Over the top!

One million bucks for Children's Hospital!

It's a record. It's a thrill. Seven digits and two commas for the first time. Neat. Sweet.

Our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital has been within shouting distance of $1 million for years. This fall, I decided to go for it, despite the blues in the stock market and the bumps in the economy.

We were on course from the beginning. We ran consistently ahead of last year's record campaign, and we advanced on Mount Million steadily. To make the drama excruciating, we didn't reach the summit until the very end of the final day.

But here we are. And here are the final figures for 2002-3:

Our goal: $1,000,000.

Our grand total: $1,001,770.76.

This is the first time we've raised that much dough in my 22 holiday seasons on the fund-raising bridge. And every cent goes to a cause I hold dear: excellent medical care at Children's Hospital for patients whose families lack insurance, or sufficient cash, or both.

Did I ever think we could do this? Certainly not on Jan. 21, 1982.

In that morning's column, I closed out my first year of Children's Hospital fund-raising by reporting that we had raised $320,764.11. I called it a "banner year."

I remember thinking (on the rare occasions when I was awake enough to do that -- our first-born was a month old) that we'd never do better. Now we've done three times better.

Wow.

Thank you, Washington, for doing what you do so often and so well: See the need and provide the answer.

Thanks to the givers for whom $5 was a lot and for whom $5,000 was a little. Thanks to the groups and the clubs. Thanks to all the worker bees who did without an office gift exchange. Thanks to everyone who donated in the name of a teacher, a beloved parent, a departed friend.

Special thanks to the kids. Your confirmation, bar mitzvah and babysitting money could have gone straight to video games. But so many of you stepped up for your agemates. You knew that the sick kids you read about in this column could have been you.

Thanks to the people on this end who made it all so smooth: Samantha Ganey, Gerri Marmer, Toni Stiefel and Craig Wilton. Without you guys . . . well, happily, I don't have to complete that sentence.

So what do we do for an encore? We come back again, for another assault on fund-raising records, ten months from now. The need won't go away. I hope none of you do, either.

Until then . . . You've made dreams come true, donors. Thanks again.

These group givers got their gifts to me just before the gate clanged down:

Staff, faculty and students, Capitol College, Laurel ($161.05 in honor of Max Simmons).

Hyde Elementary School ($400).

Potomac Reds Chapter, Red Hats Society ($100).

Piper Rudnick ($379 under the deft supervision, as always, of Vicky Wolf. Special thanks to Barbara Burnett, June Hanley, Allison Chamber, Emily Wolf and Sarah Wolf).

Thank you so much.

After a certain number (25? 39?), birthdays become something to dread. But when you're turning seven, they should be an opportunity for big whoops and lots of balloons.

At least that's what Ileana Jarrin thought. So when her niece turned seven a couple of weeks ago, she trooped into the girl's school with a bunch of Happy Birthday balloons. She wanted to help the entire first-grade class celebrate.

Sorry, Ileana was told, we don't celebrate birthdays in school.

Ileana says she might have bought this if the reason had been: We don't want to disrupt class. But the reason she was given was: It makes the other kids feel bad.

"Last time I checked, everyone has birthdays," Ileana writes. "Have we become so politically correct that we do not even allow our children to enjoy their special day in the name of possibly offending their classmates?" Political correctness has nothing to do with it, Ileana. The nine-month school calendar is the real issue.

Let's say that schools allowed birthdays to be celebrated in front of the whole class. Let's say that you're a child who was born between mid-June and late August. You would never get what the September-through-June kids get -- a public whoop-de-doo.

Sure, an alert teacher might say, on the last day of school, "Let's celebrate the birthdays of all the kids who were born during the summer." But those kids would know it wasn't a celebration on the actual day. So would everybody else.

I can cite chapter and verse from my own household. Our son was born on Aug. 8. He has never had a birthday party, in school or out, for anyone except immediate family and a few neighbors. Reason: school doesn't meet on Aug. 8, and most of his pals have never been around on that date. This lack of hoopla hasn't crushed our son. But when he was a little boy, and the other kids had "Happy Birthday" sung to them in class, he felt (choose at least one) deprived, upset and cheated.

I have nothing against birthdays or balloons, Ileana. But your niece's school knows what it's doing.

About one-fourth of the kids have birthdays that don't fall within the school year. Would they have felt bad if you had been allowed to do your thing with the balloons? The answer is clearly yes.