Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ode To Paul

In many of my previous posts I have mentioned my son Paul because he has been a tremendous influence on me as a person, educator and leader. I have alluded to the fact that Paul has various medical issues, that he has an IEP and that he requires the assistance of a 1:1 aide because of the many issues. Here is the bottom line - Paul is a lot more than just my inspiration and influence - he is my heart and soul, living and breathing outside of my body. And because of that, Paul deserves his own post... 






Paul was born on a cold December night in 2004 and from the moment he was born, my heart was flooded with emotions that I never experienced before. I immediately understood what people meant when they said they would give their life for someone else. I immediately understood the phrase unconditional love. I immediately understood what it meant to put someone else's needs before your own. Paul changed my life in an instant. Unfortunately, the incredible joy was overcome by a bunch of other emotions because Paul was born with a clubfoot, which in itself isn't the most serious situation but could be indicative of other problems or issues. So, because of the clubfoot within the first three weeks of Paul's life we saw several pediatricians, pediatric orthopedists, cardiologists, geneticists, developmental specialists - you name it, we saw the doctor! Fortunately everything else seemed to be fine and aside from some minor issues, we were starting to get into a "normal" routine. 

Well, that all changed when Paul was about 7 months old and we noticed that every time he sat up he would tilt over to one side. I tried to chalk it up to the fact that he was still learning how to sit up but my wife knew something was going on. I always preferred the route of denial while Kelly (his incredible mom) was always about methodical research and analysis and she knew something wasn't right. Fast forward to our monthly check up at the orthopedist for Paul's clubfoot where we pointed out the lopsided sitting situation. One x-ray later and we found out Paul had a bunch of vertebrae that did not form completely on one side and that his spine was a "mess." The doctor explained that Paul would need surgery to address the issue and thus the journey began and the new normal, for our family, was born.

Since that day in August of 2005, Paul has had eight surgical procedures, seven of which required general anesthesia and each one of them has changed our family (some positive and some not so much). Although we are incredibly grateful to Paul's doctors (including his most amazing anesthesiologist) for addressing the issues, my heart breaks every time I think about the pain Paul must feel. The unkind words that might be hurled his way because of the visible curve in his back. The poor self-image he may develop because he looks different. The list goes on and on but the fact remains, I would give anything to trade places with Paul so that he could have a pain-free and healthy life filled with only happiness and wonderful things! 

Of course, as every parent knows, that switch isn't possible. There is no quick fix and so Paul must navigate life in the way that it was intended for him. Paul still needs to have surgery every six months for the foreseeable future so the rods in his back can be extended as he grows. There is at least one major procedure looming ahead of us once he outgrows the rods. There are still a lot of questions about what the future holds. I know it may not be a "typical" life in some ways but I believe Paul will grow up to be an incredible person because of the things he has experienced. He is strong. Brave. Courageous. Positive. Thoughtful. Loving - incredibly loving. Smart. Aware. Accepting. Respectful. Understanding. Wise beyond his years. Paul is all of these things and so much more. Paul is an inspiration to many based on what others have shared with us. And honestly, that is why Paul influences every decision I make in life, especially at school. Paul makes me want to be a better person. A better educator. A better Lead Learner. Paul makes me want to take care of all our students at Cantiague. Paul is my heart and soul.

I share this Ode To Paul because he had surgery recently and he pulled through like a champ. Incredibly strong and brave. Braver and stronger than I will ever be. But, that is not the only reason I share this very personal story. I also share this journey because as educators, especially those of us in leadership positions, we need to know that everyone has a Paul in their life. Every one of our students has a Paul in their lives. Every one of our staff members has a Paul in their life. It may not be someone struggling with medical issues but instead it might be someone struggling with a learning disability; someone struggling with a drug problem; someone struggling with no job; someone struggling with divorce; every person in our community is impacted by a Paul - some more positively than others - and as educators we must take that into consideration when speaking, listening and making decisions. The people in our schools, sometimes the students themselves, are affected by a Paul and we need to be aware and connected because whether we realize it or not, they are bringing their Paul with them to school each and every day. I know because I speak from experience. So, lets remember that our students, teachers, faculty and entire communities are much more than a number. Much more than a test score. Much more than a homework assignment. Much more than a parent teacher conference. There are a lot of "Pauls" out there and we should embrace the opportunity to support them and learn from them as we look to grow as educators, leaders and people.

Thank you Paul for being such an incredible inspiration. I am who I am today because of you!     

24 comments:

  1. Bravo Tony, we are proud of you and your family!

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  2. Thank you for sharing this heartfelt and personal story, Tony. The strength of your son is truly an inspiration and there are indeed lessons that we can all learn from his journey. All my best to you and your family.

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  3. Wow Tony. This was truly a great post to read. It is clear how much you love your son and your blog speaks to a much great issue for all of us who are fortunate to work in schools. That issue is that our students go through a great deal in their personal lives and bring their best to us every single day. We have a student going through serious health issues in our school and he has brought out the best in some of our toughest kids, and I know Paul does the same.
    Your students, staff and parents are fortunate to have you leading the way.

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  4. Your story is one of inspiration and hope. Thank you for sharing.

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  5. I am so happy to have read this. Your story is one of hope and inspiration. Thank you for sharing.

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  6. Thanks for Sharing....my Paul is my sister Kathy who has a learning disability. She is 51 years old, drives a car, works, is married and has her own apartment. When she was a very young child doctors advised my mom to put her in a home. My parents said absolutely NO! There were many challenges and obstacles in Kathy's way but each one made her stronger and more courageous. When I am feeling scared, or full of fear I think about Kathy and her bravery and I push on and overcome. There will be struggles along the way for you and your family, but with each struggle, some good will come with some pain. The good will outweigh the pain...All the best!

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  7. What an inspirational post, Tony. I will keep Paul and your family in my prayers. Every year as an educator I have had a Paul and I know that this year will be no exception. As I make decisions with my staff during the school year, I always have my Paul in my thoughts to determine the best possible plan of action.
    Thanks so much for sharing.
    Jay

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  8. Truly speaking from your heart. I really enjoyed reading your blog & I could hear your voice & tears as you wrote it. I also have children that struggle with their own issues. One has battled with her learning differences her whole life,& still pushes on. The other has a vision impairment & must wear a prosthesis to keep her facial bones growing correctly. Your "Ode To Paul" speaks directly to my heart. The struggles, pain, anger, disappointment, frustration, & many other emotions that our children endure, challenges us all to become better people. Thank you for your honesty & transparency with your emotions about your son. Paul & others like him inspire us each day to make the most of what we have. They are truly a blessing!

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  9. What an inspiring post. Paul is very lucky to have such a thoughtful Dad. My own "ode" goes out to the developmentally disabled students who I have had the pleasure of working with at my school for the last few years. They inspire me daily to give all my energy, talent, compassion and support to their efforts. I'm sure that I share similar experiences with them to those who've met and worked with Paul and I'm confident in saying that we've all been enriched in innumerable ways.
    I wish Paul a speedy recovery from his procedure and that he enjoys the remainder of the summer.

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  10. So incredibly personal, moving and inspirational. Give Paul a hug from me. He inspires us all.

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  11. Best wishes to your son for a good recovery. As we return to school, your post will resonate with me. Will look for the Paul's in our midst.

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  12. Thanks for sharing such a personal post. Paul is very inspiring to all of us. Wishing him a speedy recovery!

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  13. Wow! I am so moved by this Tony! Paul is such an incredible young boy and you are all so lucky to have eachother.

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  14. Tony,
    As a parent of an adult child born with a disability, I understand the depth of your emotion and your gracious spirit of sharing your emotions in this blog. Moments with Paul are special indeed for you and your community. Because of what you experience daily, you understand that honesty and empathy are capacities exhibited by leaders who lead with their hearts. May daily challenges and joys move you forward on your journey and be your guide as you continue to impact teaching and learning.

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  15. Beautiful essay about Paul and kudos to you and Kelly for helping him turn into the fine young man he is and will become. Also as educators, it's an important reminder that we all have our Pauls in our families and so do our students. Thanks!

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  16. What a great and inspirational post!!! Following your lead, Paul will certainly grow to be happy, healthy and succesful!

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  17. Incredibly touching!

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  18. This made me cry, especially because you were so supportive to my family during my pregnancy. You have an amazing child and a beautiful family that inspires you in all aspects of your life. How lucky we all are that you are so blessed!

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  19. This post is incredibly moving. Paul couldn't have been luckier being born into the most supportive and loving family, with role models who exude compassion and positivity. Both his strength and yours is immeasurable!

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  20. Tony, as a former teacher at Cantiague and because I will always feel a part of the Cantiague Elementary family, I am compelled to follow the amazing things that go on in your building. I am still inspired by the amazing teachers you have the opportunity to work with and lead. Probably one of the most inspirational and meaningful changes since I've left is witnessing the effect you've had on the students and teachers there. Being an administrator has it's gifts and it's drawbacks I'm sure. However, from the perspective of an outsider looking in, I've seen you sincerely challenge your teachers to be better educators; better people - a task that seems to come naturally for you. Thank you for sharing how Paul has helped to shape the father, husband, learner, educator, and leader that you are. He is an amazing little man and blessed to have you and your wife as parents. Also know, that as you learn to balance all of life's ups and downs with the incredible responsibilities of fatherhood and as the lead learner at Cantiague, you ARE making a difference in the lives of so many others - especially those students needing teachers who are more aware, more sensitive, and more creative in finding what motivates and promotes a lifelong learner. And it carries on with this post.........

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  21. Beautifully written! This really touched me because of how true it really is. We are not just a number-kids are not just a test score-we can never lose sight of that! Paul has definitely inspired me in so many ways! He is an incredible kid with the most amazing parents! I will forever be grateful that fate brought us together! Maria

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  22. Tony, thank you for sharing such a personal story with all of us. It's so true that we become better educators when we understand what parents and families go through every day. Your post reminds of me of a recent one of Bill Ferriter's. Have you seen it?

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  23. Dude,
    That was just a plain awesome quote. You are lucky to have Paul as a son and he is lucky to have you as his father.
    Thanks for sharing from your heart.
    Jay

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  24. Laurie SchlachtenhaufwnFebruary 15, 2015 at 4:07 PM

    Paul is so incredibly fortunate to have you as his father. This was a truly touching and thought provoking post. I hope your staff realizes what an incredible leader you are.

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