The entire month of September, we’ve been collecting supplies to help struggling families create memorable birthday parties for their children. Since it’s Rylie’s birthday month, it just made sense to connect the two. As I sat considering what stories to share next, I was struck by just how perfect the theme of birthday party celebration is.
Rylie and Brooklynn met the first day of first grade. We were new to the school and new to Castle Rock. In fact, we hadn’t even moved in yet. In the chaos of buying a house, working new jobs, raising two young children, and commuting from Aurora, I’d missed an important “first day of school” email. Apparently we were supposed to stay for a while on the first day and help our kiddos get settled in organizing their supplies and desks!
I walked Rylie to her classroom door and saw all the moms / dads standing behind their child’s desk instead of just kissing them goodbye at the door. I’ll admit, I freaked out a little. I was already going into work late, but I had a meeting and given my typical “the world might stop if I’m not there to facilitate its turning” manner, I was convinced that I couldn’t miss it. But I didn’t see how was going to get out of it, so I walked Rylie in the classroom. Honestly I think she was just as dismayed as I was that I had to stay. From her first days in preschool, she loved the autonomy and responsibility of school and relished being able to wave goodbye and walk into her classroom by herself.
We found her desk, and looked over to see a friendly smile from a beautiful blonde and her mom. Mom must have seen the desperation in my eyes because she introduced herself and her daughter. Brooklynn and Rylie connected immediately. They grinned widely at each other and eyed each other’s school supplies, each beginning the process of labeling and sorting them. I immediately asked what I’d missed about this first day of school, assessing my next steps. Shannon offered to help Rylie that morning so that I could get to my meeting. That was the beginning of it all.
The girls became fast friends and the family pretty much adopted Rylie as one of their own. Although, they had somewhat different interests outside of school, they had a connection that seemed to stand the test of time. This was true even after Rylie changed schools in fourth grade.
One of the things that kept the two girls connected was birthday parties and not just their own. Every year, pretty much from when they first met, Rylie and Brooklynn would help out with Brooklynn’s younger sister’s birthday parties.
I didn’t really realize how many parties they’d done together until I started looking at pictures. Pictures that I’m so glad that Shannon took because, goodness knows, I am terrible at that.
Early on, I think Brooklynn and Rylie were there mostly as an extra source of entertainment. Since the sisters were only a few years apart, the themes of the Amanda’s parties often were things that the older girls would enjoy too. As they got older, they took a bit more active role in facilitating the parties and got a kick out of being ‘in charge’ of certain aspects.
While these parties were always something that Rylie looked forward to, they became even more important after fourth grade when she switched schools. The girls’ diverse interests meant that they both got pretty busy and didn’t often have opportunities to get together. Without fail, though, we’d get a call as it got closer to Amanda’s birthday inviting Rylie to be part of the fun. There were times that Rylie would rearrange her schedule, and even a few when the party would be rescheduled, all so she could be part of it.
I don’t think any of us knew, at the time, how special these parties were to all of the girls. But as I look back at the pictures and see them all growing up together, I know they are and were cornerstones in a very special “sisterhood”. I’m positive that being able to help “run” the parties led to Rylie’s love of planning her own parties. I know that each of the girls felt extra important because of their role in the party.
Isn’t it beautiful that they had that bond - that connection - over something as simple as a cake, presents and fun activities?
Meghann and Ziggy Guentensberger are Rylie's parents. During their time in the hospital with Rylie and after her death, they began writing about their experiences. What started as a way to keep people informed of Rylie's condition, turned into a way for them to process all that was happening. After she died on May 26, 2017 they both continued to write as a way to process and heal themselves and occasionally inspire others. These writings are housed on the Rylie's ARK Facebook page.