Building Experiences, always and anyway.

I finally sat down this week to open mail and get caught up on my work and writing thank you cards. I love opening Maddie’s Mark mail, sometimes I find cards from little children who sent their tooth fairy money, or an anonymous note with a donation in honor of a loved one. Some days there are many clay fingerprint imprints contained in envelopes waiting to be made into silver pendants for their mommas. The girls and I often take turns opening and reading, or looking at the tiny clay hands of those beautiful angels who are no longer here with their families. For many people and families that would be a terribly sad event to share with your daughters, but we Musto Chicks are not normal. To talk to your children about life and birth and death, gratitude and kindness… it helps me build better people.

Last week I got a few letters, but I was running around like a mad woman and left it unopened. After a week of working at school and coming home to do the runs to dance, squishing in a workout, first Reconciliation… and a trip to the doctor for a nice and painful sinus infection… I finally had a morning to sit and drink my coffee at my table. I sat down to open mail and listen to Mumford and Sons Pandora. I wrote a thank you to a paving company and a golf donor, then I opened a CAP COM envelope. I assumed it was a letter about a request for sponsorship, but was surprised to see it was a check and 2 letters. I read the top one, and started a thank you. CAP COM sent a donation at the request of an exceptional employee, who chose Maddie’s Mark to support. I recognized the name and I could not figure out why. I wrote a thank you and then read the letter behind the official letter, the letter written by the recipient- Jenna.

I realized why I knew her name. She gifted me the most special gift, her words and her experience. I so rarely get to read or know what our ‘best day ever’ families or kids fully experienced. I see posts, pictures and sometimes I get to be a part of the experience. I write and talk to families after, but I really try to let them be their own family, to share what they would like. I never want to impose on a family or their time. So many times I don’t know the recipient, I just work with the Albany Med Social Workers and Child Life Specialists to create a special experience and not know the families. I love that our Foundation and Herd make it possible to care for families without even knowing them, or sharing more than they can. It is a special gift. Opening that letter, reading every word… I cried. I don’t often do that, but it made me feel big. Her words made me smile and hurt. I smile because I know what it is like to look back on a ‘best day ever’ and I hurt because I know what it feels like to miss the most special person who shared that ‘best day ever’. I read her letter and I was grateful she wrote it, she might think that it is just a donation, but I know it is a reminder. I am reminded of the importance of Madeline’s work. I am reminded of those who have this journey because of cancer right alongside me.

I work hard, in life and parenting and Maddie’s Mark. I love it all, even when it is too much and I am super tired. I want unique experiences that are very personal. When I was called for this ‘best day ever’ I had never met this boy, this teen who missed his prom. I was asked to set up a date for this teen. I didn’t know his name then, and I said of course. I freaked out a little, when I was working to figure out what teens do for a date (ps no wine or drinks after dinner)… so I called up one of our past ‘best day ever’ teens and he helped me understand ‘BOY’ and ‘TEEN’. I wanted this date to be the closest we could to prom, since he had missed prom.

I was really drawn to the missing in this. I thought about the time when I went to prom and enjoyed all the bits of being a senior. I remember it well- nights of drive in movies, days of pep rallies and trying to rebel. I don’t at all wish to trade life in the here and now, but I remember it all fondly. I felt very sad that this teen missed those ‘normals’ and I knew I needed to deliver a rockin’ good date night. I tried to make it be a whole week affair, I had gifts shipped to the house for him to gift his girlfriend (the first time I knew his name was to send gifts from Amazon and get flowers delivered). I called the fanciest restaurant and Premiere Limo… but then I was lost. What else do they do… what is a date when you are a teen. I worried that it wouldn’t be awesome, and I stressed. I woke one day thinking about sunsets on Lake Ontario, being on the east or north made great sunsets, what if we could do that. I googled the beach in Saratoga that just opened, and it was on the east side of the lake- Brown’s Beach had sunsets. I handed over the rest to Dante, our previous ‘best day ever’ teen and he created the most perfect spot to enjoy the sunset, just the two of them. He set up Adirondack chairs and rose petals and chocolates. He made it just the way I could envision it. That couple that I now knew was a teen named Ryan and his lovely Jenna, enjoyed their own sunset.

I thought about that night and wondered how it went often. Dante and his family kept me posted and told me about the experience. I woke up knowing Maddie had worked her work. Life kept moving… adventures, school started, and events happened, Amelia turned 8 and the holidays were welcomed and enjoyed. All of the sudden it was winter and two of our ‘best day ever’ teens were receiving bone marrow transplants, new life. I followed via Facebook and saw all the fighting and hope and patience… until one day… Ryan went to heaven. One of our ‘best day ever’ teens was with Madeline, my heart hurt. I know that pain, which his whole family felt. I read his obituary and some posts and in my heart I know that this Jenna must be his soulmate. In all of the hard she stood strong, she loved anyway. It is hard to love always and anyway. To be a teen in love and give so much to another, to love always and anyways… is a gift. I thought about Ryan the gift his Jenna gave him, the gift he have her even in the pain. I know that loss and pain are worth the love. I used to just wonder and think about it…

Then I read her letter.

Jenna wrote about that night, about that week. She wrote about what that night felt like to her, and in my heart I know Ryan felt the same. I read all of her words and I will read them over and over… this letter was a huge gift. I am sure Jenna was glad to be able to share and support Maddie’s Mark, but I know it was more. Reading about her experience reminded me how important this work is. It reminded me that in all those hard days and difficult deadlines we are doing big things. All those stressful times are worth the amazingness of creating a ‘best day ever’ experience that replaces a missed normal.

Read this letter, be reminded. Service is a BIG deal… Thanksgiving is next week- beyond being grateful, do your job. Show your gratitude. Offer your service. Take care of others… I know you don’t need the reminder or the thanks or the Facebook share…. But little things mean big things. I didn’t need the thank you or the written words about this ‘best night ever’ but I am ever so grateful for them…

I am going to share this letter with you, so you all can feel it too. I want you to read and know this is from a beautiful, bold and brave girl who’s soulmate is with Madeline. I want you to feel the importance of a ‘best day ever’. I want you to feel her loss… her pain, right next to her joy. Jenna is here, for the long haul- Ryan is without pain and guiding with Madeline.   I want you to sit with her in her loss, and her pain. I want you to love her pain and her joy… I want you to help build her back up. I want you to feel it all and love her BIG. I want you to thank Jenna for her bravery to write this and share… I want you to send her words to let her know she is in your moments, your prayers and your thoughts. I want you to read this, and comment… share…. And help us change all.of.this.

jennas-letter

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Life is hard and we can do hard things…

Today is Veteran’s Day, a day of gratefulness for all those who signed on to protect our country and help build it better and safer. Today I am grateful for my grandparents and my cousins, my uncles and my sister… and a lot more. I am grateful they gifted, and yes they gifted it, their time and youth and stories to take care of us in many different times. Their gift of taking a potentially deadly job with much less pay and very difficult conditions, high expectations and missing much of their normal family time has protected a country that I love being a part of. So many of us don’t even know how good we have it… great schools, refrigerators full of food, hospitals around the corner, churches we don’t have to be scared to attend, parks to play in and homes to snuggle into at night. We do have it good… Thank you Veterans for doing hard things for us ❤

This week these elections have brought out the WORST in so many people. It is a terrible site to see and try to explain it to my girls. I have read articles and seen news of protests that were really riots, and colleges that cancelled school for a day and bought their students pizza for them to grieve. I see this and it scares me. I feel that our times lack respect and accountability, they lack people who can’t handle loss and use their voice to spout hate.

wecandohardthings

We are creating people who can’t do hard things. It’s hard to not get the president you want, I know. It’s hard to not win every game or election… it is hard. Life is freaking hard. It is exceptionally difficult and painful and heavy and sometimes terrible. Life is an uphill battle with lots of extra difficult challenges piled on. We need to be able to do hard things, really hard things. We need to be grownups who can do hard things, but we aren’t making that kind. Why not?

It isn’t our job to make it easier for our kids to do everything, to make the path smooth and challenge-free. Life doesn’t stay easy after we make it easy… we need to have the tools to get through it, over it, under it. We get those tools by living and seeing that we can do hard things. We don’t need college students who wake up mad that their candidate didn’t win and don’t go to class and learn and get better. We don’t need those kind of adults. I know some of you are going to tell me that we need to grieve, I get it, I have a firm handle on grief. Grief is one of those hard things, and in this case grieve and do your job. If that is college, do your job. If that is parenting, do your job. If that is teaching, do your job. If you are sad or mad about the outcome- go out with hope for success and build your part of this world better. It is a hard thing to do, to get up and move and live when you are sad about an outcome. Always remember we can do hard things.

Stop making life easy for our kids and students, life isn’t easy and it would be so boring if it were (think Mr. Rogers ‘If we were all the same’). Start giving our kids the tools they need to do hard things, to maneuver this world and their story the way they want. It is hard to not make it easy, but I assure you it will be worth it. Imagine what it felt like for our parents to see us do hard things, but then fast forward to my mom seeing me stay afloat when my daughter died and my marriage fell apart. I am sure she felt pride that she did a good job building me to do hard things. I don’t know why we as parents, in this generation want to make it smooth… stand strong and build better.

I hope to feel that pride in my parenting when my girls grow, when they take on parenting and I see them do hard things and build great people who can do hard things. I know it hurts to see my children fail or maneuver rocky paths, paths that I could smooth for them, but instead I stand back and offer tools, sometimes I cry because it hurts to see them hurt, but I keep doing my job- my part in building better people who can do hard things.

Build better- Vote.

voteI wonder what kind of people we are raising. I watch and listen to so many people’s voices and opinions, all are loud and clear. I see it, I read it, I hear it… we are literally drowning in it. That’s right we are drowning in it. It is making our worlds very murky and hard to see right from wrong, humanity, positive thoughts, kindness… pretty much everything that is good in this world. We have moved from stating facts and ideas- to name calling and yelling and there being one side for everything and everyone. All of which we choose to do- to name call or to proclaim your stand that if someone doesn’t stand by you they will no longer be your friend. You know what???? We are making little human beings all around us with ears and eyes and brains and hearts and knowledge… they are forming their values, their stories and their paths by our behavior and modeling. We are making poor choices- and they are seeing it.

Those littles learn from us bigs. They are seeing us, our interactions… the news, the words we spout; all of it the love and the hate. I see much more hate in these past months and years. They hear us on the phone or talking to friends- including when we talk about not being friends with anyone who doesn’t agree… they know. You know what they are doing? Forming their path and ways, the ways they will make relationships, that they will be a part of democracy, they are building that right now. You know what? We are failing at building good and kind people (yes we are). Believe me, I have heard and seen many kids in recent months and it ranges from tolerant to very unkind about this election. They aren’t taking with them life lessons of gratefulness for the fact we live in a country that votes, or knowledge about important issues, not even tolerance for those who believe different thing (always been an awesome part of America).

Yesterday my Lucy came home from school, she told me her class participated in a mock election. I told her that sounded interesting, she told me who won and she stopped there. “Mommy in my group everyone was voting for ***, and I wanted to vote for —. The kids told me that if I voted for — and not *** that I can not be their friend.” That is what we are making. I told her to tell her group if that were to ever happen again “I will be your friend whether or not you vote for who I do. Friendship isn’t based on that.” I told her to be herself, and stand up. God gave her a voice and a brain and a heart to use and stand… that those words might remind that group member being kind is more important than being the same. It has really bothered me since yesterday though. I can’t get it out of my brain.

Children don’t just say those things, they hear them and they learn them- then they practice them. In a world where so many are trying to build better for our country and families- we need to start at home. What they learn is what they will be- build them better.

In our home we use different words when the girls are not good to one another, when one is jealous or spouts unkind words. I ask them “Are you building or breaking?”… and often time they say “But she did it first” and I repeat “Building or breaking?… in our family we build.” I want them to grow up with a grasp on this, a very firm hold on the idea that we are capable of building and breaking and building is always better. In this election we talked a lot about all of the candidates- I explained Bernie Sanders ideals and how that would affect them if he were chosen, I told them about Hillary’s scandals and the fact that I think she is a very selfish human, we talked about Trump’s words and cockiness and maybe some about his hair… though Meme and I agree that he wears a suit better than Hillary. I have told them that they can believe in who they want, we are free to do that- but we have to live with the good and the bad in that person. I also told them- it is no one’s job to tell them who to vote for. Their job is to use their voice to change the country the way THEY see.

Yesterday Lucy sat in a group with kids whose parents did not show their littles that friendship isn’t based on voting candidates. In fact my Facebook feed is chock full of people telling me who I should or should not vote for- telling me that if I am not on board to DumpTrump, Vote Trump or #Iamwithher I am wrong. I love that fact that what I fill in on that ballet is none of your beeswax. It is my choice and I get to make it… though I am still waiting for Abe Lincoln to magically drop in on the ballot. If I choose to share and you unfriend me, then you aren’t a friend.

My biggest hope is that this country gets stronger and more respectful, more full of kindness and simple… less is more. My prayer is that tomorrow when we all wake up we can take a couple deep breathes and get on with our lives- and love everyone anyway. If we work from the bottom up, through our kids, schools, communities, churches and on up we will build it better.

 

OHHHHH…. In case you all wonder:

I am voting for…..

(joking)