A glance into the family lives of five Abilene moms and dads
What with the sandwich making, laundry loading, boo-boo kissing, taxi driving and homework helping, moms and dads in the trenches of daily life don’t have much time for patting their own backs or basking in the glory of parenting success. The pay bonuses tend to be elusive as well. But in the months of May and June, we collectively pause to make sure mommies and daddies, papas and mamas, moms and dads are honored and appreciated. At Abilene Scene, we’re kicking off the celebration by featuring five parents in Abilene who are guiding their children with grace and gusto and doing it in their own unique way. If you are a mom or dad, we hope reading their stories honors and inspires you. If you are not one yourself, but you have a mom or a dad, we hope it reminds you of the distinct influence they poured into your life. Hats off to you. Happy Mother’s Day and Father’s Day!
Braid was born and raised in Abilene and is close to her family.
She began her television career as a producer at KTXS in 2001 and became a reporter before she left briefly to join KLTV in Tyler as a weekend anchor. She returned to KTXS in 2005, where she anchored the evening newscasts until 2008.
Braid attended Abilene Christian University, where she graduated magna cum laude. ACU was also where she met her husband, Jeff Blanks, from Haskell. He is a CPA who is employed with Lauren Engineers and Constructors in Abilene.
“Braid is relentless in her giving and loving spirit,” Jeff said. “No matter what hardships the day, week or month has thrown her way, her constant priority is to love her family in every way that she is able. She always makes time in her busy, fast paced schedule when others couldn’t or wouldn’t to show the people in her life that they are loved and important to her. It’s one of the first reasons I fell in love with her and continues to be the reason I fall in love with her more each day.”
Braid is currently an evening news anchor for KTXS News, and she also reports and produces. She has won several Texas Associated Press Broadcasters awards for journalism through her career, including the 2013 News Anchor of the year in her division.
When away from work, you can find Braid spending time with her family or keeping an eye on her curious and energetic sons, Bennett, 2, and Everett, 1.
“We love to read books, sing songs, and play outside,” Braid said. “Usually anything that has to do with dirt is a winner. And if you ever ask Bennett what he would like to do, this is the response you’ll get: “Go look at tractors!” God bless the patient people who let us roam their yards full of heavy machinery. Bennett knows them all by name: backhoe, combine, lawnmower, tractor, gator. Very handy for the farm one day.”
“I think the biggest thing for us is really trying to meet our kids where they are. I’ve heard people say that before, and I never really understood it. For us, it just means being gentle with our expectations and knowing how to communicate with them in a way that shows both authority and love. I also believe in being as present as possible. That doesn’t mean spending every waking moment together (as a working parent, it’s just not possible), but making the moments you do have fulfilling and special.”
Funniest Kid Moment
“Everett is currently rejecting my pleas to say, ‘Mama.’ Instead, when we say, ‘Say, Mama. Mama.’ He smiles and says, ‘Dada.’ Every time. Bennett is a hoot and a half. Recently, I asked him to say happy birthday to daddy in a video we were making, and he smiled and said, ‘No, thank you.’ Hey, at least he was polite.”
“Right now, my biggest challenge is dealing with mom guilt. If I’m being 100 percent honest, sometimes I feel that no matter how hard I try to give my best to work and to my family, I’m always shorting someone. My hat’s off to all the working parents (dads too!) out there who also struggle with this. And while I’m at it, please let me commend stay-at-home moms and dads. My friends, I’m not sure I could handle the job you do day in and day out without losing my sanity, or my children! I think we’re all trying to do the best we can, and that’s all we can do. And that’s enough.”
“All I want in the future is to make my children as happy as my parents have made me. We plan to stay in Abilene. I absolutely love my job and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Abilene is home. My husband and I are very happy here and can’t wait to see our boys grow up in such a great town.”
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“A diagnosis like that is complete and utter shock,” Courtney said. “That day we went in for a CT scan to see about problems in her ears, and then the doctors gave us two hours to get to Cook’s [Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth].”
After a successful surgery, albeit with several complications afterward, and then 31 rounds of radiation, Callie, now 4, has been in remission for the past two and a half years, and the world seems to have righted itself for Courtney; her husband of 11 years, Phil; and their son Carson, age 6. Still, having had a critically ill child continues to color family dynamics.
“Phil and I are much stronger in our marriage,” Courtney says. “All that we had was each other, and so it really strengthened our family and faith and relationships with each other. That’s not to say that it was easy, but I think we realized very quickly that Phil and Courtney and Carson and Callie were what mattered, not anything else.”
After Callie’s surgery and several weeks at Cook Children’s, the family spent two and a half months living apart while Callie received radiation in Houston. Phil and Carson stayed in Abilene and traveled to Houston as much as possible on weekends.
“Carson has been amazing through everything,” Courtney says. “He’s dealt with a lot of issues kids his age don’t usually. He has held up so strong and is the best big brother anyone could ask for.”
Today, their family is back to normal routines and the world of hospitals, needles, medicine and illness is in their past, although they do travel to Cook Children’s every 4 months for scans. The life experiences related to Callie’s illness, however, keep them focused on their priorities.
“I definitely try not to sweat the small stuff,” Courtney said. “Things that used to matter just don’t. Even with parenting, it’s easy to get wrapped up in ‘Is my kid behaving the right way? Wearing right clothes?’ I focus on the good qualities of each of my kids. Callie is very strong-willed and spirited, and having not gone through what she has, I might not appreciate those qualities as much! But I know she needed those qualities to overcome her illness.”
Phil says he’s also seen the qualities in his wife that make her the best mother possible for Carson and Callie.
“Courtney is selfless,” he said. “She’s constantly thinking of everyone else in the family. She’s a great example of a servant leader. And when something goes wrong, and one of the kids gets worked up, she has the ability to get on their level and talk them through things. The way she calms them and works through their emotions – I think that’s when she really shines.”
“We try to teach our kids right from wrong and that everything has consequences. We try to provide boundaries to help them figure out what they need to do and discipline creativity with consequences that focus on outcomes and why we make good choices. Our perspective is try to focus on positive rather than negative.”
Funniest Kid Moment
“Two summers ago, after getting back from treatment, we had gone on vacation with my sisters who both had newborns and were nursing. We were back in town and went to Walmart, and in that moment where I was unloading groceries on the belt to check out, I hear Callie behind me, talking to a complete stranger, and she has proceeded to pull her shirt up and pretend to nurse a baby doll and explain to everyone around that this is how babies eat and this is what good mommies do to feed them. I wanted to crawl away and hide!”
“I just assumed children would respond to everything the same way, and that has not been true for my children. Learning how to be mom for Carson but also be a good mom to Callie and keep it fair, that has been challenging. Also explaining to my children about illness, death, sickness. Through all of the hospital stays and treatment we have made friends who have serious illnesses and some have passed away. It’s hard wanting our kids not to live in fear, telling them that they don’t have to worry about it every single day.”
Parenting Role Model
“I’ve really struggled with not getting caught up in being a perfect mom but just relying on my faith and using Jesus as my example. When we look at how he loves us, that’s how I want to love my kids. Instead of getting wrapped up in techniques and getting it exactly right, I just try to set a good example, teach them what’s right, and then love and trust them to make their own decisions.”
“Really, my plan is just watching my kids grow up happy and healthy and continuing to enjoy life. And we’re expecting a new baby in October. We are all looking forward to that.”
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Troy Deal has what you might consider an Olympic-sized carpool. His daily route includes pick up at four different Wylie campuses and a total of 12 kids ranging from kindergarten to seventh grade, not to mention his own 18-month-old sidekick.
They don’t all belong to him, although Troy and his wife, Katie, who have been married for two and a half years, are parents to their own blended bunch: Ansleigh, 10; Chloe, 8; Tucker, 5; and 18-month-old Adley. Katie works full-time in sales for Anderson Perforating, an oil field wireline company, while Troy’s flexible work as a consultant for product manufacturing allows him to stay home with Adley during the week. But Troy takes his stay-home-dad status a step farther by also working part time at Tucker’s preschool – Martinez Children’s Academy – directing their after school program for Wylie ISD students, which includes the carpool duties and transporting MCA students to Team Chip Tae Kwon Do lessons, which are a daily part of the MCA after-school program. He also helps with field trips and special outings during the day with the preschool to assist director Earlene Martinez.
His presence both at the after-school care program and the preschool is significant in providing a strong and loving male presence, Martinez said.
“My husband, Marty, is a retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt., and Troy is a successful business man, husband and father. Both men have strong impacts on the children’s lives,” Martinez said. “Children respond to strong, gentle, stable men. We have children who range from ages 3-13 years old. Every single one runs to Troy, seeks out his attention, strives to obey him and wants his approval. He has a tremendous impact on children. They see his heart. They know that he sincerely and truly cares about their well being.”
This is Troy’s second year working with MCA, and Martinez said the qualities that make him a great dad to his own children, make him a perfect addition to the MCA staff.
“Troy doesn’t just love his own children, he values them and adores them as humans,” she says. “He sees their unique qualities – both good and bad – and accepts them for what they are. He has true compassion for the children in his life. He keeps his promises. The best thing about Troy working with MCA is he holds the children accountable and himself just as accountable to them. They know if he says, ‘I will be there,’ he will be there. They know if he says, ‘I won’t disappoint you,’ he won’t. Children need men like that in their lives in today’s world.”
Despite keeping busy at home and at MCA, Deal is also currently working with a friend to start an organic farm with greenhouses on 19 acres of land in Hamby. He envisions one day incorporating it into the MCA curriculum to give the kids a chance to experience growing food.
Whether through organic farms, product manufacturing or mentoring kids, Deal’s part-time and flexible work opportunities allow him to be a significant part of his own children’s lives and the lives of students and families at MCA, and that’s something he says he doesn’t take for granted.
“This lets me hang out with my kids while they’re still young enough to think I’m cool,” Troy said. “Really, I get to do what most people only dream about doing: play and be a kid all day.”
“We believe in structure, disciplining with love, and raising leaders not victims. We want our kids to be empowered and confident but also respectful of others. We also believe that children will rise to the level of expectation that you set for them. We love to laugh and that’s a big thing – having fun and giggling and eating around the table together.”
Funniest Kid Moment
“The girls were discussing recently about whether bell bottoms were coming back in style and Tucker said ‘No, they’re not! Because we don’t have tails!’ We asked what he meant, and he said ‘How can you wear a bell on your bottom without a tail?’”
“Keeping a consistent home life for the kids while balancing time and schedules with all of the families that love them. Chloe and Tucker live with us but also share time with their dad and stepmom, and Ansleigh lives in Tyler with her mom and stepdad, but visits us as much as possible. Luckily, all of our kids’ parents share the same commitment to putting the kids first and working together with patience and grace.
When trying to blend a family – and especially when Katie and I were dating with three kids around – differences in parenting and discipline styles become really obvious. But we have been blessed that we have similar parenting styles, and I think that comes from similar upbringings.”
“Things change day to day. We feel a peace and a blessing on our life the way it is today, and so we continue to operate this way. If there’s a time that this set up doesn’t work, then we’ll decide what needs to be done.”
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That’s a role–one of many– that Victoria knows well. A seasoned actress, director, and theater professor, Victoria is well known in the Abilene arts scene. What people may not know, though, is that the role she cherishes most is the role of mother, which she is to two 12-year-old daughters adopted from China. That process started in 2001 when she adopted Jia and continued in 2009 with the adoption of Jade.
The process of adopting Jade, after restrictions tightened in China, was difficult for Victoria but even more challenging for the girls, who were both 7 when they became sisters.
“Jade spoke no English, and her world and life were radically and irreversibly changed overnight,” Victoria recalled. “Jia’s world changed as well. To say that the first years were bumpy is an understatement.”
But Victoria made it through in grand style. A former co-worker at McMurry University, Kathie Walker-Millar, recalled those hectic days and how well Victoria managed it all.
“Victoria is one of the most amazing people I know,” Kathie said. “She is organized, thoughtful, passionate, energetic, talented, articulate and spiritual. She is a super mom, friend, and daughter.”
Today, the girls are well-adjusted, just like their mom. Life hasn’t slowed down any for Victoria after the successful adoptions. She skillfully balances her work as executive director of Young Audiences of Abilene, adjunct professor of theater at Hardin-Simmons University, and mother.
No matter the circumstances, mothers share common experiences with their children, Victoria believes, all the while hoping they are making the right decisions. The children’s early years are a time for a mother to have fun with them, marvel at their growth, and teach them new things. One day, that investment will pay off when they are older and well prepared for life.
“It happens as you go,” Victoria said. “And I firmly believe that we all are doing the best we can with the understanding and knowledge that we have.”
“I guess in the big picture you are doing the best you can to model, teach, and give them the skills and tools they will need for a successful life. You don’t really think about that day to day but you are laying the foundation each and every day. So hopefully, you don’t wake up one day and say, ‘Oh no! I forgot to prepare them for life!’”
Funniest Kid Moment
“Several years ago, we attended a local event and were joined by a male acquaintance of mine. He was very interested in us and attentive to me and the girls throughout the evening. As soon as we got in the car, Jia said, rather indignantly, ‘Who was that guy?!’ Jade said, ‘Yeah, he act like he in love with us.’ Jia said, ‘Well, he better knock it off – we’re not looking for a husband. We don’t have time for that.’ I said, ‘Relax! Nobody is getting married!’ Jade said, ‘That’s good ‘cause we too busy for that!’”
“Adopting 7-year-old Jade in 2009 was a challenge in itself. I began that adoption process in 2005, when Jia was 4. A 13-month wait turned into a three and a half year wait. Add to that, my mother, who was in assisted living and needed my attention and time. And, I was working at Young Audiences, Region 14 Education Service Center, and Cisco College. Mother gently passed away on March 24, 2012. The girls are blessed for having known her and having helped take care of her. Precious friends and family were invaluable to us – then and now.”
Parenting Role Models
“My parents. They met each other when they were 12 and 14. They were high school sweethearts, married when they were 20 and 22. They were married just short of 71 years. From them, I received strong guidance, high expectations, value of education, generosity to others, service to community, belief in God, consequences to actions, sense of humor, and joy of living.”
“I don’t know. The girls are both 12. Middle school is upon us. I suppose the next challenge is right around the corner. We are in the calm before the storm.”
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By day Brian Stark uses his creativity as an art director, overseeing the artwork for many of the elaborate marketing and branding campaigns done by Zachry Associates; by night he channels that same creativity into Lego building, video game playing, screen printing (collecting and creating) and being dad to Jackson, 6, Colin, 5, and Elsie, 1.
Creativity is a trait he shares with his wife, Christi, also a graphic designer. The couple met at church while in high school in Fort Worth and married in 2003, five years after they started dating.
“Looking back, there were a few times that really were telling to me that this was the woman I wanted to partner with in life,” Brian says. “Pretty soon after we started dating, everyone kept introducing her to people as ‘the girl who made Brian finally smile!’ When we were in college and teaching 3-year-olds on Wednesday nights at church, seeing how she interacted with children told me that this was the girl for me. But really, I always knew.”
In 2007, Brian and Christi began their family by welcoming their first bundle of joy, Jackson.
“I remember when Christi revealed to me that she was expecting by surprising me with a tiny pair of Converse, and the surplus of emotions I had,” Brian said. “Right after he was born and all of our family had left town to head back home, I remember sitting there at night in the dark, holding this small person I helped bring into the world. The weight of all the things I now was responsible for came crashing down on me. I was filled with mixed emotions of worry for him and joy because of him, now feeling like my life really started there. All the stuff that I thought was important to me – the things that used to occupy my time –seemed trivial, and this little guy was all we needed. The arrivals of our second son Colin in 2009 and our daughter Elsie in 2012 were filled with just as much nervousness, excitement and joy.”
As a husband and father, Brian makes it a point to be involved and engaged and share his interests as well as theirs.
“I gained even more appreciation for Brian as a husband after seeing him as a father to our kids,” Christi said. “He gets down and plays with them on a daily basis; he reads to them, he lets them climb all over him, and he really listens to all the many things they want to talk about. Our two boys just think their dad is the coolest. I’m sure Elsie will, too; she’s just too young to voice it yet!”
“Being creative and hands-on with the kids is important to me. I want them to be encouraged to really use their imaginations and to create things, whether it’s with Lego, art supplies, found items, or food. I’m also big on teaching them responsibility, too – I think there’s a balance to it all, between having fun and teaching/guiding them as they grow up.”
Funniest Kid Moment
“I can’t believe it, but there are just too many to narrow it down to one specifically. I can say that not a day goes by that we don’t crack up at least a few times because of something each kid has said or done in front of us. At least we have Facebook, YouTube, and a blog to help us keep a record of all these instances!”
“I guess I would say it’s parenting three kids that can be very different from one another – Jackson is a morning person, and Colin’s a night owl (not sure about Elsie yet). Jackson is a picky eater but Colin & Elsie eat virtually anything. And then of course they each have different interests, talents, and personalities – I want to parent them each the way that works best for them individually.”
“We plan to be in Abilene for decades to come. We love raising our kids in this community, and that’s probably one of the largest reasons we chose to stay in Abilene – the family-friendly environment, the schools and the ability for us to have quality time with our family.”