Meet: My Mom

I saw my mother today and then came upon this old post. It gives a pretty good summation–though nowhere near exhaustive–of who she is.

Three years later, three more years of being a mother myself, and now I can add some important things to it, things I recognize as so very mothering:

–She dove fearlessly into the world of BRCA surgeries, going last (after me and my sister) so she could care for us through our difficult recoveries.
–She once waved a cheerful goodbye to me and my sister as we drove off on a three-week road trip across the country by ourselves, and only told us once we got home that it was the worst three weeks of her life.
–She is the first person my sister calls when there’s a rabid raccoon in her yard, the first person my brother calls when he is sick, and the first person I call when one of my children is sick and I’m unsure what to do.

Happy Mother’s Day, every day.

True STORIES.

For Mother’s Day, an early Monday Morning Meeting:

My mom…

  • Was born and raised on the northwest side of Chicago and attended Catholic school there. (She will forever say the word “nun” with some disdain.)
  • Lost her mother to pancreatic cancer when she was a freshman in college; afterward, she dropped out to help at home with her younger siblings.
  • Became the first flight attendant instructor without a college degree at United Airlines by walking into her boss’s office and insisting she could do it, back when female employees were weighed and had to be single.
  • Earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology while raising three children. She now works with mentally disabled adults and runs her own consulting business.
  • Forced us to sit and wait on the stairs Christmas morning until she’d made her first cup of coffee.
  • Loves ham. And also Red Hots.
  • Let us take one “mental…

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8 Years Later: Why I’m Voting for Hillary This Time

Eight years ago, I read an essay by Gloria Steinem urging young women to vote for Hillary Clinton. At the time, young people overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama. Steinem wrote something along the lines of: If young women knew better, they’d vote for Hillary. If they’d been around forty years ago and really understood the women’s movement, they’d be making the right choice.

It made me angry. I was an Obama supporter. I liked his message. I didn’t like the way Clinton ran her primary campaign. And I wasn’t going to vote for someone just because she was a woman—wasn’t that the opposite of equality? Talking down to people is never a good idea, especially if you’re trying to persuade them, and Gloria Steinem should have known that. If anything, she alienated me from the women’s movement. For a time.

This election season, I filled out one of those questionnaires about government policy that supposedly matches you with the candidate you’re most aligned with. I am in 99% agreement with Bernie Sanders. I like him. And yet, I think I’ll vote for Clinton. Why?

It’s a serious question. I’ve been a bit stumped. Admittedly, I’ve paid little attention outside of the headlines this campaign season. Something about hearing or reading the name, “Trump,” in almost every campaign story has turned me off. I decided awhile ago to ignore it all until it started to really matter.

imgres Yet, one thing has been clear to me: I feel a strong urge to vote for Hillary. What has happened in the last eight years to change my mind?

Sure, Clinton has gained even more experience. This didn’t use to matter to me as much. I think probably eight years and two children later, with a 40th birthday looming, I now value life and work experience all the more. But Sanders is experienced, too. They’re both intelligent and capable public servants.

It’s not about the issues—I’ve never been a one-issue person. I won’t cut off my nose to spite my face, and both Clinton and Sanders represent my basic ideals. I might be in 99% agreement with Sanders, but I’m in 97% agreement with Clinton. I do think Clinton has a stronger chance of putting her policies into place, of “getting things done,” as they say.

As far as I can tell, my affinity toward Clinton these eight years later comes down to two things:

  1. Someone close to me was raped.
  2. I had a daughter.

I now see the world differently. The women’s movement used to be intellectual for me. Now it’s personal.

I have new eyes, so when they see women ignored or shamed because they were raped, it stays with me. I have new ears, so when they hear a man talk to me about house maintenance issues like I’m a kindergartner and then ask me, “Can you remember what I said so you can tell your husband when he gets home?,” I file that away in my brain.

I can remember. Oh, yes I can.

The world hasn’t changed; I have. Women are still objectified, vilified, paid less, patronized, underestimated, raped, assaulted, and beaten simply because they are women. We are still told to “Be quiet” and “Be nice.” It is still assumed that having boys means you’ll have an energetic household but having girls means you’ll have a quiet one. A woman news anchor can still be called a bimbo by a presidential candidate and people will adore him. I still have to fold my body in and look around me when I walk alone at night, anywhere. The world hasn’t changed—now it all just means more to me.

Actually, let me be honest. It means more to me sometimes. But other times—when, for instance, a man gives me a proverbial pat on the head and tells me, “You’re alright, kid,” after he finds out I know how to use a shovel to dig a trench, I feel pride mixed with my anger. A part of me still likes those pats on the head.

Electing a woman has become a priority for me and I’m not ashamed to say it. Too often, I think, women cower to the finger-pointers and respond with, “I support her because she’s qualified, not because she’s a woman.” Why can’t it be both?

Now, would Sanders help women? Sure. Maybe. I can’t know for sure. Does Clinton being a woman mean she’ll always do right by women? Sure. Maybe. I can’t know for sure.

But I do know that figureheads are important. I do know it’s high time we elect a qualified, dedicated woman to the top office. And I do know I don’t want my daughter to like having her head patted—not by a handyman, not even by Gloria Steinem.

So the bigger question isn’t, Why not Bernie? The bigger questions are: What took me so long to put a woman first and what is the women’s movement going to do to recruit my daughter, not alienate her?

Moving Home

Big change usually hits me like water-based stain on hard pine. (Can you tell I’m in the midst of a major home renovation?) Half of it doesn’t sink in until hours later. In my case, months. So it still hasn’t fully sunk in that we have this whole new life thirty minutes from our old one, on five spreading acres instead of a postage stamp-sized suburban lawn. It comes to me in small waves, when I look out at our towering spruces, or when I reflect that the last three months seem more like 18. Time goes faster as I get older, but in this small window of time, it has stretched so fully it’s unrecognizable.

This move, I know, will become a “before and after” moment for me, for us. Before the move…after the move. It is the first occasion my second-grade son has had to test his own personal fortitude, his first big life challenge as he adjusts to a new school and new friends.

They say kids are resilient, especially little ones. And they are. But I don’t think for a minute this move hasn’t been hard on my four (now five) year old daughter. When given full control over what color to paint her bedroom, she chose her old room color. When we visited friends on our old block, she was the one, not my older son, who stood on the sidewalk in front of our old house and just looked at it for a full minute. The nest that encompassed her and kept her warm for the first four years of her life was suddenly gone, replaced by a dusty mess half torn apart. It was hard for her to understand that new people now lived there, slept in her room.

For me, this move has been many things—worry and sadness watching my children struggle mightily through the hard moments; determination that this will work—that the outdated house with overgrowth ensnarling it will be transformed into a home that my husband can love. This wasn’t his idea; he moved for me in an act of unselfish generosity, plain and simple.

This move is also the achievement of a dream. As a grader schooler, I searched the real estate ads for farms in Wisconsin and begged my parents to buy one. I wanted land. I wanted to see trees and fields out my window instead of other houses. I wanted to be like Anne of Green Gables.

We never moved, and I grew up. I learned to love the big city of Chicago. I grew to understand that you live where the jobs are, that having a lot of land requires other sacrifices—connection, amenities, convenience. My dream of having land seemed to be replaced by common sense, and also a love of historical houses on small lots near old town centers. That was all good, too.

Then my husband changed jobs. He now worked north, in Wisconsin. What started as “we might have to move to shorten your commute so let’s start looking in Wisconsin” turned into “look what money can buy when you move farther out from Chicago.” And eventually, the dream I thought had died with childhood was reignited and back stronger than ever. It hadn’t died; it was just undernourished. (Childhood dreams are funny that way. I think those dreams are the truest.)

We house hunted over the next couple of years, but didn’t find anything we both loved—taxes were too high, or it was too rural, or the house was falling apart or the schools weren’t great or….. By last fall, we’d actually decided to stop actively looking and stay put, to my partial dismay.

Then two things happened, within weeks of each other. I had a double mastectomy and hysterectomy, and my childhood friend called to tell me she just drove past an amazing property that had me written all over it.

Towering, centuries-old oaks, a barn, two ponds, a creek.

Major surgery, fear, appreciation, time.

When my husband and I first walked the property, something deep within, something sprouting since long ago, felt at home immediately.

Six months later, we watched as the last of our things were packed into the moving truck and the four of us took a selfie on our front steps. We left the home where the children were born and where all the memories we had as a family had taken place.

But we still have those memories tucked snugly in our minds, where they’ve always been. And now we have resilience and change and new frontiers. We have a fawn milking from her mama on our lawn, a coyote napping under the oaks, bullfrogs singing in our ponds, and orange leaves sprinkling down in the sunshine. We have soccer games and creek crossings and a tree swing that flies.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed by dusty drywall and buckthorn and wild, choking vines and light fixtures and wood stain, I take a step back and let this move sink in a bit more. I feel at home.

I’m looking now, and all I see is goodness.

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Hello, I’m Jessica

I thought I’d re-introduce myself, it’s been so long.

There’s lots to write about–and I did write about it over the summer, then my computer promptly lost the draft. I’ve been so busy chopping buckthorn, destroying wasp nests, and getting the algae out of our pool–plus taking notes on a new novel–that I haven’t been able to try to rewrite it. But I will.

For today, though, a bit about what I’ve been reading lately. Namely, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, my literary hero. She got taken down a notch, in my opinion, but I’m thrilled.

Read it HERE.

Thanks – be back soon.

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On Bras and Bakeries: My Recommendations

I’ve found myself repeatedly recommending the following things this year:

(Asterisk: I’m not a trendsetter, but if you are an average person of an average age with average expectations who usually comes around to things slightly late, you might like these.)

1. Burt’s Bees Very Volumizing Pomegranate Shampoo. This is the only thickening shampoo that has ever actually worked on my fine hair.

ocean-rolls-912x3742. The ocean roll at Sparrow Bakery in Bend, Oregon. If you live anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, please go there and eat one. I went a year ago and still think about this pastry more than I think about the family I visited there.

3. Bloodline. I’ve told everyone I know to watch this show. Give it three episodes and you’ll be hooked.

4. The fact that Target now has sustainable seafood.

5. Pokey LaFarge. Seriously good music and musicianship that just makes me happy. My four-year old daughter loves Pokey, too, and usually she’ll only listen to Bruno Mars or Pitbull.

6. Shovels & Rope. See number 5, except I still can’t get my daughter hooked. By the way, thanks to my friend, Michelle, for introducing me to both bands.

7. Sweet T’s bakery in downtown Arlington Heights, Illinois. Cakes and cookies as tasty and beautiful as Mariano’s, and it’s a small business.

8. Common Sense Media. Every time I’m not sure whether my children should go to a certain movie or play a specific game, I check this site for the lowdown.

9. This baking spray.

10. These bras.

It’s always good to end on a bra note, so I’ll stop. There’s a book I can’t stop talking about, too, but I’ll save that for my recommendation next month over at Great New Books.

See you then!

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