Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dancing for Jackson

Last night I went to the Mr. Thunder Pageant with D at her high school. This is not like the Thunder Down Under, which would be very wrong since there were teenage boys involved. It wasn't dirty or sexy, but it was silly, goofy and, at times, touching.

There were 12 senior boys participating in the pageant with the purpose of raising money for Jackson, this year's Sparrow Club beneficiary (more on Jackson later). The evening's entertainment consisted of typical "beauty contest" events - sportswear, talent and formal attire with interview. Only with a twist, because these are teenage boys we are talking about. Sportswear meant putting on the uniform for whatever sport they compete in. For one boy this meant a fluffy, pink polka-dotted robe that revealed a neon pink leopard-print speedo underneath. My retinas pretty much have that image burned into them. It's not pretty.

The talent portion meant anything from a fake display of Guitar Hero skill (played to a YouTube video) to a Justin Bieber impersonation to a father/son duet to a stand-up comedian (who was really funny - just deadpanned it perfectly) to a self-choreographed dance. My favorite was the one-man band. This kid rocked. He played piano, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, drums, trumpet and French horn to a piece he composed himself. It was beautiful.

The teenage girls who emceed the event put together a wake-up video of each of the boys. They woke the contestants up at 5 a.m. and asked them questions like "What kind of mythical creature would you like to be?" and "If you were on a deserted island, which contestant would you eat first?" These were grumpy faces only a mother could love, grunting and hiding under their sheets. My favorite answer to the mythical creature question came from the single gay contestant. "I'd be a fairy because I'm already halfway there."

The funniest answer during the interviews was in response to the question, "What is beauty to you?" This was a boy after my own heart - "It would be really beautiful if everyone in the world stopped wearing crocs." The most touching answer came from the gay student. He claimed that his twin sister is his hero because she has been through it "all" with him. For a teen, this seems flippant. What hardships have these mostly-privileged teens faced in their young lives? But he was very open and candid talking about coming out and how his sister has always accepted and supported him. It was a moment of bravery.

However, the tears came for me in the beginning of the show. Each boy was introduced with a video of pictures from infancy through today and these were accompanied by blurbs about them that their parents wrote. I saw them as silly, goofy, show-off kids. Which they are. But their parents saw them as loving, kind, compassionate, generous people, young men that they are proud of and that they love. Which they also are. So I sat there and tried my best to wipe my eyes discreetly, because I was surrounded by a bunch of other teenagers who might not have been so nice. They can smell fear, you know.

And now the real reason that we were all there. For Jackson. Jackson is a little boy who just turned one. In his tiny little life he has had to endure six surgeries and over 80 days in the hospital. He has a condition I can't pronounce or remember but it prohibits his body from absorbing nutrients. He is on IV nutrition for 16 hours a day, which puts him at constant risk of infection. Jackson was present last night with his parents, his mom carrying his backpack of fluids, tubes connected to his belly. He's adorable. He's a perfect baby who doesn't deserve the restrictions his body has placed on him. His mom said it's easy to forget how sick he is because he is always so happy. But he is sick. He's very sick.

At the end of the evening, shortly before the Mr. Thunder winner was revealed, it was announced that as of last night, $41,000 has been raised to help Jackson and his family with their ongoing medical costs and care. Times are still tough for a lot of people, which makes this amount so significant.

I was talking to a friend about the pageant and fundraising efforts. She's a teacher and this wasn't her first time at the rodeo. She, rightfully, has a certain cynicism towards the whole thing. I get that. Kids do act dumb, some might not have really taken it seriously. But there's no denying that they did a Good Thing. I'm okay with teenagers making fools of themselves if this is the result. I know why their parents are proud of them. I would be too.

I'm sure Jackson's family would be more than willing to accept ongoing donations, but I couldn't find any contact information to give you. I suggest calling Summit High School as someone there is bound to be able to help you if you want to help Jackson.


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