Beautiful Mama Spotlight Series: Coffee and Sweets with Amy
On a hot September morning, I meet my childhood friend Amy at Nutmeg Café and Bakery, in the otherwise quiet suburb of Sabre Springs. We are meeting for more than just a casual catch up on life. We are meeting so I can interview her for a Spotlight Mama blog series I am working on, I tell her.
She is as genuinely modest and sincere as they get. Humans, that is. We went to school together in what seems like a lifetime ago, when I was 8 years old in Phoenix. We became fast friends. We both really cared about our grades and did well in school. Amy could always make me laugh. And even after decades without seeing each other in person, she remains a contemplative, critical thinker, with that familiar sense of lively humor. She balances my Shakespearean tragedy mindset.
Even before we walk in, she makes a comment that makes me laugh. Her big blue eyes sparkle beyond her eyeglasses as we admire the pastries and sweets out to tempt us behind a glass window.
We have managed to keep in touch even after I moved at the age of 10. She stayed in Phoenix until she went to college for grad school. I stayed in San Diego. She lived in Seattle. She got married. She had kids. And fate - that is, her husband’s job - brought her here, close to me.
Now, I said otherwise quiet, because Nutmeg is a happening place among suburbia’s hipsters and stay at home moms. Lots of organic, gluten-free, and vegan options, so I’ve had the pleasure of being openly judged by a few millennials here. It was the day I realized I had finally grown up, because instead of being offended, I thought about all the times I have pushed my ideals on people without being sensitive to their situations.
And on that same note,
Amy has another quality that I think you will find quite powerful in today’s culture: she actually listens and respects all opinions. Make no mistake, she studies and forms her own perspectives. But that doesn’t mean she expects everyone to think like her. She is an open and safe place for debate if you want to explore the why’s and how’s on any issue.
And this is what makes her a fascinating person to me.
I wanted to ask her what being a San Diego Mom is like for her.
After catching up a bit, I ask her this very question. She mentions that since she has been a mom both in Seattle and San Diego now, she can make a pretty good comparison. One thing that really surprised her from the start was how nice people are here, “They actually show up to parties!” She also talked about how parents will chat with you at the park while the kids play, even if you didn’t know each other before.
Betweens sips of her latte, she remembers when she tried to create a Meetup for moms of autistic children in Seattle, and disappointingly, no one would come. She was looking to create community, share stories. Conversely, she was pleasantly surprised at the number of support groups available here in San Diego, in particular, the Autism Society of San Diego. She couldn’t believe it: people would actually go to support group parties and events.
“I really think it’s because of the weather. I mean, how can you not be happy here?” Her laughter rings out during the last portions of that statement. She’s known pretty extreme weather; Phoenix both in winter and summer, and then there’s the constant rainfall of Seattle. Perhaps San Diego weather is nice enough to keep you in good spirits.
I then ask her what she thought about having been a stay at home mom a bit while she was completing her Masters and PhD versus now that she is a mom that works outside the home during the day.
“It’s both good and bad, because you have the flexibility, which is so nice when your kids are little and so many things come up, it’s also hard because I didn’t get as much done as I wanted to and because my husband was the one working, I’m not getting paid, so of course I’m the one that has to take them to daycare…so there’s always something getting you out of your schedule.”
I go on to inquire what would she say are the biggest struggles of being a parent.
She talks about mom guilt. As a mom, you assume certain things for your child. And when you find out they’re different, you feel bad because your assumptions or expectations need to change. And then you feel guilty for feeling bad! She came to realize how silly it is to hold on to these beliefs when life happens.
She exclaims with conviction: “He (her child) is perfect the way he is!”
She recalls getting a lot of advice on how to help her younger son eat a more balanced diet. I get the sense from her that although she appreciates advice that seeks to help, it is a hard balance to strike when you feel a bit judged.
Always the the one willing to see the log in her eye instead of the splinter in her neighbor’s - she admits, after all, motherhood is the toughest job on the planet, and she can’t do it alone. Case in point, her search for support groups. But also in another way…
She pauses, and looks back on a time she had to take her son to school after having been sick all week, but was technically “well enough” for school. He was still sniffling and probably could have used a snuggle at home with mom or dad. But dad was at work, and mom had to attend class. She had already missed so much.
You can see her go back to that very day. I can almost feel the crisp morning Seattle air, the wet gravel on the sidewalk from the night’s rainfall, as she describes walking to his school, holding his little hand. And I can feel that guilt. What if I was a better mom - wouldn’t I sacrifice it all and stay with him one more day? Can’t any parent who has had to go to school or work, relate?
She says she listened to a song from Jars of Clay called “Lift Me Up” after dropping him off, on her way to her own class. After years of giving no thought to God at all, in fact, denying His very existence, she suddenly found herself asking Him for help,
”To lift me up.”
I ask her what are the biggest joys of being a parent she has experienced.
“Seeing the world through their eyes. Their amazement in life.”
Her kids are certainly cute and full of wonder. They have inherited the deep thinking mind of their mother.
She talks of those seemingly small achievements, that came with great struggle. Like when her son wailed whenever the swim instructor asked him to put his head underwater, and then, when he finally did it, amid quiet parents on their phones, she wanted so much to cheer and celebrate.
And as if Amy didn’t already have enough on her plate, she also volunteers and puts ideas that most people just blog or post about, into bona fide action.
Amy has a BS in Electrical Engineering, as well as Masters in both Electrical Engineering and Economics, along with a PhD in Economics. (Um, genius)
She jokes with me and says, “It’s one of my biggest pet peeves when people think AI is like going to take over the world,” she muses, “…cause I’m like, it’s MATH! I mean, yes, it’s nonlinear, but it’s still just MATH!”
There’s that genius talk.
Less than a year ago, an old college friend from engineering re-connected with Amy to talk about ways in which she could help a division of IEEE (https://www.ieee.org), called the Humanitarian Activities group. This division of IEEE basically provides technological solutions for people in need throughout the world.
Amy beams as she talks about proposals for “Smart Villages” in developing countries, installing solar panels, even connecting people on the Galápagos Islands.
Then, we talk refugees. Her voice goes up a pitch as she shares the work she’s done at the homeless shelters for these people in such dire need for a helping hand as they navigate the new terrain of their lives.
She’s gotten involved with Catholic Charities (https://www.crs.org) and Border Angels (https://www.borderangels.org), to immerse herself in their work, and see how IEEE can help.
I’ll be honest, it’s really easy for people who do nothing but judge from the sidelines of social media posts, to make this about politics. But Amy illustrates that this is about basic human decency.
So this is why she is the Spotlight Mama of the month:
Dr. Amy, also known simply as “Mom” to her babes, is a thinker and a do-er; what I call a true peace-maker.