Tag Archives: NIH

Gingerbread Houses at the NIH

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My daughter and I spent the second day of the New Year at the NIH.

On the way to the clinic, we were lucky to catch a glimpse of the gingerbread houses, which were still up a day after the display was supposed to have been taken down:

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“Dad would be happy to see this one! It’s his alma mater!”

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img_2564-2img_2563-2img_2562-2img_2561-2img_2558-2This one was the winner…img_2566

But my daughter’s favorite was the Harry Potter castle:

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There were two of them!img_2570-2

The Children’s Inn, where we had spent the night before:

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By the time my daughter’s appointments were done, the houses had all vanished without a trace.

The Children’s Inn

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I hope none of you will ever have to stay at The Children’s Inn, because if you do, it means that your child is receiving medical care at the National Institutes of Health. On the other hand, I wish everybody could experience this wonderful place.

The Children’s Inn is located on the campus of NIH in Bethesda, Maryland. It’s a place where children can stay with their families in a homelike setting, while receiving treatment or participating in medical research, free of charge. My daughter is one of  thousands of kids who come from all over the U.S. and from more than 80 different countries to stay there. It’s one of her favorite places on Earth.

To me The Children’s Inn is the physical embodiment of human love, compassion, and grace in the theological sense of the word. We stay there periodically for my daughter’s (routine) appointments at NIH, and every time, I feel a little guilty. I think, “We don’t really deserve to stay there. It’s too nice. She’s not really sick.” It occurred to me that this is exactly what grace is: a blessing that is undeserved and unearned, but freely given.

The well-stocked art studio:

There are special classes for kids, but also workshops just for caregivers as well, during which children participate in fun activities elsewhere.

On another visit, I saw a signup for free piano lessons for children:

The game room:

When we go to the Children’s Inn it’s only for one night at the most, but there are children who spend months there. The Learning Center, with its own tutor and volunteers, helps these kids keep up with their schoolwork:

This month’s newsletter says: January brings in the New Year along with midterms for many of our middle school and high school residents. Remember to bring your books so that you can get tutoring while you are staying at the Inn. The Learning Center is always open to help you do homework or study for tests…if you need any of your school supplies replenished please let us know. We will be glad to restock your backpack.

We saw a little boy braving the frigid temperatures to proudly take the house dog Viola for a walk…

Upon checking in, every child is given a key to his or her own mailbox. The staff make sure there is something in the box every single night. My daughter’s box hadn’t been checked in some time, so it was bursting with all sorts of surprises:

Her favorite:

It was freezing cold and already getting dark, but we just had to check out the garden:

The Children’s Inn cares for the whole family. While we were sitting by the fire in the main lounge, I saw managers offering warm hats and scarves to guests, who had just arrived poorly equipped for the freakishly cold temperatures. In the rooms there are notices offering gift cards to local grocery stores for families who may need help because they are struggling with medical bills and are unable to work. It can be stressful caring for a sick child…Adult caregivers can even sign up for 15 minute massages by a licensed masseuse!

Dinners are often prepared and served by volunteers. We happened to be there on Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day, and a Feast of Three Kings was served:

I have to admit, my shy self was dreading going to the dining room for dinner. I fervently hoped no one would sit at our table, and my heart sank when someone did. Of course, it turned out to be a highlight of the trip. Chris is a college student who has been staying at the Inn on and off for six years, and has spent as long as six months at a time there. My daughter and he share a mutual love of Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series. He pulled House of Hades out of his backpack and my daughter assured him that she wouldn’t ruin the ending for him by telling him what happens in the end. She felt compelled to run back to the room to bring a copy of her own Rick Riordan novel to the table. (She’s read them all countless times, but always insists on traveling with at least one of the hefty tomes). We compared notes on our stays here and kept coming back to how grateful we are for the Children’s Inn. He said, “As soon as I’m making any kind of paycheck, I’m sending a portion of it every month to this place. It’s been a lifesaver.”

The Inn is a private, nonprofit corporation funded by private and corporate donors. I love that places like this exist as manifestations of the depth and breadth of human generosity and kindness.