"that mom" is a series of inspirational women who
share their thoughts on motherhood, style and grace.
by lee kriel
Meet Lisa Wells. I first met Lisa at St. Annes School of Annapolis. She was my son’s first grade teacher. At the time she was managing her teaching career, raising two young children while her husband was deployed and tragically suffered a house fire. Needless to say, she became an expert on keeping her head above water. Now, with her children grown, I was so pleased to catch up with her late last summer and learn more of what she was magically juggling and discuss everything in regards to motherhood, career and well being.
In her own words…
Tell me a little about your background.
When I graduated from UVM, I headed to DC for a stint at lobbying and plans for law school. It was fun for a bit, but wholly unsatisfying. I headed home to upstate NY where I very unexpectedly met my BFF and husband. We dated for less than three months before getting engaged and married six months later. Getting married included packing up and heading to Boston, where I was gleeful to reunite with several college friends were but it also meant giving up law school. Marrying this complex and big-hearted guy was my best decision of my life. Turns out it was a good thing I did not go to law school, too! I took some ed classes while working at Harvard and was knew education was my calling. I spent a year in grad school doing my apprentice teaching while simultaneously loving every minute and being exhausted.
Later we relocated to Rochester where I began teaching at a really wonderful school, The Harley School. It was magical and challenging and like one big family. I grew so much as a teacher and had the most amazing colleagues who, along with my incredible parents who lived an hour away, taught me how to be a parent. Years later, my husband accepted a position in Beltsville and we moved to Howard County. This was the first time since I was 14 I didn’t work and I was itchy and unsettled in our new neighborhood. I fell into a maternity leave position at St. Anne’s School which led to a full time the following year. I needed the structure and community of a school with a mission that was in sync with what we believed in as a family and would support our kids while letting me grow as well.
My kids were “lifers” at St. Anne’s - spending far more than 7 hours a day in the building. We had a community that helped raise them.I taught nearly everything from preschool through middle school. As my oldest went to high school, I began to plot my exit strategy from full time parenthood. I really thought I had it all laid out... little did I realize, parenting actually never ends! It morphs and changes and continues to teach you how to be a better human and a different sort of parent.
We had several really hard years when they kids were little, and the cumulative effects were beginning to show in my body. I was living in chronic pain and eventually diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I didn’t feel stressed (relative to what had been the norm) but my body was showing signs of too much cortisol. I resumed my interest in yoga, tried to eat better and manage my stress. This was a multi-year endeavor - after financial strain, deployment and a house fire, you can’t simply fix up that kind of stress in your body in a few weeks. My body was screaming for me to slow down and take care of myself, but it was impossible to admit I needed people to take care of me.
Eventually, my RA was under control and I hit a good balance of eastern and western treatments, including yoga. Honestly, that is constantly evolving, but I’ve become accustomed to feeling what’s happening in my body and knowing when I simply need to rest to recharge my immune system.
In 2013, I received my yoga certification and thought I’d teach adults, but funny thing, I kept getting opportunities to teach yoga to kids. The Universe often has its own plans for us, right? I was also doing really important, fulltime, work with the Center for Responsive Schools, training and coaching teachers on classroom management, social emotional learning, engaging academic content and developmentally appropriate teaching and learning. I love this world but because of the nature, it requires a lot of travel. I truly believed with one in college and one in 11th grade, it would work. I was gone a least 50% of the time and it was stressful. My husband was not only managing his father’s care at the Baltimore VA (which was fantastic!) also wrestling with some health issues himself. His symptoms were vague enough that there was no simple diagnosis and required much more of his time and energy than he was able to devote. It was clear I needed to be home to be the glue or at least to make sure people were fed and clothed!
I was also conscious that my time as a full time mom was slipping away faster than I had racked up Southwest miles. I was also so busy and consumed with taking care of people that I was leaching all the joy from daily life. Call it curiosity or a calculated experiment, but my “plan” had to be revised.As we worked on shoring up everyone’s health and navigating the path of high school and college, I felt far more needed as a mom than I had when they were younger. Perhaps because of my focus on early childhood and elementary ed, combined with the necessity of needing the kids to pitch in, my kids had always been very independent. As we moved into their teen years, I found myself doing more for them - those “little things” I never had the resources to do - like making my 11th grader breakfast every morning, doing their laundry, letting those chores slip when homework or practice drained them. I did a lot of watching and hugging in high school.
Parenting college kids is no joke. It’s not the physical drain parenting little ones is nor the crazy racing around that tweens often need. It’s reframing how you think of your kids as they become emerging adults and then re-learning how to parent as you become more of a sounding board, coach, observer. Our daughter had some pretty serious health issues in college and was eventually diagnosed with a disease I knew absolutely nothing about and never thought to talk about with her - endometriosis. I’ll get on my soapbox for a moment here because this is not a glamorous disease but 1 in 10 women are diagnosed. Painful periods, long periods, exhaustion are not normal for teens girls. I never knew to tell her this and she never knew too mention it to me. It took years of pain and misery and my daughter leaned into this to research and advocate for herself. I am not sure I would have been able to resolve this for her without her efforts, but I can put it out there so others are more aware.
About this time, I began to consider that even with pretty darn clean eating and regular exercise, the three out of four of us had inflammatory diseases that were puzzling. Some women I went to college with were working with a multi channel retail business who is disrupting the marketplace with education, advocacy and cleaner personal care products. It was time to read the research they were sharing and ask questions about the products, because maybe all those years of the cheapest Target lotion and the smelly tween products from Justice were part of what had disrupted our systems. Within days of using a few products, my kids and I saw differences in our skin and I felt better knowing that these products were not harming us.
I signed on as a consultant with Beautycounter and love that I am constantly learning about health and what works for others, while having a significant social impact with a company who is focused on education. The last time a law was passed was in FDR’s administration - which means the 80,000,000 chemicals introduced to the marketplace in the past fifty years have not been tested for safety and many go into shampoos, lotion, mascara, makeup. We deserve to know what goes into these products so we can make informed choices and we deserve to have cleaner options that don’t harm our health.
LIke many SAHMs of any stage of life, I found II needed some mental challenge in addition to the daily challenge of managing a household. It took me a while, but I completed my health and wellness coach training through WellCoaches. Reading and learning bring me a sense of purpose, a sense of accomplishment and the feeling that even if life is a bit out of my control (a bit?!), I can control this piece. It felt a lot like teaching and very , very comfortable.
I’m now at the place I dreamed of nearly seven years ago. Full time parenting is not a daily routine, for the time being everyone's health is well managed, and I have the tools and training I need to help others grow. I’m learning to build a business much like I build a yoga class or set up classrooms each August. I’m so very lucky to have had all these crazy twists and turns on this path, and the path forward from here, looks amazing!
What inspired you to do what you do?
Honestly, two very simple things. First, my kids. I am constantly thinking about how to better understand and support them and in the process, I see all the ways I need to learn and grow myself. Now that they are emerging adults, I see we did okay, but I also see the multi layers of stress teens and emerging adults face. Second, I have a deep desire to help others manage stress, discover their strengths, prioritize and practice being compassionate with themselves and one another. This might mean working with young adults or working with those who help take care of and support them. Times are tricky. Stress is a natural and often good part of life, but we all need the perspective and time to see how it helps and to take care of ourselves when it starts to build. There are so many ways we can take better care of ourselves, mentally, emotionally, physically. I am constantly learning and sharing those strategies.
What is something most don’t know about you?
In many ways, I am an open book. What you see is what you get and I don’t have the energy or the smarts to put on an act of any type. My dad’s family are descendants of John Dewey, the father of progressive education. I learned this at UVM, where Dewey had chaired the psychology department. His work and the evolution of progressive education not only piqued my interest in teaching, but continues to be a strong thread.
Tell us about your company and what a client can expect?
First, you can expect to be listened to, deeply. It’s an honor to work with people who want to grow and who sometimes simply need the structure, accountability and space to share their worries, their goals, their aspirations. I’m also keen on harvesting strengths and I love noodling around to pull those to the surface. We can work once or over a few sessions, but most people can outline what they want to see change and set up a game plans that is accessible and attainable if we work weekly for about three months. Most of my work is done over the phone, but I am working on securing office space locally for those clients who prefer to meet that way.
I’m also developing a few short online courses that will be offered either on an online learning platform like Ruzuku or something as simple as a private Facebook group.
As for my passion for Beautycounter, I see my work primarily about talking to people and helping them see how crucial it is that we know what goes into the products we slather on every single day. We are advocating for more transparency in the industry - terms like “organic” and “natural” are marketing terms, not standards mandated by the FDA. There are other companies who put out cleaner products and many are following suit - Target is cleaning up it’s beauty aisles and many companies are finding ways to be sulfate and paraben free. We all need to read labels and be able to make informed choices, including doing business with brands and companies that care about our health and the health of our planet, not just their bottom line. I’m by no means a sales person, but I am a curious learner and listener who takes pride in helping people solve problems and live the lives of wellbeing, purpose and joy.We choose the best organic, natural, sustainable, and synthetic ingredients that meet our standards. Over 80% of the ingredients in our products are natural or plant-derived.
Best part of being a mom?
My kids are 22 and 20 and they are incredible emerging adults. Seeing them thrive in their environments - they work hard and care about others. One loves to be home in Annapolis and one recognizes he is more comfortable in a bigger pond so I cherish the days the four of us are under one roof. Both of these humans make choices and take action based on their values and goals, and to ask appropriate question or challenge what doesn't feel right to them.. Both have taken part in marches and protests and have raised social-political questions that would never have occurred to me at their age. I credit their high school, Key School, for much of that sense of purposeful discourse. I also love that they are so close - technology makes it easy for them to stay connected even though they are so very different and so rarely in the same place.
Letting go! When they were little - I wasnt that mom who jumped and fussed when they fell. I let them scooter around long before free range was a common practice. I didn’t track them on an app as they drove. They were responsible, honest and we’ve been pretty democratic. Our job is to raise compassionate and purposeful adults. So letting go is hard, but that’s pretty much the objective of the job!
Truly, the hardest part is seeing them suffer and be in pain. When they were little, we had so many challenges as a military family and when we had a house fire. While I don’t wish deployment nor fire on anyone, there were so many lessons. Our kids are very close to each other and to us. Often they’ll choose to hang out at home with us instead of friends which is GREAT. They have seen pain and loss close up and from a distance..They have worked with my husband’s non profit, Connected Warrior Foundation, which supports injured vets and their families. They know from these relationships and seeing their father, that the cost of war stretches far beyond the defense budget and physical wounds. They are immensely empathetic and aware of the larger issues in the world. Part of me wishes I could spare them from this, but it makes them strong and determined.
What does a typical day look like for you?
No day is every typical! Each month, I map out goals for up to six projects (ranging from work to health to household). For whatever reasons, six works for me. Then each week, I outline my “rocks” - pieces I prioritize and “blocks” - chunks of time that are non negotiable. I like the flexibility, but I do need structure and accountability, which means that really, most weeks vary. No matter what, I am out of bed by 5:30 am daily. The three cats get fed, the dog goes out and I make coffee. Then it’s a bit of reading and meditating and a walk or ball toss for Toby. From there, it really depends…
What is your personal style? Your go-to staple pieces?
Gosh, I wish I had one! It’s a goal for me now that I’m 50-something. It’s easy to be in yoga clothes or workout gear, since at some point most days, I’ll need to wear them. Lately, I’m striving to be in yoga clothes all day only on the days I teach. I’ve been moderately successful! If I’m not in workout clothes, I'm pretty casual - comfy jeans or shorts, t-shirts, curls askew or in a ponytail. I’m a huge fan of sweaters, too, though there don’t seem to be enough days in the year in Maryland for me to wear all of them! My closet is sorted by color and it always astounds me that I am drawn to the same colors - navy, pinks, white and black. We go with what works, right?
I have several pieces of lovely jewelry, but I wear the same simple earrings and necklace about 325 days year, mixing it up with fanciful earrings on my off days. And bracelets - my arthritis makes my fingers unreliable for rings, so I tend to load up my wrists with something eye catching, intentional or sentimental.
Your beauty routine? Favorite products? Shortcuts?
Honestly, before I started using Beautycounter, I hardly washed my face. I grew up using one line of beauty products from the departments stores and stayed with that, though my aging skin cried for something better. Since starting with Beautycounter, I actually enjoy taking better care of my skin and it looks and feels better than it has in years. I feel like lines are inevitable, and earned, so my primary goal is clean skin that’s hydrated and soft. I’m still not a big make up person, but it’s nice to know I can use some when I need to up my adulting game!
Wellness and exercise routine?
Meditation daily - I’m a fairly short-spell-sitter, but it’s consistent. I also pause several times a day to breathe. I’ve tried several apps, but generally use Insight Timer or Breathe to remind me. I also use a tech tool for neurofeedback called Muse. I teach yoga twice a week, so I either practice at home alone (okay, with at least two cats and a dog) or in a studio nearly every day. I am not a huge fan of getting hot and sweaty, but I need the cardio and I need to strength training, so I shoot for a couple days of cardio and/or weights at home or the gym.
Many of us with autoimmune issues learn that if we pay attention to diet, or symptoms improve. I fought this idea as too “woo-woo’ for years. Once I gave up wheat and dairy, I found my symptoms are much improved. It’s been a bumpy road and one that brought out the rebel in me, but i feel much better when I avoid both. My husband is highly allergic to all fish, so we eat a limited number of foods that are clean and nourishing - tricky, but it works!
What is the best parenting advice you have ever received?
So many….here are my top 10 at this moment:
Read to and with them (my daughter and husband have a standing daily date to read a certain news report)
Talk to them like they are humans not children.
Listen to them, don’t just hear them.
Accept that you will make mistakes, many of them. Apologize and learn from them.
Set clear boundaries but give them choices and control.
Love is a verb.
Mean what you say and say what you mean.
Let them be who they are meant to be, including who they are experimenting with being.
It takes a village and a village is comprised of all different types of people.
Babies don’t keep.
Your children’s favorite toys/books? (Your favorite toys/books for them that keep you sane :)
The American Girls also played a big part in my daughter’s life from an early age. She was and is an avid reader, so we read all of those books and she had a few dolls, which really her only dolls.
We have thousands of books - from my classrooms and the kids, including over 150 Christmas picture books.
Both kids were also always creating something and it’s only bene in recent years that I’ve given away the boxes of supplies we accumulated. In high school, we devoted an entire room in the basement as my son’s art studio. I love just looking around and am amazed by how he sees the world and creates, because otherwise, he doesn’t share too much with us...
My son was/is all about Legos - again, we have thousands! After our fire, the movers boxes up the playroom of Legos, and 11 years later, some are still unsorted. We have bins of assembled legos and with the resurgence of Star Wars, he curated Star Wars legos in his bedroom.
Oh, and have you tripped over a skateboard deck or kicked a bearing yet? Find a wheel in a drawer or basket? He had dozens of boards and numerous parts. He has skated nearly every day for a decade and not only creates the graphics for decks now but builds them.
What is your philosophy when it comes to decorating?
Right how, it’s Kondo-ing. I’ve been decluttering since my oldest went to college. I’ve decluttered and organized just for the sake of doing it. And about 18 months ago I had a sometimes overwhelming urge to move - to start with a clean slate, build new memories, redefine our life. I looked at more houses than I can count. I fell in love with a new house quarterly. Like a teenger falls in love - head over heels and then I’d see through the shiny veneer. We got serious about a few and I did some serious packing of the personal items and staged the house. The kids were not fully on board, nor honestly, was my husband, but they all said they’d play nice if this is what I wanted. Staging the house let me see some space and some possibility here, and we didn’t find anything we really loved. Now we’re looking at how we live fresh eyes and we’ll see how to make this space feel more liveable.
What is your favorite room in the house?
I’ve taken over the living room as my office because I love the Nantucket Sound blue walls and the light. But it’s usually just me and the animals in here. We reconfigured the kitchen after the fire and I have a passionate, if not unnatural, attachment to my Stickley table and mission cabinets. No matter who is here we tend to hang out in the kitchen, so it’s truly my favorite place.
Designers that inspire you? What are your favorite pieces of art/decor?
I have so little sense of design, really. As teachers often say, I would “benefit from support” in this area!
My mother and friends ran a small estate sale business when I was growing up. I was always fascinated by other people’s stuff and wanted to know the story. When Mrs. Stickley died, she had four houses on a corner in my town that housed one of every piece of furniture they made. It was incredible. My desk came from that sale. It’s massive and often never really fit in our house, but I sit at it every day.
I found my Stickley table after the fire and was one of the only pieces of furniture we had that wasn't rented when we rebuilt this house. I remember sitting at it and just running my hands over the grain for comfort.
I have cool stuff that has meaning to me - I like to know the narrative behind things, not just that they came from a store. But I struggle with creating them and putting a room together. I need Bobby from Queer Eye to swoop in rescue me!
How do you curate all your children’s toys?
I never kept scrapbooks nor photo albums, at least for very long. I do regret that and one day, will sit down to tackle this project. I kept portfolios and school work but recently culle it down to one box per kid.
When they were little, I kept things like my classroom - minimalist, organized in ways they could access things and put them away. We rotated things out and there would be a “Saturday Surprise” when new things reappeared (which also spelled me a little extra time to myself!). There are always books out - in most every room and definitely in every car.
Now that hey are older, we have a few bins of the most special things - Madeline, American Girl, books, journals, Buzz Lightyear, Star Wars, Legos. Not sure if they’ll want for their kids or maybe they will end up selling o Ebay!
Tell us about your children’s rooms and the inspiration behind them?
My daughter was into HGTV, specifically, While You Were Out, long before it became so popular. She’d often redesign her room or move furniture. I remember doing the same. She’s recently moved into her own apartment in an adorable historical building downtown, It’s been so fun to watch her curate things in a very stylish way that totally suit her. At our house, her room is pretty sparse which is taking some getting used to on our part!
My son stories for consistency. After the fire, he wanted his room exactly as it was and it has remained like that for a decade. He collects a lot and we do this dance around keeping and culling. He has dozens of skate sneaker that mark the passage of time the way some collect concert tickets or journals, only these are, frankly, smelly! His room reminds me so much of their growing up - the map we tracked my husband’s travels, airplanes, the books on tape we listened to nightly for years, legos, books, skateboards and more his recent passions like 80s music and modern art.
What advice would you give other mothers who are hoping to start their own business?
Be brave, take chances and follow your dreams.
Don’t play small.
Invest in yourself and spend wisely, all you can do is fail and then you’ll learn a thing or two.
Find people, especially women, who will support, challenge and mentor you.
Slow down. The days are long but gosh, they years go by fast!
Read every day and disconnect every day so you can focus on yourself, your loved ones, the world around you. Even for just a few minutes....
Take care of yourself - a spa day is great if that’s your thing. But think about self-care as your daily habits eat well, get some sleep, ask and accept help, get your mammogram, get a skin cancer screening, and blood work,find work and people who bring you joy and satisfaction.
How do you balance work and family life?
I am not sure it’s actually a balance as much as a juggle. I keep a lot flexible and know what is not negotiable. My monthly goal setting and weekly rocks and blocks help. More on that...
Do you have a productivity tricks you could share?
Use tech to support you - I used the timer on my watch constantly and like an app called Focus that keeps me mono-tasking when I need to and no dawdling on things I could linger too long on. Trello helps me keep track of projects, travel, tasks and migrates between devices.
Each month I set goals and projects - six is the max I let myself dig into, which often means saying no or postponing.
Each week, I do my “Sunday Sesh” - about 20 minutes to plan out the week and then each morning and evening I do a five minute check in. I’ll be coaching around these strategies this fall….hint, hint!
What are your thoughts on competition?
I dislike it.
I'm a believer in personal goals and taking small steps to achieve, so it’s not about comparing yourself to others. Honestly, it’s competition that makes us feel envious or clingy and neither of those feelings work well for me.
I especially dislike when I see parents pushing kids to be competitive. If the kids likes it and it’s supportive, then okay, I’ll back off. But when I see or hear from kids they don’t like it and the parents persist, it makes me cranky.
And parents who compete against each other over how great their kids are just make me sad. All of our kids have value and are lovable, gifted whole in their own ways, and it always disheartens me to hear parents talking down about other’s kids or their own.
Favorite family recipe you would like to share?
My husband’s family has a secret crepe recipe, but I can’t share that, heck, I don’t even have it because I am not related by blood.
My current favorites include this insane Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie.
Favorite travel destination?
Two places we don’t get to enough. Nantucket, where we honeymooned and go to as often as we can, and Steamboat, where our kids learned to ski and we can all totally disconnect, Again, just don’t get there enough, but that’s part of why they are both so special.
Favorite local places to go/eat/play?
Our boat, Happy Gilmore (named after our late Black Lab) or on my paddleboard
Joss or Evelyn’s
Yoga at Blue Lotus
Navy football games and tailgates
My back yard - there’s no water but it’s peaceful and quiet and holds a lot of memories