Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Life Is A Circus

The year was 1986 or 1987, not sure which exactly but I do know that I probably wore a red and white Coca-Cola rugby, tight rolled my acid washed Guess jeans, feathered my hair back in defiance of the bowl haircut that I sadly wore and spent an hour of my 5th or 6th grade day at Palos West Elementary volunteering in the special needs classroom. All of these memories are crystal clear to me today as they were 28 years ago, but one in particular has come to define the very essence of who I am and thankfully it's not the Dorothy Hammill haircut.

I cherished spending my time with those kids. Making them happy made me happy, genuinely happy. I spent my days laughing, painting, reading, snacking, counting, and playing with them. Most 12 year olds cared more about fitting in than doing the right thing and I don't think I realized then how much it taught me about life. That December I raised money to buy some of the kids a Hallmark stuffed reindeer toy for Christmas and the sheer happiness I felt giving away those presents filled my heart with so much joy. 

It was the first time I recognized how happy I was giving to others. It's like a little PING! explosion in my heart that I can actually feel. Certain moments of beauty give me that PING!, like watching my kids take care of and love one another or sometimes I get the PING! in church when I'm reminded of the wonder and mystique of a greater love, or simply handing over a stuffed reindeer to a girl who couldn't actually say thank you, or really even play with it but who gave me the hugest smile telling me in silence how awesome it felt to feel appreciated and loved. 

As you may know we started a tradition with each of one of our children on their first birthdays. Instead of throwing a birthday party for them we throw a party for a group in need--a party with a purpose, if you will. Eugene and I want our children to look back on their first birthday and know that their life began in service to others. When Bella turned 1 we had Bella's Bingo Blowout and ice cream social at a local nursing home. On Mia's 1st birthday we threw a FUN FAIR at a Chicagoland homeless shelter. On Chance's 1st birthday we organized a CHRISTMAS IN JULY for a group of foster children. And then my sweet boy Indy turned 1 and knowing it was my last child I wanted to make this party the best yet. I thought long and hard about different groups that we could help and I kept returning to those memories I had from my days helping children with disabilities. 

I contacted Elim Christian Services who is a widely recognized institution for students with all different types of disabilities and they were thrilled with the idea. Suddenly our Under The Big Top Circus was underway. For those who are curious, this event actually happened a year ago. Right now it's the eve of Indy's 2nd birthday and I promised myself I would document the day some time this year. Better late than never, right?  Okay, back to the greatest show on earth.....

Flyers were printed and the word was spread.

Our family and friends from all over came together that day to volunteer their time and this overwhelming sense of teamwork filled the air. With the calliope music as our soundtrack we got our carni on' and set up the "Big Tent" with a  photo booth, face painting table, tattoo station and even a bunch of carnival games. 

But a carnival wouldn't be complete without a concession stand and a clown show!

I think initially it was pretty hard for Bella, Mia and Chance to see how different life is for other children but that is exactly why I wanted them to be a part of this, because this is life. I want my children to know that being different is okay, that beauty comes in all types of packages and that we should treat everyone we meet with the same love and respect as we want to receive.

Children with disabilities across the spectrum delighted in games that best suited their abilities and LOVED it. One of the children pushed their electric scooter over to me as I held Indy and gestured to this large electronic box that sat upright on his lap and with a press of a button this automated, almost robotic voice rang out in the air, "Happy 1st Birthday Indy, thank you for inviting me to your party, I am having so much fun!"

And just like that, PING!

My heart swelled and my throat began to throb in that familiar way when the beauty of life takes over. It was heartbreakingly precious and solidified why we were here. That boy stole my heart in that moment as did all of the children. My inner twelve year old wanted to "pass out Reindeers" to each and every one of them yet here they were thanking and appreciating Indy. Our little ringleader was given birthday cards handmade by each one of the students and a signed poster that I swear to you hung in my dining room for five months afterwards because I simply couldn't part with the love that was shown on that day. I wish I could share the photos of the students but I have to respect their privacy. Though trust me, there was magic and love in the air.

Indy cruised around the party in his walker, blowing on his mustache kazoo, oblivious to a world of disabilities.  Life might not always stay this way but as a mother, I pray that my children are listening and watching and learning. I hope they feel as good as I do helping others. I hope they spend a lifetime treating each other with kindness and know that life is way too short to not love wholeheartedly.

A huge thank you to The Plush Horse for donating all the ice cream for the party and for showing us they're proud to be a part of a community who cares.

Strong Man Chance
Bella The Trapeze Lady (thanks Meghan!)

Thank you to all the families and friends for dressing up, setting up, and putting on a circus that we'll always remember. Your energy and hard work was greatly appreciated!

The celebration continued at home for our birthday boy!

Okay, truth be told I should have definitely wiped off the clown makeup. I think I forgot it was still on and consequently I'm sporting a freaky John Wayne Gacy-like smirk for the rest of the night.
But still. I love fiercely dammit.

Table top grilling. Total Benihana.

He's totally going to kill me for the mini top hat, right? I think he'll overlook it when he realizes what an awesome impact he made that day. I can't speak for what motivates others but I will speak for myself when I say that-- giving feels good. It always has and it always will.  

Happy first (and second) Birthday Indy. May you continue to show the world your sweet smile, your running hugs and your deep raspberry belly laugh. You are the perfect caboose on my motherhood journey and son, you are loved more than you know.


Your birthday video:

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mia's 7th birthday pARTy

"Awesome and responsible" is how Mia described what it feels like to be seven. Seven. It's the start of the older numbers. Six? Six still sounds young to me and I spent most of her birthday shaking my head wondering how and when this happened so fast. 
Probably my all-time favorite picture of Mia, smiling on the Hawaiian shores 

one month old
She is smart, sympathetic, artistic and loving.


She has a psychic ability to read your feelings and know exactly what to say to make you feel special
Second favorite picture

She is a poet

and a lover of fancy things. Sequins, glitter and gold make her weak in the knees.

She makes me proud everyday, that girl.

We had her birthday date at our favorite ceramic painting cafe. She painted a plate and I chose a bowl. I took her here right before Indy was born and I've cherished our handmade pottery ever since. It is such a perfect date night activity.

We dined at Panera and held each other's hand everywhere we went. It was a perfect night to celebrate another year of her. On the morning of her actual birthday we woke up for an early morning walk and I told her how nervous and scared I was to mother a second child. I reaffirmed her that my fear instantly turned to love the moment I held her tight and met her face to face. 

Those moments right before she was born are burned into my memory and are as real 
and as clear as they were that day May 8, 2008.

Over the weekend, my brother and family from Minnesota came down to celebrate with us at Mia's 7th Birthday pARTy! We had such a great time! Here's proof:

We love you lady!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Bella's First Holy Communion


I sat in the first pew listening to Father Mike recite The Giving Tree by Shell Silverstein, a most befitting homily for Bella's First Communion mass. It's a story our family knows well and quite literally one of Bella's favorites.

Eugene and I were both brought up in the Catholic Church and the First Communion sacrament is an important one. It marks the beginning of a journey....

A lifetime of faith and love is in store for her.

Matching outfit for her American Girl doll Grace. It's the thing to do these days. 
Yeah, totally more for me than her, I know, I know. 

 This huge smile of hers only comes out once in a blue moon but when it does---wow! 
She is becoming such a beautiful young lady. 

For a moment we weren't sure if Lolo and Lola were going to attend because 
Lola has been very sick the past week. 

But they made it and their presence on this special day was felt by all of us.

Bella and her Godmother Gabrielle, who is ALWAYS there for us. We thank you so much Gabey.
You are such an important figure in Bella's life. 

With gray skies overhead we headed back home and hoped that the rain would stay away. 

Eugene pulled off the impossible....a five course dinner for about 25 people! We had a neighbor girl and a friend come over to babysit the kids while us adults enjoyed the feast. It was heavenly. I couldn't remember the last time I got through a dinner without having to change a diaper, referee a dispute or cut someone's food into little tiny lumps.

The dinner was awesome. It was family style and every course had three different choices. Bruschetta three ways: tomato and basil, artichoke and nutella & strawberries. Second course was salad three ways: farro, seafood and caprese.

Third course was spaghetti three ways: bolognese, carbonara and pesto.

Fourth course was italian sausages, chicken piccata and jumbo shrimp diavolo. And right when our guests were about to unbutton their pants, we brought out some lemon and white chocolate raspberry bundt cakes to top it all off.

The entire meal was filled with good laughs, great wine and the best family a girl could ask for. It was a beautiful, beautiful day. My favorite moment was when your Dad and I put you on the spot to make a toast before we ate and you simply soared Bella.  

May God always bless you, today and forever more.

"And she loved a little boy very, very much- even more than she loved herself."--Shell Silverstein


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