Archived Opinion

When the universe offers gifts, unwrap them

When the universe offers gifts, unwrap them

The final school bells have rung. 

When I was teaching, the last few weeks of school were grueling and felt never-ending. Once students were finished with end-of-grade testing, they kind of went wild, as if they’d held it together all that time and could no longer maintain their instinctive desire to run, jump and talk nonstop.

With that being said, it’s also hard for teachers to say good-bye to a group they’ve educated and nurtured for an entire year. It’s bittersweet, for sure. 

While I’m not in the classroom these days, I am a mom to two school-age boys. My oldest one finished up fourth grade and my little one first grade. When one becomes a parent, time flies faster than ever before. 

Wasn’t it just yesterday, I was a new mom holding a colicky three-month old? And now that same little baby is a rising fifth-grader. It’s hard to believe.  Before I can blink, he’ll be calling from college, a deep voice on the other end. The other night, he was writing a card to his teacher, Hayley Prince. When he finished, he looked up at me with tears in his eyes. 

“I’m really going to miss Mrs. Prince,” he told me. 

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Mrs. Prince is the current Haywood County School’s Teacher of the Year, so while she is an outstanding teacher, she’s more than that. She kept a keen and loving eye on my sweet boy this year. With the divorce, his dad remarrying and the selling of the family home, things could have gone south quickly. The folks at Junaluska Elementary served as a village for my boy, with Mrs. Prince being a cornerstone. The tears in my son’s eyes were an expression of the gratitude he couldn’t quite express through words. 

The same goes for my littlest boy, who had bouts of emotion through the year but could always find comfort in his teachers and school counselor. It’s times like this I’m thankful to live in a small town where a phone call or quick text is all it takes to ensure my children are doing OK. 

As summer unfolds, I’m more than ready. Even though a newspaper never stops and we work year-round, there’s a different vibe during the summertime. I’m no longer scrambling to prep lunches and clothes for the next day or making sure homework is finished and agenda books are signed. There are no field trips or theme days or getting children to school early or staying late for a practice or club meeting. 

During the summertime, days unwind mindfully. The rushing around and chaos ceases for a couple months and it feels amazing. 

Speaking of villages, I need to offer a message to my bosses, Scott McLeod and Greg Boothroyd. This week we celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Smoky Mountain News. Twenty years ago, two very different guys with a shared vision came together to create a newspaper that continues to grow and thrive, despite an overall downward trend in print journalism. 

I’ve been freelancing with The Smoky Mountain News for almost four years but came on board full-time in September 2017. It was my early days of single parenthood and I was trying to purchase my own house. My emotions were all over the place. The stability and artistic outlet this newspaper provided was paramount to my healing. Scott and Greg could have turned me away, worried that I was too much of a mess to focus and contribute something to the publication. But instead, they had faith in me and I could feel that. 

As we celebrate SMN in this special issue, I’m grateful for so much. Grateful for amazing little boys who’ve enjoyed a wonderful year at the sweetest school in the world. Grateful to work in a place that practices compassion and honors individuality and creative freedom. Grateful for the early days of summer when the weather is perfect and possibilities endless. And most importantly, I’m grateful to the universe for offering gifts exactly when we need them.

(Susanna Shetley is an salesperson, editor and writer for Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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