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.




Pssst. . . hey, I have something to say

Usually when I write here, I’m shouting. I feel like you can hear me, too. Well, those of you who know me, know I’m shouting because when I’m excited about something I can’t help but share it. My voice apparently has its own unique sound. When I visit my former school, teachers tell me, “I thought I heard you in the hallway.” I had a colleague once even tell me she recognized my sniff in a bathroom stall. Just what does that say about me? Do I yell my sniffs, too?

Anyway, I’m whispering this post. Does whispering have a special font? If I find it, this will be edited to whisper font before you see it. I am whispering because I want you to come in very close. I have something to tell you. So, I have discovered something. (I really wanted an exclamation mark there, but I’m whispering, so. . .) I discovered something that I have needed for several years. I have always told my students that I get paid to talk. I am the ‘deliverer of the message’, the ‘orator of all things academic’. Truth is, though, we know that the talker is the learner. Over the years, I learned that my students needed to talk to one another, so I embedded many opportunities for purposeful talk throughout my students’ day.

Someone right now is imagining what that must have sounded like. Yeah. Our students emulate their teachers. My boisterous self has brought many a wallflower out of her timid little shell and cause more than a handful of parents to wonder just who this Chatty Cathy is they suddenly live with. So imagine: 30 students in science class just watched me demonstrate convection by lighting a tea bag on fire and it floated up to the ceiling alone before falling to the floor in ashes. “Now, turn to your partner and explain what happened. Remember to use scientific vocabulary specifically the term ‘thermal energy’. ” What a mad house. The teacher just made a fire. The tea bag floated like magic. Did you see that?

This method is called Turn and Talk. Teachers have been using Turn and Talk for years. It’s great. It supports our timid students who aren’t willing to raise their hands and answer in front of the group. It supports unsure students who don’t yet know how to use the academic vocabulary. It supports our English Learners who need to hear academic English. Yet, to the untrained ear, Turn and Talk is complete chaos. To an administrator walking by my class (remember, my students imitate my volume–oops) it sounded like recess. Even with practice, inside voices times 15 at the time equals lots of noise. And although Turn and Talk sometimes addressed what the listener should be doing, the title itself neglects an art our society has lost. It leaves out how to listen.

So now, in year 25, now that I’m not in my own classroom, now that I guess I actually have time to think, I have devised a method for this style of purposeful talk. I call it Lean and Listen. While I always made sure that I taught my students solid listening methods, they were still focused on the talk part. Now, with the title of Lean and Listen, my hope is teachers will approach this purposeful communication method in an alternate way. Let’s offer our students the chance to Listen. Now, let’s say, “Lean into your neighbor and listen to what he has to say,” instead of “Turn to your neighbor and tell him. . .” Doesn’t that sound kinder? Do you hear the give instead of the take? I hope you do. 

Recently, I participated (and not as dedicatedly as I should have) in a bible study entitled “Discerning the Voice of God: How to Recognize When God Speaks” by Priscilla Shirer. Near the end of the study, Amy, our leader, posed the question: What do you have to do to hear His voice? It dawned on me. I have to get closer. Because sometimes what He is saying is only for me. He is waiting for me to lean in and listen. “Oh, I hear you God. Use my daily activities, my job, to wake me up and say to me, ‘Oh, child, you have been missing out on so many good things I’ve been whispering, but you’ve failed to lean in.’ Okay, I get it. Loud and clear.” What a shame He had to yell it at me, though.

Do me a favor if you’re a teacher. Try Lean and Listen. Teach it to your students. Make the shift from saying, “Turn and tell your neighbor. . .,” to “Lean and listen to your neighbor’s idea. . .,” and just see if you notice a difference in your volume level overall. See if you notice a difference in how they respond to one another as people. I would like to think we are raising respectful and respectable humans, and that one of the characteristics of those kinds of humans is the ability to really, truly listen. Whew. I think I made it through this whole page without yelling. I think all of the exclamation marks I wanted to use were probably replaced with excessive question mark use. Download a copy of LEAN AND LISTEN, try it, and let me know how it works for you. Until next time, do life, love it, and keep it real.



Turn Around. Go Back. Find Jesus.

Christmas decorating always brings back memories. . .

In December of 2011, my pastor, John McCallum delivered fabulous (as usual) sermon entitled “Christmas Carol” (maybe?). I believe it was part of a series called “Finding Jesus”.  I could be totally wrong about those titles. Regardless, it wasn’t the typical  Wise Men and swaddling clothes Christmas sermon. It was about Finding Jesus in the Christmas hubbub. The message was one of repentance, of turning away from sin and facing Jesus.

After lunch that day, I intended to finish up the holiday decorating at home. The tree was done, but I had all my nativity sets to put in place. There’s the one my Mamaw gave me that has beautiful characters, the Willow Tree scene that I put together piece by piece, getting different parts as gifts. There’s the porcelain white set that, while I love it, I was forced to buy it because when Malorie was little, her grandmother was carrying her in a store, and her foot kicked Joseph over and broke his head off. (It’s true. If you break it, you buy it.) And there’s the beautiful silver set of three wise men, Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus that I had looked at in a store for months, hoping to one day have it. Kevin’s mother bought it for me as we were out shopping one day (coincidentally, the same day I got that broken-neck Joseph set). I enjoy setting them out every year.

In 2010, I was upset because silver Jesus was nowhere to be found. I set up the scene without him and told myself I was following the tradition of not placing him until Christmas Day. Truthfully, I was just sad he wasn’t there. Immediately after Christmas the set got put away with no baby Jesus. So, this December day in 2011, I got the Christmas blues when Jesus could not be found. I got all worked up, digging through boxes, flinging tissue paper everywhere, grumbling under my breath. No Jesus. I began opening drawers, closets, and cabinets, frantically searching for where I might have put that baby away in haste a couple of years ago. Now the grumblings had grown louder and more constant. Funny, The television seemed to get louder, too. And no one else in the house had any idea where baby Jesus could be or any energy to search for him.

I was distraught! I went back into the garage for a second run-through of the boxes, complaining, “I cannot believe this. Now, this nativity set is not worth putting out. I can’t believe it. Your mother bought me this, and I cannot even use it.” Many other grumps and grumbles took over. I had worked into a frenzy that was keeping me from functioning. I couldn’t even NAP!! So, I gave up and cooked dinner. That satisfied the masses anyway. They would be fed and get a little peace from my ranting.

After dinner, I went into the garage alone, prayed that I could have a better attitude, because after all it’s THE GIFT we should be seeking and not the decorations, wrapping, etc. So, with a sense of peace, I began to dig through the boxes AGAIN. Seriously, baby Jesus was there! He was wrapped in tissue paper and a plastic shopping bag at the bottom of a box. Maybe he was put away quickly after I had already closed the nativity box two Christmases ago. I know that sounds crazy, and I had looked and looked–two years in a row. But I guess that’s how God is. He was right where I had been looking the whole time.

I ran in the house and yelled, “Guess what?! I found Jesus!” And no one was happier about that at that moment than Kevin and the kids, I’m sure. It’s funny. John had just said that exact thing that morning. “Can’t find Jesus? Repent. Turn Around. Go back. He is there.” He wasn’t talking about my nativity set, but it is funny how once I got rid of the negative attitude and turned my eyes toward Him, Jesus sure was a lot easier to find.

Merry Christmas! Do life. Love it. Keep it real.