Monday, May 14, 2012

What Isn't Said Matters Too

On Saturday, I wrote a blog post about how words matter. Today I’m going to get off of my high horse and tell you how what you (or actually I) didn't say matters too.

I had a pretty typical Mother’s Day – it was a good one. I got a nice gift from my girls; I had my sister, niece and mother over for dinner. You know – pretty normal Mother’s Day fare. What I didn’t do was call my step-mother, Jeanie.

Jeanie deserved better from me and I’m so ashamed of myself.

Jeanie and my dad got married when I was eleven. We lived with Dad and Jeanie, so she has been a driving force in my life for a very long time. We had the usual discord – but that discord was a function of a teenager learning to make her own way in the world, not the discord that you hear about with dysfunctional blended families. We weren't dysfunctional in the least. Let me tell you a little bit about the things Jeanie did for me. Some may seem small to you, but each memory is a brick in the very strong relationship I have with this awesome woman.

Jeanie married into a family with three teenagers. And she stayed. In spite of the fact that we were typical, sometimes crappy teenagers. She stayed.

Jeanie cooked dinner every night and we ate together as often as possible. When one of us wasn’t there for dinner, there was always a plate in the refrigerator for us when we got home. Sometimes that plate had these little almond cookies that Jeanie made on Chinese food night. Those were my favorites! She also made this really great chicken salad with grapes. And she let us stick our fingers (and other things) in the candles at the dinner table even though it drove her crazy. 

And she made us clean the house. I thought it was mean at the time, but learning how to clean a bathroom is a pretty important part of growing up. So I'm sorry for the eye-rolls, Jeanie. And thanks for not telling me that I'd thank you some day. Even though you probably knew I would.

Jeanie helped me prepare for the musicals we did in high school. She helped me with my costumes and make-up. She read lines with me. She was so happy that I got the lead in Oklahoma! my senior year. She supported me at every turn.

Jeanie gave me the gift of a little brother when I was almost 14. Before Michael was born, she was my step-mother. It was partly through the common love we felt for him and caring together for him she became my friend as well.

Jeanie has a wonderful laugh. She loves life and always finds something positive. She shines when she smiles and when she’s doing something she loves.

Jeanie is also a wonderful counselor. I’ve gone to her with problems and challenges and she listens carefully and offers comfort and wisdom.

Jeanie is a wonderful wife. She loves my father and they have a really great life together.

Jeanie is a wonderful grandmother. She loves my kids, and she enjoys spending time with them. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard her say “These are Walter’s grandkids.” She always says, “These are our grandkids.” What a great gift for mine and my siblings’ children. She’d do anything for them and they know that and appreciate that.

So Jeanie, I neglected you yesterday and for that I am so sorry. Please know that I love you with all of my heart and I appreciate the mother you have been to me!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Words Matter

Wordle: words matter

I live in a house with other people. That means that I live in a house where sometimes we all laugh and have a great time, and sometimes we get our feelings hurt, or hurt others. It's just an unfortunate fact of life. Sometimes we're grumpy, or tired, or not feeling well, or feeling like we have no control, and we take it out on the people closest to us. I do it. You do it. It stinks, but it happens.

I would walk 25 miles out of my way across hot tar to avoid a conflict. This is not the most positive aspect of my personality. Many times conflict is a necessary first step toward resolution, and it is usually important to talk things out. But one thing I've come to know is that the words you use matter. In conflict, words can make a person think, or words can make a person think I don't love them. In humor, words can make a person laugh, or words can make a person think I am laughing at them.

It's not just words. Tone matters as well. I could say something in a gruff tone, and you could say the exact same thing with kindness or at least no gruffness, and the resulting understanding from the person to whom we are speaking would be completely different. Tone makes me helpful and understanding, and tone makes me a bully. And it's so difficult to keep this in mind, but it matters that we do because we should care how we affect the people we love. And didn't someone once say "you can get more flies with honey?"

Plus, God cares what we say and how we say it. There are numerous passages in the Bible that talk about reckless words and poison tongues. But the most lovely passage that hit home for me is Psalm 19:14 "Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight. O Lord, my strength and my redeemer." God listens to what I say and God listens to how I say it. But not only God. The people to whom I'm speaking, the people I love most in the world, listen to what I say and how I say it. And what I say and how I say it makes all the difference in what they hear and how it makes them feel.

So I'll  won't try to avoid conflict, but I will try to avoid using words that pierce. And I will try to speak in a manner that can heal or comfort rather than break down. As much as I hate flies, I'll try the honey.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I grew up in Atlanta. When I was in 8th grade, we moved into Dekalb County where I went to Henderson High School.  I got a good education. I went to college, moved away, had a family and then moved back to Dekalb County where my children went/go to school.

Over the course of the past couple of years, the Dekalb County School System has gotten a lot of well-deserved bad press. There has been budget mismanagement, there are allegations of fraud, nepotism and cronyism, and all to the detriment of the students and teachers in the county.

Shame on me though. My children were in the magnet program, so they got the best teachers and smaller classes. I didn't pay enough attention because my children were not being marginalized like others in the county. I was upset by the stories, but I lived in my own happy magnet-school world.

But I've gotten more and more angry. And now it's gotten really personal because Sara's beloved chorus teacher, Greg Smith, didn't get his contract renewed - like many other teachers in the county. I don't know about the talents of the other teachers whose contracts didn't get renewed, but I sure know a lot about Mr. Smith's.

If you know Sara, you know how important music is to her and she's devastated. I don't like it when my sweet girl is devastated.

Mr. Smith is hands down the best music educator I've ever been around. Well, maybe Judith Pritchett, my beloved high school chorus teacher is right up there with him, but he's damn good. He has a passion about the students. He has a passion about the music. He infuses the students with this same passion and the students love him.

Mr. Smith came to Chamblee High School and Dekalb County from a school in Gwinnett County. He had a fine job in Gwinnett County. But the other talented chorus teacher at Chamblee was so good he got a promotion. So in mid-September, they lured Mr. Smith away from his fine job and hired him to teach at Chamblee. And now he has no contract for next year. No fine job anymore. And I'm outraged.

Copied below is the email I just sent to the Dekalb County School Board, the Superintendent, the principal of Chamblee High School, WSB-TV and WXIA-TV.  I had to work to tone it down.

To the Dekalb County School Board, Superintendent and the Administration of Chamblee Charter School,

The parents of choral students at Chamblee Charter High School have been informed that their incredibly talented chorus teacher, Greg Smith, has gotten the word that he will NOT be receiving a contract for next year. I think you have made a terrible mistake and I beg you to rethink this.

I’m outraged.  I’d like to know what is going to happen to the choral program at Chamblee High School. Are you going to hire another teacher to take over? Are you going to displace another teacher and marginalize another school’s students? Are you going to just disband the program all together and probably lose smart, talented students as a result?

I’d like to know which of you on the School Board is going to explain to the talented, enthusiastic, upset students that budget issues have resulted in marginalizing their education.

I’d like to know how you could take a teacher from a secure job in another school district, AFTER the beginning of the school year, to replace a teacher who was good enough to get promoted, and then turn his life upside down by not renewing his contract. How could it be that the notification of this didn’t happen early enough for Mr. Smith and other talented teachers to find other jobs so that they can continue to do what they love and are so good at, and in the process continue to take care of their families?

I’d like to know all of these things and I’m sure the other parents who have tried to reach out to you in the past few weeks would like to know as well.

I’d like to think that the administration at Chamblee Charter High School didn’t have a say in this decision – but if they had a chance to step up and didn’t, I’m more than disappointed.

I’d like to think that it matters to the School Board and Superintendent that the students in Dekalb County deserve talented, dedicated educators in all aspects of their education, regardless of how long a specific teacher has been in the system, but the recent contract issues across the county leaves me wondering. If it did matter, Mr. Smith would be making plans for another awesome year at Chamblee Charter High School rather than figuring out what his next step will be.

You must put students and teachers first. And it doesn’t seem as if this is the case.

The Dekalb County School System has suffered and will continue to suffer until someone in charge puts the students and educators first. I’d like to know when this is going to happen.


Maryann Lozano

I make a promise to my own daughter and the other students in Dekalb County that I won't be silent any more. I don't know that it'll make a difference, but if we don't speak out we'll never know.