Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Trophies, Tiaras & Tears {of joy}

We set out on our journey to Kewanee, Illinois Thursday evening and drove through the night {all 15 hours of the trip}...driving through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and finally Illinois.

The middle of no where Illinois...to a small town with a population of 825 {I know this because the hotel front desk clerk declared the town sign was incorrect, they rounded up to 900...the actual number was 825, as long as no one died that she wasn't aware of}. Yes, I'm serious...that's what she said!

In order to let Rick sleep a bit {he did drive 11 of the 15 hours, after all}, Kayla and I made our way into town for lunch. We decided on the Purple Onion, a cute little restaurant on Front Street. Walking in, we were whisked back to the quaint times of Mayberry...where the waitress knew everyone by name. A man with a beer belly in overalls named Billy, a woman named Gladys eating a Poor Boy and my personal favorite, Earl and Betty, the elderly couple sitting at the table next to us. There was a presence about them, an aura. In the moment I was just wishing it was a sign...you see, my paternal grandfather's name was Earl and my maternal grandmother's name was Betty. You may think it was merely a coincidence...I'm hoping it was a sign that my grandparents were there with us...looking over us.

Later that day we were onto our destination...the reason we drove nearly half way across the country. As we made our way to Kewanee High School, we passed through the town of Kewanee...and Kewanee, you had me at hello. While the homes weren't the most impeccably maintained, they were surrounded by love. Chairs and neighbors adorned the front porches and children were playing outside in their front yards. My personal favorite? The movie theatre marque...BYOB Tuesday...really? When can we move? Ok, but seriously...how fun is that?
Now onto the reason we drove 885 miles across country...the pageant...the Miss You Can Do It Pageant.

Kayla was one of 50 girls selected from across the country to participate in this National pageant for girls with intellectual and physical disabilities. This pageant was started eight years ago by Abbey Curran, who went on herself to win Miss Iowa USA in 2008. Abbey has always been passionate about believing in yourself, regardless of your disability. She was actually born with cerebral palsy and could have chosen to focus on what she couldn't do but chose to focus on what she could. Abbey is gorgeous inside and out with poise and polish beyond her 24 years. Listening to her speak, you wouldn't know she had a disability. Seeing her outer beauty shine, you wouldn't know she had a disability. And then she walked. Abbey, like many that live with cerebral palsy, clearly has difficulty controlling her leg muscles. She overcame obstacles and barriers and stereotypes as a child and is someone I now consider a hero, paving a beautiful path for Kayla and all of her friends with disabilities. To see the passion in her eyes for this pageant and these girls...nothing is sweeter.

When we finally arrived at Kewanee High School for rehearsal, I couldn't control my excitement. I couldn't wait for this event to begin but also didn't want to wish our time away. Walking through the doors, we were greeted by dozens of smiles and warm hellos...from people we can now call friends. This journey, this experience was nothing short of amazing.As we entered the auditorium with tons of lights and glitter and cameras rolling, we were eager for Kayla's magical weekend to begin. In a world where people often stop and stare and whisper...there was nothing but excitement, joy and applaud for these 50 amazingly gorgeous girls. For Kayla who wears her disability on her face and for the girls surrounded by hardware such as wheelchairs and walkers, none of that mattered this weekend. None of that made them any different. Nothing but tears of joy, pure hope, love, respect and admiration filled that room. Everything that followed was just more of the same...pure magic...

Miss USA 2008, Crystle Stewart, taught the girls how to work the stage {she was also a judge}...

The morning of the pageant Kayla woke up excited and ready. She talked about how she was going to wave and smile and blow kisses on stage. Her private interview was scheduled for 12:45 so we did some light daytime makeup and she got dressed for success in her brand new Lilly Pulitzer dress and gold shoes. Kayla loves anything that sparkles.
These pictures make me laugh...Kayla looks like she is telling Abbey what to do.
{why am I not surprised?}

Kayla wasn't phased a bit by the cameras surrounding her...she was a pro.
Once inside the interview room, the door closed behind her. I stood outside excited for her. I was a bit nervous but was simply hoping she was having fun. Apparently the judges were having fun because I heard an outburst of applause and laughter. Once out of the private interview I asked her how it went and her only response was she got a lollipop...so to her it was a success...and that's all that matters!

Next {after a short nap}, we were onto a pizza party hosted by Happy Joe's...
This is Happy Joe...Kayla thanked him for the pizza party.  I think it made his day!

Showtime was upon us. But first a little time to talk to the princesses. The conversation went something like this...
Kayla: You Cinderella?
Cinderella: Yes, I'm Cinderella.
Kayla: Oh...how you get here? Your carriage?
Cinderella: Yes.
Kayla: How did Snow White get here?
{the princesses both stared at each other}
I interjected: They came together.
Kayla: You gonna sleep in your carriage?
Cinderella: No, I sleep in my castle.
Kayla: Oh, with Prince Charming? Where is Prince Charming?
This conversation was long so I will spare more of the back and forth...some other great questions were...where is Gus? Where's your Mom? Where are your sisters? Good thing those girls knew their movies, that's all I'm gonna say...but Kayla was still skeptical...such a smart girl...not much gets past her!

And finally evening gown...

A twirl {and some oohs and aaahs from the crowd}...
Her on stage question...If you could have just one wish, what would it be and why?
Her answer...Be a princess...and be famous...and wear a tiara.
I think we have created a monster {at least she is a very cute monster}!

This is where I will tell you that I was glad to be backstage...as the older girls took the stage, their answers ranged from I just want to be able to take three steps to I want to dance with a boy...when Rick told me this, I shed tears...ugly cry tears. I know you can't compare disabilities but for all that we endure - the therapies, the extra doctors appointments, etc...wishing just to take a few steps just breaks my heart. That's the moment that you feel more fortunate than ever. The little things in life that we take for granted each day...just a dose of perspective.

Ok...so while I would love to focus on nothing but the amazing moments of this pageant, I have to take a moment and appreciate the fact that I am typing from the comfort of air conditioning. While the auditorium was air conditioned, backstage where the girls got ready was at least 90 degrees...no, I'm not exaggerating! It was HOT. Hot mess, hot. In fact, if they gave an award for Hot Momma, I woulda won...and not because I was looking gorgeous. I seriously don't know how people live without air conditioning and I would like to take a moment to thank the inventor of the air conditioner, whomever he or she may be. So while the judges were tabulating the votes, we were backstage...Kayla was in her glory...playing with princesses...
making friends...
coloring {below Kayla is drawing herself as a princess with a tiara on her head}...
and having the time of her life!

Crowning took place around 11:00 pm {midnight our time}...so she was slightly done...and after being in the heat all night backstage, so was I! But you would never know she was done. Back on the stage and it was game on...
And her big moment...Winning for Evening Gown...
The best part was when she grabbed the trophy and began her acceptance speech. A very long acceptance speech. Smiling all the while. A true beauty queen.
Thank you to the sweet family that gave Kayla flowers...this Mommy forgot that detail!

Kayla met some truly amazing people this weekend...
Dr. David Tolin {judge}, Shawn Diddy {emcee}, and Ron Davis {director/producer of Docutainment}...just to name a few.

Some great new friends and beauty queens...

I really wish I had more pictures from backstage post-crowning but we were just both done...
so this is what I got...

Abbey...words cannot describe how much we love the Miss You Can Do It Pageant. Thank you for creating such an amazing event! To the countless volunteers, each of you helped to create the most enjoyable atmosphere possible...thank you!

After a much deserved {and promised} ice cream cone, Kayla skipped down the hallway of of our hotel...still on cloud nine. Once in the room she couldn't stop talking...wanting to call everyone she knew. Priceless. Check out her complete joy...

We had the best of intentions to get on the road early the next morning but let's just say that didn't happen. It was a looooong night. So...all packed and ready to start our journey home we wanted to stop at Happy Joe's to support him back for his generous support of the pageant. Well....hello Happy Joe's...and the new love of my life...TACO PIZZA...

Whaaaat? Mmmm...It's almost worth the 15 hour drive back just for the pizza...I said almost...

With an incredible weekend, beautiful memories and a breathtaking sunset behind us, our journey home was long but worth it just for the smile on Kayla's face...oh and her cute little voice saying thank you Mommy and Daddy for take me to pageant...seriously...I could melt...

We left this weekend wanting to do it all over again...

Oh...and stay tuned to HBO in 2012 for the documentary that Ron Davis and his amazing staff are working on. Thank you, Ron! You and your staff are just wonderful...showing the world just how beautiful these girls are...and how they are all more alike than different!

A special thanks to my hubby for being the photographer and chauffeur this weekend...allowing our princess to have the most wonderful weekend...love you...you're the best!


  1. What a big event and huge trophy for your little girl! She is absolutely beautiful!!! But I am sure you already knew that! :)

  2. Wow! I'm in tears. That was so wonderful. Miss Kayla you are beautiful beyond words. Thank you for being such an inspiration! And Congrats on your pageant win!

  3. Your daughter is gorgeous. I grew up in Kewanee, and to hear you describe it was one-of-a-kind. I am thrilled that there is so much love for the Miss You Can Do It Pageant. Congrats!

  4. Congratulations, Kayla! We are very proud of you. You did a great job! We can't wait to see your trophy. Love you. Aunt Mary Ann & Uncle Dick

  5. Congratulations Kayla! You're just too adorable! I love the video: "Is it because your cute?" "Oh yes!" Makes my heart so warm every time! Amy, your photos are amazing! Simply gorgeous!

  6. What a great blog, and what a beautiful little girl you have! I am an author and the proud father of a 38-year-old daughter with Down syndrome. I have written a novel in ebook form, A SPY AT HOME, which is available on Amazon. In this book I have a central character, Noah, who has Down. I invite you to read this ebook, and I would be very interested in your thoughts about the story. I can be reached directly at rinald47@gmail.com.
    Thank you for your blog and for sharing your child with Down syndrome.
    Joe Rinaldo

  7. I found your profile when I was checking on my niece, also named Kayla same last name. It was wonderful to see how much you are loved, and all you have accomplished. I hope your future is as bright as your past. Mom, you are doing a wonderful job.

    Another Kayla Kosmalski's aunt.


  8. I just found your blog- can't believe I didn't notice it earlier! What great pictures you got- my daughter, Mariel, is in a few of them. She was the girl with the pink walker. We met you, your husband and Kayla at breakfast the "morning after" the big event. It was a late, HOT, evening, but worth every minute. We aren't able to make it this year because we are expecting a new little one in September and need to stick close to home just in case. Good luck to Kayla and hope she has a wonderful time again! Hope to see you in 2013!

    Mara Offermann

  9. Congratulations, Kayla! We are very proud of you. Basketball cups You did a great job! We can't wait to see your trophy. Love you. Aunt Mary Ann & Uncle Dick