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There were many times over the past five years when I was struck by the incredibly kind — and often completely random — outpouring of support we received from our community.  Moms I’d never been introduced to would offer me tearful hugs in the hallways of the preschool.  People I hadn’t seen in years would drop meals off at our house. Old friends my kids had never met would offer to babysit or take Braedan on an outing when we were in the hospital and I’d have to politely turn them down because no way was I shipping that boy off with anyone he didn’t know. People would tell me that they think of us every day and pray for us every night and cry for us, wish for us, hope for us. Sometimes, I couldn’t help but think, “Really? You do?”

But then tragedy strikes elsewhere and I totally get it. The shoe is on the other foot as I find myself thinking day and night about the woman who lost her husband completely unexpectedly a week ago. I’d known her a tiny bit when our oldest were babies and then I’d seen her at the grocery store every now and again. And then our kids were on the same baseball team this spring when, suddenly, she’s on my mind nonstop. A widow just my age. With three little kids. So I offer to pick up her boys and take them to baseball practice even though I barely knew their names a week ago. And I sign up to deliver a meal. And Mark asks me to run by her house to make sure her lawn doesn’t need mowing.

And then there’s another family we know, whose son is slowly dying after a brutal ten-year battle with cancer.  And I find myself sharing their story and getting choked up as I repeat over and over again how damn hard they’ve fought. How endlessly long and endlessly hard they’ve fought for all these years . . . and now there’s an end. So I obsessively check their Facebook pages for the latest news, glance down their street as I drive past like it will tell me something.  And I wonder — am I just being nosy? Is this rubbernecking at a car accident? But I feel such a strong need to know so I can … what? Drop off more food? Send a card?

I understand now. I understand how you all felt — both hopeless and hopeful, a little bit guilty for your curiosity, for taking such an intimate glimpse at another family’s suffering, and yet consumed by it. I know why you followed us, sometimes quietly, with such consistency, for so many years. I understand the cookies and the muffins and the casseroles and the coffee. I feel the drive to give that tearful hug. I get it. We all just want to do something. We want to somehow ease the paths of those in crisis. We wish that they could take that huge chunk of sadness they’re forced to bear and break it up into tiny, more manageable pieces. That they could pass off those pieces to their friends and neighbors and, yes, to mere acquaintances and probably even total strangers. We could all handle just one small piece of their sadness, that wouldn’t be too much.  We could just quietly hold on to it for them, to lighten their burden, and maybe trade a little piece of our own strength or joy or peace.

We can’t, of course, but we can want to. That wanting is worth something. It was worth something to me at least. And hopefully it’s worth something to them.

I’ve finally uploaded all of Dallas’ pictures to a Kodak Gallery, found here. I have more to add from both Mark’s and my dad’s cameras. The cool thing about these public galleries is that you can all add your photos to the one album and then we’ll have a huge array of images to look at and choose from to represent that very special day.

Also, I finally received a link to the piece on Fox News. There are actually two, one from last Sunday and another from this past Friday that has our event intermingled with the A.J. Rocco’s and U.S. events. (U.S., by the way, has passed us by, having raised a total of $46,365 with 65 heads shaved. Oh well, it was all in honor of Austin and it all goes to the best place.  But … next year!). The clip of our event (the second one down) is sort of silly because the cameraman picked the worst possible moment to interview me, right between introducing people and while Breadan was shaving (which I completely missed).  But I’m pretty sure I had done a fine job, explaining St. Baldrick’s and the value of raising money and awareness and so on, when he asked me how this all makes me feel. How does it make me feel?  Well, you can see my jumbled response! I was trying to say something about Leah, because she had just finished shaving and the shock and awe and emotion of that moment was still fresh in my mind. But I got sidetracked and first mentioned Kristi and finally ended up looking over my shoulder to catch a quick glimpse of Braedan and whatever I said after that is laying on the cutting room floor.

Oh well, I guess they captured true emotion.

Speaking of true emotion, Saturday was another really special day. Just really … special.  These past five years of being involved with St. Baldrick’s has made St Patrick’s Day into a pretty significant holiday for our family.  And this year, with the boys being the national face of the head-shaving campaign, that significance has only grown.

We headed downtown into an extremely crowded and party-like atmosphere in the mid-afternoon. AJ Rocco’s was as crowded as ever, if not more so. We pushed out way through to the back where we gathered with family and friends and climbed onto a bench so we could watch the festivities from on high.

Finally, it was our turn and we pushed and shoved and squeezed our way to the stage in the corner. Mark and Kirk and Jay were all shaving together, with special permission granted to Braedan and Austin to help with Mark’s shearing. I love this photo below as the MC announced that it was us on the huge poster on the wall:

And then they began.  Braedan, naturally, hopped up and grabbed those buzzers and happily started shaving Daddy. Austin, naturally, hung back in my arms until watching his big brother have all the fun made him jealous enough to brave the crowds and he too scooted into Daddy’s lap and took his turn. Once they got started, there was no stopping them.

I have moments, every once in a while, when the enormity of all we’ve been through hits me like a ton of bricks.  All the years of fear and worry, of calling the hospital “home” and of waiting through eight and ten hour surgeries, of poking and sticking my poor boy’s battle-scarred body, of never knowing what fresh horror the next day might hold. And it came crashing down around me, right then as I felt so overwhelmingly relieved to watch my two healthy children shave their father’s head, so incredibly honored to have them represent this very special event the whole world over.

Now, some of you may say, “That’s great, let the feelings come, don’t hold back.” But really, standing in a crowded bar on a holiday in the middle of downtown Cleveland is neither the time nor the place to really break down. So I shed a few tears and choked the rest back and took a lot of pictures and cheered them on, so full of pride and amazement at how we’d come through, so grateful for all the love and support we felt and still feel around us.

And then it was over. They were done and stood up to show off their nicely shaped domes. Then it was more beers and sending the kids home with their aunt and take-out so we could spend the rest of the evening celebrating.

There was one other moment worth mentioning though. As you might imagine, bringing your kids into any downtown bar on St Patrick’s Day in Cleveland is risky business. And while A.J.Rocco’s has given our city a huge gift by hosting this event over the past ten years, it is, nonetheless overcrowded with post-Parade partiers.  Most of the people were there specifically for St. Baldrick’s, but some had undoubtedly wandered in off the streets.  And while mine were not the only kids there, they were among just a handful. So, as we were waiting our turn, tucked away in a corner, this one woman walked by a few times and shot some very dirty looks in our direction. Later, as Mark was watching one of our nurses shave her head, with Austin perched on his shoulders, this woman leaned in to say, “He shouldn’t be here.”

Oooh, man, I wish she’d said it to me because I’ve been fantasizing about what I’d have said back ever since Mark told me. But my husband, Mr Cool and Collected, just calmly replied, “You’re gonna regret saying that in about ten minutes.” She clearly had no idea what was going on there that day.

Because of every one of the hundreds of people squashed into that narrow little bar, Austin deserved to be there most of all.

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.

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