“Mom, Dad, it’s raining in the kitchen.”
That’s not how any parent wants to be awakened, but there was my brother, Adam, at 1:00 a.m., standing in our parent’s room after our 1928 fixer-upper house, still in the middle of renovation, burst a pipe above the kitchen.
I thought my parents were crazy for taking us out of our nice, clean 1988 spec house and moving us to a place with “charm.” I was sixteen-years-old, and the charm of the old house with only one working bathroom was lost on me. But I watched as my parents tirelessly restored that old house. I watched my mom tediously remove old paint off the trim and doors and discover beautiful old woodwork waiting to be uncovered and displayed. It was a huge undertaking and in the end, my parents had a masterfully restored old house that we were all so incredibly proud of.
That’s why I was not at all surprised when, in 2005, my mom, Laureen Skrivan, announced that at the age of forty-six she was going back to school to study Interior Design.
Laureen with her father, George, circa 1961
Design was her gift. I remember, even when we were little children, how much attention she gave to ensuring that our home was a home that we could be proud to live in. Even that 1988 spec house we lived in for ten years was outstanding thanks to my mother’s hard work to make it beautiful. She never let boring or boxy or unimpressive be an excuse not to make her home lovely. I can even remember my school friends coming over and commenting on how beautiful my house was and that my mom had “such great taste.”
Laureen practicing talking to clients, circa 1962
Knowing her gifts in this area, my parents’ friends and family commissioned my mom to help them redecorate or redesign their homes. She loved to study design and renovation. I vividly remember coming home after school and seeing her pour over architectural and design books. I knew she could walk other families through the process of redesigning and remodeling and that they would be in good hands because she knew first-hand the joys and sorrows of home renovation.
My mom took the time to raise us well. We always had a home-cooked meal and good quality time as a family. She listened to us, gave advice, and laughed with us. She was, and is, a great mom, and in 2005, when I was a newlywed and my youngest brother was a senior in high school, she took the dream that she had always had to be an Interior Designer and went back to school.
Even at twenty-three, I was inspired by that. I had seen other women in their late forties struggling with their identities. It seemed that once their children moved out, women didn’t know what else to do, and that scared me about getting older. But I was proud of my mom for pursuing the dream she had always had and watched her make it a reality.
Laureen and Alicia on Alicia's wedding day in 2005
My mom was never one to be content with half-hearted work, and she built her business with the same mindset. Her business, Wren & Willow, took off, and before she knew it, she was adding a business partner, outgrowing her small office, and incorporated! She became a licensed general contractor in Washington State, entrenched herself into the Master Builder’s Association (MBA) of Pierce County, and soon became the first woman president of the MBA of Pierce County. All of us were so proud and impressed by her work, but she continually reminded us, “I am building this business for you, and for your children; that is my sole motivation here.”
Laureen's children, Alicia, Adam, and Aaron in 2000
When my mom was very young, her grandmother Josephine went back to nursing school when she was fifty. Josephine was a wonderful cook, mother, and grandmother, and after she became a nurse, she worked for twenty-five years in a job she loved. Her story had always inspired my mom to believe that anything is possible, no matter how old you are or feel.
Josephine, who inspired Laureen in many ways, circa 1930
It is absolutely possible to raise your children, be there for them when they are young, and still have time to pursue your dreams. Now my daughter, Gabriella, is watching her grandmother run a business in her fifties. When I asked Gabriella for help in writing this, she gave me a list of what she thinks about her “Mima”:
She makes money
She’s very great
She works at her office
She makes money for us
She always lets us have some candy
She’s always so nice
She talks with all the men
She always goes places with us
She’s our greatest Mima
In her six-year-old mind, Gabriella is already seeing my mom as an inspiration. She is someone who works hard and makes money but is also a kind and loving grandmother. I hope that Gabriella always remembers that about her. My mom has been an inspiration to me as well. Even though I am still raising small children of my own, I have decided to go back to school to pursue a dream I have too. As I sit at my desk late at night, studying things I don’t know how I will ever understand, I think about my mom and my great grandmother doing the same, sitting at their desks and working on things they never thought they would be able to do.
Laureen posing with the king of colors at the Point Defiance Zoo
I am incredibly thankful for what my mom has taught me about hard work, even if it is tedious, like restoring old woodwork in an old house; or brave, like being the first female president of a builder’s association; or scary, like starting a business in her late forties. I am so proud that she’s my mom and I am so happy for Gabriella that she is her grandmother. My Gabriella, who still has a great-great grandmother and a grandmother to look up to, is going to have some big shoes to fill. But, as I reflect on this season of Thanksgiving, I am so thankful that my daughter is part of the next generation of strong women who have pursued their dreams and I hope that she, like her Mima, will always pursue her dreams, no matter what challenges she faces.