‘I walked to her desk, my belly in knots, and proceeded to tell her all my son’s problems, faults, and the things she might struggle with.’: Mom thanks ‘hero’ teacher for helping son blossom

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“I believe my pregnancy with Kamran was just like any other. I remember feeling nervous about it because I had lost my previous pregnancy in its first trimester, but I also remember it being easy. His conception was easy. The pregnancy was easy. Even the delivery was easy. Well, as easy as deliveries can go I suppose. And I was ecstatic to be giving my daughter a little brother.

Kamran was born on September 11th, 2002, on the one-year anniversary of 9/11. For the rest of the nation, it was just a day of mourning. But for me, it was much, much more than that. Amidst the ashes of all that death, I birthed a small child, a symbol of life and hope. He was beautiful with a cap of fuzzy black on top of his little head.

new born son who had special needs later in life
Courtesy of Tracy Ross
mom with her son and her daughter on the ground smiling
Courtesy of Tracy Ross

My son continued to be easy. He was a good baby… the best out of all four children I’d ultimately have. He wasn’t fussy and he slept through the night almost right away. In those first days after birth, I’d have to wake him up for feedings instead of the other way around.

But there was something different about Kamran, something that bothered me. In spite of him being so easy, he was harder to feed than all the others because he never took to nursing. Those two days in the hospital after his birth were fraught with intense dismay. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get him to latch. I started going through postpartum depression, and it was so much worse than my son wouldn’t nurse. What was I doing wrong?

mom with her new born son sleeping on her chest
Courtesy of Tracy Ross

I was stuck pumping my breast milk and feeding Kamran with a bottle. It took much more time than it should have to feed him, and I felt like such a failure. Within weeks I began to dry up, and four months after his birth, Kamran was on formula. Another failure.

Yet, Kamran was my good boy. He was a quiet baby, and serious. I’d put him in his baby swing and he’d be happy there for hours, just swinging away. What’s funny is that, when his legs got long enough, he’d move them back and forth and would swing himself without me having to restart the swing. And it was around that same time I began to notice that there was something not quite right. Kamran wasn’t meeting any of his milestones.

the son who had special needs as a kid
Courtesy of Tracy Ross

He didn’t start lifting his head when he was supposed to, or rollover, or sit up. He didn’t start crawling on time, or walking, or talking. He had a hard time eating his baby foods and would gag on stuff that was too chunky when he should have been eating soft table foods. While he was very alert and seemed to understand things going on around him, he wasn’t progressing the way he should have been. His grandparents had noticed, and his sitter, and my friends who also had children his age. Like any parent, I began to get scared. And I called the experts.

In early 2005, I took him to the developmental center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. There, they screened Kamran and decided my fears were not unfounded. They began a battery of testing to rule out the most common disorders. I don’t even remember now what those disorders might have been, or exactly what tests they performed. But I remember being there and seeing the sticky things with little wires attached to his little chest his head.

After all was said and done, the results were perplexing, to say the least. As far as they could tell, he didn’t have a specific disorder, just that he had brain-based developmental delays. ‘Brain-based?’ I said. ‘What does that even mean?’

teacher with little boy who struggled in school building
Courtesy of Tracy Ross

It was then all of Kamran’s therapy began. At that point, I had three children under the age of four and I was pregnant with my fourth. I had a full-time job. I was overwhelmed and stressed, but we went to speech therapy at least twice a week that was forty-five minutes away. We went to physical therapy for his walking and other movement delays, and we went to occupational therapy for his eating. My mother would come with me to many of these appointments and she would help with the other two children. She was a constant bastion of support, and to this day I don’t know what I would have done without her.

Kamran went into a head start program his preschool year. It was three days a week and I’d go with him. I remember sitting in that room with the teachers, the other parents, and their kids. I was heavily pregnant with my youngest child and waves of guilt would wash over me. Not for the first time, my mind would run through Kamran’s pregnancy. I worked for a lab. Some of the substances we used were dangerous to a developing fetus. Had I somehow harmed him? My mind ran through his early infancy. Had I left him in that swing too long? Not giving him enough of my time? I felt like I’d failed my son, that somehow I hadn’t done enough for him. All of the speech, physical and occupational therapy we’d been through was my penance for that.

Kamran went into Kindergarten with an IEP. That’s an individualized education plan designed for children who have special needs in school. My son had come a long way with his therapy and from the head start program, he’d attended during his preschool years. We had moved into our home in Fairfield, Ohio and it was his first year in the school system.

Soon after we moved in, I remember him hunkering down before some flowers that were growing in front of our house. The rest of us went inside, and when I realized Kamran hadn’t come in with us, I went back out to see him still crouched there, staring at the flowers. I said, ‘Kamran, what are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m waiting for the flowers to bloom.’

It was at that moment that I saw Kamran’s soul. Like, REALLY saw it. It was so beautiful to behold, a little boy waiting for the flowers to open, and it touched me. Kamran loved the natural world and everything in it, down to a simple flower. But Kamran’s true love had been observed before, and it would remain consistent throughout his entire life.

family photo by a professional photographer of 4 kids
Courtesy of Tracy Ross

The weather. It didn’t matter where he was; Kamran would stop to watch the weather going on outside the window. It didn’t matter what he was doing; he’d stop and take a look. It didn’t matter who else might be there; my boy would stop and see the weather. For a while, we thought it was just a passing thing, but before long, we knew it was much more than that. It was an obsession. Said more positively, it was his passion in life.

Kamran’s year of Kindergarten had its ups and downs. He was easily frustrated when he couldn’t do the things the other kids could do so easily. Simple things like taking his jacket on and off were a chore. He’d cry and scream his frustration for all to see. He’d get frustrated with other tasks during the school day, easy things that he saw the other kids doing, and he’d yell and lash out. It was harder for him to communicate despite the speech therapy, and it took him longer to eat his lunch. All year long I got messages about how Kamran had done this wrong or done that badly. But he got through it, and I suppose his teacher and the rest of his class weren’t too much the worse for wear.

First grade rolled around and I was nervous. I don’t know, maybe it was because I knew he was growing up and wasn’t a baby in Kindergarten anymore. He was going to be judged harsher, not just by the other kids in his class, but by the teachers. I was hoping he’d have a really good teacher that year, a younger teacher who had been trained with newer ways of teaching the kids. Her tolerance would be higher and she would be more patient. She wouldn’t have already spent so many years as a teacher that she would be immune to the needs of little boys and girls who still needed some special attention. She wouldn’t be beaten down by life.

teacher who helped the little boy out of a bad spot
Courtesy of Tracy Ross

I remember going to ‘meet the teacher night’ at the school. My heart was in my throat as I walked up to the classroom. I saw the name ‘Mrs. Patton’ in big easy to read letters. Beside it was an apple with a green worm coming out of a hole in its side. The worm had a friendly smile. This was an image my son would see every day as he went into this room. I walked inside. My eyes darted all around the room, hoping and praying to see a young woman sitting there among the other parents who had gathered within.

My heart sank. At the desk at the head of the room was an older woman. Much older. Like in her sixties older. She didn’t have bright eyes and a wide grin. Instead, her eyes were surrounded by wrinkles and her mouth was curved only in the smallest of smiles. God only knew how many years she’d met a room full of parents like this. At that moment, all of my hopes for Kamran to have a good year were dashed. There was no way that this woman was going to understand my boy.

I listened as Mrs. Patton addressed all the parents. The entire time, I tried to listen best I could as I tried to formulate in my mind what I’d say to her afterward. And when the time came, I walked up to her desk, my belly in knots. I proceeded to tell this woman all about my son: all of his problems, all of his faults, all of the things she might struggle with. But then I told her all of the things that made him so wonderful: the way he cared about living things, his sweet smiles, and his desire to be better. She must have sensed my nervousness because at the end, she smiled and touched my arm. She said, ‘Everything is going to be okay.’

I walked away from that conversation feeling better. I wasn’t convinced by any stretch, but I did feel heartened. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I’d misjudged. But actions… they speak louder than any words, and only time would tell.

The school year started. Kamran was still on the IEP. Days and weeks passed. Kamran would come home and I’d see these little changes. He seemed happy. He seemed bright. I didn’t get messages from the teacher saying he’d done this wrong or that badly. I went to the first parent/teacher conference. Mrs. Patton smiled when I walked in and she proceeded to tell me all of the things that Kamran was doing RIGHT. She only briefly touched on the negative and said that he was working on his behavior. But all those things he was doing right made up the bulk of our talk. I left feeling like a million dollars, and I thought…

Is Kamran walking away from this room feeling like a million dollars too? I couldn’t help but believe he was.

teacher who helped little boy out of a bad spot
Courtesy of Tracy Ross

And as the school year progressed, my belief turned into certainty. I got to watch as my son began to blossom. Just like those flowers outside our house, I watched him bloom into this child I’d never met before. He was happy. He was confident. He was determined. And he was SMART! He was so bright… like a shining star.

I remember meeting with Mrs. Patton again. By her smile, I could tell how happy she was to talk about Kamran, about how far he’d come. She told me how he liked to watch the weather outside her classroom window, and that now she only needed to remind him once to come back to his seat. He rarely threw temper tantrums anymore and was more willing to ask for help. She told me that all the kids in the class liked Kamran, and they knew him as the one who was good at math.

I remember the tears gathering in my eyes during that meeting. I remember the tears of happiness that fell onto the steering wheel on my way home. I remember holding my boy close, and telling him how proud I was of him. I remember thinking of Mrs. Patton and how much I’d misjudged her.

That year was Henrietta Patton’s last year teaching. She retired in 2010. After that year, Kamran was no longer on an IEP. He went on a path to excellence, and in fifth grade was placed in the gifted program. That same year, we saw Mrs. Patton eating at Frisch’s with her family. The smile on her face when she saw Kamran was beautiful to see. I could see the pride and affection reflected in her eyes, and I could see the same in Kamran’s.

When the gifted program was no longer a challenge, Kamran was jumped forward a year in school. He continued to excel and in 2020, at the age of 17, he graduated from Sycamore High School magna cum laude and is currently attending Ohio State University as a part of their honors program. He studies biochemistry and meteorology.

kid who graduated magna cum laude in high school after struggling
Courtesy of Tracy Ross

To this day he is my shining star.

To this day, I thank Mrs. Patton for being such a great teacher to my son. He needed a beacon of light, and she was it.

Every day our teachers put so much time, effort, and energy into our youths. They deserve so much more than what they are given. Their job is often very difficult, yet they come back the next day to do it all over again. For many of our youths, they are more than just teachers. They are heroes.

I thank Fairfield City Schools for Mrs. Patton, as well as many of the other teachers who have graced the halls of Fairfield Central Elementary. Mrs. Patton will forever be in my heart. My son needed a beacon of light to set his star shining. And I believe she was my light as well.”

son who had special needs as a child who is thriving now
Courtesy of Tracy Ross

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tracy Ross from Cincinnati, Ohio. You can follow her journey on Facebook and her website. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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