The first dance we made it into the parking lot. He never got out of the van but he successfully got into the van to go to the dance that night which was a huge accomplishment in and of itself. Therefore, we considered this first step a success... even though he never got out of the van.
The 2nd dance that year our goal (as a team) was for Parker to get out of the van and inside of the building. And... he did! He went just inside of the building. He never left the entry way. But... he was inside and therefore we considered this 2nd step a success.
The 3rd dance that school year our goal was to get Parker past the entry way. I dropped him off, he met his parapro, he went inside and then.... went into the gym! He never left the wall of the gym but was inside and therefore this was also a success.
The 4th and final dance that year, as Ms. McSchooler walked Parker out to the van after the dance, she was smiling ear to ear but before she and Parker could get to the van several of Parker's friends beat her to me and said, "PARKER DANCED WITH A GIRL TONIGHT!!!!" I'm not sure who was more excited, his friends, Mrs. McSchooler or Parker... ok, or maybe me. As it was sinking in, through tears I finally asked, "Who was she?"
There was a dark fuzzy picture (that I cannot find any longer :-/ someone took with their cell phone - I think it was Connie but I can't remember for sure!) of them dancing, my sweet boy and this adorable sweet, dark-haired girl who's name I later learned was Rylee.
Before that night, I had never heard of Rylee. I had no idea who she was. I knew she was not one of the kids who had been with Parker since kindergarten. I was not aware of any classes they had together but, in all fairness, the middle school is pretty good sized and I only really knew the kids Parker had been close to through grade school which was only 1 of the 3 schools that merged together for the middle school. Being who I am, I started to ask and find out more.
What I learned was basic - she was in the same grade as Parker and everyone had incredibly nice things to say about her. I knew instantly she was someone we wanted to get to know better. Parker completely agreed.
That single dance started a friendship that has lasted over the years, a friendship that makes it simple for me to answer for you the question many have asked me over the past couple months as we prepare for prom "Who is Rylee?"
I'm happy to tell you...
The friend who is always at every birthday party - even happy to be fishing, especially knowing that Parker loves to fish!
The friend who will let you break a water balloon over her head....
and then get you back with twice as many hahahaha!
And love water balloon fights as much as you do.
She the friend who...
will join you for a movie and not care a bit that you are wearing headphones because it's so loud.
Who will pose with you poolside
and in the car to remind everyone of just how cool you are :-)
She's the friend who will always be there with a hug when you are down (notice the tear running from his eye?) ...
... because sometime's it's hard when life doesn't go the way we want it to and you just need a friend to remind you that you'll be ok.
She's the friend you can count on to take selfies with you anywhere you go.
And pose for pictures for your mom without complaint :-)
And shares the same awesome friends who all believe in you and are proud to say they are your friend.
She's the kind of friend who will...
stop by to see your new room and remind you that what's important to you is important to her.
She's the kind of friend who will ask you to prom in a way that's unique and special to you, not because of your disability because that isn't who she sees... but because you are her friend and your happiness is important to her too.
So important that she will...
Be there every step of the way as we prepare. From trying on tuxes to practicing dinner to learning how to pose for pictures to
practicing grand march...
That's who Rylee is. She is the first to tell you that she is Parker's friend because of who he is. She doesn't look at him and see a boy with a disability, she sees her friend. She believes in him. His happiness is important to her. It's just who she is.
She has made this journey to prom possible. She's been supportive, encouraging and excited every step of the way. She accepts Parker's challenges and recognizes his disability without it defining who he is. She's able to see past it all to the person he is inside. The person who can make her laugh. The person who remembers what makes her laugh and uses that on days she needs a smile. He's the person who is always there to stand up for you, the person who only wants to see you happy, the person who is sad when you are sad. Rylee sees that, every day in Parker.
Is she unique and special? Yes. We all are. Rylee is no exception. She is a unique and beautiful girl - inside and out - who has an incredible heart and supports her friends.
For every Rylee out there, there is another. Really, there is! If you've followed Parker's journey and school dances you know that for every Rylee there is a Jessie, a Mercedes, a Sierra... there are Drew's and Josh's and Preston's and Jacob's. There are youth in our communities who are kind-hearted and amazing - everywhere... they are there. They are making a difference in our world and in the lives of those who need it most.
Rylee is amazing but she's not alone or the only one. I promise you - there is a Rylee where you live. Maybe not as awesome as ours but still, pretty spectacular in their own unique way ;-)
For Parker, Rylee is a life long friend. I have no doubt that they will always be a part of each other's lives in some way. I can't image Rylee growing up, going to college, getting married and starting a family without including Parker in some way. There are some friendships that are so special, that contain such a bond that it's forever strong - even when your lives grow complicated and a bit apart - there is always that person who you know will be there. I believe with all I am, that Parker and Rylee will always have that.
While I am excited to see it (and with his other friends too) I am in no hurry for them to grow up any faster than they already are. One step, one day at a time. And our firs step is prom (followed by trying to slow down time!).
After almost 4 months of planning, tomorrow is our big day. Rylee is ready. Parker is ready. I am ready. It will be their day / night to shine - their junior prom. It's going to be an amazing and memorable day and I can't wait!
With Rylee by his side, Parker can accomplish anything and tomorrow will be proof of that.
THAT is who Rylee Sehr is. She is the amazing friend Parker Roos will be escorting to the Canton High School prom tomorrow, April 23rd, 2016.
Thank you, Rylee, for this amazing journey - for this Destination... prom. It's been an amazing journey and I can't wait for tomorrow to see the 2 of you walk across that stage.
I know Parker's words are limited but you know what he's thinking and saying just by the look in his eyes or excitement in his voice. In case you have any doubt at all... he says "Thank you." with all that he is, "Thank you for believing in him, for being his friend and for making this wish of his come true."
You've handled the added pressure of our story going viral with the grace and confidence I knew was inside of you all along. Thank you for believing in my son. Thank you for being his friend. Thank you for seeing him for who he is.
Look past my tears tomorrow as I am sure they will flow nonstop. Know they are tears of a happiness for an experience I wasn't 100% sure my son would have, no matter how important or how many friends he had. This has, as you know, been months of planning, months of practice and months of learning... for Parker and I. Tomorrow all of that will shine through. I know he's ready. I know you are ready. I know I am the most incredibly proud mom around (or at least tied with your mom!). Thank you for being you, never let anyone dull the sparkle that is inside of you. You have so much to give this world - I can't wait to see the difference you will continue to make.
PS - I expect TONS of pictures ;-) Our love and forever thanks to you.