Your child didn’t get the ‘good’ teacher. Now what?
It’s OK—let yourself coast a bit. Your soul will thank you.
How not to freak out about …parenting the big kids
How not to freak out about… your kids and sports
How not to freak out about … Presidential politics
How not to freak out about… your kids’ disappointments
An open letter to my senior in high school
Everything breaks. What matters is what you do with the pieces.
The story of an answered prayer named Praise
What will you choose to taste this summer?

Your child didn’t get the ‘good’ teacher. Now what?

By Jennifer Graham Kizer

A while back, I read a New York Times piece with a great title: “Parental Involvement Is Overrated.”

The gist: Don’t worry so much about helping your children succeed in school! You don’t need to visit the classroom, head up the PTA, and drill your kids into the wall with math facts and Mandarin vocabulary flash cards!

It turns out that a hands-off approach works best, based on extensive research of academic outcomes spanning three decades. So parents are off the hook. Hurray!

But then the article offers the mere three things that parents do need to do. Just three.

“The list of what generally works [in helping your child succeed] is short: expecting your child to go to college, discussing activities children engage in at school, and requesting a particular teacher for your child.”

The first two are easy. But that last one, about requesting the teacher? For me, it turned this article from reassuring to terrifying. It became my takeaway fact, the one part of the piece I remembered long after reading it.

That takeaway: Teacher quality is so important that wrangling a good one made the list of the Only Three Things You Should Be Doing For Your Child.

This is bad news, because at my daughters’ school, landing the perfect teacher is extremely complicated. Parents aren’t allowed to meddle in classroom placement. So if you want your child to avoid the sub-par teachers, and get a high-performing one, you have to pull off some 007 maneuvers behind the scenes.

Parents write carefully worded letters, mentioning teacher traits they can’t abide. They cozy up to the principal, and casually drop their teacher preferences into conversation. Or they throw caution to the wind, and audaciously request a certain teacher anyway, despite the rules not to. (Sometimes this ballsy approach even works, which infuriates everyone else.)

To do any of this, you need a steely resolve to fight for your own child’s optimal placement, knowing that children with less crafty parents will lose out and get the “poor” teacher. But if this task is one of the Only Three Things You Should Be Doing, well, shouldn’t you be doing it?

Yes, of course. And last year, I didn’t do it.

I’d heard all the teachers in my daughter’s upcoming grade level were good, so there was nothing to worry about. Then the class lists went up. All of the returning teachers may indeed be good, but my daughter got a brand-new, first-year teacher. And a rowdy class, to boot.

Let’s remember that God’s sovereignty determines the path of my daughter’s growth—spiritually, academically, emotionally and physically.

This is a big testing year for her, in general and to qualify for the gifted program. It’s an “important” academic year all around, according to teachers and parents of older kids. They cite smart-sounding reasons. When my daughter returned home from her first day of school, she gave some troubling reports about the spanking new teacher and the hoodlums in her room. Mostly, Ms. Inexperienced couldn’t get the crazy kids to shut up.

So I was disappointed. While it was too early to tell how disappointed I should be, this qualified as something that I could legitimately freak out about, at least a little.

But I decided not to. Instead, I recited some Phillippians–a verse I’d committed to memory long ago.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phillippians 4:6-7)

And then, I let this passage speak into my situation:

Do not be anxious about your daughter’s experience at school this year, despite what appears to be a less-than-ideal situation. Be thankful for her good school and her fresh teacher and all her classmates. And also for her beautiful smile and her energy and spirit and good health and for the fact that I—her Father—love, love, love her! Present your requests to Me. What would you like for her? To grow in confidence and knowledge and wisdom? To learn how to walk with Me? To meet good friends who know Me, too? Present these requests to Me, expecting an answer, and you’ll find peace.

Next, I remembered that God’s sovereignty determines the path of my daughter’s growth—spiritually, academically, emotionally and physically. And then I just…prayed. For my daughter, and for her teacher.

This week, the third graders embarked on several days of their important testing. The teacher has emailed me twice already, letting me know that my daughter’s doing just fine. Yesterday, I wrote to her with the news that my daughter didn’t agree. She was finding the tests hard, and she was worried about not getting into the gifted program. The teacher’s reply was exactly what I needed to hear. She said she would do everything she could to help my daughter. And she said, “I will pray for her, too.”  I cried when I read that.

No doubt it’s true that teacher quality matters. Attempting to secure the best one for my child is a good thing to do. I live in the real world, where my actions (or inaction) make a difference. But amidst my efforts to help, I must never forget that PRAYER is the most important. It is a real action, a means of helping that’s even more important than writing a letter, or networking at the school.

But amidst my efforts to help, I must never forget that PRAYER is the most important.

In God’s sovereignty, He’s placed her right where He wants her to be. God’s interested in the transformation of her heart (and mine), and He’s chosen to do that work in these circumstances. He’s allowed her to have this teacher, this praying teacher, for a reason.

So let’s amend the Three Things You Should Be Doing to help your child at school, shall we?:

  1. Expect your child to go to college.
  2. Discuss activities your child engages in at school.
  3. Prayerfully request a particular teacher for your child, and prayerfully accept and support the teacher that God ultimately deems best for her.

I think that’s a much better takeaway, don’t you?


No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)

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It’s OK—let yourself coast a bit. Your soul will thank you.

By Abigail McConnell

“My legs are tired!” his voice whined from behind us on the cinder path.

The bike ride had been off to a great start. Released from the confines of our little driveway, Liam pedaled hard into the freedom of that long flat bike path down by the river. Tim and I had to powerwalk to keep up—for the first half mile anyway.

“Can we stop now?”

“No, c’mon bud, you can do it,” I called back.

He took a deep breath, bore down on those Ninja Turtle handlebars and pushed with all his might to catch up to us again. In a second he was whirring past us, head down in determination.

Thirty yards ahead he skidded to a stop again.

“This is hard,” he huffed, out of breath.

“Liam, just go easy. It’s not a race.” I gave him another push and realized my boy had learned how to pedal a bike, but he hadn’t learned how to coast. It was all gas and no cruise (not unlike his personality). I explained to him that after he pedals a few times, he’ll keep gliding even if his feet aren’t moving. It’s way more fun.

“Pedal, pedal, COAST,” I coached as he took off again. “That’s it, bud, good job! Isn’t that easier? … Oh, and Liam! Look up! LOOK UP!!!Read More

How not to freak out about …parenting the big kids

The fourth and final in our multi-part series: ‘HOW NOT TO FREAK OUT.’

By Leigh Sain

So one of my boys saw the headline for this series, and he scoffed, “Really mom, you are the queen of freaking out—what are you writing about?”

Yeah, honesty hurts doesn’t it?

Apparently, according to these boys, I am actually an expert at freaking out. Awesome. And they aren’t even real teenagers yet.

They might be right, though. I have been perfecting the art of freaking out since I was a kid. In fact, I remember this one crazy fear that stuck around for most of my childhood—a fear of walking past the basement door at night. I was completely convinced that someone lived down in our unfinished basement and was planning to run up the stairs and snatch me away.

Even now, I can still picture that gaping dark hole, with its menacing cement stairs, and feel my five-year-old heart pounding loud and fast in my ears as I tried to force my little feet down that long hallway to the bathroom. It was real, that fear.

Nowadays, my fears and freak-outs are about new dark hallways, the ones we’re navigating into adolescence with our boys. It happens as I watch my 7th grader scroll mindlessly through Instagram while ignoring his younger brother. Read More

How not to freak out about… your kids and sports

Ever notice it? How anxious we all are? Our suburban lives are safe and successful, yet we can’t stop freaking out about stuff: kids, school, money, schedules, expectations. Well, we’ve noticed it too—and we’re here to talk us all down a bit. So sit back, take a deep breath and shelve all that fear for a minute… Welcome to the third in a multi-part series: ‘HOW NOT TO FREAK OUT.’

By Beth Hartt

Once upon a time, there was a mom who was anxious to start her kids in sports.

She saw all the signs posted around town for various leagues, even for the youngest ones: baseball, softball, soccer, swimming, basketball, lacrosse … the possibilities were endless! She felt the mounting pressure of introducing her preschool-aged son to sports. After all, if everyone else was starting their kids this young, shouldn’t she? Otherwise her child wouldn’t be able to compete, right? So she decided a great way to dip her toe into the overwhelming waters of kids’ sports would be a preschool soccer camp. Who wouldn’t like kicking a ball around with a bunch of guys from England for a couple hours? Turns out, her kid didn’t. It was not the happy ending she’d imagined.

I was that mom. And it was my son who, despite showing zero interest in soccer, or any other sport for that matter, was forced by me into soccer camp at the tender age of 4. He hated it, every minute of it. And I hated that he hated it. I completely panicked. How could he possibly not enjoy this? It was supposed to be fun and ignite a life-long love of soccer! How will he ever play competitively when he’s older if he doesn’t do soccer camp right now?! Read More

How not to freak out about … Presidential politics

The second in a multi-part series: ‘HOW NOT TO FREAK OUT.’

By Mary-Evelyn Starnes

Sometimes when going through my twitter feed, I do a double take over a preposterous-sounding news headline. I scroll back to realize what I have read is not “real” news but a link to the parody newspaper The Onion. Except recently, my double takes ARE for real headlines:

“Bernie Sanders is leading Clinton in the most recent NH poll”

“Donald Trump leads the entire Republican field”


I mean, I get that Americans are completely fed up with the same old establishment candidates.  But Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump?!  Sanders is a self-proclaimed socialist!  Trump is a bully with a comb-over!

“There’s still plenty of time,” the pundits assure us. But time for what?  Time enough to find a person with the moral character we crave, the ability to lead “across-party-lines” effectively, the experience necessary to both oversee  domestic affairs and to command our armed forces in our protection?  If there is such a person, a modern-day George Washington of sorts, is there time for him or her to raise the millions of dollars required to win, without selling themselves to lobbyists and party hardliners?

Simon and Garfunkel sang, “Laugh about it, shout about it, when you’ve got to choose. Every way you look at it you lose.”  I don’t take for granted my right to vote but the truth is that very few of us, as individuals, have any actual impact on election results. So what do we do?  Some of us sigh at the evening news, shrug our shoulders, and switch to something we’ve recorded on the DVR. Some of us get very anxious and scared and we let those emotions fuel our posts on Facebook, partly hoping to sway people, but mostly just wanting to feel less impotent. Some of us choose to get involved, supporting a candidate or a party or a “political action committee.”

I usually roll my eyes when pundits refer to the political agenda of the “Evangelical” base. As if simply by virtue of being Jesus-followers we all have the same opinion of how things should be done, although our dozens of denominations and thousands of churches prove that is not the case. The word evangelism means “bringing good news” but if you ask a secular American about what “evangelical” stands for, I doubt the word “good” would come up. I don’t appreciate the way “The Evangelicals,” as a voting constituency, have tied faith to a singular political platform, and I cringe at the often unloving way that they promote that agenda, so I shy away from them.

On my own then, I also don’t want to be the Christian that feeds and spreads my fear and anxiety. Sometimes I just turn off the news and watch Netflix. But I know that’s not right either. So what do I do? Read More

How not to freak out about… your kids’ disappointments

Ever notice it? How anxious we all are? Our suburban lives are safe and successful, yet we can’t stop freaking out about stuff: kids, school, money, schedules, expectations. Well, we’ve noticed it too—and we’re here to talk us all down a bit. So sit back, take a deep breath and shelve all that fear for a minute… Welcome to the first in a multi-part series: ‘HOW NOT TO FREAK OUT.’

By Jennifer Graham Kizer

Ask me where I went to college, and I’ll tell you the truth. Wake Forest University.

I probably won’t mention: I started there as a sophomore, because I didn’t get in the first time I applied. I had to attend my “safety school” for a year and then apply again.

When I got the rejection letter after my first attempt, my mother absorbed the blow along with me. She knew that I’d put years into making myself worthy—the GPA, the extra-curriculars, the summer program at Harvard. (I’d spent my 15th summer studying. Studying.)

“So, maybe you’re not one of those people that things come easily to,” my mother said, and sighed. “When you do achieve things, it’ll be because you worked extra hard for them.” She probably went on from there, and said something positive about character building. But all I remember is that she was sad about it. She would have preferred that I got in the first time.

It’s no picnic, being an imperfect person in a broken world.  It’s just plain awful, watching your children have to deal with it.

And now—hurray!—I’m a mother, too. I’m in her shoes. Read More

An open letter to my senior in high school

By Abigail McConnell

Dear Daughter,

I knew this day was coming. But the sight of you pulling out of the driveway this morning with SENIORS painted on the back windshield of the Mazda still felt pretty surreal. (Stop rolling your eyes — I get to have this moment. Someday you will too.)

Since you finished junior year, I’ve noticed something: All anyone seems to talk to you about is the future. Relatives, family friends, neighbors, strangers, it’s the same thing: Wow, a senior! What are you going to do next year? What colleges are you looking at? Do you know what you want to do?

And it’s in the mailbox, too, in those college brochures. The one yesterday shouted:

“What’s your dream, Eleanor? What are you passionate about? WHAT KIND OF LIFE DO YOU WANT? HOW ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE IT HAPPEN?”

Good grief, the pressure! I threw that one away.

You might think Dad and I are the worst culprits, nagging about applications and essays when you really were just on your way out the door to go night swimming with friends again. (What’s the fascination with night swimming these days anyway?)

Forgive us, it’s just that we know time moves fast, and we want to encourage and guide and challenge you like it’s our job. Because it is.

While you’ve handled all of this with your usual graceful smile and polite answers, I am sensing the pressure mounting. As if all that matters now is who you’re going to be in the future, and how you’re planning to get there.

Well, today, here’s what I want you to hear from me, more than anything else: It’s ok if you don’t have it all figured out. You can’t. And you shouldn’t pretend to.

Because when I realize how little I knew about my future on the first day of my senior year? Well, it’s actually hilarious… Read More

Everything breaks. What matters is what you do with the pieces.

By Leigh Sain

“I cannot ride this bike anymore, ever again!” My little one stomps his dirty shoes and levels his glare at me.

It’s Tuesday, just a simple little Tuesday in July. But after two months of summertime togetherness, I guess we’re all showing a little wear and tear.

His helmet, which is completely held together with duct tape, bobbles loosely on his head and I wonder is there really any point in him wearing it?

“It is a horrible bike! I hate it! Every part of it is broken! Look how everyone is leaving me out!” His demands are punctuated by the salty tears that wind their way down the edge of his angry face.

And I am pretty sure I should scold him. Yelling and stomping are not allowed at our house and the word “hate” is outlawed (when I remember to enforce it). And I am not in the habit of giving out new bikes just because a screaming tyrant declares he needs one. I open my mouth to regain control of the situation just as I look outside and see the bike tossed in the yard.

Oh, yeah, that bike. Read More

The story of an answered prayer named Praise

By Abigail McConnell

There’s this boy I know in Kenya. And his story has only just begun.

Back in March I introduced you to a boy with a tumor. A boy who seemed to have a sad story, with more chapters of loss and pain than his young life deserved.

But God named that boy Praise. And God always gets the last word.

When I wrote about Praise, it was out of utter frustration. As part of the US community that supports KCK, the children’s home that cares for him, I had received email after email updating us on his infuriatingly slow journey through the Kenyan healthcare system. After three months, I had had it. I couldn’t do much, but I could write. I could ask you to pray. I wrote as an impatient American irritated by the reality that if Praise had been born within our borders, he wouldn’t have had to endure even one week of that tumor growing in his skull.

But all stories have settings, and Praise’s is Kenya, where time moves slow. The days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and after more plot twists than I can recount, surgery was finally confirmed for June 3. Which just happened to be smack in the middle of our trip to Kenya (to three children’s homes, including KCK), by a team of 7 women from our church. A trip scheduled long before any of us knew about a tumor.

And one of those women? Well, she happens to be Praise’s sponsor. Read More

What will you choose to taste this summer?

By Leigh Sain

Watermelon signals the beginning of summer at our house. Despite the fact that my boys adore this juicy fruit and the grocery stores now stock this delicacy year round, I have a thing about not buying it until it’s warm enough to go barefoot. Weird rule, I know. But my gang has finally come to accept it and eagerly awaits the coming of this season. So as I rush into the kitchen to make supper, I find it odd that there is a paper plate piled full of fresh watermelon abandoned in the middle of our deck table. No boys to be found. Only stacks of uneaten watermelon. What in the world?

Muttering about wasted food and irresponsible boys, I stomp outside to collect the fruit before the ants invade. As I grab the sopping paper plate, two of my boys appear out of nowhere and barrel towards the deck yelling, “No mom! Don’t throw it away—we are gonna eat it!” Sure you are. That’s why it is just sitting here gathering ants?

“It was frozen when we took it out of the fridge, must’ve been pushed too far back. We were letting it sit in the sun for a bit and now we are gonna taste it and see if it is good. Ya know, cause things melt in the sun!” the older boy explains as they all grab pieces and begin slurping up the sugary goodness.

“Hey! It worked!” the little one exclaims. “The sun melted it and made it good! Taste it and see!” He barks his orders at me while waving the other half of his piece under my nose.

All I see is the disaster. Read More

Copyright 2014 The Cul de Sac.

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