Sidney III Graduates

***This is a long post, mostly because I want to record it all for my son.  But if it gives others ideas for homeschool graduation, then that’s cool too.  When I searched, I found little in the way of graduation ceremony ideas, particularly in regards to a mom or dad’s speech or the presentation of a diploma.



Fortunately, Sidney was able to graduate with four friends he has known for several years.  We moms reserved the Historic Burke County Courthouse for our ceremony.  It was small and intimate, yet we celebrated with many people who knew one or two or all of the graduates.  We printed programs that included the grad’s photos and bios, as well as the order of ceremony.

Sidney’s bio in the program:

Sidney Louis Gaskins, III came into the world 6 weeks ahead of schedule; he couldn’t breathe on his own.  But his parents always felt lucky; Sidney was the largest by far of all the babies in neo-natal intensive care.

Growing up, he wouldn’t be alone.  He knew nothing of strangers; everyone was a friend. . . to talk to, to ask questions, to tell stories.  A day spent with young Sidney was an exhausting day.  But his mother felt lucky . . . because he cared for others; he wanted to know them.

He could be scolded and spanked, but nothing tortured the child more than being left to be quiet, by himself.  His dad always felt lucky . . . because after the discipline, it was all new with Sidney.  No hard feelings.  He seemed to understand forgiveness and renewal.

He was a big brother.  We know big brothers aren’t always completely kind.  But his younger brother and sisters must have felt lucky . . . because he learned, and grew into a protector, a nurturer, a benefactor.

At 17, Sidney faced cancer . . . in his brain, in his lungs.  He seemed to feel lucky, that it was him instead of his youngers that would face it.  He felt lucky as he walked the halls at St. Jude.  Though far from home, he was so loved by so many.  That love made him stronger, lightened his burden.  It enabled him to lift others.  Sidney made it his personal goal to make someone smile every day. 

What a fortunate life . . .

Sidney wants to share his good fortune.  After taking a year to recuperate, he will go to college, focusing on child development classes, maybe have some fun in chemistry classes.  He plans to be a Child Life Specialist, working in hospitals to make sick children smile.

After a cello prelude by my son, Lincoln,  and the commencement speech given by our pastor, there were slideshows and presentation of diplomas. Each graduate got the spotlight with their own slideshow, followed by their parents speaking and presenting the diploma directly after.  So there was Brenna’s slideshow and parents’ speech and diploma presentation, then Kiera’s, then Sidney’s, then Virginia’s.  It was truly a unique and very personal graduation ceremony.

I include Sidney’s slideshow below.


After his slideshow, Sid and I stood up with Sidney in his cap and down.  I was so shaky but determined that I would do this thing.  I had my words written out as I did not trust myself to remember all I wanted to say midst the emotion and intensity of the moment.  I stuck fairly close to my script, though there is a bit of variance . . .

Back in our day, when your father and I were in school, education meant a good job, good money.  It meant not working in the furniture factory . . . or digging ditches . . .(I look at Sid, my ditchdigger husband)

Our education was about competition, comparison, being better than our classmates.  We competed for the best colleges, the best scholarships.

We feared that there was not enough to go around, so we had to get ours while we could.

With you, I wanted something different.  I had a vague idea that your education could teach that you are not the most important person in the world.   It could teach kindness, how to make good judgments for your own life and actions but to not judge others harshly, to be merciful and loving of your neighbor.

Especially when your neighbor is different from you.

I was not a great example of this myself, though I wanted to be.  I had no idea how to teach these things.  I still don’t, really.   I fell back into that comparison/competition trap many times, but You . . . You would have none of it.

You never worried for yourself, or fought for yourself, or tried to put yourself ahead of someone else.  It was not part of your genetic makeup.

You see the world as an abundant place with plenty for everyone and you approach relationships accordingly.  I learned from you.   I, your teacher, had to learn again and again to trust the Father’s Spirit in You,

to trust YOU Sidney,

to believe that you would make GOOD.

And you have made so much Good, Sidney.  You have a kindness that runs deeper than the ocean.  A heart that looks for the lonely and awkward.  You seek to serve.  You want to make people happy.

I saw this again and again at St. Jude.  Not a single day went by in which a stranger did not approach me with “You are Sidney’s mom, aren’t you?”  And then he or she would tell me how kind you are, how easy you are to talk to, how you explained what their little one felt inside the radiation machine, assuring parents that there was no pain.

I remember one shy young lady, in particular.  It was the end of a long day at the hospital and both of us were dragging our feet.  As you lost muscle and energy, your steps often dragged.  So we had shuffled past this girl in the waiting room, on our way to get food and rest.  We had turned a corner and you grabbed my arm and said, “Wait Mom.  There is something that I’ve got to do.”

You shuffled quickly back into the waiting room, positioning yourself in front of the young lady’s chair.  Pretending to hold a microphone and doing a tired, shuffling dance, you sang “What Makes You Beautiful.”

I watched her tired face smile and others in the waiting room laughed.  You had spoken with this girl previously, and she had shared with you her Make-A-Wish request — a concert and face-to-face meeting with the band, One Direction, who sing the song “What Makes You Beautiful.”

You wanted her to get her wish.  You wanted to encourage her.  You made her smile.

Kindness, service-seeking, happiness-making —-

None of these things are likely to win you accolades, to make you a leader in your field, or to make you rich.

But standing here today, I say to you with every pulse in my veins . . .

”You are MY son.  And with you, I am well pleased.”


Sid did not write his speech down beforehand.  He just went with the moment, not knowing what I planned to say.  But I asked him to write down what he remembered of his words afterward . . .

When Sidney was very young… not an infant, but not yet a toddler… too young to talk, he got sick.  We had somewhat of a 3-day rule, if you’re sick for 3 days, and it’s not getting better, it’s time to go see the doctor.  So we took him in.

The doctor asked what was wrong with him.  We told him Sidney felt terrible.  And Sidney had this thing he was bad to do.  Certain faces he found very funny.  As soon as we told the doctor that Sidney wasn’t feeling well, Sidney broke out into laughter.  Not just chuckles… big, deep laughing, the kind where it’s hard to breathe, you’re laughing so hard.

The doctor went in closer with a stethoscope, and Sidney took it up about 3 notches, laughing that much harder.  I really thought he might choke and suffocate, he was laughing so hard.  Meanwhile, Tina and I tried to convince the doctor that he didn’t feel well…

I was reminded of that just this past year, when the Lenoir newspaper did an article about Sidney.  The headline said, “Local Teen Battles Rare Form of Cancer.”  And they had a picture of Sidney; he didn’t look like he was battling anything… big smile, happy face.  He had no hair, but other than that, you’d never know from the picture that Sidney had any troubles at all.

That’s just the way Sidney has always been.  It’s not that he stifles his pain, or pushes it out of sight… in an unhealthy way.  It’s like Sidney accepts his struggles, but he confronts them, as if to say to them, “YOU WILL HAVE TO LEARN TO LIVE ALONGSIDE MY JOY!” (tears streaming down Sid’s face)

When Sidney was young, I hoped and prayed that he would have an amazing extraordinary life.  This past year, it changed.  With all the cutting open of my son’s brain, and the radiation and chemotherapy, I just prayed that he could be normal.

Sidney, thank you for showing me that you could be both.  (tears, Sid and Tina hug Sidney, who is also crying)

Moments later, we pull ourselves together, and almost like an afterthought . . .

And also, here’s a diploma.


A video of our words to Sidney would have been so much better, but in our tension and the bustle of the day, Sid forgot to give his cell to our daughter to record.  And she never knew that was our plan — a major breakdown in communications on our part.  We should have planned the recording with our recording person a week or so in advance, so she could have reminded us when we were distracted.

Oh, well, at our next graduation . . .

Homeschool Prom 2017

This was Lincoln’s first year at prom.  He had no opinion on prom style, so we chose to not invest in a suit for his still growing frame.  Instead, a combo of stuff from the home closet with a few much needed and much wanted purchases  — Converse!—came together to create his own style.



I don’t think the kid owned any shoes beyond old crocs, old sneakers and very dirty workboots for working with Dad.  We never get behind on making sure the kids have workboots!

So I was thrilled to buy him a casual shoe.

Though my favorite part of his ensemble is the jacket.  It was Grandpa Louis’ jacket.



Brother’s Fierce



At last year’s prom, Sidney had a golfball-sized tumor in his head that we didn’t know about until a few weeks later.  And 2 huge lung tumors that were not discovered until later that fall.


Virginia’s corsage — the third one I have made for her.


Memories of last year’s prom and hopes for this year’s prom kept this boy going through 2 brain surgeries, major chest surgery, radiation, chemo and almost 9 months away from home.


Happy Anniversary Love

From Memphis with love . . .

You are in one state.

I am in another.

But look, in this picture we are together.



My sister-in-law, Laura, tells me she took this picture 5 years ago.  We were so young, only married 21 years then, mere babies, what did we know?

It looks like we are sitting on the bank in our garden, the garden I’ve nagged you about for 8 years, the garden in which you bent your back to lay a brick wall, the garden from which you removed a lot of dirt at my request.  Then I changed my mind and asked you to bring the dirt back.  I don’t think you finished bringing dirt back.  Not that I’m nagging – oh, look at all those hearts – they signify your great love for me.

Though my love has been a bit rough around the edges, a sharp that bled you, sweated you, carved and scarred you, you stuck with me.  You have left me with cuts and bruises too, but you have been more gentle with me than I with you.

I know, I know, it isn’t about keeping a score card.  It is about how you try to be better than you are.  It pushes me to be better than I am, precisely because you love me as I am, never nagging me to change this or that.

Unheard of.



But you luuuv me___

wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, you’ve walked in the lion’s den

Twenty-six years together, Honey — together but untouchable today.  That is sad, I guess, but it is hard to feel too sad with years upon years of memories crowding my mind.

Happy Anniversary, Sid.



A tub for Mama

It’s better than chocolate.

And Ben & Jerry’s.

But it can enhanced with a book or three.

Sid surprised me with a combined Mother’s Day – Birthday gift.  Our master bathroom was plumbed for a bathtub 8 years ago, but we never had one installed.  Oh, the luxury of not sharing one bathtub with 5 other people — positively decadent.




When Sid suggested taking the tub in through the bathroom window —  our second story bathroom window —I suggested yard-bathing was the latest thing.  He reasoned our local bear and deer population couldn’t handle the latest thing.

I have my suspicions about that argument.




Pausing in midair to text.   Because he is still running a business.  My admiration wars with my anxiety about this ability to multi-task.


Here we are whistling while we work.  Yes, we are our Daddy’s sons — carrying a cast iron bathtub in through a second-story window is a perfectly normal thing for us to do.


Putting weight on the tub to make sure the tractor doesn’t tip forward.  Really now, I am glad the man is cautious, but that was one worry that had NOT occurred to me.  *shudder*


The critical point at which I try to focus on the mechanics of picture-taking and not about someone losing their balance while holding a cast iron tub on a hot day on a slanted roof.  And I wonder, did our contractor build our porch roof strong enough to withstand a cast iron tub and 3 men?


My ears strain to hear the cracking of wood.  Sidney says there is a dip in the roof under the tub.



Brilliant!  The man may scare me, but he is brilliant.


He is also a cast-iron-lifting, roof-balancing contortionist — the things you don’t know about a person when you marry him.



And he is good at teetering on rickety, wooden pallets while lifting a cast iron tub on a roof.


A brief rest and a moment of brotherly communion . . .humor me while I imagine their dialogue . . .

“So, bro . . .is marriage really this much work?”

“I don’t know, man.  Maybe it’s just that our Dad is a little crazy on his love of hard labor.”

“Yeah, right, I mean surely there are easier ways.  Don’t women like flowers?”

“Might want to throw in some chocolate with the flowers to cover all our bases.”


A perfect fit through our window.