Welcome Home, Hero. Rest in Peace.

This was not the first military funeral I had attended.  It was the first time I’d been to any funeral that took place 76 years after the deceased had died.  This young man, a kid the same age as my third of five children, has finally made it home to be put to rest with his family in a hero’s ceremony.  Seaman First Class George Anderson Coke, Jr. came home to Arlington today for the first time since he left for boot camp back in 1941.

My friend, Leslie Dorn Barton, is George Coke’s second cousin once or twice removed.  I’m still unclear on all that genealogy stuff.  While I’d like to be able to trace back my family tree, I’m quite unorganized and tend to think circularly rather than in clear straight lines.  Besides, I’ve got aunts and cousins on both sides of my tree who really dig that sort of thing and they actually journal it all. Anyway, Leslie is one of the Special Education teachers who taught my daughter at Sam Houston High School. We became friends over the last couple of years. So naturally, when she mentioned that this funeral was happening today, I told her I’d come.

It’s been hotter than ever all week and I was so relieved when the thunderstorms hit our city last night and it rained until the wee hours this morning.  I donned my black abaya and a gray and black scarf and then headed over to the First United Methodist Church and tried to “blend in” with the Arlington locals.  I know.  I didn’t. The sole Muslim in a sea of mostly older, white, Christian faces.

I listened to the history of George Coke, Jr., son of George Coke, Sr., who was the Chief of Police in Arlington back in the 1920s.  I learned that of the 3,500 American casualties that day in Pearl Harbor, that Arlington lost 48 souls.  My mind wandered, as is the norm during funerals.  Everyone in some way or another is reminded of their own immortality at a funeral.  With military funerals, you are also reminded of all of your family members and friends who also served in the armed forces.  I felt a few tears escape today as I remembered friends who were killed in foreign wars.  I felt a few more tears escape as I offered prayers of thanks and gratitude for those family and friends who returned safely home.

I followed the funeral procession to Parkdale Cemetary. We were escorted by members of the United States Navy and a large number of the Arlington Police Department.  I watched as the sailors, now pallbearers, respectfully carried the remains of their comrade who fell in the line of duty more than half a century before any of them were born.  And the firing of the three volleys, though I knew they were coming, still caught me off guard and those tears of relief that most of my loved ones returned to me fell from my eyes as a silent salute to Seaman Coke and all of the thousands who didn’t.

My heart stirred as I watched the slow and deliberate movements of the sailors folding the flag and the hand off of that folded flag followed by the final salute from Seaman to Non-Commissioned Officer to Officer to Rear Admiral and finally to George Coke, Jr.’s family members.  The spent shell casings from the three volleys, symbolizing duty, honor, and country, were then placed into the hand of the young descendant of Seaman Coke.

A cool breeze gently blew across my face, air-drying the silent tears and leaving my cheeks a little bit sticky.  I hugged Leslie and shook hands with her son, aunt, and mother.  I looked back to see the final resting place of Seaman Coke, under the Live Oak and the Crepe Myrtle trees, beside his mother and father.  Welcome home, hero.  Rest in peace.

 

Milestones

Tomorrow afternoon will mark a big fat milestone in our lives. Two more of our five kids will be crossing that stage at their high school graduation. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this. So why am I so overwhelmed with the feels of it all?

Randa is 20. She’s our “special needs” kid and while eligible to stay at the school for one more year before she ages out of their Alternate Curriculum program, she is bored. She wants to graduate NOW. They told us going in that there was going to come a time when she is going to advance past what they are able to teach her. That time has come. Many would argue that she could mainstream into the general education population. That is just not a possibility with her issues. So we’re going to do more Mommy-Randa stuff starting next Fall. We’re going to visit museums and family members around the Metroplex and take some classes at the fabric store and learn to sew and join a water aerobics class. Randa is excited to start the next chapter after Sam Houston High.

Ismail is 18. He, like his older brother before him, seems to be struggling with the excitement of graduating versus the sadness and anxiety of leaving behind all he knows. I am guessing that boys are like this. (I wouldn’t know, having never been a boy.) He is suffering today as he paces around and asks questions to which he already knows the answers. He’s spent a lot of time on the front porch. Being outside calms his nerves. He is still not certain what he’s going to do. He wants to become an electrician and be a man and not have to answer to his parents and buy a car and get a job, and all of the swirling plans that all boys his age have.

But Ismail is still so tender-hearted in so many ways. And his family is all he’s ever known. No matter where we lived on the globe spanning three countries and several states, we’ve always had each other. The idea of moving away to another part of the state to go to school without his safety net is so intriguing and exciting and altogether scary. So he’s put off making firm plans as of yet. He wants to take a little time off and work. And that’s okay. Ismail has always been one who needs to chew on his idea before he spits out his final answer.

And tomorrow as I stand on that stage, holding Randa’s hand to help her to battle back the anxiety as she walks across toward the end of her high school tunnel, I’ll be watching Ismail, one place ahead of her in the alphabet, reaching his. I’m so proud to be their mother.

I Did It Again!

Everyone has been guilty of it. At least, I hope I’m not alone in this. But I have this tendency to put important things in a “really safe place” and then when it comes time that I really need them, said “really safe place” has completely left my mind. Last time it was a social security card. Only took 5 days, but I found it. The application for health coverage took a little longer to find. Well, a lot longer. Like…6  months longer. But in my defense, someone rearranged all the paperwork in my stacked filing system. For crying out loud, would you people just STOP touching my desk!? But this one is a doozy.

I placed the tassels for Randa and Ismail’s graduation caps in a drawer so that no one would lose them. And I don’t remember which drawer. I’ve searched them all. And poof. They’re gone. And while I have until Sunday to find them, I really don’t. Because Randa has an awards ceremony for the seniors in the Special Education department and she is supposed to wear her cap and gown tomorrow. *sigh*

One of these days I’m going to find a “very special place” that is just a blatant out in the open place with a lock on it to keep nosy people and meddling hands away. Of course, you know what that means, right? I’ll just lose the damn key.

STARRY NIGHT PROM 2017

2016-04-30 11.27.07

This kid right here? He’s having a blast, dancing his heart out at the Starry Night Prom last year.

2017 will mark our TENTH ANNUAL STARRY NIGHT PROM! Can you believe we’ve been doing this for an entire decade? We decided to celebrate that fact by throwing an even better prom this year than we did last year. But in order to do that, we need your help. This prom is run entirely on donations. Yes, that’s right. The invitations, corsages and boutonnieres, decorations, food, DJ, desserts, photography, commemorative t-shirts, swag bags and everything in them: ALL donated or paid for with your donations. Even the people who provide service on this night- all volunteers.

And throwing an event like STARRY NIGHT PROM each year is not cheap. So we’re calling on you to help us out. Please donate to help us reach our $6000 goal and make this magical night a reality for these kids within the Arlington ISD. Just click on the highlighted link below and you’ll be directed to our crowd-sourcing fundraiser site.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO STARRY NIGHT PROM 2017!

If you own a business and would like to donate logo-bearing in-kind donation for swag bags, please contact our Vice-President of Donations by emailing her here: starrynightprom@outlook.com

If you have other in-kind donations that you’d like to donate, such as gently used prom dresses or tuxedoes, or if you’d like to purchase and donate food items or gift cards to local grocery or department stores, swagbag items, etc., also please contact our Vice-President of Donations via email: starrynightprom@outlook.com.

Remember EVERY donation is appreciated and we will provide  you with a tax-deductible receipt.

**STARRY NIGHT PROM is a registered 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization.

Starry Night Prom 2016

Randa SNP2015
It’s that time of year again! That’s right. It’s Prom Season. And the Starry Night Prom 2016 is coming up on us….fast!

“What’s the Starry Night Prom?” you ask. Let me tell you by including part of our Starry Night Prom donations request letter:

“The Starry Night Prom started in 2008 with a vision to create a once-in-a-lifetime prom experience for Arlington ISD high school students with significant disabilities.

Taking the vision from AISD special education teacher, Sara Mayo, Chase Christensen developed his Eagle Scout project around creating the Starry Night Prom, along with Boy Scout Troop #396 and the Arlington Elks Lodge #2114. Now an annual event, the Starry Night Prom is heading into its NINTH year of throwing an all-inclusive prom! Students with significant disabilities and their chaperones are treated to beautiful invitations to attend prom, a sit down dinner, professional photography, corsages and boutonnieres, dessert fountain, a prom king and queen, goodie bags, and, of course, a huge dance floor with a DJ, all at no cost to the student or their chaperone.”

randa-and-hamo-prom-2014

You see at an average prom, there is little in the way of accommodations for those students who have significant disabilities. Some of these students cannot eat without assistance or the use of a feeding tube. Some need assistance in using the restroom or cannot swallow and must use a suction machine. Then there are those who have dietary restrictions or sensory issues that must be taken into consideration. Add into the mix the peer pressure and “everyone is looking at me” feelings that most high school students are experiencing at this time of their lives, and you have kids with disabilities bowing out and missing out on one of the most memorable nights of their school years.

The Starry Night Prom helps make this night special for these kids. My daughter is a junior this year. She is severely autistic and has sensory issues, mostly related to noise. She wears noise canceling headphones that block 21 of every 23 Db of sound. This is because she has incredibly sensitive hearing and too much sound or too loud sound can cause her head to ache and this hurts and frightens her. So to see my daughter in a formal gown with her bling and sequins veil in a pair of pink headphones is just the norm at Starry Night Prom. The DJ takes these types of sensory issues into consideration of our Prom participants, and never blasts the music too loudly and never uses strobe lights.

Shelby and Randa dancing SNP 2014

Starry Night Prom is a recognized 501-C3 Non Profit Organization and all donations are tax-deductible. Would  you consider donating to the Starry Night Prom 2016, being held Saturday, April 30, 2016? Over 300 people attended Starry Night Prom 2015. In kind donations are needed in every area, from items for our prom “goodie bags” to food to serve 300 guests. Financial donations of any amount are also needed, as 100% of all financial donations go to purchasing items for the Starry Night Prom. A tax deductible receipt will follow your donations, as will a public thank you letter supplied to all prom attendees and donors.

This is a program that I believe with all my heart. I never thought that my daughter would be able to participate in her prom. But Starry Night Prom leveled the playing field and, as you can see from the photos shown here, she just sparkles like a princess and thoroughly enjoys herself in a social setting that she would otherwise have to skip.

Please consider donating to the Starry Night Prom 2016. You may click here to be directed to our fundraiser website—–> STARRY NIGHT PROM 2016 DONATIONS

If you would care to contribute to goodie bag items, please contact us via email:
StarryNightProm@outlook.com or like us on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/starrynightprom .

**All photographs are property of Nikki Mohamed-Fawzy and Sara Mayo and are used with permission.**