Monday, April 24, 2017

Your 2017 Canton High School Prom King....

In case you haven't heard (Spoiler alert!) #ParkerIsPromKing ! 

A few months shy of his 4th birthday, my son, Parker was diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome. In the whirlwind of next few months to follow we were told (and learned from online researching) a world of things. Including advice from a genetic counselor to “start researching institutions for him to live in” while she listed the things he’d never do, including going to school with typical peers. When I reached my point of what I could handle I tearfully walked out of the meeting after telling her she was wrong and determined to prove that.

When it was time for Parker to start kindergarten we pushed the district for Parker to attend Eastview, despite the lack of special education programs, as it was his home school district (we have 3-grade schools). It was a fight that would take multiple years and standing strong against a handful of parents who wanted him removed from the general education classroom (where he had a one on one parapro) before it was agreed upon he would stay until he transitioned with his class to middle school - a transition they would make together.

I learned early on that Parker would be a target for being picked on and if I didn’t help create a circle of friends, the odds of him being a victim increased with each day. Starting in 2nd grade, I went in yearly to talk to his classmates about what Fragile X is and how to be friends with the boy who jumped excitedly in line and turned over chairs and desks when frustrated. I helped them understand the actions he takes - not to be challenging but to get their attention to be included. I taught them how to understand how his brain worked. I taught them how very much they have in common and how very much alike they truly are.

While I could tell them everything I knew, what they would do with that information was truly up to them. I could tell them how to be his friend but ultimately, that choice was theirs. You can’t force friendships.

Over the years incredible friendships have formed, many papers have been written and presentations given by his peers on Fragile X, many have read to Parker or helped tutor him, many have been involved with him in sports and also hanging out at the house with him, especially during the summer. 4 mornings a week he has friends (the most beautiful girls, of course!) pick him up and take him to school. I have seen inclusion work at it’s very best. I’ve seen the young boy who would lay on the floor or knock over chairs in frustration find appropriate coping skills. I've seen his desire to fit in and a longing every day to see his peers…. His friends... that he misses terribly on days he doesn't see them.

I’ve always hoped that there would be a way that the students at Canton High School, especially his class of 2017, would know how very much each one of them means to him. I had also hoped that he had made a positive impact on them, just as they have for him. I know what they tell me when I see them out and about but, of course, they would only say something positive to me – I’m his mom!
This past weekend, I found out the answer to this thought that is always in the back of my mind. If Parker has truly made a positive impact on his friends and if he meant as much to them as they do to him in a way that still has me in (happy) tears 2 days later.

This year was their senior prom. An event Parker has been looking forward to since last August – not even kidding. It’s the best night of the year for him and he couldn’t wait!

We made it through the promposal with breeze and Kristen was all set to be his date a couple of months ago. Shortly after I received a very unexpected text from Parker’s friend, Christian. He asked if it was ok with me for him to campaign for Parker to be prom king. I told him “of course!” but also didn’t want him to get his hopes up. Awhile later, the first round of voting took place. Christian pushed the idea of “Respect before Popularity” to his classmates as he campaigned. A couple of emails came through to me with hesitancy from longtime friends worried that this would be too much attention for Parker and he would shut down. I promised them that we had time to practice and Parker would be fine. Which, I was 90% sure of….maybe 95%....

A couple of weeks ago I was checking Parker’s school email when the final ballot came through to vote for prom queen and king. I printed it off for Parker and then read through each of the names with him. I said, “Look, your name is on here! Do you want to vote for yourself?!?” to which he replied, “No” before casting his vote for someone else. As I looked through the names on the ballot I knew in my heart there was no way he’d get prom king. The list was filled with some seriously amazing young men who deserved the crown equally as much as Parker.

When we returned from Spring Break we were left with 4 days to practice Grand March. I wasn’t too worried as last year a lot of time and effort went into this and I knew he had it down. What I wasn’t sure of was the process in the chance that he made prom court. I called the prom advisor, Mrs. Schoonover and asked her for some help. In my mind, prom court meant King & Queen, Prince and Princess, Lord and Lady and a set of senior attendants. I thought 4 seniors made court plus a set of junior attendants. With this thought in my mind, I asked her if she could tell me if Parker was on court, I told her I didn’t need to know where on court just yes or no is he one of the 4. *I’ll explain why this is funny in a minute* She said she couldn’t tell me. I understood but also needed to know what we needed to change, if anything, about the way we were practicing. We agreed we’d practice both ways just so he was prepared either way. *The funny part, Canton’s court is only 4 people (Senior King/Queen, Junior Prince/Princess) – not the 10 I thought. So I’m sure when I said, “one of the 4” she thought, ha! That’d tell you the answer – even though it would have went completely over my head.

His teacher brought in a cowboy hat so they could practice a hat being put on his head like a crown. They even sent me pictures. When I asked him about practicing he said, “I don’t want to wear a cowboy hat!” *giggling* I promised him no cowboy hat but maybe a crown. I didn’t say much because I truly thought it was not going to happen. In my moments of panic the day before, I asked his teacher to make a visual schedule for him just in case he was on court (still thinking 10 people) so he knew what to do and that he’d need to walk through Grand March a 2nd time with someone besides Kristen.

Prom day came, Parker’s friend Rylee (his date from last year) came to help get him ready and be by his side through each step of pictures and Grand March until the busses were loaded and they would take off for their prom destination.

With Grandpa and Rylee’s help, we were dressed and off for pictures in a snap. We made it through 45 minutes of pictures at the park before Rylee took Parker and Kristen to the school where we would later meet up to watch Grand March.

Grandpa John, Parker and Rylee

Kristen and Parker

Parker and his incredibly proud sister, Allison

When we arrived, as we passed the door in the classroom where he was hanging out Rylee was exiting with tears in her eyes. Without really thinking, I guessed it was because she was wishing she was going to prom too. Little did I know she was just told what was about to happen. She said all was good and Parker gave me a thumbs up before we went to our seats.

Parker and Kristen were #22 on the list to be announced.  At least 2 of the other male candidates went out before he did with no acknowledgment of making prom court. Still thinking 4 senior boys would be picked (of the 8 on the ballot) I was getting excited that he would be one of them. When it was time for him to be announced I started my video and heard the following: “Kristen Schappaugh escorted by the 2017 Prom King…” and that was all I heard before saying “Oh my God” over his name and sobbing uncontrollably and watching carefully while praying that he stayed on his feet and followed the steps to get the crown. (My shakey, tearful, video can be found here  the video his sister took - yes, she calls him a dork is here and the video from my friend, Amy Pollitt, is here - trust me you will want to watch all 3!) Time was frozen as I watched his face, partially covered by his hand hiding from the roaring crowd and endless flashes, I could see it… the biggest smile on his face and I knew what this moment meant to him. 
Photo Credit Dave Lewis Photography 

Photo Credit Dave Lewis Photograph

Photo Credit Dave Lewis Photography

Photo Credit: Crindy Hedges

As he made his way out of the gym, I sent out a text to Dan then updated Facebook that my son was just crowned prom king while making my way to him. I met him in the hallway, with Rylee fully embraced in his arms and tears of pride streaming down her face. I said I needed some of those hugs too and told him how incredibly proud I was of him. We snapped a few pictures before he made his way back to the cafeteria and I went back to my seat. (Hindsight, I wish I would have followed him to the cafeteria to take pictures of him with his friends… but all I could think about was being in my seat for when they brought him back out at the end.)

Kristen, Parker and Rylee

Parker and Christian

Parker and Madi

Parker and Jessie

Photo Credit Rylee Sehr
Parker and Lizzy

After all of the attendants at Grand March had been announced, they brought back out the Prom Royalty. (Video Here and Here) The junior prince and princess and the prom King and Queen. He handled each step beautifully, hand partially covering his face at times but walking through each step and completing pictures before rushing off to get on the bus to head to their prom destination where he danced the night away.

Photo by Dave Lewis Photography

Photo by Dave Lewis Photography

I picked him up that night, exhausted and ready for bed – still wearing his crown and still smiling from ear to ear. 

Mercedees and Parker

King Parker and Queen Lizzy about to enter prom

Parker and Zach

Parker and Madi Dancing

The next morning he asked to see the videos, each time he watched one he lit up with the biggest smile I have seen on him, only comparable to the Cubs winning the world series smile 😊 when I asked him about being King and his time at prom he just beamed with pride.

It’s hard, if not impossible, for Parker to express himself in words. You can see it, in his smile, in his eyes.. but his ability to express his feelings in words is limited. This was clear to see all over his face how much this meant to him.

It’s hard to know, especially when you live with a disability if you are truly accepted. Now he knows… we all know, he really is one of the class. He has touched so many lives, just as so many have made a positive impact on him.

I had been asked many times if Parker would care if he made court or not. I always said “I don’t think so” because I thought it may have been something that meant more to his friends than to him. I know now, I was very wrong. I underestimated him, how much he was watching at school, hearing from friends and… wanting this opportunity.

I thought he’d be happy to win but, again, underestimated just how happy he would be. This truly meant the world to him. He’s still beaming, he’s still watching the videos, he’s still lighting up with pride each time. While the attention is hard for him, he is also loving the positive attention that has come with this. I think it’s so much more though. I think it’s everything we all feel when we know the people we care and respect the most really do care and respect for us too. Parker’s life is very different than many but his feelings are very much the same.

What I’ve seen in him since Saturday night is something deeper than any of us will ever know but it’s incredibly clear that this was one of the very best moments of his entire life. 

This is a memory he will love and cherish forever. There is no way for me to even begin to thank Christian and all of Parker’s classmates for this moment in time. With just a couple of weeks until graduation, he has been given the most amazing gift by his peers… acceptance and honor for WHO he is, fragile x and all.

I shared this post on Facebook and wanted to include it here too… and once again say THANK YOU. I do hope you realize what an amazing thing you did. 

With all of our love, appreciation, and thanks to the CHS class of 2017, the junior class (of 2018), CHS staff and administration and to our community – Thank you so much for this most amazing moment in time. 

My prom king

Christian... THANK YOU!
Respect first :-)

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