Thursday, March 10, 2016

Mom doesn't always know best.

Side Note: This is going to be out of order, all I can ask is that you forgive me and keep reading - I promise by the end you will understand why.

I'm significantly behind in blogging (again) and had a plan (again) to catch up. I would write about the Women of Achievement awards, then Allison's trip to DC followed by the next part of Destination prom. There is much more to write about but those 3 are my priority. Then, life happens. Beautiful, unpredictable, makes everything about your day :-) 

In high school, you get to choose electives. Parker is no exception, except for maybe that little snag that I was expected to choose for him.  With that in mind, I spent time getting to know more about each of our options. I honestly couldn't say any really jumped out at me as something he would simply love but my hope was to find something he'd enjoy.  It's a small part of his day with his typical peers, this class is significant for the social aspect itself - in addition to the skills he will learn.

I talked with the teachers, parapros, students and made a couple of visits to the school to check things out. I don't recall who along this journey suggested that Parker give tech a try but somewhere along the way that recommendation was made.

Honestly, I had no idea how he'd ever function in this classroom.
It would be loud and he hates noises.
It would have unpredictable smells (cut wood, stain, etc.) and he does not tolerate unfamiliar smells well (insert they can make him easily puke here).
It would involve power tools and in no way did the school or myself want my son handling power tools.

Still, it was a better option than typing.

Many of us on his team talked at length about what this class might look like for Parker. Everyone was on the same page the letting Parker use power tools, given his impulsivity was not a good idea. It was also the only way I would allow him in the classroom.

I was convinced that he wouldn't want near them anyway. I love to use power tools at home and he's always hated them - the noise, the vibration - just not his thing. So Parker was enrolled in Tech and life moved on.

Tech quickly became Parker's favorite class. He loved the teacher, Mrs. Yocum. He loved the other students. He loved having Mrs. Wildebour (his parapro) with him. It was new and different and he loved it.

He has noise cancelling headphones at school but I'm not sure that he ever wore them. I had no idea how Mrs. Yocum was going to modify her curriculum to a level that would challenge but not frustrate and not include power tools for Parker. Yet, I didn't worry about it either. I knew what he needed, I knew how to keep him safe, I knew everything - I mean, really, I'm his mom. I had always pushed him, I believed in him more than anyone else. I never limited him. I also always erred on the side of caution.

What I need for you to know is that there are 2 versions of what happened that day.  Mine and Mrs. Yocum's. Because this is my blog, you get mine first. :-) 

One day while sitting at my desk, my phone rang. The caller ID showed it was the school.  My heart instantly sank in fear (I have little reason for it to do that but it happens every time - chalk it up to the call about Allison getting her teeth knocked out on the monkey bars). The voice on the other end was not one that I was expecting, not one of the voices who typically call.  Instead, it was Mrs. Yocum, Parker's tech teacher.  Every worst case scenario raced through my mind as she said who she was. Whatever it was she was calling for it was clearly bad. I could hear the uncertainty in her voice - whatever she was about to say she was hesitating on. My mind flashed images of my son being raced to the hospital with missing limbs from some freak accident in her classroom - yet I tried to hide my fear.

Every fear raced through my mind as she said "I need to talk to you about Parker - and I wanted you to hear this from me instead of someone else because I'm pretty sure you will be getting a call from the school very soon,", I stopped her and said, "I just need to know if Parker is ok."  My request took her a bit off guard, I recall the hesitation prior to her reply that "yes, he's fine". Relaxed and able to listen I said, Ok then! Whatever you need to tell me I'm ready for, I just needed to know he was ok!"

It's funny the phone calls you can remember so vividly and why. This was certainly one. Parker was ok but there was still hesitation in her voice. I knew he loved the class so I couldn't image what she would say that would that would require a phone call like this. I listened carefully as she said, "I know when Parker came to my class, you were very clear that in no way is he to use power tools" (I think I may have even had it written into his IEP I was that serious about it), I said, "uh huh". She continued, "I want you to know the decision made today was mine and mine alone. I take full responsibility for this decision." I was not exactly sure where this conversation was going but I needed her to tell me a bit quicker.

She told me that Parker wanted to use the scroll saw like the other students to cut a piece of wood.  Mrs. Wildebour had said no but Parker really wanted to - she asked him more than once. I held my breath as she continued. She said that with her assistance, together they used the saw and he was really, really proud. She said that she thought we should rethink the "no power tools rule".

I was - and still am - incredibly proud of Parker for wanting to use the saw that day. I also knew that his impulsiveness is hard to control, it's part of his disability... part of who he is. I told her that I was very thankful that she made the decision to let him try - and that she waited and told me after he was successful ;-) I reminded her of my fears before telling her, "I trust you. This is your class. These are your tools. This is something you know and understand and I do not. I need to know what you think is best."  She told me she didn't want to hold him back from trying something new. That she promised me he would not have access to the power tools without her by his side, that she would help guide him when necessary and stand back and supervise on the parts she knew he could do. Without hesitation, filled with excitement - I said, "Ok! I will let the others know that power tools under your watch are good. That I will support whatever choices you make."  And then I thanked her. I thanked her for believing in my son. For knowing that he was capable of making that decision to try and assisting him to be successful. This... this is what amazing teachers do. They believe in every single one of their students. This is a general education class. She's not a special education teacher, she could have been annoyed that he was placed in her classroom. She could have never asked if he wanted to try or told him no. But she didn't. She knew, in her heart that he was capable of more than the limits I had put on him. Not out of disrespect for me in any way at all but through getting to know him in a way that I did not. I didn't know best, she did - she still does.

This is her area, in that classroom - she is the expert on Parker and I trust and believe in her fully while remaining thankful with each new accomplishment of his that she followed her heart that day and did what was right for my son.

*I have more to add but first want to share Mrs. Yocum's recollection of that day.  *Side note - Mrs. Yocum was one of the YWCA Women of Achievement award winners.  After receiving her award, she asked that the following be read....

"I can remember being really scared when I found out Parker decided to take my class.  Especially when I found out he doesn’t like loud noises. However, I don’t think I was the only one scared. Holly made it clear: “Absolutely NO POWER TOOLS!” I remember going into Mrs. Tonkin’s office and asking her what to do with a student who doesn’t like loud noises. She said, “You will be fine; everything will be alright.” After I left, I remember thinking how on earth do I run a shop class with a student who doesn’t like loud noises? So I started to do some research on Fragile X, which led me to research autism. I went to Mrs. Watts for some material on autism. Then, I read book after book only to find each person with autism is completely different.  “Wow, what a big surprise! Isn’t everyone different?” I thought.  Class begins and I start getting to know the students. I was covering a lesson on safety of the scroll saw, in which my students are required to make scroll saw puzzles. I told each student to go get a piece of scrap material so they could practice.  One by one, each student came up to take their turn, including Parker. When Parker comes up, Mrs. Wildabour is shaking her head “no”; at this point my mind is racing. So I ask Parker, “Do you really want to use this machine?” He shook his head “Yes” and I asked, again, “Are you sure?” and again he shook his head “Yes”.  As everyone was waiting on me to see how I was going to proceed, I was thinking “Do I really turn this student away?” He had come so far and just wants to be like his peers. I just couldn’t turn him down, so together Parker and I cut out his first puzzle piece. Right after class I called Holly letting her know Parker ran the saw.  If she was upset, I wanted her to know that I was the one to hold responsible for it.  However, she was very happy and the best part was Parker wanted to take part and got the chance to!"

As I stood in shock behind Parker who was working through his anxiety, I then heard the following: 
"Sherry (Mrs. Yocum)  would like to thank Holly Roos for giving her the opportunity to learn and grow as a teacher.  She would also like to have Holly come up to receive a small scroll saw bench in which Parker, Holly’s son, took part in making.  The puzzle pieces not only represent autism, they represent how each one of us is different and when we work together, beautiful things are created."

Fighting tears (only because Parker does not react well to me crying and he was already struggling) I walked up to accept this beautiful scroll bench. 

One single moment of one single day greatly impacted many lives. One very special student had the desire to try something new. One very special teacher believed in him and gave him a chance. One very special Momma was reminded that it's ok to not always know what is best as long as I can trust those who do.  With that incredible growth will happen. 

Parker continues to love tech class, it remains his favorite class and he's already signed up to take it next year!  Since starting the class he's completed many awesome projects that he has great pride in - from puzzle pieces to shelves to the bench and a whole lot in between.

The best part, there is still so much room for him to grow - so many new skills for him to learn. As if this week was not already incredible enough Mrs. Yocum sent me this video today.  If you are not familiar with Parker's disability (Fragile X Syndrome) this may not seem like a big deal for a 16 year old to you. However, if you know Parker or understand that he has significant sensory issues and poor fine motor skills - you will see how truly incredible this video is. 

Did you see that?!?!  Did you see that drilling?  On his own!  Start to finish!  Happy tears, every single time I've watched it today - it's brought on happy tears.  LOOK AT MY BOY!!!

I have always been and will continue to be the first to admit, I don't know it all. I do my best with what I know and I listen to my heart. Possibly more importantly, I listen to others who are experts in their field who have taken the time to get to know and understand Parker and see his unlimited potential. They are key to his success in life. One person cannot know everything and shouldn't try. We should trust those who believe in our children. We have to. We only get one journey in this lifetime, there are no do-overs. It takes a village....

 Parker has had many, many great teachers and 
parapros over the years, each of them has taught me something new about myself and about Parker and I am thankful for their wisdom and knowledge.  We've all grown together. We've all seen incredible change together. We've all seen the difference one person who uses their voice can make and the importance of supporting each other as a team. 

There are amazing people around us. People who believe in our children as much as we do - and maybe, even if differently - more.  Our world is still filled with teachers who teach because this is where their heart is. They make a difference every single day in the lives of those they teach with life long lessons not only in academics and skills but in belief in others and in themselves. Acknowledge them. Thank them. They need to hear it as much as we do. 

One of my favorite quotes is from Dr. Seuss' Lorax : “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It's not.”  Mrs. Yocum cares a whole awful lot. Because of her Parker is getting better... a lot :-)

Without a doubt, Mrs. Yocum continues to prove that there is no limit to what Parker can learn and do, it just takes someone to believe in him. Thank you, Mrs. Yocum, for everything. We are thankful to have you in our lives. 

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