So – Here we are again at our family reunion!
It was a bit of a journey to get here… 19 hours driving from California in the family minivan. Caitlin rode out in another friend’s car – so it was just the boys, Dave and I. I think we made it through Frozen and the Lego Movie before we even passed Las Vegas! But there is a lot of beautiful land to see – and the boys were fairly patient. And once we got here and started to see so many familiar faces, all those moments in the car that were a little nerve wracking melted away.
I started to get really excited and emotional once we hit the Colorado border. It is one thing to keep up with people you care about virtually all year- commenting on their facebook posts or messaging every once in awhile. It’s a whole different thing to be able to give them a hug, and see how much their kids have grown. And I always look forward to meeting new people.
The opening dinner was last night – and 80’s themed party featuring a fantastic kids band KooKooKangaroo. There was dancing and laughing – and lots of people with side ponytails and mullet wigs. After dinner, kids got their first opportunity to go to the breakout rooms and meet people – and parents had a networking reception. It was a great chance to relax and talk – and I got to meet several new families. You could see that people had hard travel days (the traffic coming from Denver was so epic!!)- but it was a warm, breezy evening, and with 80’s music playing, we were able to hang out, chat and breathe deeply into the weekend.
This year is the 30th anniversary of this conference. The very first conference was in this same location in 1984. Later today, we will get to hear from a mom who was there, part of the original planning committee. It’s hard to imagine what it was like then – before biologics, at a time when kids with arthritis were told to try not to move too much. Can you imagine?? It makes me so very grateful for how far we have come.
It’s Independence Day today – and later, approximately 1000 people from 42 states- all part of this crazy JA Family will be celebrating together. There are field day activities planned- and a BBQ dinner available – and fireworks over the lake at 9:15. I know that I will be thinking about our country, and our history, and all of the men and women who have worked over the centuries to protect our freedoms…. but I will also be thinking of all the kids and young adults here, who strive to live their dreams, and overcome the challenges that JA brings. I’ll be thinking about my own daughter – who once again is in remission and off all medications- and savoring the moments watching her celebrate with all her friends here.
I’m very grateful to the Arthritis Foundation, to all the sponsors, and to all the volunteers on the planning committee who worked so long and hard to make this all happen. Having been a part of planning this conference twice, I will never underestimate the efforts that go into all of this. And I am also very thankful for all of the families that are here, and all the ones who are here in spirit- because it is the support that we give each other and the strength that we draw from this shared experience that is able to shine light on what might otherwise be a dark journey. I have said before, there are blessings in this.
Happy 4th of July!! Best hopes to you all for safe celebrations, good health, and shared blessings!