A couple of months ago a friend of mine shared a Facebook post that made me cry reading it. A post that was essentially a plea from a young boy's mother for help - because her almost 11 year-old son wanted to kill himself.
He's a twin.
He has anxiety.
He has autism.
He sounded like he could be Brooklynn one day, and that broke my heart.
Those of you who follow along know that Brooklynn struggles daily with a combination of Autism Spectrum Disorder, PTSD, and severe anxiety. I worried so much about how Kindergarten and new peers would go for her that her IEP literally outlines what "enough" is before we call it quits and home school. So reading the following post from his mom asking people for letters to her kid so he won't kill himself because he's so alone broke me (it's long, as is this blog post - but please read it all - because the issue of suicide in children can't be squished into the size of an Instagram caption:
"As many of you have read in my previous posts, we are struggling with my sweet boy, Cohen. This post is going to be a long one, I'm afraid. Please take the time to read it through. As much as I don't want to put his business out there for everyone, I do want to bring awareness to the real life struggles kids like Cohen have.
How many of my friends have heard their 10 year old say they don't want to live? They wish they weren't alive? They hate themselves and hate their life? They have NO friends? Everyone picks on them? I have heard all of this, and let me tell you, nothing will break your heart faster or harder than hearing your child say these things. Every year has gotten harder and harder. At this point, I am seriously concerned for Cohen's well-being, physically and mentally.
If you don't know him personally, let me say, you are missing out. He is an incredible kid, with a heart of gold, and a laugh that is just completely contagious. Cohen loves so hard and all he wants in return is to be loved (heck, even liked) in return. I've made several posts for parents to have these talks with their children. It's imperative that you have these talks with your children. Unfortunately, I can't do it for you. Just because you can't see a physical disability, doesn't mean a child isn't struggling or having some real issues going on. How hard is it to be kind??
Autism. ADHD. Anxiety. Impulse Disorder. Those are Cohen's diagnoses. You think, "Oh, that's a lot, but at least it's not life threatening." Or is it? When my child comes home daily, saying he wishes he was dead, it is a very real, very life-threatening situation. No parent should ever have to hear their child say that. Look them up for yourselves. Educate yourselves.
Maybe you think he's overreacting. Surely he has friends, right? Wrong. He has never been to a birthday party without his sister. He has never been invited to a sleepover. He has never had anyone sleep over (until I just invited a 2nd grader this past weekend). He literally has no one that reaches out to him to be a friend. He is left out, constantly. He is picked on daily. Bullied.
Who can blame him for thinking this life sucks? Just put yourself in his shoes for a minute. You can't keep a single train of thought because every thought you have runs through your mind constantly, at the same time. Everything is distracting you, from the temperature of the room, the way your clothes feel, the buzzing of the ac, the kids rattling papers, people walking by the room, people talking...everything. That's bad enough, but when you're trying to cope with it all, people make fun of you for being weird. They call you names. They don't play with you at recess. They laugh at you. His sister has friends, sleepovers, parties...and he watches, sad that he's missing out.
I know I have sort of rambled on, but my mind has just been racing trying to figure out how to help my baby. This isn't something I would normally do, but desperate times call for separate measures.
I would like to ask my friends and family to do me a favor...send Cohen some happy mail. Please. Make a card, buy a card, write a note, I don't care. Please just show him that there are so many people that do care and love him. If you don't want to or can't send him mail, please pray for him. I am working on making things better for him, however I can, but honestly, I can't fight this battle alone. Mail can be sent to Cohen Lowder. Please PM me for the address.
Thank you all. Please spread awareness and talk to your children about invisible disabilities. They are real, and they are just as bad as the ones you can see." - Cohen's Mother (the original post can be found here)
This picture accompanied the post.
When I was done crying, I started stalking. & realized his mother and I had ONE mutual friend - so I reached out to Ashley Oliver Taylor of Taylor Ranch who is EASILY one of the kindest, most charitable vendors in Asheville. I asked her if it would be okay to reach out to his mama and throw a party for him and his twin sister.
She said she was in.
So I sent the email.
Within two weeks his mother had given me enough information about Cohen and his sister Braleigh to start organizing the party. Around the time we decided to do it I found out I might have breast cancer (I found out last week I do not) and I was totally overwhelmed but didn't want to back out - so I leaned on Ashley, who helped make sure that it was exactly what I pictured. She and her staff are honestly the most amazing humans and while people at the party kept thanking me for the party it was really only my idea, and Ashley's execution. She did the hardest part and the most generous by letting us have her venue during her peak holiday party season. So as you keep reading, please keep in mind that all I did was ask people to help me - the people, like Ashley, are the ones who actually helped make the party happen.
Ashley from Mingle Events was also a huge help - because the woman always knows how to take my random ideas and pull them together into a "theme." When his mom said both kids liked LEGOS and Avenger movies we realized the "Theme" of the party could be "Whatever It Takes" (a quote from the movies) and that we, the community, will do whatever it takes to make sure Cohen (and his sister, who fortunately doesn't have the same struggles) knows that he is not invisible, that he is valued, and that his life matters. We figured we could combine LEGOS and Avengers and bring all the fun colors - and make it "the best birthday yet" with lots of other kids, since he feels like he has no friends... and finding those kids and the decorations/cakes/party food/games/etc is when the community around here stepped up in a HUGE way.
[TO BE CONTINUED ASAP - it's my busy season as far as editing galleries and as much as I want to post this I know it will take time, so I'm working on it while sessions export and I "can't" edit for a few minutes at a time... so stay tuned for Part Two, which will be under these photos soon]
One of the first things I did after reaching out to Ashley (the venue owner) and their mom (for permission and guidance on what they'd love) was to post on FB that I needed help with a cake, photo booth, presents, plates, etc and the responses were overwhelming. Within a few days we had everything on a pretty long list of "needs" and even most of the things off of the "don't need but would like" list as well. One of the "wants" was a photo booth so that I wouldn't have to worry about bringing my camera and carrying it around all night so I could mingle and because well, photo booths are amazing. Snapster Booth had done a wedding with me and when I reached out I was shocked when they didn't just donate their services and their booth but also a photobook with copies of every photo for the twins. & then to top THAT off they mailed me some of MY favorite pictures of the twins and I and some of my fav vendor buddies that were there that evening.
If you attended you can purchase copies of the photos if you forgot them/lost them (they handed them out to each guest which was awesome as well) here - https://snapsterbooth.smugmug.com/Happy-Birthday-Cohen-Braleigh-111919/. If you weren't there you can enjoy a little bit of a recap of the night.
Cohen was a little standoffish at first, but once Makenzie - I mean Captain Marvel - talked him into the photobooth he suddenly warmed up and spent a good chunk of time over there with his new friends capturing the memories he was making.
DJ Vic - who is Ashley's "go to guy" for Taylor Ranch and who has DJed mannny a wedding I've shot may be responsible for the biggest smiles from Cohen all night when he let him DJ a bit. Cohen if you're reading this one day - you were instantly a pro.
DJ Vic donated his time and kept the kids entertained (and the parents as well) and helped me keep things running smoothly by announcing what was happening when for me.
Song Sealed Delivered gave us a huge discount to have Makenzie there as Captain Marvel - and Makenzie stayed in character all night no matter what. That same week they were doing an anti-bullying campaign, so it was meant to be. I was able to hire them at the discounted rate because people who wanted to help with the party but couldn't be there pitched in money, so thank you to everyone who did that.
We didn't just have superheroes show up - we had local celebrities pop in as well. Eddie Foxx broke out the T-Rex costume just for Brooklynn (my kiddo with ASD & anxiety, who was the reason Cohen's story pulled so hard at my heart strings) and jumped around with them for a bit before the party started and then he kept all of the adults laughing the whole night. Eddie is a busy, busy man - but he's also the kind of guy who shows up when people (especially kids) need something. Thanks, Eddie - for making time for us without a second thought or hesitation.
Whoo's Bouncing was recently bought by a friend of mine and when I called to ask them if they'd be interested in participating in this party I didn't realize she had until we had a funny phone call moment of "OH HEY!" It was the main attraction outdoors (because it was a little chilly but jumping kept the kiddos warm) and kids of all ages (and Eddie) had a blast. They didn't just show up, set it up, and leave either - they stayed and talked and mingled and made sure kids had a good time. A few of the kids who came had special needs, and they were so kind to accommodate each of them in the ways they needed (like if someone needed to jump alone because they were scared).
I HIGHLY recommend them for your child's next party.
[Eddie Foxx not included with rentals]
Part three is coming soon <3 Like I said, there's a LOT of people to thank and I want to do so properly for each person/business.