By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
You’ve seen those “soccer kid” or “honor student” bumper stickers on the cars of proud parents.
They’re all well and good, but for Stephanie Graham-Sims, spending time with family is more important for her kids.
She and her husband Herman are the parents of Savannah, 18, a freshman at WVU, and Hunter, 14, a freshman at Fairmont Senior.
For her, that number is “just right,” she said.
And so was meeting Herman. They both worked at the Middletown Mall, where she scooped ice cream at Bresler’s and he sold vitamins at GNC.
“His laugh appealed to me,” she said. “Even before I met him, I heard him laugh in the hallway. I looked up and said, ‘Who is that? That’s some cute guy.’ He has a great sense of humor.”
They both had attended Fairmont Senior, but he was almost seven years older than she. They did undergrad work at Fairmont State and grad school at WVU.
They married on May 27, 1989. Both now have jobs in environmental health and safety.
“But we try not to talk about work too often at home,” she said with a laugh.
Family is important to both of them. She has an older brother in Grafton and younger sister in Boise, Idaho.
“We’re so excited,” she said. “Her family is coming home for Christmas for two weeks. We’re lucky if we get to see them once a year.”
Herman has three older sisters.
“They’re a tight-knit family with a strong value system,” Graham-Sims said. “I joke that my dad loves Herman more than he does me. I could not ask to marry into a better family. And Herman feels the same way.
“Our kids have their cousins as role models. Every kid in the family is a human being you can be proud of.”
Both Savannah and Hunter have been active in extracurricular activities.
Hunter is in cross country and is debating whether he wants to participate in lacrosse, too. Savannah played violin, and Hunter, guitar. She was Madrigal queen last year and this is Hunter’s first year in music.
“Both do well academically. That’s the major priority,” she said.
Savannah was a Bucklew Scholar at WVU and both do volunteer work.
But family comes first.
“We try to make family time a priority. My husband travels a lot. When he’s in town, we try to have family dinners together.
“We started a tradition of seeing ‘A Christmas Carol’ in Pittsburgh.
“We go on vacations with the grandparents. We set aside a time to relax and unwind together. You can get so busy that you don’t spend time together. Everybody can get lost doing their own thing.
“Parents can get wrapped up in their children’s accomplishment. Their kids have to be doing this or that.
“They need to be proud of their kids as human beings. Spending time with family helps make them what they are. It builds layers and foundations of core values.
“Connecting with family is more important than any trophy or medal. The kids bring lunch over to Grandma or pick up laundry for her. That’s more important than all those accomplishments stacked up.”
Parents can get almost trapped in their children’s activities, she said.
“We put stresses and pressures on our kids to be so well-rounded and meet these expectations, but the big picture is I want Hunter to go on to become a wonderful husband and father.
“You decide: a family reunion or game. Which is more important?
“We did that for a while. We couldn’t go for Sunday dinner because we had to be at this travel soccer game. We stepped away from what is most important.
“It all boils down to family.”
Don’t get her wrong. She is as proud of her children’s accomplishments as any other parent is.
“But the things I really remember are snuggling up to watch a movie or making a big breakfast or being in the car on vacation, singing silly songs,” she said. “I remember that more than their accolades.”
A lot of parents go through the empty nest syndrome. The kids are out of the house. What’s left to do?
“Once high school is over, kids just move on to the next step. That is exciting and good, too. But I will tell any young parents, don’t worry about the travel teams and soccer games if you have to miss one. That is not the end of the world. Make family a priority. Being able to slow down and spend time together is the important thing.
“Grandparents are here for only so long. Cousins get jobs and move away. You don’t have a lot of time to spend with the people you care about the most.”
Email Debra Minor Wilson at email@example.com.