The times I miss Charlie most are seemingly the mundane moments of the day — getting dressed in the mornings, brushing teeth, dropping off, and picking up at preschool.  These were the moments that he would say something funny, make a poignant observation or ask a question that required more than a one-sentence response. That’s typically when in my head I would say to myself, “Charlie, we don’t have time for this right now!” But out loud I would try to be calmer, “Honey, buckle in your booster and I will answer you on the car ride to school.”  

It’s not the birthdays or Christmas mornings that make me become unhinged with sadness, but those moments in a normal chaotic day where I just think, “Charlie, I wish you would talk to me, say something silly or tickle your sisters.”  Those are the times you witness your children come to life, just being in the moment, the everyday moments.  

Dinner has and continues to be a crazy time in our home.  I think back to my own childhood where my mother, who worked full-time and got home late, managed to cook a meal for us every night.  She often pre-prepped the following night’s dinner after cleaning up the current night’s meal.  Even with dance classes, homework, and other evening activities, we all sat down as a family to have an evening meal. And sometimes it was 8:00 pm before we ate.  However, the table was always set properly, complete with placemats and forks, knives, and spoons all in their appropriate spots. Those were the moments we shared about our days at school, work, and just life in general.  Looking back, I’m in awe of how my mom did it, made a homemade, well-balanced meal every night.

The bar has been set high, ok, unattainable in my opinion, to recreate the family dinners I had in my own childhood.  Our family dinners are far more chaotic, messy and Emily Post would surely turn her nose up at the sight of them.  Yes, we cook dinner most nights, but poor Ellie will not learn from me which side her fork is supposed to go on or where to sit her water glass.  And the only time we use placemats is Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Truth be told we spend more time telling our children to sit down and eat than having an in-depth conversation, or Norman Rockwell moments. And our biggest dilemmas are whether or not to make Ellie take three more bites or finish her whole plate to get dessert. But we are still together, sitting down (well most of us) and being present with one another.  It’s far from perfect, but there are moments of beauty in the mess.  

There is laughter watching Ellie teach Causby how to blow bubbles in her milk.  There is eye-rolling, mostly from me, watching Ellie make spaghetti sandwiches announcing “Look, it’s just like daddy showed me.” And me resigning to the fact she may need to go to cotillion to learn proper etiquette because clearly, it’s not happening with us. There are moments of discussion when we talk about our days, the good parts and those not so good.  And there are moments of sadness, both spoken and unspoken when we think about Charlie, who will always have an empty seat at our table.  

I miss those dinners, the ones where Charlie was with us, making Ellie laugh or pinching his nose and chewing his asparagus like a cow because he just wasn’t ready to swallow but knew he had to take just one more bite. I wish he were here in person with us, entertaining Causby as he did Ellie or telling us about his adventures, being the eldest child in our family.  

Over last year, we’ve all had to miss special moments with our families and friends. When I realized that we would have to skip another year of Charlie’s Carnival as well, it felt like another loss…a loss I just couldn’t bare two years in a row. We cherish that time with our community — laughing, sharing, celebrating Charlie and the work of Charlie’s Heart Foundation. It’s the coming together in the perfectly imperfect moments of the Carnival that make me realize how much the foundation has evolved into a family.  

So in lieu of Charlie’s Carnival, please join us for Charlie’s Family Dinner at 6 pm on March 25th.  You and your family prepare a meal (or takeout works great too!) and we will deliver yummy cookies for dessert.  Watch our 5-minute video update about the foundation and share a picture of your family on social media with the hashtag #charliesfamilydinner.  Dinner doesn’t have to be perfect, clearly, ours never are.  We just want to see a picture of your faces until we can see them in person again at the next Charlie’s Carnival.