Thursday, May 12, 2005

Pretty Plus--the life of a big girl

"Excuse me, where are the PRETTY PLUS jeans?" my mom asked the Sears salesperson, a little too loudly.

Hanging my 12-year-old head, I followed sheepishly behind my mom as she pushed through racks of clothes to the back of the girls clothing department.

Pretty Plus Jeans. Jeans for the young girl who is pretty... AND A LITTLE MORE. She's pretty PLUS she's a little too big for the other jeans. She's pretty PLUS those few extra pounds that force her to shop in the BACK of the clothing department.

That's right, the back of the department. Move to the back, big girl! We are hiding your clothes back there in the corner where nobody else will have to look at them. We didn't want to put them on the aisle because we thought you would be embarrassed carousing through the racks of PRETTY PLUS clothes in front of passers-by.

Woe is me, right? Hell no! Since that slight twinge of embarrassment over 20 years ago, I have realized something. I AM A BIG GIRL. I am 5'10" and I weigh close to 200 lbs. and it ain't just big bones. Maybe big bones are a part of it. There is something in the chemical combination of a short and round Italian woman with a tall, lanky "injun" that naturally creates big bones. But I'm fat too.

Don't be embarrassed. I know the word "fat" makes you uncomfortable and your initial reaction is to say, "No you're not." But please don't do that. Get comfortable with the word and you will be comfortable with me. I'm fat. I know it, you know it, strangers at the mall know it. And, it's ok. Really, it is. I have been fat since I entered the world at over 8 lbs. I was fat the day that Louis Galli made fun of me in Mrs. Krieghauser's 3rd grade class. And I was fat every time a guy rejected me because I wasn't his type. But I want you to get comfortable with it.

"Why?" you ask.

Well, maybe Sears had something with that whole "Pretty Plus" thing... But, if I had a line of clothes, I would call it FAT PLUS. I'm fat PLUS I'm the life of the party. I'm fat PLUS I cook a great meal. I'm fat PLUS I'm a fabulous friend. I'm fat PLUS I have a great job, drive a nice car, live in an adorable apartment. I'm fat PLUS I love children and photography and painting. I'm fat PLUS, I sure can sing.

See, until you get comfortable with the FAT, you can't see all the PLUS.

This is the life of a big girl my friends! Helping people and hoping people get past the fat and see all the PRETTY PLUS.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A Tribute to Madison

Just over 18 months ago, a little girl came into this world on a mission. Unbeknownst to her parents, God sent Madison Alexis to have a profound impact on everyone who met her. And that's just what she did.

Madison was born with Down's Syndrome. Shortly after birth, Madison endured heart surgery and a brave and speedy recovery. Her family, her friends, her parents' co-workers, townspeople, doctors, nurses, anyone who came in contact with Madison fell in love with her determination and tenacity.

I met Madison at work. Her mom, Karen, and I share a cubicle wall at work. Karen would bring Madison to work some Fridays and we all took turns visiting or holding her bottle. Later on, we would sit on the floor and read books or just chat. Although she never said a word, Madison made many days brighter on the 7th floor and served as a constant reminder that life is precious. We found tremendous joy, watching her grow and eventually learn sign language.

Just before Christmas 2004, at the age of 1, Madison had a stroke. Before doctors could determine the cause, she had another. For weeks, she laid in the hospital, entangled in tubes. She had surgery to remove part of her skull and the swelling in her brain receded. The prognosis was not good, however. Doctors were unsure that she would fully recover. They believed she would be paralyzed, perhaps blind and may have some hearing loss.

Back at work, we scrambled to find ways to support Karen, her family and most of all, our precious Madison. None of us were prepared to say good-bye to her just yet. And, apparently, Madison wasn't done yet either. Madison suddenly woke up and, days later, she went home. Against all odds, she recovered quickly. Soon she was back in the office, babbling and playing and bringing joy to everyone she visited. We presented her with a bouquet of hats to hide the scars from her surgeries. She was delighted. Madison was our little Christmas miracle.

For four months after the Christmas miracle, we enjoyed Madison's company and watching her recover at record speed. Once again, Madison did things her way and in her own time, amazing everyone in the process.

This beautiful child taught those around her how to embrace and support one another, to have faith and believe in the impossible (for all things are possible!) and to recognize what is important: Family, Faith and Others.

On April 21, 2005, her mom announced in an email that Madison had earned her wings. After another stroke, Madison died in her mother's arms, surrounded by family and friends.

The memory of who she was and what she did for all of us will go on forever.

My First National Anthem

As a singer, one of the most rewarding opportunities I have been given is singing the National Anthem. The first opportunity came when I was 16 years old.

It was Spring of 1987 and the Major Indoor Soccer League was enjoying a successful and exciting season. The call came to me just days before the end of the St. Louis Steamers season. "Are you available to sing the National Anthem this weekend?" Without hesitation, I agreed.

The largest crowd I had ever performed before was a few hundred people. But that May night in 1987, I stepped on the field in front of over 10,000 soccer fans. The lights went down slowly until only two single spotlights remained. One spotlight rested on the American Flag at the south end of the old St. Louis Arena. The second spotlight stopped on me. Then the announcer spoke.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please rise. And gentlemen remove your caps. And join in the singing of our National Anthem."

The fans rustled in their seats for a moment and then... SILENCE.

And then I sang. With my heart pounding and my knees shaking, I proudly sang our National Anthem. And the crowd applauded. And I was hooked.

Since that night, I have sung the anthem over 100 times. And every time is just as special and emotional and rewarding as the first time.