Standing in wonder at my mother's accomplishments and influence

Published: Saturday, May 12 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Before Cameron was diagnosed with diabetes, Mom made a goal to become nationally certified as a piano teacher. This required her to pass theory exams; perform long, elaborate pieces without mistakes in front of an audience; and her students needed to play the piano at a high level. Mom handled the theory tests well enough; her students played well, but not amazing; and despite hours and hours of practice, the music was difficult, and she occasionally hit the wrong keys. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and a growing cist in her wrist only added to her stress. Mom fought on, but the harder she tried, the worse she performed. That’s when she knew the door for that opportunity had closed.

Then adversity presented a new door.

Mom returned to USU in 1993 and endured a grueling schedule for the next two years. While the five Toone children went to school each morning, Mom made the 30-minute drive to the university's Old Main Hill and attended classes. In the afternoons, she welcomed us home from school and practices, helped with homework, shuttled us to Scouts/mutual and cooked dinner. After everyone was tucked into bed around 10 p.m., Mom rubbed her temples, sighed and found the energy to pull out her own homework. About three hours later, she finally allowed herself to crawl under the covers for a few hours before waking up to do it all again around 6 a.m. In the midst of our family circus, she remained steadfast and focused, studied relentlessly and improved her skills.

On one occasion, my older brother attended a college math class with Mom. He reported it was fun to see our “old Mom” interacting with other college kids. Sometimes the foreign-born professor was hard to follow, but Mom knew how to solve the problems and gained popularity by eagerly assisting others.

Another challenge presented itself at the end of 1994 when our Super Mom discovered she also had diabetes. Although she had learned greatly from her son’s battle with the disease, our ambitious mother was forced to slow down and consider her own needs. It hasn’t been easy because she only has one speed — warp speed. Even after years of practice, crashes occasionally occur. We do our best to decipher the symptoms early and help her maintain a healthy balance.

She graduated in the spring of 1995. In the back of her mind, however, she worried that her sacrifice wouldn’t be enough to get a job. Those doubts were squashed and replaced with tears of gratitude one day in the spring of her last quarter. Mom was substitute teaching in a class at Bear River Middle School when a problem arose with a student. Demonstrating her classroom management skills, Mom resolved the disturbance without incident and spared sending the student to the office. What she didn’t know was the principal had secretly observed the whole episode. He was impressed. Because she was willing to deal with situations as a substitute, he was willing to take a chance on her. He offered her a position on the spot.

Although the road has been rocky at times, Mom looks back and knows everything happened for a reason. More than 15 years have passed since she earned her degree in elementary education. She loves her job and strives to have a positive influence on every student. She teaches math and music to sixth and seventh graders at Alice C. Harris Intermediate School in Tremonton, Utah. Mom has a gift for connecting with students, and colleagues admire her creative and innovative ideas. For example, she made waffles in class in order to teach students about conversions. Another time, everyone did handstands to understand inversions. Her students especially loved using a mock budget to build a small city out of graham crackers. When it comes to math, Mom loves to hear a student say the words, “It was so hard, and now it is so easy.”

Mom’s efforts to reach out to troubled and confused students have not gone unnoticed. In 2004, she was one of 11 teachers in Utah to receive the Golden Apple Award from Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. It was a memorable night for our family. She was quick to say that accolades don’t motivate her; her real reward is seeing her students and family achieve their goals.

Most important, Mom has always set an example of serving others and is a true disciple of Jesus Christ. I am grateful for her commitment to caring for our family. She has taught us that adversity can be a blessing, and if we put our heart and soul into pursuing our dreams and ignoring our fears and self-doubt, we can do anything.

Now at age 54, Mom has considered returning to school for a master’s degree. Certainly, in the coming years, we would be wise to get out of her way and look on with wonder at the amazing things she is sure to accomplish.

Trent Toone is a feature writer for the Deseret News and Mormon Times.

Email: ttoone@desnews.com

Twitter: tbtoone

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