Monday, April 27, 2009

Firemans' Dinner Dance

Right after the dress got delivered on Saturday, Needlenoggin's friend and attendant, Miss Manhattan, came over. She helped him get ready and walked the dog while I fought with my hair, bathing the kiddos and all the usual big-event prep. My folks got ready at their hotel while Tuffy arranged the drop-off and pick-up of the kids with our babysitter, Ex-Floridian and his girlfriend Spice. At last we were dressed and ready to head out.

We arrived at the church and were greeted by Needlenoggin's work-buddy, whom I will call Crackdown. We presented our tickets and came inside to find a silent auction going on to support the random Acts program, as well as firefighters serving drinks behind the bar. We spoke to Larry Hendricks, one of the organizers* of this big shindig, and then got Needlenoggin comfortable at the table we'd be eating at, away from all the hustle and bustle of the crowd. My father got a few pictures before the program started, including one with Needlenoggin and our very proud Mama.

Then we got a few with Needle and Miss Manhattan.

And Miss Manhattan and Little Monkey

Then Needlenoggin's other ladies arrived. First, Dr. K-, and then Needlenoggin's ICU nurse. Dr. R- was willing to come out from her conference, and offered to drive the 4 hours, spend 3 with Needlenoggin, then drive back 4 hours to go back on shift, but we all told her that was crazy. So, Dr. K- asked Needlenoggin's favorite (and most frequent) ICU nurse to come instead. When she arrived, Needlenoggin and I realized that we had melded Dr. R- and this nurse into one person, and he vaguely remembers asking her where her glasses went back in July. We've affectionately named her thing 2. So, Thing 2 wasn't at work the day he showed up at the hospital a few weeks beck, so this was the first time she'd seen him since they wheeled him up to the 5th floor TCU full of tubes and flat on his back. She was, shall we say, pleasantly surprised to see how well he was doing.

Needlenoggin and his dates:

During dinner, Ex-Floridian and Spice brought Rorysaurus and Little Monkey to the church, and we seated them in comfy laps around the table:

Jealous, Little Monkey made a move for the doctor and nurse himself:

And Rorysaurus got to cuddle with our neighbor, friend and sometimes-nanny, Elfay:

Anyway, dinner went well and then they started the tribute to the Oncology ward at Children's hospital. If you want something to make you cry, that'll do it. I've said before how much the kindness of the Children's nurses meant to us, but those are such good, strong people that take care of cancer-kids day in and day out. While they were doing their presentation, Needlenoggin, Rorysaurus and I crept to the back of the hall. Then we waited while the guys from Engine 16 recounted their memories of the call that day, bringing us toys and a wheelchair and how touched they were by Needlenoggin's relationship with my daughter, and mine with him.

They showed pictures of the two of them before the accident, her visiting him in the hospital, and of the accident (including the one of them moving him from out from under the stairs) while they talked, and then called us down. Rorysaurus hopped onto his lap, and I pushed him down the center aisle with a spotlight on us.

The guys came down the stairs from the stage, surrounded Needlenoggin and thanked him again for his heroism. they re-presented him with the plaque he'd received in the hospital, and shook his hand.

Now, those of you who know Needlenoggin know that he was a very quiet, shy guy even before the accident. This has only become more apparent. However, somebody needed to talk and say thank you, so they asked me to speak. :) Hey, if they insisted, who am I to say no?

I thanked them the best I could, trying to put all that these people have done for us and meant to us into less than five minutes, and then I told them a secret.

When we'd come to the fire station in October, on Halloween day, they were the first outing we'd done since the fall. It was a TREMENDOUS amount of work, for both Needlenoggin and I, but we managed to wrestle his big electric wheelchair out of the car and tie on his firetruck "costume" to go see them. And they were SO happy for him, so happy to see him up and moving around in his chair. And they told him that next time he came to visit, they wanted him to walk through the front door. And you know what? They were the first people to use the word "walk" without the phrase "you'll never" in front of it. And they were so pleased with all of his progress, including his weight loss and transition to a manual chair. So, for the last 6 weeks, we'd worked on a chance to give something back to them, and we'd kept it a secret. My parents didn't know, his doctors didn't know, and none of the firefighters knew.

So, once the speech was over, I reached into his wheelchair bag, and removed his polio crutches...

...and he stood up.

Now, he's wearing leg-braces under his pants and we've done NO exercise for days because of how much this wears him out, and he can't really do more than get up and turn around, but there you go. He managed to turn his body towards the firefighter and say thank you, and was smothered in hugs for his trouble.

We'd wanted to give the firemen who saved him, who encouraged and helped him, a happy memory to go along with this story. I like to think we did.

Then, they introduced the band, and everybody got on the dance floor.

Rorysaurus got to dance with all the guys from Engine 16:

And even Needlenoggin got in some good moves:

Oh, and the Albuquerque Firefighter's Random Acts group (inspired by our Oakland group) gave him a shirt, so now he's got LOTS of firefighter paraphenalia.

The dinner was amazing, and I am humbled and touched by these wonderful people and all they have done for my brother. I mentioned it in my speech (will get a video of that at some point), but I'm amazed that these men, who do heroic acts and save lives on a daily basis, have gone so far out of their way to honor and encourage Needlenoggin. Truly, truly amazed. These men have been a source of inspiration and hope for both Needlenoggin and Rorysaurus since the day of the accident, and we are without a way to express our gratitude.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all of the Random Acts people, all the volunteers, all the strangers who came up to my brother, in tears, and told him how moved they were.

We did forget to get pictures of Tuffy and I, Tuffy and the kids and I, or the five of us my mom and dad together. I don't think we got a single photo of Tuffy all decked out at all, since he was playing camera-man, but that's not too shabby, I think.

He prefers anonymity, but that's because he's a very sweet, humble guy who doesn't want the limelight taken away from the fire-fighters. I both get and appreciate that, but he and his co-organizer Cindy Chin make the whole Random Acts thing possible, so he'll have to pardon the shout-out

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fireman's Gala (clothing episode)

As we were gearing up for the Oakland Firefighters' Random Acts of Kindness dinner and dance, it occurred to me that Needlenoggin didn't own a suit, and that my one fancy dress didn't fit anymore (yay for losing weight, right?). This was going to necessitate shopping and alterations.

Needlenoggin has never been a particularly fancy dresser, so we didn't have any idea what size he wore or his measurements. I decided that the best thing to do would be to head into a store, get him measured, then find a suit the right size on Ebay, and get it tailored to fit him. So, while listening to the radio, I hear an ad for Cassara's Fine Men's Wear in Dublin, California. They were remodeling, and the ad promised *fantastic* deals. I figured I could go there, get him measured, maybe buy him a tie, and eye-ball pretty clothes for Tuffy for when we have money to spend.

So, we drove out there in February, and were greeted by the family that owns the store, a father and one of his sons. Tony, the father, is from Italy, and opened this store to sell wonderful clothing at great prices, and he does the alterations himself. He pulled out a bunch of different sizes and styles, found one that Needlenoggin really liked, and put the jacket on him, in the chair. Then he started drawing all over the jacket with tailor's chalk, telling us that he's done alterations for wheelchair users before, and that the reason the jacket seems tight across the back is that in a chair, your arms are forward, instead of down at your sides. He talked about moving the arms of the jacket forward and shortening the length (so it doesn't get caught in the wheelchair wheels).

All the time he was talking, I was trying to figure out some nice way to tell him what we could afford, and then told me how much the alterations were going to be. They were more than our meager budget for the suit. I guessed at that point that what I'd do was go buy a cheap suit online, and come back with it to have it altered, since that was going to be necessary anyway. As I explained what the suit was for, and what Needlenoggin was being recognized for, Tony started to smile. I told him that I'd love to have him do the alterations, but that his suits (wool, cashmere, silk) were FAR better quality than we could afford, and that I needed something from a Ross, especially if it needed to be altered.

Tony told me the price of the suit, and then what it was during their *fantastic* sale. Still crestfallen, I started in on my "thanks-but-no-thanks", and he took it to the counter, half ignoring me, and started applying other discounts to the suit. What the price finally came to was barely more than the original estimate for alterations, and I started to protest, knowing that the total price was about an eighth of the original cost of just the suit. Tony didn't say anything, and rang us up. I began to cry a little.

I told Needlenoggin he was going to have to get married in that suit.

When we came to pick up the finished suit, it was magnificent. The arems were forward so that the jacket looked smashing on, and the coat was short enough that it didn't interfere with the chair. "I kept the fabric in the coat," Tony explained, "so when you start walking, you come back here and I'll lengthen it out again for you." ::sniffle::

Then we opened the coat:

Needlenoggin's full name was stitched inside.

Getting ready to leave, Needlenoggin stopped to feel at the lovely ties in the display, and I told him we could buy him one of those, if he'd like. He showed me this marvelous black and green tie, and talked about how awesome he thought it was. Tony heard us, and told us he picked out the fabric and made that tie himself. We were amazed. Then, he pulled it off the display, looped it over my brother's head, and said, "Happy birthday."

We're getting photos of Needlenoggin at the firemans' ball framed with a "thank you" ready to take out there.

Then there was my dress. See, I'd bought a dress off of ebay for Christmas:

It was still a LOVELY dress, so I wanted to wear it again. However, there were two minor problems...the ties on the dress, which I always felt were unnecessary, were tearing off (thank you, toddler-of-mine), and I'd lost 15 lbs, so the dress was too big. On a recommendation from a friend, and Berkeley Parent's Network, I dropped my dress off at a local tailor/drycleaners to have it taken in an couple of inches, and have the straps pulled off.

This was on Monday, and I said I needed to pick it up no later than Saturday morning, because the day was going to be hectic at best. I was assured that this would not be a problem. On Thursday, I stopped in, and was told that the dress wasn't ready yet, but might be done Friday. If not, it would be ready at opening on Saturday morning. I reminded myself that I should always factor in an extra day (say that I need it on Friday if I need it on Saturday), but what ever, I went home.

Saturday at noon, between baths for the kids, I went back to the tailors. Still no dress. They hadn't even started on it. In a panic, I started to cry, whereupon I explained the ball to the owner, and my frustration that this wouldn't be ready, even though I'd check on it two days earlier. She told me that this was highly unusual for her shop, and offered to do it herself, right then. "Go home and dress your kids and your brother. I'll do it right now and have it brought over." She did, indeed and did a marvelous job. The dress arrived at our place around 3pm, brought by her husband and the shop's co-owner. Complimentary.

I've NEVER had a company do so much to make something right, and I want to fully endorse Norge Cleaners in El Cerrito as a great shop run by kind and helpful people. We had a little panic there, but they made it good, and for that I am thankful.

(Next post, you get to see how we look in our finery. :) )

Friday, April 24, 2009

"Little" Lies

So, when I went to pick up Rorysaurus from her preschool on Wednesday, she was a babbling mess of incoherence. Something about a fall, a baby, the Oakland fire department and birds. So, I asked her teacher what on Earth was going on.

"A baby bird fell out of its nest in the tree above the house. I think it is hurt, it is very obviously hungry, and the kids have been fighting over who gets to take it home. It is probably going to die, since it is so small."

I turned to Rorysaurus. "The baby bird fell, just like me and Needlenoggin. It broke its neck, Mama. Is it going to need a wheelchair? Can we call the fire guys to make it better?" She was sobbing by this time, and looking into her tear-filed big browns, I knew what was about to happen.

"First mom to say 'yes' can have the thing," the teacher informed me.

Alright, alright. So, I went over to see the Easter basket where they'd stored the thing. Here's what we saw:

It WAS little. Poor little thing. As I reached into the basket to move some of the kleenex, the baby opened up its tiny maw and started begging for food. I looked at the teacher, smug in her assurance that this was now my problem, and then looked over to Rorysaurus, who was barely able to contain her concern.


So, we loaded into the van, and drove to our local vet hospital. We waited in line, and asked the nurse what we should do with this little thing. She peered into the basket. "Oh, he's tiny! I'm not sure..."

"Little is a girl!" Rorysaurus interrupted. "She fell and got owies but Mama is going to help her get to the doctor and back to her Mama."

The nurse glanced at Rorysaurus. "I can give you the phone number for the wild animal hospital. It is in Walnut Creek (about a 30 minute drive). They might be able to help her"

I sighed, took the phone number and went home to call and let Needlenoggin know he was going to have to baby-sit.

As I went through the messages, I scrounged around for finely-ground meat to feed this thing (we're in an apartment, so I had no bugs to grind up). "Poor Little," whispered Rorysaurus, staring at her little friend in the basket. "Mama will find you some food." Mama found ground crab-meat and chicken broth (does that make Little a cannibal?" and served it in a syringe. After the first gulp, Little was much more vocal, interactive and awake, even opening her eyes when she peeped at my daughter.

We finally loaded Papa into the car, and headed off to the hospital, Little peeping along happily the whole way. Rorysaurus wanted to hold her on the drive, but I could just see her dropping the poor thing, so I let her hold the basket while we packed everything in, and then buckled the basket in to Needlenoggin's seat-belt.

We drove the whole way there with my ecologist husband and I chatting back and forth about how, while not our plan for the day, this seemed like a good way to impart lessons about wild animals, caring for nature and helping. Rorysaurus babbled happily about helping her friend, and kept telling us how the doctors would make Little better.

Then we arrived at the hospital, and Rorysaurus carried Little in.

A quick look by the vet allayed my fears. "That one is just old enough that he ("she!" shrieked Rorysaurus) should be alright." Then he took the bird to the back and came out to tell us that Little was a House finch, and would look like this when she grew up:

"Cool," I thought. Then the man vanished to the back to get us paperwork.

When he returned, I knew we had a problem. "The little finch has a...fractured femur," she started, intentionally talking over Rorysaurus's head. "Because of how young she is, we can't do anything more than giver her a shot to make the pain go away, and put her down."

"No, no, no! You put her up in the tree! Up in the tree so her Mama can find her. Use your Snort!" This in reference to Rorysaurus's favorite book Are you my mother? and nearly broke my heart.

"There's no way to set that?" I asked. He shook his head. Feeling like I was about to cry, I asked, "Can she come back out so my daughter can say 'goodbye' to her?"

This is apparently not a common thing to do, but they brought her back out in the basket, and we said our adieus.

When Rorysaurus realized we were leaving Little at the hospital, she began weeping. "No, I want her to come home with us!" I admit, I thought about taking her home and trying to feed her asprin and crabmeat until she was healthy, myself, but I knew how bad a busted leg must have felt.

The man saved me the lie by telling Rorysaurus they were going to take care of Little, and once she was better, they'd take her to her Mama.

I accepted that, took her home to color in pictures of Little (google is an amazing thing), read her bird book and cuddle. We saw Little's mother the next day, when we dropped Rorysaurus off, and could hear all her brothers and sisters peeping away for food.

"Is Little back home yet?" Rorysaurus asked hopefully. "Or is she still in the hospital?"

Looking over at my poor little girl, I told her the truth: Little was still as the hospital. "But, as soon as she's better, they'll bring her right back here."