So. . .
I wasn't really worried that Lily wouldn't like the tshirt, but even if I HAD been worried, I needn't have. She jabbered about how she liked her blue shirt and seemed genuinely fascinated by her picture on it. It was pretty cute. I really wasn't sure if the cartoon would be too abstract for her to link to herself. I was worried that I hadn't sketched it well enough regardless. I mean, it was really a two pronged problem. 1) Did I do a decent enough job to even make the sketch recognizable to someone who didn't know who it was supposed to be, and 2) Would Lily be able to put it together.
Emma and I left early to get the registrations stuff done so Leslie and Lily and my parents could just show up and walk, but Leslie sent these pictures. Lily's l's are w's, so really she was saying, "It's wiwee! It's me!" but who writes that way? Regardless, it was VERY cute. Leslie said she was very excited to walk (see exhibit B).
Couldn't have asked for a better day. It was crystal clear. No clouds, mid 70's all day (when it wasn't mid 80's). We got there about 7:40 and introduced ourselves to ABOARD (Autism Connection of PA). They were really helpful getting us tshirts and water bottles (or. . . water skins. They were like foil versions of a wine skin, kinda cool) and giving us tickets to fill out to enter for drawings to win stuff in the overall Highmark Drawing. They'd forewarned me to bring address labels, and I printed some out, but not enough. We got 1 entry for every $50 raised. . . and $2500 raised. . . so there were 50 tickets for the big drawings, but I'd only printed out 30 labels.
While I filled out the rest of the labels, Emma stood guard and held the completed ones so the "wind" (it wasn completely still, but she needed a job or she was going to drive me batshit crazy pacing around me) wouldn't blow them away. A band started warming up behind us at Stage AE.
Emma said, "Is that such a good idea?"
"A band? Don't some autistic people have problems with really loud noises?"
"Yeah," I told her, "But this isn't just a walk to benefit autism charities, there are all sorts of charities here."
"Okay. . ." she said, unconvinced, eying the stage suspiciously. I liked that she's thought about that.
A clown wandered over to the table where I was filling in addresses and Emma reoriented herself so that I was between her and the clown. It was funny. The clown made small talk. . . sorta. . . it was schtick. She had blue hair, and I'm not going to lie. . . she was creepy. . . but she was funny, as clowns go.
She started setting up for balloon animals while I continued to fill out information. As I listened to her banter with people queuing for animals I muttered, "She's pretty funny, right Em?"
Emma, still behind me, said, "I guess. . . for a clown. I don't really get 'clown humor'. I get your humor." I laughed and we finished the last couple tickets and looked for a place to turn them in. I asked Emma if she wanted her picture taken with the clown but she said no.
People started showing up for the race and after I'd turned in our tickets Emma made herself busy with her friends. I stowed the rest of our stuff at the Aboard tent and meandered around, making small talk with people and cluelessly attempting to seem organized. Lily and Leslie and my parents arrived and I had an excuse to seem disorganized as I'd take turns watching Lily in the crowd. It DID freak her out a little. BUT. . . her biggest issue was being wrangled into position (for pictures, or when we tried to keep her from walking off and exploring), not from the noise or crowd.
The Pirate Pierogies were there and Lily loves her characters. I got a picture of her with. . . Cheese Chester. If you're not from Pittsburgh this will make ZERO sense to you, and it's too long to explain in what's probably already going to be a pretty long post, so link >>HERE<< to see what the hell a Pirate Pierogie is. The event was FILTHY with pierogies. And Steely McBeam (Pittsburgh's shameful secret Steeler mascot that nobody outside Pittsburgh knows about and nobody inside Pittsburgh acknowledges) was there too.
Tell me that pierogie isn't creepy. You can't, can you? No. But not as creepy as a clown, so I guess, whatever. So Lily kept trying to latch on to whichever costumed polish food product was closest and we got a couple pictures. I took one of Emma and her friends with Steely, but it must be on the camera and not my phone. He's probably even creepier than the pierogies are.
And then things got weird. . . Lily started a doomed and heart-breakingly brief romance with the cartoon image of herself on Emma's shirt:
|"Hey baby. How YOU doin'"|
|"I kissing her"|
We started collecting at the starting line around ten to 9. The walk was supposed to start at 9, but it was a little late. Leslie and my parents took Lily aside after a painful picture attempt and they lined up behind us because there was a 5K walk (for serious charity walkers) and a 3K "Fun" walk. Because those people aren't serious about walking. It's all for fun. We. . . everyone but my dad, my wife and Lily, were walking 5K. For the children.
The turnout: Within the 10,000 walkers our subset consisted of about 42 walkers. It was magnificent. Everywhere you looked was a little cartoon of Lily on a shirt. So many of Emma's friends from school made it. Emma's dance teacher had to call off dance for Saturday because six of her dancers were at the walk. Friends from primary school and softball and dance were there to support Emma supporting Lily. It was beautiful.
We were starting at the bottom blue dot, and we were finishing at the top blue dot. They mumbled some instructions into a megaphone before the start of the walk, but I wasn't paying attention, and it's not like there was any danger of losing my way in a crowd of 10,000 people all going the same route (although I suppose if they'd all have toppled off the Rachel Carson Bridge I'd have just pointed to Emma and the rest of our team and said, "It's THIS way, I think" and we'd all have died.)
The starting line was crowded with people. Our group was probably a thousand people back or more. We heard the sharp report of the starter's gun and as a cheer went up from the crowd, I ditched the balloon that Lily had wanted to have but didn't want to hold in celebration and we slowly plodded forward as the mob began the slow surge into motion and the space around us started to dilate. After a minute or so we were actually walking, and I used my phone's dusty "Mapmyrun" feature to record our progress. We were moving at about a thigh-cramping .7 miles per hour at least for a few minutes before we were able to stretch our legs and walk reasonably.
About three minutes into the walk a TV camera materialized and Emma was on it like blue bonnet. If she made the news we never found out because we couldn't tell what station carried it (the camera wasn't marked and our preferred local news didn't show her) and moments later then he was behind us and our feet were carrying us toward PNC Park (where the Pirates play).
We walked past Honus Wagner's statue and I snapped a picture. Actually, I snapped three. The sun was shining so bright in my eyes that I couldn't see ANYthing on the iphone to tell if I was getting a picture of the statue or not. All three pictures ended up sucking to various degrees, but this was the best of them:
|You can see the rays of light beaming into my eyeballs here. . .|
|Arrrgh, my eyes!!! Pathetic.|
The kids were doing great. In fact, they did really well until about a half mile from the finish line. Even then they didn't completely wilt and stayed relatively upbeat.
|Emma's in the front on the far right with her sweatshirt tied around her waist.|
|Note glasses dangling from Papa's collar. Still. . . she's chipper.|
|"Tee dum, tee dee|
A teedle ee do tee day
We're out for fun
And this is the game we play:"
You didn't realize when you signed up to be a virtual walker that you were actually going to have to live this walk picture by picture, did you? Or perhaps that was your secret hope. One of our friends who couldn't make it, sent text messages to Leslie showing her kids wearing signs supporting the walk while they walked somewhere else.
Only a few more to go. We walked into the city along Fort Duquesne Boulevard past this mural:
And Emma spotted her summer CLO (Civic Light Opera Academy . . . for theater and music-y stuff) in this spooky alley. The CLO offices are significantly less spooky than this alley, I assure you:
|You can almost see the sign. . . it's approximately "beyond the point of no return" feet down the alley.|
Emma yelled frantically that she needed her iTouch to take a picture of PNC Park and I fumbled for it before finally extricating it from my pocket where I was keeping it safe. She had the disappointed look of someone who'd just missed a great opportunity, but I said, "Just run over here with me, stop, and take the picture. We can catch back up." And she brightened immediately and we jogged to the fence line and took a picture across the river at the ballpark:
It was hot by that time, probably in the 80's. The girls weren't quite as spunky, staying close to their parent or chaperone and not giggling quite as much, but really nobody was whiny or upset.
|We'll cross that bridge when we. . . oh. . . now.|
|The youngest team member|
|still keeping it together|
As we left with a box full of ABOARD tshirts, we stumbled across some team members and handed some of the shirts and water 'bottles' out, lightening the box a bit for the walk back.
Lily was still relatively happy. We dangled a promise of McDonald's over her head and she latched onto it like a promise of salvation. We stopped at another port-a-john before we left, the walk had taken about an hour and a half by the time we were ready to leave, and we didn't trust the 20 minute trip back to McDonald's to proceed dryly. . . but it she didn't go, and she still stayed dry until we made it home where she used a REAL bathroom. I didn't blame her. I'd skipped my second cup of coffee just to stay away from those things.
Emma got a brief rest before she changed into a softball uniform and got ready to play. I carted the extra tshirts and water bottles into the house to. . . do. . . something with. I don't know. I have to find the people that didn't get shirts and get them shirts.
We raised about $2,500 for ABOARD. When we started I thought we'd be lucky to get $500. They thanked us for how 'organized' we were as a team. I told him we didn't really have a choice. When it started we thought maybe we'd have 10 or 15 walkers. We walked with 42. Organization by necessity.
Whenever I told the story about how over half of the donations came from people with whom I'd never shared a verbal conversation, amazed head shakes ensued. And they're still "ensuing" at our house. We're amazed at the generosity of our friends and family and. . . 'internet people".
Thank you all for contributing to an amazing and successful first walk. I promise I'll be a little more 'together' next year if you're still around following our adventures.