My first ever PTO board meeting was in the home of a fellow mom. Our president led us in a loose, meandering discussion of the year’s agenda. The hours ticked by as we brainstormed about the preschool, dished about our lives, our special needs community and how we wanted to make the world even better for our small children. When I left that first meeting at 1:30AM, my throat was dry, I had a headache and a very long to do list typed into my phone. I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. I felt included and excited to be back to the world of educational programming. This time for the benefit of my own son and other children at his school.
Our PTO board dug in hard. We gave a “welcome pitch” to a group of severely under-caffeinated parents on orientation day and quickly began checking off items on our fundraising and enrichment wish lists. We had more late night meetings wherein we shared ideas about work-life balance, navigating through IEP and 504 meetings, potty training, town gossip and school related activities. Our meetings were long and we grew accustomed to lingering over our glasses of wine chatting about being mothers. It was my first taste of school community through the lens of special needs parenting and it came at just the right time.
Our group was led by a quiet/unassuming president. She brainstormed alongside us while having her own (best) ideas tucked away. Her ties to our hometown community run deep and she has a business savvy that comes from years of practice managing marketing teams in the biotech sector as well as her own children’s clothing consignment shop(s). Laura DiCesno led our group through discussions; asking questions, offering her advice and opinions; always fostering relationships with each of us and the school administration in balance.
A year ago, Lil J was scheduled for an extended inpatient stay at Boston Children’s Hospital. Epileptic patients like Lil J have to wear button front clothing so that it can be removed easily without disrupting the EEG Leeds (wires) that are attached to their head and chest. They also stay confined to their room while hospital for video monitoring. The Red Sox had just won the 2018 world series and I was on the hunt for a button front jersey for him to wear during his stay. I called Laura who immediately went to work to find Lil J a jersey. She succeeded in finding one that she gifted to our family along with a Spiderman costume, knowing this was his favorite super hero. Lil J wore the Sox jersey during his entire stay and continues to wear the Spiderman costume.
The following spring, Laura invited our family to attend an event that included the GOFI (Golden Opportunities for Independence) organization. This local organization raises service dogs, including those who work alongside children who have epilepsy. Laura encouraged us to speak with the organization’s founder and later invited them to visit the preschool, providing Lil J with another opportunity to interact with the animals. Our family is now on the waiting list for a GOFI dog to assist Lil J. We would have never made this connection without Laura’s help and encouragement.
Laura doesn’t do anything half-way. I learned from her that you need to be passionate about your community to make a difference and inspire change. During teacher appreciation week, Laura decorated the entire preschool to a hilt, ensuring that any occupant within its hallways KNEW that we were honoring the staff. Her twin boys are regularly dressed impeccably and identically. They enjoy the utmost Pinterest-of-parties; thematic and with every detail attended too. Like most mothers in our town, Laura deftly manages her home life, volunteers at the school and runs her own business. She is determined and on the go, but never too busy to stop and chat during school drop off.
Last month, this generous, perfectionistic, truth-telling woman was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor; glioblastoma. The news has been devastating to our community of mothers, who have known Laura, her husband and their twin boys since their early days at the Westwood Integrated Preschool. We know Laura as someone who works hard – very hard – to accomplish her goals. We know her as a mom who advocates for her children relentlessly; doting on them day and (some sleepless) nights too. We know that Laura is caring, compassionate and often thinks 10 steps ahead of other people.
Lil J and his classmates do not yet know how their lives have been impacted by Laura; her influence and leadership. They only feel a sense of community; one that that was cultivated several years ago at a PTO meeting. For this reason and so many more, I am thankful to Laura for her friendship.