Good morning this morning!
Hot damn... life is a blur.
Last week, Chas and I, and Avin and Tristan all crossed a threshold...
Avin graduated high school.
And days later, Tristan turned 13.
Here Tristan shows off an award he unexpectedly received on the last day of school. Tristan's never won an award for attendance, or grades...hahah! However, this year he's won two significant and different awards that were nominated specifically from the teachers.
Empathy Grit and Perseverance
In the eyes of a parent, I'll take these two over grades and attendance all day. :) All that being said however, I love me some Tristan!
But today, it's about this gangster!
Avin Matthew Brill
While looking at this picture, all I remember, all I miss, is this one. His first day of Kindergarten
*you know it's kindergarten... if you look closely, you can see a Mother consoling her daughter behind Avin. **I'm also happy to report that Avin and the little boy in the red striped shirt are still good friends.
Where did the time go?!
He like, JUST graduated 8th grade?!
And today...ugh. High School...
*happy to report, Chas still rocks the color peach, and I still rock Under Armour polo's lol! Despite my anger for father time, I am happy I had the forethought years ago to start a blog and capture my life. Just as one would revisit an old photo album, before I could piece together the words and emotions to this story, I looked back and re-lived those captured moments.
As I relive this time and remember...
damn, it's nothing short of an extreme hassle for that damn-ass tassel!
For the first five and a half years of Avin's life, he was our only child. In his early school years he struggled getting educational traction as he had select difficulties that made things more complicated for him. Up until Avin was in middle school, my mother was adamant he was autistic and needed selective help to make it through the coming years. Although Chas and I agreed he had his challenges, we did not believe he was autistic. Aside from Avin's mild challenges, the window from late 6th grade through 7th grade was an unbelievably difficult time.
Good lord was it hard!
I know in today's time teachers are getting the short end of a very stubby and LARGE stick shoved up and thrown at them. The accountability of children, their parents, the laws they have to abide by?! Mad, MAD respect for teachers!
Keeping a pulse and tempo around maintaining Avin's undeniable need for educational help, the Western Peaks Elementary school's overseeing psychologist (titled as such, not a legit) went as far as forging absent teachers signatures on binding documents "denying" Avin's ability to receive select services. The signatures justified that a group of teachers agreed that there wasn't enough data to support that Avin even needed help. This fraudulent document was only discovered after we had to hire an Education State Advocate, at $150hr (in 2017) who commuted from Gilbert to Surprise, to help us help Avin. It was only by chance that after we asked for actual paperwork from the school, did Chas find this compelling evidence.
Fuse lit... Bomb exploded!
Check this shit out!?!
435 emails regarding Avin's education!
Some juicy subject titles just in this picture of 50 emails...
Harassment | Retaliation | Facebook Taunt
Letter to District
Accepted Lawyer Appt
Harassment and Violation under FERPA
Letters from Investigation
NEW FERPA Violation | Taunting/Stalking
**Keep in mind, this was about the Teachers and Administrative staff?! Throughout this difficult time, the district would continue to have to share documents regularly. The school psych would end up sending us other children's private information. It was so bad that we knew what kid was getting what in services and knew that one child's family was getting divorced. All of this was none of our business, but the school had no regard. Things got sooo bad with Avin's homeroom/primary teacher that we had Avin wear a recording device daily! AND had to document endless occurrences to even get help from the district.
I cannot make this shit up?!
*this is just over a course of four months?!
As time went on our evaluation meetings erupted from 6 or 7 attendees, to damn near 20!.. We had people at the State and District level attend just to make sure everyone and their mom had their asses covered. For a time, even my mother was involved. She's the one that first discovered inconsistencies in Avin's testing. She helped us kick things off but as time clipped by, she progressively disappeared from the entirety of the situation. For me, the emotionally difficult part as her son, was that my son really needed help, and like him, I really, really needed my moms help too, but didn't have it. It wasn't like being taught how to ride a bike and she let go... it wasn't like that. It was hey, I see you need help going somewhere, let's build a bike together, and then! we'll learn how to ride it together. About halfway through the build, I had to start piecing the parts together, figuring out what tool to use, then, after it was haphazardly put together, I also had to learn how to ride. Doing so does not come without falling off and injuring yourself. That happened for sure. But with all that too, I had to get the bandages out, treat the wound, then begrudgingly get back up and try again; without her. As I reminisce on this time in my life, it evokes emotions long scared over. Thankfully it's not bleeding like it once did... the scars are covered in tattoos and can't be seen... but, there's nerve damage beneath the ink, beneath the perspective of the world. Fuck it was hard man. Fuck. In January of 2017, Avin was starting his final semester of 6th grade, just as I started my weekly grateful emails... Seven years later, there are over 300 of them today. As I revisit these fragments of life carved in the digital stone of GratefulMan, my senses are heightened on how lonely our life was at that time. It's been through the effort of showing up weekly, that I've been able to heal, find myself, love myself, in a way never before. Revisiting these moments, there's no avoiding the growth our entire family's had from then until now. Over the course of 1.5 years Chas and I would end up spending thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours trying to keep the school in line. We had to drop mad coin on a Neuropsychologist to have Avin intellectually evaluated. (Being self employed, insurance didn't care for our situation.) Our parental instinct proved to be accurate however. Avin was not autistic, actually far from it. He did however have areas that needed corrective calibration which required support for a few years. Thankfully just before having to take the Dysart district to litigation for all things regarding that horrendous 7th grade year, after being on the waitlist for three years, Avin was finally accepted into a different school. One with a MUCH better culture, MUCH better educational system, even with a legit PHD School Psychologist!! The clouds were clear and blue with potential! :) It would be at Paradise Honors where he would start a new chapter in life AND discover football! During his 8th grade year they would win the championship for the first time in school history! Of all the games we've watched and even coached, it was the most clutch game we've ever seen! From there, Avin develop a true, deep passion for the sport and really found his place of genuine interest. Avin would play varsity football every season except for the 2020 year of Covid. Stepping into the years of high school, Chas and I feared that the educational struggles of the past would plague the progress of the future. To our amazement, while at Paradise there were literally zero educational challenges. It was everything and more we could have hoped for! To our surprise, the biggest struggle in the later years happened to be football, not education! Although it was difficult to watch and survive the football debacle, the decision to continue was all on Avin. When Chas and I look back, as tempted as we were to pull him from the football team, we're happy we supported his want to stick it out. Attending his last game by driving all the way up to Show Low, regardless of how cold or expensive it was, it meant a lot to support him and be there as that chapter of his life closed forever. Recalling the growth over Avin's middle school years to the final moments of high school fills our hearts with joy. This window of time is roughly 40% of Avin's entire life and almost 60% of Tristan's life, today. As I give praise and applause to/about my sweet son, while memorializing the first step into adulthood, I'm faced with the disheartening emotions that my parents, who are still alive btw, do not know this amazing human. Add extreme heartbreak of not having Nana Dale, RIP or Papa John, RIP in our lives to see Avin move forward into this part of life compounds the emotions of this milestone. When Avin's cap, gown, and announcement cards came in he was emotionally frustrated that we bought announcement cards. We'll never forget it either. He said, why did you get these? Who's even going to come? It was obvious at an emotionally-mature level that he knew there's been little involvement beyond our four walls. :(
For the time Avin's lived on this planet, these past seven/six years have likely been the hardest on him. Genuinely understanding his emotions and situation, we did the best we could so that he knew, that he felt important. The day before graduation we decorated the front yard and his truck. If we weren't going to mail announcements, we sure as hell were going to announce to the world our boy was graduating!
Chas hijacked a window pen and lovingly graffitied all of his windows :)
May 25, 2023, there we were that warm Thursday evening.
We anticipated it to be near 100 degrees, however the weather gods were on our side. It turned out to be a low-mid 90ish night. A slight breeze would come out of nowhere bringing a sense of ahhh. :)
The stage was set! Damn, this was really happening!
Processing this in front of me, my head wandered to, "man... this looks like a wedding!"... nope! not going there! hahah!
The crowd's filling in quickly. They put an attendance restriction on families. Only SIX tickets per graduate. What the hell?! We thought! But, as everyone rolled in, it was a packed house in no time... only six tickets per graduate?
... got it!
Good lord how time flies by?! It feels like only minutes ago in the Summer of 2021?!! Just behind these very stands of crowded parents, I dropped Avin off for an early morning football practice. This beautiful picture was captured by one of the coaches that morning. Just miles North from here, I remember being on a rooftop that day, looking South noless, amazed by the sky.
Now here we are?!
The score board has been updated to reflect the moment of celebration.
The last time we were on this very field for a genuine celebration was but a few short months ago, in the Fall of 2018!! Avin and his team just won the Middle School Football Championship at home?!.. Say it ain't so?!
The scoreboard then...
And now, today, there are hundreds of new houses behind the once vacant land.
The sun has gone down by now. There's not a cloud in the sky, but the wind?!.. The ceremony of being knighted into adulthood begins. Speeches, songs, tributes are given and the final moments are ticking by as the microphones combat what has become an annoying level of wind.
Suddenly, in a flash...
12 years of school are here.. then, poof! like that, no more. As if right out of a movie when someone's life flashes before their eyes, the stacking of moments montaging backed by a flood of feelings and well timed emotionally-orchestrated music, memories of early preschool, to kindergarten, surviving tormented middle school, growth, high school, heartache, more growth.... From a sudden rush of memories, time quickly slows down to the present. I take a breath and step back... of all the qualified decisions made thus far... the dance of many pivotal moments required of throughout these years...
I am filled with nothing more than introspective-grace and joy. :)
We did it.
Avin did it.
And we couldn't be happier for him.
*you'd never guess.... but I have changed that lady's toilet and vanity sink before! LOL!! TRUE STORY! **Also had no clue she was the high school principal either! ! LOL
All smiles. :)
As soon as the last graduate has had their moment in the limelight, the hats fly.
A huge shoutout to Uncle Ryan, my Sister-Cuz, Kelsey, and my Aunt-Mom Becky for making the commitment to show up for Avin's special day. It meant a lot to us, especially Avin.
Chas and I did not shed a single tear that night. It felt like an accomplishment beyond what would be a missed memory. There have been more tears shed in creating this story as I focus on the growth and struggle. I suppose that's the lesson in it all. If there's anything worth pursuing in life, now is the time to do it. You'll wake up one day in the distant future and realize that you've let countless opportunities slip through your fingers.. Imagine what you could have accomplished or could have become by now? The dichotomy of such a decision is that it needs to be balanced with being present, or you'll miss the bigger picture. Nothing is a greater reminder of that than watching your children grow.
Years before Avin fell in love with football, Avin always talked about wanting to do modeling. Throughout his life, Avin's been incredibly photogenic, largely without trying.
Family pictures from 2017...
Not knowing the future, in retrospect, I do wish I would have listened more to him and allowed that opportunity. There's been a lot of growth through these football years, however, I see that growth as a conditioned tolerance to mean and shallow people; adults and children alike.
Knowing the man he's becoming today, the wisdom of the life I've lived more than he, I can see boulders of vulnerable-doubting-opposition placed in his life ahead; largely due football. Because of this, in the years to come and throughout adulthood, he will need to learn how to grow around and through these boulders... Should this happen, Chas and I will be there for him.
No matter the social challenges he's faced these last five years, Avin's developed a confident eye for style and fashion. So much so that it's even more obvious that "I" should have let him lean into that talent/want to be a model... *Chas was always on board. :)
Being able to make his own fashionable decisions, he's found a way to create his own personality while having the confidence to step out of what we may see as the norm, but pull it off like an original. The camera does not lie...
Avin's Senior Pics 2023
Here's a link to all the 250 pictures taken that evening.
A final shoutout to
Miss Selena Sorensen!, of Sorensen Studios
There's a talent beyond being able to look through a lens and capture that moment, that angle.
...she has a gift.
There's an intuitive energy about Selena that allows even the most introverted person, find comfort in stepping outside their comfort zone... I can personally attest to this as Selena's taken all my professional pictures throughout the years.
I encourage anyone to use her services! :) You will love her just as much as we did.
Website: https://www.sorensen-studios.com Contact: 623-451-7098 Instagram: @ sorensenstudios As I come to close on such a time in our families life, it's important that I end it with a parent's message to their senior child. Chas and I missed the opportunity to have it put in the yearbook this year, however, I can't think of a better place to have it than here.
Dear Avin, You are an amazing human being. Beyond that, you have grown into an incredible young man. Other parents' memories of their varsity football athlete may be filled with a game winning drive, or a last minute stop or touchdown. We will of course remember your wins, but the lasting memory I have is while you were in football camp/practice, a small child came up to you when you were doing team exercises. In the presence of everything football, you slowed down, engaged with the child and made them feel special and laugh... meanwhile, everyone else was doing football. That's a memory I will never forget! Specifically as your Father, I am so deeply proud that you've become such a caring and emotionally sound young man. There are talents inside that you've only scratched the surface on and we cannot wait to watch you discover them! Understand that the road ahead for a man with a heart as big as your will have its challenges as you adapt to real life. Just believe me when I say, the kind of heart you have is a superpower beyond your wildest comprehension. When life settles in the years ahead, you will be on a mountaintop everyone can see, and many will want to be with you on the path ahead. When you're down, keep your head up. Don't let failures go to your heart. Lean into what makes Avin happy. That's where you will find yourself. It's a special kind of courage that can also be infectious to others. When you're up, don't forget where you've come from. Don't let the success go to your head. Always do your best, take realistic risks, and be yourself - even when it's uncomfortable. You are not learning unless there's discomfort. People will pay top dollar for a seat in the front row to watch someone who's authentic; this is you. Although Nana and Papa John are not here in the physical, they are with you daily in spirit, watching you, supporting you, loving you from the heavens. Find comfort in them. Your Mom and I could not be prouder of the person you've become. Always know, we are a safe place for you to be you, for you to be vulnerable, for you to grow and fail forward. ~We love you deeply, Mom and Dad.
This was taken just as the sun was setting down on the evening where Avin had his senior photo shoot... I can't think of a better picture - great shot Chas! :) Thank you for going down memory lane with us. Have a grateful weekend.