Sharing our Stories in 2021 – September

"THE SHARING OUR STORIES PROJECT"

September’s story was written by Patty Johnston.  Patty is a very smart and talented woman who knew early on that being a mother was the job she most wanted to have.  Raised by a mother who was 41 when Patty was born, Patty dreamed of being a young mom who could relate perfectly to her children so she was delighted when she became a mother for the first time at only 23 years old.  Mothering three children helped Patty see that motherhood can be both difficult and rewarding at any age. Patty’s very thoughtfully written story helps us really feel the challenges and joys of motherhood.  It also helps us look deeply at the impact our mothering can have on our identity and the identity of our daughters.

Patty Johnston
Patty Johnston

Patty was born in Indiana, but has also lived in California, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri and is currently living in Ames, Iowa. She has been married to her husband, Judge, for 30 years and has worked a variety of jobs that allowed her to focus on her primary passion of raising their 3 children, Tyler(28), Kayla(24) & Taryn(20).  Now that her children are grown, Patty is pursuing a career as a certified Life and Health Coach.

Mother's Day Card

This was the message on the Mothers’ Day card I received from my youngest child this year. And you know what? She’s right! My kids are kind, loving, thoughtful, funny, generous, responsible and dedicated individuals who genuinely care about others. They are most definitely not assholes! In fact, I raised some downright awesome people! Until recently I would have had a hard time acknowledging that I played any kind of significant part in that. I would have joked that it was in spite of me or my parenting mistakes that my kids had turned out to be such wonderful human beings. I am always quick to see my own flaws and shortcomings and even quicker to downplay or invalidate my successes and strengths. Even though this is true in all areas of my life (I’m working on changing that!) I think the reason I’m hyper-critical of myself as a mother is because being a mom means so much to me.  More accurately, being a good mom means everything to me. Knowing that I should become a mother was as certain to me as knowing the color of my own eyes or the shape of the birthmark on my left leg. It just always was a part of me. 

When the time came for me to go to college, I did so because it was expected of me and because I was ready to be out from under my parents’ roof. I knew I needed to declare a major, but  I struggled to find a career path that I felt excited or passionate about. I don’t think I was aware of the concept of going to college to get an ‘Mrs.’ degree, but subconsciously that was probably what I was doing. Obtaining a certificate of education merely meant I could start a career that I felt lukewarm about pursuing. A certificate of marriage meant far more to me, it meant I could start having babies! I realize that such a sentiment might feel somewhat cringeworthy to some women, possibly even my own daughters. But as much as some women want a career or independence, I wanted to be a mother, and in the house I grew up in, marriage was definitely a prerequisite to having babies! I changed my major several times in college because none of them felt quite right. I initially chose Social Work with the intention of advocating for children who maybe didn’t have a good mom or home life.  Each new degree I tried on had some connection to children and I finally landed in Early Childhood Education. But before my degree was completed, my first child was born and I became a mother; a young mother, just like I’d planned.

My mom was 41 years old when she discovered that she was pregnant with me and  just shy of 42 when I was born. Nowadays that isn’t so uncommon, but in 1969 my parents were counseled about the risks of having a baby with Down’s Syndrome or some other birth defect due to Mom’s ‘advanced’ age. I’ve been told that while my father questioned whether it was wise to have a baby with the risks involved, my mom was unwavering in her conviction to see the pregnancy through.  Perhaps her motivation was due to her deep faith in God, her deep love for her children, or simply her deep desire to do the ‘right’ thing. Maybe her mind was made up to continue the pregnancy simply because the alternative was too disquieting for her to stomach.  Regardless of her reasons, I’m thankful that she chose to have me. That gratitude was not fully developed or well expressed in my younger years. I was at times embarrassed by how old my parents were; by how out of touch and old fashioned they were.

My oldest sibling is 19 years older than I am and the closest sibling to me in age is 6 years older. Three of my five siblings were married before I completed grade school and my parents became grandparents when I was just 9 years old. I grew up hearing bits and pieces about how different parenting was for my brothers and sister than it was for Mom and Dad. Cloth vs disposable diapers, spanking vs talking or timeouts, stay at home moms vs stay at home dads etc. From my relative perspective things seemed to be changing pretty quickly and evolving steadily in the realm of parenting. According to my older siblings, my parents did become more lenient as the years went by, but I can attest that, by and large, they were still parenting much as they did nearly two decades before I came along. By the time I was in high school I had a broad disdain for many of their rules and ideologies that seemed so antiquated to me in comparison to those of my friends’ younger and cooler parents. By the time I reached my teens, my dad was traveling a lot for work which made Mom the default enforcer of all those old-school edicts. My siblings were all out of the house by then, too, so often it was just me and Mom. Just an adolescent girl and her menopausal mother! How could that possibly have gone well?!?  We clashed on a lot of topics, which often led to arguments and tears. During those years our relationship was far from perfect, but it wasn’t all that bad, either. We had fun together, too!  I blamed all of the negative aspects of our relationship on the big age gap between us, however, I may have underestimated the impact of all the wildly fluctuating hormones we both were experiencing! But underneath and in and around whatever hormonally charged interactions we had, I knew that she loved me in a boundless kind of way.

I loved her, too.  She was my mom; the woman who held me to her breast and nourished me as an infant, who kissed my scraped knees and bandaged my stubbed toes; the one who comforted me when I was sick and showed me how to look for shapes in the clouds like the face of a dog or hands praying; she was the one who helped me with my homework and my heartaches, and the one who always believed in me and saw the good in me, even when it meant looking past my ugly mood, my crummy attitude, or my poor choices.  Of course I loved her! But I also admired her. I wanted to emulate her. I kind of wanted to be just like her…only cooler.

“The best gift she has given me is the constancy of her belief. Whatever I become, she loves me. To her, I am enough.”
-Sue Monk Kidd Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story

You see, I genuinely believed that a lot of that fighting and clashing could be avoided if there was less of an age gap between us; and that belief was what led me to have such a strong desire to have my children while I was young. I had this beautiful example of how to love and nurture my children and I reasoned that if I was a young mom I wouldn’t be naive to what was current. I would understand my kids and the struggles they faced, I would be able to relate to them and they would respect and relate to me. However, now that I have three children of my own and a few more years under my belt, I see that my mom, after 20 plus years of parenting experience and 6 children,  had the equivalent of a PhD in Motherhood. She might have been tired by the time I came along, but she knew a thing or two about parenting that transcended age gaps. But when I was smack in the middle of those conflict-filled years, I was determined to have a different experience with my own children.

As it turned out, my experience with motherhood was unexpectedly different from the very first moment. My first born, Tyler, was not the healthy bouncing baby boy that I had anticipated. Something was wrong. There was no robust cry when he came into the world, there was no real cry at all for months to come. Only small squeaks, whines and grunts. He was unable to cry because he had virtually no muscle tone; floppy baby syndrome was what they called it. His limbs hung like a rag-doll’s, and he lacked the strength necessary to suckle his nourishment; not through the special nipple on the tiny preemie bottles that the hospital provided and definitely not from my breast. He was given a feeding tube, and placed in an incubator to regulate his body temperature.  Initially Down’s Syndrome was suspected  due to some physical characteristics, but a genetic test disproved that. It appeared that he had all 46 chromosomes. On the second day of his life the Doctors at our local hospital had run out of ideas and Tyler was transferred to the NICU at the University of Iowa Hospital. He traveled via ambulance with a nurse by his side. My husband and I made the 2-hour trip in our pickup truck with me pressing a pillow to my cesarean incision to minimize the pain of each bump in the road.

By the time my husband and I arrived at UIHC, Tyler had already been admitted and given an initial exam. We were immediately taken to a small room and told in a thinly veiled way that our child might not live, or that if he did live, he might not have much of a real life.
I was terrified. I was 23 years old and I had only been married for a year and half. My husband was only able to stay with us for a few days and then returned home to go back to work. Fortunately, because they were retired, my (old) parents were able to stay with me until we were able to bring Tyler home from the hospital. Having my mom with me during that time helped me find the strength I needed to endure the emotional and stressful first few weeks of my son’s life. I watched the unwanted, but necessary parade of doctors take my newborn to run test after test. They returned him to his isolette with no answers, only more bruises on his tiny feet and hands from so many needle sticks. Looking back on it, I think my mom’s presence provided a special combination of support and inspiration that I desperately needed. I knew she was worried, too, but she put on a brave face and gave me more strength than she probably had to give. She prayed for us, too. At that point in time my mother had been talking to God daily about her children for over 40 years, and I have no doubt that he was listening. When my Mom prayed for me it always brought me comfort and meant so much but never as much as her prayers for my child at that time. This was the loving support she offered me. I felt the inspiration to be strong and to be there for my son like she was there for me, in part because of the example she had set for me, but also because of a desire to make her proud. To show her that I saw the value in her strength as a mother and that I, too, would do anything to ensure my child was safe and loved. About a year after Tyler was born, he received a diagnosis of Prader-Willi Syndrome; the result of a tiny chromosomal deletion that is not visible on a basic chromosome screening. He had many challenges to face in his life, but for as long as she lived, my mom was his biggest cheerleader. I believe God continues to answer the prayers for Tyler that my mom sent up from that NICU all those years ago. Tyler went on to experience so much more than laying silent in an isolette as that doctor had warned us he might.

My mom was there when my second child was born, too. My husband had strep throat, so he wasn’t allowed in the labor and delivery room until it was time for me to push. Mom stayed up all night with me as my labor progressed. I have such beautiful memories of my mom speaking soothing words and softly stroking my arm while she quietly encouraged me through my first experience with active labor. I felt so close to her in those wee hours of the night as my body prepared to deliver a new life just as hers had done when I was born. And then, even though she had been the one to see me through the thick of it, when my husband arrived, she selflessly stepped aside and let him be the one closest to me as our daughter made her way into the world. My mother was a pretty remarkable woman!

Due to my dad’s failing health, Mom wasn’t able to be there when my third and last child was born, but her presence was felt nonetheless. The threads that connect mother and child are far too intricately woven to ever separate. Even though it’s been over 10 years since mom passed away, I still feel a connection to her. I miss her and often instinctively think to call her when I’m feeling especially sad or especially happy before I remember that I can’t do that. I actually couldn’t really do that for a few years before my mom died because she developed dementia. I was so afraid for the day that she would forget who I was, and thankfully it never progressed to that point. But the dementia did change her enough that I felt like I lost my mom, or at least lost important parts of her, several years before she actually died.

My daughters were 10 and 14 when my mom died. There were so many times as they were growing up that I wished I could ask my mom for advice. There were probably an equal number of times that I wished I could apologize to my mom for the times that I hurt her feelings or made her sick with worry or just plain drove her crazy! Mostly, I wished I could tap into her wisdom. (The irony of that is not lost on me.) My girls, each in their own time and way, put up a wall between themselves and me. Asserting their autonomy I suppose. It caught me off guard, though and I was deeply wounded to feel them pull away from me both physically and emotionally. These were the years that I had chosen to become a young mother for, and quite honestly I had held pretty high hopes for how it would go. I wasn’t completely ignorant; I knew the teen years wouldn’t be all smooth sailing, but I had foreseen my daughters sharing their hearts with me. At the time when I most longed to know their hopes, dreams and innermost thoughts, I was shunned and ostracized from the inner workings of their hearts and minds. I became quickly aware that my desire to be privy to how they felt about themselves and life in general felt intrusive and uncomfortable to them. That was baffling to me because I had made a very conscious effort to maintain open communication as well as an open mind. The rejection stung but mostly I felt like I was at a parental disadvantage without that information. I wanted to lament to them,
“But, I’m young, I’m hip. We wear the same clothes and listen to the same music. I respect you as an individual and I really try to listen when you talk. I not only allow you to express your emotions, but I encourage you to! When your dad doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a teenage girl, I intervene on your behalf and lobby for more freedom or a later curfew! I talk openly with you about alcohol and sex…sure I tell you I’d prefer you not take part in either just yet, but I also tell you that I understand that you might and that you can talk to me about it! Why won’t you let me in?!” My daughter, Kayla will turn 25 this November and my daughter, Taryn will turn 21 later this month. They are coming back around. Hugs are given and received freely once again. They call me when they are really happy about something or really sad, and sometimes just to say hi.

“I realize I’m trying to work out the boundaries. How to love her without interfering.
How to step back and let her have her private world and yet still be an intimate part of it.”
-Sue Monk Kidd Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story

I know that I’ve made mistakes as a mom, but I also know that I did a lot of things right. I’m only now beginning to understand that just because being a mom feels difficult and challenging at times, that doesn’t mean I am bad at it. Just because my way of showing love isn’t perhaps the way my children best receive love, that doesn’t mean they don’t know that I love them endlessly. The fact that I question every day if I am somehow messing it up as a mom, doesn’t mean that I am in fact messing it up! I might be…a little bit, and some days maybe a lot, but I’m beginning to see that the awareness that I fall short as a mother is not evidence that proves I am a bad mom. Instead it confirms that I’m a good mom because I care enough to want to always give them my best. Maybe if I wasn’t so young when I became a mom I would have figured that out a little earlier in the game. I just hope that in the end my kids will recall the good bits, the times that I was the mom that they needed at the times that they needed her and they will feel inspired to do the same for their kids someday. And I hope when my children recall the rough parts, the times that I missed the mark and made them wish for things to be different or for me to be different in some way, they will be able to reframe those memories with forgiveness and grace because they know without a doubt that I loved them more than anything and was doing my best to keep them safe. This journey isn’t over, and I still have room and time to grow and learn how to be the parent that each of my adult children needs me to be for them as they too continue to grow and change. Being a good mom will always mean everything to me. It fills my heart with purpose and joy!

Taryn, Patty, Judge, Kayla, Tyler
Taryn, Me, Judge, Kayla, and Tyler

 For those of you who find music a meaningful form of expression, I am including a link to a song I discovered a while back. The lyrics are a beautiful message from a daughter to her mother. I’d like to dedicate it to my mom and hope she can hear it in heaven.

 https://open.spotify.com/track/6oyj5irS9Sox4uImSTP09L?si=TKTccaRbS2u_ieQ0WBbXZA&utm_source=copy-link&dl_branch=1

 For more information about Prader-Willi Syndrome visit PWSAUSA.ORG

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Sharing Our Stories in 2021 – August

"THE SHARING OUR STORIES PROJECT"

Michele Delhaye is the author of our sweet and very thoughtful August story.  Michele’s grandmother died in the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918, leaving behind Michele’s mother who was just two years old.  Michele’s story chronicles her mother Geraldine’s journey from her start as an orphaned two-year old to her career as a respected Ob-Gyn nurse and nurse-educator and mother of two daughters.  Her thoughtful reflection on the strong women (and men) in her life allows Michele to better understand their influence on her own strong and lovely way of being in the world and provides us with a powerful story about resilience and the importance of support and encouragement.

Happy Summer!  

Love, Carol and VV

Michele Delhaye, M.Ed.
Michele Delhaye, M.Ed.

Michele Delhaye grew up in the Hudson Valley in the small town of Cornwall, New York. She received her BA degree from Castleton University and her M.Ed. from University of Vermont. She worked as a: social worker, employment counselor, Adult Technical Education Coordinator and a postsecondary education counselor. She earned certificates in Adventures Based Counseling (ropes course leadership) as well as ropes course rescue. Michele and her husband are now retired and live in Rockingham, Vermont and camp in the summer in Danville, Vermont. They currently have three dogs and a cat. Michele enjoys traveling, kayaking, gardening, knitting, quilting, x-country skiing, and yoga.

Michele’s Story: Motherless Child and Childless Mother

Letta, Michele's Grandmother
Letta, Michele's grandmother

Letta Allen Pennington was pregnant with her second child when she died in the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918. She left behind her beloved husband Albert and their first child Geraldine aged two. Geraldine, my mother, was sent off to various relatives for a while as her father mourned and regrouped. One of the relatives was her mother’s sister Maude. Aunt Maude was widowed with six children. Her husband had died from untreated diabetes. Insulin wasn’t made available until 1921. My great aunt Maude was a feisty gal and managed to raise her children somehow without any governmental help. There was no welfare or social security death benefits. She was unskilled but forced to find work along with her older children. Aunt Maude was a lady despite rumors of her “swearing like a trooper”. I always thought this was a slur against state troopers. I know two retired ones (and I’ve never heard either one swear), so I’m a bit embarrassed to use this phrase.  I’m not sure any slur is excusable these days, but I’m just reporting what was said. I took the time to research this phrase and found that it’s a reference to cavalrymen in the 1700’s who were known to use vulgar and foul language!   I don’t remember Aunt Maude using bad language! She always dressed well and showed my older sister how to enhance the ambience of a dress or suit by cutting off the cheap buttons and replacing them with more expensive looking ones. As a woman forced to live in poverty, she was a clever woman! My mother said that while she lived with her Aunt Maude none of the children ever went hungry! If one needed a snack there was always bread and butter available.

Jerre and Aunt Maude
Jerre at 68 and Aunt Maude at 98

My mother’s father eventually remarried. He married his brother’s fiancé after the brother died unexpectedly from a gas stove leak. It was before an odor was added to propane to help with detection of leaks. Maybe they mourned together and found solace in each other. Together they made a new life, married, brought my mother home and had four more children- all girls! My (step) Grandmother Mae always referred to my mother as her first daughter. And, my sister and I always referred to her as our grandmother. Albert worked at the B & M railroad. He went to college at night to earn a degree in engineering. He believed in the power of education! Grandfather Albert died when I was young, so Mae was the only grandparent I ever really knew.  She was big hearted, kind, intelligent and loving.

When my mother Geraldine “Jerre” graduated from high school, her father told her that she should continue her education. He believed that women needed to have a skill to fall back on- if ever needed. I’m sure this came about from watching his sister in law Maude struggle as a young widow!   Many women in the early 1930’s believed that they had few choices for training: nurse, teacher or secretary.

Jerre's HS graduation photo
Jerre's high school graduation photo

My mother chose to become a nurse. She completed a three-year program leading to an RN license. She had a long, successful and fulfilling career as a nurse. I think the two most rewarding aspects of her career were working in the OB-GYN ward and teaching new nurses. She was very respected by the doctors she worked with and was often left in charge of a birth.

Jerre was very open with her daughters about sexuality and reproductive issues. She didn’t want her daughters blindsided like some of the young women she saw, who didn’t understand the why and how of their bodies or what their reproductive options were. I’m grateful to her for being so open, honest and educating us! 

Like her father before her she encouraged (expected) my older sister and me to pursue higher education. There really wasn’t any other option discussed than college. A few times when I got discouraged or frustrated with college, my mother would wisely say to me “Oh, that’s O.K. dear, you can quit college and come home. Of course, you’ll have to get a minimum wage job at Woolworth’s as a cashier and we will expect you to pay us room and board.”  What a great deterrent to quitting college! My sister and I both went on to earn master’s degrees- which I’m sure was gratifying to her (and our father). It’s also interesting, I think to look back and realize that the most rewarding job in my life was working in a federally funded TRiO program at VSAC promoting higher education and training to those people less fortunate than I (many of them were low income women).

What I loved most about my mother is that despite her worries, fears and insecurities she applauded and encouraged her daughters to be independent. She taught us to save money and said that a woman should always have a savings account in her own name, so that she could afford to leave a relationship if she ever felt the need to.

Michele at 36 and Jerre at 73
Michele at 36 and Jerre at 73

I was a willful child from the beginning. My mother said that as a baby, she’d try to cuddle me, and I would push her away (poor woman)! But she was very smart! She and my father used psychology to keep me from harm. They knew that if they said “no” to me, that I would rebel and defy them. For example, when I was sixteen, I had already been going out of state to religious conferences with the LRY- Liberal Religious Youth at the Unitarian/Universalist Church. So, when the Woodstock Festival presented itself, I wanted to go with my friends. My parents never said “no, you can’t go”. Instead they reasoned with me about why they thought it would be a bad idea. I always felt respected as an independent, intelligent individual. I truly feel blessed to have had these parents who taught me about accepting and respecting others even if they are different than us, and how to discuss a challenge rather than making mandates.

So, here I am at the end of the day at age 68 and childless. I’ve had a happy and fulfilling life despite not having children. Did I miss a big part of life? Probably, but I have no complaints. Having children never was a strong desire of mine. I suppose I have used some maternal instincts towards other beings and people in my life. I am the mother of dogs! Many, many dogs over my rich and interesting life. And, I’m blessed to have several younger women in my life. I’m not their mother, but maybe more like an aunt. One of them is my late friend’s daughter Leah. I have known her and loved her since she was a baby. Now she has babies of her own and although I’m not a grandparent, I’m an “auntie”!

I’m loving life, feeling blessed for those women (and men) who helped shape me and grateful for all the wonderful people in my life!

Flowers
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Sharing our Stories in 2021 – July

"THE SHARING OUR STORIES PROJECT"

In our July story, Lynn Arner brings her love for her children and her over thirty years of experience in child development to a very thoughtful examination of the significance of gender in parent-child relationships. Lynn takes the risk of considering and sharing her own biases in the way she relates to her daughter versus the way she relates to her sons.   Loving them all with her generous and very devoted heart, she ponders what may feel different about being a “girl mom.”   By sharing her story,  Lynn invites each of us to take time to look deeply at how we relate to our children.  Thanks to Lynn for the insight and sharing!

Love, Carol and Vv

Lynn Arner
Lynn Arner

Lynn Arner grew up in Indiana. She moved to California in 1980 and earned her Bachelors and Masters degrees in Child Development at UC Davis. Lynn has her own business called Early Years where she facilitates trainings for teachers and parents, coaches preschool teachers, and consults with parents who are struggling with parenting. Her passion is assisting parents and teachers to understand a child’s behavior and to “smooth the bumps along the way”. Lynn enjoys time with her husband and 4 children and 4 grandchildren. Spending time with her children means traveling from California to Oregon, Nebraska, and Texas.  

Lynn’s Story: My Daughter

There is something special about my relationship with my daughter.  I delight in her presence.  When I talk about her, I feel a surge of pride and I sense her lightness and pure joy.  One of my favorite memories of her is when she was about 5 months old and I was working full time, with her at work with me.  My time with her during the day was shared with her brother and 24 other preschoolers with whom I worked at the time.  But, at night when she would wake up to nurse, it was just the two of us.  After nursing she would be happy and alert and lay there on the floor and coo and lift her legs.  I loved that time with her.  I could just watch her and smile at her and imitate her coos.  She was always such a peaceful baby.

Lynn's Daughter as a baby
Lynn's Daughter

I have two sons as well.  It is not that I do not have a good relationship with them.  But, it is a very different relationship.  I find myself wondering in this moment if it is because they are males.  My sons will tell you that I am sexist.  I have not had an easy relationship with the males in my life.  I say that with a bit of shame.  I feel like my joy in women is contrasted by my relationship with males.  Why can’t I have the same positive relationship with males as I do with females?  The shame is in the realization that I have a tendency to find negative in others in order to feel better about myself.  So, is it because my daughter is female like me and I want to see myself in a positive way; and therefore, I see males in a negative way?  I cannot honestly tell you that there is not truth there.  I am not generally a negative person.  I see the good in everyone.  But I find it easier to see the negative in males.  I am not trusting of males the way I am with females.  I have been “burned” in the past by males and I am definitely on the defensive with males more than I am with females. 

It is possible that my dichotomous thinking is because my daughter and I are so much alike.  She too sees the good in others and assumes positive intent.  She is innocent that way.  And she expresses joy freely.  She is not afraid to be silly and laugh at herself.  This is another trait we share.  Our careers are the same as well.  We both work in Early Childhood Education.  She just earned the same advanced degree that I hold.  She calls regularly and we discuss the children in her class.  My youngest son is currently working in a childcare; but, he does not talk with me about the kids often and he does not ask my advice like my daughter does.  Does he not have the same need to vent?  Is he not as much of a talker?  I don’t believe either of those are true.  Does he not have the same respect for me that my daughter has?  She seems to admire me the way that I admire her.  And, so, I am back to my joy in my relationships with females.  I have the same joy in my relationship with my best friend and my sisters and I once had that relationship with my mom.  I find comfort and joy with these women.

I am glad that my daughter has joined this female club with me.  She often tells me that her boyfriend is just like her dad.  We chuckle and warn each other of the difficulties in a relationship with a male.  Have I indoctrinated her in this belief?  Whether I have or not, she and I connect in our view of males and we have one more thing in common.  She tells me that she is just like me.  I try to tell her that she is better than me.  I see the ways we are the same, like the way we express joy with big broad smiles and our goofy way of acting when we are happy.  I also see her being more responsible than me and, possibly consequently, more of a worrier than me.  She is also braver than I am.  I am divorced and had a very hard time standing up to my first husband.  She, on the other hand, has bravely confronted him and spoken her truth.  Her strength has always impressed me. 

I feel blessed to have been given such a wonderful daughter.  I call her when I need to talk and I know that she will listen the same way that I listen to her each time she calls.  She lives in Nebraska and I live in California.  We talk on the phone frequently, but we see each other rarely.  I am happy to say that by the time this blog comes out, I will be in Nebraska visiting her.  I am sure that we will snuggle and talk and laugh.   I can feel her arms wrapped tightly around me as I imagine it now.  She gives me so much joy!

Lynn and her daughter
Lynn with her daughter, sharing smiles

Thank you for allowing me to be open and honest in this blog.  In the directions it was stated that “the WISEWOMAN or WISEGIRL inside you is working on a way to better understand and share what you need to understand and share as you work your way through writing your story”.  You knew, even better than I knew, what I would write.  It is apparent that I am working through my sexist views of binary genders.  In this day and age, I feel that I should be more accepting of gender differences. And therefore I will continue to ponder my view of males and females and continue my journey as a mother and a wife and a grandmother and a sister.  A special thanks goes out to my sisters who will undoubtedly read this and we will talk about it on Zoom.  I love you, my dear sisters!

Flowers
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Sharing our Stories in 2021 – June

"THE SHARING OUR STORIES PROJECT"

Our June story is Terry Callahan’s beautiful analysis of her mother Marjorie’s influence on her development.   Terry’s vivid description of her mother’s childhood and then a view of her mother’s skillful mothering of Terry and her 5 siblings, allow us to really experience what it felt like to be this mother’s daughter.  Marjorie, was a true Vermonter who was one of 7 children raised on a farm in East Putney, Vermont during the Depression. Marjorie’s no-nonsense approach to funding her own education to become a public health nurse and her wise day-to-day management of her household of eight show us how a strong and independent woman can promote and nurture her own development and ultimately influence the development of her strong and independent daughter.  Terry is retired from her work in education, as an entrepreneur, and as a manager in an education non-profit.  She is enjoying her retirement along with the freedom of having time to focus on projects, gardening and spending time with family and friends.

Love, Carol and Vv

Terry Callahan
Terry Callahan, Marjorie's daughter

Terry’s Story:  Reflections on my Mother’s Influence

We were forewarned that the Presidential Inauguration on January 20, 2021 would be strikingly different than all previous inaugurations throughout US history. That warning played itself out with a fanfare that impressed so many viewers this past January and particularly me.  What surprised me most was how truly inspiring this year’s inauguration event unfolded. What emerged was a fresh new look and feel.   Most evident to me were the number of women speaking on the dais in powerful and prominent roles.  A big change from the past and one I imagine was as profoundly felt/noticed as it was uplifting, historic, and welcomed by our own citizens and by the observing nations around the world that celebrated with us.  

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the youngest justice on the court, officiated the swearing in of Kamala Harris, first female Vice President in the US.   Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced President Joe Biden and welcomed him as our new President.  The young poet extraordinaire, Amanda Gorman, delivered a stellar and electrifying speech as she summed up the previous 4 years of rancor, racism, and political division that permeated our politics.  She spoke words that needed to be spoken as she illuminated the struggles facing our country’s racial history and how that constant struggle has kept the US from becoming a nation that walks the talk and delivers equitably on the constructs of our constitution.   She was passionate speaking from her own life experiences and expressing her hopes with strong conviction for what could be different in our future. Her message touched so many of us and her call to action affirmed the hard work needed to bring changes in our nation. In doing so she raised the bar on the possibilities for a better America.   

We are halfway through 2021 and I still carry the good karma that this year’s inauguration generated in me.  My own history allows me to recognize the power of women at the forefront in influencing change for a better world. Inspired by the words of the women who spoke I have taken the time to reflect on the key influences that supported my own growth and development, a long and enjoyable working career and the many opportunities and good fortune that have followed me throughout my 60 plus years.  It was my mother’s significant influence that affected me most growing up in a small Vermont town in the sixties in a loving family of eight, with an attentive and present mother who made a difference. Her influence had a powerful impact on my transitions during my early years and as a young teen. That influence manifested itself in a focused presence in my life as it did for all 5 siblings.  As I reflect on some key influences my mother instilled throughout my youth and adolescence, I am grateful now to celebrate the precious gifts they became. 

Marjorie with her grand-daughter
Marjorie with her grand-daughter

My mother Marjorie Stockwell was born in 1925 and grew up on a farm in East Putney during the depression.  My grandfather purchased a 200-acre farm in the 1920’s with the income he saved while working as a machinist in Connecticut in his youth.   The farm had two work horses for plowing and planting the fields in spring and for collecting sap buckets at sugaring time.   A large garden and stock animals (mostly chickens and pigs) kept the family well fed during the rough years of the depression era.   Mother was proud to tell us that their family had enough food throughout her youth but not much money for “extras”.  We all knew they were poor.   My grandfather drove a horse and buggy to nearby Brattleboro to make a living selling potatoes, produce, meat, and syrup to local markets back in his time. The hard work that goes along with farming was expected, a given, and my grandfather and the family soon earned the right to consider themselves true Vermonters.

As a child Marjorie walked to her East Putney primary school with her 6 siblings as they lived and worked the farm doing daily chores and working the land.   I imagine both school and farm work meant long days as it still does for most Vermont farm families and still, I imagine this scene with idyllic longing, an antidote to the pace of life post-internet.  I have some cherished photos of the schoolhouse mother attended in her youth; photos that reveal the hard scrabble life that was endemic to the times.   Lined up on the porch steps of their school I can pick out all 6 of my aunts and uncles still in their youth. This picture is the best window I have into to my mother’s early years, and it speaks volumes to me about her way of life and the circumstances that guided her to adulthood.  Growing up my mother and all of her siblings entertained themselves making their own music.  They learned to sing, play guitar, banjo, and piano, bringing joy and sustaining their family well over many years.

I still long for more details about my mother’s youth and wish too that I knew more about my maternal grandmother, more details than the fact that she died when my mother was 16 leaving her family of 7 to carry on. I expect this trauma must have affected my mother deeply. And yet Marjorie along with her two sisters Hazel and Arlene were permitted to leave the farm after their mother’s death to move to Brattleboro to complete secondary school at St. Michael’s Catholic High School. Each of the sisters were paired with a Catholic family for living accommodations close to the school; an arrangement that was in exchange for doing light chores to pay for their keep.  My mother and her two sisters were serious students during high school and each sister pursued a paying job in the area that allowed them to save money to support their continued education after high school.   

In 1944 few women from Vermont farm families had the resources or support to pursue education through high school, let alone beyond high school graduation.  In spite of this my own mother’s resourcefulness and determination helped her to devise a plan which included saving most of her earnings to pay for her RN nurses training at a Catholic nurses training school in Massachusetts.  The fact that she persisted with her desire to become a nurse given the challenges of losing her mother at 16 was quite remarkable.  I know that she loved her training and excelled at academics at the same time she worked to support her tuition and room and board.   During summer breaks from nurses training she returned to the farm to raise chickens to sell as meat birds. This effort covered most of her costs for her RN license. Her luck back then was that education was affordable without the need of excessive loans. 

My mother’s greatest influence on me was her humanity and her kindness toward others in our community.  She valued her work, caring for people as a public health nurse in our small community, giving her the freedom she craved to have a focus that was beyond family. She delayed her nursing career while we were young and started working as we entered high school, at first one day a week and soon fulltime.  She used to say this brought sanity first and then salvation; she clearly was stimulated by both her work and human connections she made.

My mother’s even temper and her innate ability to stay calm with 6 children under foot created a safe haven.  I do not recall ever hearing her raise her voice.  Her love of family and her focused priority in nurturing that pursuit became the cornerstone for a secure and loving upbringing.  She supported me always lifting me up, guiding me, NAGGING me through my teen years, providing “helpful” reminders. She was never pushy, always permitting ME to do the work and to reap the benefits.  When I was in 8th grade, she supported my own plan to bike from Brattleboro to Canada and back with 5 of my girlfriends.  She was my “influencer” and her work on my behalf in support of “no chaperones” for this trip was a big part of what we considered a successful plan.  She came through again at the tail end of 11th grade when I announced my plan to live in Ireland for my senior year of high school to attend a day school in Galway.  A picture I Iove has me standing between my parents just prior to boarding a flight to Shannon airport from New York. I am wearing a wide smile and looking like the cat who swallowed the canary. Perhaps it was just a nervous smile.  My mother’s support and nurturing of my independence carried me into adulthood and allowed my own confidence to bloom during this time.

Terry at Salerno School
Terry (at left in white) with class at Salerno School in Galway Ireland

My mother was money wise and savvy and she gets all the credit for teaching me how to live on a budget.  Her skills were legendary and her system for money management was effective; no financial planner needed.  Her system included “used” white envelopes stored in the kitchen cupboard among the spices. Each envelope had the weekly or monthly cost to be paid to the appropriate vendor, the milk man, egg man whose name we all loved, Danny Wodowutz, groceries, church, and so on.   Her grocery list included the items with exact amounts to be paid for each item, for example 3 cucumbers, 29 cents. She would total her list, say $35.69, and provide a reminder not to exceed that total at check-out since you were given only enough cash to cover her total within a few cents.   

My mother’s frugality ruled our household and she perfected it managing our family of 8. I have come to appreciate the fact that while growing up in our rambling 3 story house on Oak Street in Brattleboro we never owned a dishwasher or a clothes dryer. After all there was no need for these items with six kids all trained young and expected to help out.  A main chore was the laundry basket, always a mile high, it beckoned daily.  There were 3 “handmade” wooden clothes racks in the 3d floor attic where we hung wet clothes with few complaints.  Washing and drying dishes, hanging and folding laundry and ironing endless shirts, dresses, and school uniforms were all part of our daily routine almost around the clock as my mother shopped for food and prepared three meals a day in between getting us all to appointments and lessons or early jobs.   As kids we were oblivious to the benefits of doing this work throughout our early years.  Soon enough though it was evident that it was groundwork for securing the paid jobs we were lucky to have throughout high school. It was Mom who drove all six of us everywhere we needed to go and this must have been a time drain for her as we all were running somewhere always.  I was thrilled to be hired for my first “real” summer job picking strawberries at Harlow’s Farm. Mother would drop us off at 7am and pick up by 11:30am. My pay was $28 dollars a week and I decided right then that I liked working along with the benefits of having my own cash to spend.  All kids who worked for pay in my family were required to save half of all earnings and open a bank savings account for college.  This house rule was strictly enforced.  Today I value and practice my mother’s lessons in both frugality and money management as they have served me well for years.

Mother was our best teacher.  She taught us about nutrition and how to cook. Sugar was a rare treat and though she taught my brother how to make donuts when he was 9, he was only allowed to make them twice a year.  It was a half day project with the kitchen table draped with brown paper bags laid out to soak up the grease as he pulled donuts from fryer.  

She taught me how to drive a standard and never once got frazzled even when I left her stranded at a red light on the Main Street hill to walk home because I couldn’t get the car into first gear. She taught all of us how to sew first by hand and once that was perfected, we learned to use the Singer treadle. We started making bean bags at 10 and we were cranking out aprons and dresses in no time.  My own interest in sewing grew fast as did my skills and I was making a dress a week by the time I entered middle school. She gave us an appreciation for art and the arts with music lessons and dance.  She taught me how to be independent, how to be less selfish.

While she agonized over leaving her beloved career in Public Health at 60, she was ready to be done. Once again, she had purpose and plan for more learning that would consume her time over her last 25 years of life.  Now she would indulge her hidden talents as art became her focus.  With ample time to devote to new interests, she excelled at photography, exhibiting her work around town. She took classes in clay, metals, and learned the lost wax method of sculpture and casting.  Each of these pursuits allowed her to grow and explore which she did with much joy and pride to the very end of her days. It has been 10 years since her passing, but my mother speaks to me still through the many treasures she created and shared with me during this period of her life.  Today I cherish some of her creations passed onto me over the years, a funky coffee cup, an unglazed hand sculpted clay seahorse that sits on a bathroom shelf and intrigues my granddaughter when she visits, a photo she took of a snow-covered barn that reminds of the old farm in East Putney where she grew up. These items bring me joy and wonderful memories today as they are the material treasures that remind me of her and her value to me along with the precious gift of being a great mother.

 

There is still no clothes dryer or dishwasher at the family home on Oak Street. The same 3 wooden clothes racks are still performing 60 years hence for my 96-year-old dad.  This fact too I find remarkable as the racks have outlasted the life span of at least 3 clothes dryers. 

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Sharing Our Stories in 2021 – May

"THE SHARING OUR STORIES PROJECT"

This month in honor of Mother’s Day and the birthdays of two wise girls, we are grateful to be able to share stories by two BFFs and their wise moms.  Our fabulous BFF May birthday nine-year-olds are Willow and Vv.  The girls collaborated with their respective moms, Patricia and Jen, to share their feelings about being daughters and moms.  These sweet and insightful stories allow us a peek into mother-daughter relationships and an opportunity to consider how girls’ ability to develop first friendships can be nurtured and supported by their special relationships with their moms. We hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as the moms and daughters enjoyed writing them!

Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Birth Day to all the May babies and their moms.

Love, Carol and Vv

Story 1:  Patricia and Willow:

Patricia Mahoney works as a journalist covering towns northwest of Boston. She currently lives in Harvard, Massachusetts, with her husband, four children, dog, goats, chickens, and reptiles. Willow is turning nine on May 12. She loves science, the outdoors, and being best friends with Carol’s granddaughter Vv. The family is set to move to Orange County, California this summer, where Patricia and Willow will surely add to their vast seashell collection.

Patricia and Willow’s Mother-Daughter Story

I am the mother of four children who each light up my life in their own special ways. It is my great honor to be their mom and watch them grow into unique individuals. Each story of how they came into this world is different. As Mother’s Day approaches, I’d like to share the story of my daughter Willow.

Willow is my middle child. She is my Mother’s Day baby. She was born on Saturday, May 12, 2012 in Boston. I went against protocol and left the hospital early the day after her birth so I could spend Mother’s Day at home with my children, eating take-out Chinese food — a long standing family tradition before weddings and after babies. I could not get out of that hospital fast enough. I declined the customary wheelchair and walked out of there and across the street to the garage like a woman on a mission.

I remember two things very clearly from the day of my daughter’s birth: a really great chicken salad sandwich from the hospital cafeteria and a nurse calling me a superstar after the labor and delivery. Obviously I was no superstar. I didn’t do anything that millions of women hadn’t done before me. But inside, I did feel pretty strong.

To give a little background – I actually thought I was done having kids after my first two. At the time I had a son and a daughter and I assumed our family was complete. But then my daughter, maybe five years-old at the time, started asking for a baby sister. She’d ask Santa for a baby sister. When she blew out her birthday candles, she’d wish for a baby sister. Being an only child, I always wished for a sister myself, and so I eventually decided I wasn’t done after all.

I asked the ultrasound technician during one of my appointments not to tell me the baby’s sex. Instead, I asked her to write it down and seal it in an envelope. On Christmas morning I put that envelope in my husband’s stocking and we all opened it together. I guess Santa was listening that year because my daughter got what she asked for – a baby sister was on the way.

Up until then we had only picked out a name for a boy – William after my husband. I still wanted to name her after him and he suggested the name Willa. But I kept thinking back to my childhood, to this spirited willow tree in my aunt’s backyard. It was mighty yet delicate and its branches seemed to dance with the wind. I’d watch that tree with wonder back then, just as I watch my Willow now.

Choosing a middle name was challenging as I was fortunate to have known several remarkable women whose names would have suited my daughter well – so I chose two middle names. I chose Emily, after my dear aunt who passed away at age 86 several years earlier. Originally from Albania, she passed through Ellis Island as a child. She entered into an arranged marriage at a young age because that was the custom back then. I’m not sure how she felt about that – I never asked and I regret it. She taught me how to make baklava and spinach pie and she reminded me of what my grammy might have been like, had I known her.

I also chose Anna after my husband’s nana. She was a kind, quick-witted woman also born in May, who lived on a farm in Pennsylvania. She called stuffing “dressing” and whoopee pies “gobs”. She loved birds and drank a Budweiser every night. Fortunately, Willow got to meet her great-nana a couple of years before she passed at age 93. At the time of her death, Anna had lived to see 16 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren, and 7 great-great grandchildren.

Willow’s birth experience was unique – as all births are. I had been advised several times during my pregnancy to take an epidural because my babies had a history of shoulder dystocia, which meant their shoulder could get stuck in the birth canal and if certain maneuvers weren’t used correctly there was a chance of arm paralysis, and other nasty complications.

I had really hoped to have a drug free birth with Willow. My first pregnancy was spent either in the hospital or at home on bed rest because my unborn baby had a heart condition; my second pregnancy ended in a devastating miscarriage; an epidural given to me during my son’s birth left me with a spinal headache and unable to lift my head off the pillow for a week; my youngest daughter was a C-section. My doctor followed the baby’s growth closely and supported my decision to give birth naturally.

I remember going into the hospital after my water broke at home. The on-call doctor ended up being my OBGYN for a short time during my first pregnancy, up until I was deemed high risk and had to switch doctors.

“No screaming,” she said in a sing-song voice that I still imitate from time to time for laughs. “You’ll scare the other patients.”

I looked at my husband incredulously and instead of arguing that it is perfectly natural to scream during labor, I asked for a washcloth which I promptly stuffed in my mouth to muffle my yells. I smile when I look at pictures of me holding my infant, with that white facecloth perched on my shoulder.

At some point a nurse stood on a stool and told me she was going to be pushing on my stomach very hard to guide the baby along. It was weird and it hurt, but I was in the zone and so excited to meet my baby.

I knew she had been born but didn’t hear the cries. I was waiting, but nothing. There was no one handing my husband scissors to cut the cord. Instead, someone said the cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck and she needed oxygen. There was a sense of urgency in the room and I could see my husband pacing around and the worry on his face. Now I know it was because he saw that our baby was blue. It seemed like forever – but then I heard it – the cries of my daughter. All was right with the world.

When they laid her on my chest, I did just as I had done the other times I became a mom. I kissed her face and whispered my promise – “I am your mommy and I will love you and protect you forever.”

Mom and Willow

Unlike my other kids, Willow has my brown eyes and curls. She also shares my love of writing. We often compose songs and stories together for fun. Just as another parent and child might toss a ball back and forth, Willow and I play with words.

We share lots of other common interests as well. We have jars upon jars of seashells that we have collected over summers spent on Cape Cod. Willow is always bringing me a new rock for my kitchen window sill. We enjoy sitting on the patio with our binoculars, listening to the birds. We both like dancing in the snow and singing along to the Backstreet Boys.

Happy Birthday Willow

She is also uniquely herself. She dreams of walking on the moon and exploring the planets one day. She tells me about the stars and lets me see them through her lens in a whole new way.

Willow often writes me letters and poems that make me cry because I see her heart in every phrase, in every line.

Each May I celebrate being a mother to my four children and I also celebrate the birthday of my precious Willow Emily Anna.

I asked Willow to write about what it’s like to be a daughter. Here is what she wrote (edited for spelling):

One day a mother and her daughter were standing in a pile of flowers like a canvas but only flowers.
They were twirling and playing til they went to the beach with the sand in their toes and the water splashing their feet.

Collecting shells.

Then they laid out a blanket and saw the stars and each one was different.

The daughter said, “I never want this to end.”

STORY 2:  Jen and Vv  

Jen Arner Welsh is a professor of developmental psychology at Quinsigamond Community College in Massachusetts.  At home in Harvard, Jen enjoys gardening, cooking, running, and hanging out with her husband and Vv and Vv’s “brothers” (their dog Pigwidgeon and cat Rory).  Vv is turning nine this month and spends her time reading and listening to audio books, swimming, dancing and singing her way through every single day, designing and building anything (i.e., Lego sets, doll clothes, robots, cupcakes, whatever!) and hanging out with her BFF, Willow.

Jen and Vv

Jen and Vv’s Mother-Daughter Story

Jen:  When my fabulous daughter, Vv, and my amazing mom, Carol, first came up with the idea of sharing stories from different women and girls on the blog, Vv knew she wanted to be one of the authors.  I felt very lucky when Vv asked if we could write a post together!  Admittedly, I feel a bit of anxiety about living up to their excellent idea, and the wonderful writers who’ve shared their stories before us – but it has been fun, rewarding, and enlightening for us to work on this project together! 

 

Vv:  As me and my mom were starting this fabulous story, I just couldn’t figure out what to write at first. I was typing, “I don’t know what to write.” But then, for this intro, I decided to write it about not knowing what to write about.  So that is just what I wrote.

 

Jen:  Vv just described the struggle she had in writing the introduction for this piece, and we also struggled a bit with what we wanted to write about in general, and how we’d do that together.  We settled upon the idea of thinking about what we love about each other, and what drives us crazy about each other.  It was really interesting to do this, because I think we both learned something about how the other feels that we didn’t know before.

 

Vv:   There are many things I love about my mom. here are the things I could think of: she isn’t annoyingly funny, she reads to me, she read the babysitters club books, she watches High School Musical, the Musical, the Series with me, plays Nancy Drew games with me, loves me, encourages me, and snuggles with me.

 

Jen:  There are so many things that I love about Vv that I am sure I have not captured them all here – but, I didn’t want to embarrass her, be annoyingly funny (something that would be on her list of things that drive her crazy about HER DAD), or ramble on too much, so here’s what I have on the list I generated while we were brainstorming for this blog.  I love the way Vv’s nose wrinkles when she laughs.  I know that sounds silly, but when Vv was a baby, we looked for signs of her personality and who she’d become in every aspect of her little being.  We waited a LONG time for smiles and giggles, but when she did start laughing (after the first time, which was a total misfire, and a story for another day), when she was at her most delighted, her nose would wrinkle…and it still does.  I love that little nose wrinkle more than really makes sense.

 

I also love the way that Vv puts all of herself into the things she does. I feel like this dovetails with another thing that I love about her, which is that she is 100% herself, all the time.  When she runs across the yard and jumps into the baby pool, or through the sprinkler, she does it with 100% of her mind and body.  When she signs onto the computer for school, she brings her whole self into that Zoom room, and when she decides to create a cardboard stall for her plastic horses, she dedicates herself to it with both intense concentration and her own particular style.  (I also love that concentration of hers – nothing beats the look she has on her face when she’s listening to a story she’s interested in, or the questions she asks when she wants to know more about something…except maybe the way she wrinkles her nose!).  Being herself also means that she isn’t one to back down from her own opinions; when every other kid in her class said they’d rather have a snow leopard than a pig, Vv grinned with delight and confirmed her dedication to her porcine friends.  Relatedly, I also love the way that she loves with her whole heart.  Her love is not stingy or contingent or jealous – while I may drive her crazy, she loves me like air.  She loves her “brothers”, the dog and cat, as if they were people, and when she finds something or someone new she loves, she embraces it wholeheartedly.

Pigwidgeon the family dog

I love how strong Vv’s opinions and feelings are – they are her superpower (even though, like any superpower, they sometimes overwhelm her, and we need a training plan for learning how to harness them for good and not for evil!).  It is these strong feelings that give her such a strong and loving heart, that lead to her intense sense of fairness, and her willingness to speak up when something isn’t right.

 

I love the way that she teaches me things.  When she was a baby, I memorized “Goodnight Moon,” a parlor trick that my students still enjoy, and I learned so much about what newborns and babies are really like, even after spending years studying and teaching about development.     When she was a toddler, she loved to draw, so I, who never took a single art class after 5th grade, drew her a picture every single day for her preschool lunchbox, and learned a new skill. Now, I learn something new from her every day – she teaches me how to do new things in Zoom, about assorted Disney musicals, new approaches to problem-solving, and how to work through hard things with people you love.

 

I love her freedom (I could never jump into the pool with such abandon, or try making tuna salad with so many ingredients, or dance so freely), her snuggles (still as sweet as when she was a baby), how funny she is, how curious she is, how much she loves the water, how creative she is, how she can make anything out of cardboard…I love her very Vv-ness!

 

Vv: There are many things that drive me crazy about my mom but here is what I could think of:  she sends me to my room, she gets me more mad, her tone of voice, the fact that sometimes it seems like we practically fight on a daily basis, that just like everyone else in the world she doesn’t understand the song Queen of Mean, that she’s afraid the cat will scratch my head off and the fact that she CLEANS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Jen: The number one thing that drives me crazy about Vv is the way that she boxes herself into a corner unnecessarily, and then has to really freak out before it can get fixed.  Writing this blog post has been really useful to me (and another example of Vv teaching me things), because I now see that this is certainly related to some things that I LOVE about her – the way that she puts her whole self into everything, how strong her feelings are, and her intense sense of fairness.  I’m hoping that realizing this will help me to manage those “corners” a lot better.  It also makes me nuts how she so often waits until bedtime to bring up a big difficult (or complicated) issue, because I know I’m not at my best for managing those things when I’m tired and ready for the end of the day.  I’m also honestly flabbergasted (or pie-whacked as one of her favorite characters would say) by how her stuff is always EVERYWHERE throughout the entire house – including things like little bits of paper, clothing, and toys strewn through the middle of every room in the house.

Vv's costume designs

Vv: So, in conclusion, there are many things we love about each other, but there are also many ways we drive each other crazy, and this is honestly like most mother-daughter relationships.  The lesson we’re trying to teach is that even though there’s a lot of things that drive us crazy about each other, there’s also a lot of things we can love about each other at the same time.

 Jen: I think Vv wrote us a wonderful conclusion here – and I think her insight that this is a common dynamic for many mothers and daughters is an excellent one.  I feel blessed to have discovered over the past 43 years things that I both love and that drive me crazy about my own amazing mother…and as I age, I find that, like with Vv, many of them are two sides of the same coin – and also, many of them are things we share.  My hope is that, by understanding all of this, I can learn to relate to and love my daughter and my mother (and maybe even myself) a little bit more – and maybe thinking about this will be helpful to someone else, too.

Love between mother and daughter
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Sharing Our Stories in 2021 – April

THE "SHARING OUR STORIES" PROJECT

April's Story by Beth Bokan

We are delighted to share Beth Bokan’s beautiful story about her mother for our April blog post.  Beth describes an unfolding mother-daughter story that may be familiar to many of us as daughters. Her sensitive and thoughtful reflections on her changing perceptions of her mother help us to see how patience, love and effort can deepen and strengthen this very important connection between two women. Beth reminds us that no matter what a relationship has been in the past, it is possible to find common ground and understanding.

Beth Bokan

Welcome to spring and thanks for reading our April story about patience, understanding and new beginnings.

Love, Carol and Vv

Beth Bokan is a devoted mother who brings a strong intuition, patience, kindness and wisdom to her very positive relationship with her delightful grown-up son, daughter and step-daughter and to being a grandmother to two precious grandchildren.  Her listening skills, sense of humor and deep caring for others are also assets in her multiple roles which include sister, daughter, aunt, wife, and dear friend.   Beth is a 20-year federal employee where she serves as a supervisor and uses her many skills to provide support to colleagues and staff.  Beth lives in Swanton, Vermont, with her husband, two sweet cats and two adorable dogs.

Beth's Story about her Mother and Their Relationship

I chose to write this story about my mother to show that while not every mother-daughter relationship is idyllic, it is possible to find a place of comfort and peace in the relationship.

My mother, Phyllis Morehouse, was born on April 1,1948 in Johnsburg, New York, fourth in a family of 10 children. Her father passed away when she was 12 years old leaving her mother to care for their large family. They were a close family that endured their share of hard times. They grew up without a lot of luxuries and the older kids were expected to help care for the younger ones.

When my mother was 19, she met my father, Chuck Shuler. They married in 1969 when she was 21, had my brother Ray the following year and I was born the year after that, in 1971. My sister Becky was later born in 1983. Our family was like most others, young with big dreams and my parents tried to make our life as enjoyable as they could.

Baby Beth and her Mother Phyllis

I began my life with my mom like most little girls do. I had happy memories of her being home, making my lunch after I got home from kindergarten and letting me watch the Andy Griffith show. I remember her putting me down for naps, fixing my hair and making sure I had pretty clothes to wear. I knew my mother loved me. As time went on, my parents experienced financial difficulties that made life very stressful. The financial issues continued for several years. Along with other factors, the struggle to care for and provide for her children was trying and changed my mother in many ways. She suffered from depression and anxiety, eventually relying heavily on my brother and I to take care of most of the house chores and even contribute to the household financially when we had summer jobs.

When I was in my early teens, I clearly remember beginning to resent my mother for various reasons. I couldn’t understand why it was so hard to financially provide for my siblings and me. I knew it wasn’t just her responsibility, yet most of my anger was directed at her. I was frustrated because of the pressure put on me and Ray to keep the house clean and help take care of Becky. I was baffled by the fact that she was not confident in the way she handled herself. I found myself thinking I did not want to be like mother. As a young girl that was a very sad, sobering thought. All girls should look up to their mothers and want to emulate them; at least that’s what I believed.

Young adult Beth with her mom

As I navigated my teens and early adulthood, I made every effort to be strong, independent and take care of myself. I moved out of my parents’ house at 17 when I went to college, only returning for a brief time two or three years later. I worked full time, had my own apartment and tried my best to be opposite of the person I thought my mother was. Unfortunately, during this time, I really attempted to shut my mother out. I did not want her advice or direction. I thought I was capable of handling my life my way. I realize it is normal for young adults to want to live life on their own terms, but for me it was another step in my process of not becoming my mother.

A few years after living on my own, I got married. I had my son Evan when I was 24 and my daughter Emma at 27. My kids’ father and I made a nice home for them and tried to give them the “all-American” childhood. My parents would come to visit, and I often brought Evan to New York to see them. My mom clearly loved being a nana and doted on Evan. After Emma was born it was evident how much she loved both kids and I saw my mother really blossom as a grandmother. She and I had started to grow closer and she became my sounding board for child-rearing issues. I loved seeing this new side of her. However, after Emma was born it became difficult to make frequent trips to New York. When I stopped making so many trips to New York, the rift between her and I began to resurface. I couldn’t fathom why my parents, especially my mom, would not try to visit their grandkids more often. After all, my kids were their only grandchildren at that time. I was hurt because I felt like we weren’t important, and I hurt for my kids because they didn’t get to see their nana regularly.

Beth, Mom, Brother

Throughout the next several years my relationship with my mother remained strained at times. One thing I began to realize, though, was that my mother never once turned her back on me. I had some rough times through my late twenties and thirties, divorcing twice and suffering from bouts of depression. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t manage to stay married and it really affected my sense of self-worth. My mother never wavered in her belief that I would come out of those years stronger than ever. I was still skeptical of her support and didn’t open my heart to her completely, but it was comforting to me to know that I could turn to her when I needed to.

When I was 42, I finally met a man who accepted me despite my faults and quirks; we got married 4 years later. My mother was fully accepting that I was going to try marriage a third time. I was still embarrassed that I had two divorces under my belt, but my mom never made me feel that I was less worthy because I hadn’t yet been successful in marriage. She loved my new husband Rick and was happy that I was finally happy. Through my mother’s continual acceptance, I began to see her for the sensitive, kind, loving woman she really was. I no longer focused on her weaknesses. I no longer felt anger toward her. It was a true awakening for me.

Four years ago, not long after I married Rick, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. I remember being so worried that I’d lose her. We were finally becoming closer and my relationship with her was very special. We were friends and enjoyed many laughs and good conversations. I wanted so badly for her to recover so we could keep moving toward the relationship I always wanted with her.

Sadly, after months of continual hospital stays, it became apparent that my mom would not survive her illness. Her body was ravaged, the cancer had spread to her brain and she could not handle any more treatment. When my family met with her doctors to learn of her prognosis, they told us she had hours to days to live. My brother, sister and I were devastated. The person we had grown to rely on for unconditional love and support was going to leave us. She had suffered so much in the seven months since her diagnosis, yet she fought the disease with amazing grace and dignity, never once complaining. She was a true superhero. I knew at that moment that I wanted to see her out of this life with as much love and comfort as she had given my siblings and me. I told my brother and sister I wanted to stay with our mother at the hospital through her last days and they were gracious enough to let me step in and take care of her.

Beth and her Mother

The next five days were probably the most meaningful in my life so far. I stayed with my mom almost 100% of the time, feeding her, keeping her comfortable, helping the nurses change her bed and clean her. I slept next to her, held her hand and stroked her head when she was upset. I polished her fingernails and put makeup on her so she felt pretty. When she lost function on her left side and was afraid she wouldn’t be able to hold my sister’s new baby when she was born, I comforted her and told her not to worry, we’d make sure she could hold the baby. I wanted nothing more than to make sure my mother left this world knowing how much she was loved.

About halfway through those last five days, my mother exemplified the true love that mothers feel for their children. It was September 19th, the day before my birthday. Even though my mother was not able to communicate well and not always lucid at this point, she said, “tomorrow is your birthday.” When we woke up the next day she said, “happy birthday.” I said, “Mom, you remembered.” She replied, “you’re my baby, I would never forget your birthday.” I knew at that moment how much my mother loved me. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be just like her. My mother passed away three days later. Though I regret not realizing sooner how wonderful my mother really was, I find comfort in knowing she and I were able to find peace and love in our relationship before she died.

Garden Path
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Sharing Our Stories in 2021 – March

THE "SHARING OUR STORIES" PROJECT

March's Story by Sherry Senior

Welcome to our March blog post written by Sherry Senior.  Sherry’s story features her reflections on the life of her fabulously interesting mother, Gillian Senior.  While many mothers and daughters have close and loving relationships, the relationship between Sherry and Gillian is such a special one as the two often bring their artistic synergy to productive and exciting new projects together.  Sherry’s narrative about Gillian’s life and their relationship is heartwarming and inspirational and invites us to examine our own selves as mothers, as daughters, and as strong women.

                               Thanks for reading another beautiful SHARED STORY with us!

                  Love, Carol and VV

Sherry Senior

Sherry Senior is a woman whose creativity finds its way into everything she does.  Through her design business, Sherry Senior Designs, www.sherrysenior.com. Sherry brings imagination and beauty to local homes and businesses. Roadhouse Studios,  www.roadhousestudiosvt.com, which she owns with her mother, Gillian Senior, provides fun and educational opportunities for artists of all ages.  Her Essentrics classes now on zoom use her teaching skills and elegant dance ability to get her students happily moving and stretching.  A busy professional, mother of two wonderful adolescent boys and wife to a busy fellow entrepreneur, Sherry also uses her always positive energy for snowboarding, biking, climbing and adventuring with her family and friends.

Sherry's Story About Her Mother

I would like to thank Carol and Veronica for creating this platform for women to tell their stories. I am by no means a writer and feel completely out of my comfort zone whenever asked to write anything, but I quickly jumped to the challenge as I knew an opportunity like this can only mean growth.  When thinking about what to write it didn’t take me very long to decide about the subject matter. 

Have you ever wondered about the people in your life and how they have affected, influenced or impacted it?  It may have been a coach, teacher, mentor, parent, sibling or good friend that has made an undeniable difference in the person that you are today.  For me, it is without question my mother.

2021-03 Gillian

My mother, Gillian or as most call her “Jinx” is probably one of the most extraordinary people that I have ever known.  Not just because she is my mother, but because of who she is and what she has overcome to be that person. 

In 1931 Jinx was born in Mumbai India formerly known as Bombay.   She was born to English parents and attended boarding schools in India and Switzerland.  She rarely came home for the holidays and was sent to the same schools as her younger brother primarily to look after him. Her family life was remote and practically non-existent with her parents.  They even divorced without her knowing until 4 years after the fact.  My mother never went on to college as her brother did; back then it was often considered a waste of money to send girls on to higher education.

2021-03 Gillian Jaeger

A natural beauty, in her late teens and early 20’s my mother did a stint of modeling for magazines such as Vogue and Good Housekeeping in India and New York.  She met my American father in India at the age of 20, and they married soon after.  My father worked for a large U.S. advertising agency which brought them to live in a number of European countries until settling just outside of Montreal Canada in 1965, where I grew up.  During those early years of marriage my mother played the role of corporate housewife and mother to myself and my 2 older brothers.

Soon after moving to Canada my father decided to leave the corporate world and pursue a career as a fiber artist, fulfilling his artistic drive.  Together with my mother, they started a weaving business out of our home, making wall hangings, large tasseled throw pillows and ponchos. They were mostly self-taught and learned as they went. Before too long they became very skilled at weaving. I remember as a small kid crawling around the looms in our living room and helping to stuff large pillows.  It was an exciting and adventurous place to grow up.  This business did well for a while and my parents earned national acclaim for many of their creations. 

My father branched out and started making very large woven sculptures that were commissioned to hang in the lobbies and boardrooms of large companies, and my mother continued to make woven pillows, ponchos and other clothing items.  After some very bad business decisions by my father and a fateful fire that burned down his studio, my parents were left in financial ruin.  My parents divorced, my father moved to the United States to start anew and my mother was left to pick up the pieces. She was awarded no alimony and chose not to pursue child support as she knew my father was unable to pay.  As a single mother this was a very difficult time being left to raise her three children on her own.

2021-03 Gillian Weaving Business

Over the next five years my mother built her weaving business, employing a number of people and had a series of retail stores in which she now sold upscale hand-woven jackets and sweaters that she designed.  These items were also being sold to high end boutiques and resorts across Canada.  As if this was not enough to keep her busy, she also opened a bedding store that sold antique beds and one of a kind handmade quilts of her design.   Her creativity seemed to have no bounds. 

In 1980 the financial recession hit and for the next several years my mother’s businesses suffered.  As a resourceful business woman, she looked for ways to keep her business going and took a chance by opening up a satellite store in Marblehead MA. As a young 16-year-old girl my mother and I made the decision that I would run this store on my own for the next few summers. This was my first independent experience away from home and one of many experiences that helped to forge my independent spirit. 

A few years later I moved to Toronto where I had been accepted to Ryerson University and started my studies in Fashion Design and Merchandising.   Soon after, my mother sold her bedding store and moved her weaving business to Toronto to be closer to me and to seek a fresh new start.  Within a short period of time she managed to get her woven clothing business (Jinx Senior Designs) back up and running.  She moved her business into a studio warehouse, furnished it with looms, and cutting tables and before long had a flourishing haute couture clothing business in which she employed about 12-15 people.  At this point she was selling her sought-after creations all over Canada and now into the U.S.  This business was not without its ups and downs but what I witnessed my mother build was both inspirational and remarkable.  What was even more unbelievable was that all of these accomplishments were born from a woman that had no formal training in either business or fashion design, just an awful lot of courage, grit and tenacity.

2021-03 Gillian Jinx Senior

Her business grew and was very successful for another 25+ years.  During that time a lot happened. I graduated from college, worked in Toronto and decided the fashion industry was not for me.  In my early 20’s I moved to Burlington, VT and worked for a company my brothers had started.  Me and my two brothers now all resided in Burlington, VT. 

We have always been a very close family and my mother wasn’t happy just visiting us on holidays so she bought an investment property in Shelburne VT with my two brothers so that she could be closer to all of us.  This property had a great retail storefront that allowed her to open up a boutique that was very cool and eclectic selling gift/home décor, while simultaneously running her clothing company back in Toronto.  Fortunately, she had a wonderful business partner that allowed her to do both. Eventually at the age of 65 my mom decided to close her clothing company in Toronto and live full time in Vermont running her store in Shelburne and trying her hand as a watercolor artist. I was about 30 at this time and decided to start my own Decorative Painting Company following my mother’s entrepreneurial footsteps. 

Together we bought a duplex which was just around the corner from her store. I lived with a roommate on the bottom half and we rented off the top floor apartment.  It just so happened that my mother lived in the apartment behind her store so we were now living only a few hundred yards from one another. This was a wonderful time for both of us, as we got together almost daily for tea in the adjoining garden, sharing dreams of the future and bouncing creative ideas off of one another.  My mom loved that garden and worked hard to make it beautiful.  Did I mention that she found time along the way to become a master gardener?  My mom’s gardens were and still are beautiful and so artfully created.   Retirement really never suited my mother, for in her mid 60’s she went on to get her real estate license and bought several investment properties, a few of which she still property manages. 

Throughout our lives my mom and I have always been extremely close, sharing similar views and sensibilities about so many things.  When my parents divorced, I thought my world would end but somehow my mom managed to pick up the pieces and forge ahead with a strength I could not truly comprehend as a 12-year-old girl.  It was only as I became a young adult did I come to realize the extraordinary sacrifices she made in order to make mine and my brothers lives quite normal, safe and loving. 

As a young girl, when it was just me and mom she would often bring me along on buying trips for her stores. We would travel to the nearby cities of Montreal and Toronto and I would watch her wheel and deal with vendors like a pro.  I loved these outings and was always amazed at what mom accomplished.  I was so impressed and proud. She would have me work the trade shows, selling her creations to buyers from all over Canada. These were valuable experiences and would have a significant impact on the direction of my own life.   It was not just that my mom was this amazing self-made entrepreneur but that she went about it with such grace, humility and integrity.  She had very little training and no prior experience in what she was doing; she simply was learning as she went. She never seemed to let what she did not know slow her down. She was simply learning on the job and letting her innate talents guide her.    Even when times were tough, and they were, she never threw in the towel, and rarely had a negative attitude about our situation.  She had this inner strength and positivity that was unwavering.  

My mom was very liberal and gave me a lot of freedom to explore the world.  Very unlike the helicopter parenting that seems to have taken over today. She trusted me to a fault and in return I never wanted to let her down.   She was fun and outgoing and I only have the best memories whenever we were together. She accepted me for who I was and never tried to push me to become someone I wasn’t.   She made me feel grateful for all that I had.  I remember on one occasion as a teenage girl playing volleyball on the high school team, I had come to her after a game and complained about my legs. I said something like “mom, look at my thighs, they are so fat.  I hate them!  Why can’t I have nice skinny thighs?”  I will never forget her response, “you should be happy you have thighs!”  That was a kick in the pants for me.  She was right!  I had great sturdy athletic legs that worked.  She just needed to remind me.  She was good at that! 

My mother is incredibly well read.  She has always had an affinity for books, not so much fiction or novels but preferred to learn about real people, their lives and events in history. Because of her passion for reading, her knowledge of the world is vast.  I was always amazed by her breadth of knowledge.  This came to be very useful on many occasions none more so than during my college years. I remember taking an art history class and I needed to write a paper about the Renaissance period.  I was living at home during these years and I happened to go into my mom’s bedroom one night and asked her what she knew about that art period.  Within about an hour or so I had all the information I needed for my paper. I had to write quickly!  I needed to cut her off because she was going deep!    Forget going to the library, I had mom.  

I attribute a lot of my mother’s success to her positive outlook on life.  To say she is an optimist is an understatement.  Her positive can-do attitude is so uplifting that it’s hard to complain in her presence; she will always spin your negativity into a positive direction. At times it can be annoying because sometimes you just want someone to get down in the dumps with….she is not going there!  I see this positive attitude on a daily basis and it is never lost on me and the importance it has had in shaping my own approach to life.

2021-03 Sherry and Gillian

Over the years as I have grown from a young girl into an adult, mother and wife our relationship has taken on more of a friendship then that as a mother and daughter and in some ways, I consider my mother to be my best friend. I feel so fortunate that we have lived most of our lives in close proximity to one another as we have been able to share and enjoy so many life adventures together.  We love to laugh, especially at our favorite brit coms and love to talk about travel, art and fashion among other things. 

My mom has always had this great earthy yet sophisticated style that shows up in everything; decorating, fashion, cooking and gardening to name a few.  Her home is always warm, inviting, beautiful and full of life.   In high school I remember I loved to raid her closets and borrow one of her many flowing peasant dresses that I would pair with one of her big chunky belts then tie it together with my old Frye boots.  I thought I looked amazing because I looked a little like her.  All this style was very natural and real, void of any pretense. 

What I love most about being with my mom is that we have an unspoken understanding of one another.  We share similar sensibilities about so many things that we just get each other.  We often never make big decisions without the input of the other.  This can sometimes be annoying to some of our family members (mostly my husband).  If mom decides on a new couch or I on a new paint color for my bedroom, a stamp of approval usually is required from one or the other.   That’s just how it is!  Sounds a little codependent but I assure you it isn’t.  We just really like each other and respect one another’s opinion. 

I have to mention the fact that my mom has a great sense of humor and is easily amused.  She really enjoys finding the perfect greeting card for the right occasion.  Before anyone opens their present mom always says “did you read the card,” and is usually laughing well before anyone has had a chance to read their card.   This gets us all laughing despite what’s inside the card. 

My mom is now in her late 80’s and as I mentioned still has her hands in many real estate investments and is still property manager for a couple of them. She lives independently, drives and shops for herself.  She also makes a point to swim a few times a week. Mom has this amazing energy and of course her positive attitude that makes it difficult to see her as an older person.  She is the matriarch to our entire family of siblings, spouses and grandchildren.  There is nothing more important to her than the happiness and wellbeing of her entire family.  She is a sounding board to all of our issues whether they be of business or of a personal nature.   We value her opinion more than anything as she has lived this life full of challenge, risk and reward that brings perspective that is very wise and unique. 

My mom has been an amazing role model and guiding light throughout my life.  I feel so incredibly fortunate that she has paved the road for me and my brothers in such a remarkable way.   So much of who I am as a mother, a wife, a sister and a business owner is because of her and the life she has shown me.

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Sharing Our Stories in 2021 – February

THE “SHARING OUR STORIES” PROJECT

February’s Story by Cari Kelley

We are delighted to present the first story in our “Sharing Our Stories” Project.  Cari wrote this post on February 5, the birthday of her fabulous twins, Jacquie and Calvin.   Cari’s story, “They Have Taught Me So Much,” beautifully describes her experience as a mother.  Reflecting on that early birthday morning twenty-three years ago, Cari graciously shares her journey with the twins. She reminds us all of an important lesson:  parents may be their children’s first teachers, but parents can also learn much from their children.     


Happy February and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Love, Carol and VV

Cari Kelley is the very smart and very devoted mother of two loving and amazing children, Jacquie and Calvin.   She works full-time as the Workplace Donor Relations Manager at United Way of Northwest Vermont. Cari also runs her own travel business, www.carimeawaytravels.com and with her daughter, Jacquie, she is the co-founder of www.wheelsforjacquiefoundation.org

THEY HAVE TAUGHT ME SO MUCH

I agreed to write the column for February a few months back and was happy to do it. There is a specific reason why I chose February and I have tried starting this article a number of times with no luck. Well, today, February 5th, is the reason and I am just going to let it flow.

Twenty-three years-ago today, at 7:15 am and 7:23 am, Jacqueline Marie and Calvin John, entered this world weighing in at exactly 5 pounds each. I entered the hospital, during the worst ice storm in Vermont, after a visit to my doctor who informed me that I was in labor. I was 30 weeks pregnant and it was looking like they would be delivered and end up in NICU. I am pleased to tell you that because of the tremendous team at then Fletcher Allen Hospital, now University of Vermont Medical Center, I was placed on hospital bedrest and we were able to postpone my delivery for another 30 days. They never needed to visit the NICU and came home with me two days after delivery. There is a whole story that I could write about my experiences during this hospitalization, but truly, the meat of this story is in the years after the birth.

For the most part, Calvin and Jacquie were healthy, happy babies and keeping up with all the growth goals that the doctors like to see. Jacquie did have a few years where she had febrile seizures (seizures that would happen when she would spike a fever), which were truly scary and caused lots of tests and ambulance rides, but we were assured that they would pass in time. She had her last at the age of six…thank goodness!

It was at the time that they started to learn to walk that there was some question about Jacquie’s gait. I took her to the pediatrician, and he thought that it was most likely knobby-knees and her gait would straighten out in time. Something about that diagnosis did not sit well with me and my mother’s intuition was telling me to explore it further. Luckily for us, she was also under the care of a neurologist for her seizures, so at our next appointment, I asked him to watch her walk. She walked and ran up and down the hallway outside his office, and by the look on his face, I knew something was not right. He ordered a test but was pretty sure he knew what the result would be. After a muscle biopsy, in which I had to lay on top of her to keep her still (something I will never forget), the diagnosis came through; Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or SMA for short, a form of Muscular Dystrophy that atrophies the muscles.

Her father and I were devastated and did as much research as possible on this disease. The good news is that it has no impact on the brain. The bad news, she would slowly lose her ability to walk. Jacquie was born determined and we knew that we would take this on, day by day, and help her along her life’s path. In first grade, she was given an award by her physical education teacher and I will always remember what he said about her, “When you look up the word determined in the dictionary, there is a photo of this person there. She never gives up and pushes herself hard, and for this reason, I am pleased to present Jacquie this award.” You can only imagine the pride and emotion that I felt for her. I have raised her to verbalize what she needs, stand up for what she feels is right, and lean on me when she needed to.

Jacquie Kelley

Through it all, that is exactly what she has done. Jacquie graduated Magna Cum Laude from Providence College in May 2020, with a degree in Political Science and a minor in Music. She is currently living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, while her service dog, Moose (a 90-pound Golden Retriever) obtains his international certification. She will be attending the University of Leeds this fall (after her program was deferred because of the pandemic) for her master’s degree in Disability Studies. She will go on and advocate for the differently-abled, and I have no-doubt, will make her mark in this world. She uses an electric scooter to get around and is very independent.                                                                           

While Jacquie was struggling with her health, Calvin started to show signs of his own struggles. At one point, one of the mental health workers that was part of his team told me that he has, “survivor’s guilt”. It took me a long-time to get my head around what was going on for him, but as I reflect on it, I can see what they were trying to tell me. He just didn’t understand why his twin sister had SMA and he didn’t. I remember one day, when they were very young, he said to Jacquie, “Jacquie, if I could take your weak legs, I would.” That’s a lot for a little guy to carry.

It really all started in kindergarten when the decision was made to separate the two and give each of them their own classroom of kids. Calvin started to show signs of anger and aggression, something we never saw in preschool. There were lots of meetings and discussions about whether or not we should put them together, but in the end, it was decided to try and continue to help him in his own space. By the time he was in first grade, kids were starting to understand that he was different than they were, and many of them would push his buttons to see him explode. Once that happened, he would be sent to the principal’s office, and most of the time, sent home. This would happen regularly, and it came to the point where the school felt that Calvin needed different schooling.

During these formative years, he was learning the skill of “fight or flight” and his anxiety and depression was of major concern. The public school pushed us to enroll him in a school that addresses behavior concerns that is run through a mental health agency. After receiving a call at work that Calvin was under the table in his first-grade classroom, refusing to come out, and driving to the school to help him through this situation, we agreed that the move might make sense. So, he moved to The Baird School in the middle of his first-grade year.

He stayed at Baird until his 5th grade year, when I demanded that he return to the public school because he had lost so much of his academic learning. It was a fight. During an assessment meeting, the principal of the public school (who was different than the one that was there when he left) insisted that he be able to stay in the classroom 80% of the time. I looked at him and said, “I want everyone to be quiet for 30 seconds. (After 30 seconds) Now, you tell me that you could stay in a classroom with all the screaming, yelling, and swearing that is going on in the hallways right now.” He looked at me and gave in. Calvin would be returning to school that fall.

Calvin continued to struggle through school. I was so proud to see him walk across the stage of his high school graduation in June of 2016. He had worked so hard, and even though his internal struggles were something that we fought head-on, and still do to this day, he has the best sense of humor and the biggest heart.

Calvin Kelley

Calvin currently lives in Wisconsin, which is close to my family, and is doing very well. He has a wonderful girlfriend, who is solid, and they truly make a great team. For Calvin, it is all about his love of helping people. He has served as a Volunteer Firefighter when he lived in Vermont and is anxious to re-engage with a fire department where he finally settles. He loves the work and the firefighting family. I know that he will always be in a job that he is giving back and giving the best of himself.

Their father and I divorced in 2010, and shortly after, I found my true partner in life, Greg. He has no judgment, has been a positive father figure for my children, supportive, kind, and loving. He is truly my best friend and I am truly blessed. In the midst of all the pain from years ago, I would have never thought that I would find the peace that I have today.

I love my work in the community and I work full-time at United Way of Northwest Vermont as the Workplace Donor Relations Manager. Being a part of this incredible team and seeing the impact of the work that we do is inspiring. I am pleased to be able to help raise the funds needed to help others.

Jacquie with her Service Dog

In November, Jacquie and I formed the Wheels for Jacquie Foundation (www.wheelsforjacquiefoundation.org) a non-profit Foundation that works to provide transportation for the differently-abled. We do need to start by fundraising for Jacquie’s van, but will continue the work to help others. I could write an entire article just on the process of obtaining a driver’s license and accessible vehicle. I also own my own travel business (www.carimeawaytravels.com), and proceeds from the business will help the Foundation. Please keep us in mind as the world starts to travel again 😊.

My mother has been my rock and supported me throughout my life. I feel both of my grandmothers with me always, who shaped my core values. This morning, after wishing Calvin a Happy Birthday, he sent me this text:

“You’ve helped me more than you know Mom. I couldn’t ask for more. I am grateful for everything. Your life lessons are the best gift I could ask for…”

With that said, I would say that the challenges and pain have made us all grow stronger, and for that I am forever grateful.

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Sharing Our Stories in 2021 – January

Announcing the “Sharing Our Stories Project”

Dear WWVT Blog readers:

Hello!   Welcome to this month’s blog. My dear grand-daughter Vv and I are excited to be collaborating on a new project. As the calendar turns to January 2021, we are delighted to announce that the blog is about to take a turn in a different direction.  During 2020, we enjoyed sharing the “Simple Gifts of Gentle Yoga” each month; however, we decided it was time to bring in some other perspectives and share the work of writing each month.  After some thought and discussion, we decided it would be interesting and fun to be able to feature some of the stories of our amazing and strong women friends and girl-friends.  We began contacting some of the women and girls in our lives and asking them to consider writing guest posts on the blog.  We asked them to consider sharing their stories, art, and more about their experience being daughters, granddaughters, mothers, and grandmothers.   We were thrilled with the quick and enthusiastic response we received and are now ready to launch this fun project.

We are very happy to announce that each month, beginning in February, a WISEWOMAN or WISEGIRL we know will be sharing her story here at wisewomenvt.com/blog.   We are sure that 2021’s eleven shared stories will be as smart and interesting as the smart and interesting women writing them.  We are giving our guest authors quite a bit of room to decide what they want to share and how they want to share it. We are hoping that after you read the instructions (below) that you might consider doing a story!  We have just a few slots remaining for stories, so if you’d like to be a guest writer, send us an email at carol@wisewomenvt.com and we will work with you to schedule a month for a story.

Our only instructions to our writers were these:

Please send us your story about your experience as a daughter, grand-daughter, mother or grandmother.   You can choose one of these roles to write about or you may want to share your experience in more than one of the roles. You may want to talk about what it was like to be your mother’s daughter. Maybe that was a gift or a nightmare.  Or you might write about how you didn’t really know your grandmother, but wish that you did.  If you didn’t know your biological grandmother, maybe another amazing woman provided grandmothering to you. Maybe you want to talk about the joys and challenges of being a mother, both in the past and in the present.  Or maybe you want to describe how being a grandmother changed your whole sense of yourself and made you revisit your relationship with your own grandmother. You can include photos, poems, art work, or anything you like to describe your experience and your feelings. We understand that each of us has her own unique experiences and it is important that you share yours as only you can share it.  You may be an experienced writer or someone who feels like writing for a blog is just exactly the kind of new stretch and challenge you need in 2021.  Maybe your story will be happy or sad or funny. Maybe it will be surprising or scary. Maybe it will be calming or worrying. Maybe it will be a way to share a significant learning you made about yourself and other important women in your life.   Or maybe it will be a way to share some uncertainty you are still trying to untangle.  Whatever your story is, we know it will be something only you can share.  And we know that the WISEWOMAN or WISEGIRL inside you is working on a way to better understand and share what you need to understand and share as you work your way through writing your story.   Stories should be between 1500 and 4000 words and should be submitted in a word document by the 5th of the month your story will appear in the blog.  Thank you so much for your willingness to contribute to the “Sharing Our Stories” Project.

Watch for the stories to start appearing in February!

The writers have their instructions and their writing begins. We anxiously await the shared stories we are about to read together. We hope you will enjoy this year of stories from WISEWOMEN and WISEGIRLS.

Love,
Carol and Vv

Mother Daughter Hiking
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Twelve Essential Gifts of Yoga for 2020 – December

December's Gift - Peace

WiseWomenVT Lotus Logo
“Go into this week with the attitude that your peace, your health of mind, and your heart mean more than getting everything else done.” S.C. Lourie

At last…. December and time for the final month of 2020’s “Gifts of Gentle Yoga.” This morning as I sat down to write about December’s gift, I found myself avoiding putting fingers to keyboard and struggling to write a single word.  Unsure about how to push myself into action, I felt anything but peaceful.  And this feeling of “anything but peaceful” was all too familiar.

Right here, right now, I thought to myself.   What is going on?  I was feeling tired and anxious and considered just not writing this month’s post. Maybe no one would notice if I just skipped this one.  I thought about the possibility of at least changing the topic. Maybe that would help?

I had planned 12 specific topics and 11 were done.  So, what was in my way? Dragging my feet and my fingers, I felt that familiar “why-do-things-have-to-seem-so-hard-these-days” feeling rising inside.  What is going on? Should I change my original plan? How can I possibly do that?

I thought about the past year.  I struggled with the tiny video I was rewinding in my mind about this blog writing process.  Looking back, January 2020 seemed like it was way more than 11 months ago. It was another lifetime ago in a different reality in a year that would never end.  And yet I wondered where all that time actually went. What happened? How have 334 days possibly slipped by?

I thought about my initial purpose for this blog.  What was I hoping for?  What in the WORLD was I thinking when I decided this?  I considered what I had accomplished by all this pondering and writing month by month and whether any of it had any value.  I wondered about what I or anyone else might have learned from any of this effort. What was the meaning of all that?

I found myself thinking about the future and wondering, “now what will I do for 2021?”    I promised myself I would do these 12 gifts and now I’m soon (hopefully) going to be finished. The back of my mind seemed to be pushing little question marks forward into my awareness. As the ???s kept nudging forward, I kept shoving them to the back.  How could I figure out next year when I couldn’t even get started on this month? What happens next?

I found myself scrolling through emails, poking around online looking for inspiration, shuffling my papers, wondering if I should go grab more coffee, watching the clock, and dreaming of breakfast, or a walk or anything but the work in front of me.  I realized I needed to get myself into a more peaceful place. I wondered how to settle myself down.  I was searching for some peace inside and a place to start. Where am I in this mess?  How can I find some peace with my place in all this?

After a few deep breaths, I decided to stop looking back and looking forward and to be right here right now.  I reminded myself of my favorite Ram Dass quote lately: “Now is now.  Are you going to be here or not?”   Sitting here in my cozy Vermont basement office, having done all I could think of to do to get quiet and centered, (i.e., more breaths, some yoga, vanilla candle burning brightly, soothing fireplace shimmering beside me, Steve Halperin’s “Inner Peace” playing just softly enough in the background, and admittedly, more coffee), I finally began to feel more focused. Suddenly I realized how similar my experience of getting through this “2020 gifts writing” process has been to my overall process of getting through 2020 period.  In both cases, there have been the same many questions and few easily available answers.

  • What is going on? Should I change my original plan? How can I possibly do that?
  • What happened? How have 334 days possibly slipped by?
  • What was the meaning of all that?
  • Now what? What happens next?
  • Where am I? How can I find some peace with my place in all this?

We have almost made it through 2020 and 2020’s “Simple Gifts” are about to get wrapped up and tied with a bow.  I am guessing most of us have lots of unanswered questions.  My only certain answer for now is that we each need to find peace in our own way as we enter into 2021.  There have been lots of jokes and memes about 2020. I wish that I thought that when we turn the calendar page (or arrow over in our calendars) to January, that all would be well.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) I’m thinking that life is more continuous and complicated than that and the page turn/arrow move likely isn’t going to fix everything. 

I don’t have all the answers to my five questions from this morning, but I am working on this idea of finding peace with my place in all this. I’m sure you have questions for yourself that you have been struggling with.  I always believe that asking ourselves and asking others really thoughtful questions can be more important than giving each other easy answers. I trust we will all continue to work our way through the questions that come our way.  We will find our own answers in the best way we know how and recruit the best resources we can to help us.   I hope that for each of you reading this, that you can finish out 2020 with some positive reflections on the past year, some hope for the future and some peace inside yourself, in the right here, right now.  For now, I offer three simple tools for finding peace inside from people whose wisdom I admire.  The first is a list of some of the music that I use in yoga class which always settles me into a more peaceful place.  The second is a set of three poems about peace that always touch my heart. And finally, the third is this month’s yoga pose, which is actually a breath practice, Nadi Shodhana.

A Light in Darkness
Photo: Rich Bokan

Suggestions for peaceful yoga music (to create a peaceful space wherever you are)

 I am pretty sure a quick search of your favorite music service will help you find these peace-bringing pieces I have placed in my yoga class play lists.  Fair warning: I love piano music so there is a fair amount of peaceful piano music in this list.

  • Beach Walking by Joefish
  • Sweet Dreams by Carolyn Southworth
  • Grateful by David Tolk
  • I by Benn Jordan
  • Go Gently by Suzanne Ciani
  • Sarvesham Mantra by Miten and Premal and Miten
  • Green Mountain Meadows by Denise Young
  • Church of Trees by Liz Story
  • Native America Flute Music 80 Minutes by Massage Tribe
  • The Ultimate Most Relaxing New Age Music in the Universe (various artists) by New Age (herein lies the Stephen Halerpin)
  • Palchelbel for the Piano by Laura Sullivan
  • Vandita Chants by Vandita Kat Marchesiello
  • Hallelujah (instrumental piano) by Leonard Cohen
  • 108 Sacred Names of Mother Divine: Sacred Chants of Devi, Craig Pruess and Ananda
Peaceful Forest Path

Three Poems About Peace

Thoughts about Peace
by S.C. Lourie@butterflies and pebbles

Go into this week with the attitude that
your peace, your health of mind, and your heart
mean more than getting everything else done.
That your smile matters. That feeling rested matters.
That holding the hand of your loved ones matters.
So pause lots.
Function at a pace that doesn’t pull you apart.
Honour the things that make you feel good inside,
the things that make you feel alive.
Give time to those things this week.
Make time the gift it is,
by giving it to what really matters to you.

Flying Seagulls
Photo: Ellen T.

(Note: The poem below written just after 9/11, still speaks beautifully to me today. I looked up the word “armistice,” to make sure I had its accurate meaning: “an agreement made by opposing sides in war to stop fighting for a certain time; a truce.”   It’s a word that works well for me these days both in terms of wars I am tempted to fight with people who disagree with me about politics as well as the wars I sometimes fight inside myself. If we can’t get all the way to peace, maybe “armistice” seems like a good start?)

Wage Peace
by Judith Hill

Wage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble, breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown lawns.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees. Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud. Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup. Play music. Memorize the words for thank you in three languages. Learn to knit and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries.
Imagine grief as the out breath of beauty or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious. Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

 

Peace
by Vv Welsh, age 8 1/2

Peace

 Peace
for you
Peace for me
Peace as tall as a mountain
Piling high with love and peace

This Month’s Yoga Pose: Nadi Shodhana (channel-purifying breath)

This month’s pose is actually a yoga breathing technique.  Nadi Shodhana is often used in yoga class, but it works well anytime anywhere when you need to calm your mind.  It is sometimes called channel-purifying breath or alternate nostril breathing.  The effects of nadi shodhana are: (1) calms the mind and releases tension; (2) generates introversion; (3) infuses the body with oxygen; (4) clears and releases toxins.

Precautions: (healthline.com) Practicing alternate nostril breath is safe for most people. Talk to your doctor before starting the practice if you have a medical condition such as asthma, COPD, or any other lung or heart concern. If you feel any adverse effects (i.e.,) shortness of breath, while doing the breathing technique, you should stop the practice immediately. This includes feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or nauseous. If you find the breathing is bringing up feelings of agitation or that it triggers any mental or physical symptoms, you should stop the practice.”   

How to do Nadi Shodhana Breath:   

  1. Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair, your spine long and your abdomen relaxed.
  2. Find the position for your right hand and fingers. You can either simply open and close each nostril using the thumb and forefinger or you can come into a more traditional Vishnu mudra (hand position).  For Vishnu mudra (which I think is a lovely way to practice), open your hand and lightly draw the ring finger and middle finger in toward your palm.   Holding these two fingers toward the palm, you can use the thumb to close one nostril and then alternately use the ring finger to close the other nostril.  Bring this hand up to your nose and rest the other hand on your lap.
  3. Close your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale slowly through your left nostril. 
  4. At the end of this inhale, use your ring finger to close your left nostril as you gently let go of the thumb hold on the right nostril and exhale through the right nostril.
  5. Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale through the right nostril. Then closing your right nostril with your thumb and letting go of the left nostril, exhale through the left nostril. This completes one round.
  6. Continue this pattern for several rounds, gradually slowing the breath down and noticing your relaxation, ending with an exhale through the left nostril. Rest both hands in your lap and notice Nadi Shodhana’s calming effect.
Beautiful Sunset Colors
Photo: Ellen T.
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