- Associated Press - Sunday, January 7, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - It happened 30 years ago, but the memory still stings.

“Go home, damn Yankee!” a classmate at Gallatin High School wrote in her yearbook when Trishia Warrick graduated.

Warrick and her family moved to Sumner County from Michigan when she was in eighth grade, and students treated her as an outsider from “up North” until she went to college.

“I hated it,” she said.

Still does.

“I don’t go to any reunions. I don’t even like to go to Sumner County. I don’t want to bump into anyone I know.”

Worse, Warrick had a difficult family situation, too.

“It was a very fractured time. I never felt comfortable in my own skin or in my surroundings - at home or school.”

It lit a fire in the teen girl to do better for the next generation.

She would create her own safe and loving family. And she would always strive to make others feel like they belonged, no matter what.

Mission accomplished.

Warrick is now married and a mother of three children, all home schooled, each with special challenges. The middle child has cerebral palsy, the youngest, autism.

And at 48, Warrick is re-launching her career to serve others.

That effort got a big boost Dec. 16 when she received her bachelor’s degree at Middle Tennessee State University - at the same ceremony where her middle child, Chandler, 22, got his.

“It was AMAZING!!!” Warrick emailed hours after graduation.

“I was so proud of Chandler. I was also humbled by how sweet he was in letting me share this day. I was worried I would take some of the attention away from him, but he seemed really happy to let me be a part of the day.”

In fact, Chandler said he was ecstatic: “I felt more pride for my mom than myself.”

His mom said graduation day also was emotional; she couldn’t help but reflect on her years as parent, teacher and caregiver to the young man who shared the stage with her.

Warrick met her husband, Craig, when they were students together at Western Kentucky University. She got an associate’s degree and started a career as a nurse, while he launched a career as a salesman.

Their first baby, Zach, came along seven weeks early, but otherwise developed normally.

The second, Chandler, was born a few weeks early, and he too was a happy, cooing, normal kid - until he didn’t start rolling over at four months.

And Chandler didn’t start sitting at six months.

And he didn’t start crawling after that.

And, most unsettling, his left hand wasn’t really doing much of anything.

An MRI revealed the baby, in utero, had had a lack of oxygen to the brain, a version of stroke in the womb called periventricular leukomalacia.

Questions flooded Warrick’s mind: Is it reversible? Would this impact his speech? Or movement? Or intelligence?

Then, the guilt.

“Any mother that had a child with a defect thinks, ‘What did I do? Did I do something?’”

Warrick choked up when she recalled that feeling, tears spilling out of her eyes.

“I felt like I did it. That doesn’t go away immediately.”

That’s when Warrick quit her job and became a full-time caretaker, while her husband worked overtime.

Speech and brain functions seemed fine, but Chandler couldn’t walk unaided. There was weekly water therapy, physical therapy twice a week, horse therapy once a month.

Starting at age 4, Chandler got seven surgeries and hundreds of injections to try to loosen muscles and create more mobility.

When he was 6, Chandler could get around with one crutch. But since then, it’s either two crutches or a walker or wheelchair.

The family poured resources into adapting, making sure Chandler did as many things as he could with them.

They found a way to take him water skiing. Mom and dad carried him in a hiking backpack for years. They took him to amusement parks, camping, church, wherever they could. They even built him a throne of a lawn chair mounted on tubing in high school so his friends could carry him onto the beach for spring break.

“My parents were always super accommodating,” Chandler said. “If I wanted to do it, they’d find a way.”

Home schooling actually started with older brother Zach, who had some issues with his eyesight.

Since Chandler was there, Warrick would write a study program for him too. And soon, the brothers were best friends and classmates.

Then, Warrick and her husband adopted a baby girl from South Korea - and she didn’t talk for her first few years. At 9, the girl, Olivia, was diagnosed with autism, and she was home schooled along with her brothers.

After several years, Warrick got her children involved with other home school kids in co-ops and tutorials. Though she served as teacher and curriculum creator, Warrick also found she had a little more flexibility.

And her two boys, with high ACT scores, ended up in college, leaving her looking for something to do.

“I don’t know how to explain it, but I have to do something. I feel like God gave me such an amazing second half, I can’t not do something for someone else,” Warrick said.

That “something” ended up being taking care of babies of incarcerated and drug-addicted moms. Warrick, interested in foster care, got introduced to the incarcerated moms through a Christian foster care ministry called Jonah’s Journey.

And soon, she was taking care of a baby of an inmate from the Tennessee Prison for Women.

That opened her heart to women battling addiction, and Warrick knew she would be most effective in the field if she had a bachelor’s degree.

So in January 2017, she found out she’d need two more years of credits at MTSU - and Warrick decided to earn them in one.

That meant, among other things, taking on 23 credit hours over the summer. Her course load:

Diversity in the workplace

Fundamentals of speech

Using teams to facilitate organizational development

Teams and organization

Managing change and conflict in organizations, and

Leading and developing teams

“It was a hard summer,” she said, laughing.

But Warrick got it done, and earned straight As at MTSU in the process. Warrick also landed a job two months ago at The Next Door, a Christian-based residential recovery program for women battling addiction.

The day she picked up caps and gowns for her and Chandler, her son suggested they decorate the caps. He’d put the word “son” on top of his, and she could put “Mom” on top of hers.

Warrick laughed, told her son she was thrilled to be graduating with him - and shot down the idea.

“I worked too hard for that cap,” she said, “to make it dorky.”

___

Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com

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