Not to brag, but we’ve been around the speaking block. We’ve spoken at conferences, universities, in the middle of the ocean (on cruise ships), fundraisers, once even in a break room over a Stop & Shop supermarket (You can really catch shoplifters from up there). Despite all our experience, however, there was one very important event missing from our speaking portfolio — a mother’s retreat.
This past weekend, we got to cross that off our speaking bucket list when we headed to Rockford, Illinois to speak at a mother’s weekend retreat for Easter Seals. We won’t lie; when we pulled up to the venue (a retreat center and former convent in a remote area), we were a little concerned.
“We’re staying here for the whole weekend?” Gina cried.
“Crap! I bet they don’t have any WiFi!” cried Patty.
“It’s so quiet. We don’t do quiet! Don’t they realize that we come from a long line of loud people?” whined Gina.
“Yeah, and I’m guessing there’s no hotel bar or Manager’s Reception!” whined Patty.
Bound by contract (and a burning need to visit the ladies room), we did the only thing we could do: we grabbed our bags and texted our children:
“Spending the weekend in a convent. Pray for us!”
But after hearing some of the attendees laughing and talking, we realized we might have been too quick to judge.
“Hey Pat, they’re loud, too!” said Gina.
“Yes, they are. I wonder if they have bad habits like us,” Patty said, tipping back her head to take a gulp of a fake drink.
During our presentation the first evening, it didn’t take long for us to fall in love with them. It may have been the religious statues surrounding us, but never before had we met such an interactive and “spirited” crowd. After Gina shared a very personal ordeal involving: 1) her distraction issues; and 2) walking a leash without a dog on it, one of the attendees had the courage to share her own harrowing story; one that had her driving away from home with her cat on the roof of her car. She didn’t realize it until she saw the cat flying across her windshield. (Fortunately, the cat survived.)
That’s when we knew: We were among our imperfect people (and about 20,000 religious photos and statues).
Lessons in convent living
Despite all the laughs we shared that weekend, we were struck most by the support and love these women and the conference hosts had for each other. Most of the women had been coming to the retreat for years and had formed beautiful connections. They talked about the reasons that drew them there year after year — the friendships, compassion and understanding, and knowledge that they could gather from other mothers living in the trenches. And for one blissful weekend, they were allowed to do something they never really get to do as special needs parents: focus on themselves.
At the end of the weekend, these incredible ladies thanked us profusely for being a part of their group. What they didn’t realize, however, is that we were the ones who were most thankful. They had allowed us into their circle of friendship, listening to our personal stories and battles and trusting us with their own. They also allowed us to laugh in a way we hadn’t done in awhile, especially when they surprised us by taking photos with our book.
Who knew convent life could be so much fun? Had we known sooner, we might have considered venturing into that other aspect of Sisterhood.
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