Charlotte’s Lucky Charms: Hearts In Healdsburg
My twin niece and nephew, Charlotte and Matthew, turned sixteen last August. The eldest of the two by two minutes, Charlotte was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) just days before her fifteenth birthday. To cheer her up for her sixteenth birthday gift, I offered to take her on vacation to any place that she desired. After a few months of chemotherapy, she had made her decision: she wanted to come to our home in Sonoma with her best girlfriends. I cried tears of joy, and it gave me and Charlotte something to focus on other than her Cancer when we were together at the hospital. It was fun to plan her Sweet 16th, and plan we did.
Sick and children in the same sentence break my heart. Char’s cancer opened my eyes to a world I had not been exposed to. Not only was she sick, but a hospital full of children were sick. At every visit to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, I witnessed families going through the same agonizing visits as our family. Whatever hardship there was on the families paled in comparison to what the pint-sized patients had to endure.
Char’s Lucky Charms
Not only do Char and her siblings love Lucky Charms cereal (my sister allows them only on their birthdays), there are a group of her friends that were her lucky charms throughout her illness: Laura, Lily, Morgan, and Schyler. At every turn these girls were by her bedside giggling in their torn jeans, Snapchatting while apart, and sending uplifting texts morning, noon, and night.
Beating Hearts in Healdsburg
When the girls arrived, I explained that the theme for the week was Charlotte’s Lucky Charms: Hearts in Healdsburg, as in they were the ones that kept her from sinking during her illness. We were celebrating life! They all received red and white heart t-shirts to kick off the fun, and our first Instagram moment was past us. Compliments of Char, the itinerary was spelled out day by day. She had plotted not only activities but meals. Remember when you were a kid and could eat anything you wanted? However, the foods of today are a bit different from when I was 16. Yes, Cheetos and Doritos still exist, but no one in this group eats them. These girls were health conscious. Food and beverage ranged from almond milk to quinoa salads and guacamole to my homemade pesto sauce.
To make the celebration extra special, every morning at breakfast the girls received a gift of the day. The first morning was a bag of Lucky Charms and placards that said “Girl Boss.” Another day the gift was a heart cosmetic bag for beauty day with lavender nail polish, hair remover sticks, and lavender face masks. On her actual birthday, they each received monogrammed gift bags, a strand of pearls from Chinatown, and a Starbucks gift card saying “bestie.”
A coming of age for a teenager, Sweet 16 décor was in full supply. I had a step and repeat made and “16” icons strategically placed all over the property. My husband and I have been part-time residents in Healdsburg for 10 years and have met some wonderful people, in particular our former neighbor Jim Walters. Years ago I met Jim and his deceased wife Dottie at Healdsburg’s Downtown Bakery. The couple had met at Stanford. As a ten-year wedding anniversary gift, Jim tracked down the car that Dottie’s parents owned growing up, a Chevy 1951 Convertible, purchased it and surprised Dottie with it. If that weren’t enough, that same Chevy Jim offered to take the girls into town for an ice cream in the convertible. I made sure to let the girls know how special this car was and far it traveled to reach this point. As manners are my mainstay, I did a quick conversation tutorial with them about what questions they were going to talk to Mr. Walters about. He tells me they passed with flying colors.
The last and unexpected treat was from my friend Xin who owns a retail shop in town called Clutch. During Char’s illness, I posted many Instagram photos of her treatment and progress. Sweet Xin was so touched by my posts that she asked Charlotte to be a model for her store ad campaign. She and her photographer came to the house for an afternoon photo shoot. The clothes and garden backdrop were idyllic, and the laughter from the girls while she changed outfits was priceless. Photos of Charlotte were even featured in the Press Democrat newspaper ads for the store which ran for months.
For Charlotte’s birthday dinner in town, I took the girls out for mocktails beforehand. As the only one of age, I had a cocktail: a Cosmopolitan. I offered the girls a sip and had only one taker who said it tasted like “pink nail polish remover.” Good answer. While the besties dined on pizza and pasta, I made Char’s favorite birthday desserts at home: apple and banana cream pies. She had two slices and went to bed happy.
Parting was such sweet sorrow until I peeked into the guest bedrooms and bathrooms. I predicted disorder and decided ahead of time that staying out of their end of the house was a wise choice. Asking them to keep their rooms tidy was something my mother would say, so when they arrived I asked only one thing: that they have fun!