Too Much Coincidence Not to be Part of the Cosmic Plan

By Trish Wilkinson

In the face of academic demands ratcheting higher, stressing out children and their parents, seven years ago, I set out to write Grade by Grade: A Guide to Raising Smart, Happy Kids, K—5. The book would be a What to Expect When You’re Expecting for elementary school. I wanted to help bring families closer in this techno-hustle world and support parents in raising well-adjusted kids.

I’d collected a boatload of convenient games for parents and children to play on car rides, at the doctor’s office, or in line at the grocery store at each grade level—activities to strengthen relationships and help kids thrive, whatever their learning environment.

After twenty-three years of teaching in the classroom, three years of reading studies and articles, and doing interviews with lots of professionals and parents, I decided I was ready to take an online class with Media Bistro to write a killer book proposal.

But once I started sending out queries and talking to agents and publishers at conferences, the response was always the same:

“It’s a great idea,but parenting books written by teachers don’t sell well.”

It didn’t matter that I’m one of the few teachers who has taught all the grades, from kindergarten through sixth, so I could speak from experience. I didn’t have a PhD or several thousand blog followers, so the book wasn’t worth publishing.

My plastic file box, jammed with folders of notes, articles, research studies, and interviews, collected dust in our garage for three more years.

When our older daughter graduated from Cal Poly, and our younger daughter was in her senior year at Williams College, my husband and I decided to move to Bend, Oregon to put 94.9 Central Oregon Fox Sports Radio on the air. To make the move from San Diego, California, we threw out eighteen years of accumulated non-essentials—including my box full of research.

But no effort is wasted.

I often remind my clients of this. Our endeavors don’t always get rewarded in the time-frame we expect. Sometimes the skills we learn on a project apply to the next one that gets the results we’ve been seeking.

Shortly after my husband and I moved to Bend, I arranged for Howard Shulman to give a presentation on his book Running From the Mirror and to teach a workshop with me on how to write a memoir at the San Diego Southern California Writers’ Conference in February 2016. His publisher, Sandra, of Sandra Jonas Publishing in Boulder Colorado, called me to coordinate promotions for the book.

And the two of us hit it off.

Sandra is an incredibly conscientious, passionate hard-worker—like I am.

After the conference, we kept in contact, and she asked me to do a developmental edit for one of her authors. This author’s novel had a fabulous premise, but the story and characters needed fleshing out—which we did, and it’s awesome now!

Watermelon Snow by debut author William Lippett, an intriguing story of scientists, melting glaciers, catastrophic egos, treacherous journeys across the ice, and a bit of romantic tension, chock-full of suspense that’s sure to keep you turning pages, will be released in June 2017.

When wrapping up the edit for Watermelon Snow, Sandra mentioned one of her other authors, Jacqueline Frischknecht. Jackie was a PhD who’d done a ton of brain research related to how function and development affect children’s education. She wrote a manuscript called Boosting Brain Power: Leveraging Students’ Learning Abilities.

“What a fabulous idea!” I said and gave Sandra my one-sentence summary of the Grade-by- Grade project, so she would know I had the background to provide whatever help she needed.

Sadly, Jackie passed away while working to develop the manuscript for publication. It still needed focus, organization, and a friendlier tone.

Jackie’s dying wish had been to publish the book, and her family wanted to see that wish granted. Sandra asked me to read the manuscript to see if I could do a content edit that would: a) make Jackie’s writing sound more conversational, b) hone the focus, and c) flesh out the work to make the book user-friendly for parents and teachers. Excited to work with Sandra on another project, I told her I would be happy to read the manuscript and come up with a plan to get it in shape for publication.

Jackie’s research was excellent and her ideas empowering.

Digital Image by Sean Locke
Digital Planet Design
www.digitalplanetdesign.com

However, to make the book an effective resource, the material needed to be geared for parents or educators, not both. Experts all over the country train teachers to use brain research to drive curriculum, such as Dr. Eric Jenkins who has written many books for educators, Dr. Carol Dwek, and veteran teacher Pat Wolfe, so I told Sandra that Jackie’s work may best serve parents.

 

Still, to create such a manuscript, I would have to read more recent studies as brain development has been a hot topic over the last decade in the research community. I’d have to almost rewrite Jackie’s book to make it work.

“Would you mind sending me your Grade-by-Grade book proposal, so I can get an idea of what you’re talking about?” Sandra asked.

Although I’d tossed my magic box of research, the proposal had been saved on a flash drive, so I said, “Sure,” and attached the file to an email without much thought.

A week later, Sandra called and said she loved my book proposal: my voice, the grade-by-grade progression, how I present what will be expected of kids that year socially and academically, the games, the “Real Deal” (goofy true-life stories), the tips for everything from communicating with teachers to family organization to healthy snacks on the go…

And Sandra had sent the proposal to Jackie’s family. She asked them how they would feel about me co-writing the book with Jackie; that is, using Jackie’s brain research and ideas for capitalizing on current brain development and function to my grade by grade structure, integrating my information on social development, games, tips for organization, and all the rest.

Jackie’s family liked the idea and even paid me a stipend to work like crazy for five months (in the proposal, I’d given myself a year) to complete the manuscript. I mourned the loss of the box I’d thrown out in the move, but truthfully, the more recent interviews and research will better serve parents anyway.

THIS is the book that was meant to be published.

Jacqueline Frischknecht 1932-2015

Though I never had the pleasure to meet Jackie in person, we share our passion for educating and empowering children and families. At times, I felt her looking over my shoulder, guiding my research, nudging me to include this or that as my fingers flew across the keyboard. I learned so much about brain development and the nuts and bolts of how humans learn.

BRAIN STAGES: A Grade-by-Grade Guide to Raising Smart, Happy Kids, K-5  by Jacqueline Frischknecht, Ph.D. and Trish Wilkinson will be released in March 2018.

The original release date was in September 2017, but after careful consideration and further planning, Sandra and I decided an extra six months will give us the time we need to make this book the best possible resource for helping families develop a solid mental, emotional, physical, and social foundation for kids in the elementary school years.

Parents who have children at various grade levels are reading chapters to give feedback, and we’re fine-tuning the manuscript now. But mostly they say things like: “I used to get annoyed with my daughter, but knowing what’s going on in her brain takes away the judgement. Our house is so much more relaxed than it was before I read that chapter.”

Simon Tucker, a friend and media intern at Compass Church in Bend, is working with me to develop an awesome Brain Stages website. We plan to make videos of kids and parents playing some of the games in the book as well as post all kinds of helpful hints for raising smart, happy kids, so stay tuned…

I’ll let you know when the new site goes up, show off the cover art when we make a decision, and inform you of upcoming events.

I’d say, “Wish us luck,” except there have been too many “coincidences” involved with this project.

Whatever your beliefs, providence or the cosmos,

 BRAIN STAGES

A Grade by Grade Guide to Raising Smart, Happy Kids, K—5

                                              was simply meant to be.

Stephanie Gave Up Her Land for a Better Life – Now She’s The BeauRam® Babe!

stephanie-on-highwayStephanie Lewis, my favorite yoga teacher here in Bend, Oregon, took a lot of grief along the way, but now she lives a fulfilling life and is on the road to success with her innovative BeauRam® backpack.10923267_624767650984368_6846668314303840610_n

“I grew up in a loving family but with a lot of bullshit,” she confides.

Stephanie grew up on a three-generation family farm that produced deciduous trees in Salem. Her parents both went to North Salem High, the same school she and her younger brother attended. After graduation, her dad left to fight in the Vietnam War, part of his quest to please her unpleasable retired military Grandfather Merriweather (Stephanie’s family are descendants of Merriweather Lewis, as in the explorers, Lewis and Clark). When her father returned to Oregon a former sniper and decorated soldier, her parents were married.

Stephanie admits her upbringing had its high points. She cherishes memories of fishing and hunting trips in Alaska with her dad and him teaching her to shoot. In fact, she won shooting competitions as a kid and thought seriously about joining the U.S. Army Research Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Still today, Stephanie has a permit to carry concealed weapons (her dad’s idea of keeping her safe is packing), though3oewj7te she hasn’t touched a firearm in years.

 “Growing up hunting and fishing, I’m the most un-yogi yogi … [and] the black sheep of the family,” Stephanie admits and then chuckles. “Or the tie-dyed sheep.”

Stephanie also recalls the sumptuous smells of her mother’s homemade pizza; fresh crust baking in the oven and sauce bubbling on the stove. Her mother happily fed Stephanie’s and her brother’s friends. The Lewis’ never went on family vacations, but her mother made their house the go-to place to hang out and have fun.

The community respected her family. No one knew her “upstanding” grandfather was privately vicious to his sons, or that he molested Stephanie at age five or six.

When she was eight, she walked in on her parents making out and said, “I know what you’re doing because Grandpa showed me.”

Her parents didn’t talk about it after that, but Stephanie noticed they kept Grandpa at a distance, which was tricky as they all lived in houses built on Lewis acreage. (Years later, they discovered the family patriarch sexually assaulted another young girl in the neighborhood but was never charged.)

large_3584131250At age 12, Stephanie received her first of what she calls “All I Hate About You” letters from her dad and was devastated.

“[Dad] was coming from a place of unhappiness… [I think] a lot of it was a ripple effect from how he was treated by his father.”

Many more soul-crushing letters later, after graduating high school, Stephanie left the farm to go to Portland State photo-3University. During the summer, going into her sophomore year, she came home to find her dad’s stuff gone. When she asked what happened, her mother burst into tears explaining he’d moved in with the younger woman down the street. Her dad never talked to Stephanie or her brother about his decision – or even her mother. He grabbed his belongings and took off, leaving her mom to find a half-empty closet.

Every time Stephanie and her mom left the house, they had to pass her dad’s new residence. To cope, Stephanie and her mom sneered and made “Dirty Diana” jokes when they drove by. In the end, Diana left her dad at the altar.

Stephanie worked at Nordstrom in Portland in her ladder years of college. When she graduated with a degree in Graphic Design, she worked at Johnson and Walverton for three years as “the go-to-girl” on amazing marketing accounts such as Coca Cola, World Cup, Miller Genuine Draft, and Amnesty International. There she learned how to deal with corporations domestically as well as internationally, and she got to go to London to help manage a large campaign.

lux_660x280_london_housesofparliamentThat trip to London gave Stephanie the traveling bug, and she wanted to make a difference in the world, so she decided to go to work for the Peace Corps. At age 26, after months of interviews and evaluations, the Peace Corps offered her a position in El Salvador. She spoke a little Spanish and happily accepted.

Stephanie quit her job, moved in with her newly remarried mother and step-father, and sold most of her possessions in preparation to leave the country. Then, two weeks before departure, a representative from the Peace Corps called to tell her they no longer needed her in El Salvador, but they had a position available in China. Stephanie couldn’t make the mental switch to another country, a completely different culture, half-way around the world.

“I didn’t want to go to China…I called my mom at work, crying so hard,” she says. “My mom was a medical assistant, totally compassionate. I’ll never forget how reassuring she was.”

Stephanie needed a job, so that same day, she took a trip to Nordstrom.

“They offered me a management position, and I took it. I had my own place within the week.”

By the time Stephanie turned 29, although her dad still sent occasional “All I Hate About You” letters, he also dangled the carrot of taking over the family farm. He’d already set up her brother in an independent nursery, so he told her if she came home to North Salem, as the oldest child, she would inherit the business. But three years into working long hours and learning all there was to know about raising and selling decorative trees, she got another “All I Hate About You” letter.

Heartbroken, she realized her dad never planned to fulfill his promise to let her run the farm. She left for Portland where Nordstrom gladly gave her another management position. A couple years later, when she was 34, Stephanie’s father asked her to come home to discuss the family business. His tone had been upbeat, almost positive. Thinking her family had come to their senses, she met with her parents and her brother in Salem.

But the meeting was anything but civil.

Her brother had become a chip-off-the-old-block and read aloud a scathing letter of his own: how Stephanie thinks she’s “entitled” and accusing her of lying about whatever she’d said to disagree with him. Silence filled the room after her brother’s recital. No one stood up for Stephanie to mention her hard work or her ideas that had made the farm more efficient and profitable.

“I’ve never felt so alone,” she recalls. “Before or since.”

She sold her house in Salem (right before the market tanked) and went to Puerto Rico for six months. When she turned 35, Stephanie returned r59_s45to Oregon, took classes in viticulture, and moved to Bend to be a wine rep/buyer for Ray’s in Sisters, Oregon.

“Bend is a place where people come to heal their souls,” she says.

13686571_10153920283549353_7170499537494372918_nStephanie started practicing yoga in 2009 and began facing her past. She met life coach and counselor, Susan Weisburger, and Suzina Newcomb, the owner of Namaspa. These two women taught Stephanie to come from a place of abundance, love, and conscious compassion rather than poverty. She also kept in touch with her maternal grandmother, now 96, Jean Barry.

13254232_10153780787604353_5090795811865148452_n

“She’s my hero, the most phenomenal Yogi who has never stepped in a studio. [Grandma’s] mindset is of pure love and compassion, total acceptance. She had a tough childhood and rose above it.”

By 2011, Stephanie decided to become a yoga instructor.

“Yoga teacher training is what saved my life,” Stephanie proudly admits. Part of the 200-hour Baptiste methodology includes “peeling away personal [baggage] to own your authenticity in order to help others reach theirs.” It was here that Stephanie truly began to heal.

10915314_624763030984830_2570214685747802784_nTeaching yoga classes at Namaspa, Athletic Club of Bend (which is where Stephanie and I met), at Brasada Ranch, and in La Pine helped her develop a sense of self as well as lead others to discover their authentic selves. Supporting people in accepting and appreciating their bodies and minds led to Stephanie designing the BeauRam® Yoga Survival Pack.

“As a teacher, I wanted to make it easier for people to live healthier lives because I believe that good health uplifts to happiness and contentment.” Stephanie chuckles. “To grab their ‘Beau’ and go.”

BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs come loaded or unloaded, for beginners to 30-year veterans. If you’re just starting out or your gear is getting worn, the loaded packs include:

  • A yoga mat (travel design patent pending)
  • Removable laundry bag
  • Skin care kit
  • Inspiration piece
  • Carabiners (3)
  • Water Bottle
  • Yoga block
  • Yoga strap
  • Towel
  • and Soothing wipes

Stephanie’s BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs got incredibly positive feedback from yoga teachers and students when she showed people her prototype, so she made the nail-biting decision to invest her savings in producing a few hundred.

And her BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs sold out within a couple weeks!

Scared but determined, armed with nurturing friends and her own yoga practice, she took the plunge and sold her house to use the money to manufacture more BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs!

You can find more information HERE🙂

Stephanie’s ultimate goal is to one day have her own BeauRam® Yoga Studio that provides classes and anything yogis at any level might need to enhance their practice – and their lives.

You go, Stephanie! I’m sure, not too far into the future, I’ll be writing another post about your product launch and one day about your successful studio!

Thanks so much for sharing your story.

For more information, go to Stephanie’s BeauRam® Facebook page.

Meet Jayne, Whose Son Saved Her Life, and Running Saved Her Marriage

10500351_541207862712808_5131535543680842341_nJayne Rodosevich grew up in Ridgecrest, California, a small town in the Mojave Desert – mostly on her own. Her dad, a chemical engineer for Searles Valley Minerals, worked a lot of hours, and her mom, a registered nurse, spent much of the time at the local hospital. Until Jayne turned 15, she practically raised her younger brother and sister when she wasn’t training on uneven parallel bars, the vault or balance beam, or learning floor routines for the next gymnastics meet.

Then in her sophomore year of high school, her mom decided to go back to college to become a nurse anesthetist – in Los Angeles, about a three-hour drive from Ridgecrest. Her mom took Jayne’s siblings and invited their grandmother to live with them to take care of the little ones. A refugee from Thailand who didn’t speak English became the housekeeper for Jayne and her dad while Jayne finished high school and competed in gymnastics meets.

Gymnastics and homework kept Jayne out of trouble. She brought home trophies and earned straight As until she graduated from high school and went off to the University of California in Davis. Jayne went from little to no contact with her family, and she no longer had time for sports. At age 19, she worked in a clothing store, back-bussed at a local bar, and poured coffee as a barista to pay for tuition, books, food and rent – and Jayne was exhausted.

Her husband, back then her 21-year-old boyfriend, introduced Jayne to crystal methamphetamine to give her the zip she needed to get through the day.

And she got addicted.

So did he.

They were each other’s bad influence in perpetuating the crystal meth roller coaster of manic highs and devastating lows. Jayne managed to downloadget through six years of college classes, working three jobs, using speed to keep her going. Eventually, though, paying for tuition and living expenses became too much of a burden. Sadly, she quit attending UC Davis 30 units short of graduation, and they moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.

In the next 10 years, drug use whittled Jayne’s body down to 90 pounds. Her muscles, once robust from thousands of hours of gymnastics training, atrophied into saggy strands hanging off her bones. One cigarette after the next incinerated between her fingertips. Her teeth became mottled with black rot, a side-effect from crystal meth use, and still she and her boyfriend partied.

“We had one rule,” Jayne says. “You could never [mess] up at work.”

Life had become a cycle of self-induced bipolar disorder. Then three months after Jayne and her boyfriend married, she discovered she was pregnant.

Jayne’s life took a 180 degree turn.

Quitting her drug habits had seemed impossible until fear for her baby’s safety became a factor. For the first time in a decade, she put downWk14_Belly_02 the smokes, turned away the frenzied high she craved, and started eating regular meals that included produce and protein. Soon she plumped into a healthy weight, and eight months later, she delivered a healthy little boy.

(Since their son was born, over the last twelve years, Jayne has spent more than $20,000 to fix her rotten teeth.)

But Jayne continued eating the same after she stopped nursing her baby and gained 80 pounds. Her husband, too, blew past his optimal weight, into jumbo jeans.

“Crystal meth messes up your metabolism,” Jayne explains. “Your body holds onto fat in case you decide to starve it again because you don’t feel like eating when you’re using.”

Her husband cut his drug use way down, but it took a couple years for him to beat his addictions. Jayne focused on being a mom to their son and tried to be patient. After all, her husband never had the urgency of a human life growing inside him to fortify his will power.

Eight years ago, they moved from California to Bend, Oregon, where her husband was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, a bi-product of his arrested addiction and current eating habits. He knew if he didn’t do something to improve his health, he would get sicker. Since Bend is known for its mountain trails, and runners populate the bike lanes as often as cyclists, he put on a pair of cross trainers and started logging the miles. His weight began to drop, and he began to feel better.

183122_465327160203974_827085630_nBut Jayne worked graveyard shifts at Village Baker in their son’s early years, so she could be with their little one during the day. Constant sleep deprivation made cat naps more crucial than cardio workouts.

During this time, her mentally ill mother-in-law, estranged from her husband since he was a child, got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had nowhere to go.

So Jayne and her husband brought his mother home to live with them.

Jayne struggled to be a mom to their son, caregiver to her confused mother-in-law, and co-provider for the household for a nightmarish year-and-a-half before the woman passed away.

Jayne needed an outlet, a way to deal with stress, yet she didn’t know how to squeeze physical exercise into her busy life. Knowing her competitive nature, honed from years of competing in gymnastics meets, her husband teased her for two years, saying she couldn’t run for reasons that had nothing to do with time, alluding to her weight. Then Jayne and her husband both changed jobs, switching schedules, him working nights as head chef at a swanky restaurant, and her working days at Whole Foods Market after their son started school.

“I started running because [my husband] told me I wasn’t capable,” Jayne confesses. “I wasn’t going to let him be right.”

Getting regular sleep and living in daylight allowed Jayne to join a runners’ training group for a half-marathon through FootZone, an apparel 13346501_10208477979963824_4632028197835674607_nstore in downtown Bend that cultivates and nurtures the local running community. She made lasting friendships with people who supported each other in reaching their fitness goals. That first year, she not only became an excellent runner, Jayne lost 60 pounds and has kept them off ever since.

Three years ago, Jayne got a call from Christina Stavro, a training group coordinator at FootZone, who asked if Jayne would be willing to mentor other runners in the half-marathon group training for the race in Silver Falls, Oregon. A free pair of running shoes sweetened the deal, and Jayne has been mentoring groups ever since.

10433144_450950215071907_7800429536368401572_nIn fact, Jayne has been my knowledgeable, patient, supportive running mentor in both the Silver Falls Half-Marathon and Bend Marathon training groups through FootZone. I’ll be forever grateful for her gentle motivation, talking me through sore glutes, hips, and hamstrings, encouraging me to the top of steep roads and trails that seemed would never end.

In the meantime, Jayne’s marriage secretly suffered from her and her husband’s opposite work schedules. Last year, they had drifted so far apart, they became little more that roommates.

“I wasn’t afraid for him to leave,” Jayne recounts. “I’m not dependent on him anymore.”

At the brink of separation, they decided to carve out running time together, and their relationship began to grow again.10394615_10152840328548189_2315796588886067072_n

“We’ve realized we do better together,” Jayne acknowledges. “He’s my best friend.”

They’ve finally become a good influence on each other. Since March, they’ve trained for and competed in two races together, and she sees many others in their future. On July 9, Jayne will run her first ultra-marathon, a 50K (31 miles) at Mount Hood in Oregon. But her husband won’t be participating. He and their son will be cheering for Jayne as she crosses the finish line.

Thanks for sharing your story with our Tenacity to Triumph readers, Jayne!

 

Readers, can you relate to Jayne’s story in some way? We’d love for you to leave a comment.

Here’s to bad asses everywhere!

Trish Wilkinson,

Author, Writing Coach, Freelance Editor

Meet Pauline, a Total Bad Ass Who Doesn’t Realize She’s Awesome

Pauline and her dog, Jack
Pauline and her dog, Jack

I meet amazing people to write about for this blog in the most unlikely places. The funny thing is, heroes think they’re normal. Nothing special. Talking people into letting me tell their stories often takes a bit of convincing that others can benefit from their experiences, particularly the life choices that empowered them to become the successes they are today.

For example, Pauline Kinneman, one of my favorite new running buddies in Central Oregon,

Pauline and I running in the Silver Falls Half Marathon last November where she placed third for her age group
Pauline and I running in the Silver Falls Half Marathon last November where she placed third for her age group

doesn’t think she’s special at all, but she’s a total bad ass. Due to her peer pressure, I’m training for the Bend Marathon, my first marathon ever, on Sunday, April 24. What kind of crazy people run 26.2 miles, for cryin’ out loud? Apparently, people like me who admire and respect someone like Pauline, a 62-year-old who has won several medals in half and full marathons, a woman nine years my senior who kicks my butt on the roads and trails. She’s also the mother of three amazing adults: Sean Michael Gion, age 32, father, husband, software sales executive; Lauren Elizabeth Frances, M.D., age 30, and Katherine Rose Sylvia, age 26, wife, writer for Human Resources at Columbia University.

A former manager for a Barnes & Noble in Seattle, customer relations officer for Washington Energy, disc jockey back in the day, retail sales person, and model for Frederick and Nelson as a teenager, Pauline now spends much of her time running with her FootZone friends talking, joking, and offering humble encouragement. When she isn’t running, she hits the ski slopes, braves rocky trails on her mountain bike, and takes 200+ mile trips on her road bike with her husband, Michael, of 37 years.

You might guess, with a such a glowing track record (pun intended), she came from a stable, educated family.

You would be wrong.

Pauline’s father, John Kelty, was illiterate. John ran away from home and enlisted in the army in his teens. As a sergeant in World War II, he was one of the last Muleskinners who saved women and children in the Swiss Alps, and he had a fabulous singing voice.

But he could never quiet his inner demons.

220px-Tennis_Racket_and_BallsPauline’s mother, Sylvia Baker, a professional tennis player who competed at the U.S. Open, met John, a soldier 12 years her senior, guarding the tennis courts in Japan where she’d been asked to play in a “Friendlies” match with the Emperor. A whirlwind romance would have the two married several months later.

And her mother would discover her new husband was a mean drunk.

Still, Pauline’s oldest brother Frank came along, Geoffrey followed two years later, and Pauline Sylvia Kelty, named after her English grandmother, arrived a couple years after Geoff. Her mother continued to play tennis, and her dad worked for Boeing as a plumber. They lived in a two-bedroom house in Seattle where little Pauly slept in a crib in the same room with her brothers until she was five years old.

Meanwhile, her alcoholic father had become physically abusive.

By the time Pauly turned six, her parents had split up. Her dad didn’t pay child support, so the family practically starved while her mom struggled to pay the bills on the meager sponsorship from Boeing to play in tennis tournaments and her secretary’s salary.

Pauly didn’t go to preschool or kindergarten. She stayed home with her stuffed animals while her mom went to work and her brothers went to school. When she got hungry, she’d knock at neighbors’ doors, asking for something to eat. In the afternoons, she walked several blocks by herself and waited for her brothers to be let out of class for the day.

Yet when her mom had a tennis match scheduled, Pauly and her brothers bathed and dressed in clean white shirts and behaved as model imageschildren, seen and not heard. At the swanky tennis clubs, servers brought them food and drinks while their mother battled for another tennis trophy.

“People waited on us,” says Pauline. “We were little princes and a princess – until we went home to our hovel.”

Win or lose, Sylvia would take the kids back to their little house to carefully stow their pressed shirts and slacks for the next match. On days when Sylvia didn’t have a match scheduled, she and Pauly would go to the track at the local public high school, where Pauly would watch her mom hit tennis balls against a wall and run laps to stay in shape.

track-shoes-9068173“I’d go to sleep at the side of the track listening to the rhythm of her feet,” Pauline remembers. “[The sound] was comforting.”

In addition to the difficulties of day-to-day living, the family lived in terror knowing her father could appear at any time, wasted and ready to bully them.

“We’d hold our breath hoping Dad wouldn’t show up drunk and violent,” Pauline confides. “Sometimes we had to leave to get away from him, which was fun because the no-tell-motel would have a pool, [but other times] the police would have to come and take him away.”

Single motherhood, a struggling tennis career, and an abusive ex-husband ground Sylvia into deep depression, so she tried to lift her spirits by dating. If Pauly and her brothers came home to hear music playing, they knew to stay out of the house. If the music still played after her date left, they knew their mother’s dark mood would isolate her for the rest of the evening. After such nights, ten-year-old Pauly would coax her mother out of bed, assemble an outfit, and help dress her for work in the morning.

“School was awful,” Pauline admits. “I was always sleepy, and I was super thin because I ate terribly.”

At age 11, Pauly found her mother running around the house with a handful of pills threatening to kill herself. Not knowing what else to do, sheimages (3) called the police. When the cops arrived, she and her brothers hid, and Sylvia told the police there had been a misunderstanding. After the police left, the kids crawled out of their hiding places, and Pauly tucked her mom into bed.

The following morning, Pauly ran late for school, so she awakened her mother, set out Sylvia’s clothes for work, and left the house. That day, Pauly got into trouble with her teacher for falling asleep in class, so she decided to go home for a nap. A priest intercepted her and broke the news that her mom was in the hospital. In a daze, Pauly walked home from school. When she wandered into the bathroom, she found bright red blood splattered on the walls, in the bathtub, and smeared on the floor.

“I can still see it in my mind if I’m not careful,” Pauline confesses. “It was horrible.”

Worse, Frank and Geoff blamed their little sister for their mother’s suicide attempt, saying that calling the police the night before had pushed her over the edge.

images (1)Sylvia was taken to the psych ward at the hospital. At first, people from their church took in the kids, but as days turned to weeks, Pauly and her brothers became wards of the state of Washington. Fifteen-year-old Frank went to live in an orphanage, Geoff spent time at the Griffin Home for Boys, and Pauly lived with the Lazaras family in foster care. The Lazarases had a rifle range in their basement, and they taught Pauly how to shoot. They also generously shared their horses and took her on trail rides. After two weeks, Betty Rae and Bud Gross, the Lazaras’s next-door-neighbors, asked Pauly to live with them.

When Sylvia got out of the hospital, she tried to get her children back, but the neighbors testified that she was an unfit mother, so the state wouldn’t allow Pauly and her brothers to go home. Pauly felt guilty to be relieved because, though the bathroom had been cleaned, whenever she visited the house for her mom’s visitation, vivid flashbacks made her heart race, and she’d have to walk outside.

Her mother felt there was little to live for without her children. Sylvia began to drink heavily and take amphetamines to control her weight, all while playing punishing amounts of tennis. Within months, Sylvia collapsed on the tennis court. Geoffrey, now 14, left the boys’ home to take care of her.

Just before Pauly’s 12th birthday in November, her mother died of liver cancer – and Geoffrey suffered a psychotic break.

“[Geoffrey] was never the same after Mom died,” Pauline concedes. “I think part of it had to do with him having to go to the same psych ward as our mother to recover.”

Pauline remembers her mother treating everyone with kindness. “[Mom] would say, ‘You never know what is going on with people. There is always someone who has had more pain [than we have].’”

Beverly and Vivian, Sylvia’s older sisters from California, came to Washington to attend the funeral. Pauly danced and skipped, excited to see her aunts for the first time, hoping these new-found family members would become part of her and her brothers’ lives. But Aunts Vivian and Beverly left shortly after the memorial service. Pauly didn’t know if she’d ever hear from them again.

A few weeks after the funeral, Aunt Beverly called and explained Frank and Geoff were too old, but 12-year-old Pauly could come to live with her family in California. Pauly’s first time on an airplane, she flew by herself to live with an aunt she scarcely knew as well as an uncle and four cousins she’d never met. Pauly kept up with her aunt’s strict schedule of activities and mealtimes, but she was in pain over the loss of her mother. In her grief, she escaped by burying her nose in books every chance she got.

Two weeks after Pauly arrived, Aunt Beverly sat her down on the bed and said: “This isn’t working out.”

Sylvia’s oldest sister, Aunt Vivian, came to the rescue and offered Pauly a home. Aunt Vivian had a pool, and she set out the funny papers for Pauly to read at the breakfast table. With lots of swimming and reading and easy conversation, her inner-turmoil subsided. Life began to settle into a secure rhythm – until four weeks later when Aunt Vivian said she’d already raised her children and wasn’t prepared to bring up another child.

Pauly was sent back to Washington. She lived in two foster homes before Betty Rae and Bud Gross got licensed to be foster parents and invited her to come live with them again. She was almost 13. For the next four years, Pauly lived with them, but tensions grew in their home after the Gross’s son enlisted in the army and left to fight in Vietnam.

FHSLibrary
Interior Franklin HS Library

In those years, Pauly’s self-esteem steadily declined. Few of her peers knew she was a foster kid. Most

Franklin High School, Seattle, Washington
Franklin High School, Seattle, Washington

people thought of her as the “nice little girl who worked in the school library.”

Then in tenth grade, Philip Quinn, Pauly’s English teacher at Franklin High School, began to tutor her in the library with a group of other struggling kids to help them catch up in their classes. More important, he told Pauly she was smart, praising her for academic and emotional progress. Slowly, her self-image improved.

In her senior year, one fateful afternoon, she got into a shouting match with Betty Rae, and Pauly ran away. Literally. Being on the cross-country team at Franklin High, she ran miles and miles.

Eventually she bumped into a girl from school. Although little more than an acquaintance, the girl took Pauly home, and the girl’s parents let Pauly spend the night. The next day, Pauly went to see the guidance counselor. When Mr. Quinn found out what had happened, he called his pregnant wife, and the couple agreed to take Pauly in for a while. Christopher, the Quinn’s two-and-a-half-year-old son thought his daddy brought Pauly home especially for him as the two of them hit it off the moment she walked into the tiny, two-bedroom house.

Pauly finished her senior year of high school with the Quinn family, and Philip helped her get into the University of Puget Sound. She earned a degree in psychology, met Michael Kinneman through a mutual friend, and began her journey as a successful adult.

To this day, Pauline and the Quinns keep in touch, celebrating accomplishments, sharing in sorrows, or merely catching up. Betty Rae and Pauline have long since made amends, and the Gross family, too, remain precious friends. Sadly, Pauline’s brother Geoffrey died at age 44 struggling with addiction, but Frank lives in Alaska and is the mayor in the small town where he lives with his wife. Frank and Pauline have done their best to heal from the past. They talk on the phone and visit each other whenever possible.

Pauline (yellow dress), husband Michael (far right), and much of her family
Pauline (yellow dress), husband Michael (far right), and much of her family at Katharine and Tyler’s wedding

Soon Pauline will hang out with her daughter, Katharine Rose, and her son-in-law, Tyler Bischop when she travels east to run in the New York Marathon on November 6. My guess is that she’ll get another medal, but whether she places in her age group or not, Pauline is a hero in my book.

Pauline, thanks for allowing me to share your story as a notable bad ass on Tenacity to Triumph.

Readers, we’d love to “hear” your comments. Hopefully, Pauline’s story struck a chord to give you that extra something you need to get through your personal challenges.

 

If you have a story of grit and determination to share, leave a comment or email me at writetowinwithtrish@gmail.com, and we’ll make that happen.

                                                                                                Here’s to bad asses everywhere!

                                                                                                Trish Wilkinson

 

The Decision that Made LadyDice an Up-and-Coming Hip Hop Star

fcae31d3-71bd-4212-b3ff-5fa9ceb014ddA few short years ago, singer LadyDice, weighed 275 pounds, had never written a song, and suffered from debilitating stage fright. It took an honest, painful look inside herself to break through the obstacles keeping her from her dreams.

 
Growing up in Southern California with her biological father, a mentally and physically abusive addict, she remembers sitting in the courtroom with her mom and dad fighting over who would get custody of her and her sisters. LadyDice’s home life improved after her mom won the custody battle and eventually married a wonderful man.

 
But the damage from those early years had been done.

 
And understanding the source of her self-destructive behavior wouldn’t come until much later.

 
Hitting bottom either kills you or makes you stronger, and LadyDice chose to use that dark, desperate place as her springboard to recreate her life.

“I decided I was ready to become who I always wanted to be,” she says.

Being overweight had always plagued her with self-doubt; that is, until she got serious and dropped 120 pounds.

LadyDice three years ago, before and after she lost 120 pounds.
LadyDice before and after she lost 120 pounds.

“I wish I could give some miracle answer [for how I lost all that weight and have kept it off], but it was just discipline. I LOOOVE food,” she admits, “so I had to figure out yummy ways to stay satisfied. After I got that down, it was easy.”

In a similar way, LadyDice faced her fear of the limelight by forcing her feet onto the stage for the first time three years ago. She’d always wanted to sing, to be heard. No one would stop her, least of all herself. The dreaded shakes and queasiness she’d avoided for so long gave way to joy as her amplified voice filled the room, and the audience moved to the beat. Since then, she has performed in all kinds of venues in several states.

“I pushed myself for almost 2 years, and now I’m doing shows all over the place. I am a model and pursuing my dream in music!!” she exclaims. “You just have to find the belief in yourself.”

12088272_881154771968703_200476865479206303_nLadyDice has discovered her true friends in going after her dream of becoming a hip hop star.

“It’s amazing to see the people who step up and support your career and the ones who don’t,” she confides. “There’s been a lot of good and bad on my journey so far, but the good is definitely starting to outweigh the bad. I’m grateful.”

 

The single mom of a 4-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, LadyDice finds juggling motherhood and her career challenging at times. “It’s really hard having to be gone and them not understanding why Mommy isn’t home,” she says. Still, her preschoolers root for her success. They love to see her perform on stage, and they sing along and dance to her CDs. Hearing about her travels to faraway places excites them, and LadyDice works hard to be present for her children when she’s home. “Honestly, this is an obstacle I haven’t overcome quite yet,” she acknowledges, “but I believe I’m finding a balance.”

 

Recently, LadyDice left her home in Oregon for a few days to be there for someone else’s little girl in Idaho. Ten-year-old Sophia has struggled with leukemia since birth, and although the treatments have gotten her cancer under control, her kidneys are failing due to the frequent processing of harsh chemicals from chemotherapy. Sophia loves LadyDice’s hip hop, tough-girl music, so her mother contacted LadyDice to set up a meeting to take Sophia’s mind off dialysis and waiting for a new kidney. LadyDice invited Sophia to her recording studio where they experienced a bond neither will ever forget. Not only did they have a great time getting to know each other, Sophia got to see LadyDice record Rachael Platten’s “Fight Song” to accompany Sophia’s video to help raise money to cover medical costs on GoFundMe.com.

 

 

Soon LadyDice will be hearing whether she’ll be opening for a big name act. Fingers crossed. (I’ll let you know the details if this opportunity comes through for her).

In the meantime, here are LadyDice’s five steps for reaching your dreams and goals:

  1. Realize no one is going to do it for you; the only one who can change you is you.
  2. Make a decision and stick with it, consistency is key.
  3. Believe in yourself. Even if there is a long road ahead of you, you absolutely CAN do it.
  4. You will fall over and over again, but you can always get back up and keep going. I refuse to quit until I get where I want to be! We should ALL strive for that within ourselves.
  5. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. This world is ugly, and there will always be people who root for you to fail. You have to know your own worth. None of the other stuff matters.

 

Thanks, LadyDice, for taking the time for this interview. You definitely get our “Tenacity to Triumph” philosophy. You’re a fellow bad ass to the core.
Write questions or comments for LadyDice below, and help her realize her dreams by sharing this post!

When an Infection Eats Your Face: An Amazing Story of an Incredible Bad Ass

2D0688C300000578-0-image-a-6_1443820018926

Imagine you’re born perfectly normal, but then a virulent infection devours your eyelids, nose and lips. Your parents decide they can’t handle raising such a needy kid, so you become a ward of the state – and a doctor gets permission to do experimental plastic surgery on you. After three years in a cage-like crib at the hospital and myriad painful operations, you, the doctor’s work-in-progress, get placed in foster care. Wherever you go, people stare, and though your foster family does its best to make you feel at home, you feel like an outsider, a freak. People assume your misshapen nose and lopsided lips mean you’re mentally retarded rather than a plastic surgeon’s pet project.

This is Howard Shulman’s story.2D07078A00000578-0-image-a-15_1443824642109

Recently, his memoir Running from the Mirror was released, and it’s riveting. His raw honesty in how he describes growing up the “monster kid” at the mercy of his experimenting doctor and the opportunities he grasps to survive as a young adult (not all of them legal) brought tears to my eyes, caught my breath, and occasionally provoked a guilty grin.

I’m not going to lie. Sometimes this is a painful read, for example, when he describes one of his Frankenstein-like surgeries:

“A large nine-by-eight-inch patch of skin was excised from my chest and shoulder, the graft then rolled up and stitched along the seam to create a headless snake of raw, living flesh. One end was then attached under my chin and the other to the tip of my reconstructed nose. This appendage, left to dangle in front of my face for the next six weeks, was a constant reminder of what I had gone through but one that gave me no idea where I was going. Doctor Gratz literally held my future in his hands.”

2D068F4900000578-0-image-m-4_1443820002253If his childhood memories are gripping and intense, Howard’s irreverence in relaying shady career endeavors to keep food on the table and a roof over his head is equally engaging, possibly even a guilty pleasure (I’d give examples, except I hate when people talk about books and spoil the surprises). Ultimately, Howard’s journey as he learns to accept himself and finds love is extremely gratifying.

I actually got to meet Howard a few months before Running from the Mirror was released by Sandra Jonas Publishing House. Howard called and told me he’d met a friend of mine in line at Starbucks who gave him my number. He wanted to talk to a local fellow author about giving writers’ workshops together. We met at a coffee shop in Chula Vista, California, where Howard shared his experience writing his memoir: cleansing yet uncomfortable, often frustrating, sometimes sad or filled with regret. Still, the satisfaction of knowing how far he has come and the hope his story might give to others made the project worth the effort.

Talk about grit. They don’t make ‘em much more bad ass than Howard.

Now in his 50s, Howard has owned successful businesses and traveled, but what he treasures most is his family.2D068F5100000578-0-image-a-5_1443820009163

“When I turned 50, I experienced two miracles,” he says. “The first was my marriage. It never occurred to me…[I’d find someone who would be] beautiful and caring and love me for who I am. The second miracle was that my wife came with the family I had longed for… [By] helping raise my wife’s twin daughters, [I found] parenting is not a one-way street. I am in a relationship with them that provides more love than I could ever have imagined…We respect and learn from each other. ”

Since Howard and I met, my husband and I moved to Bend, Oregon, to start 94.9 FM Central Oregon’s Sports Radio (which has been a harrowing experience, worthy of a Tenacity to Triumph post, coming soon). Howard and I have become friends, though, and I’ll visit family in San Diego County every few months, so we’ll be doing writers’ workshops together in the near future.

If you’re interested in participating in a writers’ workshop with Howard and me, whether you’re a seasoned writer who could use inspiration and techniques to get you to the next level, or you’re someone who likes to write and has a fiction or nonfiction story to tell, please leave a comment with your contact information, email me at writetowinwithtrish@gmail.com, or call (619) 647-5559.

A portion of Howard’s sales go to Hillsides, an organization that works to recreate the lives of at-risk kids. For more informationhs_logo about Howard’s book or to order Running from the Mirror, click here.

A quick note: The link goes to Sandra Jonas Publishing, which is selling the book for 20% off ($12.00) until October 31. You can also get the book at regular price ($14.95), through Barnes & Noble and Amazon (Amazon erroneously has Running from the Mirror labeled “Temporarily out of stock”, but your order will go through).

Comments are ALWAYS appreciated, whether you’re interested in coming to a workshop, or you have something you’d like to share.

Talk to you soon!

(Lots of great posts will be coming now that the radio station is finally on the air. Sheesh!)

Trish Wilkinson

Writer, Coach, Editor, and Fellow Bad Ass

How Valerie W. Found that Minding Her Own Business Could Lead to a Great Life

alcoholism-metaphor-sketch-23920506“Terminally unique.” That’s the term I learned in a 12-step program for those of us who think we’re the only ones trapped in the quicksand of someone else’s addiction. Yes. My story is mine alone, but it is somewhat textbook. We grasp how to operate in relationships early, usually by observing our biological parents. From mine, I learned codependency. I also married my father. Not literally, but my husband was my dad in many respects, and he concealed the Hyde to his Jekyll in those years before we gave birth to two beautiful girls.

My mother endured years of physical abuse from my drunken father before my parents 79166763divorced. I was three years old, and my sister was seven. While I was in college, at age 19, my mom died of cancer. It had formed in her chest around her heart, as if her anger toward my father and her parents literally suffocated her. She was only 48.

After putting myself through college, with the help of student loans, I volunteered with AmeriCorps, a domestic form of the Peace Corps. The organization sent me to San Diego, California to train tutors who would help struggling elementary school-aged children improve their reading skills. Being a small town girl, new to the big city, I filled out a survey that arrived in my mailbox from a dating service.

A few months later, Mike requested a date with me. I accepted after seeing his shy,images humble demeanor in his video. He was classically handsome – resembling Patrick Swayze in the “Dirty Dancing” years. Although Mike wasn’t college-educated – a “must have” on my preference list – he owned his own plumbing business, which meant to me that he was motivated and financially stable. We met the following day and instantly hit it off. By the time he took me home after a holiday party the next evening, I was off the market. I knew I had met the man who was destined to be my partner in life.

We bought a home together before we married and entertained often. Then came the wedding. A year-and-a-half later, we had a baby girl. Our lives together seemed right on track. Except his drinking steadily increased, and his anger would flare. I began walking on eggshells. He raged over what he perceived to be my eyes on other men. My connection with certain friends, even my relationship with my sister set him off.

66When we fought, it often became physical. By then I was teaching high school, and I went to class with bruises and scratches more often than I like to remember. I lived a double-life. At work, I was a dedicated, empathetic teacher. I felt purpose in my work and strove for excellence from myself as well as my students. My friends saw me as a successful career woman, mother, and wife. I wanted nothing more than for everyone to believe that I was juggling my responsibilities with ease. But at home, Mike and I were drowning in our disease.

He drank nightly, and I kept a watchful eye on how much alcohol he consumed. If his mood turned irritable, we sometimes ended up in a brawl. I always fought back. No way would a man beat me the way my father had beaten my mother. I used my fingernails as weapons to push him off me, and I slapped his face. The police were called a few times. Mike was booked for domestic violence twice. The following day I would go pick him up from the downtown jailhouse and tell the police I didn’t want to press charges.

After our second child was born, Mike’s drinking escalated. He passed out on the couch more often than he slept in our bed. He blamed myimages (1) breastfeeding our baby in the middle of the night, but I knew his beer meant more to him than sharing space with me. Sex became routine and uneventful, a chore. As our daughters grew, so did the frequency of drunken nights.

Mike hid bottles of Bacardi in the garage. He drank on his drive home from work to get a beer down before I could see him. I began all the classic co-dependent manipulations to get him to stop – I threatened to leave, I pleaded, I cried, I yelled. I thought if I made his life miserable, surely he would make a change. Which he did. He spent longer days on the golf course with friends and returned home sloshed. More often than not, when he walked in the door after work at 5 o’clock, he was already wasted. When he saw disappointment on my face, he shouted at me and called me names. Our children would cry and tell us not to fight. I would call his mom, who lived six hours north of San Diego, and plead for her to talk with him.

Once, I called to talk with his mother after a fight, and I got his stepfather instead. His stepdad told me to try Al-Anon, a 12-step program for friends and family of alcoholics. Desperate for help, I went to my first meeting in December 2008 with my disease at its height. I was a nervous wreck, trying to control everyone in my life. I vigilantly assessed what everyone else was doing, saying, and thinking. I couldn’t socialize without being hyper self-aware, scanning others to figure out what they wanted me to say and be. Friends told me I was overbearing and pulled away from me.  Everything felt like a chore. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I was only 33 years old.

7_9caa2793658f3cc387f216157300b1ce_mMike allowed me to attend weekly meetings because he saw a positive change in me. He said I had been softer and friendlier. He didn’t know I was trying to practice detachment; that is, learning to keep my attention off others and on myself. This included self-care and how to avoid creating a crisis, while not trying to prevent one either. I got reacquainted with spirituality and was reminded that I had a Higher Power who I could lean on. I came to understand that the alcoholics in my life had their own Higher Power and had to walk their own paths. I learned about humility and how not to take others’ choices personally because it wasn’t all about me, which was a relief as well as a blow to my ego. All these things helped me to let go of trying to control all aspects of my life. It was a 180-degree turn from what I had been taught.

I had always believed the old American adage: “When it doesn’t work, try harder.”

Now I was trying to practice: “Let go and let God.”

I got a sponsor within six months of being in Al-Anon and we worked the steps together. She was kind and gentle and loving. She didn’t wince when I told her my shameful secrets. I learned to trust God and another human being. I learned to trust myself. I made amends with my father who immediately recognized the eighth step. He had also been working a program in Alcoholics Anonymous.

I began to pray for a sign to show me whether I should leave my marriage. Mike’s drinking was getting worse. He kept passing out on the living room floor. I took pictures of his drunkenness, so I could prove in court that he was unfit to take care of our girls if I left him.

IR wireless flash 3The last time I took one of those photos, he was laid out in the hallway, snoring in front our children’s bathroom after a spring day of golf. The flash woke him, so I sprinted to our bedroom and locked the door. He yelled obscenities and threats and banged on the door. Then suddenly it was quiet, and when I mustered the nerve to peek outside the bedroom, I found him on the couch, sleeping off the drunk. The following morning, he was waiting for me on the other side of the door, and he attacked me. I called 9-1-1, reported the abuse and obtained a restraining order. After that day, Mike was no longer allowed in our home without a police escort.

Today, our children are eight and eleven years old, and they call me on a cell phone if they believe their father has been drinking. They know their father loves them, but he has a brain that tells him to consume alcohol as a form of medicine. When our youngest was asked by her counselor whether or not she believes her father might stop drinking if she were a better-behaved child she replied, “Of course not. He has a disease that has nothing to do with me.” When asked if she thought his drinking is a reflection of his lack of love for her, she adamantly disagreed. She knows her daddy loves her; he just has a problem.

I realize my daughters have learned these things from me, but I can’t take credit. These responses are typical of Al-Anon’s teachings and11054852_887171214681896_4915416769333871011_n healing. I would never have discovered these concepts on my own. My children will grow up with a different set of tools than I had before Al-Anon. They will know about the disease of alcoholism and how to not engage in codependent behaviors with alcoholic friends and family members. Hopefully, they will refrain from attracting this kind of relationship in their futures. In the meantime, we pray for their father daily and put him in God’s hands because we have to mind our own business and take responsibility for ourselves.

It seems so simple: “Mind your own business.” We hear those words all the time. Now, I can honestly say I know what they mean.

(If someone reading this post would like to get in touch with Valerie. leave a comment, and I’ll make sure she gets your email address, so she can offer her experience, strength, and hope.)

Donna’s Tough Road Led Her to 8 Keys For a Great Life

Donna

Donna May grew up in a happy home in Saint Louis, but as an adult, she got mixed up in an abusive relationship. One fateful night, injured, hysterical and crying, Donna ran her car into her abuser while trying to flee. He’d told her if she ever hurt him, she better kill him, so she wheeled around and ran him over.

Except the body on the street turned out to be her violent lover’s friend.

Donna was charged with second-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison. On December 19, 1990 she entered the Department of Corrections, and her two daughters went to live with her parents.

While incarcerated, determined to make a better life when she got out, she took classes from Lincoln University to add to the 18 credit hours she’d earned from St. Louis Community College at Forest Parks. In the meantime, her father passed away in July, 1996 and then her mother in January, 1997.  Adding to the crushing grief of losing her parents, she worried for her children who had been in their care, but her family came through. Her oldest daughter, then 17, went to live with Donna’s grandmother, and her younger daughter, 14, moved in with Donna’s cousin.

In 1998 after being denied parole, another offender asked if Donna would share her background with a visitor involved in a law school working on behalf of people who were incarcerated for killing their abuser. Though Donna’s situation was unique, a student and professor took her case, speaking on her behalf at a parole hearing in 2000. The board granted her a two-year release date, and she arrived at Saint Mary’s Honor Center on August 22, 2002.

Donna and her daughters, now ages 23 and 19, eagerly got to know each other again, making family unification quite easy. It became Donna’s habit to go to church with her Aunt Jenny, and one Sunday, a member of the congregation encouraged her to visit a group meeting at a coffee shop. She loves coffee, so she attended and found herself in a “judge-free zone”. There she learned about the Dress for Success.

Dress for Success fitted her for a suit the following week in 2002, a suit that she still has today.DFS_Midwest-web

Though Donna knew the Center for Women in Transition (CWIT) only accepted non-violent offenders, she submitted an application anywaylogo-side-gold3b while still incarcerated. In talking to Barbara Baker at CWIT, Donna explained the steps she’d taken to create a better life; her college classes, becoming an effective computer coder for the Department of Corrections, how she had become reacquainted with her faith in God – and Ms. Baker accepted Donna to the program.

With a criminal record, Donna couldn’t get a job in computers, so she took a position working for a cranky boss at a thrift store making $5.15 an hour. During that time she attended weekly Let’s Start meetings, a letsstart_logosupport group for women, and monthly CWIT gatherings to set goals and work with a mentor. She came to understand she had choices, so Donna walked off the job at the thrift store when she decided her boss had berated her for the last time. That same day, she got hired at McDonald’s for $6.00 an hour – which meant she got a raise.

Donna left Saint Mary’s October 2002 and moved in with Aunt Jenny, and continued to improve her life. As a mentee with CWIT, she got health coverage and a therapist. With the help of her therapist and support from CWIT, through Vocational Rehabilitation she was able to attend Vatterott College for a year where she earned a certificate of competence with Microsoft Office. But it was also during this time, in 2003, that her aunt passed away. CWIT paid for Donna’s deposit and first month’s rent, so she could move into her own apartment.

Donna took a position working for The Women’s Safe House, an emergency shelter for abused women and their children, while she completed classes for her Associate of Arts degree in business at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. By then, she had completed the mentee program at CWIT, but she remained active by attending monthly gatherings.

In 2004, she became a customer service representative earning $10 an hour, the most she’d earned since returning home, where she stayed until the call center closed in March, 2006. In May, she graduated with her AA, but hard as she tried, she couldn’t find a job. Then she got a message on her phone to call CWIT.

“Hello, Donna,” said the director. “We have a job for you if you would like it.”

“God hears and answers prayers,” Donna says. “I could not believe it…as if the path to my future began with becoming a mentee [at CWIT] in 2002.”

The next day, June 7, 2006, Donna went to the CWIT office where she became the Administrative Assistant. By March, 2007, she was askedLogoNewBanner2 CWIT to be a Lead Case Manager. She had no idea what that meant, but she accepted the position – and the pay increase. In working with clients, women adjusting to life outside of prison, Donna had already enrolled in the University of Missouri-St Louis School of Social Work because she felt she needed more education. In addition, once Donna was released from parole in 2009, she became a mentor at CWIT, helping other formerly incarcerated women to set goals and take steps toward recreating their lives.

Despite her history, Donna also took a leap of faith in 2009 and applied for the Payroll Specialist position at CWIT.

She told Executive Director, Nancy Kelly, “…given the opportunity, I know I can learn [Quick Books] and be successful in this position.”

“Donna May,” Nancy said, “I am confident that whatever position I place you in, you will succeed.”

Those powerful words have helped to fuel Donna’s belief in herself ever since.

She remained the Payroll Specialist at CWIT until May, 2010 when she left for a paid practicum position in social work. Due to receive her bachelor’s degree, Donna recognized that effectively supporting people in navigating their complicated lives would require more training. She wanted to apply for graduate school, but writing the required essay terrified her.

“I never chose social work,” her story began, “social work chose me because of the challenges that I have come face-to-face with in my life…”

In August 2011, Donna started her journey in grad school and was able to perform her practicum in private practice where she learned a greatDonna's MSW deal about diagnoses and barriers for those with mental illness. Sadly, after she graduated with her MSW in December 2013, again she struggled to find a job.

logo-connections-to-success-cRejection after rejection, Donna kept reaching out until she eventually applied for a position with Connections to Success, an organization working to break the cycle of poverty with hope, resources and a plan. During her interview in April, 2013, she wore the same suit that had been assembled for her at Dress for Success back in 2002.

The program director hired Donna as a Life Transformation Coach, the perfect position for someone who had been a mentee and spent several years mentoring others at the Center for Women in Transition. Donna knew how to support people’s decisions and goals as well as help them to see what’s possible.

Less than a year later, Donna was promoted to Life Transformation Coaching Manager, and by April 2014, she shared a dual role as Program Director. Today, Donna oversees the database as the Fidelity and Compliance Manager at Connections for Success. She also works with the Restorative Justice Committee on the Board of Directors for The Center for Women in Transition. 

And she makes people’s lives better every day.

Donna’s 8 Keys to a Great Life:
  1. God hears and answers prayers.
  2. We’re never stuck; we have choices.
  3. Past mistakes are in the past; focus on the future.
  4. Learn to think of yourself and present yourself in a positive light.
  5. Never let others define who you are.
  6. Never allow anyone to tell you what you can’t do.
  7. If you are ever in an abusive situation, please call for help. (ALIVE is a great resource, and there will be several others in your community.)
  8. Most important, follow Norman Peale’s advice: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Which of Donna’s keys have you found helpful on your life’s journey?

Former Prison Inmate, Barbara Baker, Helps Women to Recreate Their Lives

Barbara at work at the Center for Women in Transition
Barbara at work at the Center for Women in Transition

My childhood in St. Louis, Missouri was a happy one. My mother had seven sisters, and when they began to have children, they continued to live at home with my grandmother.   Four of my first cousins and I grew up together. We were normal kids who played and got into trouble sometimes, and when we got out of hand, my grandmother was the one who punished us.

The first school I remember attending was Laclede Elementary, which was in walking distance from our house.  In third grade, I got suspended because I hit another student when she refused to give my cousin a piece of candy. I was afraid to tell my mother, so I left for school  the next day as I normally would and walked around the neighborhood. This lady asked why I wasn’t in school, so I told her what had happened. She offered to write a letter to get me back in school, and I left her as happy as I could be. When I got school, though, I found out she had written that she did not know me, but I had been walking around outside by myself, and she was concerned. Of course the principal called my mother and told her to come pick me up. I can’t remember if I got a spanking, but I do know I was glad to return to school.

I liked school, but I couldn’t resist being the class clown and getting into trouble, even knowing that my mother would whip me for it. As a young child, I liked to skate, run, dance, play baseball and volleyball, and meddle with adults. Why, I don’t know, but upsetting them made me laugh. At any given time, I always had a bag of something sweet, mostly candy. In fact, looking back, I realize candy was my first addiction. If my mother or someone else in the household did not give me money for candy, I would steal the change laying around the house, or I would cry and throw a fit until I got it.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, my mother met a man who would later become my step dad. I did not like him and did not want him as part of

Pruitt Igoe Projects, St. Louis
Pruitt Igoe Projects, St. Louis

our family. Although he was a good person, I did not realize that until many years later. He worked hard to support us, but I wanted nothing from him. To this day, I do not know why I did not like this man, except that he and my mother moved us to the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects. I fought tooth-and-nail to stay with my grandmother, but in the end, I had to go with my mom.

In time, I grew to love the projects. I met other teens who were as confused about life as I was. Around the age of 16, my friends turned me on to cough syrup with codeine and weed. I loved the way I felt like I could take on the world if I wanted to, and we could just walk into any drugstore and buy this cough syrup. Then the FDA began to require a prescription to buy it. I guess I was about 18 when this happened, and someone suggested we get some heroin because they said the high was the same as the syrup. Like a fool, I tried heroin and my life was a roller coaster from that day on.

Addiction caused me to be in and out of jail until I was about 45 years old. Drugs had such a grip on me that sometimes when I got locked up, I would be relieved. I was caught in a revolving door where I would get out of prison, get a job, get a house, get my children back, and then relapse again.  I wanted to be drug-free but had no idea how to make it happen. Treatment was not talked about at that time. The mindset was that addicts chose to use drugs, so they had to suffer the consequences.

In my mind, I was not a bad person because I did not steal from my family. I had given myself permission to steal from stores, my rationale being that stores were insured, so no one got hurt.  After going to prison for the third time, I started to look at myself, but I still had no idea that I was an addict or what I needed to do to change.  When I went back to prison for the fifth and last time, I knew I had to do something different.

The day I had been arrested, my family was in the process of moving on a Saturday morning. While my son and daughter, who were living with me at the time, went to get the second load of belongings to take to the new house, I decided to run downtown to Macey’s. I was dope sick and could hardly help with the move, so I had planned to steal something quickly, so I could get my fix.

But I got busted.

inside prisonMy daughter had no job to support her two small children. When she came to see me in jail, I told her that I had violated my parole and would not be getting out. I could see the fear and hurt in her eyes. She didn’t know how she and her children would survive. The pain in her eyes that day, along with my desire to escape from the revolving door, finally got me to seek the help I needed.

I wanted to change and make a better life for myself.  My daughter and grandkids were also a big factor as well as the prison warden. I worked in administration as the Institution Activities Clerk in the same building as the warden’s office, across the street from the prison.  She and I would talk about my life, my children, and my addiction to drugs. She respected me and the way I carried myself while I was doing time.  We met the first time I landed in prison. She was about 5 feet tall, very intelligent, and she dressed smart. She talked to me plainly so I would understand in lay terms what she said to me. Don’t get me wrong. I was not a goody-two-shoes in prison, but I kept up the appearance that I was.

The last time I got high was in prison, and that is where I made the final decision not to get high again, and to this day I have not. I made this decision because I was on work release and close to getting my good time to get out in three years rather than seven. Then me and two other women had used heroin and crack on a Friday, and the next Tuesday I was asked to give a drug test. I prayed as hard as I could asking God not to let those drugs still be in my urine. Cocaine and heroin can clear in 72 hours if you just use them once. Well, I did not drop dirty, and I was grateful.

I had told my roommate I was never going to use again when I got to the streets, but after risking four more years of incarceration, I told her I was not using again in prison either. When drugs came my way, I passed them on to another friend. Had I known what I know today about addiction, I would not have given the drugs to anyone else either.

I came home October 3, 1995. My family would always welcome me back with open arms each time I got out of prison. Like so many families, they hoped I would stay away from drugs. Before this, their dreams had always been dashed when I had gotten involved with the same old people, places, and things. But they never gave up on me. They always did what they needed to do for my children. When I disappeared, they hoped and prayed that the phone call they would get would be that I was in jail and not dead.

That October in 1995 began a new way of life for me, though, because I joined a support group called Let’s Start which is dedicated toletsstart_logo assisting women in transition from prison life to society. I began to find out what I needed to do to stay clean, and I learned about myself and my addiction. I finally let go of those old people, places and things. No one besides positive people and family members knew how to get in contact with me.

After eighteen months of sobriety, my family gave me a birthday party. A woman in my support group had told me to stop counting the days, so I had not realized that I had been out of prison for that long. The most painful thing about getting clean was to learn that my children had suffered the most from my addiction and incarceration. My son is a heroin addict, has been to prison, and is now on probation. My daughter stayed away from drugs, but she struggled as a young single parent who could not depend on her mother for help in any way.

For the first two years, I had an apartment out in the country, so none of my old influences would find me. After I felt people knew I was serious about changing my life, I moved back into the city. During that time, Let’s Start taught me how to approach judges, legislators, probation officers etc. I had no idea how I was going to use any of this information at this stage in my life. I was just desperate to stay clean and out of jail. My way of life had never worked for me, so I listened and took suggestions. I’d always known the God of my understanding had a plan for my life because I survived two overdoses, so there must have been a reason for Him to keep me around.

Then I was hired by the Center for Women in Transition and was given an opportunity to use my past to help other women struggling withlogo-side-gold3b addiction and advocate for alternatives to incarceration. I did not come out of jail with an ideal that I was going to work with other women who had been in my situation, nor that I would become a role model for them. I am so comfortable in this job. This had to be God’s plan for my life. No one could have told me that I would have judges calling to ask my advice about clients, or that judges would reschedule clients’ court dates to accommodate my busy schedule. The God of my understanding has blessed my life so much. I could not be here without His grace and mercy.

My future goals are to live a simple life and be there for my grandchildren. I can’t get back the special times and events that I missed in my children’s lives, but I can give back through my grandkids. I turned 64 at the end of April and am getting close to retirement, however, I still plan to continue to help women get their lives back on track. Supporting other mothers in recovery means that fewer children will have to go through what my children experienced with me drifting in and out of their lives.

“My motto is: A closed mouth don’t get fed.”

             My Advice: If you or a family member struggle with addiction, don’t hesitate to ask for help. I don’t care how well you know a person, when their addiction is active, you are not dealing with or talking to that person. You are talking to their addiction, and it won’t hear you. You have to be ready to show tough love. Don’t get caught up in the fear that if you put them out of the house, they will die out there. If you let them stay and they continue to use, one thing will surely happen: death, jail or another institution. Addiction affects the whole family, but the fact that someone in your family uses drugs has no reflection on you. We can give our children the best upbringing possible, but we have no control over the paths they choose. Tough love is not saying, “I don’t love you.” It is saying, “I’m here to support you in getting help, but I will not watch you DIE.”

If you are using and trying to stop, it can happen, but there are things that you must do.

  • Get involved in some type of support group.
  • Change people, places and things. You can’t have a relationship with anyone who is still using. You won’t get them clean. They will get you high.
  • Go to treatment and get a sponsor.
  • Seek out the help you need.  Look up resources on the Internet.
  • WE DO RECOVER.

In working towards your goals, no matter what they might be:

 

The links in this article provide lots of great information and resources. We’d love to hear your thoughts and welcome experiences you’d like to share. Your comment could be the tipping point in someone seeking help in dealing with a loved one or setting personal goals to recreate their own lives.

Resting in the Lull

Kirsten Imani Kasai, the founder of the Page A Day Writers group, of which I am a member, just sent off her latest manuscript to her agent, and she’s in the nail-biting phase of waiting for her agent to respond. I hope you enjoy Kirsten’s latest installment of a writer’s tenacity and talent as much as I did. Believe me, Kisten will not end up like E.A. Poe as she fears. My bet is that The Book of Blood Magic will be the novel that will put her on the bestsellers’ list.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                ~T.D. Wilkinson

Creative folks know well that feeling of relieved disorientation that follows the conclusion of a project. For me, finishing a novel brings with it a period of rest and recuperation. The storm abates. We can rest in the lull before new waves build and crest to send us on another journey.

Kirsten Imani Kasai_manuscriptRight now, I’m in the lull. Recently, I finished the Gothic novel (The Book of Blood Magic) I’d been working on for the past three and a half years, packaged it up beautifully, and had it “blessed” by my energetically magical friend before sending it to my agent. It’s been close to three weeks since it left my hands, and I’m still kind of stumbling around, blinking in the sunlight as if I’d just left a movie theater in the middle of the day after completely losing myself in Story.

I have to stay busy, in the meantime. The waiting is the worst part. Is it readable? Saleable? Marketable? Who will buy?

The lull is admin time. I catch up on short story revisions, embark on a mad submission spree, researching lit magazines and sending in new work while it’s still fairly fresh and exciting to me. Fool around with my poetry. Touch up my website and CV. Stave off the looming finance/career paranoia and anxiety that dogs me, always. (I fear what I’ve termed Melville Syndrome*–experiencing a spate of successes but dying misunderstood, unread and labeled a literary crackpot, only to have my work become a classroom staple that inspires movies, an opera** and seeps intopopular speech a century after my demise.) But mostly, I use the time to think. Which dormant project speaks to me with the loudest voice? Which seed will I water and nurture to fruition?

I’m finally ready to begin (again) writing the feminist Utopian novel that’s been simmering away on the back burner of my creative brain for many years, but it’s a complex project requiring much research. However, now is probably the perfect time to go back to the Ice Song series and resume work on the third and final installment now that I’ve settled on a title (Tattercoats). Hopefully, it’ll be quick and relatively fun, and I’ll likely self-publish this one (as I learned that most traditional publishers don’t want to pick up a single book from a series). It’ll be a loving labor, a tying of the bow.

Learning to navigate the lulls in our writing careers means being willing to be nonproductive, to honor the process of gestation as much as the conception and birth of our works. To endure the uncertainty of waiting, to appreciate the lessons learned and the risks taken in our latest project. It is a time of restoration and preparation; we strengthen ourselves for the work ahead. In the lull, we can anticipate the next phase of adventure, the certain successes and disappointments, secure in knowing that the quiet room in our heads, so recently vacated by our characters, will again entertain a party of strange and charming guests.

*Or worse, EA Poe. Dying penniless and ill in a gutter, only to have my work spawn an entire literary industry of hipsterish t-shirts, lunchboxes, household decor, ladies aprons, wall plaques, pillows, films, scads of reprints and spawn new fiction genres. Sure, it’s kind of awesome, but if it happens to me, I’d like to be around to enjoy it.

**I was terribly excited about attending a performance but drank too much wine beforehand and subsequently slept through most of the second half.