Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Birches.

It's amazing how innocent mishaps can change lives...

Ah, Auto-correct.  We've all cursed it, usually for not letting us curse, and laughed over all of the damn you auto correct posts we've seen or shared.  Now and then, though, it seems something extraordinary comes from where we least expect it - and in the case of the Birches - that was M's mighty auto-correct.

During a group conversation one day, M's mighty iPhone changed her attempt at calling us "bitches" to "Birches", an auto correct that changed who we are and how we view our group of girlfriends forever.  The birch tree has become a symbol of who we are, our strength and our future.

We, the Birches, are 10 strong moms with a common bond - Fragile X Syndrome.  We started as 4, Melissa (M), Talitha (T), Karen (K) and myself (H) and grew to 10 adding Paula (P), Kim (K), Cindi (C), Mary Beth (MB), Amy (AZ) and Kathleen (KQ). We represent 6 states and Canada.  Understanding who we are, will help understand the birch connection. 

Raising children can be challenging, raising special needs children will raise that challenge to a new level.  It requires strength, determination, flexibility, humor and hope.  For each of us, reaching out to others and letting them know they are not alone is part of who we are.  We are out there doing what we can to let others know they are not alone, because we remember how that feels and most of all we know the difference it makes to connect.  To not only know you are not alone but develop friendships, shoulders to cry on, sounding boards to scream frustrations at, arms to wrap around you for hugs. 
The path we take may not always be paved for us, but we will always take it together.
Somehow (you'll have to ask one of the Birches with a better memory than mine to fill in this part if you want to know it)  after M's auto correct the definition of the birch tree was looked into.  We discovered that birch trees are known to be strong and flexible, as their limbs bend but rarely break - becoming our Mantra "We bend but don't break" and that the Celtic Meaning of the Birch Tree  includes that "the birch tree is highly adaptive and able to sustain harsh conditions with casual indifference."  "Bright and beautiful, the birch is a pioneer, courageously taking root and starting anew to revive the landscape where no other would before."  It was clear... we are Birches.

The birches... my birches... are extra special.  Not just because they are mine. Not because I am theirs.  Not just because they are Fragile X moms.  But because they are amazing, incredible human beings who despite the challenges they face, triumph.  Women who are always helping, always thinking, always lifting up others, always spectacular.  They are strong. They are beautiful. They are inspirational. They are unconditional. They are paving the path for those behind them. 
They are birches.

I'm not sure how much of a secret it is that the last couple years of my life have been a significant struggle & brought great change, while I'd like to think I kept it hidden well, I know some of my struggles have been too much to hide.  Like many fragile x carriers, I struggle with depression.  While I continue with my non stop quest to save the world, educate everyone about Fragile X, create awareness, fund raise and always be there for anyone who needs me while being the best mom and friend I can - inside I struggle.  I put my focus so much on my children, friends, family, job and fx community I do all I can to save everyone from drowning - everyone except myself.  I don't open up, trust or ask for help easily - if at all.  I'm excellent at building walls, pushing back and keeping everyone at a safe distance from me.  Everyone, that is, except the Birches. 

If you have a close group of friends, you completely understand where I am coming from.  If you don't, I pray that you will one day find what I have.  Everyone deserves unconditional friends.  There are no walls.  If I push, the pull back.  We are all so much the same, there is no need for explanation.  There is a constant understanding.

The Birches have proven over and over the strength of our friendship, the unconditional love, the amazing bond and... that laughter (ok and wine) can heal most anything and what it can't - time will.  Time not spent alone but rebuilding together.  We have all had our ups and downs - we have, most certainly seen a lot of bending over the past few years - but we refuse to let each other break.  We remind each other that we are bright and beautiful, we are courageous and strong, we are able to go places no one has before and make our mark - a beautiful life changing positive mark somewhere new.  We are always together, in whatever way we can be.

  Just a couple of weeks ago, we held the 10th Annual Walk for Fragile X Syndrome here in Canton (IL).  *Yes, I will blog about it soon*  It is, hands down, the most stressful - yet rewarding, sleep depriving - yet exhilarating, emotionally draining - yet emotionally recharging event that I help coordinate all year.  This year was extra special because it was the 10th.  This was huge, to our community, to the fx world and most of all - to me.  While I worried that my small town event wouldn't live up to the expectations of my big city friends - I wanted them here.  I needed them here.  Partially for the validation that this event means as much to the fx community as it does to me and my awesome local community that supports it.  Partially because I've had so much thrown at me over the past few months I wasn't sure how much longer I could stand on my own & needed to feel their arms around me as a reminder that together, we are too strong to break.  M, who is my very, very best friend had been planning with her husband, E (Eric) to come with their son C (Caleb) for almost a year.  Unfortunately E was not able to make the trip as Grampy needed him back in MA and thanks to the worst flooding in 60 years M & C were a day late - but still arriving on Friday and here in time for the walk.  

While I was extremely elated that amazing friends from several other states were eager and excited to come (Tim & Jammie from SD, Joe and Nick from KY, Julie, Russ and Alex from WI, plus several FX families from IL (Nicole, Dawn, Elizabeth, Robyn, Jeanie, Missy and Kimberly) in my heart, I wanted my Birches there with me. I had teasingly asked them to come (repeatedly, ok, only kinda teasingly) but knew it really was too much to ask. I had no idea 4 of them were about to make that happen.  Late Friday night Amy surprised me by calling me outside to find Mary Beth, Karen, Talitha and Cindi waiting for me, one of the best surprises of my life!
M was sleeping and missed the picture... no worries we woke her up and took her to Wal Mart shortly after this was taken ;-)
Blurry but beautiful!
While much of their time here was spent in a surreal blur for me, my heart stopped hurting, laughter took over, and I was at peace with myself and life.  That is the effect the Birches have on me.  And not just me but many who's paths they cross.  They really are the "rock stars" of the Fragile X world - and a true blessing to our fragile community and to my life.

The amazing FX Families from all over who attended the walk!

At our event, we have a silent auction - I had not even noticed that one of the pieces donated was a framed photograph of birch trees.  That night, in the middle of our party, they gave it to me. Not only did they come to my event but they bought me something (I told you they rocked!).  It is a perfect reminder of our bond.

K, C, H, M, T, AZ and MB - 7 of the 10 Birches
Come Sunday, Melissa and Cindi had presents for all of us plus for the Birches who could not attend.  A birch card with "The Birch Oath" inside and a birch etched votive (or shot glass, totally your call on that one!)
The beautiful card & votive/shot glass ;-)

The Birch Oath
The birch asks us to serve our fellow man with a fire in
our hearts. In this respect, the birch reminds us that even
if our spirits are dampened by the set backs in life, we
can always catch fire from the spark of passions that drive
us to divinity.
The birch asks us to take root in new soils and light our
lives with the majesty of our very presence. The birch
sings to us: "Shine, take hold, express your creative
expanse, light the way so that others may follow."

 It's amazing when you find words that ring true to what your heart says.  For me, the birch oath does just that, an inspirational reminder to continue to shine and to light the way so that others may follow - just like my Birches.

In case you were wondering what we do if some of the birches can't make it to one of our times together... well, you become a "flat birch" and we carry you along, your head on a stick for the fun and pose you in pictures!  Just as we did with K in FL, they did with me in DC - we did with them here in Illinois!
Flat P, K and KQ
We'll even feed you drunk gummies!

It's not a group picture without everyone!

I am proud of many things in my life.  My children. My family. My friends. My community. The work I've done.  The difference I've made.  I have a million reasons to smile.  When I forget, I have the Birches.  Who let me fall apart and know that I'll stand back up even stronger because I'm not alone, I'm a Birch and we are many & strong ... we may bend but we won't break.. and that we are only just getting started - we have a whole world to change, to make a better place and we are going to have the time of our lives doing it!

What an amazing world this would be if we were all able to find our friends who are our soul mates, who make us laugh, support our human side, are always there and pick us up when we fall... if we all had our own Birches.  If you haven't found yours yet, I hope you do soon.

Miles may separate us but technology, friendship and love keeps us together each day.  The birches are what true friends should be:  Respectful, Honest, Loving, Kind, Supportive, Unconditional, Entertaining... there for you, even at 3 am when you are eating Chips Ahoy in your pj's and in need of a shower and blogging instead of sleeping.  They are... amazing, life changing, inspiring women.  They are my birches.

Well played Auto correct.... thank you.