Jumping In The Deep End
Jae, Meema, Love, Boid, Aunt Jae, Puzzle, Jane, Grandma Jae, and Mom. All of these names were used for one woman—a woman who loved to live life fully, to skinny dip in mountain lakes, to explore balsam wooded paths, vivid art, and ideas. Gauguin, Picasso, Cezanne, the free Smithsonian museums were regular stops as she brought art to life for my brother and I, her children, as part of our regular diet. Vibrant splashes of colors on museum walls are among the first I remember seeing.
She also listened, really listened, to people.
And she wasn’t afraid to be heard. An exuberant and joyful singer, time passed quickly during many, many car trips with her leading loud multiple rounds of Row, Row, Row Your Boat. She beautifully sung Edelweiss at nights; and then during the days, everyday, for a couple of years Helen Reddy’s song, “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar,” regularly blasted out of our apartment speakers as we all sung along. (It’s no wonder I became a women's rights activist with that soundtrack in my early days).
She was brave in motherhood too. A single mom for many years with two young kids (that would be me and my younger brother, Matt), she went back to school and worked while also juggling raising us and paying the bills.
It wasn’t an easy path.
And, like many kids, I didn’t understand how hard this juggling act was for her until I had kids of my own. One time she and I were reminiscing about all the little ways she tried to make our hurdles fun when we were kids. Holding contests in the grocery store with my brother and I when we were little to see who could most quickly find the super sale items on the coupon sheets that were stacked in multi-colored piles at each store entrance so we could all help save money on grocery bills was just one of her many tricks.
It took a special kind of creativity to make ends meet. And it took bravery to do it on her own so gracefully.
She shared that bravery in so many ways big and small. Patiently taking me swimming even though I started my water adventures in a decidedly uncomfortable way, sputtering and bouncing off the bottom instead of gliding gracefully through the water. But my mom urged me into the deep end of the pool, a place, I must admit, that I thought I was nowhere near ready to swim.
I remember standing on the edge of the pool, looking at the depth numbers etched on the side of the deep end, thinking, “Never! It's too deep. Too scary. And I might do a belly flop getting in. I can’t do it.” And her persistent, patient urging that, “Yes you can. You can do it.”
And, guess, what? I now can swim just fine (most of the time at least!).
But she didn’t just teach me to jump in the deep end. She taught many others in this way too.
These lessons, to believe in yourself, to follow your passions, to bravely tackle the deep end—even if it you do a belly flop the first, second, third, or fourth time getting in—have carried and guided me through my life. These lessons inspired me to jump in the deep end and co-found MomsRising.org.
She left many gifts. The gift of owning confidence without competition, the gift of bravery to try to do things you don’t think you can do, the gift of listening and respecting everyone no matter what their background, where they live, or what income level they’re currently living on.
And, the gift of understanding that there is no “us” or “them,” there is only a “we” on this planet.
She taught all of this both by how she lived, what she did, and even by where she chose to raise us.
And for these gifts, and so much more, I thank her.
[Jane Steinhausen Semich - May 9, 1945 - February 22, 2011]