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Stories of motherhood

by YES! Staff

Motherhood means an array of things, but it’s not something any of our writers can pretend to know about first hand — most of us don’t even have kids. Instead we talked to mothers throughout the Triad about their moments of greatest joy and deepest struggle, the surprises both welcome and unwelcome, their evolution as people and parents, their memories, traditions and expectations.

This issue is meant to honor mothers, both those featured and who live here, not to mention those who have shaped our lives but don’t live nearby. None of our writers’ mothers even live in this state.

Some mothers are raising their kids on their own and some aren’t able to raise them at all. Some kids have two mothers, or are raised by their grandmother.

This Mothers’ Day, some of you will sit and remember your mother who has passed away, or who you no longer have a relationship with. Some of you will wish you could be with your mother but time, money and borders separate you. Some of you will surprise your mother, or send her a card in the mail or stop by with her grandchildren.

And some of you will be the ones being served breakfast in bed or cherishing a hand-drawn Mothers’ Day card. Some of you are mothers who have lost their children, or maybe just have kids who will forget the holiday until the morning after. To some of you, it’s just another day.

In other words, we all have different and complicated relationships with our mothers. We hold different favorite memories and harbor different grudges. We don’t want to pretend that all mothers are saints, but even though nobody is perfect, some readers will argue that their mothers indeed are.

Even though the women we interviewed come from a wide swath of the Triad, some common themes quickly emerge. They have found they couldn’t predict everything about motherhood, but they have adapted. And they have built a home, both with their children and their larger community here. These mothers love and are loved in return. And that’s all we can really ask for, isn’t it?

— Eric Ginsburg

Orfilia Reyes Fredi Reyes’ mom Orfilia means everything to him. He’s only 15, but he speaks eloquently about his mother.

“She is the person that allowed me to live,” he said. “She has supported me through the best and worst of times. She is the one who has motivated me to do good in school, and the one who tells me to not be afraid of showing who I really am.”

Yet even though he is doing well in school and has such solid support, Fredi is worried about his future, and his mother’s too. His concern is well founded — after fleeing the Guatemalan Civil War, his mother has lived in the United States for decades but now faces deportation. Even though Fredi is a US citizen, since he is a minor he would either be placed in foster care or would have to leave the country with his mother to a country he’s never visited.

“I would not be able to find a school for him to attend, and the schools available that teach in the English language would be too expensive for me to be able to afford,” Orfilia said. “I could not imagine my life with my son in Guatemala. Every time I bring up the subject with my son he cries so much, he also fears going to Guatemala because it is a country he does not know, and a country where he has no idea what would happen to him.”

While she is worried about her ability to find work and get by in Guatemala, a country she left after her brother was killed and she received death threats, her primary concern is her son.

Orfilia, who is 54, withdrew her appeal for asylum based on bad advice from a lawyer and has since sought to correct the mistake with different legal counsel to no avail. If her case is reopened, she can file for a green card and legalize her status in the United States. Otherwise, she faces deportation in next month.

Her sons Fredi and Fredd are fighting to keep her here, with support from people in Greensboro like Lori Khamala at the American Friends Service Committee. An online petition to stop her deportation has nearly reached its 1,000-signature goal, and a vigil is planned for May 15. Older son Fredd, who lives in Greensboro, worries about his mother and little brother who live in Thomasville and unfortunately could not legally take guardianship of his brother because Fredd doesn’t have citizenship either.

According to her lawyer, Orfilia has no criminal history and no other history of immigration violations besides overstaying her visa to seek the protection of the United States.

When Immigration and Customs Enforcement came to his house months ago, Fredi was confused and angry. He felt helpless.

“As I sat there… listening to ICE interrogate my mom and brother, saying that there was no hope for us, so many things were running through my head,” Fredi said. “Two questions kept running through my head: ‘Where do I stand in all of this? And what will become of me?’”

Marva Reid Growing up in East Winston, Marva Reid’s mother put her to work preparing snacks for community meetings at the family’s home.

“She had these pastel mints — yellow, pink and green,” Reid recalled. “I had to put the mints on one side of the tray and the peanuts on the other side. Then I put the little spoons all around. Winston-Salem was a tobacco town, of course, so I had to put out the ashtrays. They discussed things going on in the community.

“My mother said, ‘You’re my little traveler. Whatever you learn, bring it back to the community.’” Marva’s mother, Geraldine Hagans Reid, was a nurse and cosmetologist. She operated a beauty parlor on the back porch of the house. Marva’s father worked as a bus driver for Safe Bus Co., and later operated a heating, ventilation and air conditioning business. Later in life he taught the trade to young people through the Winston-Salem Urban League.

Geraldine Hagans Reid in particular emphasized civic responsibility to her daughter.

“She was always community minded,” Reid said of her mother. “We were taught to stay connected to the community and give back. It’s that religious idea: ‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’”

Marva Reid did travel. She met her sweetheart at the age of 12, and they eventually got married and had a child. They both wanted to get out of Winston-Salem, but it was Reid’s husband who made it happen. He worked at Reynolds Tobacco Co., but didn’t like the job. On the advice of a friend, he enlisted in the Air Force.

They were stationed in Fayetteville, then Tampa. Then Okinawa, Japan for five years. And later the Netherlands.

“We’re traveling with our young baby girl,” Reid said. “It was a privilege to be able to go to different places. She enjoyed it. She became an honors student in 7th grade.”

Lana, who is now 42 and living in California, excelled academically and graduated from UCLA.

Reid is proud of the professional lineage of three generations of women in her family, beginning with her mother who obtained a college education and became a nurse. Marva also became a nurse.

“My daughter’s a doctor,” Reid said. “She elevated it. And she’s an author. She’s a motivational speaker. She travels all over. She’s got a daughter that plays tennis, speaks and writes Japanese…. My grandbaby is an artist. Somebody asked her to do a cartoon book because she knows how to do the characters.”

Heeding her mother’s call, Marva Reid eventually returned to Winston-Salem. She and her husband divorced in the 1990s and Reid ended up moving back to the house where she grew up. She found that the sense of community had declined in the years she had been gone, and she made it her business to start building it back up. “The prestige in this African-American community,” Reid said, “is deep and rich.”

Becky Smothers The strangest part about raising three kids for Becky Smothers and her husband was the fact that both of them were only children. Smothers quickly adapted to dealing with the siblings’ dynamics. Over time her parenting style evolved, she said.

Along with her husband, Smothers raised her kids — Rick, Tom and Beth — in High Point and sent them to public schools, where they played sports and were well rounded.

When Beth, her youngest child, was in third grade, Becky Smothers ran for High Point city council, and since then public service has been an integral part of her life. She used to tell her kids, who rebelled to an extent like most teenagers, that if they were ever in too much trouble it would hit the papers because of her position on council.

Luckily, nothing ever did, and Smothers said they didn’t cause too much trouble. But her only daughter Beth has always been outspoken. Since her husband traveled for work she was often in charge, and she said she expected the kids to leave her alone after 8 p.m.

“As you watch your children grow up, independence is definitely something you want to encourage, but it can be pretty rocky in terms of how you deal with attitudes and behaviors,” said Smothers, who is now the mayor.

Now all of that is behind her. With five grandchildren, including some who are in college, it’s been a while since Smothers worried about keeping her kids in line. Instead, she has the joy of watching her kids parent, and as far as she is concerned they are doing a great job.

When her grandchildren were little they all lived nearby, and while the family is more dispersed these days, most of them haven’t wandered too far. Everyone still gets together for Christmas and a beach trip every summer. This may be the first year with some absences from Oak Island, the summer destination they all picked after struggling to find a beach house for the relatively large family.

When the Smothers family gets together, sometimes they are teasing Sara, one of the grandkids, about what she said when she was just 3 or 4. After being told they were going to run some errands, the story goes, Sara asked, “When we finish with the errands can we run some Sarahs?” Smothers and her husband share their grandchildren with their in-laws on Christmas, forgoing Christmas Eve in favor of seeing the kids Christmas afternoon. It’s easier for everyone that way, she said.

“I wouldn’t trade having these three children for anything,” Smothers said. “It was not a goal I ever identified, but I’m not a real goal kind of person. Things just kind of happen. They are very special people, and not just because they are ours. I am proud of them.”

Paige Cox After more than a decade staying at home and working out of her studio there, Paige Cox began working fulltime in October as the in-house artist for Anthropologie in Greensboro designing the store’s visual displays. It was perfect timing as far as Cox is concerned, because Riley, 12, and Finn, 9, are old enough that they are more independent and she gets out of work as they are coming home from school. Cox, a fiber artist who graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design, created her design business Lulugroove from home and is still creating art independently, but not as much as before. She used to travel more for shows, and it is still easy to stumble across her work on display in Greensboro or Winston-Salem as well as more distant cities like Boston.

In some ways, she can already see herself and her husband Tim, who is a graphic designer and co-founder of Stir in Greensboro, in their kids. Riley is starting to discover fashion and says she wants to be an artist when she grows up, and considering how much time Finn spends playing with Legos, it’s no surprise he wants to be a Lego designer.

“It’s really fun to watch them grow and see where they’re going to go with it,” Cox said. “My favorite part of motherhood I guess is watching the kids become who they are.”

A door in the kitchen, decorated with the kids’ art, is just one of the ways their home reveals their family’s artistic ability, as is the mat Paige made by the sink.

While it may not be a surprise that Finn and Riley are interested in art and design work, Cox said she doesn’t try to push them in any direction, but instead lets them determine their interests and then helps them pursue them.

Paige and Tim expose their kids to many different aspects of their lives, taking them to concerts, protests and anything else they are involved in. Riley used to figure skate, which Cox said was kind of hilarious because Riley isn’t very “girly,” but now she mountain bikes and is getting more into art and volleyball. Finn has shown an interest in sports recently too, and is the first family member to try carrying a tune, joining a choral group.

Cox tries to avoid over-scheduling the kids to leave space for down time, an approach that she and Tim try to live by as well.

It’s exciting to have kids this age, she said, because when they were little she almost worried she’d break them. But now, she can talk to them and discuss various things.

“My most favorite thing about it right now is them maybe having an opinion that is different than mine and seeing why,” Cox said.

Susan Pauly Susan Pauly has raised $70 million towards a $75 million capital goal for Salem Academy and College since becoming president of the 240-year-old institution in 2006. Aside from leading the oldest educational institution for women in the nation, she is also active with the Winston-Salem Chamber, the Winston- Salem Alliance and United Way.

But none of that comes close to the magnificence of raising a daughter.

“Being the parent of a daughter was transformative to me,” Pauly says. “I would say there is no role in life that is more powerful and more vulnerable and more subject to joy than being a mother. And that a sense of humor is essential.”

Two moments are seared into her memory as a mother, each part of her family’s generational legacy.

“I’d say the moment she was put in my arms after she was born is unforgettable; it’s a joy beyond description,” Pauly says. “And then the moment I saw her with her baby daughter is a joy that cannot be described except in spiritual terms. To love and be loved is what is most important. That is an iconic experience. There is nothing else in the room.”

Pauly’s daughter, Rebecca Williams – now in her late thirties – is raising two children of her own, a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, in Maryland.

“Certainly some of the highlights for me as a parent were when my daughter was most dependent and then most independent,” Pauly says. “To have such a beautiful child, it’s just thrilling to have that close bond. It’s also thrilling when you see them as an adult. To see them graceful and independent is equally thrilling, and discovering that you love them like that, too.”

Pauly is modest in hesitating to claim influence over any of her daughter’s positive parenting qualities, but it’s likely that she deserves the credit.

“From my perspective, I hope and believe that I’ve passed on to her a great love of family and a great job in living in the moment,” she says. “By that I mean not thinking about – we’re all so busy multitasking – it’s about quality of time when you’re with them. I see my daughter loving the process of getting her children ready for bed and reading them a story…. She’s not thinking, ‘I should be online.’ I hope she might have gotten some of that from me. And a sense of humor; it’s vital.”

Like her daughter today, Pauly took a couple years off to be a full-time mother and homemaker.

“I stayed home with my daughter for three years and absolutely loved that,” she says. Pauly is quick to say that women should feel emboldened to make their own choices when it comes to balancing family with a wage-earning work.

“I have to say that I find it’s wonderful to see mothers working outside of the home,” she says. “And it’s wonderful to see mothers who are full-time homemakers. Both are marvelous choices. One is not better than the other.”

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