Saturday, May 30, 2015

She Graduated {and I made it through without weeping much}

I'm not at all convinced that it's set in yet, the fact that my second child—my only daughter—has graduated from high school. From homeschooling.

The graduation ceremony was absolutely perfect. The church was filled nearly to capacity with 850 people there to cheer on our 26 graduates. I know.

It's an astounding show of love and support. While I don't know some of these kids well, half of these graduates are people who have a place in my heart—a really, really special and forever place. I have watched some of them grow since they were little bitty ones. These five even graduated from kindergarten together.

I love the way our co-op does graduation. It starts with a slide show put together by one of the graduates, with about a dozen pictures of each student featured.

Several of the graduates shared music and one gave a speech. I have to say, it was without a doubt the best student graduation speech I've ever heard. It's all so personal, with parents handing the diplomas to the students. While this is going on, the emcee reads a bit about the graduate.

 Here was Laurel's blurb:

Laurel is the daughter of Randy and Sarah Small. She has been homeschooled her whole life.  Along with fellow graduates Clea, Bess, and Katriel, she was a charter member of American Heritage Girls Troop 131, which was started by their moms when they were in first grade. She is a 2014 recipient of the American Heritage Girls Stars and Stripes award, the highest award in AHG. She has been a member of BHEA’s student council for three years and is on Maryville Vineyard’s youth leadership team. She loves working with kids and serves in the kids’ ministry at the Vineyard. She has provided hundreds of hours of community service and has earned the Presidential Service Award several times. Some of Laurel’s interests include traveling, hiking, reading, cooking, nutrition, and hanging out with friends, especially at Vienna. She also really likes her cat. Laurel will be attending Lipscomb University in Nashville in the fall, where she plans to major in family relations with minors in psychology and nutrition. She hopes to pursue a career in family therapy.

 After the ceremony, families and friends crowd into the reception area, where the students each have a table set up with pictures, awards, etc. I didn't make it around to take pictures of the tables, sadly, nor did I even make it around to see more than a few of the graduates.

My mother broke my heart a couple of times when she pulled on my arm and said, "You must do this for the little boys—you must be there for them. We won't be around when they graduate." She's referring to my brother's little boys, who are 3 and newborn. My parents are 88 and 90, and my mother's statement is heartbreakingly true. We are so very blessed to have them still. So very, very blessed.

Dad, Mom, Jesse, Randy, Laurel, me, Duncan

Laurel with her Grandma, Randy's mom

I don't feel like it's an ending. I know these kids will be in my life for a long time, largely because it isn't just about them, and it never has been just about them. We are family friends. We've spent countless times together through the years, sitting in living rooms with coffee or wine,  catching up at co-op classes, chatting during field trips, calling each other with questions, carving pumpkins, camping out, hiking, playing, planning, conspiring, dreaming, crying, laughing. We've grown up together, both parents and kids.

Somehow I don't have that incredibly sad, lost, "done" feeling that I did when my firstborn graduated. I remember sobbing. Hot tears and an emptiness. It wasn't so much about my child graduating as a season of my life coming to an end—the season with three at home, the years of homeschooling. It was a beginning of the letting go.

And letting go gets easier. But somehow, also, I don't feel like I'm letting go with this one as much as with my son. All those pithy quotes about daughters: they're quite true.
"Daughters hold our hands for a little while but hold our hearts forever."
"A mother's treasure is her daughter."
"A daughter is a little girl who grows up to be a friend."
"A daughter is the happy memories of the past, the joyful moments of the present, and the hope and promise of the future."

Maybe it all has to do with that Irish saying: "A son is a son 'til he takes him a wife; a daughter is a daughter all of her life."

Maybe. Maybe it has to do with knowing that she'll be going to college in the fall with her best friend, even though they swore they would never do that.

And her boyfriend and another best friend will be just 15 or 20 minutes away at different colleges in Nashville. I like to think about them all having pancakes together on a Saturday morning.

So much joy in those smiles, so much hope and happiness and excitement. Their roots are deep, and they're ready to go.

"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-up 

Lots of photo creds to Donna Williams Photography

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Partying Like Gatsby

Except we really didn't party like Gatsby. There was no booze, infidelity, bootlegging, or murder. There may have been a slightly broken heart or two and maybe a little carelessness, but it was a party for teenagers, after all. We had tables full of flowers and candles and a perfectly beautiful evening to celebrate the end of the year and, for nearly all of them, the end of me as their English teacher.

After our meal I gave each senior a book that I picked out specially for him or her. And then my students surprised me with a beautiful plant, a gift card to my favorite restaurant, and the real treasure: a journal with a  page or two from each of them. Ah, my heart. To read words like this—I cry every time. I'm crying even as I'm transcribing them from journal to blog:

"I don't hate books as much any more, and I owe it all to you!"
"Words cannot begin to tell you how much you have impacted my life."
"Thank you for not only teaching me all the wonders of literature, but also for teaching me how to be a strong, courageous, confident woman."
"Thank you for teaching me, listening to me, and always leaving your door open for me."
"Thank you for helping me find my voice."
"I really didn't like literature. It has only been presented to me in a shove-it-down-your-throat way by a terrible teacher. Over the years you've shown me what it's like to have a teacher that truly cares."
"You are an incredible teacher, not only because you've given us so much knowledge, but also because you're truly passionate about what and who you teach."
"Your classes have taught me to write better, to write more, and to write freely."
"You have helped me become the woman I am today."
"You taught us to look at life through a new perspective, to find optimism, and clutch the opportunity."

And, the one that always gets me, "O captain, my captain."

Is there any greater joy for a teacher—and for a mom/teacher because one of these students is mine—that to hear these words?

At last night fell, and we gathered on the lawn to watch The Great Gatsby, which was the last novel we studied in class. I'd not yet seen the Leonardo diCaprio version that came out a couple of years ago. I enjoyed it, although it's possible that I like Robert Redford as Gatsby better. I haven't seen that version in 20 years or more, so I can't say for sure; it's just an impression. Regardless, it was a perfect way to spend a warm evening in May.


 I have been so honored and blessed to be their teacher. They are good, good people.

Saturday, May 9, 2015


These past couple of weeks have been filled with lasts, and more lasts are coming along as we head into the graduation countdown…

Their last prom… (And that night also marked their one year together.)

My last day of classes, and for over half of these students, their last day of co-op, ever.

Their last days of high school…

Photo credit: Donna Williams Photography

The last grandchild… well, we think.

My 4th older brother and his wife had their second son, Max, last week. In my family there have been 8 new babies (6 great-grandchildren and 2 grandchildren) born in the past 7 years, and seven of them have been boys. Seven! I love my two boys and all these other boys, but I sure am glad that God blessed me with a girl.

Here she is at all four of her proms.:

Photo credit: Tamyra Parks

Sometimes I still can't believe I have this lovely daughter. My heart is very, very full.

Next up: we're headed to New York City for a senior trip— and then she graduates. In  the meantime, there is a last stack of papers to grade, a last class party,  a last movie night, and who knows what else will crop up. The season for lasts is ending, and we'll start a bunch of firsts again soon.

Linked up on the Weekly Wrap-Up

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Field Trip: Carl Sandburg Home and Thomas Wolfe House

View of the Carl Sandburg House

 My 11th/12th grade Classic Literature class loved our trip to the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta so much that they begged for another field trip. I wanted to oblige but I also did not want another overnight trip just because of all the arrangements that would need to be made. We're only a couple of hours away from Asheville, North Carolina, so I thought a trip to see the homes of two classic American authors would be perfect.

Before going to Asheville, we did a short unit on lives of authors. I had each student pick a "classic" author and do a short presentation on him or her. The driving question: how does an author's life shape his or her writing? We had everyone from Seuss to Solzhenitsyn, and the presentations included posters and even a wax museum presentation by James Joyce.

James Joyce in the wax museum

I didn't intend to do this biography unit as part of our year, but that's one of the awesome benefits to teaching at a homeschooling co-op: we can be incredibly flexible.

The majority of my students were able to take a whole Thursday to go on our North Carolina trip, so we took three vans full of kids. We were prepared for a day of rain, but fortunately we just had occasional drizzling. Our first stop was the Carl Sandburg House in Flat Rock, NC.


I had made arrangements for a guided tour of the house, grounds, and barn. Fortunately for us, there was a writer-in-residence, Lisa Lopez Snyder, there during our visit. When the tour guide announced that Ms. Snyder would be doing a writing exercise with them, the students gave an audible collective groan (even though I know most of them love creative writing). She had a couple of fantastic exercises for them, and they loved it. I was so appreciate of Ms. Snyder's session— the kids talked about that all the way home.

After the writing session, we had a great tour of Sandburg's home. What really amazed me was not just the staggering number of books that he owned, but that there were pieces of paper bookmarking pages in hundreds of the books. His bookmarks. His flags that "here is something important." Astounding and inspirational to me.

After a chilly picnic lunch, we headed a little north to Asheville. We arrived 30 minutes early for our tour at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial; but since we were the only guests, they were happy to oblige us and start our tour early. After a 22 minute video of Thomas Wolfe's life, we had a fantastic tour guide take us through the house. He had all kinds of great stories about Wolfe and read passages from Look Homeward Angel in various rooms. The kids were a little slap happy at this point, but I think they enjoyed it for the most part. I wish we would have had time to read the whole novel before class, but I just couldn't schedule it.

On the front porch of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Home

We had a couple of free hours when our tour of the Thomas Wolfe house ended, so we let the students explore downtown Asheville for a couple of hours. They split into two groups and went on their way. We three chaperones did the same. Asheville's such a fun little town, with lots of great shops to wander through. We all found fabulous restaurants and then met back at the designated time and place and headed home to Knoxville.

Over half of my students are graduating this year, including my sweet daughter. I've been teaching many of these students since elementary school (creative writing, reader's theatre, literature circles, and essay writing) and several of them for all four years of high school. I am going to miss them so much next year—and I'm so glad we had this one last trip together.

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up

Friday, April 10, 2015

It's April {and that means we're nearly done}

Aaaah. It's so beautiful here in the South. Everything is blooming now or just about to: the dogwoods, redbuds, phlox, lilacs, bleeding hearts, tulips. There's something new nearly every day.

I finished teaching the last novel in both of my literature classes at co-op. For my juniors and seniors, it was the last novel I'll teach them. Ever. And I'm so glad I got to end with The Great Gatsby, which has always been one of my favorite books ever. We're not done with classes yet this year, but the next three weeks will be devoted to various projects.

On the home front, we've been getting things in order for Laurel's graduation. We have her invitations now and are finishing preparing pictures to send in for the senior slide show. This afternoon we have one last photo shoot; this one will be with her and her four best girlfriends who are graduating too. Prom is coming up in a couple of weeks, and then we'll have just one last class at co-op, and she'll have two weeks left of German class at Maryville College. As soon as finals are done, Laurel and I are going to NYC for a week with her boyfriend, who is also graduating, and his mom! We'll get home just a couple of days before graduation, so we have to get everything ready before that.

Duncan is finishing up the last weeks of his classes, too. All of his classes will wrap up the last week of April, and we'll spend our remaining days in May focusing entirely on history. I think he's had a good freshman year in high school. He'd still much rather play video games and run around outside than do schoolwork, but he's developed a rhythm to his days that works well. A little work, a little play.

And I'm adjusting slowly to what will be the next stage of my life: one child left behind. I can't think too much about how they went from this

to this

I just can't.

Soak it up, mamas of little ones. Enjoy those days of sweet kisses and sticky hands. Put down your laptops and read them a story. Kiss the tops of their sweaty heads and fix them pancakes for breakfast. Smell them. Touch them. Squeeze them tight.

And take lots and lots of pictures.

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-up