Kate Kennedy is one Kuel Woman with amazing gifts to offer us all. This Share Your Story is dense with wisdom and insight. Thrilled to share this with all of the Kuel Women out there.
There is power in story telling. There is power in community. There is power in sharing. The more we know about one another; the more we understand; the more powerful we become.
We invite all of the KuelWomen out there to share their stories with us.
This is Kate’s.
KUEL LIFE: What are you pursuing now, after 50, that surprises you or might appear to others as if it’s come out of left field?
KATE: I’m combining my need for justice with my work as a gifted education specialist. My equity training helps me address the opportunity gap that keeps under served and under identified students from having full access to all that our school district has to offer. I specifically work with teachers to better understand non teacher pleasing behaviors that may be a marker of giftedness in learners. It is really interesting and powerful work. Seeing a group of diverse students engage in the highest levels of Socratic discourse? While their teacher supports but does not direct or control? It’s a great thing to witness. Knowing I helped make it happen feels fantastic. And, it makes me hopeful for our future.
KUEL LIFE: What’s a typical day like for you?
KATE: I wake up EARLY. Morning is really my only non scheduled time. I read and respond to emails and drink coffee. 2-3 days a week, I work out with a strength trainer. He makes me lift heavy things. My rule is that I never miss and I never whine.Then I head to school where I mentor new teachers and work as a the lead gifted education specialist for our district. I support 3 high schools, the hospital school at UNC, the alternative high school for students who need a smaller setting and more support, as well as, our head start pre-school. I work to address all sorts of myths around how to best support all learners. I help teachers plan. I model teaching strategies. I co-teach and I mentor.
After school I am an executive function coach. I work individually with students who need a way to address time management, project planning, organization, study skills, writing support and age appropriate self advocacy. I created my after school/weekend business to counterbalance the financial impact of a difficult divorce, single parenting 2 children, and working as an educator in a state that under pays and under supports its teachers. I work REALLY long hours. After tutoring, I either head home or meet a friend for dinner. My partner and I are not married but we’ve been together for 7 years. He has half time custody of his children. I found the stress of combining households to be more than I could navigate so we live in our separate homes. I split my time between his home and mine. I enjoy my time alone and enjoy my time with him. Seems like a win win.
KUEL LIFE: With what do you struggle?
KATE: I struggle to get enough exercise. I struggle with parenting an adult child who left the nest and then returned to live at home. I struggle with working too many hours. I struggle with back fat and foundation undergarments. I struggle with an ex-husband who refuses to co-parent and financially contribute to his children’s care without being toxic and abusive. I struggle with grocery shopping and making healthy meals for myself. I struggle to manage the care and instruction of my 22 year old son who has severe autism and lives in a group home 2 hours away. I struggle to be helpful to my partner and his children while staying in my lane. I struggle with home repair and yard work. I struggle with my love of beautiful high heels and my need to carry around my stuff with me between job sites, coffee shops, and my partner’s house. Some days I feel like I’m a through hiker on the Pacific trail. If I can’t carry it? I can’t have it. And, did I mention, BACK FAT?
KUEL LIFE: How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
KATE: Not great at this I’m afraid. I need social connection to exercise. Working out alone? Nope. I try to remember to be as kind to myself as I am to my friends and students. I break big jobs into small chunks and just keep plugging away. If I get overwhelmed? I ask a friend to talk me through the steps.
KUEL LIFE: What advice would you give fellow women about aging?
KATE: DO WHATEVER YOU WANT! All those rules? Nope. I’ve earned the right to do what I want. To wear what I want. To go where I want. And, I mean EARNED. I don’t ask permission and I don’t ask for approval. You. Do. YOU!
KUEL LIFE: What does vulnerability mean to you? What has the ability to make you vulnerable?
KATE: I tell the truth about the hard stuff and the good stuff. My family has struggled with autism, alcoholism, anxiety, depression, unemployment, divorce. If you look at me you wouldn’t know the back story. To me, being vulnerable means I tell the truth. Not the edited version. Not the people pleasing version I learned to use as a “nice” mid western girl. Not the version I used as a wife and mother who learned to keep quiet to avoid conflict in a 23 year marriage to an untreated alcoholic. I reflect on the ways my behavior and my attitude create my reality. I feel especially vulnerable about asking for help. I mostly just put my head down and grind, grind, grind.
KUEL LIFE: What are three events that helped to shape your life?
KATE: 1. The death of my parents in a car accident when I was 26. They were on their way to my house for dinner. I loved them dearly and they were both killed instantly. I spent a year being so very angry at the universe for the randomness that allowed their death. My beloved uncle finally stepped in and helped me move forward. “Your parents would be SO mad if they could see how bitter and angry you have become. STOP. IT. NOW.! ” And I did. I started to focus on what was good and right in my life and in my world.
2. The diagnosis of my son at age 2 with severe autism. Just a few years after my parents died my son was diagnosed. I made it my job to focus on what was good. What I COULD change. What small successes we could achieve. I was unrelenting. I met a parent who had lost a child to SIDs. He told me that he and his wife eventually made a rule.At any point they could examine all that was hard and sad in their life. They could pick up items from the “bad-shit basket”; OR, they could go to the “good-shit basket” and look at what was happy and joyful and working well. They had a choice. Both baskets were full. What would they choose? I made going to the good-shit basket my religion.
3. My divorce. I decided I deserved to have a partner who would be my advocate and my friend. On my 45th birthday I decided I had done all I could do to stay married. Therapy. Counseling. Al-anon. I learned that there was a world that didn’t have to be so hard. Being alone was a relief. Being in a healthy loving partnership is a joy.
KUEL LIFE: Who influenced you the most in life and why?
KATE: My college professor Nancy Huse. She set the bar very high and was specific and accurate in her praise and criticism. She told me straight up: “You are smart. Use it to do what makes you happy.”
My running group See Jane Run. I learned I could do so much more than I thought. I went from being 100% sedentary to running half marathons. Baby step by baby step. I wasn’t fast but I would NOT quit. I learned that my work ethic was my super power.
My mom. She taught me how to put in the hours. One of our last conversations, before she died, while we were eating lunch she said…. “I wished I told you kids you were great when you were young. I just thought you knew.” I always tell people when I see their greatness.
KUEL LIFE: What is the best advice you’ve been given from another woman?
KATE: See above. TELL PEOPLE YOU LOVE THEM. I turned this into my professional golden rule…. Compliment vertically. Criticize laterally. If someone is getting it right, tell them AND tell their supervisors. Their parent. Their boss. Tell the person who can help them move forward. If you need to give critical feedback, give it DIRECTLY to the person who needs it and give them the chance to get it right. Do not go over his or her head.
KUEL LIFE: What woman inspires you and why?
KATE: Michelle Obama. Owning her own worth when she returned to work after having a baby. She set her price high and her employer said yes. Her ability to stay strong in the face of extreme racism and hateful behavior? Amazing. Her ability to parent when her partner often was away? Strong. And her arms are glorious.
KUEL LIFE: Are you grown-up?
KATE: YES! Shouting YES! Are you kidding? YES!
KUEL LIFE: What do you do for self-care?
KATE: I work out with my trainer. I ask people out for dinner so I don’t get weird and isolated and lonely. I spend time with my partner. I talk with my therapist as needed. I need to get better at meal planning and fitting in a few more workouts.
KUEL LIFE: And last but definitely NOT least: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
KATE: 1.Travel to Scotland/Paris/Italy/England 2. Run the Chicago Marathon 3. Perform in a story slam contest