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Roots and Wings

‘There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children.  One is roots.  The other, wings.’  When I researched to learn who wrote or said these inspiring words, I learned many people have used them:  Henry Ward Beecher, Jonas Salk, Ronald Reagan, and others. But I didn’t find out who first gave this sage advice.

            As 865 Putnam County high school students graduate this week, parents wonder if their children are ready.  Ready to move out of their homes.  Ready to take on the responsibilities of living with peers.  Ready for a full-time job.  Ready to study to attain the next degree.  Ready to measure up to the rigorous training in the armed forces.  Ready to manage their time, their money, eat healthy, even ready to wash their own clothes. 

            Yes, they are.  Because you gave them roots.  Roots that go all the way back to when your children were swaddled in small blankets and you attended to their every physical and emotional need.  When they fell on their bottoms as they stumbled to take steps and you clapped to encourage them to stand and try again.  When they started kindergarten and you threw an air kiss.

            Roots grew thicker and stronger when children learned to socialize with classmates and team mates.   Learned to adapt to teachers’ and coaches’ expectations that were different than at home.   Learned rules and consequences, and probably experienced consequences that taught life lessons.   Learned to compromise, to lead, and to follow.

            You parents encouraged wings to develop through root experiences.  When toddlers fell, they picked themselves up and wings fluttered.  When children felt unsure and scared, you encouraged.  When the world’s values didn’t match home values, you helped your children sort, discard, and keep what was necessary to be successful.

            And when children felt rejected or defeated, they knew a safe, secure place. At home, their wings could wave frantically and then rest to rejuvenate and grow.

            Roots and wings continue to develop even after most people think children are old enough to be on their own. When my children were young, Mom told me about giving roots and wings and years later she chuckled when Son showed both.  He was working his first full time job after college graduation and lived a four-hour drive from Husband’s and my home.  We planned to visit him for the weekend and Son asked, “Will you bring my camo coat? The one that’s hanging on the coat rack in the mudroom.” 

            Son’s wings had taken him to independent living.  His roots told him that home was the same. That his coat he’d hung on a coat rack when he was a high school student, years earlier, was still there.  The coat had been moved to a closet and we took it to him.

The greatest gifts parents give their children truly are roots and wings.  Gifts we continue to give, even after children wear caps and gowns and think they are all grown up.


Congrats to Grad’s Parents

He wore his blue mortar board and blue gown with pride.  When his name was called, he held his head high and grinned ear-to-ear as the school’s headmaster placed a diploma in his hand.  Like all graduates, he’d successfully completed the course of study, but no one needed to ask what his plans were after graduation.  When the next school year begins in August, Micah will be in first grade.

            As parents and grandparents took pictures, I thought of my longtime friend who questioned why schools held graduation ceremonies for young children.  In fact, she hardly recognized her children’s high school graduations because they were expected to graduate from universities and then complete masters’ degrees, and preferably, doctorates.  After that, the family would celebrate. 

            Thirty years ago, I understood my friend’s reasoning, but now I’m glad to celebrate each and every successful step of education.  I applauded my Grand as he graduated from kindergarten and his big sister who graduated from 8th grade.

            Across our county many graduation ceremonies, ranging from preschool through doctorate degrees,have been held recently.  Children can graduate many times, depending on the exit grade of their schools: preschool, kindergarten, 4th grade, 8th grade, high school, Tennessee Tech University.

            During graduation ceremonies, speakers congratulate, challenge, inspire, and encourage the graduates.  But who does the same for the parents?  Why isn’t there a graduation speech for parents?

            Congratulations, parents!  Enjoy the moment.  Breathe deeply.  Relax. You did your part. Take a few days off and gloat.  Pat yourself and your new graduates on the back.  Your children’s successes are your successes. 

            You fed, clothed, transported, and bought books, paper, pencils, and poster board.  You helped your children with school work at home and patiently watched, or did your own work nearby, while they finally figured out how to solve the last math equation. 

            You wiped tears and hugged. You heard about teachers who gave too much homework and teachers who didn’t grade fairly and friends who weren’t really friends. 

             Now, challenge your children to continue learning.  Show them, by your example that in real life, outside a classroom, there are opportunities to learn. Challenge them to learn something new every day, even though it won’t be on a test. 

            Read. Read. Read. Read aloud.  Read silently. Read together. Read signs and books and newspapers (printed and online) and the back of a cereal box and Lego directions. 

            Show children that learning is fun.  Play games. There’s a fine line between letting children win and squashing children’s confidence by always losing.  Let them experience victory and defeat.  

            Encourage children to try. The quote I kept on my classroom wall read, “It’s okay to try and fail, and try and fail again.  But it’s not okay to try and fail, and fail to try again.”  Share your successes and failures.

            Parents, no matter the age of your graduates, they will always be your children.  And they’ll always want you to celebrate with them.  So, celebrate all graduations.  You’re making happy memories.

Roads for High School Graduates

Congratulations, high school graduates!  You’ve successfully completed thirteen years of education and this week you’ll receive diplomas during graduation ceremonies. 

            As students you’ve added layers of knowledge.  You’ve counted by tens and added fractions and found the area of rectangles and solved A x 2 + B x + C = y.  You’ve learned to write d and b with lines on the right and left sides of circles and the difference between a synonym and antonym and how to write an essay.  You’ve heard about civilizations and wars and compromises and peace treaties. You’ve identified seven continents and five oceans and can explain how the Earth rotates and revolves.  

            You’ve gained experience interacting with peers.  On the playground, you waited your turn to go down a slide.  You worked with classmates on small group science projects and social studies reports.  You performed with a group: a sports team, a dance team, a choral presentation, a play, or a debate.

            Everything about your last two months of high school has been different than expected, than planned. But some things haven’t changed: you’ve followed instructions and directions from teachers and coaches and parents. I can hear you say, “Now, I can do whatever I want,” because that’s what eighteen-year-old high school graduates usually think, even us grandparents had such a thought.

              So, now what?  The COVID19 pandemic might limit your plans, but your life as a graduate will be different from that of a high school student.  Some of you will head off to higher learning:  vocational schools, colleges, universities.  Some will start full-time jobs.  Some will combine school and work.  Some will join the armed forces.  Some will accept more home responsibilities. 

            I wish for words of wisdom to ease these transitions, these travels on new paths, new roads.  Two quotes come to mind:  take the road less travelled and take the high road.

            In an English class you probably heard Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.”  The last lines read, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”   Those words remind me of when my dad said, “Just because everyone one else is doing it, doesn’t mean you do it.”  And Dad’s example was the foolish one that is joked about – just because everyone else jumps off a tall building, are you going to? 

            Will you take the low road or high road? According to an old Scottish tune, the low road is longer and easier while the high road is shorter, but much more arduous.  Taking the more difficult high road has come to mean when faced with choices the high road is the morally right choice.  Take the more ethical option, the one that lets you have a clear conscience, the one you’ll be glad for your parents and everyone who loves you to know about.             Graduates

What’s your Advice to Graduates?

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 7.56.24 AMTake care of the little things, and the big things take care of themselves. That’s my advice. No matter how old the graduate. A six-year-old moving on from kindergarten or an eighteen-year-old headed to college or a university graduate ready for that first real job. Life is about little things.

            Children don’t learn to read a book. They learn the sounds of letters and how those sounds combine to make words. The words become phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and finally, a book. School assignments divided into small parts can be mastered. One problem completed begins a thirty-problem math assignment. Gathering materials for a science experiment is a small task.

In the workplace, few people begin in their ideal position. They do the mundane work so fellow employees can finish a big project. It’s documented that workers who do small things, such as get to work on time and complete tedious tasks well, have better chances for advancement.

I’m not sure when I first heard about little and big things. Maybe from Mom as she stood over me and taught me to thread her sewing machine and then sew. And finally complete a dress for the 4-H contest. Or when Dad insisted I make an outline for a fifth grade oral book report.

By my high school days taking care of little things became my motto, even though I didn’t always follow it. When I was a first year teacher, I was jerked from failing an enormous task. I was overwhelmed. Too many students, too many lessons, too many meetings and conferences, too many papers, too many bulletin boards. A wise principal handed me a tissue to wipe my tears of frustration and told me to go back to my classroom and teach math for one hour. Do one small thing.

My motto has served me well. I preached it to myself while raising children.   Swaddle tightly. Wipe up spilled milk. Wash diapers. Get them to school on time. For supper, serve two foods they’ll eat.

I preached it to my elementary students. Do daily homework. Write one paragraph. Memorize the multiples of 2, then work up thru 12s.

I’ve recited my motto to Daughter and Son and my Grands. And sometimes I get it back. Elaine, age 6, told me last week that I had to measure exactly ¾ cup water or the strawberry jam we were making wouldn’t turn out right. “It’s just a little thing, Gran.”

My maxim isn’t original. During the 19th century, Emily Dickinson wrote, “If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves. You can gain more control over your life by paying closer attention to the little things.” John Wooten, who coached the UCLA basketball team to ten national championships beginning in the 1960s, said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

Take care of the little things. Words to live by. For people of all ages.

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