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!

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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.

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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.

Gratitude Heart
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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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