With four kids there comes a point (round about #3) that you own every toy known to man, and you really don't need anything else. You could push things and find something new to spend money on, but will it really be played with? So, about 2 years ago, my sister started taking the girls on a special day out for their birthday. It might be dinner and a movie, it might be a concert, or something they really want to do... it might still be a present they really want that they didn't get for birthday or Christmas.
Yesterday, was T-rex's turn. She had received a lot of things she wanted for Christmas, but one thing on her list was put on hold because honestly - it was not on my usual shopping route. So yesterday, Christy and I, my neice, and T-rex went to buy a simple bow and arrow set for T-Rex's archery lessons. She knows what she is doing, it isn't like I'm just handing my almost 10 yo a weapon and telling her to go play. We ended up on a rather rural road to a building that looked to house warehouse space, but right in the middle was a little door marking the archery "store." We walked in to the biggest collection of camouflage I have ever seen. Although I live in the south, and have lots of family and friends who hunt, I can honestly say that I have never sat in a deer stand, and have had countless students tell me they couldn't finish their Algebra " 'cause I was huntin." A man was in there buying a crossbow, and there were three generations of salesmen standing around and of course their old hunting hound. We quietly found what we were needing so she can practice in the yard for competitions, and then waited and waited while the men discussed the virtues of this particular crossbow. At some point the grandpa salesman noticed us, and got up to see that T-Rex was actually holding a bow, and found a couple arrows for her to notch up. Now, T-rex has zero intention of shooting an animal - ever, but the only target they had in the store had a deer crudely drawn on it, with the BIG HEART of it outlined in red. T-Rex of course hit it, and then the man started gushing about her hunting skills. Actually said more than once that he thought I had an indian on my hands - I'm thinking it was a compliment. These were VERY nice men, they just use bows very differently than T-Rex does, but they helped her out and got us on our way - if she ever makes the Olympic archery team we'll be sure to tell them, they want to watch. T-Rex had a very nice day out and about without the crowd of sisters tagging along, and when she got home she immediately set up some targets and started notching arrows - Don't shoot your eye out.
On a completely different note, I was reading my yahoo groups today for kids like Blondie, and one person had mentioned that we rarely stop in our busy schedules to truly ask how someone is doing. We have many children facing the surgery right now, and the thread of "how are you" turned into what do you ask people to do who want to help. We've all offered at some point to help a family in need, and genuinely mean it, so I thought I might offere a list of things to specifically offer, because it is hard to take someone up on an offer when you don't know how deep they really want to go.
1.) Yard work - Did you see all those pinecones around T-Rex's picture. Neighbors picked those up when Blondie was sick.
Bag leaves, cut grass, trim hedges, lay down mulch, whatever - curb appeal will not be a priority.
2.) Pick up siblings - When Blondie was in the hospital I tried to keep the others on schedule and that required picking kids up from chorus, or girl scouts, or soccer, or horses, or whatever. If you're going.... pick up their kid.... don't take no for an answer unless they are using that activity to take a break from their crisis.
3.) Bring healthy food to the hospital or house - This is a given in the south, but I have found this is not automatic in other parts of the country in which I've lived. One of our neighbors is from up north, and when her husband had heart surgery she was genuinely perplexed at the idea of us making an extra meal for them. If you are the best friend, or family member, organize the schedule for the family. They don't need 3 pots of spaghetti in a row. Tell the family to give out your number if people want to feed them. I gained 35 pounds when Blondie was sick - make it healthy - watch those carbs.
4.) Babysit - even if they are in the next room, take the kids to the backyard so the parents can take a shower, or get their hair cut, or sit in a quiet house. If there isn't a medical issue with one of the kids then take them to the movies, or to your house to spend the night - even one child out of the house can make a difference. My mom used to sit with Blondie downstairs and I would sleep upstairs so that I could be roused in case of big seizures, but I really didn't want to be too far away. Some moms on my yahoo list are in school, and can't study because they are overwhelmed with watching their child.
5.) VISIT the hospital. Even if you can't stand hospitals, you aren't in it - they are. Nothing breaks up a day like a quick visit - bring something for them to do like books (read alouds or books on CD are great too), or play-doh, or bubbles, or whatever. Enough with the stuffed animals - we need diversion. Offer to stay with the child while the parent takes a shower in the next room - I couldn't bear the thought of Blondie sitting in that unlocked room with me in the shower.
6.) Grandparents/Aunts/Uncles - offer to take the child to one therapy (specific to the people I know). Even just once that gives a parent an unexpected moment of time that is a HUGE gift. Even if you can't do it every week - if you have the day off, step up.
Pray, and SEND MAIL OFTEN - even if they are at home, please send a quick note to let them know you are thinking of them and that the difficult time doesn't necessarily end when the hospital stay is over.