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!)|
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: