Tami’s Big Do Over

By Tami Nutall Jefferson

I don’t know the correct term for that awkward feeling you get when the light bulb flashes on and you suddenly realize “OMG, I’m going to be an Aggie — and an Aggie mom at the same %$@# time!”. It started off as pride. Then rounded the base to old. Then another base at nausea, before finally sliding back to home at pride.

This is what I experienced while I was leisurely strolling Shadow, my dog, down my North Waco block this afternoon after I finished reading an invitation – my first of many I hope – to attend the Annual Howdy Party at Cameron Park Zoo. The party is hosted by the Waco-McLennan County Aggie Moms & The Greater Waco A&M Club. I mean, really? Who wants to hang out with a bunch of moms? I was about to dismiss it until I read the midsection that extolled meeting A&M Yell Leaders and other Aggie families in McLennan County. Then a glimmer of excitement set in. I get to meet other Waco Aggies! Maybe I won’t be here all alone next school year. That clinched it for me. Then my eyes fell on the Aggie Moms logo, and that’s when the “awkward” emerged.

But at the end of it all, pride was left. In case you haven’t heard of me, let me introduce myself. I am Tami – the loudest and the proudest member of the fighting Texas Aggie class of 2020. A Whoop! Sidebar – I don’t know my class yell yet, so I adopted the one from the 2019 class because it just sounds good. But you can bet there will be a story from me about it when I learn it. End of sidebar. I’m also a wife. A mother. A doting dog baby owner. And a future Waco changemaker. Ready for more awkard? I met my husband at college a few years ago. He happens to be one year older than my daughter who is currently a sophomore at college and in the middle of moving from Maryland to Texas this week. In another year or so, she will become a part of the fighting Texas Aggie family as well. So what does that make me? That makes me a 40-something year old grandmother – sexy might I add – who is heading back to college for the second time this millennia to grab hold of her bachelor’s degree.

The second-first time I returned to college was in the fall of 2011. I said during my thirties that I would go back and finish school whenever my daughter graduated high school. So one day in May 2011, I woke up and realized that my daughter was exiting high school. I couldn’t let me lie to me, so I decided to go for it. Perhaps, the universe decided for me. At that time, I was jobless, homeless, and surfing on my best friend’s couch in Maryland with no prospects for the future. Somehow, in 3 days, God took me from $0 to $120. Just enough to pay for my airfare from Maryland to Texas. I had a laptop, a suitcase, and a loosely defined plan to be an Aggie graduate. The only thing I didn’t have was my then 17-year-old daughter who refused to return back to Texas with me.

On July 31, I landed in Houston, at my mom’s house and by August 19th, I had a desktop computer, a full-time class schedule, tuition, and a room on campus. And $114 from my 4-week stint at Sonic. An angel of a woman picked me up in Houston and drove me to Waco and dropped me off at my new apartment. I was now a full-time student at Texas State Technical College with a twitter account called @TamisBigDoOver. That was my motto for my life. My goals were few – only 16. By the end of 2013, I had accomplished all 16 goals, and graduated TSTC with a degree in Architectural Drafting and 3.9 GPA. Not on that list, was a husband, but I also left TSTC with that.

I started working in Waco as a building designer. When I started, I swore to myself and my husband, that December 31, 2016, would be my last day there. Three years – that’s all they get. It’s funny how the universe listens and responds to what you say. Funny as in ironic. Because on January 2, 2017, I was laid off from my job. I couldn’t stay past my expiration date even if I wanted to.

I was happy. But I was sad. I wanted my freedom. But I wanted my paycheck. But, I remembered my promise to myself, and I figured “I have to do this now. I don’t have 20 more years to waste.” I logged onto ApplyTexas.org and began completing my application to Texas A&M University. This was the most nerve-wrecking thing I’ve ever done. You see, I’ve wanted to be an Aggie since I was 8 years old. I grew up an unwittingly poor, country, black girl in Bryan, TX in the 80s. Texas A&M was a BIG thing to me. We didn’t see black people go to college in my city back then. But something in me wanted to. I wanted to be a world-traveling architect. I could have taken the easy way out and said that my dream was never realized because I became a single mother at 17 in my senior year of high school. But I’m really not a fan of self-lying. The only reason my dream never materialized was because when my mother handed me the TAMU admission application at 17 years old, the biggest ball of fear I’d never felt before came rolling in. I couldn’t bring myself to open myself up to that much rejection. So, I let the application stay in my room where I could keep an eye on it before it eventually moved its way to the trashcan.

That feeling of fear has become a familiar one since that day. What moved me beyond that fear to actually turning in my Aggie admission application? The Dean of Students at TAMU’s College of Architecture told me in February of this year that he better see my application in his email box that Monday or else I wasn’t getting in. I had two days to write five essays – about ME… hardest thing ever. But I did it.

Then I waited. And waited. And waited.

I checked my application portal daily for almost two months. Nothing. No word. Then on April 19th, I finally emailed Dr. F and asked him when decisions would be made. No response. But on April 20th, I received that email saying “You’ve been accepted.” It was a surreal moment. Fear subsided. Aggie pride crept in. Happiness crept in. I could finally say to my mom – who’s been my biggest yet quietest supporter of this my whole life – that “I am an Aggie. I got in.” Then stupidity slithered in. Honestly, I did feel really stupid because I could have done this 24 years ago – or 20 or 10 or 5. My life and my daughter’s life would have been completely different. The only saving grace is that now, I know my place in the world. I know what I want from my career. I know how to control my education plan to get the most out of my degree and time and money. I know exactly how my education will position me to influence Waco – now my forever home.

But this is not my first go around. Remember, it’s my do over. The first time I came to Waco was to go to TSTC in 1994. I knew I wanted to transfer on to TAMU and become an architect. But I had no idea what that meant. I knew when I was working downtown in Waco in 1997 and I would stand in the middle of Austin Avenue, I wanted to transform the ugliness into a vibrant place for people to enjoy. But I had no idea how to do that. I knew when I graduated in 2013 after returning to Waco some 10 years later, that that decades old vision was still burning inside me. But I had no idea how to bring that out of me. Now, after living here and activating myself in the community and meeting local government and business leaders and getting involved in grassroots development efforts, NOW, I know how to harness my education to make Waco a more prosperous, beautiful, sexy city for the next generation to thrive in.

So this is my journey. For the next two and a half years, I’ll share with you what it’s like to be the old, married, grandmother on campus. I’ll share with you my collegiate research and lessons and projects and discoveries on what happens when real estate and life meet here in The 254. I’ll share with you my testimonies and inspirations as I attempt to attend university without taking on anymore student loan debt. And I hope that you will share with me – because we’re not alone in this journey of life “do overs”.

Tami Nutall Jefferson has over a decade of experience in real estate sales and management and currently works as a home and building designer. This Fall she will begin her first academic year at Texas A&M University pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development while commuting between Waco and College Station. Her hope is that Waco becomes the most attractive, modern, vibrant, and prosperous version of itself as an inclusive city and her professional mission is to help make that happen. Tami is also a 2017 graduate of the Leadership Plenty Institute and volunteers her time and voice to many downtown Waco placemaking and economic development causes and organizations.

To engage and share your non-traditional student experiences with Tami, contact her at taminutall@gmail.com or connect with her on Facebook https://m.facebook.com/tami.nutall1



Parenting without an Owner’s Manual

By Kathleen Geiger

Have you noticed that almost everything you buy comes with an owner’s manual?  I recently bought a pasta maker and the manual was a 35-page detailed booklet describing the ways to use the equipment and what to do if I wanted a certain “noodle” outcome.  In contrast, when we have children there is absolutely no manual, paperwork, leaflet, or website given that tells us how to parent in a way that would enable our children to have a particular outcome.  So it’s tough, trying to figure out how to parent when there are so many opinions about what is right and wrong.  When asked what we hope for our children, what we want the outcome to be, most parents say they want their children to be happy, healthy, and a functional member of society.   But how does that happen?

I believe the healthiest parenting model is one which recognizes the critical importance of the parent-child relationship.  The way you relate to your child now sets them up for how they will relate to others in the future.  And how we relate to others has everything to do with being happy, healthy and a functional member of society. The way we develop and maintain relationships has to come from somewhere.  Who do children spend the most time with during their development?   Us! The parent or major caregiver. Through your relationship with your child, you teach them how to relate to teachers, family, and friends.  Telling your child how to relate appropriately does very little, but YOU relating to your child, being relational, has everything to do with what his/her future relationships will look like.

A relational parenting approach is one which focuses on the critical importance of the parent-child relationship. It means having a deep desire to be closely connected to your child. Your strength as a parent lies in the relationship. Children who are deeply connected have less behavioral difficulties, less academic failures, and are significantly less involved in substance abuse and sexual risk-taking.

The brain is a social organ—that is, it is constructed and built through experience. From the moment we are born, we begin taking in the world around us.  What we experience becomes a reference for how the world works together. Humans have a biological NEED for closeness.  Being close to your child may be the most important tool you have for ensuring your child’s overall development.  So what are the components of relational parenting?

Developing a Bond – A bond is the connection formed between two people. A bond happens, when over time, parents show a desire to listen to their child’s thoughts and feelings.  It means listening more than talking. It means being actively involved. It means having uninterrupted time together. Bonding requires focus and intention.  When parents and children are actively engaged the potential for strong connection is powerful.  Together parents and children create intimacy – literally, as my grandmother would say, “in-to-me-you-see.”  Bonding is something we cultivate. Preoccupation with electronics is the opposite of close connection. There are times when your relationship in person is much more important than the on-line ones.  Setting the limit so you can get close in the now means no cell phone, no computer, no Netflix, no Pinterest, no Facebook, no Instagram, no snapchat…at times when being together is more important.   When parents desire to know their child’s thoughts, feelings, intentions, wishes, and worries, that child will feel valued and grow to have a strong sense of self-esteem. Together, this creates their ability to form strong relationships with others throughout life. Your child comes into the world wanting a relationship with you….literally needing and hungering for it. You as the parents are the ones that make the decision whether to foster a nurturing relationship.

Being a parent who “gets it”  — “Getting it,” means being more concerned with how your child feels than how you feel.  A desire to understand your child’s feelings through words, body language, and facial expressions helps you understand your child from the inside out. Being the mirror and reflecting back to your child what you are hearing is powerful. Showing empathy is also important.  You can do this by thinking of a time when you felt the same feelings and sharing that experience with your child. You may not understand fully, but you can get close to understanding by seeing the world through their eyes. That doesn’t mean you are in agreement with everything your child thinks, it means that you better understand where your child is coming from – all important for good communication. That’s what being relational is all about!

Having their back – This includes being available, responsive, and reliable. Your child needs to know they can come to you for comfort and support under stress.  Feeling safe within the family relationship allows children to take risks to become independent. There is no time when a child should be completely independent and manage things entirely on their own. They need you all along the way.  Growing up happens incrementally. It takes many years of trial, error, and practice for children to develop the multitude of skills needed to live independently. An important skill that is sometimes overlooked in parenting is helping a child learn to manage their emotions – soothing sadness, calming down anger, slowing impulsivity, and managing fears and anxieties.  Difficult emotions such as fear, anger, shame, and grief become less overwhelming when a child knows they have a secure person at home who will help them feel safe and “regulated” again.

Giving up the need to be “right” –  You can win the battle and lose the war this way.  Being right is about showing power, demanding your child have your viewpoint, and agreeing with everything you think.  This leaves little room for your child to share their own feelings without being judged.  Seeing your child’s view as valid does not again mean you are permissive; it means that you allow differences without feeling threatened as a parent. When a parent stops needing to be right, they are able to see the child’s behavior in a broader context.  For example, misbehavior is oftentimes about something much bigger – something your child does not know how to communicate appropriately. Holding a respectful limit with your child (the discipline part) while desiring to understand the emotions behind the behavior (the relational part) is a top priority.

A relational parenting approach is your choice.  It is hard.  It takes time and thought.  It takes a lot of energy- especially at the end of the day.  But the payoff is huge.  It is more fun.  Your child wants to spend time with you throughout life.  But, most importantly, it is this relationship that gives a child a sense of his/her self-worth, competence, lovability, value, and the ability to continue to have relationships with others and to be a happy adult.  And, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Relational Parenting

  • Affirm rather than criticize
  • Nurture rather than neglect or abandon
  • Set limits rather than indulge

Kathleen Geiger has been licensed by the Texas Board of Licensed Professional Counselors since 1990 and has been in private practice in the Central Texas Area for close to 25 years.  Kathleen has many areas of expertise and provides psychological services for individuals, children, adolescents, couples, and families.  She works with children is play therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and enjoys working with teenagers, adults, and families in various methods of counseling practice.  She is trained in Developmental Trauma work by Pia Mellody and has earned her certification as a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner.  To learn more about Kathleen, her practice, or to contact her, please visit: www.kgeiger.com.




2017 Greatest Hits #3: Prejudice then and now…

(During December we will be reprising some of  “2017’s greatest hits” from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?)  approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics.  It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: 2017 Greatest Hits.  Merry Christmas! — ABT) 

by Ashley Bean Thornton

I have a cloudy memory from when I was very young, six or seven years old at the oldest, maybe even as young as four or five. I was born in 1961, so this would have been sometime between 1966 and 1968, I guess.

Some adult in my life, a woman, sat me down and explained to me why, according to the Bible, black people were meant to be subservient to white people.  I don’t remember who gave me this lesson.  I think it was at my grandmother’s house, but I don’t think it was my grandmother.  It might have been an aunt or maybe just one of my grandmother’s friends.  It doesn’t really matter. Plenty of people would have told me the same story.

The explanation had to do with Noah after the flood.  Noah had gotten drunk and was lying naked in his tent.  One of his sons, Ham, saw his father in this sorry state and reported it to his brothers.  When Noah found out about this, he cursed Ham saying that Ham’s offspring should always be slaves to his brother’s children. So, Ham’s children became black people and the brothers’ children became white people and that is why black people were always meant to be subservient to white people.

Nowadays I’m sure every white person I know would cringe at hearing this story.  I imagine most of my friends find it downright offensive.  I hope they do.  It’s a terrible story. I’m ashamed to even tell it.

The reason I am telling it is because I have thought of it often these last few years as I have watched gay people gain more and more rights and have observed the strong resistance to that progress.  I thought of it this morning as I read that two years after the Supreme Court ruled that same sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, gay people still cannot get a courthouse wedding in Waco.

You may be thinking that the woman who sat me down and told me the story of Noah and Ham and black people must have been some kind of mean, ignorant, “white trash,” low-class person.  Even though I can’t remember exactly who she was, I can tell you that was not the case.  Any adult woman I would have met at my grandmother’s house would have been cut from basically the same cloth as my grandmother: hardworking, educated, church-going, white women who had all endured some hard times, and who, despite that, liked to laugh, tell stories, watch Laurence Welk and talk behind each other’s backs about who had the best pound cake recipe.

In other words, I imagine the woman who tried to pass her racial prejudice on to me was a good person by most every measure.   I believe she took the time to make sure a small girl understood the lesson about Noah and Ham because she believed the story was true and that it was right and important to pass it on to me.

In the same way, I think that many people who oppose gay marriage and other gay rights believe very deeply that they are correct in their opposition. They believe God’s word is clear. They believe it viscerally. They feel all the way down to their bones that they are right.

This story from my own childhood reminds me that at one time, not so long ago, many otherwise decent people felt the same way about racial segregation and opposing the civil rights of black people.  You can see it in the angry faces of the white people in the pictures of the mob scenes when schools were being integrated or black people were marching for their rights.  I have heard it in angry words coming out of the mouths of my own family members. These white people who opposed civil rights for black people believed they were right.  Being told they were wrong caused a kind of outrage on two fronts.  On one front, they were outraged because black people were demanding to “rise above their rank” and were “disrupting the natural order of things.”  On the other front, they were outraged because other people, black and white, were judging them for standing up for what they believed was right.

They felt viscerally, to their bones, that they were right.

But, they were wrong.

Thanks to legislated integration, my grandmother, by the time she retired, had taught many African-American second graders and worked with at least a handful of African-American teachers. She realized, at least partly, that she had been wrong about black people. Her attitude changed.  Not as much as it should have, perhaps, but it changed some.  My mother’s attitude has changed even more.  Mine has changed even more.   We’ve changed enough that I feel ashamed of a story that at one time was accepted and defended among my kin as “what the Bible says.”

I believe a generation from now we straight people will feel just as ashamed at having tried to deny gay people the right to marry as we white people feel now at having tried to deny black people the right to vote and to be treated equally and fairly.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I had been born in my grandmother’s generation or my mother’s generation instead of my own.  I don’t know if I would have recognized the way black people were treated as being wrong, or if I would have gone along with the prevailing beliefs of most white people in the South at the time.  But, living here and now, and having learned from that example, I will say that I would be proud for gay people to be able to get married in our courthouse in Waco.  I am sorry that we have not reached that point already. I hope we get there soon.

This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she has lived in Waco almost 20 years now.  Far longer than she ever lived anywhere else.  She likes to walk. If you see her out walking, honk and wave and say “hi!” 

 The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.