“Progress will not prevail through silence.”

I can vividly picture the buckets of rain pouring down on my car in the spring of 2004 before GPS was on my phone or in my car.  I was completely lost in a foreign place and saw spotlights in the Home Depot parking lot up ahead.  As the daughter of a handyman, I knew those lights anywhere.

I safely parked and called the only person I could, my Dad.  He knew exactly how to help me find this hidden school in a town I knew only through my google search.  That is my father for you.  It seems that he is always there any time I need him with the exact answer or helpful hand.  Whether it is repairing a flat tire on the curved and very dangerous on-ramp to 295, sitting with me through every day of Kelsey’s hospitalizations and always arriving with a large pumpkin DD coffee, fixing anything for me in a pinch, or building a deck with my husband, my dad is always the one.

And so my father saved the day yet again on that Spring evening of low visibility as I was about to face my first interview in the world of education.  The Superintendent and Principal were holding 15 minute interviews in the library throughout the day, and I believe that I had the final appointment of the night.

Now five minutes late and wondering if they would still be inside at 8:20 P.M, I found the door locked.  Lacking an umbrella and holding my teaching portfolio that grew soggier by the second (thank you to whoever created plastic sheet protectors, by the way!  Without you, I stood not a chance.), it seemed that Murphy’s Law was enjoying this hour on my behalf.  When I finally reached the correct door, now likely ten minutes tardy, both Superintendent and Principal seemed warm and full of energy after a long day at work.

Late and wet, I forged on with my educational jargon, apologized profusely for my tardiness, and went with the honest approach about the rain.  It was not raining when I left my evening class in Ewing, NJ nor was there a cloud in the sky all day while I was student teaching.  I did not even think to grab an umbrella just in case.  I was, after all, still a college student.  

The two administrators could not have been nicer to me and seemed to let my joke and my honesty lighten the mood.  I had an immediate comfort and connection with these two, and the feeling must have been mutual.

The journey to a job offer did not end that night, and three more interviews, including a demonstration lesson, were still necessary hurdles to cross.  At least I knew the way now.  The sun seemed to shine and mock me on each of the subsequent interview days that followed this initial test of my will and my patience.

That day was serendipitous after all and maybe it was Murphy’s Law that made me stand out.  Whatever the case, I was offered a second grade teaching position before I graduated college.  I was extremely proud.  

After the first blunder, I read more about this tiny town and was impressed with all that I learned.  Over the years, I have met countless families who have done everything from the extraordinary to the everyday necessities for their children.  I have assisted in the home schooling of a student near and dear to my heart who still battles the effects of Leukemia.  I have hosted tailgate parties with my grade level partners to celebrate local sports teams, created “Olympic” events and reading challenges with my incredible colleagues, and loved every one of my students dearly.  

I would like to think that I have made a difference in the lives of many.  They have given me joys, challenges, and proud moments that I will never forget.  Each one has taught me something about life, humanity, and the pursuit of academic excellence.

The relationships that I have made in this town surround me in almost every aspect of my life.  Over a decade of connections add up quickly.  The irony of Saturday for me was that the relationships that lifted me up this weekend are the same ones I kept in the dark for so long.  My journey was purposely kept hidden because it was easier, I was in denial, and I felt that it was the most professional thing to do.

The students and families who came to support Kelsey’s Lemonade Stand on Saturday at Chestnut Branch park filled my heart with more happiness than I am able to describe in words.  Through the efforts of Tina Munholland, her family and with the assistance of all members of the Lutz, Buckley, Capasso, Kulback, and Buck families (among countless others that I admire and appreciate), one town came together to raise more than $1500 to help my family find a cure for my daughter.  Though the money was incredibly generous, Saturday meant so much more than the donations.

Then this afternoon, I unexpectedly encountered a former student who is now in sixth grade.  We did not expect to see one another.  Seeing him was surreal for me.  There he stood, tall and proud in a Kelsey’s Kaleidoscope t-shirt I did not even know he owned.  His grin spanned from ear to ear, and I was left speechless.  I was truly overcome with emotion as I am now typing about the love and support I have felt over the past few days for my daughter’s cause.

Tears stream as I reflect on all of the years and the good I thought I was doing.  I realize now that I am just lucky to be a part of something amazing.  There is a tremendous amount of great at every corner of that tiny town.  Those, like me, lucky enough to call it our work home only seek to enhance the great and make it exceptional whether we realize it or not.  How fortunate we all are.

Silence is said to be golden in a theater, but I have found little value in it elsewhere.  My new motto is “Progress will not prevail through silence.”  Thank you for listening, supporting, and promoting progress.  Thank you Dad for somehow navigating me to that hidden school and thank you to the Superintendent and Principal who gave me a chance.

These words are a humble attempt at my heartfelt appreciation, though they could never fully convey my sincere appreciation.  


Like a Parent

In September of 2008, I came to work with a secret that few knew.  I had a tiny baby growing inside of me.  He was about 11 weeks old at the time.  I remember feeling a sense of excitement, fear, and sheer happiness whenever I thought about it.

My husband and I were truly overjoyed to know that come March, we would have a bundle of joy to cuddle and cherish of our own.  As I began my fifth year teaching, I felt an instant bond with my class and the parents that were entrusting their children to me.  While I had always tried to think “like a parent,” now I was going to be one.  It was much easier to put myself in the actual shoes of a parent that fall.

I was fortunate to have an incredible group of students that year, and the excitement did not stop with my budding belly.  The Philadelphia Phillies made it to the playoffs, and I had the most dedicated crew of Philadelphia sports families that year, too.  We were all caught up in the playoffs and then the World Series.

The final game of the series happened to coincide with my 20 week ultrasound.  My husband was hoping we could catch the entire game in hopes that the Phillies would bring home the pennant.  At 8:38 P.M., we learned that a little boy was healthy and happy growing inside of me, bigger and stronger every day.  It seemed fitting to learn that our baby was a boy on the night that the Phillies reclaimed the title after almost three decades of a drought.

Then, on the day of the champions’ parade, I connected with a person that would mean so much to me in 2009 and beyond.  She was the mother of a wonderful young man in my class that year and we had an instant connection.  Later on in the year, we made arrangements for her to watch my son when I started working again.  I was scared to say that anyone except me would care for my baby, but I felt secure and safe knowing that he would be in her care.

She was the second mother to my son that I had always hoped I would find and all was well.  We made it though birthdays, the loss of pets and the exciting news that I would have a new little lady to add to the collection of children in January of 2011.  Her family became a part of my family and I knew that my children were a true extension of her family.  

I was lucky enough to teach her other two remarkable children and life was still good.   

Then Kelsey was hospitalized for 16 days.  Life changed in a way that I could not fully comprehend until very recently, and the weight of the world no longer seemed a shared responsibility.  I closed off many emotions and connections and soon, I shut out the woman who was the second mother to both of my children.

Kelsey’s diagnosis came after this second mother had a year full of uncertainty and sadness herself.  We both likely needed each other more than we knew, but life pulled us apart.  

It had been almost two years before she and I reconnected, and I was grateful on that day in a way that words can not express.  Keeping Kelsey’s battle a struggle from most of the world meant that it was also a secret kept from Kelsey’s second mother.

The old saying goes that some friendships pick up where they left off, and this one did not just pick up, it took off.   This amazing woman and her family got to work and thought about a way to help Kelsey and her foundation immediately.  

On Saturday, September 24 at Chestnut Branch Park, an amazing group of families, led by this incredible woman will come together to host a Lemonade Stand for Kelsey.  Aside from the enormous gratitude I feel inside, I am also overwhelmed because it was her children who came up with the idea.  My former students decided to teach me a lesson in giving more than you ever expect to receive.  Their kindness and generosity is exemplary.  As their former teacher thinking “like a parent,” I am proud, humbled, and full of joy.

If you are free this weekend to purchase lemonade, buy a bracelet, share a hug, or say hello, join us at Chestnut Branch Park.   We will be there from 10-2 to spread awareness and keep the attitude of gratitude alive.  

If you’re free in PA afterward, join us for the sounds of Sunday Muse and another opportunity to spread the word and the love.

To close with the words of Dr. Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”

Thank you caring a whole awful lot.  Life is going to improve for Kelsey, just watch.

Wit Us All the Way

June 10, 2014 is a day that I have tried to forget every day since.  I remember the moment that Kelsey’s doctor walked into the room with eyes that said too much.  I knew that this would be the beginning of the journey, and I have gone through the motions of anger, denial, exhaustion, and depression since.

If not for my mom on that night, I think I would have broken.  Instead, when I went to pick up my son, I was given a dish of pasta and a goblet of wine.  I could barely stomach either nor the words to speak all that I had learned at 5:05 PM.  I wondered if it was the terrible nightmare that kept me up at night every evening since I knew it was a possibility.  “Polyarter…er… I guess I should learn how to pronounce this,” I thought.

I googled the entirety and read the very little that was written on the disease, especially for a three year old.  The New England Journal of Medicine provided the most detailed account of the new findings and patient studies to date.  Though little was written, I found that the more I read, the less I could handle.  I could barely get out of bed.

As you may be thinking, the days, weeks, and months that passed following the first steroid dose and the booked chemotherapy appointment were a battle.  We finally had a diagnosis and a plan, and for that I was grateful.  The National Institute of Health saved us the side effects of the chemotherapy infusion by offering us the option to use Enbrel instead as a TNF blocker.  The doctors had good reason to believe that it would improve Kelsey more than chemotherapy and virtually eliminate the risk of stroke, “as long as we can stay ahead of the dose,” they cautioned.

Always stay ahead of the dose, we try.  Sometimes staying ahead feels like lagging behind, and it was for that reason that my family and I finally decided that our silence was only causing an implosion of worry and pain.  To stay ahead, we need more.

Therefore, on June 23, 2016, I truly began to open up about the feelings and struggles I had endured as a mother.  If you read this post or have read others, I thank you.  I have found a great deal of strength through the keys of this keyboard and the kindness of many who do not realize its effects.  

September 11, 2016 is another key day on my journey for Kelsey.   A heavy day for our nation that evokes sorrow, hope, and patriotism.  The fifteenth anniversary of a difficult memory now holds a new place in my heart, too.

Maybe it was watching the footage of the twin towers with my son that morning that started the nausea.  Or perhaps it was the reality that today would be the day my family’s mission became a public reality.

As easy as it is for me to type our tale and share it behind a computer screen is as difficult as it is for me to openly discuss my feelings.  September 11, 2016 would force me to do that as Pat’s King of Steaks allowed us to host Cheesesteaks for Kelsey.  Words cannot truly express what an incredible day it was for my family.

The support, love, and generosity of family members, friends, and strangers near and far, was truly unbelievable.  Some I have never met, some I have not seen in seven or thirty years, and some just a few hours.  With each new smile, $1.00 donation for a bracelet or through your purchase of a steak, you showed my family and its mission support.  The shades of blue I have felt for two years started to turn a more purple hue.  We cheered the Eagles on to victory and then had four beautiful cheerleaders grace us with their spirit and support following the win.  It was a mix of green, red, white, blue, purple, and pink.  

It was a beautiful day to be in South Philadelphia.  We came together for cheesesteaks and we came together for Kelsey.  Love truly transcends and love is what carries us through.  

If you called, texted, came in person, bought a bracelet, or thought about our efforts on Sunday: THANK YOU.  I always tell my kids that they can move mountains, just as Dr. Seuss has told me for many years.  

Today, I am starting to believe that maybe I can, too.


Bright Beginner

Yesterday, like many mothers sending her child off to Kindergarten, I shed a tear as I watched my five-year-old stroll joyfully onto the bus.  I tossed and turned the night before wondering how her day would go.  I was both ecstatic and anxious as she was set to embark on an incredible milestone.  My tiny tears were those of happiness, hope, and excitement.

Three weeks ago, this was not the same carefree kid that realized her educational journey was beginning.  Instead, fear seemed to hit her out of the blue on a Thursday evening.  I heard sobbing coming from her bedroom.  I knew that these were not tears of pain, and I wondered what could possibly be the source of the tears.

“Mommy, what if no one likes me in Kindergarten?” she inquired when I snuggled in closely.

While my first reaction was to laugh at my social butterfly fearing friendship, I realized how serious her worry was at that moment.  Apprehension quickly escalated the more she began to think about Kindergarten and all of its components.  Her concerns included eating lunch in a cafeteria, riding on the bus, and meeting a new teacher.  Of all of the worries I have had this summer and fears that I have attempted to face, these were hers and quite valid they were.

Her brother experienced these same troubles and overheard our conversation.  He happily asked to join our conversation and assured Kelsey that everything would be just fine.  He also shared some tips.  My favorite piece of advice from the seven-year-old sage came when Kelsey noted that each new child would actually be a stranger on that first day.  My son replied, “that is true Kels.  If you are not sure about the kids on the first day, just say, ‘Hi!   My name is Kelsey, maybe we can play tomorrow?’  Then watch them during the first day and decide if you’d like to play with them the next day.”  Then my wise son shook his head and said, “On second thought, maybe you can just say, ‘would you like to be my friend?’  These will be the kids in your class all year long so you might as well just make friends the second you meet them.”  

The two young scholars continued the discussion for almost thirty minutes with advice, worries, and tips to master the art of Kindergarten.  

Kelsey’s trepidation followed by complete comfort in her brother’s words forced me to marvel at the thought of childhood and its innocence.  The fears she had were quite legitimate, and the only ones I wish she ever had.

When the bus halted, I watched her linger and carefully observe the bigger kids.  She was not entirely sure what to do at first.  Then, she looked back, gave a wee wave and bounced on the bus full of hope and excitement.  The educational journey of my daughter had officially begun.  

Later on that evening, Kelsey wanted her big brother to know that she took his advice.  “Today, I saw a girl with her head down.  Maybe she was sad or scared.  I didn’t even know her name but I said, ‘Hi, I’m Kelsey.  Do you want to be my friend?  Guess what, she did!”  Beaming with excitement over friendship and her brother’s wisdom, I could not help but smile and get a little bit teary eyed.  

The tiny tears that made it difficult to finish cooking dinner represented joy, pride, and part of the notion that I must be doing something right.  I guess tonight was a milestone for me as a mother, too.

To my Kindergarten girl and second grade star, I hope that you always remember:

“You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting,

So… get on your way!”

Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!