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  • Kate Woolsey

7 biggest lessons I learned from my 70 year old mom

Today, as my mom turns 70, I'm reminiscing about the lessons she's imprinted on my heart over the years....

Kathy Woolsey is the understated change-maker you didn't see coming. Her nurturing, inquisitive, kind-nature is quietly disarming - always getting those around her to disclose private insights with ease and walking away feeling better just having spoken to her.

But this is only one of her many superpowers.

As a Reading Specialist in a small school district with a big heart and exceptional knack for curating individualized solutions, she also served as the At-Risk, Gifted-&-Talented, English-as-Second-Language and Homeless Student Specialist as well.

She was also a brave, quiet-spoken hippie at heart - who wanted to get married in a field of flowers, but was forced to take her nuptials at the local Catholic church.

1 - Make it work for you. Growing up on a farm, her parents encouraged her to come home from college each weekend to milk cows in exchange for their support in paying tuition. My mom wasn't having it. Instead, she went to work as one of the first female bartenders in the state of WI and paid her own way. BONUS: her parents paid for her tuition for her two younger sisters, without requiring them to milk cows every weekend.

2 - You don't need to be anyone's cheerleader. In fifth grade I was desperate to become a cheerleader for the boy's football team and my mom wasn't interested. "My daughter will not cheer for boys - she will play sports." She had seen Title IX come into existence giving women the right to play sports at all and made sure this freedom wasn't lost on me. She encouraged me to show up IN the arena instead of the sidelines.

3 - Give them roots + give them wings. Her parenting mantra for years, my mom always promised to give us roots and wings. I'm sure she never expected I would move halfway across the country, taking up residence on the east coast just after graduating college. And then, halfway around the world, just after giving birth to her first grandchild. The truth is, neither did I. But the roots my mom etched on my heart run deep - so deep I feel courageous and somehow obliged to stretch my wings and go as far as I possibly can, always comforted by the fact that I have such a beautiful place to return if it all goes to $hit.

4 - Show up for those you love. Whether it is a birthday celebration or coming to live with me for 8 weeks postpartum as I dealt with hormonal anxiety - Ma Woo always shows up. She is there with a supportive ear, a home cooked meal, a doting approach, and realistic, empowering advice. She is always there for me and those she loves and I am a different person because she has loved me unconditionally.

5 - Live life on your terms - and help others live on theirs. I was extraordinarily close to my mom's parents, Betty and George. My mom and her siblings really helped advocate for them in their last years - ensuring they got the care they needed and the best conditions to maintain a dignified, worthy quality of life. They were married 68 years and after finally being moved into the same room at the rehab facility, died in their sleep, just 8 days a part. My mom has never shied away from the hardships in life and encourages us to face them head on and make the absolute best of them, helping to ensure we can live the lives that suit us best until the very end.

6 - It's not a deficit if you look at it the right way. In college, when I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, my mom didn't bat an eye. She helped me see immediately it wasn't a disability, but an opportunity to know myself - and my brain - better. She quickly highlighted the strengths of my particular affliction: ability to hyper focus, increased intelligence, quick on my feet. She reminded me that ADD/ADHD folx make the best ER doctors and encouraged me to take on my diagnosis with acceptance instead of shame.

7 - Let others love you for who you are. This is the one that tops them all. The lesson on love I live daily and am grateful for beyond words.

In high school, my mom found out I smoked cigarettes and I was so ashamed. I was sure I would be in trouble but she reacted by making ashtrays from flower pots + sand to put on our porch. "If you're going to smoke, I don't want you sneaking around - I'd rather you just do it here."

ACCEPTANCE. Full stop.

Of course she preferred I not smoke, but since I was, she embraced me anyways. She was most hurt that I hadn't told her. She told me these words, which I've come to repeat to myself over and over again:

"Katie, when you love someone or someone loves you, you cannot pick and choose the things you give them. You have to give them all of who you are. And they either love you or they don't - but at least they love you for who you are."

This absolutely sums up my mom's position on love - and on life. She is here to call us out and hold our feet to the fire in the kindest, most compassionate way possible. She is here to hold our hands as we face our fears head on. She is here to remind us we are powerful, we are grounded, we are capable of greatness. She is here to cook the world's best food and recommend the very best books for each occasion (though, fair warning, she can stomach far sadder books than I).

She continues to evolve over the years, not being afraid of who she is and finding more ways to express and honor herself and those she loves.

I am so greatly inspired by her and infinitely blessed that I was chosen to be her daughter. She has given me power to do so many things and the moments I catch myself acting in ways she would, I feel the deepest sense of pride.

I live far away from her, but carry her in my heart and in my ear through nearly every moment of my day. I feel so connected to her because she has made sure we keep a true, honest, dynamic relationship since I was a girl.

My wish for her today is that I can honor her by being half the mother she has been to me to my own daughter. This will be an extraordinary accomplishment and legacy. And in the meantime, I treasure every story, every lesson and look forward to the memories and morals to come.

Cheers to you, Ma Woo!!! 70 looks GREAT on you.

All my love,

K Woo

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