Today was Nina's Zoo Day. Approximately 300 of our family members and dearest friends came into town from across the country to spend this blessed, happy day with us. To say it was blessed is not quite describing it in its fullest!! It was by far the most spectacular day of my life (okay, it's up there with the birth of each of our kids!). The entire celebration was that...a celebration of family, friends, love, and appreciation.
Immediately after we got the diagnosis I knew we needed this day. I was, and still am, fearful about just how much time we have. I pray, constantly, that we have a lifetime, that Nina will have to take care of me in my old age! Nevertheless, I also wanted to give everyone who loves Nina an opportunity to see her happy and see her now. We have spoken to our families and friends and through this blog people have a close view of what is going on. However, it is a completely different experience to see her in person. Seeing her in person solidifies what is going one. She is not the same little girl; the vision of Nina that everyone has in their mind no longer exists. We understood instantaneously that the people who love Nina needed to see her in order to be able to live, grieve, grow, and heal through this. As such, Nina's Zoo Day celebration was perfect.
From birth, both of our kids have spent some of their happiest days at the Santa Barbara Zoo, exploring and learning. The SB Zoo is the world's most perfect zoo for small children. It is a great size, not too overwhelming, and arranged in an idyllic way to promote curiosity and an adventurous spirit. In addition, annual membership is ridiculously cheap, $80 for a family. With this membership we can go to the zoo as often as we want. Before the kids started school, we would go there by ourselves or with friends on a weekly basis. As they grew, their favorite animals changed, their questions increased in sophistication, and their love of all things created by God blossomed.
We've gone to Boo at the Zoo for Halloween almost every year. This is one of Nina's favorite annual adventures. Last year we took Tash, a British doctoral student doing research with us. While they were playing on the zoo playground, Nina turned to Tash and asked her, "Are you talking like that because of Halloween?" I noticed Tash giggling and when she recounted what Nina had uttered, I just shook my head in total amusement. For 4 year old Nina, it made perfect sense that Tash's British accent was just another costume accessory :) Later that night when we got home, Nina proceeded to conclude the evenings festivities by speaking in a British (more like a Cognie version) accent. When I asked her to climb into bed she turned that adorable chubby face toward me and said, "Yes mum!" Teddy totally cracked up!!! "She's a silly girl!" he proclaimed. He was right and we love her for every single silly thing she has done and will continue to do! This past July, Nina and Teddy both attended Zoo Camp and had a fantastic time!! Given how special the zoo was to our kids and how much joy they had found there over the years, it made perfect sense to have this day there! We were so thankful that dream could come true so quickly!!!
I do have to confess that prior to leaving for the zoo, my nerves were through the roof. In fact, my friend Tash caught me taking a few swigs of limoncello to soothe the nerves. She laughed at me sweetly, but I was more nervous about going to this event then defending my dissertation or presenting in front of 500 people. The fact of the matter is that I had terrorized everyone about not crying at the zoo party. People had been sending Todd messages on Facebook commenting on how nervous they were that I'd kick them out if they cried! I found this to be sad, albeit funny! My intentions were never to stress anyone out. I recognize that there may be a time for tears when we are all together, however, the zoo day was not that time!! Nonetheless, I was mortified that after all the nagging and fear-mongering, I would be the one crying at the zoo party. I desperately needed to keep it together! Thankfully, between God's grace and the limoncello I pulled it off :)
There aren't enough words to thank everyone for coming. Our friends worked tirelessly to pull this together and friends and family members contributed time and money to make this a reality. Of course the Santa Barbara Zoo, Whole Foods, and Crush Cakes were enormously generous and gracious in making each detail a priority and blessing!! Bottom line, everything, from the cotton candy to the hugs were perfect and will always be in our memories, as well as the kindness that we as humans should show one another on a regular basis!!
Speaking of cotton candy, Miss Nina decided once we arrived at the zoo that she did NOT want to go in! I'm sure that she felt the pressure, even if it was unspoken. I had everyone else leave and told Nina I would just wait until she was ready! Of course she would pull this stunt on me!! Why not, right?? Anyhow, about 15 minutes later she decided she wanted cotton candy and we were off.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to all!!! Your love at this event was explosive and has and will continue to nourish our family. We have lots of pictures we want to share, and some videos. My friend Whitney is going to come over tomorrow night and show me how to add videos to Youtube since I can't seem to load them directly into the blog. In the meantime, please visit the following address to see a slide show the incredible photographer Kacie Jean put together!
Nina and Teddy, along with everyone who came from near and far, was touched by God's endless love this day!!! Thank you!!!
And of course, at the end of the day as she was climbing into bed, Nina requested that we add a cotton candy machine to her room! The girl is brilliant!