There are absolutely no words to describe the day we had…but of course I’m going to try.
Today was Lily’s playground build – an incredible gift granted to her by the Million Dollar Smiles foundation and sponsored by the Bank of Montreal. The volunteers were all in place by 9am this morning, and after a few words (and tears) from Jess and I, they were off. Lily was banished inside the house for the day so that she would be surprised at the final reveal, but Jess and I were able to come in and out (although not allowed to help – we were told just to spend the day relaxing with Lily), take photos and chat with everyone, and so we were able to see the incredible work in progress. By 2:30pm, they were done, and luckily just as my dad arrived, we were allowed to bring Lily out and show her this incredible backyard haven. She was a little overwhelmed at first by all of the people, but by the time she played in the swing, took some photos and almost dove face first into the cake, she was happy to be passed between everyone who was eager to just say hello. I’m not exaggerating when I say that she pretty much disappeared for at least half an hour, and loved all of the hugs and snuggles she got. By the time they wrapped up and started to head home, we couldn’t believe that this day had finally come to a close. After a visit from Jason, Theresa and Joey, and dinner with Pa and Gramma (who of course had to try the slide out for herself!), by the time 7pm rolled around, Lily pretty much dove to get into her bed.
I’m just focusing on the details, because I don’t even think that I can wrap my head around what emotions I’m feeling. Beyond the excitement and eagerness to get out there and start playing, I’m just so overwhelmed by how it feels to be on the receiving end of such an incredible gesture. I tried to explain it to the volunteers in the morning while recounting Lily’s story for them: to be able to just take Lily out to our backyard and play, on a structure that will grow with her and her abilities, is such a gift. For us to have something, right here, that can take all of the skills she is practicing in therapy and to actually be able to use them in play, is something that we probably couldn’t have given her. That isn’t to say that some sort of play structure was never in the future, but the fact that it’s this one – that truly has features that work for her, coming at this time, is incredible. The playground also included a small picnic bench and I just had this amazing vision of Lily sitting there, playing while her g-tube backpack sat beside her, enjoying the sunshine and just being outside, instead of being stuck in her highchair while she eats for an hour. Beyond that, the fact that our backyard was just filled with total and complete strangers, who all looked so happy and excited to be there and who came up to us all throughout the day and thanked US for giving them the opportunity for doing this was mind-blowing. When we told them Lily’s story in the morning, there were a few people that I saw wiping away a couple of tears, but at the end when we were able to bring Lily out and they got to meet her and see her playing, I was the only one crying; everyone else had these incredible smiles on their faces and I realized then that the name of the foundation, Million Dollar Smiles, is about so much more than the smiles that appear on the kids faces but also about the great feeling you get when you see your efforts being truly appreciated. How the end of just a single day could feel like a “full-circle” moment is beyond me, but it really did. We just kept thinking today about how the neurologists told us that we shouldn’t hold on to any hope that Lily would see again, that she was blind and that wasn’t going to change – it felt like looking at an empty backyard, empty and bleak and a world that seems cold and unwelcoming. And now, just like when look behind us and see how far Lily has come and how she has constantly surpassed so many of the expectations that people had for her, our backyard is just filled with hope of what the days ahead will bring: hopefully many afternoons filled with laughter, love and growth.
So thank you to Million Dollar Smiles and BMO. Thank you for giving our backyard, and our family, an amazing future to look forward to.