Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Our dog is broken

I was laying down with Matt for the upteenth time on Monday night when Nate opened the door and said those words...

Our dog is broken.

I wasn't sure how to respond.  Despite the fact that it was almost 10pm, Matt didn't want to go to sleep.  We both got up to check on broken Otis.

He was laying on the floor, his rear end curled down, and his tail tightly between his legs.  His abdomen was tight.  He was in a lot of pain.  This was odd... just 2 hours earlier, he bounded down the ramp to greet me as I got out of my car.

We got him to go outside to relieve himself, but he didn't want to go anywhere.  He just sat down at the bottom of the steps and waited.  Nate picked him up to bring him inside and Otis went to sleep quickly.  He wasn't crying out in pain or breathing heavily, but he was not himself.

We wracked our brain for what could be going on.  He'd had a rawhide the day before - could it be an abdominal blockage?  Cancer?  A bacterial infection?  Hip dysplasia?  The chocolate incident from 2 weeks ago?

In the morning, Otis got out of his bed like normal but immediately sat down.  With assistance, he went outside.  The typical routine in the morning is that Otis bounds in from outside and immediately devours his food. But this morning, he walked gingerly inside, took a mouthful of food, and dropped it all back into the bowl. Then he sat down next to the bowl and stared at all the uneaten food.

We called the vet and they wanted to see him that morning.  By this point, Otis was refusing to even stand up.  He would sit painfully on his rump before sliding to the ground in a rigid, tense state.  And just stare.  Please help.  Luke stood by his side, crying that Otis didn't feel good and please make sure that the vet has a cage that is long enough for him.

Nate loaded him into the van.  I got all the kids off to school, and transported Otis to the vet.  In the ride, I had all sorts of irrational thoughts. 

Otis, this can't be the end of the line for you. I got you a new bed for Christmas and you haven't even seen it yet.

Otis, you're only seven.  I know they call you 'geriatric' now, but you're the most spry geriatric I know.

And some more rational thoughts...

Otis... please buddy.  Be okay. Luke asks me when you're going to heaven. I told him not to worry because you'd be around for a long long time. He asked me again when you would die. I told him you'd live to be 14. Don't make me a liar today.

Two vet techs met me in the parking lot, and with a towel holding up his rear hips, he walked inside. They found him a rug to sit on while I checked in. Other dogs (some hyper - typically right up Otis' alley as a new playmate) would come in, and Otis just sat there on his rug, wagging his tail like he always does.

After all the paperwork was signed, the vet techs came back with their trusty walking towel and took Otis back to an exam room. I watched him walk unsteadily through the double doors and said a silent prayer.

Thankfully within a couple of hours of thinking the worst, we got a call. The exam and blood work had revealed a massive kidney infection. Otis back likely hurt as bad as someone passing two kidney stones at the same time (which is why he wouldn't walk or eat). They gave him an antibiotic shot directly into his kidneys and watched him for a few hours.

By the time I went to pick him up, Otis was up on his feet and wagging all around. I hugged him as hard as I could around the neck before we headed out the door. He walked into the parking lot slowly but surely. I gave him a boost into the van, and he settled in comfortably.

Big sigh of relief.

He pranced into the house, and there were cheers all around. Otis was home! He was sad, though, when he found out that he was not allowed to eat that night. He whimpered for a bit but eventually went to sleep. This morning, he sprung out of bed. He bounded down the stairs to relieve himself. He bounded back up them to attack his morning food.

Otis the geriatric dog is back. He might have been a little broken, but he's sticking around for a bit. And he's going to have the most awesome new doggie bed under the Christmas tree on Tuesday morning.  We're so grateful he's going to be home to see it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

For a moment, I wished you couldn't read

Dear Luke:

Today we learned about a terrible tragedy.  We learned that someone went into an elementary school and killed 20 children and 6 of their teachers.  No one knows why.  The reasons why wouldn't take away the pain and confusion even if we knew them.

I had a busy day at work today and could only get small bits of information about what was unfolding in Connecticut.  My thoughts were with our friends and family nearby, hoping that they were no where near the school at the time. 

When I got home, everyone had already eaten dinner.  I walked in the door, hugging everyone as quickly as I could.  As you and Will and Matt got ready for bed, I ate a bit of dinner and started to read news stories about Newtown on the iPad.  As I got up to refill my drink, you snuck to the table and started reading the story I had pulled up on the screen.  It could only have been 20 seconds that you read the story, but you're so smart, buddy.  You read words at a second grade level and you comprehend the words that you read.  I didn't want you to read those words.  I didn't want you to comprehend anything.

In that moment, I wished that you couldn't read.  I wish that you weren't on the verge of losing innocence and learning about something so horrific.  I didn't know how to give you answers to the questions you might ask.

In the story I was reading, the author mentioned a dad at the scene at Sandy Hook Elementary who was covering his son's eyes with his forearm... trying to save him from the reality of the situation and trying to preserve innocence.  I tried to do the same thing.  I shut off the iPad and asked if you'd gotten a chance to read anything on the screen.  You said no.  I was grateful.

In the upcoming hours and days, we will learn more about the gunman.  The victims' names will be released.  Their stories will be shared.  These young, innocent children were in elementary school.  Many of them - like you and Will - were in kindergarten.  Five and six years old.  Unbelievably young. 

This story will hit close to home for everyone.  Newtown could be any town, anywhere in this country.  Sandy Hook could have been your schools.  Today was every parent's biggest fear.  I drove home from work in tears and couldn't wait to hug you all.  I felt so fortunate to hug you and your brothers when I walked in the door.

I know you're going to grow up one day, and I know that stories like this one will be - painfully but realistically - topics of conversation.  I hope in those days I am more prepared to give you answers to the things that don't make sense.  I hope in those moments, we can have a conversation about the world, the people in it, and the unpredictability of it all.  I hope that when we talk about all of this, you're much older. 

I am praying for the families in Newtown tonight.  The families who lost children.  Young children who lost friends.  Husbands who lost wives, kids who lost mothers.  A community struggling for answers.  For the innocence lost in the survivors. 

I love you so much, Luke.  I am grateful that you're home tonight, sleeping peacefully in your bed.  I am grateful that Will and Matt are doing the same. 

All my love,

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Swing

I am beyond excited for Christmas this year.  I am not sure what makes this year different from others... but I am counting down the days to Christmas with equal excitement as the kids as they move through the Advent calendar.  We will be joined by two sides of the family for the holidays - which is the first time that has ever happened!  And I am really looking forward to having so many people together to share a magical time of year with us. 

I have some vacation to burn at work, so I took the morning today to wrap gifts.  I started Christmas shopping back in September.  Some of these gifts haven't seen the light of day since that time (they're hidden deep in the bowels of the attic) - so I saw them today with the excited eyes with which I first met them months ago.  I think I might have hummed as I was carefully wrapping each one.

My goal as a mom is to get to know my children... understand what makes them tick, and try my best to encourage and stoke their curiosity, talents and joys.  To appreciate and nurture the unique quirks and -isms that make them individuals.  Nate and I have been amazed this year at the continuing development of distinctive personality traits in all of 3 of our kids.  It has been interesting to both sit on the sidelines and also be a part of that development. 

Because we started gift shopping earlier this year, we had a lot of time to think what we thought each Slavik boy would like.  There were eureka moments!  And I really cannot wait for Christmas morning, to see their faces as they open these carefully thought out gifts.  I hope in the years to come, they see the joy in my face as they open gifts on Christmas morning and know that I am their biggest advocate, loudest cheerleader, and that I know and appreciate them for being them.

So in addition to gifts being wrapped, the tree is up, decorations are covering the mantle, the outside lights are nearly complete, and my Christmas cards have been sent!  We took family photos this year with my cousin Steph Harkenreader (check out her photography website here).  You'll notice the new family photo at the top of the blog - here are a couple more favorites from the day. 

Cheers!  Hope your house is starting to buzz with the excitement of the holiday season!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

First new clothes

When you're the younger brother of twin boys, the chances of you ever getting anything other than hand-me-down clothing is pretty slim.  Not only were Luke, Will and Matt born all in the same season, but we've been able to pick the nicest of the twins' clothes for Matt to wear.  He didn't have to wear puke or grass stained hand-me-downs - because believe me - there are plenty.  That Luke sure did like to puke.  Glad those days are over.

I digress.

Matt was able to get his first real new clothes today... because Matt is finally getting the hang of potty training!  And I couldn't bear the thought of him having to wear Luke's hand-me-down drawers.  Sometimes there are lines that shouldn't be crossed. 

So Matt and I went to Target this afternoon to pick out some brand new big boy underpants.  He was a little indecisive, but finally picked out 2 colorful packs of his first undies (I gave his as much time as he needed - this was a big decision and he doesn't have a lot of shopping experience).  He was very excited and told the woman at the check out that he was getting his first "unduh-pants."

When we got home, Matt rifled through our shopping bag to retrieve his treasures.  Then he took off all of his clothes.  Then he opened the pack of Thomas the Train underwear and proceeded to put one pair on.  Then another. 

Then another.

He was proud of himself for a moment, but then panicked slightly when he realized that we had purchased 10 pairs of undies and he had a long way to go.

When all was said and done, Matt put on 4 pairs of his new drawers. He danced around the house in them, very happy with both his new title of "big boy" and his brand new colorful rear end.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

An Al Bundy holiday performance

Tonight was Luke's first ever school holiday performance.  He was very excited about it, and was taking his responsibilities very seriously.  When he came home tonight (after school but before the show) he told us:

You cannot wave to me when I am on stage.  I will be acting professionally.  No waving.  And absolutely no smiling.

I am not sure if a teacher said that to him or if he came up with it on his own... whichever it is, between stifled laughs, Nate and I agreed we would not wave at him when he was on stage.  We didn't want to put his professionalism at risk.

When we arrived at school, I dropped Luke off with other kindergartners - dressed in red and green and wearing over sized Santa hats.  I found Nate, Will and Matt in the multi-purpose room and futilely attempted to keep everyone settled while we waited around for the show to start. 

The lights dimmed and a gaggle of kids made their way up on the stage.  They took their positions.  Luke was in the very front.  Not sure if that's because he knew the words to the songs or because he's on the little side.  Regardless of why it was, I felt a twinge of panic.

Earlier this week, while listening to the radio on my way to work, I heard the hosts ask people to call in with stories of bad things their kids did in a holiday show.  The one that stuck out to me was the mom who called to say that her son sat in front of an auditorium full of people, picking his nose.

And that just didn't seem too far from our reality potential with Luke in the front row.

The music teacher introduced herself, introduced the kids, and started the music.  The kids swayed a bit, waiting for their cue.  I snuck up front to take a couple close up photos of Luke.  And it was at that moment that I realized that there in that room, Luke was doing his best Al Bundy impersonation.

For those unfamiliar, Al Bundy was the main character (played by Ed O'Neill) on the sitcom Married... With Children - a show built around the dysfunctional family life of this character, his wife, and their 2 kids.  Al Bundy is an under appreciated shoe salesman who always has a negative or degrading thing to say about his family.  It sounds bad, but it was pretty funny - and Al Bundy's signature move was slouching down into his old plaid sofa, putting his hand down his pants, and flipping on the TV.

And there was Luke, doing the same thing! 

Thankfully the first song of the night - In The Spirit - had the kids doing all sorts of dramatic motions with their arms.  Thankfully we've got a son who is a performer and took the professionalism of his performance very seriously.  Thankfully he took his hand out of his pants.

The next song of the evening was Polar Puppy - I couldn't quite understand all the words, but the kids all made these little barking sounds for emphasis and that was pretty cute.  Then they all put their sunglasses on for a rousing rendition of Hip Hop Reindeer.  Not kidding.

And then the kindergarten performance was over - just 12 minutes after it started.  The kids exited the stage, and the 5th graders took over.  We listened to some other songs - some sung, some played on plastic balloon things, some played on recorders (which could have gone terribly wrong but didn't), and one with guitar accompaniment.

Then they brought the kindergartners back out, and the two groups sang Deck the Halls together.  The 5th graders were the only ones who really knew the words, but those 5 year old kindergartners sang their little hearts out during the fa la la la la la la la la's.

The house lights rose and chaos ensued as parents tried to pick up their kids and beat everyone else out of the parking lot.  I found Luke and we talked for a bit about how much fun he had with his performance while we waited for the crowd to thin out.  He was so excited!  Matt told him he did a good job, and Will was all smiles as we put on out coats.  Thankfully the program was a success!  Thankfully Luke was (mostly) professional as he wanted to be!  Thankfully he did not smile or wave (but I - guiltily - cannot say the same for myself).  Thankfully Al Bundy did not make a repeat performance.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I'm the boss

Can you believe that Matthew is already two and a half years old?  Hardly seems that long ago that he went from being Baby Cart to Matthew Sullivan.  These days, he comes home saying all sorts of new things.  He's mastering compound sentences and is paying a lot of attention to the world around him.  His favorite thing to say these days?

I'm the boss.

This sends Luke into fits of anger because Luke believe that Mommy and Daddy are the boss.  Then they argue over this point, which cracks me up.  Because I'm not really the boss... though I do feel like the business manager some times.

His second favorite thing to say is Luke's name... and since Matt can't yet pronounce the letters L or V, what he actually says is "Yukey Skabik."  Or when he's in a rush (or Luke isn't listening), it is Yukester for short.

Matthew likes to jump and climb and have naked runs right before bed.  He's fearless.  Then he rolls off of the couch, bumps his head, cries for a minute, and then runs away again at full speed.  A minute later, he's pulling the bean bag chair out of Will and Luke's room, throwing Luke to the ground, throwing the bean bag on top of him, and then sits on top of it.  Thankfully Luke laughs about this part.

Though he enjoys this game of "Squish Luke," his favorite game at home is Pillow Pile.  For this game, Matt and Luke gather every single pillow and comforter in the house and put it on the floor at the bottom of my and Nate's bed.  Then they fling themselves from our bed, onto said pillow pile.  Sometimes there are other brothers in the way.  Sometimes Otis hasn't picked up on the fact that his life is in danger, and doesn't move out of the way quick enough.   Sometimes they bump their heads on large pieces of furniture.  But that rarely stops Pillow Pile from continuing.

Every now and again, Matt takes a moment to slow down and show his sweet side.  He likes to give Will hugs and kisses at bed time, checks on him when he's crying, gets him a new toy for his tray, climbs up on his wheelchair to say "have a good day at school."

He isn't content playing on the pre-school playground.  He must play with the big kids.  And while on the big kid playground, he must climb on top of the highest, most thrilling monkey bar he can find... and then he must pretend to not pay attention to you as you intently stand underneath him with outstretched arms, just waiting for his little hands to let go.

Matthew opens the fridge to get his own cup of water (it must be cold water).  He pushes a stool to the bathroom sink to wash his hands after using the potty on his own (woo hoo!).  He climbs intently into his big boy bed (converted crib toddler bed), asks for you to fold his blanket into a square (though sometimes a triangle, and sometimes a rectangle), and then place it on his back as he falls asleep.  He climbs onto the kitchen table, gets himself a banana, opens it, takes two bites, and then puts it into the garbage... stealthy... and healthy.

When I drop off in the morning at day care, Matthew insists on walking me to the door.  He holds open the door with a strategically placed foot, then tells me he needs a hug.  Once the big squeeze is over, he makes a fishy face and tells me that he needs a kiss too.  Once that is over, he closes the door and walks proudly into his classroom to start his day.  He then sits around the breakfast table at school, repeating everyone's name and whether they're a boy or a "grill" (as he says).

Oh... that boy.  He keeps us laughing, thats for sure.  Now if only I could convince him not to be completely fearless?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Hydrogen peroxide... who knew?

In preparing for the upcoming holiday season, I stopped by the Lindt chocolate store on the way home from work.  I purchased 150 lovely truffles wrapped in brightly colored plastic wrappers.  I was excited.

In the hustle and bustle of arriving home near dinner time, two cranky kids, and bed time on the horizon, I dropped my bags on the floor of our bedroom and didn't think twice about it.

After all the dinner dishes were cleared and kids in pajamas, I headed off to get something from our bathroom.  I heard Otis noshing on something noisy.


Otis apparently thought those chocolates were exciting too.  When I came upon his gluttonous and potentially deadly feast, he had already consumed 27 white chocolate and 12 raspberry milk chocolate truffles.  And 38 wrappers... Nate was able to retrieve one bright pink one from Otis' teeth.

I called the vet immediately.  Mind you, it was nearly 8pm.  Thankfully our vet has late office hours.  I explained the situation.  I felt terrible about my absent-mindedness.  I was thankful that I could at least tell them the exact quantity of chocolate that Otis had eaten, as well as knowing that he had not been eating it long enough to digest it.

They weren't terribly concerned about the quantity of chocolate.  I learned that white chocolate has only teeny amounts of cocoa in it, so it isn't harmful to dogs.  The 12 raspberry milk chocolate truffles that he consumed wouldn't do much to him based on his size. 

They were very concerned about the plastic wrappers.  Each one is approximately 2 inches by 2 inches square... he had eaten 152 square inches of cellophane plastic. 

The vet stayed on the phone with me and instructed us to put Otis in the bathtub.  She told me to start pouring hydrogen peroxide into Otis' mouth, one ounce at a time.  Eventually the hydrogen peroxide would cause Otis to vomit, and the goal was to get all of the plastic out so he wouldn't have to have surgery.  I set the boys up with a Super Why to keep them away from the drama.  Thank you, Kids on Demand.

Nate held Otis still while I loaded him up ounce by ounce with the peroxide.  The vet said that Otis would probably need about 5 ounces to get him to start vomiting.  After 5 ounces, Otis was retching by keeping everything in.  We took him outside to walk around.

Eventually the hydrogen peroxide worked just as the vet said it would.  Otis lost the white, goopy, raspberry smelling contents of his stomach.  He stood off to the side as we dug through the pile and counted plastic wrappers with gloved hands.

Thankfully we found them all.  The vet was very happy with how things went, advised us to keep an eye out for Otis to show signs of chocolate poisoning (high heart rate and hyperactivity), and let me know that if we had a cat, this peroxide trick would not work for them. 

Otis has been sheepish and sleeping since the retching stopped.  No chocolate poisoning.  He's burping hydrogen peroxide every now and again.  I felt bad for him, but thankfully we aren't taking him for emergency surgery.  The remaining chocolates are high on a shelf.  Hopefully Otis has lost his taste chocolate... I know that sucking down half a cup of hydrogen peroxide after eating it probably left a bad taste in his mouth (pun intended... though its still a little too early to joke about it).


Monday, November 26, 2012

82 and three-quarters

My paternal grandmother joined us this year for Thanksgiving.  Nana Jean.  When I was growing up, she was always Grandma Jean... but when she learned she was going to become a great-grandmother, she decided that she wanted a new name.  When I learned recently that she called her own grandmother Nana, the change all suddenly made a lot of sense.

Nana Jean is 85 years old, still lives on her own, and is very active socially and in her church.  She lives in New Jersey and toughed out several days in a heatless apartment during Hurricane Sandy.  She became a widow at the tender age of 52, but didn't let the loss of the love of her life stop her from loving life.  She worked full time at an executive secretary at Rutgers University and is an avid Rutgers sports fan.

She traveled to North Carolina shortly after Luke and Will were born, and was able to visit them in the NICU.  Her tenacity and willingness to travel and provide support has always amazed me.  She kept tabs on them through the blog and phone calls, and has had the boys on her prayer list at church since the day they were born. 

Nana Jean is the most frequent commenter on the blog.  She sends me emails after almost every blog post, giving me her thoughts on things that I have said or stories that she wants me to hear.  I am grateful that she is around and willing to share such wisdom and family history with me.  It really helps to put things in perspective sometimes.

Some of Nana Jean's wisdom:

On people with disabilities not letting their disability stop them from reaching their dreams:

I must have told my Dad's story hundreds of times; he was my hero with one leg inches shorter than the other and withered. He was born in 1887 and had polio when he was still a toddler. My grandmother didn't expect him to survive all those years ago; I think about him especially when I read about Luke. My Dad, Charles Albert Pascall, walked with a God awful limp for all of his 81 years. When he was little, he was often called gimpy. We had a next door neighbor who called him the same thing. He worked until he was 72 years old as a respected newspaper reporter; he had the bluest eyes and the most wonderful smile I have ever seen. Before elevators and when courthouse steps were many, he spent most of his days walking his beat always with a smile. When he wasn't working at his profession, he was an avid fisherman, gardener, and Dad. I need to put into words his story for Luke to know some day. Luke's story today brought back so many memories of what a gutsy man my Dad was. And he's the Pascall for Luke's middle name.

On little kids acting funny after being separated from a parent (like Hopkins this year):

I'm reminded that when Vicki was born, we were a week in the hospital. That's the way it was done way back then. I didn't see my 17 month old little boy for a couple of days after we got home; when I went to Grandma Baldauf's to pick him up, he looked at me for a couple of seconds and ran for his grandpa. My heart was breaking, but it was only for a few seconds when he came running back to me. One of those unforgettable moments. I know how hard separations can be. Hang in there.

On letting go of anger and hurt:

I learned a long time ago not to hang onto hurt and anger. Life is just too short for that.  There comes a time in life to get on with getting along with everyone.

On strained family dynamics:

I want them to get along.  They just don't. 

On sibling rivalry:

My youngest great-grandson is going to be a people pleaser all of his life if he doesn't drive you out of your mind before he grows up. He is a charmer even while he's breaking things, isn't he? He will probably aggravate Luke more often than not all the time they're growing up. Now I understand why my brother didn't like me very much until we got very old. He was just shy of five years old when I was born, and I was the achiever (and kind of sneaky I'm afraid) and got away with lots of stuff that he didn't. I wasn't as adorable looking as Matt though.

On being herself:

I am well; I am feisty.

Nana has always had a special relationship with Luke, Will and Matt.  But something that happened this weekend really caught my eye and taught me something new about this woman I have known all my life.  It was bright and early, and she was sitting on the couch alone as Mickey Mouse Clubhouse came on the television.  Suddenly Matt crawled up next to her and cuddled in.

Matt isn't always the cuddliest of kids, especially now that he's two.  So Nana took this situation as a gift, and snuggled in to watch the Mickey Mouse episode.  Within minutes, the two of them were laughing and conversing about Martian Mickey, Toodles, and Pete the Cat.  You'd never know that their births were separated by 82 and three-quarters years.  They were like best friends.

I've learned so much about life from my grandmother.  I am so grateful and fortunate to have her so healthy and an active part of my life, and in my family's life!  I love her humor and the fact that she can find relevance in both her past and present.  I love that when I sit back and listen, she tells me stories about people that passed before I could remember but that she loved with all her heart.  What a gift.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


On the morning of Thanksgiving, before the bustle and hum of an eventful day, we opened a gift from Grammy and Papa from New York.  From out of the package sprung our first ever Elf on the Shelf.

For those who aren't familiar, this is a little stuffed elf who comes with a story - basically Santa has sent him to sit in your house until Christmas, to report back to Santa on who is naughty and who is nice.  The kids are not allowed to touch him, and the parents must remember that every night, the elf must move to another spot.  If he doesn't move, the kids get suspicious that the Elf on the Shelf might have passed away and not gotten back to Santa that yesterday they were definitely deserving of a spot on the nice list.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the Elf on the Shelf process is choosing your elf's name.  We have a lot of people filled with creativity and opinions amongst the 5 of us, so I pulled out the boys' paper easel and we got started with ideas.

Nate threw out Rumplestiltskin.  I suggested Bazinga.  Luke wasn't a fan of either of those, so he grabbed a crayon.  His first suggested was Pahhe. 

He quickly decided that Pahhe was not a name he wanted to suggest, though, and scratched it out.  Then he got a determined look on his face, stuck his tongue out in concentration, and at the top of the Elf Name Suggestion List, wrote this:

For those who cannot make out the writing of a kindergartener, Luke suggested the name Hliflitz.  I know it seems strangely devoid of vowels, but when you step back and read it phonetically, the name is remarkably easy to pronounce.  Hliflitz.  Hu-liff-litz.  It helps to clear your throat before saying it.

Luke was very proud of the name he had suggested.  We took a family vote.  Around the room we went, Hliflitz was a unanimous selection.  Will clicked emphatically in support of the name.

Once we had agreed on the name, we registered it at the Elf website. We got a nice welcome certificate signed by Mrs. Claus herself.  Luke was shocked when we learned from the Elf Registry that Hliflitz was not on the Top Ten List for Elf Names.

 Since then, Hliflitz has been on the kitchen island, on top of the fridge, on the living room table, and tomorrow when the kids wake up, they will search and find him on the stairs. He's a busy guy... and already been TOTALLY useful in curtailing some tantrum activity...

"Don't make me have Hliflitz tell Santa about this..."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Being Luke.

Luke's school had a fundraiser today called Boosterthon Fun Run.  It is a nice way to raise money for the school, where students collect pledges  and learn about leadership, fitness and making good choices.  The week of activities culminates with a Fun Run - a small track is set up on the school grounds and all students have a goal of completing 35 laps.  Thankfully the track isn't the size of a standard track.

Luke was very excited about the Fun Run.  He had that goal of 35 laps in his mind and he wanted to do it!  I was nervous about the Fun Run.  Luke has a lot of challenges with running and stamina.  I was nervous about whether he would reach his goal, how he would react to other students passing him on the track, if he would hurt himself, if other students would tease him for wearing braces on his feet...  

I showed up to the track bright and early.  I hadn't told Luke I was going - I have never seen him from a distance at school, and I wanted to see how he acted, who he played with... how he was as a student away from the watchful eyes of parents.  The event was set up nicely, with upbeat music playing and several Boosterthon employees giving out directions.  Imagine if dancing around, encouraging fitness to elementary students and showing off your best 'Sprinkler' and 'Running Man' was your job!

All the students and their teachers ("coaches") ran out onto the track through an inflatable tunnel, showing off their decorated team shirts.  Luke was excited to run through the tunnel with his classmates for Team Green Machine, showing off his green Binghamton University sweatshirt with pride.

The Boosterthon employees quickly ran through the logistics of the event, pumping the kids and the parents up.  They really did a great job, and with an excited "on your mark, get set, GO!," the running began.  All the kids together.  En mass.  Imagine watching a soccer game played by 4 years old.  A big clump of kids. 

My kids must recognize me as a mess of hair and a big camera in my face, because amongst all the parents and kids and cheering, Luke called out "MOMMY!" as he rounded the first turn and gave me a big grin.

The goal for each of the students was 35 laps.  Given the size of the track was probably about 1/15th of a mile, that probably doesn't seem like a lot of running.  For the first couple of laps, Luke did a pretty good job of keeping up with his friends.  He was excited to be a part of it all - arms pumping, big grin on his face, and only a hint of a limp.  I hid a little bit in the crowd of parents so that I didn't hover.  My eyes got a little teary - he WAS DOING IT.  What he wanted to be doing... running like a 5 year old.  Happy as can be amongst his buds. 

At the end of each lap, the students passed a line where the teachers - armed with permanent markers - marked off each lap on the back of the kids' shirts.  Numbers 1 through 35 (the Lap Cap).  Luke understood the concept.  He wanted to get to that goal. 

About 8 laps in, Luke's face showed a little bit of distress.  I pulled him off to the side for a minute and tightened his braces.  The second his shoes went back on, he was off like a flash.  He didn't want to lose pace with the rest of his classmates.

By lap 15, Luke had stopped for water once or twice.  He knew he needed a break.  I was proud of him for listening to his body.  But just like with the shoes, the minute he drank the Dixie cup full of water (thank you PTA!), he kicked it back up into high gear. 

As you would expect, the pace of the running amongst all the kids got slower as the laps went on.  I wasn't really keeping track of Luke's lap number.  I just kept looking for that green hoodie while dancing along with the Boosterthon employees to the Jackson Five, Sweet Caroline, and random songs from the 90s.   He was still going.

About the time Luke's face started to look like this:

I started to get concerned.  I didn't want him to hurt.  He didn't look like he was enjoying himself.  I asked him quietly as he ran past if he wanted to stop.  I looked at his shirt, he had done more than 20 laps - that was a great accomplishment. 

"I need to get to 35, Mom.  I don't want to stop." And he was off.

Every now and again, I'd see him stop one of his friends to look at the back of their shirts, to see how many laps they'd done.  Then I saw him stop to talk to his principal, clearly asking her how many laps he had completed.

After I took this shot, Luke took off like a flash, suddenly finding a burst of energy.  He ran past all of his friends, around the outside, making his way through the line of kids waiting for their shirts to be marked before hitting the ground again at high speed. Determination written all over his face.

He had realized that he was behind, and he needed to make up some ground.  But Luke's stamina was waning, and his braced feet were starting to get clunky on the ground.  I didn't know what to do.  I wanted to step in, but he kept on going.  Slowly, then quickly.  Wanting to go and meet that 35 lap goal, but his legs and feet were failing him.  They announced 10 minutes remaining in the Fun Run.  Most kids cheered.  Luke didn't.

At lap 31, he stopped and told one of the Boosterthon employees that he couldn't go any further.  They tried to be encouraging, telling him that he'd done a good job and should be proud.  They announced that there were just 2 minutes remaining.  I could see his lip start to quiver.  Off he went running again, just for a second, though, before he started to limp.

He was trying SO HARD.  Beyond determined.  My heart was breaking.  He was displaying his own.

When he came through the line to get his 31st lap marked, I asked if I could walk with him.  He gladly accepted, and off we walked - hand in hand.  He was pulling on me very hard.  I could tell he hurt.  He did not whimper or complain.  He just kept talking about how sad he was that he wasn't going to get to 35 laps if we didn't hurry up.

As we were nearing the marker line, they announced that time was up.  Luke had completed 32 laps.  I was so proud of him!  I didn't have any expectations for how many he was going to complete, so to get so close to the goal seemed like a win to me.

Luke was devastated.  The Boosterthon employees announced that classes should get into their team lines to start heading back into the school.  Luke started to cry.  Big tears, heavy sobs.  He was so disappointed in himself.  He really wanted to reach the goal.  He felt that he had failed.  I picked him up to try and tell him how well he did and he just cried harder.  He pointed at all of his friends and how they had all reached the 35 lap goal.

I looked around at all of his friends.  Girls, boys, tall, short, black, white, happy, sad.  There were a couple of other kids who didn't finish and they weren't happy either.  I looked back at him.  In a moment I was struck with how far Luke had come and how I wanted to tell him all that he'd accomplished. 

None of those kids was born 3 months early.  None of these kids was resuscitated in an ambulance on the side of an interstate highway.  None of them has had heart surgery.  Or 4 separate shunt surgeries.  None of them had a severe brain hemorrhage at birth or has had weekly physical therapy since 6 months of age.  They don't have faint white prick marks on the backs of their hands from hundreds of IVs.  None of them has annual head and belly x-rays.  None of them has brain damage or cerebral palsy or wears braces to help them walk.  They don't have permanent lung damage from being on oxygen for months. None of them.  Sure some of them probably had one of these things... but none of them has dealt with all of these things, and none of them is still trying SO DAMN HARD to just be another one of the kindergarteners.

But I didn't say any of that. 

I put Luke down.  I asked him if he wanted to finish.  He shook his head emphatically.  His tears stopped flowing, but they still sat on his cheeks.  We started to walk back towards the track. 

I told Luke's teacher that he wanted to finish the Fun Run, and that I was going to walk with him.  She looked at Luke and just shook her head yes.  She knew I wasn't really asking.

We started slowly around the track.  Luke's limp was pronounced.  He didn't complain of pain.  He was just counting 33... 34... 35... over and over.  The classes were still in their lines near the marker line as we neared the end of the 33rd lap. 

Over the microphone came an announcement:

"Everyone, we have just been told that there is a remarkable boy here today.  Luke Slavik is very determined to make his goal.  He has two more laps to go.  Let's all cheer him on."

Luke's teacher had told the announcer what we were doing.  There was a roar that errupted from the lines of kids.  Luke wasn't sure what was going on.

"Buddy," I said, "they're cheering for you." 

He smiled.  BIG.  "Mommy, come on.  Let's run."

I started crying.  So much.  He hurt.  He was tired.  His heart had already shown its truth to me, and here it was, showing me even more.  Where did he learn such determination and tenacity?  I was blown away.  We ran past Luke's pre-K teacher.  She was smiling and crying too.

We ran around the track like it was the first lap.  Fast.  Coordinated.  The cheers made him so happy.  Pushing him on.  We crossed the line marking our 34th lap.   Luke's teacher grabbed his other hand, and the three of us ran around the track together.

The 35th lap was done.  As we crossed the line, there was another eruption of cheers.  Cheers for determination.  Cheers for heart.  Cheers for Luke!  I picked him up and gave him a big hug.  I looked into his eyes.  They were clear and happy.  He was proud.

Despite the smiles and the running, his tears from earlier were still camped out on his cheek.  I caught his teacher's eye and pointed to the back of Luke's shirt.  In front of his whole class, she checked off the last laps.  He had done it.  We cheered again. 

"I did it Mommy!  I made it to the Lap Cap!"

I put Luke down.  The head Boosterthon guy walked over to talk to Luke.  He told Luke how proud he was, and how Luke had demonstrated all of the growth and strength lessons that they had been trying to teach all week.  They gave each other a thumbs up, stopped for a picture, and he thanked us for letting him be a part of such a great story.

All the kids went back into school to have an assembly and give out fundraising prizes.  I went back to the van and just sat there for a minute.  To say I was profoundly affected would be an understatement.  My heart was so full of joy and amazement.  I called Nate and tried to tell him what had happened.  I was a sobbing mess, but he understood both my words and the gravity of what had transpired.

He said "I am so happy that you were there."  So am I.  I don't know if Luke will remember this day for the rest of his life.  I know that I will.  The day that he didn't give up, made up his mind, hit his goal, strived for something that he knew he could do.  Felt pride and joy and inclusion.  The day he showed us all what being Luke is really all about.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mr. Slavik goes to Washington('s Birthplace)

I like history.  I want my boys to appreciate history.  Thankfully I have a spouse and friends who are willing to humor me.

Westmoreland State Park is less than 5 miles from the place where George Washington was born in 1732 - a large plantation called Wakefield on the banks of Pope's Creek.  Though young George moved away from Wakefield at the age of 3, the property stayed in the Washington family and has since become a National Monument.  The house where George was born burned in a fire in the late 1700s, but a memorial home was constructed in George's honor and the remainder of the farm stands much as it did back in George's day.  This includes a working blacksmith shop, kitchen, and farm with heirloom breeds from the same era.

When we arrived, the kids jumped out of the car and excitedly ran to the visitor center.  You're probably thinking that they were excited to go to the bathroom or something.  Wrong.  They were actually excited to go into the visitor center!  I just don't think they knew what a visitor center was.

We enjoyed walking along Pope's Creek and seeing the waterfowl that had taken refuge in the area.  Compared to the stormy "seas" that we'd seen the day before on the Potomac, Pope's Creek was calm and serene.  Our first stop was at the memorial house - complete with a historically inaccurate but greatly appreciated wheelchair ramp - where we braved showed off our extremely well-behaved and historically-astute kids on a tour with a park ranger.  Thankfully no one broke anything.

After the house tour, we marveled at the gated garden near the house, spotted a brave squirrel preparing for the winter, and learned how to read a sundial.

The highlight for all the kids was definitely the farm.  There were cows with horns, large noisy sheep, and the biggest pigs you ever saw... with little piglets that ran through the mud and made us all laugh.  The best view in the house was from one of hundreds of sections of split log fences on the property.

The highlight for the adults?  Aside from enjoying our weekend, hiking, spending time together and cooking a lot of yummy food... we spotted a bald eagle soaring overhead as we toured George Washington's birthplace.  How patriotically perfect, right?!  You can't script things like this.  You just take a moment with your mouth gaping, and hope desperately that you remembered to take off the lens cap as you feverishly take pictures.