Monday, June 4, 2018
It was 3:50 am, the streets empty and the school dark when I walked Patrick up.
He was carrying his black backpack - full of a lunch, sunscreen, baseball hat, change of clothes, headphones and freedom.
The guy was headed to Disneyland with his senior class.
Graduating in a few days, his senior classmates got the chance to spend two days down in southern California...time at Disneyland plus time at the beach...throw in a dinner at Spaghetti Factory and it was perfection.
Teacher Scott Bell was there at dawn...along with the school superwoman, Adela, and the director of internships, Susan, and the paraeducator who said YES when asked to support a student who needed it - my son, Patrick - and was willing to attend a field trip that lasted more than 48 hours.
SHOUT OUT to Antwanette!!
There were parents I knew from other parts of my life - also willing to chaperone the adventure.
I walked back to my car in the dark, got into my isolated seat and burst into tears.
How is this possible??
In this moment of independence for Patrick there are so many supporters...
so many willing to find a way...
so many who think nothing of it...
of course, they say.
It's going to be great.
My town, Davis, California, goes like that.
It's a gem of a spot with a creek, double decker buses, a big university and lots of bikes...but like any home...
it isn't the place, it's the people that make it comfy.
I flash back to preschool.
A little co-op preschool that had a tractor in the playground for kids to climb.
We had only been in Davis for a year before Patrick was born and my older daughter, Mary Kate was in the four year old program at Davis Community Church Nursery School - the famous DCCNS.
A co-op means parent participation and when Patrick was born, well, he needed open heart surgery right away at nine weeks old.
I couldn't work at the preschool and felt deep shame about that - so crazy how we hold ourselves to impossible ideals in the middle of a crisis - I couldn't shirk my responsibility!
I wondered if I would have to give up the preschool and find another.
As I was carrying Patrick in his carseat sending Mary Kate off to school, the director of the school, Teacher Betsy, came up to me.
Inwardly I cringed...could she know that I couldn't work...couldn't hold up my end of the bargain?
She smiled and said words that changed my life:
"When you are considering preschools for Patrick, I hope you will consider us."
Almost 19 years later and still that act of full throttle welcome brings me to tears.
In my world, Patrick was living with almost no choices.
He would be stuck attending whatever school would take him.
He would be unable to participate in regular activities.
He would be limited.
He had Down Syndrome.
Her words took a sledge hammer to the limitations I envisioned.
Her words held an idea that I didn't think existed for Patrick:
I would be considering different options for preschool??
He would have choices??
It was a game changer.
It was also quintessentially Davis.
Davis offers plenty of choices...in all arenas.
Food - Fun - Schools - Life
Why couldn't Patrick have choices?
Patrick DID attend DCCNS as well as the special ed preschool that the school district offered.
He had a blended program and that's pretty much been his entire life.
Our local Catholic school said YES.
Our local Boy Scout troop.
Our local swim team.
Our rec department.
Our art center.
Patrick loved singing and dancing and holding the microphone as a little guy.
In third grade we tried a theater class at the art center with the amazing Miss Mindy.
She accepted Patrick, guided the other students and offered opportunities to sing and dance and be part of some of his favorites, including High School Musical and Camp Rock.
Just as he was aging out of Miss Mindy's classes I worried that he was older and possibly more difficult to place...
in that moment came the incredible Dottie.
She wrote her own plays with twists on the classics AND she had an adult son with Down Syndrome.
She understood equity and opportunity and welcomed Patrick into theater during the awkward time of junior high.
As Patrick was moving into high school he was unable to be fully included in high school theater...his one time when he was shut out...and so Acme Theater, a local theater troupe for high schoolers, said YES.
He was included in Camp Shakespeare.
He got a job at our local city pool in the snack bar.
He was fully included in his high school - Da Vinci High School - and able to earn a California high school diploma.
At Da Vinci, Patrick had an internship with Acme Theater.
He made friends, went to dances - where the city provided support (!), created clubs...made his way.
In four days, he graduates from high school.
In this moment of one door closing, another door opens:
Patrick is headed to college.
Patrick has been blessed with a gift beyond measure...a community that believes in him.
He's been taken seriously and given opportunities.
He has been supported without reservation.
He's been enveloped in kindness.
My heart is so full of gratitude and light that I feel like Ironman...with a blinking bright target in the center of my sternum.
How do you thank a town?
How can I possibly express what this town with its big open heart, its sense of let's-figure-it-out, with every person who was willing allowed to transpire for Patrick as he grew up here.
Davis, thank you.
Aquamonsters - Pete and Koren
Sarah and Antwanette and Tammy
The entire faculty at Da Vinci High
Mike at Holmes
Father Dan and Mary Kay Bolz
All of the faculty at St. James School, especially Bev.
And the families at DCCNS and St. James
Robin from First Steps/Early Intervention
Karen Edmiston and Center for Speech Pathology
It is because of your open hearted compassion that Patrick is the person he is.
It's been an incredible ride.
He's off to great places!
All thanks to you.