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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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 . . .

Sidney’s Homecoming

From Home with Love …

We are home.

All of us.  Together.  Home on our hill.

Sidney and I crept up the driveway on a Saturday evening, two weeks ago.  No one knew we were coming home early.  They were all busy preparing for Rachel’s 13th birthday party, which was the same day.

The evening was full of surprises.  The family got a son and brother home.   The coming-home son got his own surprise — an almost finished room in the basement.  One by one, as aunts and grandmas arrived, each walked into the living room, not expecting to see the one they were missing.

It was a good evening.

 

A son to his father

POSTED BY: Sidney the Third, in respsonse to A father to his son

 

As long as I have lived, there have always been three,

The great old father, his son, and then me.

And now that the father has moved along

we are apart,

You there, me here,

both a bit confused, both searching

 

I have learned from you what you learned from him,

My two greatest examples to follow – to become a greater man

To care for others over oneself,

To serve, rather than be served,

 

I have watched and learned practical skills –

Beware that innocent-looking capacitor,  or

Don’t bend the pipe too much, it will break

And make sure you weight your hay bales with children

So they don’t roll

 

You are a Protector – teaching, but sheltering

To make sure I did not fall too hard, too far,

Always ready to lift, to help,

To share the burden

To lift what I could not

 

You have prepared me for all that you could,

Yet we feel lost – who could have prepared for this?

What skills could you teach?

What weight could you lift?

 

I know the words you long to speak,

“It’s OK, son.  Don’t worry.  I’ve got this one.”

But you cannot.

 

I have the shovel, and you cannot reach it,

But its OK, Dad.  Don’t worry.  I’ve got this one.

Your part in this battle is done.

 

I can wield the shovel because you showed me how,

You made me work,

Made my hands and arms strong.

 

I can lift this weight that you cannot,

And climb this mountain that you must go around.

But only because of you.

 

You have done your job.

 

I am ready.  I can do it.

 

I love you, Dad.

Y’all, I’m ready to get this kid home

Sidney had a busy day yesterday.  St. Jude often has something fun going on.  It helps patients pass the time when there are long minutes and hours between appointments.  We all know my son is not shy and doesn’t particularly worry about looking uncool or being dorky.

He had never done karaoke before, so he didn’t know the words were on the screen 3 feet in front of him.  He sang from memory.

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It is amazing how much more balance he has now, though you can tell it is still challenging for him to squat low and maintain balance.  Clearly, his energy levels have increased.

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The little girl in the wheelchair is Abby.  She is 11 yo, right between my 12 yo Rachel and 10 yo Prairie.  Sidney hangs out a lot with Abby, eating meals, playing card games and gets his little sister fix.  Ha — I just discovered something that irritates my easy-going Sidney —  himself singing off-key.  He is thankful he realized and corrected it.  By this time, he knew the screen had the words, so you can see him squinting and closing one eye, trying to read the screen.  His vision has improved a lot, but he often wears the the eye-patch for reading and convincing small kids that he is a pirate.

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“What does a cooking brain smell like?”

Posted by Sidney III from Memphis, with love . . 

That is the question that Mrs. Patton asked me – a legitimate question, to be sure.  But before I answer that question we need a little context.

I started radiation treatments a couple of weeks ago.  It takes about 15 minutes every weekday, in a room with a machine that looks like an X-ray machine.  It looks like that because it is.

The machine that treats me also takes x-ray images of my skull and spine once a week.  These images are used to make sure the powerful, damaging radiation goes to the right spots and doesn’t cause damage to more of my body than necessary.

X-ray machines shoot a type of electromagnetic radiation, called x-rays, through the patient.  These x-rays pass right through flesh and organs but are blocked by bones.  By measuring the radiation that comes out the other side of the patient, the machine creates a detailed image of one’s bones.

This same type of x-ray radiation is used to kill cancer cells.  The difference is, that in order to kill cancer, the radiation must be more powerful, so powerful it breaks apart the strands of DNA in my cells.

That sounds bad.  Without DNA, cells are unable to replicate themselves, and they die.  But the human body excels at healing itself, so the healthy cells in my body repair their DNA and keep going, doing all the things that cells do.

But cancer cells are mutations.  Their DNA is already damaged, and they are unable to repair the additional damage caused by radiation.  Thus, the cancer cells die.  The healthy cells heal.

“Ok, we get it, now what does a cooking brain smell like?”  I hear you say.  Ok, here we go:

Normal x-ray images use the lowest dose of radiation possible.  These doses are painless and don’t cause significant cellular damage.  I wasn’t expecting to see, feel, or smell anything when I went in for my first treatment.

However, I saw a bright blue light, and smelled a mixture of Clorox, pennies, and electricity.

Upon being unbound from the table and exiting the radiation room with concrete walls, six feet thick and a 12 inch thick steel door, I commented on the lights and smell to the radiation technician, who looks confused and says, “What light?  What smell?”

Actually, neither the light nor the smell are real.  I see the light and smell the pungent odor of baking brain because radiation hits my optic and olfactory nerves, stimulating false messages to my brain.

So while my cooking brain may not emit odors from inside it’s cocoon of spinal fluid and bone, I do smell something foul.

Interestingly, not all patients experience the smell and light.  It depends on the dosage, the area being radiated, and the person.

That’s what’s happening here in Memphis!  I may post again if I find Elvis’s secret bunker at Graceland. (We all know he’s not dead, just hiding somewhere.  Don’t buy the lies fed to us by the Illuminati!)

Thank you everyone for your support on this journey!

Sidney

The Extrovert and the Not (aka Mama)

From Memphis with Love . . .

Once upon a time, there was a boy with brain cancer and his introvert mom.

The son and mom flew far away from home to a special hospital for treatment.  They met many people, who were kind and helpful, which excited the boy but stretched the mom a bit thin.

They talked to surgeons, brain cancer specialists, radiologists, eye doctors, social workers, researchers, chaplains, therapists, psychologists.  In the beginning, the specialists entered the room to talk to the mother about her son.  But the boy initiated introductions and power hand shakes.  He asked questions, cracked jokes, then asked more specific questions about cancer cells, MRIs, and proton beam radiation.  He asked tough questions and made some people think hard.  Eventually, the specialists forgot the mom’s presence and only chatted with the son.  Until she was needed to sign papers.

The mother and son spent a lot of time in waiting rooms.  The mom usually spoke a few words to her son or read a book.  But her son preferred chatting.  This special hospital was a busy place and he was never disappointed.

He told the shy teenage girl, “Excuse me, I hope I am not overstepping by saying this . . .but your prosthetic leg is sooooo cool!”  The girl smiled bashfully and ducked her head, but her proud mama beamed and shared with the boy their whole story — how her daughter’s cancer and prosthetic didn’t slow her down, how she maintained her 4.0 GPA and went hunting, taking down an 8-point buck.

The boy passed another girl, her face bloated from steroids, “That hummingbird you drew in art today was amazing!”  The girl beamed and detailed her plans to embellish it.

He danced the macarena for the serious pharmacist who had to work evening shift on the 4th July to make her smile.  She didn’t understand the boy’s humor and his mama dragged him away to spare the woman more confusion.  He was undeterred.

He met a little girl wearing a Disney’s Little Mermaid dress.  So he sang a song from the movie to entertain her.  In the waiting room full of people.

There you see her
Sitting there across the way
She don’t got a lot to say
But there’s something about her . .
Shalalalala
My oh my
Looks like the boy’s too shy
Ain’t gonna kiss the girl
Shalalalala
Ain’t that sad
It’s such a shame, too bad
You’re gonna miss the girl
The little girl ignored the boy.  The boy’s mama pretended to read her book while sneaking peeks to gauge reactions.  Some people looked at him with questioning eyes, “Is there something wrong with this boy?  Doesn’t he know normal people don’t burst into song in public?  Did his cancer mentally affect him?”
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Others glanced eyes away, unsure whether to smile or not.  Possibly afraid to make eye contact and engage him.
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Undeterred, the boy switched to a different song.
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The seaweed is always greener
In somebody else’s lake
You dream about going up there
But that is a big mistake
Just look at the world around you
Right here on the ocean floor
Such wonderful things surround you
What more is you looking for?
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Finally, the little girl smiled and her baby doll danced.  The little girl’s mama laughed, delighted by her daughter’s smile.
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When the therapist called the boy back, he theatrically pretended to open the automatic door with magic power flowing from his fingers.  After he left, the other adults felt safe to grin.  “Well, he has a good attitude,” they consoled his mama.
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The boy’s mother smiled and was pulled into conversation with strangers.  It was not so bad.

In the cafeteria, the boy heard The Pointer Sisters sing “Jump for my love” and could not resist the temptation to groove.  The cafeteria lady laughed, gave him a fist bump and told him he had moves.

The cafeteria guy avoided eye contact.  The mom asked for the salmon and asparagus.

Everywhere they went, the boy learned names and stories, made someone laugh, or at the very least, perplexed a person.

And while the boy’s mom heard hard things about short-term side effects and long-term side effects and future treatments and missed her husband and children at home, she was undeterred.

She was mostly content to be a lump on a log beside her son.

Listening to him.  Watching him.  Watching other people respond to him.  Or not.

She was entertained.