My head – and heart – are still spinning this morning after yesterday’s visit to Detroit. I will do my best to capture the emotion of the day in this blog, but fear words will not do it justice. I hope the photos help tell the story….
The morning started early at 4:30 am with my wake up call. It seemed surreal that TODAY would be the day I get to meet Parker and reunite with the Shantons. I caught a shuttle bus at 5:30 am to the Delta terminal and sent Mike a text as I boarded my flight. After a few more quick messages, we were meeting outside baggage claim. It was great to see Mike as we caught up on the short drive to Allen Park. Next thing I knew, we were pulling up to his house.
Mike and I walked through the side door of the house. He got half way through the door when he stopped. I heard a little voice at the door requesting for “a password to enter, please!” Apparently the password was “Parker“, as that was sufficient for us to be allowed to enter the house. I heard little footsteps scamper away. I followed Mike around the corner, up a few stairs and into the kitchen. Parker, dressed in his slightly-over sized, long sleeve white PARKER T-shirt and baggy black sweatpants, had retreated to the far side of the kitchen safely between his mom and the small dining room table. We saw each other in our Parker shirts and I immediately recognized the kind, brown eyes and beaming SMILE that had graced every photo I had seen. He then, without hesitation, bee-lined it over to me, leaned in and gave my leg a little hug. We were officially friends.
I then noticed a large hand-drawn banner with some little drawings on it. It read “WELCOME TO MICHIGAN, TRACEY!” and was hanging from the archway in the kitchen. I was too overwhelmed to even ask about it, as I busted out my gift for Parker – The Ninjago Lego Set. It seemed to be as big as he was!
I then finally said “HI!” to Erica and Madeleine who were both standing quietly on the far side of the kitchen, giving Parker and I plenty of time and space to get acquainted.
Parker loved the Lego set and I told him I also had something for Harrison. He shadowed me over to the table as I started to empty my backpack to find Harrison’s Star Wars Battle of Naboo Lego set. As I placed my computer on the kitchen table, Parker shouted, “Yea, Harrison is getting a computer!” “No, no no…”, I tried to interject quickly as Harrison came running in!! We all laughed at one of “those moments”…of which there would be many throughout the day!
After hugs to Erica and Madeleine, I gave Madeleine her $25 iTunes gift card. We traded a fist bump and her smile validated that the card was as good for her as the Lego sets were for the boys. Mission accomplished! I connected with the kids. I also knew that while the gifts were nice, these were great kids who were genuinely excited to see me – with or without Lego sets and iTunes cards!
I also quickly realized I had met my match with Parker – as he too also likes to talk (We just have lots to say!). He immediately took me by the hand and introduced me to every room in the house, including a small room he shares with Harrison and his bottom bunk bed overflowing with stuffed animals. Throughout the day we were constantly talking and sharing stories. He told me all about his recent trip the North Pole (whispering secretly to me it wasn’t REALLY the North Pole but it looked like it). A highlight: drinking a Coke on the airplane with mom (as they didn’t have any milk)!! And, he questioned me on why he only has one muscle in the cartoon!
We discussed whether Catwoman was a superhero or villain and why he had three Robins and no Aquaman. He introduced me to “Pup“, Henry the Dalmatian and “Babies” the blanket (all of whom were much smaller than I thought they would be from the pictures). He told me about “running” laps around the hospital and his recent “fun date” with Chloe. He said he liked my black Road ID band, but placed a preferred orange Leukemia band around my wrist, that has “Parkers’s Pals” inscribed in it!
He laughed (at me, not with me!) as he beat me for the third time in a row in a Mario Kart Wii racing game. We danced to Wii’s “Just Dance 3” and he showed me his chicken dance. Madeleine led the way through every dance, while Harrison, Mike, Parker and I just tried to maintain some sense of dignity as we tried to keep up to Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite”. I shared pictures of the Death Valley and Las Vegas Marathons and he lit up when I gave him the medals from both races. (He liked them…”but they are not really toys…”, he whispered to me. True, Parker, very true!)
At noon Erica ordered Dolly’s Pizza (Parker’s favorite) for lunch. After a brief prayer by Parker, we dug into cheese and pepperoni pizza. After lunch we spent much of the afternoon staging a massive superhero vs villain epic battle, taking up the entire living room, which everyone seemed to be content that it had become more like Parker’s playroom. Because the bedroom he shares with Harrison is really small and he still has trouble getting up and down the basement stairs, the living room is really the only place for him to play.
Slideshow of our day together (click photo to advance)
About 3:00 pm the kids retired downstairs to watch a movie which gave me some time with Mike and Erica. We sat around the kitchen table and just talked. We talked about the blog, we talked about Erica’s difficult decision to stop working. They shared the trials of being parents, raising pre-teen kids and raising a five-year-old with a life-threatening disease. We talked about the joy in the small things, being so grateful for what you have and hoping others see that gift in their lives. We talked about how others have helped; from her sister, Amanda, who has helped throughout and just hosted a sleepover for Madeleine and her friends, to Mike’s parents, John and Linda, who drive from Virginia every other week to care for the kids while Parker is in the hospital, to the amazing community of friends that has expanded since the blog started and supported them with prayers, emails, notes, sharing the blog and contributions. It was an emotional conversation that moved to a few tears of joy as I handed them a card. They both took a collective deep breathe as Erica accepted it. I think they knew that the donation lay inside. Erica paused, smiled, then opened the card and read a short note I wrote inside. She handed the folded check to Mike to open. After they looked at it, Mike leaned back in his chair speechless, Erica wiped away a little tear. No words needed to be spoken. Their expressions said it all. They were overwhelmed! 🙂 In total, WE raised $8,600.00 dollars for Parker and the family. Another $371.00 was donated to the Michigan Chapter of the Leukemia Society on behalf of Parker. I told them over 250 people donated. Pledges from $.50/mile to $7.00 /mile and flat donations from $10 to $262.00 and Parker T-Shirts for $20; no amount was too small. So THANK YOU – TO EACH AND EVERY PERSON FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND THOSE WHO MADE A DONATION. YOU made this possible. YOU helped make a difference beyond what you can ever imagine.
I am not sure if they were more overwhelmed by the amount donated or the sheer number of people who chose to donate. I think it was a little of both. We sealed the conversation and moment with a hug and then a laugh at how over-whelming it all was!!! My day with Parker and specifically the hour and a half talking with Mike and Erica will be treasured forever.
We had used every minute of the day we could, but all too soon, it was time to leave for the airport.
The three kids were kind enough to pile into the minivan to escort me back to the airport. Erica has folded up the “WELCOME TO MICHIGAN ” banner for me to take home. As we drove to the airport I asked Parker to walk me through each of the detailed drawings on it. After first prefacing that he had not helped with the letters, he said one drawing was of me standing in a castle (which my house apparently looks like to a five-year-old), one drawing was me and a female Easter Bunny, another was of his sister swimming, and above it, his brother was standing on a bridge between two trees. Finally there a big, oblong shape in the middle with a hat – apparently is was to be a snake, but as he acknowledged, “it just didn’t work out so good.” “Sometimes my drawings don’t work out so good either”, I empathized, “but I totally could see it was a snake, which are hard to draw.” He nodded and grinned in total agreement. All the drawings made perfect sense to him, and as he explained each of them with such great detail and conviction, they made perfect sense to me as well! (We artists just understand each other including our shared obscurity and randomness.)
The elaborate explanation of the banner and how it came to be, was broken a few times as we got closer to the airport and saw planes. Making sure no one missed a single one, he would shout, “WOW!”, “LOOK!” and “they are HUGE, like this big!!”, as he spread his arms out as far as he could!
At times it is easy to forget he has leukemia. He is energetic, creative, and has an incredible imagination. He loves to be in photos and smiles brilliantly on cue. He is hyper, funny, and random but he can also be very orderly, deliberate and can play with his superheros or Legos by himself for hours.
But then Leukemia has a way of creeping back in and showing itself…you can see it when he walks, the help he needs going up and down stairs, fragility of his little arms and legs and the constant reminder of the port in his chest.
The reality is that he is facing another three years of treatment. So while my 52.4 Mile race is over, his has just begun. It’s likely that Parker and the family are facing the most difficult year of treatment starting Jan 4. Which is why I will continue to race with him and his family, raise money for him and his family and blog about him and his family.
And if you thought the “52.4 Miles in 48 Hours” Adventure was interesting, prepare to be blown away with what we have in store for Parker in 2012!!! Stay tuned for details on 1/1/12 and be prepared to LIKE what you see!!! 🙂