Saturday, June 11, 2016

Another Year in the Books...

I can hardly believe that Brian is finished First Grade. Yesterday was his last day, which means he is officially a Second Grader!
This year has been filled with so many great memories and milestones. Brian loved his teacher, Mrs. Korom. By the end of the year, he had so many new vocabulary words in his tool belt - and he became a wonderful speller! He also learned to read - practically overnight - which was a really exciting accomplishment for him. 
He was assessed at the beginning of the year and it showed that he could use some extra assistance with breaking down bigger words and sounding them out. So each week he would meet with Mrs. McGuire for extra help. Well! Mrs. McGuire is my hero! She had Brian believing that he was in a super cool "reading club" and told him that he would probably be the best reader in the class by the end of the year! Each week he got so exciting for "reading club" and all the fun "games" she would play - and, sure enough, he surpassed the goals and "graduated" with flying colors. I think he'll be bummed if he's not in this super secret club next year!! 
Brian had a very nice bus driver this year named Miss Karen. Bus drivers deserve medals for so many different reasons - one of which is having to see Kate Leong in her pajamas and shoes at 7am. Brian wanted to give her a gift at the end of the year so we got her a pretty bracelet with an elephant on it. 
As elephants are known for their great memory - Karen is known for always remembering to keep the kids safe. She won't let Brian move from the bus until the car coming the other way has come to a complete stop, makes eye contact with her, gives her the secret hand signal and flashes their lights twice. I'm kidding about the lights. In all seriousness - I greatly appreciate how she treats all the kids and looks after their safety. 
On the last day, there was a beautiful prayer service before dismissal. At least that's what I heard. After a few minutes inside trying to convince Hope that it wasn't time to call out for Brian or ask me twenty times in a row "Be Quiet?" over and over, I gave up. We decided to hang out on the other side of the church doors and smell the roses. Sometimes it just takes stopping for a second to remember... oh yes, she's just two. You can't expect silence. Ever! 
We have a few traditions when a school year ends that are fun! Brian and I like to meet with his new teacher privately. It's totally for brown nose points. Just kidding - it's for lots of other reasons. It started last year when he was so nervous to leave Kindergarten for First Grade. He had heard there was no toys in the classroom, it was really hard and it's wasn't fun at all. I thought meeting with his teacher would help him dispel those rumors... and it worked! He left feeling confident and excited to start First Grade. So the other day we met with his Second Grade Teacher, Mrs. Scelzo. She told him what to expect in her classroom, showed him all of the games that she had and surprised him by telling him that she sometimes has class outside on a nice day! Brian likes to please, so I feel having this one on one meeting gives him a connection with his new teacher - and he then looks forward to pleasing her with his behavior and school work.
He came prepared (on his own!) to share his "personal goals" for the summer. He wants to read for 20 minutes a day, ride his bike (which he has been nervous to do since falling over a year ago!) and finish three workbooks that we bought (that are basically schoolwork!) by the end of August. On the ride home, I asked him what he thought of Mrs. Scelzo. "She's a really happy person. I could tell. I think happy people make great teachers," he told me.

Our other "last day of school" tradition is getting a gift for a great report card! Brian had his heart set on this weird little stuffed guy - and I have my heart set on Brian - so that was easy! 
And the last thing we do is go to the hair salon for his summer buzz cut! This year it was perfect timing because we left for our Summer vacation in Ocean City, New Jersey this morning! 
It's been so fun to watch Brian grow and change this year. From navigating friendships to dealing with disappointment to trying new things - he's handled everything beautifully. It's hard for me, as his Mom, to watch his baby features go away. This was the photo I took on the first day of First Grade... 
...and this was taken the LAST day of First Grade! That's a big change for a Mom's heart. 
I know he will continue to change before my eyes every day. I just hope that some things never change. I hope he never loses his compassion... his desire for learning... and his sense of humor. If he can do that, he'll be just fine. 
I think we're ready for Second Grade!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rise...and Shine...

In a town near and dear to our heart, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, there is a beautiful park. The park is home to a bandshell, a small ball field, a gazebo, historic monuments paying tribute to fallen war heroes... and a playground. Right across the street is the library where we spend a lot of our time. We've never been to the playground. I'm sure it's lovely.
Gavin's school where he made friends, made progress, took chances and finally took steps is in Phoenixville. Do you know that one of the first settlers to this area would sit in his home on a hill and look down on this yet to be named town and fantasize about the old Egyptian legend of the Phoenix bird? You know the story - how the Phoenix dies in a burst of flames only to rise from the ashes in glory? Isn't it ironic that Gavin would make his progress in and leave his mark on this town? Our own "Phoenix" story.

"A mythical bird that never dies, the phoenix flies far ahead to the front, always scanning the landscape and distant space. It represents our capacity for vision, for collecting sensory information about our environment and the events unfolding within it. The phoenix, with its great beauty, creates intense excitement and deathless inspiration." 
- The Feng Shui Handbook, feng shui Master Lam Kam Chuen 

The park in the center of town, Reeves Park, was named after the Reeves family who owned an iron mill named "Phoenix Iron Company." It is no coincidence to me that the Reeves family was known for their inclusive hiring policy. They hired immigrants fleeing from war and strife in Europe... people from all different races and religions... and those who had fled from slavery via the underground railroad. Their family philosophy became their company culture - "At Phoenix - It's The People That Make The Difference." 

That philosophy has trickled down to the town that was aptly named Phoenixville. The people are what makes this town. I have experienced this first hand. This town embraced Gavin and supported our family. Many children that are still in Gavin's old school in town are benefitting from his Trust Project. Some are even making incredible strides using Gavin's walker and stander and more. This is an amazing town.

So, back to that park...

I used to avoid parks that couldn't accommodate Gavin as he got older and more aware. It hurt my heart to think of him feeling left out - and I hated the thought of him watching his brother play from the sidelines. But I also knew that accessible playgrounds were a fortune and didn't expect them everywhere we went. It was what it was. So as we often parked in front of Reeves Park to go into the library, I would sigh as I remembered that this wasn't a park I felt comfortable taking Gavin to. And what a bummer that was - in a town that loved him so much.

Just recently, Brian, Hope and I were headed to the library when we passed the park. Upon seeing the playground, Brian asked, "Mom - that isn't a 'Gavin' kind of playground, is it?" and I sadly answered that it wasn't. 

You know I don't believe in coincidences by now, right? 
(If not - I don't.)

Just a few days after Brian's comment, I saw something on my Facebook newsfeed and just knew I had to get involved. And I knew that you would help.

The local Kiwanis club in Phoenixville has entered a "Legacy of Play" contest. Kiwanis International has partnered with Landscape Structures for this contest and the Phoenixville Kiwanis club has entered. If they win, Landscape Structures will give them $25,000 in playground equipment which will be installed in conjunction with their club's "Kiwanis One Day" event which, no coincidence, is held in April. If the Phoenixville Kiwanis club wins, they will build an all abilities playground right in Reeves Park.

I can tell you right now - having an all abilities park in this town would be a game changer. Children from Gavin's own school would benefit. Local physical and occupational therapists could utilize this playground for fun therapy in the sunshine. My own children could play on this playground and feel comforted that their big brother would be happily playing beside them if he were alive. And my anxiety and heart sick feeling every time I pass this park on my way to the playground... the market... or church will cease. It would be a game changer - for so many. Not to mention, how beautiful would it be to continue the inclusive legacy of the Reeves family who were known for their compassion and respect for the outliers in their town.

Can you see where I'm going with this?

I'm not looking for money. I'm looking for thirty seconds after you finish reading. I know one thing for sure. Between me and all of you, we can all vote once to get Phoenixville in the finals and in front of the judges. The ten submissions with the highest number of votes by noon (EDT) on May 27th (this Friday!) will become finalists. Then it will be up to a panel of judges to select the winning club. Do I hope that the judges see this post and feel the passion I have to make an accessible playground a part of the history of Phoenixville? And in a small way, part of Gavin's story in this town? You bet I do. Do I hope they will feel inspired by one little boy and his giant legacy and choose this town? Wholeheartedly. 

It can't be underestimated how transformative it can be when children have a proper place to play. Please - open your hearts to the children of Phoenixville. Show them that love from strangers can help them rise...and shine...just like the Phoenix itself.

Here is all you need to do:

Click THIS LINK to get to the voting page. When you scroll down it should start with "The Kiwanis Club of Phoenixville...." Scroll down further and click the orange VOTE button! Again, voting closes this Friday, May 27th, at noon and you can vote once a day between now and then. You can watch the page to see the ten finalists and the ultimate winner (Phoenixville, of course) - but rest assured that I will keep you posted!
Thank you, as always, for caring about our little family... and this little town that loved Gavin!!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

This Is Where My Mom Took Pictures Of Us...

In just a couple days, we will hand over the keys to our old home to a new family who recently purchased it. It's an exciting, bittersweet time. Tonight, we all went back for a "Farewell Pizza Party" to celebrate, reminisce and more.
To say that a lot has happened in that house would be a gigantic understatement. This was our first home together.  I was pregnant many, many times - starting with Gavin!
We were thrilled to welcome him home to this house. 
(Fun fact: that "Welcome Home" sign hung in our garage every day after that. I always wanted to pull in and remember how grateful I was that we welcomed him home. That sign is now at our new house and it makes me feel the same way.)
We brought Brian home fifteen months later and were so excited to announce to our neighbors that he was coming!
I washed hair in the kitchen sink...
Watched the boys relationship develop and deepen...
Made gourmet meals nightly. Wearing my pearls, of course...
We documented all the "firsts" along the way, including first crawls...
First roll overs...
And first steps!
We celebrated holiday traditions and made so many wonderful memories.
We LOVED our neighborhood and neighbors and enjoyed walking and letting Gavin practice in his walkers on the "open road."
When Gavin died, we welcomed hope into that home...
...and Hope into hearts.

Even though we moved out of that house in July and we've been in our new home since then, Brian was suddenly very emotional about the finality of the house being sold. I wanted to come up with something special we could do as a family to make it a little easier for him. So tonight the kids and I headed over with their sidewalk chalk, Hope's stroller and Brian's bike and we had one last hurrah in the driveway. We also threw a frisbee and played tag in the back yard.
Brian also made chalk "signs" for the new family - hoping they would see it on their move-in day.
We moved inside so Brian could write and "hide" special notes for the new family. He started in his old bedroom...
...and left the note in the closet to tell them, "Enjoy the room - and this was my old room!"
Hope took a spin in her old room...
...and took silly selfies in our bathroom mirror one last time.
She helped Brian write some more notes...
...including one for the landing that said "This is where my Mom took pictures of us."
So I did. One last time...
And when Daddy arrived for the "pizza party" after work, we took our very last family shot. 
We look forward to meeting the folks that will be standing in that spot for their family picture. And we hope that their journey in their new home is half as happy and memorable as ours was.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

I Remember Love...

Here is what I remember...

She was with me all the time.
She never said no when I wanted her to play barbies or house or read to me or play a game.
She rubbed my back almost every night.
She was always so nice to me.
She made the best lunches.
I just always loved being around her.
She is my Mom.

Here is what she says...

"I'm not sure that's really how it went."
And then she'll dispute things that I recall.

Who's right...and who's wrong?

Here's what I think. I think, as Mothers, we may often agonize that we're doing a "good enough" job. Or, we feel guilty for choices that we might deem selfish if they take any time away from the kids. Some of us may go overboard with elaborate parties and gifts for our kids and think that is the best way to show our love. Some of us might only be able to do small things and worry that it's not enough. But here's the big secret I've learned. The best gift you can give your children is your time.

So who's right? I think we both are. My memory is my reality. I remember those special moments we shared and they are burned in my brain above any other memories. And my Mom is just like every other Mom - including me - who remembers the times that she DID say no to playing barbies... or no to one more book... or gave me a lunch I hated and then probably heard about it when I came home from school. For some reason, those times get burned in our brain - sometimes above other memories.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

My wish today is that every Mother, young or old, will let themselves off the hook. It is impossible to be a perfect Mother. It is impossible to say yes to everything. It is impossible to remain physically and emotionally healthy if you sacrifice your needs 100% of the time.

This Mother's Day, allow yourself to see why you are a great Mother. We really can't do it ALL - but that's okay. I think the only person that expects us to be able to do it ALL... is us. Our children may forget their elaborate ninth birthday party - or that you said no to an extra dessert or that new video game when they were fifteen. But they will remember how they felt when they were around you... how you looked when you opened your arms to hug them... how your eyes lit up when you saw them. Basically, what I'm trying to say is this:

Our children will remember the important things.

This Mother's Day, I remember love. And many, many years from now - I hope my children... and ALL of our children... can say the same.

Happy Mother's Day!


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