Life Circles: This woman’s work.

March 19, 2016
Lisa Cooper

Lisa Cooper

Life Circles by Stephanie Wagner.


Since my intro article ran last weekend, I have been diligently seeking out women willing to be interviewed. Almost all of them have agreed, and all of them reluctantly. “I don’t really have a story.” Or “I’m just not that interesting….”

Lisa Cooper was no exception.

Lisa and I have known each other for what seems like forever. We go months – sometimes years – without talking, then life conspires to bring us together yet again. She student taught in the classroom next to my office. She was my first child-care provider when I tried (and failed) to go back to work after my daughter was born. Her husband turned out to be the distant family link to the 120-year old farmhouse we bought.

It was only fitting that she be the first in this new journey.

When I met her for coffee earlier this week, she was obviously apprehensive. “ I’m not really sure what exactly I want to talk about” she said, almost immediately. “There are so many things that are my life, but I just don’t know if those are things I can share.”

Getting personal is hard. Getting personal while someone is taking notes is even harder.

So we spent time talking off the record. We started with the usual things women talk about when they gather. We talked about our kids (Lisa and her husband Paul have three daughters), the hard decisions required to balance work and family, the desire to be everything to everyone all the time. The ever-present feeling of never being quite “enough”.

“My job right now feels like it is just to keep things alive!” she joked. “The girls wanted a kitten, and I told them I could not handle keeping one more thing breathing!”

She is responsible for keeping many things breathing these days. In addition to her daughters, she manages a 50-acre hobby farm complete with heirloom sheep, miniature horses, and a couple of cats thrown in for pest control. There is also a neglected garden, 4,000 square feet of house, and a desperate need to bridge the past with the present. Not to mention leading Oaktree Academy, where she and her team are responsible for 160 young children every week.

“I guess I would describe myself as a traditionalist. I feel this responsibility to honor and respect all of those women who came before us, and the incredible, sometimes tragic, sacrifices that they made so that we can have opportunities in the present.”

For Lisa, that means honoring the domestic traditions and roles of women in decades past while still striving to take full advantages of the privileges available to modern women.

“Those women, the ones who came before us – they lived through oppression, some of them spoke out to make changes. They were immigrants and farmers and mothers. I think we owe them in some way. To remember.”

That responsibility comes with a lot of pressure. Lisa was named last year as one of Mason County’s “Future Five” for her role in opening the child care center, filling a need for alternative infant/toddler care, expanded preschool opportunities, and enrichment activities for school age students.  Her hours as the director there are long, and her energy is divided between caring for the young and supporting their parents.

She takes her role of mentor seriously. “I’m mothering at home with my own girls, I’m mentoring and mothering the children in my care at work, and I’m also making sure my staff are happy, fulfilled, and meeting their own growth goals.  Sometimes, it is exhausting. But it is always rewarding.”

Home and the farm help her stay in balance. When she describes her kitchen sink, the stair rail, the 100-year old floorboards, and the hillside where the sheep graze, her face takes on a faraway look.   

I recognize the nostalgia. The yearning for a connection to the earth’s rhythms, the way our souls settle into the rounds of daily household chores. The pull of hearth and home that is as natural to us as breathing.

“Just because their opportunities were limited, doesn’t mean they missed out,” she says of the women who came before us. “We may have questions about the details of their lives, but there is no question that they paved the way for us. Being domestic right alongside having a career is a way to honor their stories.  It says their work was meaningful too.”

Those women weren’t so different than us after all. Their hands washed the dishes, dug the potatoes, and kneaded the bread. Their feet paced the floors with worry and danced with joy. Their voices raised with anger, spirit, song, and pain.

They wanted what we all want. A life that feels relevant, work that is meaningful, and someone to tell their stories to.

Loving, leading, washing the dishes, and keeping things alive.


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