My Mother.

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”
Thomas Merton


That’s my mom.

My mother’s commitment to her family is very visible; she is always surrounded by family. It’s hard to catch her without a baby in her arms, a few preschool kids running in circles around her, school-aged kids in her classroom before and after school. She spends much of her free time driving across the valley to performances and athletic competitions. All of her children have been adults for a long time now, and she's still taking care of all of us in various ways. She’s also spent a lot of hours taking care of her and my father’s parents over the last decade.  Her family is, and always has been, her first priority. There is no discussion of who deserves what. She just makes sure people have what they need.

Valerie with a string of a few of her grandkids, 2012
As I try to figure out how to balance my five kids, the challenges of a career in education, the hours dedicated to being a volunteer EMT with the various other ways I’m invested in the same community that has invested in me,  I have a great role model, who has been balancing all those same things, humbly and with excellence my entire life.

I don't make most decisions about my life as consciously as I probably should, but I realized a few years ago that all the big pieces of my life look an awful lot like the woman's I admire most. Probably not coincidence.

I have never once felt our family wasn’t the most important piece of my mom’s life or that she was too busy to be everywhere I needed her to be and do everything I needed my mom to do, yet she’s been a professional since before I was born. She’s educated and ambitious. She started teaching before I came along and has been to graduate school a few times for a few different specialties since. She has had an active EMT license longer nearly anyone in the state of Montana.

She’s covered more calls than anyone in the history of our local ambulance service.  And nearly every year she still covers as much as anyone on the crew.

 Mom receiving her award in February from Montana governor Steve Bullock for her years of service to our ambulance service.

About once a month someone calls the ambulance and when I walk in, someone there calls me by name—my mother’s name—always happy I’ve arrived. She's been taking care of the people in the community for so long, many of them think she is the ambulance service. There’s no one I’d rather be mistaken for.

 Mom and me at EMT training in Las Vegas

When we’re training new people for the ambulance, we always remind them to pay attention to who your patients are. Sometimes the ones who need the most care and attention aren’t the ones with the most obvious or traumatic looking injuries. Sometimes they may have not been physically injured at all, but that doesn’t mean what they need at that moment is any less important. I can problem solve injuries and remain calm while doing CPR, but those calls where you need to calm and comfort those in emotional distress? When you need to know what is appropriate, silence or words? It’s hard for me. Impossible sometimes. When you work on the ambulance you often walk in to people's lives on the worst day they’ve ever had. When your life falls apart, my mother is exactly the type of person you want at your side. And for many people in our community, for many decades, that person has been my mother.

She's a teacher by nature but also by training. I can't imagine anyone better to help new EMTs learn the practical pieces of the job or to teach my own children to love reading. But she's also taught hundreds of local children who've passed through her classrooms over the years. She is truly an expert in her field. I think she's taught nearly every elementary grade and currently teaches middle school special education. Many people (myself included) couldn't do that job at all; few could do it anywhere near as well as she does.
Helping students get their boats they built ready to race--one of the components of the Watershed summer program she designed and facilitated for local kids for many years.  

She is the type of teacher every kid deserves and far too few get. She is thinking about them and working for them far beyond the school day. We gave her a hard time a few years ago when she accidentally posted a picture with a couple students to our family facebook group. Her response: “They’re like family. Maybe that’s where it belongs.” She spends hours outside of school trying to figure out how to better help all these kids.

One of the many times she's invited her students to ride in the ambulance with her for one of the local parades.

A few years ago I went to watch the 8th grade promotion, and realized the latest sewing project my mom had been working on was a dress for one of her students for this occasion. She just does stuff like this. All the time. And she’s been doing it for more than three decades now. These kids aren’t just her job—they’re people she cares about and they know it.

Encouraging some middle school students during their spring 5K– one by running the entire race right at his side and the other (her grandson) with some good old fashion encouragement: "Are you going to let your Grandmother beat you?!" 


My mom has been recognized in many different ways over the course of her teaching career. This is a picture with her mother at the dinner where she was recognized by our local tribe as teacher of the year.

 A year or so ago I read the Marie Stopes quote, “You can take no credit for beauty at sixteen. But, if you are beautiful at 60 it will be all your own doing.” It reminded me of my mom, just about to turn 60. 

I’ve worked with a lot of 16-years-olds, and I think one of the hardest things about helping them sort out their lives and make good decisions is that many think what they have in front of them at that point is as good as it gets.  

Mom at the Arlee Powwow with her mother-in-law and a trio of her granddaughters

They don’t understand how much more there is to look forward to. I think sometimes the rest of of us who are starting figure that out don’t do a good enough job reminding our daughters of all the different ways life allows you to become more and more beautiful and amazing once you survive 16.

Mom flying kites with my kids.

I’m not sure if my Mom is really excited about me sharing her age with everyone, but I think it’s sort of a public service announcement or maybe just reminder for all her granddaughters watching her every day: Pay attention to what a life well lived looks like. 

Annual New Year's Day Polar Plunge--mom leading four of her kids and about a dozen of her grandkids in!
She’s done such a good job at the mom thing, I’m often left wondering why my kids haven’t caught on to the lessons she taught me. While dealing with my own kids, more than once I’ve caught my self thinking , “Why aren’t you doing this like you’re supposed to?! Mom has been telling us this forever!”

And then I remember I’m the mom. Or their mom at least. Why can’t lessons be hereditary? It would make my life so much easier.

 Mom being honored by her work at the tribes' annual River Honoring

But luckily, for all of us, my kids do have my mom, too. Their grandmother isn’t someone they just see on holidays or talk to on the phone on birthdays. They all see her nearly every day. Yaya's home is their favorite place to be.  

They are learning from her, daily lessons both big and small.

Be kind. Get outside. Work hard. Take care of each other. Take care of yourself, too. Teach one another. Never stop learning. Build something people want to be a part of.

Welcome people as they are and help them become better version of themselves.

Arm wrestling Israel a few years ago. She won. (I think he's added about 50-60 pounds since this picture. She has not asked for a rematch recently. ;) )

 Mom running the Buffalo Run. It's a little embarrassing, but also awesome that my mom could easily beat me in a race. She works out every morning.
Finishing the race the following year...this time with a group of her granddaughters
dancing with Azia at the Mission school powwow

And I’m still learning too. She was my first teacher. 

1977, maybe?

She is still the best one I’ve ever had.

She still teaches me things every day.

Possibly most importantly:

Do some things right, make some good choices, and this is what 60 could look like.

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