeling down.  Many of you have seen the first on Facebook, where it made its rounds last week. It’s so worth reading through again though because it is filled with touching and surprising acts of humanity and kindness. My favorites — although it’s hard to choose — are the man in Melbourne jumping into the water to save that woman’s dog and the old Japanese men volunteering to work in the clean-up of the nuclear power plant. Oh wait, and the letter from the three-year-old girl to the grocery store (did you notice the age of the responder?) and the man giving away his shoes, and the  . . . Oh, just check it out yourself.

The second is a bit long, but I highly recommend watching it through to the end because the last minute is the best part.  Kids get a bum rap these days, for being selfish, hooked on technology, obsessed with wealth and fame, ignorant of the struggles of those who came before them. But this video shows young people coming together in a way that can only be described as beautiful.

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Take a few minutes. Let your faith in humanity be restored. If we look closely, we’ll see that there are acts of beauty and kindness all around us. Now go, and have a nice day.

I’ve been struggling. Focusing in on the absolute worst possible outcome in any given scenario. Certain that Austin would fall victim to every “rare but serious” side effect listed for each of his drugs (things that range from permanent hearing loss to irreversible organ failure to the big D). Wondering how many children I’d be buying Christmas gifts for next year.

But it’s lifting. I am, yet again, rising. Today has been a much better day. Austin is back, full force. He’s playing and eating and laughing and snorting like a pig (his new thing for some unknown reason). His resilience, his ability to get back up after being knocked down and down and down, reminds me to hope.

It started lifting last night. We’d finished dinner and I was standing there paralyzed by the mess in my kitchen and Mark told me to take some time off. “Stop worrying about whether you and I are putting in equal time right now. It doesn’t have to be equal; it has to be about meeting each other’s needs. Right now, you need a break. I don’t. The tables will turn and when they do, I can break down and you will step up.”

So I left. Went to Heinen’s and Target. Studied food labels for potassium and bought a few last minutes stocking stuffers, along with thermometers, hospital slippers and children’s Tylenol. I wandered around the store in a daze, thinking of my incredible husband and my incredible children. Struck by the goodness and kindness in my life and by the misery and cruelty in my life. The two opposite forces converging all at once, toppling over each other, jostling for position. Wondering which would win out, which would prove to be stronger in the end.

I drove home listening to the “holiday music station,” which is a form of torture in and of itself between the longing of “home for Christmas” songs to the new meaning behind “All I Want For Christmas is YOU” (not to mention the thoroughly annoying “The Twelve Pains of Christmas” which makes me want to shake someone: “Oh really? You couldn’t find a parking spot at the mall??”). But as I passed the twinkling lights on the houses, driving slowly with no traffic around, I was calmed. I pulled into the driveway of my full house and walked in my backdoor to the sound of laughter.

My three boys, one big, one medium and one little, were running around playing hide and seek. And laughing.

Goodness wins.

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