Sunday, May 21, 2017

To the Parents of the CHS Class of 2017

Dear Parents of the CHS Class of 2017,

Holy shit! Our kids are graduating today. No, like really… cap, gown, ceremony, diploma… and not from pre-school but, for real, high school. This is it. This is where they part ways. I don’t know how we got here so quickly and there is not a single part of me that is ready for this but we are here, so… I guess I should face it at some point which is why I am writing to you at 4:30 am. (Ok, I fell asleep typing by 5 and just finished at 8:30!)

Before this chapter closes and another one begins (which it will – no matter my tears, I know this is not the end of the world but another new beginning), I need to be sure I take the time to speak my peace to you.

You see, I’ve spent a lot of time telling your kids how amazing they are, how proud I am of them – and every single word of that is true or I wouldn’t say it. Yet something was missing and today I realized, it’s you.

I moved to this town not knowing anyone. We were welcome here by our Fire Department family, they are not co-workers, they are family – which is a pretty amazing thing. We found a church that I loved. We were quickly embraced by and our family grew. And then, just shy of 4 years old – our world was rocked with Parker… then Allison’s diagnosis and our community embraced us. That, was amazing and for each person who was a part, I am thankful to them for being a part of our journey. But when Parker started school, I would be faced with my biggest challenge to date – finding my place amongst all of you.

Many of you are from here with amazing ties that go back another lifetime before we had children. Your friendship and bond are amazing. Yet, you welcomed me in despite my hesitancy. My world is different than yours. As much as you want it to be the same and I want it to be the same, it’s different. We live in 2 very different worlds but you saw past that and when you learned that not everyone could – you stood strong beside me.

I had not shared many of our struggles, while it can be hard to believe, I’m actually a very private person living a rather public life. Getting the district to accept and keep Parker at Eastview was one of the biggest fights of my life. When 1st grade came around and I started to breathe easier, I was hit in early September with a curveball I was not prepared for. As I walked up to the doors at Eastview to wait for Parker with the other parents, I was approached by Andra and Angie who told me of a phone call they had received and a petition going around to have Parker removed from the general education classroom. I remember every single detail of that moment in time. I remember hearing the words “if it were me, I’d want to know” and they were right. I went directly to the principals’ office where I was told she knew about the situation and was encouraging parents to call me for me to explain why my son belonged in that classroom. It was the weekend of the Friendship Festival and Parker was scheduled to ride in the fire truck to throw candy.

I debated not letting ride in the truck but went through with it. That was the first parade where I heard so many people calling his name, not just students but you… the parents. I cried through most of the parade route and again later that night. In less than 24 hours I went from the fear of being alone and no one wanting my child to be a part of this school to the overwhelming feeling of acceptance. It was the only time in Parker’s school career I had a lawyer by my side when I met with the school to make clear that I would not tolerate his rights being violated, or mine, and our expectations going forward.

To this day, I remain so incredibly thankful to Andra and Angie for telling me. For letting me know their thoughts on it. To Lori and Kim and countless others who wrote letters stating why Parker should stay and the benefits to their child from having Parker in the classroom.

Your support and strength powered me through what was one of the most crushing and defining moments of my life.

I remained hesitant and distant, unsure of how I fit in this collision of our worlds cautiously moving forward, helping your children understand my son.

In 4th grade, we took the class field trip to Iowa where one part of the day included climbing this crazy rock to get to the top and see inside of a cave. When Parker said he was doing it, no one thought twice – instead, you all came together to help me help him, passing him person to person up that incredibly narrow and steep path to the top and then again helping him back down.

These are moments I pushed for because he wanted, while I wanted to keep him on the ground and safe.  When you saw he wanted it, you were sure he was successful and I was tearfully thankful.

We made our way through middle school, thanks to Facebook, you were able to really begin to see more into our life. You celebrated the steps it took to get Parker into his first dance. At Outward Ingersoll, you flooded my phone and Facebook page with messages of complete pride when Parker made it over the wall. You cried tears of pride for him as if he was yours. When I could not be there, you pushed him for me. You encouraged him, believed in him and he succeeded once again.

Through it, I remained hesitant and distant, still unsure of how I fit into your world.

We dropped off our kids at the high school with 9 years of amazing memories and friendships and pleas for time to slow down, even though it didn’t. In the past 4 years, we have been through some really incredible things. Inchstones and milestones.

This past year when Parker was ready to start going to football games and wanting to sit with the crowd, you were sure I had a seat with the parents – in your section as though it had always been there waiting for me, which I believe now that it had. You listened to my fears and talked to the students to help me enjoy the game with extra eyes on Parker to let me know if he was overwhelmed. You helped pull me into the football game and let him just be a kid even though it meant more independence and occasionally out of sight. Parents, like Connie, who had a better view watched with pride and reminded me he was ok and that I was ok. You pushed us both to let go a bit which we needed to do.

We cried together at prom when his name was announced as Prom King and held our breath as he walked across the stage – both times, then cried more tears of pride at how amazing he did. You cheered, you shared your pride, you celebrated his crowning as though he was your own – because, in many ways, he is.

Yet part of me remained hesitant and distant.

I’ve struggled so much over this year, especially the past few weeks and now with graduation. I walked into the Senior Awards ceremony a bit unsure and witnessed again something that blew me away. This class of our children’s – the one that has gotten a bad rap at times, the one that amazes us and inspires the world … they left me speechless once again at the assembly.

To see the number of our kids getting scholarships and going into the armed forces was outstanding. My heart skipped a little with pride and fear for each of them. And that is when it really hit me just how ver much these young adults on the stage were not just “my” child or “your” child… but these are OUR children. This is more than my worries of how Parker will do when he returns to school and they have moved onto the next chapter of their lives but my worries about their safety in college, in the workforce, and while serving our country.

I’ve said many times over the years that while raising a child with a disability has it’s challenges and heartbreaks, it also has amazing moments I know other parents would love to have – at least on occasion. Every night I will continue to tuck Parker in at bed each night. Every night when I tuck him in, he gives me a goodnight kiss on my cheek and tells me at least 5 times that he loves me.  While these moments, every single night, mean the world to me since the Senior Assembly they have meant even more. Each time when we say good night, I think of your children too and hold onto these moments that I wish you could have too. I say a quiet prayer for their safety and wishes for wise decisions.

There was more that happened that day and many days since, as we filed out of the gym that day so many of you came to give me a hug – each one reminded me that you aren’t going anywhere that while this chapter in our lives is coming to a close, the next one and each after you will continue to be a part of. You will always be a part of Parker’s life… and mine.

While my heart continues to shatter over this chapter coming to a close you recognize the pride I have in how far Parker has come and share the concerns over what is next as he is OURS and your fears are real too. Gretchen has been very vocal in her support on Facebook, jumping in when everyone tells me “it’s ok” to say “It is but – these feelings are real and we share them with you.” Feelings so many of you have echoed when I’ve seen you out over the past couple of weeks.

I realized with this – I haven’t been as distant as I thought, I’ve actually been right where I was supposed to be all along. I’ve been with you right in the middle of both of our worlds as we’ve watched our children inspire the world just by doing what comes naturally to those given this opportunity of supported inclusion – real friendships.

I realized that I wasn’t hesitant but I was doing something I don’t do often or with many which is why I didn’t understand the feeling… I trusted you. From the first time you stood behind me and up for Parker and his place in our school, I trusted you. As we went through challenges and triumphs, you were there every step and I knew I could count on you and I did without putting any thought into it. Something inside me knew that I could and you never once let me down. More importantly, you never once let Parker down. You are part of his village, you are part of his successes.

When Parker walked across the stage at his first grand march and we cried together with pride and again when he was crowned prom king and we exploded with love for all of our children…. You “got” it. You understood the significance of each moment. It didn’t start here, it’s happened since day one.

While I’d love to say it’s because of Parker, it’s truly because of you. You’ve believed in Parker from day 1 as much as I have believed in each of your children. As I taught them about Fragile X and Parker, you were there to reinforce this friendship. You encouraged their involvement, you beamed with pride and you … you played a huge part in the success of all of our children. I wish I had the words to thank you enough or let you know how much this has meant to me over the years. It has been a tremendous honor being in this village together.

While there is not enough Xanax to get me through graduation today – or Kleenex… you doing ok Brandy and Tara, I know… I’m crying as I write… there is the reminder that as we all take these next steps, we are not doing it alone.

It’ll be different. It’ll be amazing. I go forward with a little less anxiety as I know that you are forever invested in us, just as we are in you. When your kids are home, I know you will encourage them to see Parker, to keep in touch, grab lunch or a movie or just hang out. When it’s time for class reunions and your kids mention it – you’ll be sure that they’ve included Parker. When it’s time for Parker to move out on his own, you’ll continue to support him, keep tabs on him and share in our pride with his accomplishments. When he’s out working in our community, you will know this success is because you helped push us both to reach this goal.

We have shared in the most amazing experiences over the past few years. I know it’s just the beginning for the amazing things to come and I can’t wait to share them with you.

Through today’s tears, we will hold our breath together as each name is called and we say a quick prayer they make it successfully across the stage, a part of us will be forever changed as we step back and watch our kids take the next steps. But, we will do it together.

Thank you for being such an amazing parent, for welcoming us into your life, for believing in Parker and seeing his potential, for pushing him (ok, me) and for always, always having our back.

And thank you, so very much, for reminding me that doesn’t end today. There are many more chapters ahead for us to write.

Congratulations on your graduate, I am so excited to see the amazing and positive impact they will make in this world.



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