the motherhood project: karen

I'm working with Procter & Gamble to help promote their Thank You Mom Contest, a campaign which is refreshingly designed to celebrate motherhood.  When they invited me to work with them, they granted me tons of creative freedom -- so I saw it as the perfect opportunity to launch The Motherhood Project, featuring written and photographic portraits of women who have adult children, and who have both experienced being a mother and had themselves been well-mothered.  I came up with 9 questions about mothering and motherhood, and every other Friday through the end of November I'll be sharing the answers, portraits and stories of some really special, beautiful women. I hope you enjoy them.

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In most cases, when I asked for volunteers to be interviewed for The Motherhood Project on Twitter, most of the people who responded were daughters. "My mom would be great," they would say, and then talk their moms into sharing their amazing stories with me.

However, Karen wasn't like that:  instead, she quietly emailed and said, "I'd love to participate in your project, if you'll have me."  What's sort of extraordinary about this is that Karen doesn't live here in Houston -- she lives in the beautiful town of Bellingham, in Washington state. The very cool thing, however, was that Karen was planning a business trip to Houston, and so we quickly made plans to meet up.

Karen certainly has the most unusual career of the women who I interviewed so far:  she's an intuitive, a spiritual counselor who coaches her clients through intuition and spiritual healing.  She has a soft, quiet demeanor with warm twinkly eyes, and we spent a lovely lunch talking about blogging and motherhood and life callings.  It was such a pleasure to get to know her.

And here's what she had to say about motherhood:

How old are your adult kids?  Jessica, my oldest, is 26, and I have three younger children:  Nathaniel is 14, Serena is 10 and Eric is 6.

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?  Intuitive.  Compassionate.  Eclectic.

What makes you different?  I'm now parenting my younger children from afar, which is a huge change from my previous Waldorf-School-slash-Attachment-Parenting style, but one I chose in part to support them in becoming themselves.  Without me right htere hovering and doing everything for them, which was the style I grew into to support the image of motherhood I had crafted, they are now much more confident and capable.  One could argue that I could have made that change while still working through joint custody with their father, but most of us find it difficult to change when there are people close to us who hold onto what they knew.  There are over a million non-custodial moms in this country, but that still makes me very much the minority.  I'm very passionate about bringing awareness to and acceptance of different types of mothering.  I spent years thinking there was one right way to be a mother, and what I've come to find is that each of us creates that right way from within our hearts.

I always have strong memories associated with scent.  What scents or smells will always remind you of your mom? Jean Naté perfume, which half of her fourth-grade class must have given her every year at Christmas; I think she had drawers full of it and I used to splash it all over me or use it in the bath.  I haven't smelled it in years, but I know that one whiff would take me back to age ten in a heartbeat.

Also, I'm thinking about chocolate-chip cookies.  It got to be a joke int he family that whenever Mom had something she didn't want to do and was procrastinating, she made cookies.  That was a very human trait that we appreciated in a tangible way!

The last one is the earthy, leathery smell of horses.  It was Mom's secret passion that she one day have horses, and when I became horse-crazy at age seven, I think the wheels started to turn for her.  I remember the day a couple of years after that, after I had been taking riding lessons for a few months, that she said, "We're getting a horse."  It was my dream come true.  I had used every wish since the age of five on just that.  Within a year, we had two horses and we spent weekends and summer riding through the vineyards and along the arroyo in our little town in northern California.  I probably saw her more alive in those times than at any otehr, and it was the hugest gift imaginable to a little girl.

What makes your mother beautiful?  Her fragile vulnerability.  I doubt she'd say the same but, for me, seeing underneath the veneer is always so much more beautiful.  I love those little glimpses.

Tell me about a time when your mother taught you a life lesson, or gave you advice that you hold close. I've been learning from my mom all my life and I modeled my own parenting after her.  We have a challenging relationship right now; for years we talked every week but a couple of years ago I realized that we always talked about the same few things.  I didn't know who she really was beyond talk of cats and weather.  When I wanted to know more, it made her uncomfortable.  More than anything else, this drove home to me that I had been doing the same thing with my own children -- showing them only a small part of me, the me that I thought was perfect enough or good enough.  It hasn't been easy but I'm learning to step outside that and show my children who I am, and it has changed my relationshp with my children considerably even with the distance.  In fact, it's made the distance thing not only more possible, but also really good for all of us.  I have my mom to thank for that, and I'm hugely grateful to her.

That lesson has been a little more difficult with Jessica.  She's an adult now and a parent herself, and her crazy schedule means that we connect sporadically.  I went through cancer earlier this year and that brought us together in a way we hadn't since she was a teen.  I am constantly amazed at and proud of the woman that she is, and it felt good breakign through that perfect image with her and showing her more of me, my fragilities and fears.

What skills did you learn from your mom that you made certain to use when mothering your own children?   One of my favorite things as a child was the rare time when Mom would play with me and my older brother.  One game I loved was when she had the vacuum cleaner out -- we'd run in circles on her bed while she turned the vacuum on and off and we'd pretend we were inside a giant Kitchenaid mixer.  Goofy, off-the-wall spontaneous games like that became really big in my own household and probably saved my sanity.

Your daughter is an adult now -- and while you, of course, still love and support her, your job raising her is complete.  What issues do you see brand new parents facing that you never had to face when you were raising your own?  Since there's a 20-year age difference between my oldest and my youngest, it's as if they are from completely different generations.  The pressure now on young girls to grow up and be sexual beings is immense.  When my older daughter was in 5th grade, her relationship with boys -- as unusual, alien creatures that would one day be more interesting -- was much the same as mine at her age.  But my younger daughter tells me that half her class has boyfriends.  I'm glad that she's so far as baffled by this as I am.

And things seem to be moving so much faster than they did 20 years ago.  Kids now are connected to other kids around the world through Facebook and Twitter.  They know what's going on in the world and they want to help create change.  Guiding them through all that is harrowing.  I think there is a tendency to protect kids from all the ills of the world -- that's where we got the "helicopter parenting" trend -- and it's so hard to just let them go and trust that they'll be okay.

What advice would you give to someone who is still trying to figure out this parenting thing? Trust your heart; your instincts will guide you.  Don't be afraid to make mistakes and change your course.  Be yourself and show your children who you are.

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Thanks so much to Karen for sharing her thoughts on motherhood!  You can learn more about Karen at her site, Polaris Rising.  Also, special thanks to Procter & Gamble for their generous sponsorship of The Motherhood Project:  to read more stories about motherhood and to share your own, click here for more details on the Thank You Mom campaign, now through the end of November.


And on that note, have a great weekend everyone.  Don't forget to call your mom.


Images:  Karen, photographed on October 4th, 2010 at Café Brasil in Houston, Texas.   Nikon D300 and 50mm lens.


SongRead my mind by The KillersToday's song chosen for you by Karen.