The Strong Women Who Built Me
Mother’s Day is, perhaps, the most celebrated- but simultaneously most underappreciated- holiday in the world. Yes, brunch lines are out the door and around the block, and children have been pouring over barely edible breakfasts in bed. But celebrating what moms- and women in general- mean to us takes a bit more than that.
Yesterday, Chelsea Higgs-Wise, a community organizer and activist from Richmond, Virginia, tweeted something that really brought that home to me:
Someone purchased me a gift card for a massage & noted that bc I’m divorced & my kid is only 5, i prolly wouldn’t be celebrated as much as i should,i cried, heavily bc it reminded me of the shield i put up. But I’m super lonely as a mom.
Celebrate all women this weekend just bc.
I don’t think it can be said better than that.
So I want to follow Chelsea’s advice, and do the very same thing- thank and celebrate all the women in my life. Because I owe who I am today to the strong women who built me.
Maybe it’s not fair, because I’m a nurse- a profession that’s built and defined by strong women fighting against unimaginable odds- but whether it’s fair or not, my thanks go to them immediately. To the group of nurses who I deployed with to Biloxi, Mississippi with in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Before I worked with them, all I knew about nursing was any stereotype you’d ever hear or see on TV. What I got to experience was a group of women who got shit done, when there was no electricity, no running water, no hospitals, no ambulances. From consoling Red Cross relief workers who were still finding bodies, to delivering a baby in a parking lot in the 95-degree Mississippi heat, they did it all, and didn’t whine, complain, or even hesitate. And when we were told to evacuate as Hurricane Rita was threatening to come ashore, they refused- all of them. Without any hesitation; they refused to abandon the people who had already lost so much. Their example is why I became a nurse in the first place.
To the nurses and professors at the University of Virginia School of Nursing, who didn’t bat an eye at a gangly twenty-something year old with a backpack on one shoulder, a pink-and-purple diaper bag on the other, and a nine-month old baby girl on his hip. Who let me drag my daughter from class to class because I couldn’t afford $900+/month for daycare; who took turns bouncing her if she got fussy; who let me come to individual study sessions at odd times of the day and night so I could make it through nursing school. Specifically to my advisor, as well, who went completely above and beyond to help make sure I could get through nursing school in one piece. I wouldn’t be where I am today without any of them.
To my daughter’s mother- though she and I are not together, we are able to remain civil and work together for our daughter’s sake, and my little girl wouldn’t be the beautiful, smart, kind, and caring young lady she is today without her mom’s influence. Even though her mom and I haven’t always gotten along in the past, I have absolutely no problem admitting that fact.
And beyond that, to my daughter- who was the only reason I made it through nursing school at all, who would crawl up onto my lap as I was studying pharmacology and fall asleep. Who asked me how to spell “I love you” so she could write me a “secret note to take to class” (“What letters? What letters in ‘I Love You’?”). Who loves with her whole heart and soul, has such incredible empathy and passion, and tackles everything thrown her way with gusto. Who is the biggest reason I pulled myself out of the lowest parts of my life and stood up to prove I could be the man I am today.
To my mom, who put up with me, who struggled with me even as she was struggling with her own marriage failing and suffering from severe depression and anxiety. Because, and I’ll be brutally honest here- I was a dumbass in high school, and not a good kid at all. And she took all of that, and never wavered on her support or love for me- ever. Even one iota. I- and not just me, but my kids and my family- wouldn’t be where I am today without her.
And finally, the kicker- my wife.
My wife is also an emergency department nurse. We have a two-income household, but there’s no contest between her and I- she’s our breadwinner, hands down. She told me long ago she “wasn’t gonna be no stay at home mom,” that she wanted to get her advanced degree and have a career and be able to raise our family, too. She asked if I would do whatever we needed to make that happen, and I said- without hesitation- yes, of course.
Y’all, for my family, she is the rock that the waves of the world crash against. She not only works her normal allotment of shifts, she’s an administrator and department educator to boot- which that means anytime things go wrong- which, of course, never happens in the ER- she stays. Sixteen, twenty hour days? Finally leave at 9pm, and come back in at 3am, to work until 7pm the next day? She’s does it constantly.
And that means she misses so much. First steps of both of our boys? She was at work. First words? At work. And guess where she is today, on Mother’s Day?
I remember she got home from work once, and listened as I retold her the exciting events of the day- our oldest boy being terrified by a worm he found on the pavement, the youngest discovering he enjoyed the taste of dog food immensely, how we ran around the house, wrestling and tickling and laughing- I watched as tears formed in her eyes, her normally stoic demeanor showing a crack. Keep in mind, this is a woman who was the only reason the emergency department we work at didn’t break down here in Charlottesville during the events of August 12th, 2017. She was the charge nurse, and held things together without so much as flinching.
“The first thing our kids are going to remember,” she said to me, her voice cracking, “are these weekends; you chasing them and laughing with them.”
“And the only reason they’re going to remember it,” I told her, holding her hands and watching as tears streamed silently down her face, “is because you’re making sure the lights stay on, and food stays on our table.”
It’s only because of that hard work that I was even able to run for the Virginia House of Delegates back in 2017; the only reason I’m able to embark on the even bigger step I’m about to take to stand up for the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia. She took my decision to run for public office with an enormous amount of aplomb, way more than I could have reasonably expected for the magnitude of the sacrifice I was asking her to make- especially for the monumental task I’m about to take on. I have no words that can do justice to how much she means to me, and what she’s done for me.
And so it’s because of her- and women like her- that I am where I am today. Where we all are. The reason we’ve got a fighting chance to save the Republic and it’s institutions is because of the effort put up by women over the past two years. They helped flip the House of Representatives. They stood up here in Virginia and ran for office- Vangie Williams, Jennifer Lewis, Leslie Cockburn, Elaine Luria, Jennifer Wexton, and Abigail Spanberger- in the face of unimaginable odds. The resistance was born of, and powered by, women from the very beginning- and any success we derive will be from their efforts.
Thank you, all of you- for everything you’ve done for me in the past, and everything you’ll do in the future, for me and for everyone.
Kellen Squire is an emergency department nurse from Barboursville, VA, and candidate for Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Donate, volunteer, or get the word out about our people-powered campaign, today!