Today was such a wonderful day. I had the opportunity to visit Children's Medical Center of Dallas and make a Princess visit to the children there as Cinderella. I've been wanting to do volunteer work there for a while, but never had the time (or MADE the time). Last month I finally emailed the lady in charge of volunteering and set up the date to visit.
Prior to this morning, I was feeling a lot of opposition to me going to the hospital. I had an opportunity come up where I was asked to be an extra in "Friday Night Lights" and the shoot was scheduled for today. I wanted to go SO badly, but I knew I would have to cancel the hospital visit in order to make the drive to Austin so I had to decline the offer. Then, I was asked to babysit for our neighbor's grand daughter last night and it ended up being a lot longer than I had planned. The mom wasn't able to pick her up until after midnight and I was SO tired, I thought that maybe I should just email the hospital and cancel. I also had the issue of taking Kora to school on time and still making it to the visit by 9:45 AND I needed help with watching Miah while I was gone. Finally, after many many back and forths, I told myself I HAD to do this. I made the commitment and I needed to follow through and so I went.
When I got to the hospital I was greeted by a sweet lady named Stacey who explained how things would go and described each floor we would visit. She was very nice, but also very professional and you could tell she had been doing this job for a while. She began by telling me "the rules": "Don't pick the children up because they may have sutures and most of them are connected to i.v.'s. Don't tell them you'll see them next time, or wish them well in hopes that they will get better. Most of these children will not get better and there may not be a next time. Don't ask them when they are going home because most of them won't ever be going home. If you get overwhelmed or sick at your stomach, just let me know and we can leave." As she was explaining all of this to me in her rehearsed way of speaking, I felt sad that she acted so numb to the situation but I later realized she just wanted to make sure I felt comfortable there. I had no idea what was in store for me.
The first room Stacey and I visited was a playroom for outpatient kiddos. Most of them didn't look sick at all and were pretty lively. I sat with them and painted their hands while we talked about Princess stuff and even some Spiderman things too! They were all very sweet and had superb manners. One little girl followed me around the whole room just smiling and listening to every word I had to say like it was scripture! I had Princess music playing and all of the parents there seemed very excited about having me. I posed for pictures with each child (thank goodness for camera phones!) and helped them color pictures that they had been working on. Once everyone had a turn getting their hand painted, we said goodbye and prepared for the next room.
Next, we visited a playroom for inpatient kids. This is where I started to lose myself. As I walked in the room and saw all of the children in there connected to i.v.'s it was heartbreaking. They were all still pretty lively and playing with all sorts of things, but they all had a little train of poles and wires following right behind them. It was their way of life and they had become used to it. Each one of them, as little as they were, knew how to maneuver themselves around even with all these attachments. They didn't' complain a single bit, but only showed extreme happiness for the moment they were experiencing. I had made their day this morning by coming all the way from Disney World just to say hi to them. Again, the manners were impeccable. They each patiently waited their turn to be painted and talk to me or have their picture taken. I couldn't have been more honored to be the highlight of their day.
After we left this room, it got really hard for me. We visited the floor with all of the cancer patients and my heart literally broke for these children. Most of them were very weak, bald and although they could sit up or walk slowly, they didn't show as much outward excitement as the two previous rooms. A sweet grin or a pair of smiling eyes would look up at me as I painted their hands and complimented their Elmo or Princess slippers. Stacey told me that even though they aren't acting excited, they are jumping for joy on the inside and you are a dream come true to them. At this point, I was literally fighting back my tears. I wanted so badly to just burst out and hug each one of them and tell them everything was going to be okay, but I kept my composure and a smile on my face as MY insides were crying for them.
Before I left, there was one more room we visited which she called "hemo". Stacey told me that this was the floor that housed children who had blood diseases. She said this would be the hardest room to visit because each child would be in their own bed either giving blood or receiving transplants. She made sure that the sight of blood wouldn't bother me and told me that she really wanted me to visit this floor because a little girl up there was celebrating her 3rd birthday today and she was looking forward to my visit. I thought to myself about all the times I contemplated cancelling the visit thinking that it wouldn't matter. To this little girl it DID matter. She KNEW I was coming and had been waiting for this day to come. When we walked in, my heart fell into my stomach. I never imagined feeling the way I felt when I saw these children in their beds. Most of them could only move their eyes as their frail bodies lay in bed hooked up to wires and tubes and bags and all other sorts of things. They were all so small. Most of them had their parents there by their side and I thought about being the parent of one of these children as they acted so normal and happy. I couldn't imagine watching my child go through what these parents watch their children go through almost every single day of their lives. This was their life and they had become immune to feeling the sadness that I was feeling at that moment. I met with the birthday girl and even though she couldn't say a word, I felt like I already knew every word that that she wanted to say. Her eyes stayed glued to my face as I painted her hand and wished her a happy birthday. It was one of the most touching moments I have ever experienced.
I left the hospital feeling very overwhelmed with emotion. I cried all the way home and at first I told myself that I could never again go back because it just hurt TOO badly. After talking to my mom and Austin on the phone and thinking about all I saw and learned today, I changed my mind. I thought about the kids I saw who can't play outside, have birthday parties, go for a walk, go to the zoo or museum, play sports and swim. I thought about the parents whose daily routine includes blood transfusions for their 3 year old. I thought about what Stacey told me about these children never going home and never getting better. Then, I thought about my own children and how grateful I am for their health and I wondered if I had taken it for granted. I remembered the opposition I felt before going to the hospital and I wondered if there was someone out there who didn't want me to learn this lesson I learned today. I knew that the experience I had helped me to see things in a different light and to not only be thankful for the health of my family, but more importantly, be of service to those who hadn't been given the blessing of health. I knew then that although my job as a Princess sometimes seemed ridiculous to me, it was making memories for the children and the families of the children that I visited today. I realized that visiting these children was a necessity for me because it not only helped those in need of a brighter day, it made my perspective of my own situation change.
When Jake and Kora got home from school, I proposed an idea to them which I wasn't so sure they'd want to do. I told them about my experience and what I saw and they listened to me so intently. I told them that I think, as a family, we should do a service project. I asked them if they knew what the true meaning of Christmas was and they both agreed that it was giving just as the Savior was given to us. They both have had the answer of "giving" hammered into them through Austin and I and church so even though they gave the right answer, I wasn't so sure they really agreed it was the greatest gift. I told them that instead of focusing on receiving gifts this year, we should focus on giving to those in need. Of course they will each get a few special presents from Santa, but as far as the other junk they usually get and end up trashing anyway, we will take that money and put it towards buying stuffed animals for the kids I visit. After I said this, I waited for a big "NOOO!!!" from them, but surprisingly, I got a much different answer. Kora jumped up all excitedly and said, "and we can make cards too with pictures!!!" Jake agreed that this was WAY more important than getting a ton of presents they don't need and was excited to go pick some stuffed animals out for the kids.
So in the end, everything turned out great. We now have a really exciting service project we need to get started on and some really sweet children to surprise come Christmas time. I learned more than I expected today about life, parenting and the joy that comes with being humble and I couldn't be more grateful for that! I'll defintely be back at the hospital next month!