Laura Lalani

By Megan Willome

Adviser | Writer | Homecoming Queen

Lalani is new to working at Baylor University — she started in September — but she’s not new to Baylor. Not only did she get her undergraduate degree in history there, but she’s also attended 33 Baylor homecomings, one for each year of her life. She was even crowned as Baylor’s homecoming queen in 2005.

Her Baylor roots go deep, and now Lalani works as an academic adviser in the Hankamer School of Business. There are a lot of BBA students, so Lalani only covers last names beginning with Bp through En. The job allows her to fulfill her passion for helping college students achieve academic success, focusing on so-called “soft skills,” like time management and learning strategies.

Lalani is married to another Baylor graduate, Kary Lalani, who is vice president of development for Lalani Lodging here in town. They have three children: Emma, Ava and James.

Lalani is also a contributor to the new Waco Moms Blog at waco.citymomsblog.com.

Her approach to keeping balance incorporates advice from her mother, who encouraged her to find a new normal after becoming a mom.

Here’s what Lalani wrote in an article published May 12 at Waco Moms Blog: “If we were having coffee, I would pat your arm, nod in understanding, and say that I don’t have it figured out either. Sometimes that truth can be hard to swallow. In the midst of life changes on any scale, you have to find a way to find a new normal. And that looks different for everyone.”

Wacoan writer Megan Willome talked with Lalani by phone to learn how she does just that and what it looks like in her life.

WACOAN: I noticed your cellphone is a Houston number.

Lalani: I’ve had the same cellphone number since I got a cellphone. I grew up in Houston, Second Baptist Church and Second Baptist School, and then came to Baylor.

WACOAN: Why Baylor?

Lalani: Both my parents went to Baylor. My sister came to Baylor and my brother. My husband and all his siblings as well.

The unique thing is I’ve never missed a Baylor homecoming in my entire life, and I’m 33. I’ve been to all 33 homecomings — it’s documented, by pictures.

I was homecoming queen my senior year. That was really fun because I love Baylor homecoming. Oh my goodness gracious, I grew up watching it, and getting to be a part of it was really exciting. That weekend was one of my all-time favorite memories because Tri Delta [sorority] was also the first-place act in Pigskin that year.

WACOAN: Did you meet your husband at Baylor?

Lalani: We did, but we did not date at Baylor.

WACOAN: When did you start dating?

Lalani: Well, I actually worked for Tri Delta after I graduated from college. For a year I was a national traveling consultant. I went to 40 universities in one year.

I came back to Texas to visit my sister while she was at Baylor — a hurricane sent me away from Florida. They just flew me home for the weekend, and I ran into my husband at a restaurant. We knew each other’s names. We knew a little bit about each other because we have mutual friends. Facebook and social media was in its infancy back then. We were engaged four months after that and married within a year.

WACOAN: When did you get married?

Lalani: We married at the very young ages of 23 and 24, and we will be celebrating our 10th anniversary this fall. In so many ways we have grown up together as adults and now as parents. He truly is my partner and the perfect balance in every way.

Kary is thoughtful, generous and the servant leader of our family. Watching him become a dad and love our children so well has been one of the sweetest blessings in my life.

My return to full-time work would not be possible without him, with our daily and weekly tag-teaming three kids at three different schools. There definitely would be no balance without him.

WACOAN: So you lived in Grand Prairie after college? I saw you taught there.

Lalani: We lived in Las Colinas. My husband worked for a bank. I worked in Grand Prairie, and he worked in the Preston Center. We were there almost two years. It was a pretty quick stint.

Then my husband decided to join the family business [Lalani Lodging]. He’s a partner now. They have Homewood Suites by Hilton [at Legends Crossing], the one across from Chuy’s.

I never ever thought we would move to Waco. I loved Waco, but I didn’t get to know it when I was a student. I pretty much stayed in my bubble on campus. I was really devastated, to be honest, when I heard we were moving.

I always envisioned living in a big city. I cried to my principal. I loved my job. I was very sad. I even wrote about this later, that sometimes God really surprises you with things you didn’t know you wanted and didn’t know you needed. I really feel that way about Waco.

WACOAN: What year did you move back to Waco?

Lalani: Two thousand and nine. I graduated from Baylor in 2006. Did Tri Delta for the year. Then got married and got my teacher’s certification and taught that year in Grand Prairie. Moved that summer. Then taught 2009-2010 at Waco High.

I moved here, and about two seconds later found out I was pregnant with my oldest daughter. I started working at Waco High School. My classroom was in a portable. I had to walk a lot — that was a very maturing experience. There are lovely, wonderful teachers there.

I decided not to return to public school teaching. I did have to go back to work a little after I had [Emma], and that confirmed that wasn’t the right decision for me. I really wanted to get my master’s. I loved education, loved working with teachers, but I really wanted to do something beyond K-12.

I worked part time at Baylor’s Mayborn Museum [as promotions and event facilitator from 2010-11]. I really enjoyed that. It gave me a love for working with Baylor.

I majored in history because I loved history, and I thought I’d teach social studies.

It’s funny how your paths unfold. I try to have a lot of empathy with students now. So many times you have to make the best decision that’s in front of you at the moment. Each decision keeps you moving forward, and you may not know exactly where you’re going.

Most students still don’t know what they want to do. Even though I took a winding path to where I am right now, I don’t know if I’d be in the most perfect job for me now if I hadn’t taken those steps along the way.

WACOAN: And then you got a master’s in education?

Lalani: Yes. I found out I was pregnant [with my second daughter] and decided to just work on my kids and work on my master’s, so I took the GRE while eight months pregnant. I started taking classes through a distance online program before I had her. I had her on a Friday and started a new class on a Monday.

I could burn the midnight oil, get up early in the morning. That took a year and a half. At the same time, my husband was commuting to [Texas Christian University] to get a master’s. That was a good decision at the time. I took a break from everything else.

The kids were little. They don’t really remember that time. It was hard in many ways, from a time management standpoint. I’d be writing papers a lot, and my husband was gone a lot.

WACOAN: You got your master’s from Lamar University. Was it an all-online program, or did you occasionally go to campus for short periods?

Lalani: Yes, Lamar, which was an awesome program. It was one of the first universities that I’ve seen in Texas that allowed you to do all the coursework online.

I enjoyed it because it included a lot of the rigor and topics I was looking for, but it made it accessible for someone who had children. With an infant and a 2-year-old, it was hard to go to a classroom. [Lamar] was on the cusp of these changing academic platforms. Now Baylor offers an MBA completely online.

It lent itself to my personality. It’s not for everybody, but I was very determined, very motivated.

And that’s what enabled me to get to work at [McLennan Community College]. I wanted to move into higher education or even teacher certification programs. [My master’s] brought me to MCC and provided me the ideal part-time job with a 4- and 2-year-old. I could work and teach, which I have such a passion for. That started to develop that passion even more. Working at MCC was such a joy.

I worked in developmental education. The class that I taught for six semesters at MCC was called Learning Frameworks, which was required for all incoming first-year students. I got to work with the high school group too. There’s a partnership with a lot of the high schools in the area [High School Pathways]. I did that for three years. I worked in the summers. Even last summer I was doing that.

It was an emotional intelligence-based class. They’d discover a lot about themselves: learning skills, personality inventories, time management, academic strategies. I got to know them as people and was helping them to be successful.

A lot of the students had barriers to success — maybe a job, maybe kids, maybe they’ve been out of education for a long time. They often taught me more than I was teaching them. Most were dedicated students — they had a goal, they wanted to be there. They just had some gaps in other areas.

I love higher education. I love students, and I like the collegiate environment. I knew that’s where I wanted to be. That seed was planted when I worked with Tri Delta, getting to work with college-age students.

WACOAN: There must be a lot of students in the business school. I noticed the advisers aren’t paired with last names, say, A-E, but some subset of that.

Lalani: Yes, I’m Bp-En. There are a lot of students.

WACOAN: In looking at your background, I understood how you went from history to education, but I wasn’t sure how you got from education to the business school. It sounds like the master’s degree and MCC provided that link.

Lalani: Definitely. A lot of my job is that one-on-one interaction with students. Which is why it feels like the perfect job because I get to work with students, get to teach the soft skills I taught at MCC, use those in conversation with students.

Once we’re with a student, we stay with them from their sophomore year on. We stay with them, ideally, till they graduate. They’re prebusiness, then they apply for the business school, typically in their junior year. [Editor’s note: After prebusiness students complete 60 semester hours of arts and sciences core classes, they must apply for admission to the Hankamer School of Business.]

Then they declare a major. We provide opportunities to major in different areas. We focus on what captivates them as a student, their capabilities as well as their area of interest.

WACOAN: So you join the business school and get to start your job at the new Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation.

Lalani: It’s truly outstanding. It’s Baylor’s premiere facility. It’s designed so uniquely. It’s very team-oriented, student-friendly, student-centered. There’s a lot of collaborative learning, working in small groups. Each room is equipped with all the latest gadgets and technology and all of that.

Even though I’m not in a traditional classroom, it’s a lot like teaching. Baylor has had an initiative to move toward professional advising — even in the hiring of my job — which is one of the most critical elements to a student’s success because it’s about the personal relationships.

The reason why [students] stay is because of a relationship, either with a professor, an adviser, even other students. Knowing they have someone to ask who’s knowledgeable, understands their path, their goals. It’s been a big part of that student-central success initiative on continuing to improve the student experience at Baylor.

WACOAN: You have three kids?

Lalani: I have two daughters. Emma, who is finishing first grade. Ava is finishing pre-K. They will be in kindergarten and second grade next year.

WACOAN: Where do they go to school?

Lalani: Waco Montessori [School] for Ava. Emma is at South Bosque [Elementary]. Ava will go to South Bosque next year.

WACOAN: And you have a little boy?

Lalani: We have a little boy. His name is James. He’s 19 months. He is lots of fun. He’s been at Columbus Avenue [Child Development Center], and he will be going to Waco Montessori in the fall, in their toddler program.

WACOAN: Is your job at Baylor your first full-time job outside the home since becoming a mom?

Lalani: Yes. MCC was a really great part-time job because I got to be home three days a week and teach two very full days. It did strike a good balance with still doing playdates with the kids, going to a Bible study, staying home when they were sick. That was a good balance at the time, especially when I was pregnant with James. I had him and taught that whole year after he was born.

I knew I was in labor the day I had him and taught my classes all day. I was timing contractions on my phone. Sure enough, he was born that night. I only took two weeks off, and then I came right back. Having three kids at that point, every day is crazy, so I just kept going with the crazy. That was a blur of a time then, but I’m sure glad I hung in there and did it.

I started interviewing for the Baylor job in August, when he was about to turn 1. It was a good time because he was through the baby stage, moving into the toddler stage.

WACOAN: And he was your third child.

Lalani: I felt a little more confident as a mom at that point.

WACOAN: Where do you go to church?

Lalani: We go to First Baptist Woodway. We joined there about 14 months ago. It’s been a wonderful fit for our family. We love the pastor and his teaching. We love the children’s program. I love singing in the choir — it’s one of my favorite things to do. My girls do children’s choir.

WACOAN: What is the music like at First Woodway?

Lalani: Our worship pastor, Gary Rhodes, blends lots of different styles. They’ll do more praise style. They’ll do true choir anthems, very challenging choral pieces. Twice a month he’ll incorporate a full orchestra. He’ll even have one person up there with a guitar, sometimes.

He uses a variety of people, which I appreciate. He’ll use multigenerational groups. Three weeks ago, the children’s choir came up with the adult choir, and we worshipped together. That really appeals to me, the different styles of music, the different styles of worship.

WACOAN: Did I see that you were in BRH, Baylor Religious Hour choir?

Lalani: I loved BRH! I was in it for four years. It’s one of my favorite memories of college. I love choir. I really genuinely love corporate worship and singing as a group.

WACOAN: Is singing something you kept up with between BRH and now?

Lalani: I sang at a lot of weddings. I used to do baseball national anthems for Baylor when I was in school. I sang here and there.

My grandmother was a professional gospel artist. She was phenomenal, wrote and arranged music, had books published. She was on the pedagogy side. She is a well-known gospel singer and voice teacher. She’s really my inspiration. Her name is Beverly Terrell. She has the most beautiful voice in the world.

WACOAN: What part do you sing?

Lalani: I sing soprano. My grandmother was actually my voice teacher.

WACOAN: And your girls do choir too?

Lalani: They love it! I go to the adult choir, and they go to choir on Wednesday nights. And then Kary stays with James, and they have a pizza night or something.

WACOAN: You said your husband works for his family?

Lalani: He’s a partner in their business, which is Lalani Lodging. They do commercial real estate, hotels, hospitality.

WACOAN: Going back to something you said earlier, you mentioned that while you were getting your master’s, you pushed everything else aside to focus on being a mother and a student. Did you come back to any of those things later?

Lalani: I think at that time too I was learning to be a mom and developing relationships here in Waco with friends. Looking back, upon reflection, that was the most pivotal time socially and spiritually. I got to know Waco and build other friendships with moms that have sustained me and enabled me to go back to work.

We’re all in the trenches together. You don’t know anything, they don’t know anything, you’re asking questions. Those friendships are really deep. You’re kind of in survival mode.

That has springboarded and enabled me when I’ve gone back to work — those deep, substantial friendships are continuing. And moving to a new city is hard. Not being from Waco originally, I didn’t have any of the longevity to draw on, friendship-wise.

I did BSF [Bible Study Fellowship] for four years. I got to know everyone there in that small group. So I got to do playdates and learn from them, like figuring out how to carpool with car seats, which is a masterful issue.

My husband and I now own 10 car seats, and we have three children. He has a set, and I have a set, and there are sets for the nannies that help us. That’s not including grandparents. At the beginning, we didn’t even want to buy an extra base for a car seat.

WACOAN: You said you have help with your kids. Tell me more about that.

Lalani: The girls, they’re in school all day. James is in a situation where he’s 7:30 [a.m.] to 5:30 [p.m.]. He goes [to day care] with me when I go to work, and I get him on the way home.

The girls, we decided to have afternoon babysitters with them, to pick them up from school. We have two or three, just with schedules. I’ve discovered having more options and people that know how to pick up your kids is better. It’s not as simple as having the right car seat.

I would actually take [the babysitters] to the school myself first, to show them how to do the pick-up line, how to have the right sign, who their teachers were. It helped me maintain sanity because [the babysitters] help with homework, and they facilitate any after-school activities.

[The kids] may have a well-child visit, a dentist visit. Having a babysitter may mean they meet me at the dentist so I can be there, but I don’t have to go all the way home to pick them up and bring them.

It’s helped with a lot of logistics because the girls were in two different schools — we had three kids, three different places this year, which will consolidate into two next year. There’s just a lot going on, and I love having someone to pick them up. We have wonderful friends that help when we get in a pinch.

It’s worth it. The girls, they have homework. They want to play a little bit at home. One of my daughters is really an introvert, and she needs that recharge time when she comes home. It’s helped Emma — she’s the introvert — it’s helped her to have some decompression time. She needs to piddle in her room and not be so stimulated. My other daughter is an extrovert to a T. She’s an Energizer bunny.

WACOAN: You said you pick up James after work. So when-ish do you get home?

Lalani: It just depends on when I wrap up with work. Worst-case scenario, I have someone until 6 [p.m.] That’s our arrangement.

Sometimes I have my afternoon babysitter bring them to Baylor. They’ll meet me at Baylor right at 5. We’ve even set out a picnic blanket (my office overlooks the president’s house).

If we’re meeting people for dinner later, I love the idea of having them brought to me. Commuting to and from Woodway to Waco, that can be a 45-minute commute. If my husband gets home early, he’ll stay with the kids.

The other nice thing is I might ask [the babysitter] to stay for various reasons. Last night we had kindergarten roundup, so she stayed with [Emma and James] while we did that. That’s been helpful for the unforeseen things that might come up.

WACOAN: With young children, are you and your husband able to get away for a date night?

Lalani: We do a date night once a week. We have a standing babysitter for that, and that’s helped.

We love to eat at restaurants. We love to try new restaurants. We’ve really liked going to movies — we always have. We don’t go every weekend, but we do at least once a month.

WACOAN: Any newer restaurants you’d like to recommend?

Lalani: We really like Moroso. My husband really loves pizza. We like Alpha Omega.

We love hanging out with friends too. We’re trying to go out more with couples or friends.

I feel like Waco has events every weekend if you want to do something. Even fundraisers — we’re going to the [American Heart Association’s Waco] Heart Ball tomorrow night. It’s a small town, but it puts on really great events. You know someone at every event you go to.

I’ve been in charge of the fundraising banquet for Young Life for the past four years. My husband and I have been on the Young Life committee ever since we came to Waco. We’re going on seven years? Yeah, we started when Emma was a baby-baby.

WACOAN: Were each of you involved in Young Life in high school?

Lalani: My husband was; I was not. He really did all the activities, he went to [Young Life] camp. I had such a great youth group [at Second Baptist Houston] that I didn’t do Young Life.

But Young Life serves such a purpose here in Waco, meeting kids where they are. They go to the kids. They don’t expect the kids to come to them. I love that aspect of ministry.

They eat lunch in their high schools with them. They like to say they’re Jesus in tennis shoes. Having taught at Waco High, I remember the Young Life girls that would come and eat lunch with the students there. It’s a powerful ministry, and the Young Life director here is fabulous, David Maness.

WACOAN: What do you like to do as a family in Waco?

Lalani: We love to do anything outdoorsy, meaning we like to take walks. We walk around [Baylor] campus. We live in [the Villages at] Twin Rivers, so walking around the lake and the park there. The older one, [Emma,] and my husband go on a walk on Sunday nights, which is really sweet.

My daughters love watching ‘Fixer Upper.’ It’s a thing we can all watch and all enjoy that’s not a cartoon or a Disney movie. They love going to Steel City Pops. They love Katie’s [Frozen] Custard and getting ice cream or snow cones.

WACOAN: Do you have any summer plans you’re looking forward to?

Lalani: This will be my first summer to be working full time, so it will be a little different. We’ll be doing some fun camps [for the kids], like Pine Cove [Day Camp at Harris Creek Baptist Church] and Ridgewood [Country Club’s] tennis camp.

We’re going to Houston for a week. We’re going to Destin, [Florida], for a week with Kary’s family. We’ve tried to mix it up where it’s a good balance of one week nothing, one week something.

I’m a big planner. I really plan ahead in most things. I started working in February on our summer plans. I try to give it a good balance so they can play and be kids and have fun and also do some unique things we can’t do during the school year.

WACOAN: How do you keep balance? What does that look like in your life?

Lalani: I’ve been starting to write for the Waco Moms blog. I enjoy writing and processing my thoughts. I love to journal. I really was thinking about this the other day — when I had my kids, I had a hard time when my [first] daughter was born. I never really had any baby experience. It was so foreign to me.

My mom — I haven’t said enough about her. My mom is truly my role model and the person who inspires me daily. She balanced a full-time career and a family, and I always say that I still want to be just like her when I grow up, even now at 33.

Something my mom spoke to me has resonated through different stages of my life. She said, ‘You just need to find a new normal.’ I’ll never forget her saying that because it worked for me. No one can tell you how to do that. There’s no exact way. I’m not there, but that’s where I need to go.

It’s a mouthful when I try to explain all I’ve done in seven years. Just trying to find a new normal, and that doesn’t mean it’s not crazy. I’m finding that through trial and error, but things do feel more normal. I’m getting used to things and giving myself time and space for that normalcy to happen.

I get impatient. It’s that type-A firstborn mantra. Giving myself time is one of the best gifts that I can do. I think your brain has to get rewired when you’re a mom, and then, for me, a working mom.

There’s never any balance, but I really want to thrive and not just survive. And there are weeks I’m limping to Friday. But that’s my overarching goal, for me to thrive and our family to thrive and find places of margin. One of the most important things with balance is to not be maxed out, to have margin or space in other areas.

WACOAN: Does writing give you that space?

Lalani: It does. It really allows me to articulate how I’m feeling or how I’m processing different stages. I love getting to read back thoughts from years ago.

I have a journal I wrote — I took about two years to finish it out. I write real small, single space, front to back. At the end, where I closed it, I wrote a note to my daughter. I said, ‘I don’t know if you’ll ever read this, but if you do, don’t judge me too harshly. It all comes from a place of love.’

We’re never done growing and maturing. I look at myself and think, ‘Why do I not have it more together than I do?’ I remember my grandmother saying one time, ‘You’d think I’d have it figured out by now.’

WACOAN: Have you been writing for the Waco Moms blog for very long?

Lalani: They just started it in March. The women who own it are really great because they have a wide variety of styles and topics. Some are Waco-driven, some are personal stories, some are camps and preschools, that sort of thing. They just came to Waco, and it’s a contributing team, which is perfect because I wouldn’t have time to host my own blog. That’s been a fun, creative outlet, personally.

WACOAN: I saw in your bio there that you like to read. What’s on your bedside table right now?

Lalani: I’ve been reading ‘Devotions for Sacred Parenting’ by Gary Thomas, but I usually have two to three books going at all times. I’m in a book club where we read a wide variety of novels each month, which keeps me accountable for finishing a book within a time frame.

I’ve been writing in a book called [‘One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book’] for the last three years, and that’s actually what sits on my nightstand. I write one line or sentence from each day, and each page holds five years’ worth of dates. This book is one of my favorite treasures, which helps me appreciate the little moments from each day in a manageable way and see how much changes from year to year.

WACOAN: One other bio note I wanted to ask you about: coffee. You said one of your favorite things is ‘drinking coffee before the sun rises.’ Do you have a favorite coffee? Any particular way you like to spend that time?

Lalani: I became an avid coffee lover in my late 20s, and now it’s one of my favorite things in the mornings. I usually drink Pike [Place] Roast at home, but the 254 Blend from Olive Branch is one of my favorites, especially if I have time to grab a cup on my way into work.

I love the stillness of the morning. It’s a rare moment when the house is quiet and peaceful with three children (hopefully) sleeping, but I love the opportunity to ready my heart and mind for the day by journaling and praying.

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