Some photographs represent full-circle moments in life. I received one of those this week from my daughter.
Graduations are a big deal at our house. Times for celebrating with family and friends. Eating cake and opening presents. Looking back and ahead at the same time.
All three of our children graduated from Union High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Union knows how to celebrate its graduates. The name of each senior is displayed on placards on the school lawn. Balloon drops and confetti cover the sea of red gowns as caps are tossed in the air!
My husband, Gart, was one of the high school principals for our first two. He handed all three kids their diplomas as they walked across the stage. We have a wall of pictures in our living room to remind us of these momentous occasions.
I have not given a lot of thought to other Union graduations since our family’s celebrations. Until this year…
When I began my teaching career at Union, I taught special education. My five years in this field were challenging and life-changing. That was twelve years ago.
My daughter, Rachel, is finishing her second year as a special education teacher at Union. She spent her high school years as a peer tutor in the very same classrooms. The picture from my daughter was taken during graduation practice. She was standing in the middle of her very first group of graduating seniors. Three of whom were in my class in elementary school.
This full-circle photo was a powerful reminder. As an elementary school teacher, I need to picture my students walking across that stage. And as a parent, I need to celebrate the impact my own children make on this old world. ❤
As I reflect on yesterday’s graduation ceremonies, my thoughts keep floating back to my husband, Gart. He is a career educator, twenty-six years now. His path began with band directing and moved through various levels of administration. Because of this, our kids’ educational experiences included “Dad as principal.”
What is it like when your dad is the principal? I’m sure my kids would have things to add, but today I’ll share my perspective.
When the kids were younger, elementary and junior high age, it meant riding the bus to his school in the afternoons. It meant exploring every inch of his building. It meant finding all the secret hiding places while staying out of trouble.
As they got older, the meaning changed. The following questions should help paint the picture.
Do I need to spend the day with you at your school?
Do I need to contact your teacher?
Exactly why have you not turned in your assignments this week?
Those questions and the conversations which followed carried a heavier weight than their earlier building adventures. They were only matched by statements like these:
I received a call/email today from your principal/teacher.
I contacted your teacher today, and you will be…
Due to your choices, you will not be able to…
Thankfully, these did not happen often. But when they did, they were not taken lightly. There were some difficult, uncomfortable conversations around the dinner table. But we all survived and are stronger because of them.
Experiencing their dad as principal also meant wisdom and guidance in planning for the future. He witnessed the impact poor choices can have on a student’s future many times. And although he was always ready to share advice or answer questions, he encouraged them to choose their own path.
“Just do you,” he still loves to tell them. ❤
There is no question as to the best part of “dad as principal.” When each of them completed high school and walked across that graduation stage, Dad was waiting there to greet them. He stood with open arms, ready to hand them their diploma, and say, “Congratulations! I’m so proud of you!” And just as quickly, he watched them walk away.
Of course, Gart is much more than “principal” to our three kids. But the impact that title had on our family will be felt for years to come. It helped shape the three of them into amazing young adults.
Each of our children has their own goals and aspirations. Each shows the determination to see them fulfilled. Most importantly, each of them loves their dad. And from my perspective, that’s what happens when your dad is the principal.
My Rachel is the perfect combination of sassy and sweet. Big blue eyes, tight ringlet curls, her looks, and style are a classic beauty. She sets goals, lays out a plan, and the rest is history.
Rachel practiced being a teacher when she was little. Her room transformed into a classroom with stuffed animals and dolls, a whiteboard, notebooks with lesson plans and assignments. How many kids ask for a whiteboard and markers for Christmas?
During junior high, she worked as a peer tutor in special education classes. For her, it was more than simply being helpful or nice to her peers who were different. She made connections, treated them as friends, sat with them at lunch.
This continued throughout high school. Proms were happily spent with her special friends. Summer camp meant being a buddy to a friend who otherwise would not have a camp experience. Friday nights were often spent volunteering at a respite night for parents of children with special needs. This was the high school life she chose.
When it was time for college, there was no doubt as to her career path-special education. Ultimately, she wanted to be a teacher in the district from which she graduated. The place that allowed her so much experience in the field she loved.
I am so proud of my girl. Tonight, she graduates from Northeastern State University with a degree in special education. She begins her teaching career next year at her alma mater, Union Public Schools, teaching secondary special education.
Rachel is already dreaming, thinking, planning for her future students. Wondering who they will be and what she will need to reach them. Her bedroom is lined with containers filled with supplies, fidgets, thinking putty. She knows this is not an easy path. But she embraces it with courage, excitement, and hope.
I’m looking forward to helping her set up her first classroom. I can’t wait to hear her stories. No doubt she will have an impact on the lives of her students, and they on hers. Get ready world, my girl is beautiful, determined, and strong. Here she comes! ❤
When Gart and I moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma in 1997, we were a family of four. Our son, Robert, was 2 ½ and our daughter, Rachel, was only a month old. Although I do not recommend moving with a one-month-old, we were excited about this new adventure.
The house we purchased was built in 1924 and only had around 900 square feet. The outside was red brick with an arched front porch. Inside, there were wood floors, lots of character and only two bedrooms. Though it was small, it was perfect for our little family.
At that time, I was a stay-at-home-mom. Our one boy and one girl was the perfect combination. Friends and family assumed we would not have any more children, and we pretty much thought the same thing. That is until around the time Rachel started walking…
Suddenly, I wanted to have another baby. I just knew our family was not complete. When I mentioned it to Gart he asked, “Where in the world would we put another baby?” His argument was logical. We did not have room, nor could we afford to have another baby.
Despite his logic, I could not shake this feeling. It did not help that my closest friends were pregnant. Everywhere I turned, it seemed as if there were more babies. I would often cry, but discussions with Gart were not successful. We would only end up arguing.
I soon realized that this was not the right time for discussions and began to pray. My prayer was simple, “Take this desire for another baby away from me or give Gart the same desire.” Sometimes I felt silly praying the same thing over and over, yet I continued.
Almost a year passed. Although the desire was not completely gone, at least I was not crying all the time. My restlessness was easing. I was about ready to accept that the answer must have been no, and I must have missed it. Though a little sad, I knew it would be ok.
About a week after my revelation, the most amazing thing happened. Out of the blue, Gart said to me, “You know, I think you were right. We should have another baby.” What a surprise! And Ryan Lee Morris was born in November of 2000.
Now we were a family of five, still living in a 900 square foot house. We remained in that house for two more years until a job change took us on another adventure. What a sweet two years. I still miss the times we had in that tiny cottage home.
Well, baby number three graduates from high school tomorrow. He is 6’3 and handsome. A kind, sensitive and funny soul. He is also an artist. I am so proud of the young man he has become and can’t wait to see what the future holds. Our family would not be the same without him.
When our oldest son, Robert, graduated from high school it was easy to choose a theme for his graduation party. Music! Music had been his life for all of junior high and high school. And he was going to the University of Arkansas to study music education. I ordered a cake and found this simple music note tree centerpiece. Silver and black, covered in music notes, it was the perfect addition to the table.
After the party, I put the decorations away in the closet. No thought was given to them for the next two years until Rachel graduated. Even though Rachel would study special education in college, music had been a crucial part of her secondary education as well. At first, I kind of joked, “Hey. Wonder if I still have that music decoration from Robert’s party?” Once I found it, there was no question it would once again grace the table.
I knew it would be four more years before our last high school graduation. So, as I put things away after Rachel’s party, I was determined to hold on to that centerpiece. I placed it back in the closet, in the same box.
I would sometimes see it during closet clean-outs but was careful not to throw it away. Yes, I probably could have bought another one. But it would not be the same. A new one would not have been present at the other two graduation parties.
I chuckled this morning as the music-note centerpiece was pulled from the closet. It decorated the table for its third party. This one to celebrate the high school graduation of our youngest, Ryan (also a musician) and the college graduation of our daughter, Rachel. It was a beautiful day filled with family and friends, yummy snack food, and two delicious cakes.
After the party ended, I began to think about that centerpiece. I’ll readily admit that I am often sentimental over things which others might find simple or unimportant. This particular item could easily fall under one of those categories. So, why was I so determined to save it? What did it represent?
For me, a sappy mom whose kids are growing up way too fast here’s what I came up with:
Importance of music in our family
Commitment to education
Love of family and friends
Support of siblings
None of those things are simple or unimportant. On the contrary, they are part of what makes this life so beautiful.
Our music note centerpiece may have reached its end, but memories of the celebrations it graced will continue to make me smile. Memories of my children’s accomplishments. Memories of family and friends who love us and took time to celebrate with us. ❤
This current season of life brings many thoughts about the future. Especially the futures of our three children. I want them to experience contentment in today as they plan for tomorrow. Not an easy combination.
Next week, our family will celebrate both a high school and college graduation. Preparation for these events leads to many conversations concerning the future.
Our youngest son, Ryan, plans to start college in the fall. Our daughter, Rachel, will begin teaching next school year. Both plans require a commitment to the present, finishing the work at hand.
These are exciting times in the Morris household! And this past weekend, more excitement was added. Our oldest son, Robert, proposed to his girlfriend, Erin! ❤ We are beyond excited!
Several months back, Robert created a plan and got to work. He needed to purchase the ring, talk to her parents, choose a time and location. With everything in place, it was time.
Gart and I knew last week that he planned to propose over the weekend, but we did not know the details. And that was ok. This was his plan.
Then one night my phone rang. It was Robert. A call instead of a text usually means something important. 😉 Nervously he asked if we would like to drive to Dallas for a family lunch after the proposal. Yes! Of course!
Soon after that conversation, Gart walked in. I relayed Robert’s invitation. We smiled, both a little teary-eyed. ”We are going to have a daughter-in-law, ” he said. ”I think we did ok, Mama.” “I think so too.”
So here we are. Excited to see Ryan begin working toward a degree in animation and 3-D modeling. Excited to watch Rachel embrace a classroom full of new students as a special education teacher. Excited to witness Robert and Erin begin their journey together.
Gart and I will be their cheering section. Always here when they need us. And as we prepare for big changes on the horizon, we will remain content in the present. At least, that is our plan…
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.Psalm 100:5
Grief often invades without warning. This was my experience several nights ago, as I drifted off to sleep. Suddenly, my mind was reliving the night my father-in-law, Bob, passed away. Every detail as clear as that night, over three years ago. The tears began to flow.
Why are these thoughts appearing now? Upcoming graduations. Bob was so proud of his grandkids. And graduations were a big deal! Not something he would ever miss.
Ryan, the youngest, graduates high school in less than two weeks. Bob would be smiling, telling his friends about Ryan’s creative artwork and college plans.
Rachel, the youngest granddaughter, graduates college at the same time. Bob would certainly brag to his friends, “You remember my granddaughter, Rachel? She already has a teaching job for next year!”
His absence will be felt when each of them walks across the stage. I wish he was here. Such is the nature of grief.
This will not be a one-time experience. Future events will most assuredly bring similar emotions. Yet, we must continue to celebrate. Celebrate the present while remembering the past. Remembering the love of a Papa who would do absolutely anything for his grandkids.
Our whole family is missing Papa. And it’s okay to say it out loud. Saying it out loud brings us closer together. It helps us remember how much he loved us and how much we love him.
Our family has two graduations to celebrate next month. Our youngest son, Ryan, graduates from high school. Our daughter, Rachel, graduates from college. Each milestone represents commitment, hard work, dedication. Each represents a big step, moving forward in life.
As a mom, I am thankful and proud. Also, a little emotional. You can imagine my disappointment to discover both graduation ceremonies will occur on the same night, at the same time, in two different locations!
No matter how many ways I attempted to resolve this dilemma, nothing worked. Extended family and friends would certainly help make sure both kids were supported. Even though each would understand any choice I made, it felt like I’d be letting someone down. How could I possibly choose?
My husband is an administrator in our district. He has graduation responsibilities. There was no question which he would attend. Besides, he has had the privilege of handing our daughter and oldest son, Robert, their high school diplomas. It would only be right for our youngest to have the same experience. Plus, I need that third picture. 😉
So, what should I do? I continued to weigh options and fret about these things which were out of my control. And then, my children stepped in. Here I am, worried about disappointing one of them, and they provide not only the solution but with the perfect logic.
It all began as I visited with Robert. I was talking about graduation, not knowing what to do. Robert said, “Mom, this is Ryan’s first graduation. You need to be there. Erin (his girlfriend) and I will go to Rachel’s. We can livestream her walking across the stage, so you don’t miss it.”
Wow! That did sound like a good idea. But what would Rachel think?
I shared Robert’s solution with her, and her response was precious. “Mom-Dad needs to be there to hand Ryan his diploma, just like he did for me and Robert. And you need to be there to see it.” So matter-of-fact and without hesitation. I could not argue with her reasoning.
There were some tears. But these tears were no longer due to sadness over missing an important event. These were tears of joy. Joy because my children provided a thoughtful solution for their mom. They understood how difficult this was for me and why. And their decision showed how much they value our family.
On May 13, 2019, I will proudly watch my husband hand our youngest his diploma, just as I have for the other two. Hopefully, technology will allow me to also see Rachel walk across a different stage, on the other side of town. Believe me, if I could be in two places at once, now would be the time. Since that is physically impossible, I will leave it to my heart. For my heart can be in two places at the same time. Possibly even three… ❤
We’ve enjoyed a variety of family traditions over the years, dependent on where we lived, the age of the kids, etc. One favorite was Saturday morning pancakes. We started this one the year we lived in Liberal, KS, far away from extended family and friends. A simple thing, but so important for us as a family.
Not all traditions happen as often Saturday morning pancakes. Actually, there is one family event I never thought of as a tradition until our final one. The senior trip…
As each of our children approached their high school graduation, Gart and I asked them to choose, within reason, a place they would like to visit. The choices of these three proved as varied as their personalities. Robert? Colorado. Rachel? Washington, D.C. And Ryan? New York City!
Dad planned, saved, worked out all the details, ensuring the graduate experienced all the activities on their list. What was Mom’s role? Let’s just say I learned how to let go a little. And began to recognize my babies were not babies anymore.
It all started in Colorado. What could be more relaxing? A quiet cabin, hiking, fishing, feeding the chipmunks, coffee on the deck…but those were my plans. Robert and his friend, Jeremy, had something much more adventurous in mind.
These two 18-year-olds successfully hiked to the top of Mt. Elbert, 14,400 ft., the highest peak in the continental U.S. It was difficult to hear them drive away that morning, before dawn. I wanted to yell one more, “Be careful!” Honestly, I can’t remember what I said. I only remember being proud (and relieved) when they returned that evening.
If that accomplishment was not enough, they went white water rafting the next day, again unaccompanied, this time with a younger brother in tow. Talk about letting go!
Our second stop in this Morris family tradition was Washington, D.C. This trip was a little different for our family. Robert, busy with college commitments, could not go. Only 4 out of 5 would make the trip. Another mom adjustment.
What an amazing trip! Our Rachel, compassionate and a history buff, was so excited! Highlights included the FDR memorial (her favorite president) and the Holocaust Museum. These experiences strengthened her passion for special education and equality. Watching her soak in the meaning behind these places, I learned more about history, but more importantly, I learned more about her.
Our final senior trip took us to NYC! I was ready for the change in family dynamic this time. Ryan would be the only one of our three kiddos going, accompanied by his friend, Will. We packed in as much as possible. Times Square, Joe’s Pizza, Uptown Comics, Empire State Building, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Statue of Liberty, Museum Of Natural History, Rockefeller Center…
How was there time for a “letting go” moment? For me, there’s always time. 😉 The end of day two we headed back to our hotel. I was exhausted and needed a break. The boys wanted to do more shopping at Rockefeller Center. We exited the subway, Gart gave them directions, and we went our separate ways.
I might have held back a few tears as the two boys took off on their own…walking down the street…in NYC! I fought the urge to yell after them, “Be careful!” My thoughts suddenly traveled back in time six years to Colorado. They would be just fine.
As I sat on the flight home, post-graduation trip number three, the end of a family tradition, I had a revelation. Yes, these trips highlighted changes in our family dynamic. Yes, I had to learn to let go a little. Yes, I learned things about my kids. But there was always one constant right beside me-Gart.
We are in this marriage/family thing for the long haul, no matter what. I cannot imagine my life without him. I’m thankful Gart had the wisdom and forethought to not only begin this senior trip tradition but see it through to the end.
Here’s to new family traditions. And maybe revisiting some old ones along the way. I think Saturday morning pancakes might be a great place to start. Pancakes anyone?