|Every week here at The Sunday Paper, we try to get above the noise of the week and offer positive perspectives to get you thinking, dreaming and talking about something you may not have considered before.
To that end, this issue is dedicated to awesome and inspiring Great Dames. No, not great danes. 🙂 Great DAMES. Yes, Dames.
I wanted to write about Dames this week because my mother—one helluva Dame herself—was honored at ESPN’s ESPY Awards Wednesday night for her relentless work on behalf of those with intellectual disabilities. (Great Dame Michelle Obama presented the award.)
What a night it was. I was moved, motivated, inspired, deeply touched, and prouder than a peacock. I was proud that my mother got the recognition she deserved, and proud that she worked her whole life pushing boundaries right through and into her 80s.
I remember her telling me when she was 85 or so, “You know, Maria, there is no excuse not to work nonstop until you are at least 80.”
“At 80,” she said, “I had some issues here and there (lol, that’s an understatement, but she continued), but I didn’t give in. I just kept working. There is so much to do.”
My mother didn’t understand retirement. She didn’t understand slowing down to smell the roses. It just wasn’t her forte.
Changing the world was her forte. Her approach to life and work made me think about how many other Great Dames there are out there who are still breaking boundaries and changing perceptions about women, longevity and relevance. (Of course, there are plenty of men who are doing the same, but I’ll feature them in another issue. I have several to write about, so no worries.)
I call my mom a Dame ‘cause she wasn’t your average lady or woman. Trust me, I was very aware of this at a very early age.
She smoked cigars. She wore pants. She hung out with men. She played football. She tried to dunk you in water polo well into her 80s. She was a first class sailor, no matter the weather. She was just a first-class competitor in every way. There wasn’t a sport she didn’t try to master. There wasn’t a man she didn’t try to beat (or a kid for that matter, this one included).
She rarely wore makeup, rarely brushed her hair, never went shopping and never, ever got a filler or a facial. But, when she walked into a room—any room—every eye was on her.
Why? Because she was an original. The real deal.
My mother was wicked smart, fun, challenging, and fearless. She was intimidating, for sure, but she was authentically herself. In today’s world, you would call her fierce. A force of nature. People often remarked that she was “a lot.”
The women in this issue of The Sunday Paper are cut from the same cloth and the same mold as my mother (although they brush their hair, wear beautiful clothes, etc.).
They are all still at it. They own the room when they walk in. They are personally inspiring to me because age doesn’t slow them down.
Which brings me back to my mother. This past weekend, I was at a friend’s wedding and got to talking to a gentleman who wanted to offer some “helpful” advice to me as to how I might improve my social life. He mentioned that I hang around my kids and their friends a lot, and speculated that that, and my work, might be intimidating to some people.
Then he said to me (or his vodka said to me…vodka usually speaks truth, in case you’re wondering): “You know, Maria, you are still very attractive (gee, thanks), you’re intellectually dynamic, but let’s be honest…you’re a lot.”
I wanted to argue with him, but then I stopped myself because I instantly thought of my mother, who everyone said was “a lot.” I also remembered a friend telling me about a wedding he went to where the mother of the bride stood up and toasted her new son-in-law, saying that her daughter was “a lot,” just like her, and that only really extraordinary men and people could handle those who were forces of nature. She then raised her glass to her new son-in-law, her own husband and to all of those secure enough to be in partnership with forces of nature.
So, this Sunday Paper is dedicated to all those who are proud enough to own that moniker, and to all those who accept that force as it is and let it rip. Just like my father let my mother roar. He knew a force of nature when he saw it, and how proud he was to be the one to celebrate it.
Just like I’m proud to celebrate all the forces of nature highlighted here, a.k.a. Architects of Change.
So, the next time someone is brave enough to call you a force of nature, or says “you’re a lot,” remember my mother. Remember her fight on behalf of those with special needs.
Remember that everyone said those with intellectual disabilities couldn’t compete, couldn’t go to school, couldn’t hold down a job, couldn’t marry, couldn’t live at home, couldn’t speak, couldn’t dream, couldn’t be included, couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t…
Remember this truth. She proved everyone wrong, she did things her way, and she embraced the force within and changed the world outside.
Be a force, ‘cause that’s what it takes to change the world.
P.S. And don’t worry if you forget to brush your hair or if you hang out a lot with your kids. Just blame it on the vodka! And, if you want to see a force of nature in action, watch the video of my mother’s ESPY award below.
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