Full Circle

I’m not sure the exact time, place, or person that sparked Rachel’s passion for individuals with special needs. Perhaps it was noticing kids at school. Or maybe getting to know her friend, Chandler. More importantly, that spark continued to grow.

During junior-high, Rachel served as a peer tutor in special education classes. It was also at this time, she and I worked to develop a “Parent’s Night Out” ministry at our church for families of children with special needs. She also began volunteering in weekly Sunday classes and summer camps for individuals with special needs.

Rachel chose service-learning as one of her high school classes. This program allows students to spend time working in an area they are interested in for their career. She spent time each day working in the special education classrooms.

Even during these early experiences, I was amazed at Rachel’s ability to truly be a friend to all who crossed her path. No matter their ability to communicate, she spoke to them as she would to anyone else. She even reminded me on a few occasions that certain individuals were not little kids and should not be spoken to in that manner. 😉

When it came time for college, there was no doubt about her course of study. She would get a degree in special education. She even talked about how her dream job would be to come back to her own school and teach. Teach in those classes where she spent so many hours as a student mentor.

Her college years flew by. And now she is in her first year of teaching. And where is she working? The high school where she graduated. Those same rooms she spent hours in as a student.

Her very own classroom. ❤

Last week I was finally able to see her in action. She is right where she planned to be. Right where she is supposed to be. Teaching young adults who are often overlooked and ignored. Treating them with respect and dignity. Pouring into their lives daily.

Watching my daughter as the teacher? There are not enough words. It is like a beautiful full circle. No beginning or ending. No limits on where she can go or what she will do.

A Happy Reunion

I love reunions. They allow time to reminisce and strengthen already established relationships. Seeing family and friends after time apart can be refreshing. Sometimes I even walk away with new friends.

This week I had one such reunion.

My daughter, Rachel, is a first-year special education teacher at our district’s high school. Several of my former elementary students are now her students. I love hearing her talk about them each day after school. It is nice to have a way to reconnect, even if it’s not in person.

This week I had an opportunity to visit Rachel at work. I was looking forward to seeing her in action and actually visiting with some of these now teenagers. It has been six years or more since I was their teacher. Even though excited, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

When I arrived, they were all in the gym for P.E. I immediately recognized those familiar faces. One precious girl came running towards me. She hugged me and buried her head in my shoulder.

No words. ❤

Our conversation went something like this.

“Oh, Mrs. Morris. I missed you so much!”
“I missed you, too! You look so grown-up and pretty!”
“I think I’m going to cry.”

This precious girl had no idea of the impact of her reaction. I held back my tears.

I was quickly swept away to greet other old friends and meet some new ones. Several students walked right up, shook my hand, and introduced themselves. One took my hand and gently placed it on her face. Another held both my hands and touched his forehead to mine. And yet another asked me my name using sign language.

Each greeting was individual and personal. Each communicated, “I see you. I’m glad you’re here. I want to know you.” I know the words may not have been spoken, but the messages were clear.

Not only did I reconnect with former students, I instantly gained new friends. Their capacity to love and accept everyone is beyond limits. There are no outsiders.

This short visit left me with a thankful heart. Thankful not only for this happy reunion but also for the chance to witness my daughter as a teacher.

But that’s a story for another day…

My Girl

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! ❤

Geneva’s Daughter

”You remember Kelley. She’s Geneva’s daughter.”

Gart and I drove to Little Rock this weekend to visit my family. My mom and her siblings had a cousin reunion on Saturday. My memories of my mom’s cousins are vague. But what fun to watch and listen as they reminisced.

Also, my Aunt Elizabeth made a mayonnaise cake. Yummy! But that is a story for another day.

Sitting outside on the deck, I listened, chatted with family, enjoyed the sunshine. In the middle of all that, overheard the following. ”You remember Kelley. She’s Geneva’s daughter.”

Geneva’s daughter. I love that description. But what does it mean?

First, I have to tell you about Geneva. She is the fourth of nine siblings. Growing up, she never liked her name. Diagnosed with rheumatic fever as a child, she remembers being sick. In high school, she excelled in her classes and was a basketball star.

As an adult, she took care of our household. Worked successfully as a secretary in a variety of fields-business, education, church. Suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Has been married to my dad for over 50 years.

Geneva bravely faced breast cancer. She is now a five-year survivor.

Even at 73, she does her hair and make-up every day. If someone asks why, “Because it just makes you feel better,” she replies. Within her family, known for writing poetry.

But what about her role as my mom? She taught me to sing “Jesus Loves Me” and took me to church. Purchased every Dr. Seuss book there is and helped me learn to read at a young age. Ordered Highlight magazines for me and my brother.

My mom spent hours waiting in her car while I was taking piano lessons. Found a way to purchase a violin when I came home in 4th grade announcing, “I signed up for orchestra today!” Encouraged me to go to college and graduate school.

Mom never gave up on me during difficult times. Ones due to poor choices on my part. She demonstrated the importance of family in her roles as sister, daughter, wife. Prayed faithfully (and continues to pray) for me and my family.

Is she perfect? No. Neither am I. She often frets too much. She sometimes struggles with relinquishing control. She has trouble letting go. So do I.

She is my mom, Nana to my kids, my friend. Her life experiences affect mine, as mine affect my children’s. Not a picture of perfection, but a picture of love. A ”no matter what” kind of love.

I’m proud and grateful to be described as Geneva’s Daughter.

Country Road

My daughter, Rachel, and I saw James Taylor in concert yesterday evening.  This was my sixth JT concert over the past 26 years, Rachel’s first.  I can truly say he never disappoints.  His songs are timeless and his sound seems to grow stronger and warmer with age-kind, genuine, personal.

Me and my girl!

Listening to his songs has a way of lifting my spirits.  Obviously, he did not write any of them for me. 😉 Yet, particular ones remind me of specific times and places from my own life.  Country Road immediately comes to mind.  Hearing it again last evening…beautiful.         

I guess my feet know where they want me to go
Walking on a country road

Just the thought of this song makes me smile.  Hearing it live and in person transports me back to my childhood.  Riding my bike and going for walks down our country road.  Always with the specific instructions, “Do not go past the red clay hill!”  

This winding road from my parents’ house to the highway is only about ¼ of a mile long.  As a kid, however, it seemed much longer, mysterious.  Thick forest on each side of the pavement made for limited visibility.  Any rustle in the leaves had the power to trigger our wild imaginations.  Although there have been rare sightings of bears and big cats in the past, I’m certain most of our unexplained noises came from birds and lizards.

I walked down that road many times for many reasons.  Playing with my cousins, getting some fresh air, eating too much Thanksgiving dinner, spending time with a special aunt or a friend.  Walking, talking, running, riding…a foundational place in my growing up. 

Some things have changed over the years.  The forest thinned.  A few houses now scattered in the woods, visible through the trees.  No more red clay hill.  Yet, there continues to be something special about taking a walk down that road. 

Memories may fade over time.  Great songwriters have the power to bring those memories back to life.  Singer/songwriters like James Taylor.  Songs like Country Road. Take a listen. https://youtu.be/2Dsph5uikX0

This Girl Still Needs Her Mom

A young teacher friend, also a mom of young kiddos, mentioned asking her mom to come over and help her this evening. She’s tired and rightfully so. Having once been a mom of young kids, I can relate. Without a thought, I chimed in, “Call her! If my mom wasn’t 4 1/2 hrs away, I would have asked her to come see me yesterday.”

I always appreciated times my mom and mother-n-law helped out when our kids were young. The grandpas too, for that matter. I’m still a mom, but the kids are all grown up. I no longer need the same kind of help as when the kids were little.  But is it possible I need my mom now more than I did then?

After the brief conversation with my friend today, all I could think about was how much I miss my mom. We talk or text almost every day. I know I’ll see her over the Christmas holidays. But at this moment, today, that seems like a long way off. My brain says it’s not, but my heart doesn’t seem to follow.

A new, young country artist, Kacey Musgraves, recently caught my ear. Following are a portion of the lyrics from her song entitled Mother. This short, sweet song seems to know right where I am these days.  Take a listen.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/mother/1350091548?i=1350091553

I'm just sitting here
Thinking about the time that's slipping
And missing
My mother
Mother

And she's probably sitting there
Thinking about the time that's slipping
And missing
Her mother
Mother

The longer I’m a mom, the more I appreciate my mom. Lately, I find myself wishing I could spend more time with her. The 260 miles between us sometimes feels like a million. Maybe it’s because the older I get, the more I understand the brevity of time. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to realize that she understands how I feel most days…she’s been there already. Not in the exact same circumstances, perhaps, but the same stage in life.

Today I’m grateful for smartphones and texting. At least I can communicate with her daily. That will have to do for now. I look forward to a big hug from Mom (and Dad) in a few weeks. And when I actually see her in person, I’ll let her know how much I love her. She’s my mom.

And this girl still needs her mom.