A couple weeks ago I had one of the best opportunities I’ve ever had. I got to help out and attend a special, alternate prom thrown for a girl I love very much.
Growing up Malissa and I did a lot of babysitting. We had a few families in our neighborhood we watched but only one we consistently babysat for over a decade and grew to love like they were our own nieces and nephews. These six kids were rowdy and messy and funny and sweet and sometimes I’d go home thinking “babysitting shouldn’t be that fun!” We baked crazy cookies, I let them eat too much ice cream, and somehow we always got my clothes all wet, either in the sprinklers, from the tub or doing the dishes.
One of these kids, Audrey, was diagnosed with Asperger’s as a very young child. She always had a harder time paying attention or keeping her voice down or her temper in check but all-in-all I never had a hard time with her. We got along really well and I loved her exactly the same as all the others.
Unfortunately, about the time I grew up and went to college and stopped babysitting for them, Audrey began to change and develop other problems that kept her more to herself, made her grow more manic and eventually she couldn’t be left alone. As a result, six years later Audrey was admitted to the Utah State Hospital where she was diagnosed with autism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
It’s hard to imagine a harder thing for a parent to have to endure and I know it’s causing her parents many sleepless nights. It breaks my heart for their whole family, particularly because I know how close they all are and what a bond they have. Honestly, I’ve never met a family that feels as united as they do, especially with most of them in their teens right now. They learned from a very young age how to respect Audrey’s differences, to stand up for her at school and to be her friend. I always admired the way even her younger sisters had to be so mature when it came to Audrey and they never acted like mean little kids, they weren’t embarrassed about her or ever pretended they didn’t know her. And I know they all learned this from their mother who is one of the very best mother’s I’ve ever seen. Despite having a large family, and one child in particular who took a lot of her time and efforts, I doubt any one of them would say they ever felt starved for attention or affection from her. I bet they all feel like her favorite. She is such an inspiration to me and I think about her often when I try to conceptualize what kind of parent I want to be.
Only a wonderful mother like Audrey’s could think up this amazing party for Audrey and make it all happen. You see, Audrey was heartbroken about missing her Prom. The iconic event that every high school student dreams about would be out of her reach this year as she was not currently attending a regular school. Furthermore, Audrey had a special boy in mind to take to this event named Tyler. So Midge, Audrey’s mom, thought maybe she could organize a small dinner date for the two of them. After contacting a teacher at Lone Peak, where Audrey went before being hospitalized, she was told that there would be many children interested in coming to support Audrey and make the event special.
So her small idea grew into a full blown alternate Prom for 200 kids. I was so excited I could be a part of it because I loved the idea but i had no idea how amazing the event would be.
I have never seen such an amazing display of love, kindness, happiness and compassion. It was like in that room, negativity did not exist and never had. When I attended Lone Peak, I always thought of it as extremely compassionate. None of the horrible stories you hear about handicap kids being bullied ever happened there. In fact, the kids in the special needs program were routinely voted in to student council, crowned homecoming kings and queens and always received the biggest rounds of applause at graduation. I loved that school and always felt really lucky to go there and that that was my experience there.
But what I saw on this prom night was even further than that. People had a genuine love for Audrey. They came to support her and they were so excited to be there. They behaved, but even more miraculous, they danced their hearts out. I recall no such dancing at any of my High School dances! They danced the whole time and they weren’t embarrassed and they danced really well! It was so much fun to watch but more importantly, it made the dance fun for Audrey. If she had been surrounded by stale classmates, it would have been awkward and disappointing. Instead, they rallied around her, they made sure she was never alone, they formed circles around her and clapped and chanted her name. The girls made her feel like the most popular girl there and her date made her feel beautiful.
I was so blown away by her date. I’ve never seen a more gentlemanly boy. He gave 100% of his attention to Audrey the whole night. He never left her side, he danced fast and slow songs with her, he looked in to her eyes, he sat her down and had conversations with her. He brought her a corsage and told her she looked really good. It was honestly the sweetest thing I’d ever seen. And I know it meant everything to Audrey.
Audrey was crowned Prom Queen and she got up twice to let everybody know exactly how much this night meant to her. She said it was a dream come true and the best night of her life. It was an overwhelming statement of gratitude for everything that had been put in to this party and I know it felt so good to know that it meant more to her than we were even imagining.
For the theme, her mom chose pink and silver, two of Audrey’s favorite colors. Stars also fit Audrey so well and so the place was covered in them and glitter and confetti. Zurchers Party Store made it possible for us to fill the gym floor with balloons as well as many of the other decorations.
A bunch of people volunteered to bring food and treats and there was an awesome Italian soda station.
Audrey’s one request was that there be skittles, her favorite, so we filled dishes with them and set them out on every table.
There was a super fun photo booth with lots of props!
This prom was about so much more than the decorations, the food or the even the dancing. It was an amazing display of kindness and generosity and it gave me further knowledge that people are good. There is certainly hope for us and all you parents of these high school kids, you are definitely doing something right.
Several major news channels covered the event, read about it on People, on KSL, and Utah Valley Magazine.