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My dad and I balanced on our skis at the top of a mountain in Colorado and watched. In front of us, a little critter all bundled  up in his snowsuit and helmet went whooshing by, in a classic “pizza” snow plow, heading confidently down the blue square. His big brother, taking a break from his newly tackled black diamonds, zoomed in front with near parallel skis.

“Not bad,” my dad said, “for a kid who should be dead.”

Sounds crass, I know, but he’s only putting words to the thought that runs through my mind each and every day. As I watch Austin ride his two-wheel bike all the way to school or execute a perfect front flip on the trampoline or master the Rocky Mountains.  “Not bad,” I can’t help but think ….

I prefer the less certain “could be dead” though. Because he should be doing exactly what he’s doing: biking, flipping, laughing, skiing, living.

We were doing some repairs to the ceiling in Austin’s closet last week and so removed all of its contents to his bedroom floor (boy, that was scary).  Along with a silly array of clothes, shoes, blankets, puzzles and too small snowpants came his bag of wishing stars. It had been tucked away on the back of a shelf since his last overnight stay at the hospital, more than a year and a half ago.

I always brought it along with us, even if we were scheduled for just a single night. I usually only put a few of our favorite stars up, just enough to decorate the room a bit and give me that necessary feeling of security, as if those stars were watching over my little one as he lay in that bed. The longer we stayed or the more major a procedure he was getting, the more stars went up. In those dreadful days and weeks leading up to Christmas 2009, his room looked like this:

But we got lazier as our visits went on and on (and on), and I would try to get by with hanging only ten stars at a time.  Austin was no fan of this and once scolded me, “This room looks ugly! We need more stars!” He certainly made sure we never left the house for a hospital visit without that overflowing paper bag full of wishes.

I’ve thought on and off about what I should do with them now to ensure that they last.  The stars from his first round of cancer were long ago inserted into a photo album for posterity. But those were all made by me, transcribing the wishes of others, so they were much flatter and simpler than the spectacular, glittery, bedazzled stars made by all of you.

I suppose I should at least photograph each individual star before they get too wrinkled and crumpled in that bag.

But anyway, that bag.  The kids must have gone through at least a few of them because there were some on top that were not part of our regular rotation, some I haven’t seen in a good long while. Including one from my father that said, “I wish that Austin and I will go skiing together next winter.” I remember at the time thinking, “Oh that’s sweet … but not gonna happen.” Not the very next winter at least.

But it did happen. My dad wrote that wish in December 2009 and by the following winter, March 2011, just fifteen months later, they went skiing together down the mountains of Park City, Utah. (It wasn’t a very successful skiing adventure, that day, but that’s a story for another time.) But the remarkable fact is that they did it. They skied. Together. The very next winter.

 The wish came true.

And I started wondering: How many more of those wishes have already come true? How many of us — friends and family and strangers — wished for my little boy and how many of those wishes have actually happened?

And the answer is a lot of them. All the simple little ones like laughter and giggles, cartwheels and playdates, going to school and making friends and riding a bike. He’s done all those things. He does them every day. He’s had that sleepover in the tent (well, he didn’t last the whole night, but still …), he’s gone sledding down Coventry Hill and boating on Lake Chautauqua. He’s met his little cousins and visited with friends far and near.  And the biggest wishes have come true too. He is here, after all. He is with us, and so is his kidney, chugging along.

He’s checking’em off, one by one. His own joy-filled bucket list. That he has many many years to complete.

We just returned from five days of spring skiing in Park City, Utah, home of my youngest brother Cory, who skis at least 120 days a year. The rest of us? Not so much. Mark and I took the kids twice this winter to the low but icy hills of Northeast Ohio to prepare them for this trip, our first out west since before we had children.

I wasn’t sure how it would all go, whether the kids would be able to handle the mountains, whether Mark and I would get to ski (or relax!) at all, whether the whole thing would be worth it. The first day, Cory hooked them up with a friend who’s a ski instructor for kids. He came to the house and geared them up like little snowy spacemen and off they went, looking ready for anything.

Mark and I got some time in on the mountain before heading back to await their return, set for 2:30. Cory was already back after having seen them and reported they were doing fine. 2:30 came and went, then 3, then 3:30. Cory was in touch with his friend so we knew everything was alright, but I was worried nonetheless that Austin would be stressed out. He’s one of those kids who can act all capable and independent when he’s forced to be capable and independent but then breaks down upon his return to me. So finally my dad and Cory drive out to pick them up at the base of the mountain (the rest of us could ski in and out of the house but it was at the bottom of a slope too steep for either boy).

I was certain Austin would have toughed it out all day only to fall apart in my arms with exhausted tears the second he walked through the door. Well, lo and behold, they march into the house still in their helmets and goggles giving high fives and exclaiming about what an “awesome” time they’d had. They proceeded to eat and drink and hop in the hot tub like the most experienced skiers around (they didn’t drink the same stuff as the most experienced skiers though!).

Apres ski

Next day, they got their boots on by themselves and were back out the door ready for more. Huh, who needs me anymore?

The day after, Braedan came out with me and I cautiously pointed up the mountainside and asked if he’d done a run like that before. He thought for a moment and said, “Yeah, I think so.” “OK, let’s give it a try,” I said not so sure this was a bright idea. But the kid is a skier. He skied along right behind me in the path I made for him, back and forth across the slope in a nice controlled snowplow. Over the next two days, he logged way more hours on the mountain than Mark or I did, always begging for more.

View from the house

Playing barefoot in the snow

Austin still needs one more year of practice, but I think we have a new family pastime. Although I dare say those five days in the Wasatch Mountain range will have already spoiled even the best slopes of Ohio or western New York. Oh well, that’s why we have frequent flier miles.

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