Make A Wish…

The candles were lit, the people that surrounded all sang, and at the end of that traditional song they said “make a wish…”  And the candles blew out (with a little help from mom and dad).

That is how we celebrate birthdays around here.  If I had to guess, I would bet that many of you do the same or at least within very close proximity.  That is how we celebrated Tessa’s birthday with our families a few weeks early to disguise her Make-A-Wish Foundation wish granting party from her and Casin.  It was not long after that night that we left for our week-long trip to Disney World.  But there was so much more than the theme parks and princesses that made our stay beyond worth while.

wish kid

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I’ll be frank…it was hot in Florida.  Hot to the point where I decided that I am never going to retire there.  On our first full day (Tessa’s actual 3rd birthday), Tessa had major issues adjusting to all that was happening so quickly.  First we hopped in a beautiful limo for a ride to the airport, did the airport thing, flew south, arrived late, woke up early in a new place and headed to Epcot for breakfast with the Disney princesses.  That’s a lot to take in…especially for Tessa.  The combination of the heat, the princess gown she had on and the scenery proved to be too much for our birthday/wish girl.  After a couple of days, she settled into our Disney routine…which was crazy, yet incredibly awesome!  Tessa’s 3rd birthday is one for the books, especially now that making a wish has a whole new meaning to us.

We stayed at Give Kids The World Village in Kissimmee, Florida.  Never heard of it?  That is not surprising.  Many have not.  Give Kids The World is a non-profit resort for children with life-threatening diseases and their families.  Each family is provided with accommodations and tickets to the area theme parks as well as many other free services and activities.  Give Kids The World is heaven on earth for sick kids.  When families are not discovering Disney World, Sea World or Universal, they can enjoy ice cream for breakfast at the GKTW Village. They can also ride a magical carousel, play miniature golf, swim in the pool or play in the splash pad, meet popular characters–and fast, play on the Candy Land themed playground, watch movies, go to dance parties, have tea parties, ride horses, add their own gold wish star to the Castle of Miracles, discover with pirates, play video games, eat more ice cream, order pizza late at night, talk to a sleeping tree, ride a train and eat ice cream again.  Each child and their siblings are welcomed with a new gift in their private villa every morning.  That is only just the beginning.  No, really there is more.

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Give Kids The World village employs 150 amazing people and has over 5,000 devoted volunteers that are all eager to serve each family to ensure nothing but the best is provided to visiting families.  Give Kids The World’s slogan is “where happiness inspires hope.”  GKTW inspired more than hope for our family.  It inspired the promise of a better tomorrow, no matter what may come our way.  It inspired togetherness.  It inspired happiness. It inspired love of the biggest kind.  I really did not feel worthy of their royal treatment.

While we were there, however, I discovered something much more magical than being treating like kings and queens.  I saw all of our kids light up in ways that we had not seen in quite some time.  In retrospect, I realized why they suddenly seemed so different.  Not just because they met Mickey Mouse or Goofy or Elsa or Cinderella, (although I know they helped); but once upon a time, not so very long ago, it was easy to get lost in treatment and post-treatment as well.  It was easy to get sucked into the world of sickness and to slowly let go of time in order to survive the process.  And when I did that, I felt like I sacrificed pieces of their childhood.  Tessa’s Make-A-Wish trip gave it all back to her nine year old adventurous brother, her wondrous sister and her incredible little self.  When Dan and I saw them cheerful and getty, we knew in those moments that their little hearts were full…and ours were, too.  It was not just our kids either.  Smiles a mile wide were painted the faces our kids who certainly do not have it easy every day (I have an obvious mushy spot in my heart for kids battling disease and circumstance so their smiles totally melted me).  But for one week in Florida they had the chance to forget about all of it, even if it was only momentarily.  They were given the chance to be kids again without fear.  Their siblings rejoiced and their parents humbly watched by the same as we did.  They were dreamers and make-believers, and that is what this trip is all about.  The world was right again.  And as long as Give Kids The World is here, someone else’s world will always be right again too.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation also worked endlessly to align the stars for Tessa’s trip, always with a positive attitude and desire to help.  I think everyone that works there lives in a land of “yes” where absolutely everything is possible when love is being considered.  Seriously though, I haven’t encountered nicer people in all my life.  From the moment we learned we would get a chance to “wish” to the time we boarded the plane, Make-A-Wish made every single step effortless and simply amazing.

The only way I could ever possibly show my gratitude is to share just how much this trip helped my family, to show how happy it made us, and how incredible it was for three kids.  I can only hope that our story and our pictures say more than thank you for the opportunity to be a “wish family” for a week.

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Disney Collage

There was a little sneak peak at just some of the hundreds of photos that we got on our trip.  I have a lot of scrap booking to do!

Our trip and many other wish trips would not be possible without the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Give Kids The World Village.  To learn how you can support their efforts in ensuring that all wish kids have the opportunity to share in this very experience, please click on the links below!  You can give financial support, fund raise, donate supplies or even volunteer.    

Give Kids The World (Donation page):  http://www.gktw.org/help/wishlist.php

Make-A-Wish (Wisconsin chapter):  http://wisconsin.wish.org/

Below is a list of companies/groups that support Give Kids The World and their wish families.  

  • LEGOLAND
  • Mars Chocolate North America
  • Mears Transportation Group
  • Medeival Times
  • Mauiva Air Tours
  • Nickelodeon
  • Old Town Park
  • Panama Jack
  • Pepsi
  • Perkins
  • Marie Callendars, LLC
  • Pirate’s Dinner Adventure
  • SeaWorld Orlando
  • The Sharon D. Lund Foundation
  • Snyder’s-Lance, Inc.
  • SONY Electronics, Inc.
  • Unilever/Breyers
  • Universal Orlando
  • VingCard Elsafe
  • Walmart Stores
  • Sam’s Club
  • Walt Disney World
  • Wet ‘n Wild
  • Wheaton World Wide Moving/Bekins Van Lines
  • Bimbo Bakeries
  • Boggy Creek
  • Boston Market Corp.
  • Busch Gardens
  • Carnegie Mellon University Tech. Center
  • Cisco Systems
  • Coca-Cola Bottling Company
  • Dippin’ Dots
  • EXOLAB
  • Gatorland
  • Green Meadows Farm
  • Hasbro, Inc.
  • Hallmark Cards, Inc.
  • Hunter Amenities, International
  • ICEE/J&J Snack Foods
  • IFLY ORlando
  • InterContinental Hotels Group
  • IHG Owner’s Association
  • ImageMark Business Services, Inc.
  • International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions
  • Kangaroo Express
  • Kennedy Space Center
  • Laser Magic

 

House of Cards

We leave for Disney on Thursday morning.  If energy was a color that everyone could see, our house would be lit up like a rainbow.  There is large mix of excitement, anxiety, nervousness, joy, happiness, and a tiny bit of sadness (<— I’ll get to that part.  Don’t worry, though) as we prepare for Tessa’s Make-A-Wish destination to Disney World.

As we near the start of the Make-A-Wish trip, I catch myself emotional from time to time.  What’s new, right?  But this time it has been different.  We have been showered with repeated good news–which was a first for Tessa, especially in the midst of preparing her for school and transitioning out of the Birth to 3 Program. There is a lot of good in our lives right now.  So much that I cannot seem to gain control of myself.  With that comes a bit of lurking sadness due to past experiences in life with Tessa.  Sometimes, bridging the gap between utter happiness and painful sadness is a hard task. Why?  Because the joy we are feeling came at a price at one point; a price that almost cost Tessa her life.  I may not have ever known this particular kind of life-changing, bright spirited happy without reaching the true depths of sadness.  And we would have never had the chance to experience something as amazing as a Make-A-Wish trip if Tessa and our family did not go through the hell that was our life for a year.  It is confusing, and I know that it may not make sense to a reader but I know what I am trying to say.

There are many factors that have contributed to this point.  First and foremost is finally hearing of Tessa’s remission, post treatment and learning of clear cytogenics.  This is an obvious contribution that I will forever be grateful for.  However, there is this whole village of people out there that carried us here from the beginning.  I know many, yet there is an equal or greater number of people who I do not know. Today I would not stand where I do without the support of loving souls who just wanted to love our girl and genuinely cared for our story.  I have not forgotten you, I swear.

I have a box in my office closet that is overflowing.  It is stuffed with cards, letters, colored pictures, etc. from people who encouraged us to keep fighting when Tessa was in treatment.  We took the time to read each and every heartfelt message and we soaked up every last bit of hope.  If anyone ever thought kids could care less about getting cards, I can tell you that that is simply not true.  Because I saw the way Tessa lit up every time she opened a card or discovered a handmade masterpiece from a child.  And though we do not get near as many now as we did then, I still sit in my car at the post office and read them through tears when we get them.  I do not think I can ever part with these cards…not one.

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The picture doesn’t even do justice to the heaping mountain of cards that is laying on my floor.  

A lot of what I read in the cards now is messages of thanks.  “Thank you for sharing your story.”  “Thank you for sharing Tessa with us.” “I have followed you from the beginning.  I share in your ups and downs…”  There are personal stories and examples of how their lives have been affected, either by similar circumstances or just by reading.  People share how they donate to children’s cancer organizations and research now.  They talk about how Down syndrome has made an impact on their life and how they have changed.  They are glad to have come across Tessa’s story.

I send thank yous often and if I can.  I make sure that is a priority.  But the amount of thanks I have cannot be described in a 3″ x 5″ notecard.  It does not fit in the tiny envelopes that I send out with gratitude.  You guys, giver of the cards, have no idea the impact that you have made on our lives.  No, really.  I can’t come close to telling you what it continues to mean to us.

But know that those cards, that will remain in my office and in my heart forever, will always remind me to keep going…to keep dreaming. They will always remind me that from difficult times comes opportunities to leap ahead and to make a difference.  I always used to think I wrote for myself–to heal and to vent.  I am slowly realizing that I am writing for you all as well, as long as you’ll read.

I have all of you to thank for that.

We have a big week coming up.  Stay posted for stories and pictures…millions of Disney pictures!