Eight Years on the Planet


Late last month, Caroline (pictured) turned eight.

Eight years on the planet. For Caroline’s birthday, Tony had a little cake party at Hershey park. My daughter will turn thirteen in January and already we have begun the planning for how she will spend the day. This is something I let my wife deal with. Why? Because it’s hard. Each year we have to plan something bigger and more exiting than the previous year. If we don’t, no little girls will show up for the party. When it comes to birthday party options, thirteen-year-old girls can be incredibly discriminating. I am sure all you parents out there know what I am talking about. It’s enough to make even an optimist like me into a bitter cynic.

That’s why it was so satisfying to hear about Caroline’s eighth birthday party. Her guest list included a special little boy named Braden Albert (pictured).

This six-year-old boy lives nearby Tony and Caroline and struggles with his own Rett-like symptoms. In the run up to the festivities, it was never all that clear that Branden would be well enough to attend. There was much planning to do, including making sure there was enough medical equipment, handicap access at all the public venues, and nurses and aides to go round.

But from what Lisa tells me, the real reward for planning the party might have been for the joy it elicited in Branden’s parents, who had never experienced the simple pleasure of attending another child’s birthday party.

Until Caroline’s eighth birthday, that is.

The running joke is the Caroline and Branden are boyfriend and girlfriend. Of course that’s just one more illusion to bring these kids closer together, wheel chairs parked side-by-side. But sometimes it’s the effort that goes into the slight of hand that makes all the difference. It’s satisfying to see strong parents band together, to expend so much effort to create a mundane experience, just for the simple sake of having it.

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The True Meaning of Christmas


Earlier this week, I learned that my six-year-old nephew Eli (pictured) is one of the most unique little guys I ever met. Eli posses a wisdom that most adults I know couldn’t even begin to imagine. This story has taught me a valuable life lesson, a lesson we could probably all use in our own daily battles.

Eli’s parents recently attended his first grade parent-teacher conference. When my brother and his wife walked into the meeting, Eli’s teacher and the instructional aide assigned to the classroom greeted them with tears in their eyes. Eli’s parents asked if there was a problem. The teachers said Eli was the most delightful little guy they had ever seen.

“That’s our boy,” My brother Troy said. “What did he do?”

Turns out, Eli had befriended a handicapped classmate and would volunteer on a daily basis to play with him on the playground, push him on the swing and even help him walk back to the classroom. He does this day-after-day without any prompting from adults. You just don’t see this type of compassion among your typical six-year-olds. The teachers spent the entire parent-teacher conference praising Eli for multiple random acts of kindness. Most conferences are about grades and teaching strategies, this one was about tears of joy and admiration for little Eli taking time out of his busy six-year-old schedule to care for another less fortunate child.

Eli’s teachers presented him with a special gift from the school to recognize his acts of kindness on the playground. I am willing to bet that Eli wouldn’t understand why he was receiving this gift. He didn’t do this for attention. This is just who he is. It’s up to all of us to learn what we can from this and pass it on.

As my sister-in-law told me this story, I choked up and couldn’t speak. But I don’t know why I am surprised. A two years ago at Caroline’s birthday party, I bought Caroline a Tickle Me Elmo toy. I told Eli that Caroline loved Elmo. Five minutes later, Eli had run to his room, gathered all his Elmo dolls, and brought them down to give to Caroline. Turns out, Elmo was one of Eli’s favorite toys. He told me that he used to like Elmo but that was when he was little—he was four-years-old. Caroline still has the Elmo’s displayed in her room. She has looked at those dolls every day for the past two years.

But that’s not all. This next part just crushed my heart.

Last night Troy posted a picture of Eli’s Christmas list on my Facebook wall. He noted that he had his boys write out a Christmas list on a sheet of paper which had a Christmas tree drawn on it. He told the boys to put their most important gift on the top of the tree, and all the others under it in order of most important to least. I thought setting a tradition like this was a pretty cool thing for any parent to do, but I couldn’t understand why he was posting about it on my wall. Then I took a closer look at Eli’s Christmas list, and I could see why Troy had put it on my wall: Right there on the top of Eli’s Christmas tree in first grade crayon writing was a wish FOR CAROLINE TO GET BETTER (pictured)!

In my younger years, I was a state heavyweight wrestling champion and four year college football veteran, but I was never hit so hard in my life as little Eli hit me right there. Unsinkable ships do sink as mine did earlier tonight.

To think of all compassion this little boy has, and he has only been on this earth for six years. Absolutely amazing! As tears of joy and happiness flowed from my eyes I could not wait to sit at my computer to tell the world (or at least the friends who read this blog) what an awesome little man my brother and his wife are raising. How considerate of this little guy to think to think of someone else at Christmastime. But Isn’t this what Christmas is all about? If I never get another gift the rest of my life, it wouldn’t matter. Today I got a gift that will last a lifetime! I only hope I can live my life with the same sort of caring and compassion that my six-year-old nephew is living his.

God Bless you Eli, you’re one in a million!

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Over-the-Door Mirror

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Lava Lite 52 oz Lava Lamp – Black/Clear/Black Chrome

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Ballerina Treasure Music Box

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FurReal Newborn Calico Kitten

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Wearable Rainbow Color Pocket Plasma

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