Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

As you probably could have guessed, I will not be rallying to send out Christmas cards this year. Not such a bad thing when you have a blog! We love receiving them from others and are truly sorry to not reciprocate this year at all. Thank you to those of you who are keeping the cards coming!

If I had any talent at all, I would put Christmas hats on us all or at least take a new family photo for everyone to see, but as it stands I am going to recycle our most recent family photo taken in July just before my hair fell out. We all (except me) look pretty much the same and if you don't mind I'd like to pretend I still look like this.

If I were sending out real cards I would have included a letter letting everyone know what our family has been up to for the past year. Since you are reading this here on the blog you are sure to know exactly what we have been up to, but I thought I would put out a status letter anyway, one that has more focus on other members of the family and what they have been doing. So here it is...

The Di Silvestri Family's 2011 Christmas Letter

Hello family and friends!

As many of you know, this has been a crazy year for us, filled with joys and sufferings.

In July I was told that the cancer had spread to my brain, that fifteen tumors were threatening my life. I immediately began whole brain radiation which left me seriously debilitated until only a few weeks ago. Now, six months later, after some really unpleasant adventures in chemo, blood clots and nausea, I am feeling almost like my old self. My most recent scans show only one lesion remaining in the brain and that it has shrunk considerably, so it seems the treatment was worth it, though there were times in the middle when I was not so sure!

The blessings that this illness has brought to our family have been considerable. Unbelievable, really. We have been completely humbled by the help our communities have poured out so generously. Sacred Heart School and Church, West Valley Rebels Youth Football/Cheer, families we know from homeschooling days, our Opus Dei families and even friends from afar have so overwhelmed us with their loving care that it was clear to us that we had some lessons to learn from this situation! Foremost is charity. There are some amazingly charitable people in this world and it seems that we know them all. God gave us a lot to deal with this year but he also gave us the grace and resources we needed to make it through. Thank you so much to the never-tiring grandparents and friends who so often entertained the little ones, brought meals, drove me and the kids all over creation, did our shopping, our laundry, our dishes. I can never repay you, but please know how grateful we all are for keeping our family running while I was down for the count. I hope I can learn from you and emerge a far more charitable person myself.

Enough about cancer.

Thanks to his faith and strength of character, Jay has held up well in the face of all this stress. Imagine carrying the burden of supporting our giant family financially, plus facing the possibility of raising seven children on his own! He has been a rock through it all and hasn't missed a beat at work. I am very pleased with myself for choosing such an amazing husband.

Jay has just completed his fourth year working for Vivisimo, an enterprise search company headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA. He loves his job. He is a sales engineer and does a lot of demos for potential clients. He is very good at his job largely because he can communicate well with both management and tech. Jay works from home most of the time and travels from time to time, but nothing like he has had to in the past. His company has been incredibly supportive of my illness and encouraged him to take the time he needs to take me to the doctor or otherwise care for the family as a result. They continue to provide us with wonderful healthcare for which we are eternally grateful. A job he loves that keeps him close to home in this economy is no small blessing. We will never take it for granted.

Jay was an assistant coach for Joey's football team this fall and really enjoyed it. He will take a coaching slot for Sam's team next year and is looking forward to that. He continues to be involved in the Knights of Columbus and has taken on some new roles there as advocate and a member of the Columbus Club. He is faithful to his exercise and prayer routines and this is what keeps him going strong.

Joey is doing well as an 8th grader at Joe Walker Middle School. He has a solid GPA, is getting ready for his track season and has lots of friends (that we approve of, thank goodness!). He will soon be taking the Paraclete entrance exam (our local Catholic high school) and is excited about playing high school level football next fall. He had his best ever football season this year playing corner, and is pumped up. His games were really fun to watch. He became involved in Civil Air Patrol at school this year and is pushing us to let him work on getting his pilot's license at sixteen. (Fat chance!) He hopes to be a military or commercial pilot someday, so this is right up his alley. We are proud of the young man he has grown into and look forward to seeing how he continues to grow in high school. Physically, too, as he is already as tall as Jay!

Lindsey is amazing us with her generous spirit, sense of humor and strength of character. She is in sixth grade at Sacred Heart School this year and has emerged as a good, self-directed student, friend to all, helper extraordinaire to her mother, and big sister adored by the little ones. She is a member of the academic decathlon team and will represent our school with her team at an archdiocese-wide competition in March. We are so proud of her for pursuing this and winning one of four sixth grade spots. It is a huge commitment that requires her to practice on Sundays, get to school an hour early one day per week and miss lunch recess once a week. She is constantly making and studying her flash cards on every topic under the sun. She will be a good candidate for Jeopardy! when she is done. Lindsey continues with her cheerleading and just took first place with her team at a recent cheer competition. She also loves to bake and is fattening us up with brownies, cookies and lemon bars.

Sam, too, has made great strides this year as a fifth grade student. He made honor roll for the first time in a few years--we were thrilled! He loves to play football, ride his scooter and hang out with his friends. He is incredibly generous and spent his savings on very thoughtful gifts for his siblings this Christmas. He helps me a lot around the house, emptying the dishwasher for me and getting things for the younger kids. He has a great sense of humor and keeps us all laughing.

Julia, our third grader, is doing very well at all of her endeavors. She is an excellent student, and keeps busy with gymnastics. She is trying hard to make the competition team for next fall and has beautiful form. As a former gymnast myself, I really enjoy watching her practice and learn and grow. I cannot offer the football players any advice, but I "get" what Julia is doing and can offer her practical tips. She also is a big help around the house and with the little kids. I appreciate her very much!

Tony is in Kindergarten at Sacred Heart and doing well. This is his second year of kindergarten, as we sent him to our local public school last year as an extra year of preschool, given his summer birthday. It was a hard decision for us at the time, but seeing how well he is reading we are happy we did what we did. He is getting ready to play his first year of football in the fall. The little ones look like bobble heads in their giant helmets--they are so cute! We can't wait to see how Tony's aggressive physical nature and his sweet personal nature play out on the field. Should be interesting!

Bella at age four is in her second year of preschool and will start as a Kindergartner at Sacred Heart in the fall. She was just the "star" (the actual star) of her school's Christmas pageant and we all got a kick out of seeing her on stage. She was also a mascot cheerleader this year and performed beautifully at competition with her team. We were impressed and very proud. She has grown up a lot this last year and understands a lot more and is much more patient, which has been nice for us all.

Natalie just turned three. She will start preschool in the fall and, for now, is my constant companion. She is very bossy and loud (you kind of have to be when you are the baby of the family) but also sweet and loving. Dora the Explorer has never known a bigger fan than Natalie, and, as a result, she is remarkably well-educated in Spanish for a child in a completely English-speaking household.

As for me, I plan to rejoin the choir in January and hope to cantor again shortly thereafter. Before I can, I have to learn all the new music for the revised translation of the Roman Missle--a strange position for me to be in! I am so happy my tremor is gone and I can sing again. I wan't sure if I ever would be able to again. I am keeping busy with laundry, general clean up, and returning to general household management. I'm still not as strong as I once was but am so grateful for the ability to work around the house again. Who knew it could be such an honor to work?!

If I haven't lost you by now, you are a very loyal reader! Sorry for the length of this letter, but there are a lot of people to account for in our family. We are blessed beyond belief in our current situation and pray fervently that we can hang on to this for awhile longer. So many of you are in our prayers as we know we have been in yours. May 2012 bring even more answers to these prayers and the new ones that will inevitably crop up until I write next year's letter. Aren't I Little Miss Optimistic, that I will be writing next year's letter?! That's what faith does for a person.

Merry Christmas!

The Di Silvestris (Jay, Suzanne, Joey, Lindsey, Sam, Julia, Tony, Bella, & Natalie)
December 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

On the Road Again

I have been cleared to drive!

IF there is no other qualified, licensed driver available, IF it is local and necessary and only then. But still. I am thrilled!

I drove myself to mass yesterday morning and again this morning. It was so liberating! I have not driven, even once, since last July and I have missed being able to do simple things for myself. I can go get milk if we need it instead of having to wait for someone to become available to take me. I can pick up a sick child from school if called without having him/her wait in the office interminably while I find a ride. I tell you, it is the little things.

And the not-so-little things.

As what seemed to be a last ditch effort to do something about my constant nausea and aversion to food, the wonderful nurse practitioner in my oncologist's office prescribed a liquid medication called Megace, an appetite stimulus that has worked well in her experience. It is been a miracle for me this week. I have been nauseous only rarely and have been heartily hungry. I wish I had had this three months ago. But then again, if I had, I wouldn't be 15 pounds from my pre-decadron weight as I am now! So, everything, as always, happens for a reason.

I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to eat again. I missed enjoying food!

So, between my new found love of food and my ability to drive again, if you think you saw me in a drive-thru, you just might be right.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Little Slow, But Getting It

Tonight was the children's Christmas musical at Sacred Heart. I had four children perform Christmas songs with their classes, Tony for the first time.

This particular event I somewhat dread every year. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing my kids sing (and the other kids are fun to watch too), but it is so crowded in the church that I feel like kicking everyone around me before the show even starts. Parents with video cameras are elbowing each other out of the way for closer seats, some blatantly move people's belongings to take over their seats. This fight for seats really colors the event for me and I always give in and end up in the back rather than fighting this fight that upsets me so much.

Tonight, it seemed even worse than usual as people started pouring in before mass was even over. We were in the middle of a post-mass novena and people were talking as if they were in a sports arena. These are good people who lose a bit of themselves when fighting for territory. It brings us to our most animal state.

I never fought for seats before, especially front row seats, because I can hear just as well in the back and I am more comfortable not having any confrontations. It never occurred to me that the children cared one way or another as long as they knew I was in the building somewhere. Well, I learned something about that tonight.

My friend Brenda, who was front and center, made room for Jay and I to sit next to her and her husband tonight. Technically, the front section of the church is reserved for board members and their families and she is the president. Since I am not officially on the board this year, I didn't attempt to sit in the reserved section, so she made a point of dragging me up there. I felt guilty sitting in literally the best seat in the house and thought about declining. But I didn't, and I moved right up front where I was just a bit self conscious.

All that ended the minute the first Di Silvestri child walked up on the altar stairs and saw me in the front. One after another my four children beamed like the sun when they saw me in the front. And it suddenly occurred to me that sitting in the front wasn't a gift for me at was a gift for my children who have had me miss far too many of their events this year. Why did it not occur to me how much it would mean to them to see me applauding and be close enough to see the love and enthusiasm on my face? Why did I only see this from my own perspective and not from theirs?

Next year, I will camp out to get as close as possible for my kids who love their mom and really don't want anything to happen to her. Sometimes I forget how scared they must be about all that is happening, and if seeing me in the front row at their Christmas concert makes them happy, then by all means I will join the throng of strategizers for good seats.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Happy Birthday, Natalie

It's official. No more babies, no more toddlers. The baby of our family turned three yesterday. The day was marked by Dora, Dora and more Dora. From her tiara (pictured above) to a Dora jumper (turned out to be a bit tricky in hurricane speed winds intermittent throughout the day) to her Dora and friends cake, I do believe there was a clear theme to the day.

Low key, just our immediate and extended family (my natural reaction after our large Thanksgiving), I loved the day. She is such a funny and clever girl (says her braggart mother), quite articulate, and she loves to perform. Dance, cheer, tumble, whatever, as long as someone is watching her.

Natalie, you make me laugh everyday and delight me with your antics. Thank you, God, for the gift of Natalie. May I raise her to know and love you!