So Much More Than Toys

Last evening I watched Toy Story 4 with my husband, daughter, and youngest son. My emotional reaction to the ending, though not surprising, made me question. Why am I crying over a movie about a bunch of toys?

The very first Toy Story movie was released a month before our oldest son, Robert, turned one. He is twenty-four. Toy Story 2 premiered when Rachel was two, now twenty-one. And Toy Story 3? Ryan was ten, now eighteen. You can do the math for Toy Story 4.

All four movies were sprinkled throughout the lives of our children. Our family watched while Andy grew up and Buzz and Woody became the best of friends. In a way, we grew up with them.

Many sets of Buzz and Woody toys graced our home over the years. I’m pretty sure there was even an Emperor Zurg living here at one time. And there may be a build-a-bear-frog wearing a Buzz Lightyear costume hiding somewhere in the garage. 😉

These stories are about so much more than toys. They provide a window into childhood. Viewers witness family dynamics such as single parenting and sibling rivalry. We feel the emotions of a mom letting go of her little boy. We watch a little boy recognize how much he has grown.

But what about the toys? Their adventures teach us about friendship and loyalty. All we need to do is consider Buzz and Woody, a cowboy and space ranger. Two unlikely friends who stick together through thick and thin. And the strength of their friendship provides security and support for their other toy friends and their kids.

These friendships also teach us about perseverance. In each of the four films, there are points in the story which seem to spell disaster. Yet, no matter what obstacle crosses their path they never give up. Together they stand up to Sid, the mean kid next door. A misguided bear, a toy seller in a chicken suit, and creepy ventriloquist dolls also prove no match for this determined group.

Toy Story shows us the importance of being loved, wanted, and needed. Lessons which begin in childhood but continue throughout our adult lives. They transport us to the place of hearing, “Job well done. Everything will be ok.”

It’s no surprise this series of animated movies have the power to bring a fifty-one-year-old woman to tears. Honestly, I cried during at least one scene in each story. I also laughed out loud and smiled until my face hurt.

Watching Toy Story 4 took me on a journey down memory lane. Not just the memories of the other movies, but also the memories of my children growing up. It also reminded me of lessons learned from a bunch of toys.

And looking back, I realize they are so much more than toys. ❤

The Mom Friend

I love my young teacher friends. Their energy is contagious! They are passionate about life and have innovative ideas. Young singles, young marrieds, young parents…each with their own set of plans for the future. Working hard to navigate the busy world of home, family, career.

In these circles, I often find myself taking on the role of “Mom.” I have even referred to some of them as my adopted kids. I have three practically grown children of my own, so the mom part comes pretty naturally. And the truth is, I am usually old enough to be their mom. Shhh…

With these young friends, the advice is both given and received. They listen to my personal life stories and share theirs. Sometimes we affirm each other’s choices, other times offer reassurance that it’s not the end of the world.

I count on these “kids” to keep me going. I’m not sure they realize the length of their influence. Their presence can turn the day around with a word, a smile, a hug.

Honestly, I’m just glad they want to hang out with me. 😉

One of these sweet friends recently said to me, “You’re the best kind of friend. You’re a mom and a friend.” I’ll take it!

I often wondered what it would be like to have more kids. In a small way, I guess I have a bit of an idea.

When Your Dad is the Principal

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 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! ❤

Baby Number Three

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.

We love you, Ryan! ❤

A Simple Decoration

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.

Music note tree.

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
  • Celebrating accomplishments
  • 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. ❤

On the Horizon

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