Monday, January 9, 2012

Christmas in July

One of my New Year's resolutions was to write more. Or at the very least finish writing about some of the important events that have happened to us in 2011. 

How about I start with my son't 1st birthday, since ya know, that was kind of important and all. And it was 6 months ago. And I don't want to go down as the mom who had  her shit together for the first two kids but somehow couldn't manage to document ANYTHING about her third.

July 16, 2011. Little Chance's 1st Birthday. What an especially memorable day it was. To begin I should mention that Eugene and I started a tradition 5 years ago for all our kids' first birthdays. Rather than throw an elaborate party in which they'd have no recollection of, we instead, throw a party for a group of people in need. For Bella's 1st birthday we threw a Bingo Blowout and Ice Cream Social for a local nursing home, talk about fun! 

For Mia's first birthday we put together a Fun Fair for kids living in a Chicagoland homeless shelter. You can read all about it here, A Party with A Purpose. These events meant more than any birthday party could have ever felt. I'll never forget the feeling of pride I had watching my ENTIRE family working together to help those homeless kids have fun and laugh and smile. 

Eugene and I hope that when our kids look back on their first birthday they'll be reminded that their lives began helping others.

And now it was Chance's turn. When I was researching organizations for Chance's birthday a friend mentioned that I check out the SOS Children's Villages of Illinois. Once I read their mission statement, I knew this was the group we should work with. SOS Children's Villages of Illinois provides a viable alternative to traditional foster care. In our country's foster care system, three in four children are separated from their siblings. Children who come to live at SOS stay with their biological brothers and sisters in a private home. "A full-time, professionally trained foster parent lives with them, and the whole village gives them support, compassion and strength." Their mission to keep the family together is so inspiring. It always broke my heart when I heard about how often siblings were split up from each other--as if they should be punished more? Uggh. It hurts to even think about. 

In fact, these kids arrive at the steps of SOS with little to NOTHING at all. Extra clothes? Nope. A doll to hug at night? Nope. A pack of crayons? Not even. When I heard about this, I knew what we needed to do, a Christmas in July.

On July 16, 2011, Chance's actual birthday, my family and all Eugene's extended family from California arrived at our house and was greeted with Christmas music the moment they walked through the door. Nothing's stranger than singing Let it Snow when it's hot and sweaty and muggy! After a quick informational meeting about the SOS organization we began the festivities.

First, we caravaned over to our local Walmart, all 17 of us. After being saluted by the door greeter, we were split up into 4 teams and given a cash filled envelope. Based on a "wish" list provided by SOS, we were to buy as many gifts from the list as we could, while staying within our alotted budget. We also had additional challenges like the greeting card challenge, where each family member was to purchase an inspirational card to be written out by them and handed out to one the children of the SOS Villages. 

We had exactly 1 hour to buy everything. 

Team 1, consisting of my mom, Fran and Mia, decided to hit up the card challenge first.

My mom was having motherhood flashbacks as she quickly realized how difficult shopping with a 3 year old could sometimes be. They quickly put Mia to work by checking scribbling off the list.

Team 2, my dad, mother-in-law and Matt in a deep discussion between purchasing a football or a soccer ball---or both.

My father-in-law, accountant extraordinaire, was diligently keeping tabs on our running total. It was no fluke why I put him on my team :)

Taking a quick break from the shopping frenzy to remember just how much I love my kids

Surveying the inventory

The unstoppable Team 4, Gabrielle, Christine and Bella, the world's best bargain shoppers put us to shame with all that they were able to purchase. They were smart--they looked in the clearance isle first!

Family chicken fight!

Check out time!

Christine and Gabe's thought process was basically add it to the cart and we'll see if we can afford it when we're at the checkout. They stood nervously in the line and watched as the checker rang up item after item. Making some quick decisions, they decided they needed to remove some things since they were over budget. They explained to the cashier what we were all doing, and who we were doing it for. And what happened next reaffirms my faith in people. A random man with his son in the next aisle overheard them and without missing a beat, told the cashier that he would pay for every item that they set aside.

This random stranger paid over $30 from his own pocket.

And just like that the discarded 10-pack of white t-shirts, pink baby blankets, and thermal socks made its way back into the cart. His last words were "all kids deserve new t-shirts"

People are good.

We returned home from Walmart and with the Chrismas carols on full blast, we wrapped up the presents. 

The second part of our day was a celebration at one of the SOS Villages. Deep in the city. In what my "limited suburban ego" would consider the bad part of town.
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I was apprehensive about going. Of course I was. I knew this wasn't the safest of areas. And despite even some hesitation from my family, we rose above it. Because helping from a distance isn't the same. I want my kids to know the truth about life, the good and the bad.

Only then can we really learn.

And when we arrived there and were welcomed with the most open of arms, I felt ashamed that I had so poorly misjudged people's compassion based on where they lived.

I needed to remind myself that here, we were the strangers.

We all stood in a circle and went around the room introducing each other. Three minutes of uncomfortable get-to-know you's and a few of my dad's goofy jokes and that's all it took. We were  friends.

The kids showed us around their home/facility and challenged us to a few air hockey games. It's still good to know that my bad-ass air hockey skills are still going strong!

When the pizza arrived we all sat together in their dining hall and before we ate one of the 9 year old boys said the blessing. Thanking God that our family had joined them today. Thanking God for the food that we brought. Thanking God for giving him the strength to go on despite the struggles he's endured.

I tell ya, I wanted to take that boy home with me.

I sat with my sweet birthday boy in my lap, grateful for making the choice to come here. Grateful to see my family step out of their comfort zone. Grateful that we have the ability to share with others. I noticed my five year old sitting next to one of the kids talking about Disney--no barrier between them. I watched as my brother-in-law performed magic tricks for everyone's enjoyment.

What a team we make.

After lunch, Bella and Mia passed out the presents.

For security reasons, I cannot show any of the kids faces.

And we all played.

Chance, may you always remember how good it feels to give. 

And how happy we all were on this day, July 16, 2011, your 1st Birthday.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful idea and your experiences. I literally cried at the compassion of ALL involved in this event for Chance's birthday...your sweet family...the guy at the Walmart...the 9 year old who talked frankly to God. Amazing. Thank you!

  2. I have to mention that Gabe and I weren't just nervous, our stomachs were turning in a wreck!!! Let's not forget that in the 11th hour of us checking out, we noticed that Mia or Bella went missing (only to find out that Grandpa took her for a walk) - but seriously, it was chaos. It felt as if we were on the show "Extreme Couponing."

    Taken back from that man's generosity and the adrenaline, we didn't know how to properly thank him. A simple "thank you" didn't seem enough. But before we knew it, he was gone - an attempt to find him outside was silly. He was lost in the sea of cars in the Walmart parking lot. Gina, you are right, "people are good." Thanks for refreshing this wonderful memory.


  3. Wow! You are an inspiration. Amazing story.




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