A 2-minute clip

from Prairie’s Violin Recital.

Sid suggested that I make a highlight clip from Prairie’s half hour recital for those rare people who don’t have the time or inclination to listen to a 30 minute recital.

So, we highlighted Devil’s Dream, not because it is her best song. It is not.  Not because she plays it flawlessly.  She doesn’t.  But because it is fun, makes us happy and because we can see our shy girl is breaking out and shining her quirky, fun personality in her own quiet way, even when she is scared.  Play on, brave girl.


Prairie’s Violin Recital

My girl, my heart — Prairie has battled anxiety, which included but was not limited to, performance.

She determined to celebrate completion of her Suzuki Violin book 2 with a private recital.  She had definite ideas how she wanted this to unfold and planned every detail.  She chose the location — the historic Chapel of Rest in Happy Valley, North Carolina.  She chose her songs, designed and created multi-page programs, including biographies for herself and her brother.  She gave explicit instructions to her accompanist, brother Lincoln, and he good-naturedly bent to her every wish.  Finally, Prairie even made cookies for the reception afterward.

The acoustics in the Chapel of Rest are awesome though the microphone on my phone recording is less than perfect.  However, Prairie’s personality shines over all that.


Back to Memphis

Last week, Sidney and Rachel flew back to Memphis for thyroid appointments –Sidney for surgery, Rachel for biopsy.  They pose outside Tri-Delta, the on-campus hotel for patients on short-term visits.



My kids, cheerful and optimistic, just before they get their thyroids poked.


This time, Dad gets to go in and watch Sidney try to out-talk or out-sing his anesthesia.



While Sidney is still out, Rachel gets prepped.  Apparently all white and a blue cap transforms even a ditch-digger into a medical professional-looking guy.



They all returned home late Saturday night.   We were happy to have our crew back together again.  Lincoln and I were particularly happy for Rachel’s return.  She is so quiet that it is easy to forget when she is even in the same room, yet we discovered that Rachel is a powerful force in “diluting” Prairie, as Lincoln says.

In other words, Rachel keeps Prairie busy and distracted so that the rest of us are not the focus of Prairie’s jokes and pranks.

Sidney III Graduates

***This is a long post, mostly because I want to record it all for my son.



Sidney graduated with four friends he has known for years at the Historic Burke County Courthouse.  It was small and intimate celebration.  Our programs included the grad’s photos, bios, and 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.

Lincoln played a cello prelude.  After the commencement speech, we spotlighted each graduate with a personal slideshow of childhood photos, followed by parents’ message and presentation of diploma.

I include Sidney’s 7 minute slideshow below.  I had so much fun putting it together, and it was a good, therapeutic, letting-go activity.


After his slideshow, Sid and I stood up with Sidney in his cap and down.  I was 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 of the moment.  I stuck fairly close to my script . . .

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 does not write his speeches.  He just went with the moment, not knowing what I planned to say.  But I asked him to write down what he remembered later . . .

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.


I wish we had videotaped it, but in the tense bustle of the day, Sid forgot to tell our daughter to record it — a major breakdown in our communications.  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.


Weird Words Heard in this House

“Prairie might murder us alive.” Rachel

“Lincoln, now is not the time to act like a disciplined frog!” Rachel

“I might sound like a sandwich.” Rachel

“I’m going to do a video of me eeping applesauce.” Prairie

“I’m making a music video about applesauce.  So shushy!” Prairie

“My reactions are so… mutant.” Rachel

“Clear clouds tonight.” Lincoln

“He looks supremely creamy.” Rachel (referring to Benedict Cumberbatch)

“… and why are there moths smeared onto the window?” Rachel

“I might feel like Noah’s Ark.” Rachel

“I would go naked if I could,”  Prairie comments on a hot day in the park.  When she catches my look, “Well, wouldn’t you?”

Sidney Update and bloggy catch-up

Many people have asked if Sidney and I are settled back in at home, if routines are back to normal . . .

Not really.  The last few months have been good.  Hectic, but good.  And emotional.

Sidney is content to be home.  Sid and the kids quickly folded us back into their daily.  I am not back in the swing of things yet.  I keep getting bowled over by waves of emotion  . . .

when I knock on the boys’ room in the morning, open the door and see both my boys waking up together in the same room again

when I go to kiss my girls awake

when my boys stand at the stove together making omelets

when music and song fill the house again, always, singing, humming, violin, clarinet, cello, piano . . .

when my boys sit side by side at the table eating and laughing together

when the kids play Twister


when eating supper together and we remember the times we used to tie a sock around Sidney’s mouth to remind him to stop talking so much . . .

you know, just normal everyday family life

it is so precious.

For weeks after Sidney and I got home, Lincoln, Rachel and Prairie just followed Sidney around.  Whereever he was, there they be.

Below, Sidney is doing something thoroughly unexciting and mundane on the computer. But “Look!  It’s our brother on the computer.  Let’s all crowd around and watch him!




Sidney took it in stride.  Mabye he even relished it a bit, basking in all the love and attention.

While Sidney basks, it is easy for me to get bogged down in all the catching up I have to do.  Then I look out the window


and see my girls in the rain, focused on something very small.


They study it and take pictures.  As if it is the most amazing creature they have ever seen.


They are also loud and silly.


Which totally distracts me from brooding thoughts.


We celebrated Sidney’s 18th birthday.


After the party, when everyone had gone home, Sidney 2 and Sidney 3 put together an engine he got for his birthday.


So many things changed.

A few key things the same — like me, watching my husband and asking “Why?”

He never really answers that question.


And Prairie wants to show how flexible she is.


We’ve all been exercising together.  Prairie destroys all of us with her flexibility.  I am pretty sure my foot is about a mile from head when I attempt this pose.

But since I’m the picture-taker, ain’t nobody getting that picture.