Lessons from Alaska: Darlene Watchman's mom

Jun 5, 2012    Bookmark and Share

Darlene Watchman

By Darlene Watchman, Juneau, Alaska.

The women in my family have always been my source for inspiration and strength. In Tlingit society of Southeast Alaska, women transfer leadership strengths, experiences, and political power to their children through matrilineal group descent. I gained my clan membership from a long line of influential women, whose early dedication to social change created a better life for future generations in Alaska.

While growing up in Juneau and Seattle, my mother became the prominent figure in my life after my father was diagnosed with the debilitating disease Multiple Sclerosis. He proudly served in World War I and we believe during that time he was exposed to acrolein, a chemical weapon and a possible factor in the development of Multiple Sclerosis. My mother remained strong, never letting on if she was hurting, and influenced my view of the world and guided my actions.

Tlingit women are traditionally seen as important sources of information and as decision-makers. My mother and her relatives undertook important roles as active agents of change in early territorial Alaska when discrimination was legal and commonplace. Alaska Native women worked with the men to pass the Anti-Discrimination Act in 1945. This was the first anti-discrimination law in the nation, about twenty years before the civil rights movement accomplished the same in the continental U.S.


Lessons from Tennessee: Anne Brock's Mom

May 31, 2012    Bookmark and Share

Anne Brock and her mom. By Anne Brock, Tennessee

I can still hear the shuffle of the little wooden drawers on my mother's vanity as she searched hastily for eye shadow and lipstick. She'd already arisen early to cook everyone pancakes and bacon, or biscuits and sausage gravy. Then she'd walked to the farrowing house to tend sows with newborn piglets. Back at home, she had time for a quick shower and an abbreviated beauty routine that included fluffing up her short, curly hair with a plastic, purple pick. She loved powders and creams with the sweet smells of roses and honeysuckle.

Upstairs in our white stucco farmhouse, I always took far too long primping for church. Mom would start the warning calls at something like an hour, then 20 minutes, then her voice echoed up the boxed stairwell that I had just a few minutes until we really needed to go. I don't know where she found the patience, but she never left me behind, even on mornings when she was supposed to teach Sunday school. Finally, we'd be driving down the dirt road, my juvenile delays making us at least five or ten minutes late.

One of the few things I felt I could do for Mom after her death was to lock myself in her bathroom, away from the din of mourners, and locate her favorite makeup. I carefully opened every wooden drawer to determine which eye shadow she'd been using regularly, which foundation color, what she'd used to brighten her cheeks. I picked through the not-quite-right lipstick colors that hadn't been touched to find the pink one with the soft curve that showed she'd been applying it day after day. I zipped the little cosmetics bag and readied it for a visit to the funeral home, ahead of the open casket service we'd be having. I was a young, married adult at the time and it would be years before my children were born.


Lessons from Minnesota: Tanwi Prigge's mom

May 24, 2012    Bookmark and Share

Tanwi Prigge, her mom and daughter.

By Tanwi Prigge, Maple Grove, Minnesota

My mom: my motivator to work for safer chemicals & a healthier future for my family.

I am an Indian woman who came to US to study on a scholarship when I was 19 years old. I'm an IT professional and a US citizen, married to an American and a mother of a 3 year-old daughter.

Being a mother has opened my eyes to so many dangers our kids face very early on and I cannot help but think of all the traditions and safe housekeeping my mother practiced to keep her family safe.

When my daughter was born, my mother came to visit from India and in her luggage she carried cotton quilts, wooden and cloth toys, stainless steel utensils (some new and some as old as me!) cotton pillows, a gold necklace and lots of homemade baby items all made from natural materials. She told me that my first and foremost responsibility was to protect my child from all harm and that sentiment stuck with me.


Lessons from New York: Judith M. Anderson's mom

May 23, 2012    Bookmark and Share

The Buffalo News last week published a piece from Judith M. Anderson, the executive director of Environmental Justice Action Group of Western New York. In the article, Judith discusses how her upbringing helped inform her career, and how the state of New York--and the country--should step up and pass laws reforming toxic chemical use.

An excerpt from the article:

God bless the child that’s got his own. That line from Billie Holiday has special meaning for me. I learned from my mother that when the world doesn’t give you something, you can make it for yourself.

Growing up in Buffalo in the 1940s, my parents owned a bowling alley. As African-Americans, they were excluded from the all-white American Bowling Congress. Instead of bowing to the status quo, they were among the founders of the National Bowling Association, then the National Negro Bowling Association. They made their own. This effort ultimately led to the removal of racial barriers in the ABC, and the diversification of the TNBA.

Throughout my life, that lesson has guided me time and again. When I needed something and it wasn’t already there, I made my own, and was blessed. One example: When my community in Buffalo faced health problems connected with toxic chemicals, we needed an organization to speak for us. I helped form the Minority Health Coalition.

Read the rest of the article on the Buffalo News website here.

Lessons from Washington: Alma Khasawnih's mom

May 17, 2012    Bookmark and Share

Alma Khasawnih and her mom.By Alma Khasawnih

My mother, my health, and the can.

I feel that I have been a healthy eater all my life; putting aside the years of finicky eating when I hardly ate any uncooked veggies, focused my diet on cheese, ground beef, pasta, tomato sauce, ice cream, and chocolate.

Despite my eating habits, my mother, Arwa, managed to feed me good food and give me the skills to know which foods to eat. Of course it helped that I was raised in Jordan, a country with a climate that helped grow fruits and vegetables, and be close to Syria where importing fresh produce only took a few hours to arrive to Amman.

These factors, my mother's food and health consciousness allowed our household to be without preservatives or ready-made foods, but with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables at all times.


Lessons from Florida: Joey Beauregard's Mom

May 9, 2012    Bookmark and Share

Joey BeauregardBy Joey Beauregard

If everyone else jumped off of a bridge, would you? My mother drove those words into my head like a mantra. During my adolescence when I tried desperately to fit in, I heard them every day. Although my mother complained that her advice went in one ear and out the other (another phrase she liked to use), I did listen. Her wisdom has become a cornerstone on how I view the world today.

When I was 44, I received a diagnosis of breast cancer. Given that I had no family history of the disease, ate a healthy diet and exercised regularly, I could not understand why this happened to me. Within a few weeks of my diagnosis, I learned of other young women in my neighborhood that had also been told they had breast cancer during the past year. We had all lived in our neighborhood for at least 16 years at that time. We also lived 1/2 mile from the Tower Chemical Superfund site where DDT and other toxic chemicals had polluted our environment.

I began questioning if our proximity to the waste site had caused our cancer. In search of an answer to my question, I reached out to the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Environmental Protection Agency and the EPA. Although none of the government agencies I contacted would admit that Tower Chemical had caused our cancer, the EPA did commence cleanup of the Tower site.


Lessons from New Jersey: Mary Brune's mom

May 3, 2012    Bookmark and Share

Mary BruneBy Mary Brune. Mary Brune is the Co-founder and Director of Making Our Milk Safe (MOMS), a program of The Center for Environmental Health. When not donning a cape to fight toxic chemicals, she likes to hike, camp, and sew. She lives with her family in Northern California.

I grew up at the Jersey shore, on a tiny barrier island called Ocean City. My father was a fireman; my mom a waitress, then later a factory worker for Lenox China, and later still for Wheaton Plastics.

I was six years old when my parents divorced. During those years my father struggled with alcoholism. As a result, the responsibility for raising us three landed heavily on my mom.

Looking back now, what strikes me most about my mother during this time is how hard she had worked. It couldn't have been easy to work nights and take care of three kids mostly on your own. Except for more unrestricted "fun" time with our mom, I don't think we ever wanted for anything.

One vivid memory of those days has stayed with me. I remember accompanying my mother to the food store and watching her hand over food stamps to pay for our groceries. I was eight years old at the time and I remember feeling my face flush with shame, looking around to make sure none of my classmates were within earshot. As an adult and mother myself, I feel ashamed now of my reaction to my mother needing—and being brave enough to seek out—help to get our family what it needed.


Lessons from Montana: Alexandra Scranton's mom.

Apr 26, 2012    Bookmark and Share

Safer_alexandraBy Alexandra Scranton, Director of Science and Research at Women's Voices for the Earth (WVE). She has a Masters degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana and a BA from Amherst College.

My mom's got a way with words…a real unique way. She'll be the first to attest that in her 80's she's still "healthy as a clam" and "bright as a tack". But despite her uncanny knack for mixed metaphors, she exemplifies some of the best advice: to keep it simple.

Mom has never been one for lots of makeup or jewelry. She washes her face with plain soap and water (and her skin is beautiful). She is stylish but never falls for the latest fads.

She's a great cook, but her meals tend to have fewer ingredients, always fresh, and always tasty, including just those things she finds delicious. As she puts it, "You don't want too many soups in the broth."


Announcing the Lessons from our Mothers Project: Words of Wisdom that changed our lives

Apr 19, 2012    Bookmark and Share

Tell your story and help us build momentum as we approach a potential vote on safer chemicals in the U.S. Senate. Let us know how you honor the lessons of YOUR mother. Find out how to participate at the end of this post.

Gram AubineBy Cindy Luppi, New England Director, Clean Water Action

April is here and for many, the top thing on our minds is the early days of spring—whether we can shelve our winter coats, maybe how close we are to Opening Day.

For me, April always reminds me of my grandmother, Aubine. She was born in early April, over 100 years ago in a small town in northern Maine. When I think of her, I think of the popcorn balls she would make for the holidays...of the walks we took together...of being on drying duty as she washed the dishes after a family dinner.

She taught my sisters and me many things over the years, but the single over-riding lesson was crystal clear: you take on the hard jobs, and you don't shy away from the things that most need doing. That's how she lived her life, from start to finish—including working as a young girl with her family to carve a fishing camp out of the Maine wilderness. That lesson reinforces my commitment to keep on pressing for the updates to our laws that will protect us all from exposure to toxic chemicals. This campaign has been tough at times.