Ring Out!

In Memoriam,

[Ring out, wild

Bells]

Alfred Lord Tennyson – 1809-1892

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild

sky,

The flying cloud, the frosty

light:

The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him

die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the

snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the

true.

Ring out the grief that saps the

mind

For those that here we see no

more;

Ring out the feud of rich and

poor,

Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,

And ancient forms of party 

strife;

Ring in the nobler modes of

life,

With sweeter manners, purer

laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the

sin,

The faithless coldness of the

times;

Ring out, ring out my

mournful rhymes

But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and

blood,

The civic slander and the spite;

Ring in the love of truth and 

right,

Ring in the common love of

good.

Ring out old shapes of foul

disease;

Ring out the narrowing lust of

gold;

Ring out the thousand wars of

old,

Ring in the thousand years of

peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,

The larger heart, the kindlier

hand;

Ring out the darkness of the

land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.


Amen. Am I right? Better yet, wasn’t (or isn’t he still) Alfred Lord Tennyson right? I knew some of the words of this poem, as I have read it several times before in my life. I stumbled upon it again, though, because I’m a nerd, and because I like to be right. I got sick of hearing news anchors and sports analysts say, “Bring in the new year,” so I googled it. I’ve always said, “Ring in the new year,” because of the idea of ringing the bells for just the purpose Tennyson describes. I love poetry and symbolism. Ringing bells symbolize so much. They toll of good news, of peace, of better days! They ward off evil spirits, close out the old, and symbolize ends moving to beginnings.

Are you ready? Are you ready for the year to die in the night and the happy bells to ring out? Are you ready for grief and feuds and strife to go? Are you ready for faithless, mournful times to end? Are you ready to bid foul disease good riddance? I am. I am ready for all the good that Tennyson spoke of 170 years ago to come on and bless us all. Bring on the truth that sets everything right. Bring on the common love of all that is good. Bring on the end of the lust for gold and the end of war. Bring on a thousand years of peace. Bring on valiant men. Bring on freedom. Bring on happiness and love that comes from living in the light. And most of all. Bring on the Christ that is to be. Bring Him to all of us. Are you ready for Him?

Whether you BRING in the new year or RING in the new year, I hope those bells are ringing loud and clear and find the Christ that is to be in the center of your 2021 as you do life, love it, and keep it real.

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Paul Graves

He did life. He loved it. He kept it real.

We gather today to lay my friend, Paul, to rest. I just can’t quite grasp the reality of it all. How is it that someone so genuine, so thoughtful, so intentionally positive and encouraging is suddenly gone from our world? At first, I was angry. Why would we lose Paul?! We need Paul! So many people need Paul! Paul is a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a worship leader, a friend, a counselor, a teacher, a mentor, Paul is needed. There are almost 700 kids waiting on weekly music classes about pitch, harmony, tone, manners, common decency, and something about a cowbell. There’s a bus route full of kids who need their positive, perky driver. There’s a whole building full of teachers who have grown accustomed to music quiz bowl week, listening to him insist on the proper way to pronounce the composers’ names and that (is it German?) word that is basically another name for a xylophone. (By the way, it’s glockenspiel.) I was angry–yes, really angry and I know I shouldn’t have been, but I was– because Paul is a light, the whole light. He is not a ray of sunshine or a beam of light that finds its way around a cracked door. Paul is the fireball that is the center of the sun or the blinding light that causes you to shield your eyes on a bright winter-white day.

Working alongside Paul for seventeen years was a true blessing. I came to Lake Hamilton Intermediate school in 2001. It is an honor to have known the whole Graves family for twenty years. Having been away from Lake Hamilton school for three-and-a-half years now, it was always a pleasure to visit and receive a giant smile and welcome from Mr. Graves. Some people go through life and never realize their purpose. Some people never even realize God put them here for a purpose. Paul Graves knew his purpose, was intent on living it, and walked with God every day in doing it. Paul was the ever-present singing telegram in all of our lives. I believe God put him on earth to ensure everyone got a bit of positivity in their day. You know those kiddos (and some adults) who go through the whole day and have zero interaction? Not happening with Mr. G around. He was going to make sure you leave LHIS with some positivity. You’re going to know you’ve been noticed, you’re loved, and you’re worthy. Never a negative word. Ever.

Paul Graves lived his faith in Jesus out loud. Not only was he a praise leader on Sunday mornings, but he lived his life so others would know Jesus. He served passionately in his community. He loved his wife so well, and set a beautiful example for his children. I’m no longer angry, but I am still so deeply sad. The loss of Paul in our community is so big because Paul in our community was so big. When someone lives big, the loss is big, I suppose. We hurt big because the hole is big. He reached so many–littles on the bus, middles in the classroom, teens in grades he had taught, older students he was mentoring, adults who had graduated, colleagues, former work friends, clients, friends in the community, church family–we all will miss our Paul.

Some of the best memories I have with Paul, of course, revolve around our times at school and the spring musical and quiz bowl. One of the funniest memories I have is when his intern talked him into wearing white lipstick so the kids on stage could see what he was saying in the dark. He looked awesome! 🙂 I truly wonder if we could get an accurate count of how many people could actually remember all the motions to “Dancin’ In the Moonlight” and perform that just one more time. I also want it to be known that I do secretly love to hear “Ode to Joy” just once. ONCE. played nicely every year. It has always been a favorite song of mine since my children’s church choir sang it when I was in elementary school. Mr. Graves always enjoyed providing the musical sound tracks for square dance day and track meets, too!

Paul lived Psalm 118:24 “This is the day that the Lord hath made; I will rejoice and be glad in it, “ every single day. I want to be like that. I mean, really. Look at these pictures of Paul. Can’t you see the joy?!  When he didn’t feel well, he smiled. When he was tired, he sang. When he was overworked, he rejoiced. When he was hurting, he praised. When he was in need, he gave. So, I’m not angry. I’m trying to get over being disappointed. This is the day that the Lord hath made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. I will praise God for the time I had with my friend, Paul, and I will serve others and Jesus like Paul did, and I will rejoice and be glad. 

I’m leaving a link to my all time favorite song (coincidentally another one I sang as a child) that Paul’s choirs also performed. This one is a bit different from the one they did because it is prayer. It’s my favorite. May God hold you in the palm of His hand, my friend. Amen. 

Y’all, it’s been a tough year for a lot of people. Personally, my family has been pretty blessed. The worst part is that we’ve all been so remote from everyone. Make sure you connect with the ones you love. Call somebody. Even though we can’t really all gather up in close quarters, grab a mask, go to a park, get on a zoom call, or something, connect however you can. Do life. Love it. Keep it real. Love y’all!

What’s the matter?

Racism. Racism is the matter. Not the kind of racism that caused George Floyd’s death, but the kind that overlooks that death and minimizes it by lumping Mr. Floyd and ourselves into one big group with phrases and hashtags like #alllivesmatter. The kind of racism that exists when we use words like “they” and “those people”. STOP THAT.

If you have an open mind, keep reading. If not, I’m sorry. Not for me. For you. Stop reading if you have to.

When we hear of an atrocity against one of God’s children like us we grieve. What about for those who are different from us?

Did you cover your profile pic with the French flag when the 2015 Paris bombings occurred? What?! Are you French? Did you #Prayfor Vegas after the outdoor concert shooting? What?! Were you there? Do you grieve when an American soldier dies? Do you know him or her personally? Do you hurt for the mom who lost her child to a drunk driver or a school shooter or a sex trafficker because you have a child just that age? OF COURSE YOU DO/DID. Even though it isn’t/wasn’t you. That’s my point. If each of these instances is worthy of your hashtag, your prayers, your grief, and they are, why not our black brothers and sisters?

I know all lives matter. Of course they do, we are children of God created in His image. Jesus loves the little children. All of them. Ever wonder why the composer of those lyrics put white children last? My guess is it wasn’t out of humility, but for the beauty of the rhyme. Check this out. The children’s song we sing is only the chorus. Read this last verse:

I am coming, Lord, to Thee,
And Your soldier I will be,
For You love the little children of the world;
And Your cross I’ll always bear,
And for You I’ll do and dare,
For You love the little children of the world.

~Herbert C. Woolston (1856 – 1927) (hymntime.com)

Are we really ready to be the soldiers Jesus needs us to be to stand up for our fellow man–red, yellow, black, and white??

Back to the conversation at hand. Yes, all of our lives matter. Here’s the thing, though. Some lives don’t have to be reminded that they matter. Some lives question every single day IF theirs matter. Think about that.

Were we sympathetic to the trials of the Class of 2020 because they didn’t get the pomp and circumstance as previous classes? Did we participate in some action to “feel for them”? Why? If all grads matter, why do they get special treatment?

Have we moms looked at our daughters living in a man’s world and told them that they are just as (if not more) capable, just as (if not more) strong, and just as (if not more) worthy? Why? If all genders matter, our daughters don’t need that reassurance.

Have we attended rallies or parades, or stood up for those with a different religion, moral compass, or sexual orientation as us? Why? If all lives matter, where is the place for religious tolerance or acceptance of others’ differences?

Have we attended or donated to a fundraiser for the homeless? the abused? the critically and terminally ill? Why? Why single anyone out for a plight that isn’t mine if all lives matter?

I have family and dear friends who risk their lives as law enforcers locally, statewide, and worldwide. Their lives matter, and you can never argue with me that they don’t. I wholeheartedly believe in the inherent good of the men and women who risk their lives to protect us because the ones I know are prepared to love, serve, and die for their fellow man. Don’t we single them out? Don’t #bluelivesmatter? You bet your bottom dollar they do! But here’s the thing. If #alllivesmatter, why do they need a hashtag either?

I have family and dear friends who are people of color. Their lives matter, and you can never argue with me that they don’t. I have relationships with people of color that make my life fuller and more meaningful. If our answer was yes to ANY of the questions I posed above, and so many more, then #blacklivesmattertoo, and we can’t deny it. I’m just saying.

If you believe in the rights of the marginalized populations I have mentioned already, I beg of you to believe in and honor the rights of the populations you disagree with.

I believe in your right to use the hastags #girlpower #prayforvegas #classof2020quaratine #blacklivesmatter #bluelivesmatter, etc. What I do have a problem with is #ALLlives matter being our acceptable substitute. For using it as our way of saying we’re better than a group of people, AND for using it as a substitute for only ONE of the groups of God’s people. I would never say back to my LEO friends, “Yeah, I hear you when you say #bluelivesmatter, but don’t you think #ALLlivesmatter?” Right. Neither would you.

I heard a story of racism last night. I cried. When I was in second/third grade I was a member of the local brownie troop. I LOVED wearing my orange socks, khaki jumper, and beanie to school on meeting days. I met my very best friend for the first time in brownies. I learned last night that two women I love and respect also had grown up seeing the other girls in uniform and wanted to be part of the group. One day, while I was dressed in uniform along with the rest of the troop, one of these friends of mine asked a fellow brownie how she could be part of the troop. She was told, “Black girls can’t be brownies.” I am 41 years older than I was in fourth grade, and I just now found this out. This was my friend’s first experience with racism, and I was part of it. I’m sure she never looked at any of us the same. We grew close in high school through clubs and activities, and I never had any idea. What if she had gone home to someone who didn’t look her in the eye and tell that girl lives matter and black lives matter and she could do anything she wanted? What if? Our world would never be the same. Also, today, after I told them how heartbreaking this story was, one of those friends of mine told me that I was never the source of racism against her and it’s okay. You know, what? No, it’s not. It’s not okay. Bless her! Think on that.

Quick note: I do have a problem with looting and destroying the property of others. I do not have a problem with protests. Protests are the reason I get to vote. Protests are the reason I can worship like I want. Protests are the reason my job exists. I do have a problem that so many of my friends have a problem with it because the protesters don’t look like them, but that’s my problem I guess.

This is no vacation, but it might be the Greatest Time on Earth!

Note: I pray, that in a couple hundred years and this is all history, that someone looks at this and thinks, “Well, that’s pretty stupid! Of course all of that is how it is!” Well, here’s the deal. If the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t something our world was currently enduring, you future blog readers wouldn’t be looking at these words. I hope the following LONG tribute to educators everywhere finds our future happy, healthy, well, and living life in safe and close quarters. I hope you’re doing life, loving it, and keeping it real.

IMG_1197Y’all! I have to say if you don’t have school-aged kids, you are missing out! I am so encouraged by what teachers are doing to meet the needs of their students and to provide as much normalcy as possible in this crazy uncertain time. I have watched math lessons, literacy lessons, show and tell, music lessons, and so much more. Our kids are talking about the meals their families are receiving thanks to our schools, their parents are making sure they make their virtual lessons, and whole families are sitting down for story time! I have seen kids zooming in from dining tables, beds, back porches, living room floors, cars, and even moving boats (Yes, I’m for real.). Seriously, friends, tonight, my husband the principal even got out his pillow and stuffed lamb to participate in a class pajama party zoom!

This remote learning thing will eventually be over, but I promise you the face of education has changed. If you believe all kids do is sit around and play video games, make Tik Tok videos, and watch YouTube, you’re wrong. I mean, you’re right they do that. And they DO. IT. WELL. That’s why when the teacher takes the mute off during the zoom lesson, THEY KNOW HOW TO DO THIS! If ever there was a skill being put to use in the Application level (Bloom’s Taxonomy), it’s now how these kids have used their social media prowess to adapt to Google Classroom, Zoom, and Google Hangout. And to watch them Analyze (Bloom’s Taxonomy again) what is going wrong and teach others, adults included,  how to fix it remotely is not just amazing. It’s a modern day miracle! I’m so impressed.

I admit the older I get, and the older my own two children get, the less I seem to understand younger children. But I’m not about to lie to you. These kids have it figured out! But hang on~there’s more! Although, our schools are not open for regular business, they are definitely not closed because school is IN SESSION,  and they are functioning. Because their teachers have it figured out, too! (And they learned literally~and I don’t use that word lightly~overnight!) Don’t misunderstand me to say that this is sustainable. I mean, technically it is sustainable, but the truth is God made us for fellowship. He made us to love one another with service, gifts, love and affection up close. These babies and their teachers are missing one another in a big way.  How do I know this? Check it out:

“I miss you KK!” “But I don’t want to say goodbye!” “Look! Here’s my cat!” “See this fish I caught? I caught the biggest one of me and my daddy!” “Oh, look! There’s Mr. Catlett!” “What if somebody didn’t do his work and he just quick wrote down the answer when you said it just now? Does he get the points?”  “Mr. Catlett’s zoom name is KEVIN Catlett! :)”

I’ve heard all of that. And their teachers are responding. They’re responding with love and patience and gentleness and the kind of after hours patience the likes of which I have never seen nor did I EVER possess when mine were little. So here’s to the teachers who are playing April’s Fools Day pranks via Google Hangout and to the principals showing up wearing tiger faces. Here’s to the teachers who are so pressed to meet the standards and comply with the regulations, but understand that today is different. It is different for them. It is different for their families. It is different for their students. It’s different for the world. And it’s okay to talk about it. And it is more than okay to extend some grace.

Here’s to the teachers who are working harder and longer hours than they do during the first week of school. Here’s to the teachers calling the principal in a panic because they’ve heard from every sweet little face in their classes but one or two. Here’s to the teachers who are calling for interpreters because they know their families deserve it. Here’s to the principals and administrations who are supporting their teachers as those teachers make judgments to include work that enriches and supports, with the expectations of complete fulfillment and the understanding that that just may not happen, and it will be okay.

And while we’re at it, here’s to the food service staff! Holy moly! If you haven’t seen the numbers of breakfasts and lunches going out to students in Arkansas right now, look them up. Here’s to the bus drivers and staff delivering those meals along with paper copies of the work for kids or schools who aren’t doing online work. Here’s to school secretaries who are answering ENDLESS~and I do mean ENDLESS~ phone calls from very worried parents. Here’s to you, phone answerers for making things right! Here’s to interpreters (who hold a special place in my heart and have my utmost respect) who are working non-stop~yes, non-stop I’m not kidding~ to deliver the messages that have to be delivered NOW. This entire situation is always on emergency status, and you interpreters are ROCKING IT!! Thank you to the janitorial and maintenance staff at every single school building who are keeping things clean and ready should one of God’s great miracles occur tomorrow and we are released from this “working from home” Hell.

Hey, Coaches of Spring sports, senior class sponsors, and counselors at every level! We see you. We see your disappointment over the season that could have been. We see your grief over missing those long prom nights. (Didn’t prom sponsors invent social distancing????) We see you hard work, counselors, as you prepare transcripts for students whose senior year was cut short abruptly. We see you counselors~and everyone in the counselors’ offices~ for handling scheduling and testing and retention and credit questions and students enrolling in the midst of it all. We see you, counselors and counseling services, as you figure out how to support and provide for your students.

We see you ESL teachers who are going above and beyond the call of duty to support other teachers as they accommodate for our English Learners (ELs). Thank you, special education teachers and speech and other therapists for figuring out how to deliver appropriate lessons and therapy remotely. I am positive the parents of your students couldn’t ever be more grateful. I can’t say enough about how schools have stepped up!

It is proven that learners need to practice their words before saying them and writers need to practice their spoken word before putting them on paper. These exchanges are hindered when working remotely. Our ELs, our students with language delays, our students who don’t get opportunities to participate in much conversation for whatever reason, and students learning new vocabulary will inevitably suffer from this isolation. This makes me sad beyond comprehension, and I don’t know what to do about it. Yet, when I look at what our teachers are doing, I’m moved to tears. Say what you will, and believe what your heart allows, but these are not your mother’s snow days, and school employees are NOT on vacation! They are doing a fabulous job at doing life, loving it, and keeping it real! #dolifeloveitkeepitreal

 

 

 

Get Out, Blackbird

I thought it was over. I thought the separations and goodbyes had already happened. Then this week began with a whole new set of yuck. It’s time for the youngest to head off to college. It is spring semester, yes, a little late. Everything about it has been out of the ordinary. He was admitted last fall and delayed going in order to attend boot camp. He received scholarships and had to put them all on hold for the same reason. Graduation gifts were non-traditional for the same reason. Marine poolees headed to San Diego don’t need towels, sheets, and shower caddies.

So, this weekend, we made the obligatory Wal-Mart run for sheets, hangers, trash cans, and giant tubs to pack clothes into for move-in. Move-in. Let’s talk about that. As of today, exactly one week before the start of classes, here’s the situation: We don’t know which dorm he has been assigned because he was unreachable during the fall when he should have filled out all those necessary forms. Orientation and registration are exactly two days away, and we don’t have confirmation that he may even attend that, as he just registered for that last week as well. And Unlike the older sister, whose college decor and supplies filled the living room floor for a full month prior, we leave tomorrow night with a few boxes and maybe an inkling of a dorm room floor plan! And I’m okay with that. Or I was until last night.

You see, in May, when he graduated from high school and headed off to California on June 4, I went through the mourning. I made that mental separation in a roundabout way. I promised him I would organize his bedroom, grow it up into a college look, add some “big boy” feel, and clean out. That I did. It was therapeutic. He came home, unloaded all that military issued garb, met up with friends, and in two hours, it appeared he had never left. To my heart, though, he had. He came home the same dry-witted, sarcastic, funny guy, but more grown up. He came home a Marine.

I was completely unprepared for last night’s emotion. What I hadn’t realized over the last seven months is that he had not made that separation. When he graduated from high school and headed off to California on June 4, he got dressed and boarded the plane with the clothes on his back and his Bible. That’s it. You see, the Marines don’t let you bring anything. If you need it, they issue it. There was no packing. No looking over his belongings to see if he was forgetting something. So that mental separation that I made, he hadn’t done yet.

Last night, Kevin kept asking, “Is he packing? Is he in there playing video games?” The answer to both was no, but he was kind of just standing there. He had clothes in his hands and was going through the folding motions. He needed some prompting. He didn’t know what and how much to pack for only a semester in a dorm. But it was more than that. I stopped in his doorway.

“This is weird,” he said.

“What’s weird?”

“This.”

“Packing?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Well, you’re moving out,” I said.

“No, I’m not,” he answered.

“Okay, then, you’re sort of moving out. You’re trying to decide what things to take, what things to leave but keep, and what parts you don’t need.” In this process, he found a few items that no longer fit, did a little reminiscing, and finally developed a system.

What finally registered with me was that he was looking back and separating. He was getting that moment of letting go that we had already experienced (which, by the way, only served all weekend to make us appear heartless and anxious for him to evacuate). I’m sure all of our nagging to pack, make the phone calls, register for orientation, check on housing, etc. did feel like a giant push out the door. Maybe it is? I don’t know. I mean, we want to see him grow. We want him to chase those dreams, whatever they are today and whatever they may change to tomorrow.

We want him to be a success. And if that means he’s got to  pack up and move out, he’s got to pack up and move out. Even mama birds push babies out of the nest in hopes that they fly.

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise . . .
Blackbird fly. . .”
~John Lennon and Paul McCartney
After some of the conversations we’ve had since he’s been home, I know he’s been
waiting for this moment to arise, To do life. To love it. And to keep it real.
Have I?
Edit: As of tonight, we have confirmation that he has been accepted into his dorm room/suite of choice. All is right with the world. At least I know where to move in his belongings this weekend while he is at drill. 🙂

Conference Season

Parent-Teacher Conference Day/Night. ‘Tis the season, and for the first time in twenty-five years, I am not at all involved. I’m not going as a teacher or a parent. It’s a weird feeling. I still have that nervous feeling that accompanies the dusted, sparkling bookshelves, sanitized table tops, and yummy fall smells in the diffuser. I remember conference forms with names and teacher talking points filled out and arranged by planned arrival time, schedule posted in the hallway, the realization I will not be able to attend my own child’s conference, and my lipstick just so.

Then there was the scheduling, a behind the scenes puzzle of sorts. A puzzle in which all parents need that 5:30 (after work) time slot, even though conferences are over at 7:00. It is necessary to plan extra time for some conferences, yet 7 hours divided by 28 conferences is only 15 minutes per student. This includes hellos, goodbyes, wrong-time arrivals, former student drop-in hellos, and late arrivals. Will my child’s teacher meet with me on another day? My schedule is too full here to attend that conference.

There is also the worry. Do I know my students well enough at this point to answer questions about them as individuals? What personal information my be divulged tonight that I need to adjust for? What concerns might parents bring that I am unaware of yet? With whom have I possibly miscommunicated, who might come with animosity I’m not expecting? What is it that my daughter’s or son’s teachers have prepared to tell me that won’t get said because tonight I am only a teacher, not a mom?

Stop. Stop the worrying. Breathe.

For my parent friends:

Lord, I pray for an empathetic teacher, one who hears my concerns, who understands my frustrations, and has a plan in place to intervene in my child’s area of need. I pray for a teacher with solutions to bolster my student’s social-emotional well-being and enhance her talents. May this teacher who greets me tonight be completely focused on my student the entire time we are conferencing. May she be able to help me understand new initiatives, content standards, and classroom procedures in a respectful way without using “teacher jargon”. Help our conversation, though it be brief, be valuable to both of us in better understanding my child and her learning. Help her to see, that although my child is a small part of her world in this short year of her career, my child is my world. Help my child’s teacher know that I trust her to do what is right. Although I am busy, Lord, impress upon this teacher’s heart that I need to know right away if there are concerns. If I am needed, I will be there to help because this is MY CHILD. Lord, bless this teacher, as she gives her all every day to make my child her best. I pray for her family, that they understand her fatigue tonight and understand her distraction, as she will undoubtedly have lots to think about when she gets home. God, thank you for my child’s teacher and school and all they mean to my family.  

 

For my teacher friends:

Lord, I pray for perfect attendance and punctuality, as it is nearly impossible to accomplish this many meetings in such a small time. May I be mentally alert and focused, as each family entering my doors expects my full knowledge of their child as a student. Give me clarity and tact as I explain student strengths and areas in need of attention. May I sound knowledgeable and not condescending as I explain our district’s new initiatives, state assessments, content standards, and my expectations. Help me to have a listening ear and empathetic heart as parents pour out their greatest concerns. Help me remain calm should I feel attacked, as I understand that my students are this parent’s prized possession. Prepare me to discuss and not defend, to be concise but not curt, to explain and not lecture, to offer tissue and a hug instead of admonishment. May the parents I greet tonight see my hard work and love for their children. May I communicate clearly that I need their help, Lord, that we have to work together, to encourage their children and help them succeed. Lord, at the end of the night, may my own child understand he isn’t last on my list, but first, as it is my job to raise him up to be all he can be as well. Let my family get excited for the grocery store chicken or bowl of cereal they have for dinner, as I am exhausted, Lord. May tomorrow in my classroom be smooth sailing, as that exhaustion is sure to carry over. Thank you, Lord, for my school district and its support of me. Thank you for my job that I do all for your glory.

Happy Parent-Teacher Conference Season, no matter which role you play! Remember, it’s Parent-Teacher NOT Parent vs. Teacher. We’re all in this together, and we need each other as we Do life. Love it. Keep it real.

 

 

Meet you in the bathroom.

To all you college-dropping-off parents, bless you. I feel you. Buy yourself an extra coffee (or whatever suits your fancy). Dessert. A new pair of shoes, even. I know it’s hard. If you are driving home with a younger sibling, though, consider stopping for a milkshake or special treat for the one(s) left behind. Because, honestly, that’s the one. The relationship that’s the hardest to see stretched over the miles.

My kiddos needed each other way more than I accounted for when we drove down The Hill on this weekend 2014. They have grown up on each other’s sides. For the last sixteen years, when one was in the doghouse with, us, they were meeting in the bathroom between their bedrooms and talking about us. They did their plotting and scheming and planning and whining standing at that bathroom sink. Every night, long ago, when they both lived here, without fail, they yelled through that bathroom at one another. “Night, A!” “Night, Mal! Love you.” “Love you. Say your prayers.” “Okay, night!” When advice was needed from someone more ‘sensible’ that mom or dad, that bathroom became the spot.

It was a bathroom counter turned strategy room, oasis, counselor’s couch, meeting space, and wailing wall. When she left for college four summers ago, we all missed her, but none of us missed her in the way her brother did. Their bathroom conversations became fewer and farther between, but they became more exciting with tales from the sorority house and tailgates to high school hallways and student sections. They also became more adult with questions about future plans, relationships, and the meaning of life in general.

Currently, there are plans being made for weekend trips to visit one another. There are plans being made for their futures that only the other is privy to. They are even playing a game back and forth in the letters they are mailing to and from boot camp! Although they are growing up and looking ahead to days out from under our roof, it is evident those days include one another.

This summer has been a new experience. With Mal home and A gone, the tables have turned, and the bathroom remains deafeningly silent. This I know. When A comes home, their conversations will be long and full of stories they have stored up to share. I also know this. Although Mal will be away in grad school, the bathroom will be in action again on some weekends and holidays. My heart will be happy, and the laundry room will be full.

So when you get that last pillow fluffed, the last command strip placed just right, and the Keurig in the exact most functional spot, step back and admire your work. Not your Southern living dorm room decorating genius, but your sibling raising genius. THAT. That is your greatest accomplishment in the room–the love your little has for his big and vice versa. Be proud in knowing their hearts ache, too. They will miss each other in ways we don’t understand. Step back and let them have a moment. Be confident in knowing as you drive away that you have raised them to Do life. Love it. Keep it real. 

It’s a short read, Neighbor

If you only knew the truth out of the mouths of those who flee. . . Well, I do. I have heard them firsthand. Coming home from work somedays reminds me to be ever thankful for my lot in life and for the safety of my children. It reminds me to be ever thoughtful of those who don’t have those blessings.

English writer and theologian, G. K. Chesterton, said, “We make our friends. We make our enemies. God makes our neighbors.”

The question we must ask ourselves is really not, “Who is my neighbor?” We know that.

The question is, “What can I do to help my neighbor?”  Do we know this? Do we accept  the charge?

That is all.

These are all the words I have. I’m just doing life. Loving it. And keeping it real.

Just Call Me Frankie

Warning: Long post ahead. If you don’t watch ABC’s “The Middle”, this might not mean everything to you that it does to me. Go ahead and read it anyway, though. 🙂 Also, there are lots of parentheses (I had lots of side thoughts as I wrote this. Sorry!)

My favorite television series, ABC’s “The Middle” just ended last week. If you haven’t been watching it since the beginning, find it on one of those subscription channels all the kids watch and get started on it. It broke my heart for so many reasons.

  1. I am a member of the Heck family. My house is a wreck like that.
  2. We have our quirky niches within the family.
  3. We have a terribly messy house with weird things in need of repair. (I mean, there isn’t a hole in the wall that my kids walk through to chat, but we have our things.)
  4. No one whispers like Brick, but I’m not discounting that my kids are weird, overreacting, lazy, smart, normal, and love-each-other-but-don’t-get-all-mushy-about-it.

So when it ended, I felt like I was closing a chapter of life. Screeching tire sounds!!! WHAT?! That’s a giant case of art imitating life!

We are about 24 hours from dropping Avery off with his recruiter for the last time as a civilian. On Monday, he will be sworn in as an official marine recruit. I can’t even describe what the inside of my body is doing. My ears feel stuffed up and full like I’ve been snotty crying. My throat seems very narrow as if I could choke. My eyes seem to be stuck together in the corners like I just woke up. What is this?!

I feel like Frankie, “The Middle” mom, did last week.  Here’s the scene:

The oldest, Axl, (God bless his unmotivated self) has secured a job halfway across the country in Colorado. Axl is all about not making a big scene with goodbyes. Being the stellar mom that she wants to be and we all know she is, Frankie decides not to get all weepy and clingy in his last month at home (which turns out to be four days because not only is Axl unmotivated, he doesn’t know the order of the months of the year. Again, God bless him.). Frankie suppresses all of her own sadness while madly preparing Axl to leave. All the while, the rest of the family is preparing their emotional “moment” with him.

So, just call me Frankie. I want to be the strong mom Avery (I think) needs me to be as he walks away in the airport. I mean, do I want him to (this is completely self-flattery) feel guilty by crying (translated weeping and gnashing of teeth)? On the other hand, do I want to give him the impression that his walking away to train for the most exciting, dangerous, fulfilling job ever is no big deal for me? That I don’t feel a little sad that I won’t hear his voice for 13 weeks?

I do know this: Axl was excited for his big move into adulthood, and Avery is excited the same. If you know anything about my son it is that his expression of emotion doesn’t very often move too far from neutral (or the middle–See what I did there?). If he says, “That dinner was good, ” you want to serve that one often. He loved it. If he says, “That’s not really my style,” don’t even consider asking again if he wants a pair of Sanuks or cargo pants. So when, at Thanksgiving, I heard from his own mouth the words, “I’m excited,” in response to, “Are you ready for the Marines?” I knew he had found his calling.

Like Mike and Frankie, Kevin and I love our kids, but we didn’t raise them to live with us forever. We raised them to be contributing members to society, motivated people with a heart for whatever cause fires their souls. So when Avery came home announcing he was really going to do this thing he has talked about since he was two years old, I couldn’t get all hysterical (a la Sue Heck) and say no. In my best supportive Frankie way, I have done the whole thing. I’ve joined the Marine Moms group, learned from the Poolee family group, just got added to Bravo Company (that’s his company at boot) group. I’ve bought a garden flag, a tee shirt, a wristband, and thin Marine line tennis shoes. And just like I learned the rules to scoring cross country and the lingo for baseball and basketball, I have been studying the Dos and Don’ts, the Ins and Outs, and the terminology of the Marines.

And just like Frankie, I have tried to make his last moments as a kid in our house full of all of his favorite things. I fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and made green peas for a bird’s nest (look it up). We’ve done lunch at Smokin’ in Style, breakfast at Greg’s, tamale spreads from McClard’s, and all his other requests.  Somehow I wonder if all those gestures aren’t just as much for Mike, uh Kevin, and me.

All the butterflies of a kid at Christmas, pre-wedding jitters, night before babies are born, is what I’m feeling now. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I can’t wait for him to leave. What I’m saying is I’m excited for him to leave–not excited that he is leaving, just exciting that he is getting to leave.

This I also know: He must be feeling all those ways, too, just like Axl did. As Axl made time for a few of those “moments” with others, Avery has made those with his friends and each family member lately. I know he is excited, and because of that, like Frankie, I am excited. I know he has waited eleven months since enlisting last July for this exact moment. I just didn’t realize how soon it would come. So, in good old Frankie style, I will be trying to hold it together for the next couple of days until that moment comes when I can’t anymore, and I totally break down because in the end, he’s still my baby, my son, my responsibility. And pretty soon, he’s going to be my Marine. Oorah!

If you see me any time in the next few days, bless you. I can’t promise which Frankie, uh Jana, you’re going to get! Just remind me of my mantra: Do life. Love it. Keep it Real.{whispers} “real. . .”

 

 

 

I’m losing

I’m losing. I’m losing. . .

. . .my ability to sleep late,

. . .my natural hair color,

. . .my quest for the 10-minute mile,

. . .my fight against gravity.  

I’m losing my kids.  I mean, I know where they are (Thanks, Life 360 app). They aren’t sick (Thank you, Jesus!). What I really mean is I’m losing the kid part of the lives of the two offspring I birthed. They have gotten all grown-up on me.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew it was coming. I haven’t wiped a nose in fifteen years, I haven’t sat around the kitchen table doing homework in I don’t know how many years. I haven’t picked up anyone from practice in over two years or dropped anyone off at a sleepover in the same.  My people have even been doing their own laundry for more than a decade. I have lost my identity as “Malorie’s mom” and “Avery’s mom”. Kids who called me by those names now call me by the name my mother gave me. WHAT?!?!?!?!

How in the world did that happen? I don’t like losing. I’m so competitive that my own kids never won tic tac toe without doing it fair and square. (Why would I let you beat me just because you’re four and have crayons and a paper menu?)  Truthfully, losing my kids is the biggest win ever!

I know that sounds wrong, but here’s what I mean. Losing my kids means gaining adults, and by golly, my kids are making some pretty fabulous adults. Great grades, acceptance into Occupational Therapy school, three scholarships accepted so far, college acceptance, enlistment in the United States Marine Corps, jobs, and community service. They make me tired and keep me busy. In the next nine weeks, I have two graduation ceremonies, senior/family pictures, two scholarship awards ceremonies, a boot camp send off party (don’t linger on this thought just yet), Family Night for the Marine pool, graduation invitations  to mail, two graduation lunch family events, Senior Sunday at Church, swearing in ceremony at MEPS, and boot camp ship off. WIN!

We’ve all heard the old adage that it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. And let’s talk about how we’ve played the game. My twenty-two years as somebody’s mom have been the most fun ever! Looking back on tooth fairy visits, family road trips, Junior Olympics medals, haunted hotel stays, cross country Saturdays, snow day grilled cheeses, adopted pets, cold water dam plunges, Christmas traditions, unusual travel spots, and game after game after game after game of softball, baseball, and basketball I can’t believe all I’ve gained from how we’ve played this game of life. It’s been a fabulous, fabulous ride!

And I have lost. The things of this mom world are past. Oh, it’s devastatingly sad, but it’s a time to rejoice. I rejoice in the quality of the two humans I’m releasing to the world. I rejoice in the time that Kevin and I are going to experience once again. I, of course, have brainstormed so many gains that this new era in our life together could bring: traveling, dinner dates, all-day hikes, Razorback football games, Razorback baseball games, cruises, all sorts of bucket list checkoffs. For real, though, cycling back to “just the two of us” is quite the cure for the heartbreak of these losses.

This week we observe Holy Week, in which Jesus prepares his disciples and himself for the loss that is coming. On Friday, we mourn the loss of Jesus in his final hours as he was mocked, falsely accused, whipped, beaten, crucified, separated from His father by sin, died, and was buried. His followers were devastated. They had lost everything. Given up their possessions and followed Him. His mother must have been broken beyond anything I can imagine. Yet, we don’t mourn for long. In three days, He rose, rescuing us from our sins. Now, that’s a loss of magnanimous proportions that turned into everlasting gain for all of us! Kind of makes graduation and boot camp less devastating, right?

So many of my friends are finding themselves in the same losing season I am in. Friends, I say to you that it’s how you play the game. And honestly, we’ve been playing the game our whole lives to lose.

I wish you joy in this Easter season as we celebrate the biggest loss-turned-win ever. I challenge you to celebrate the loss of graduation and lean on Jesus as you wait for the win.  I challenge you to do life. Love it. Keep it real.