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 clubfooot, 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 is 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 everyone 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 parents, educators, leaders and people.
Thank you Paul for being such an incredible inspiration. I am who I am today because of you!