I think of my life as a unity of circles. Some are concentric, some overlap, a few stand alone. There appears to be nothing random in my circles, even when certain connections didn’t happen for years. As I grow into motherhood, I marvel as they continue to unfold.
My Chamorro ethnicity and culture has everything to do with the living influence that so many mighty women have had in my life. She’s dead now, but my life of circles started with my maternal grandmother, someone I doubt ever laughed like me, played like me, or imagined like me. Stoic and dignified, she lived her entire life in Inarajan village pre-occupied and committed to her people. She was a true matriarch and she had presence. When my mom was born, it was the start of WWII on the Pacific Islands. Japan was invading Guam while my mom was a babe in the arms of her father. I have asked her only a few times how it feels to know her father died from the bullet that skidded her body. It left a small impressionable dent on her back, yet it did not harm her drive to be an independent and life-giving woman. Never to be underestimated, my mom surprises me today with an unexpected intensity that I both fear and welcome. Thankfully, my older sister, who I perceive as just slightly nicer and better than me, consistently weaves into my circles as the particular that helps me feel connected and at-ease. I carefully observed her graceful intensity growing up and realize that she indirectly balanced out my mediocrity and secret desires to be excellent. Who knew that her influence as a mother would be the single most important thing I’d draw upon in my forties. In the larger circle of my ancestry, these three women are my life-long influencers.
Obviously proud of being Chamorro, I thrive on the lessons these three generations of women have taught me, particularly on being a mother, and incidentally, on being a mother who climbs. Seven years have passed since my first pregnancy, and watching my now pregnant friend Stacey move up the rock wall carrying her unborn child creates such strong images for me. Flashback to the advanced maternal age of 39, I was in my second season of ice climbing at a Chicks With Picks event in New Hampshire. Living a life of pleasant simultaneity – recreating, teaching, climbing, and traveling – I was prepared to be pregnant. So from that circle of climbing mothers, I reached out to Kitty Calhoun and Bobbi Bensman. I relied on and relished in Kitty’s unassuming advice to, “Keep climbing because you’ll need those white blood cells for ice climbing next season,” and Bobbi’s assertion that “Pregnancy isn’t an injury, Vera. No need for a full body harness. Use what you got.” With the backing of these mighty women, I was climbing pregnant with both Misa and John-Pio right up until I delivered them. And I did it because – well – both Kitty and Bobbi just had the right type of influence.
There are great books on raising babies, but even the best books cannot predict personal experiences. Take it from the circle of women associated with Madison Women Climbers. My good friend Annie knew full well that toting a baby around on climbing trips could present mandatory “rest days.” Yet her flexibility and encouragement never diminished the experience when those times actually came to pass. She was a Sherpa and schlepper when I was pregnant, and continues to be the calm voice in my brain reminding me to savor the moments of childhood because it really does pass fast. Along with Annie, my assembled crew of mighty women in this circle laugh, cajole, entertain, build things from nature, and even play dress-up with my kids on climbing days. That isn’t all of it. Underlying their physical presence are lessons they are giving on liberation, feminism, acceptance, and personal strength. There is Lisa, Sue, Molly, Suzi, and Stacey – all there never to control or fix situations, just fully there to help and embrace the unexpected.
Truth and best friendship will never disappoint you, and neither will a woman who is both raw and brave, who psychologically teaches that mothers need to tell the truth straight-up about equity and fairness, and discrimination. Known as Big Mama and Granny to my kids, and Litler, Ms. Matson, and sometimes Mom to me, she has given me the gift of Time. Time with Brad, time with my friends, time to climb – all of which seem like everything good and sufficiently necessary in my world. Sometimes I am bowled over; I feel so lucky that another matriarch has come into my life to both enhance and pierce my reality, making it possible for me to live a lifestyle dedicated to the things I love.
All of these circles end up interacting in simple and profound ways. A few months ago my sister-in-law, Ruth, took the Chicks Rock! clinic at Devils Lake. To understand the effects this had on me is to have known that over a decade ago, I took her three boys to a climbing gym in San Diego to introduce them to my growing passion for climbing. While my nephews climbed, Ruth traipsed after us in her high heels, manicured nails, purse in hand, support never wavering. Quite honestly, she was the very last person in my circle of family who I would have believed would come into her own in this sport, making an impressive showing on an emotional, mental, and physical level. From deep in my bones, my sister-in-law made me believe once again that climbing changes people. Climbing changes mothers.
To come full circle is to realize that all these women are true living influences in my full life. Culture and matriarchs, feminism and strength, friendships and climbers – I have no illusions that the overlaps and interactions between these circles are assisting me with possibilities. The main thing about unifying these circles is the abundance I have found in other people mothering me, keeping a whole chain of mighty women circulating.
Vera Naputi is a proud Chamorro dedicated to family, recreation, books, and teaching. She is a big fan of her mom and dad, Wallace Stegner, Toni Morrison, and Brad Werntz. She makes time for Happy Hour, catching up on podcasts, and running to good music. Vera believes that people are inherently good.