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Today is a Fairy Tale…

You know how every once in awhile something happens where you just feel as if the stars are aligning or the universe has conspired to send you a message that just fits in so perfectly with where you are in life that you have to step back and say whoa?? Today was one of those days for me. See I just got back from a whirlwind weekend celebrating my grandparents’ 60thwedding anniversary with my family. These 2 have a love story that it seems only Hallmark movies are made of these days: he was an immigrant from Ireland who stepped off a boat in New York Harbor not knowing a soul aside from his own siblings and father who had taken the trip with him. She was 1 of 4 children born into a first-generation Irish Catholic family in New York City. They met at a dance…you know the kind that happened every weekend in 1950s New York… and the rest is history. 3 children, 7 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren later, they’ve seen it all. I had a particularly lengthy chat with my grandfather about their story the night before the celebration and at one point he made an offhand comment somewhere (he tends to ramble more and more these days :-)) about how things weren’t always easy over the years and so he figures “people wouldn’t exactly call it a fairy tale, you know what I mean…but I can tell you I wouldn’t change a thing”.
60 years together…and he wouldn’t change a thing 🙂
 For some reason, that comment stuck with me, and even the next morning as I sat in mass, I kept thinking about what he had said. I thought about it as I watched them throughout the celebration and again as I drove the stretch of 95 between New Jersey and Baltimore. I decided my grandpa was onto something (and maybe Taylor Swift too…but I don’t think I’ll ever be willing to admit it:-) maybe an ordinary life…or even just an ordinary day… can be considered a fairy tale. And maybe that can be even more true on a food allergy journey. In another twist of fate (or God’s providential plan, whichever you prefer…you know my vote) there had been a huge gluten-free, allergy-free expo just a few miles from my grandparents’ house this weekend. 
After my early morning mass, I trekked over to the Expo center where I was swept into a world where I suddenly wasn’t the odd one out; where everyone understood that you would never consider popping something into your mouth until carefully scrutinizing the label; where people you have never met…and most likely never will again…speak like old friends, naturally exchanging terms like “cross-contamination”, “parts per million”, and “dedicated production lines”; where for just a brief moment you feel normal…and it’s the people without allergies who seem to be out of place, wandering from booth to booth with a confused, glazed-over look I imagine we allergy-sufferers typically wear when confronted with a new, non-allergen-specific restaurant. I couldn’t contain my excitement as I found gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free items (from here on, I’ll refer to them more simply as Katie-safe): everything from bread to cookies to ice cream cones…even soft pretzels!! I was so excited the vendor gave me extra powdered sugar for free!!
Can anyone say Puppy Chow?? Or Muddy buddies…I’m still not sure why it has 2 names!
Then I was so excited about the gluten-free picture book I found that the author signed one for me to bring to my classroom library!! Granted, my days of middle school teaching probably mean I won’t be reading it aloud anytime soon…but still, I was excited. Not to mention, it renewed my interest in a long-since-abandoned childhood dream of one day writing a children’s book.
Yes, all in all, it was a magical day. And it was only about to get better as the celebration of my grandparents’ real life fairy tale began. After a beautiful day of laughter, love, and trips down memory lane, I hit the highway. As I drove I thought about those textbook-definition fairy tales. You see, I know quite a bit about fairy tales. Though I’m now known as a math and religion teacher, I spent my first two years of teaching in a self-contained 2nd grade classroom where the best part of my day was teaching Reading (and Phonics) to students who were far below grade level. By far, my favorite unit I taught in those 2 years was our integrated Reading and Writing unit on fairy tales. That’s right: fairy tales are a 2nd grade Language Arts standard (at least it was in DC back then in the pre-Common Core-days). I loved every minute of it: I probably know enough about the various ethnic versions of Cinderella to give Ken Jennings a run for his money in a head-to-head Jeopardy match-up. During my long drive back to Baltimore yesterday, I kept thinking back on that unit. I had just opened the files on my computer earlier in the week after the Savvy Speechwriter (remember him??) paid a visit to my classroom (though I guess now we can also call him the Charismatic Mass Coordinator since we were planning a mass and not a speech) and pulled my copy of Korean Cinderella off the bookshelf. Our subsequent conversation triggered memories of spring mornings spent poring over various fairy tales and afternoons of Writer’s Workshop as my kids composed their own (very entertaining) original fairy tales. See, our school was closing its doors for good at the end of that school year and I still remember the poignant moments while proofreading one of those original fairy tales about how at the last minute, a magical fairy godfather (can you tell the author was a boy?) was going to swoop in and save our school…in exchange for 7 bags of Doritos…and we’d all live happily ever after.
Technically speaking, a fairy tale consists of all the components below: 
That’s right…I still have my fairy tale Writer’s Workshop checklist from all those years ago!
If that’s the case, I guess one could argue that no real-life events or experiences can be truly defined as a fairy tale…but I beg to differ. Let’s take my journey:
  • At least one good character: ME! And of course all those Saints in Street Clothes 🙂
  • A bad character: Gluten. Enough said.  Ok, and casein. And soy. And corn.
  • A problem and solution: Katie getting sicker and sicker, passing out WAY too often, and spending far too much time in St. Joe’s Hospital….until the magical endoscopy! (AND there’s the magic!)
  • Royalty:If that doctor of mine isn’t enough to qualify, I don’t know what is. The man figured me out…and gave me Scope. What more do I need??
  • Things happen in 3s and 7s: Um, remember the autoimmune trifecta?? 
  • Just throw in the special words and you’ve got yourself the framework for quite a fantastic fairy tale!!

(Do you see why I loved teaching 2nd graders to write?? Think of the possibilities just from that prompt!) And the best part is you can do it too! Just fill in your own characters and problems, figure out the missing pieces, and get to work. Granted yours is living, not just writing, but you get the idea. And it doesn’t have to be limited to an allergy journey of course! Maybe you’re battling the demon of a difficult job search/situation, a floundering relationship, the loss of someone important in your life, a seemingly impossible decision, etc. All of these things can still have a happy ending in due time. It’s just sometimes it takes longer to get there than we’d like.
When I think about my grandfather’s point, I think it is quite possible to live happily ever after on a small-scale basis. Is my allergy journey over? Of course not. I know the days ahead are full of reading labels, cleaning counters, packing an absurd amount for even small trips, being a high-maintenance guest, and of course toting around mouthwash…but that doesn’t mean I can’t have happily ever after moments along the way. Honestly, I think it’s why running has become so important to me. When I was at the lowest of the low back in 2011, I used to dream about being well enough to run the team relay of the Baltimore marathon with my 3 college roommates. During tests and bloodwork, I would think about crossing that finish line…a lofty goal for someone who struggled to walk up and down the stairs of my apartment some mornings…but come October, I did it. For me, that day was a fairy tale.
Happy ending #1 in my new gluten-free life 🙂

Then I did the same thing again a few months later with some ACE friends:

Tutus, friends, and feeling healthy: fairy tale day if you ask me!

 And then a year later it repeated itself when I managed to run the 1/2 marathon! 

We didn’t even plan to match!

The same could be said for the race I ran just this past weekend. I first “ran” this annual 5K at my school 2 years ago. I had not yet been cleared by my doctor to run (or even walk alone for long periods of time) so the Saint in Shorts and a T-Shirt agreed to walk with me…and even then we had to cut the course short. In the 2 years since, I’ve been lucky enough to run that course…all 3.1 miles of it…but that first year of walking is never far from my mind. Running that race is a happily ever after for me…something I once only dreamed of doing that seems routine to so many.
Running across the finish line a year after not even walking across!
So, in short, I’d say I think my grandfather is right. (I mean I usually do take his word on pretty much everything…he has quite a few decades of wisdom to share) Life CAN be a fairy tale, both in the longterm and on a daily basis. We just have to remember to be on the lookout for simple joys, unexpected blessings which seem to defy explanation, and of course those “once upon a time” beginnings and those “happily ever after” endings. Dream about them, work towards them, celebrate them when they come, and most importantly encourage others in their pursuit of them too.
Now remember what I said at the beginning of this post? How sometimes life seems to conspire to get a message across?? Well, you think I just meant having all these coincidental events back-to-back in the past week (the Charismatic Coordinator with the Cinderella book prompting the trip down memory lane, then meeting the gluten-free children’s author, followed by my grandfather’s offhand remark) was enough? So did I. And then I walked into my classroom this morning (WAY too early after a weekend away from schoolwork) and pulled the page off my daily calendar to see this:
Today’s daily calendar page!
 Granted when I first read it, I thought it said “Life gives us a fairy tale” not love, but still…

Coincidence?? I just don’t know. Defies explanation to me. I guess that means I better get to work on my children’s book/gluten-free fairytale. 
But for tonight I’ll just be getting ready for another ordinary day: lesson planning, grading, making copies, opening jammed lockers…and living happily ever after. One day at a time.

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