Wednesday, March 8, 2017

For the women I love on International Women's Day

Courtesy of Sarah1258 (my sister) 
It's International Women's Day. And also a Day Without Women.

There's so much I want to write about women and their vast intelligence and depthless souls. So much I want to write about the strength I've found in women and the solidarity I've found in women the wisdom I've found in women the creativity I've found in women and the inspiration I've found in women. The women I know and the women I've never met but am still bound to by that third eye. That sixth sense. That deep and abiding belief in that which is unnamed but all encompassing and filled with goodness. 

But if I said all I wanted to say about women, it would no longer be International Women's Day. It'd probably be St. Patrick's Day or Easter or Mother's Day.

So I'll try to be brief. Here's a roundup of women who've shaped me, consoled me, inspired me and challenged me. It's certainly not a complete list. Like, not even close.  


The first woman I ever met. Who I knew even before I knew we were separate entities. Mom gave birth to six children epidural-free. She then raised those six children while working as a nurse and going to school to get her bachelor's then her master's. She's a renaissance woman. She cooks, bakes, quilts, gardens and never stops learning. She's an advocate for young nurses and passionate about reimagining how our society views death and dying. From her I learned to laugh loud and long and not to worry so much about clutter on your counters or paint in your hair. 


My coven. The other three-quarters of my whole self. My first and lifelong friends. 

  • Jen dressed me for my first real date and continues to awe me with her strength, work ethic and ability to identify and empathize with the pain of others. 
  • Laura. Laura is my second mother. My spiritual adviser. My conscience. She knows my soul better than I do.
  • And Sarah has taught me to fight for myself, take care of myself and through her own commitment to art, believe in the power of my own creativity.

  • Stephanie - She knew teaching wasn't the right fit for her and she didn't give up on pursuing a career that brought her happiness and fulfillment. She still sends the coolest cards and packages (always with glitter) and offered a dorky, overalls-wearing freshman a much-needed friend.
  • Becky - Her commitment to her friends and family have shown me the value of loyalty and offered an ongoing illustration for what love looks like.
  • Megan - She's always feverishly pursued enlightenment. And so teaches the rest of us to do the same.
  • Cassie - One of my best friends from college. She took a lapsed Catholic to a Methodist church on Sundays and reminded me that faith doesn't have to be confined by walls or creed. It can be found in each other.
  • Carla - She's always challenged me in the best ways - challenged how I look at people and the world around me. She fought and continues to fight for a better life for herself and her family and by doing so is an example for the importance of staying true to who you are while not getting mired in your own family history.
  • Katy - We never see each other anymore and communicate infrequently - but I feel her gentle spirit in the breeze and find solace knowing she is out in the world offering a quiet, but powerful example for feminism, strength and motherhood.
  • Laura - She's a working mom who's also a runner, a coach and steadfast friend. If she were a song she'd be "Won't Back Down" by Tom Petty. And that's why I look up to her.
  • Melissa - Don't let her narrow frame, sweet voice and propensity for cats fool you. She's a relentless seeker of truth. Tireless and passionate about finding answers and sharing stories. 
  • Kristen - The woman gave birth to a baby in her living room. This should be enough of an example of what a badass she is. But it's not even nearly enough. There's fire in her belly that warms everyone she meets. She is compassion personified.
  • Erica - One of my favorite mothers. Someone, I think, who still doesn't know her own influence and ability, but who's learning day by day.
  • Brittany - She's a quiet person, but her enormous generosity, kindness and creativity speak loudly on her behalf.
  • Ellen - From the second she walked into the YDR office for her job interview, I knew I wanted to be her friend. She's enormously creative and imaginative with so much heart. And endlessly, effortlessly hilarious.
  • Georgia - I miss our afternoon chats on her porch front porch in York. Georgia mentored me through the young years of motherhood - giving me much-needed support and my children a third grandmother. 
  • Kristi - Life beats her up over and over and still she pulls herself up, climbs mountains, laughs, creates and finds joy. Because of her, I love the Earth and its creatures better. More deliberately. More wholly.
  • Janna - We only just met this fall and already I know we'll be lifelong friends. At least I hope we will. Because our candid conversations about motherhood, spirituality and life in general feed my soul the way her incredible cooking fills my stomach.

  • My Syracuse Aunties - They're always laughing, always plotting the next fun day, always making the most of their lives. They've always made their nieces and nephews and grand nieces and grand nephews feel special -- even when they only saw them a couple times a year or hardly at all. They've taught me that family is family -- not matter how much time has passed or how many miles have separated us.
  • My mother-in-law - Susan Jennings the First. A tough act to follow as a wife and mother. She's not only a generous, tireless host who's dedicated to making sure her family is happy and healthy, but she's also a super talented artist. My girls and I are forever benefiting from her wisdom and kindness.
  • My sister-in-law - Jen wants to be the captain of a pirate ship. She's shown me not to lose sight of my dreams, to slow down and have fun and never be afraid to embrace your inner buccaneer. 
  • My aunties-and-cousins-in-law - Ann, Maria, Jean, Sam, Ashley, Rhiannon, Chrissy and Loan - whether it's dancing at the beach, sipping egg nog on Christmas or flying down a giant inflatable waterslide for a graduation party - the Williams sisters and their progeny sure know how to celebrate life. There's no group of women I'd rather have acquired as family. And on the other side Betsy and Pauline - such passionate, educated, firey ladies -- they show me what conviction looks like. 


  • Mrs. Elder and Mrs. Lynn. My fifth and sixth grade teachers. Mrs. Elder always treated me as an equal. Less as a student more as a co-learner. She was worldly and drove an awesome VW Bus that I got to ride in once, when she took me and a couple other Geography Bee competitors out to lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Mrs. Lynn knew I was a writer before I knew I was a writer. She fueled my love of reading and of writing.
  • Mrs. Dixon introduced me to journalism as the adviser of my high school newspaper where I served as art editor and editor my senior year. She always spoke her mind and always challenged us to speak ours. She was a mother bear when it came to defending our staff from an interloping principal and took pride in our successes. For some reason, she saw me as a leader. My senior year was a gauntlet, but she gave me the strength and taught me the hard lessons I needed to get through it.
  • Mrs. Gray was my AP U.S. History teacher. Her passion for the American story was contagious. I'll never forget her reading the letter Sullivan Ballou sent home to his wife during the Civil War or blasting "We Didn't Start the Fire" in our classroom. She transformed the stuff of dusty books into reality -- these were real people, just like us, experiencing monumental events, just like us, and they have much to share from their lessons. 
  • Mrs. Orlando and Mrs. Buley - Lily's kindergarten teacher and her assistant. I visit their classroom once a week and get the pleasure of watching these two awesome woman wrangle a class of 20-plus wiggly, enthusiastic, emotional and eager 5 and 6 year olds learn to read and write, but more importantly, learn to love learning and show compassion for each other. They are artists. Truly.


There's no way this list will ever be totally finished. But here's a roundup of woman authors and the books that have shaped me:

  • Elizabeth Gilbert - "Big Magic"
  • Amy Poehler - "Yes Please"
  • Tina Fey - "Bossy Pants"
  • Jenny Lawson - "Furiously Happy"
  • Barbara Kingsolver - "Flight Behavior," "The Poisonwood Bible," "Animal Vegetable Mineral"
  • Zora Neal Hurston - "Their Eyes Were Watching God"
  • Ann Lamott - "Bird by Bird"
  • Harper Lee - "To Kill a Mockingbird"
  • Michelle Alexander - "The New Jim Crow"
  • Maria Semple - "Where'd You Go Bernadette?"
  • Pema Chödrön - "When Things Fall Apart"
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder - "The Little House on the Prairie" series 
  • Anna Sewell - "Black Beauty"
  • Lois Lowry - "Number the Stars" and "The Giver"
  • Elizabeth Winthrop - "The Castle in the Attic"
  • Monica Furlong - "Juniper"
  • Madeleine L'Engle - "A Wrinkle in Time"
  • Krista Tippet - "Becoming Wise"
  • Cheryl Strayed - "Wild"
  • Jane Austen - "Pride & Prejudice"
  • A special shout out to Beth Vrabel and Megan Erickson for their commitment to sharing the stories that take over their lives and for giving a voice to characters often found in the margins.  
And finally, my daughters, who sing loudly, dance constantly, question everything and love more honestly than anyone I know. I'm never going to stop fighting for the ideal: A world where women are valued as much as men. Where we're treated with as much respect as, given as much compensation as and heard as clearly as men. I'm never going to stop fighting for the seats at the table we set. 

It is time.

I'll close with a word from my spirit mother:

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