Happy Mother’s Day!
One Great Beach Mom: Denise Monahan
If you are a mother, you know the value of being regarded as "a great mom". If your children tell you that, it is one of the most gratifying things you will ever hear. If your husband tells you that, you fall in love with him all over again.If your children's teachers, or the parents of their friends, tell you that, you get that rush of pride in your kids and, to one degree or another, in your own self, that trumps anything bad that could have happened that day. But if most of the people you know regard you as such, then chances are, you really are a great mom.
We are fortunate to have many women among us who are known as great moms, and one of them is Denise Monahan, wife of Art Monahan, and mother of their daughters, twelve-year-old Sydney and ten-year-old Riley.
Growing up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island - a small, industrial city that offered very little to Denise and her group of girlfriends, ambitious to get out and experience the world. "We took all these great trips together," Denise says about that time of her life right after high school. "We went scuba diving and sky diving. If you are with the right people at the right age, you can do a lot of cool things together."
On a whim, they all packed up and moved from Pawtucket, which they viewed as a place with no future for them, although Denise had a good job there. "We went to Atlanta. We didn't know anyone." The young and adventurous women saw a vibrant and exciting city in Atlanta.Soon after settling in, Denise talked her way into an entry-level position in a software development company, eventually working her way up to being a software instructor, in spite of the fact that she had no college degree. "I was in the right place at the right time with some fabulous female bosses who wanted me to succeed," she says, characteristically giving credit where credit is due. "I had some of the most incredible female role models who were just so encouraging. They didn't look at the degree, they looked at the potential." Calling it a 'dream job', Denise's responsibilities took her all over the US and Canada, installing new software systems and teaching the employees at client companies how to use them.
In between business trips, Denise and her friends would go out to enjoy the entertainment and cultural offerings of their new homeport. One night in 1996, after a Natalie Merchant/Sting concert, they went out to a reggae bar to cap off the night, and it was there Denise and Art first met. "One of our first dates was the Olympics. We were there when the bomb when off." More like fireworks for this couple, who two years later, tied the knot in Key West at the Audubon Gardens.
"We lived in Auburn, Alabama for a year - landlocked." They soon realized they needed to be on or near the water, bought a trawler and became live-aboards for the next five years in the Florida Panhandle. Art was working in construction, and Denise was still doing her job with the firm in Atlanta. "As long as I could get to an airport, I could keep doing my job. I had the ideal life - I would travel, stay in nice hotels, do the work I love, and then I would come home on the weekends to our boat in Pensacola." After two years and many conversations that started well before their wedding day, Art and Denise embarked upon parenthood when their oldest daughter, Sydney, was born.
The new mom changed jobs within the company so that she could work from home doing course development. "I had worked with women who traveled and who had children at home, and it seemed so heartbreaking for them and their kids. You know, being in a hotel somewhere and making phone calls to say goodnight to their kids. I knew that by the time Art and I were ready to have kids, I would have to be ready to give up traveling."
From Pensacola, the Monahan's moved first to Fort Lauderdale, and then Marathon, all the while still living on the boat. "We loved it so much. You are just so in touch with the natural world; you're a part of it."
But then September 11th happened. "We had always thought we would be self-employed. But after what happened, it felt like the sky was falling, and we decided it might be better to be working for someone else at that time."Denise thinks her discovery that she was expecting their second child added to their desire to make their circumstances somewhat more predictable.
Art set up interviews with construction companies, and one of those interviews brought the Monahan's to Naples.Wanting to continue their live-aboard lifestyle, Art and Denise, with baby Sydney in tow, visited different marinas in the area, which led to a visit to Fort Myers Beach."We knew the minute we arrived here that this is where we wanted to stay. We went to Fernando's (where Snook Bight Marina is now). We loved the atmosphere, the surroundings. The servers at the restaurant couldn't wait to tell us about the town pool, and how great the Beach School was. Their attitude was just so friendly and enthusiastic." They continued to live aboard until after their second daughter, Riley, was born. Not long after, they moved off the boat and into a cozy little home alongside a canal, with a backyard full of flowers and trees, and everywhere, evidence of family life abounds.
Settling herself into a chair facing the water where the family boat gently knocks against the dock, Denise talks about what she calls "a huge component of my motherhood journey" - the town of Fort Myers Beach itself, and all it has to offer. "There are so many things. It's a small community, so everybody knows you. I don't worry so much about my children being at school or at activities without me, because I feel like it's the whole community that's got their eyes on them.And I feel that way about the other kids in town. I know them and I know their parents. I can let them know if I see something I think they would want to know. And the teachers at the school seem to know your children in a personal way that you're not going to get in a larger school." With a nod to the financial ups and downs we have all felt in recent years, Denise says the island can offset those worries. "You can forget it because you have so many opportunities to enjoy what doesn't cost anything," listing the sunset and exploring the local flora and fauna as examples. "I think it's just a fantastic place to raise children."
Denise is a very active and upbeat woman. Her husband is obviously happy. Her children seem to be thriving. It would be easy to assume that Denise has led a very charmed life.And really, almost all the choices she has made, since she set out for Atlanta those years ago, seem to have led to good results and a relatively happy existence. But it hasn't always been a walk in the park. By the age of fifteen, after a very difficult childhood, Denise was living with her grandmother. "She was a strong woman, a single mom, but she had a lot of health problems.She was so sick that I ended up mostly taking care of her." Showing her strong propensity for looking for something positive in any situation, Denise says about those very difficult years in her life, "There is a lot to be said for that experience. I was a teenager, and in that time of life the world is all about you. But if you have to take care of somebody else, I think it is a real gift I don't think a lot of kids get to experience, where it really takes you outside of yourself, to think about somebody else and what they need." It is obvious what lessons Denise took away with her as she looks back on her own life."I think you don't realize that difficulties and challenges you are experiencing could affect you in a good way.It might make you stronger or more sympathetic to others. You just don't know."
Denise says that while they had their problems growing up, she, her brother and her sisters are very close and have always been. "I have incredible siblings. I am the youngest. I have a brother who I am incredibly close to - I just adore him. I have two older sisters, and we're all really close. I am so glad I had my two girls because I just can't imagine not having my sisters. We're all spread out across the country - California, Ohio, Massachusetts and here, and yet we find a way to get together every year."
Without the benefit of a truly happy childhood, many would become resentful or bitter, and often their own children suffer for it to some degree or another. But Denise has turned her life's proverbial lemons into lemonade."I absolutely love being a mom.Of course, when you love something, it's easier to do. But I think a part of what I love about it is that I am getting to do so many things that I wish I had been able to experience, and that's one of the real joys.It's like a second chance."
Asked to talk about how she has incorporated her life's lessons into her parenting style, Denise becomes passionate about trying to strike a balance between nurturing and protecting her kids while at the same time allowing them to experience life for themselves.
"I don't know that I have had that challenge yet. Their problems so far have been relatively small. Yeah, they come home upset over things that may have happened at school.So far, nothing really difficult has come their way. But I don't want them to go through life without challenges, without being hurt.I think it's so important; the instinct is to go in there and take to task whoever has upset them, but I think when they grow up, they are going to have to know how to deal with upsetting situations. Not everybody is nice and I think letting them figure that out is important. You can't just rush in; you've got to let them figure it out, let them fight their battles on their own, get hurt, get frustrated."
When it comes to discipline, Denise credits her husband for being "the
calm, logical one. Let me just say I have a great husband." Both mom and dad seem to take the same approach with the girls, setting a good example for them and asking them questions that cause them to really think about their actions. "I tell the girls, 'If you are wondering if you should be doing something, just picture your dad being there, and if you would be embarrassed having him see you do it, you probably shouldn't be doing it.' That has worked really well. Also, if they come home and tell us what some other kids are allowed to do, if it's not something we agree with, we say 'We don't do that in this house. It's that simple; these are our values; we don't do that.' And they don't seem to question that." Clearly, Denise and Art have really thought through a lot of their approach to parenting.
"Life isn't black and white. It is challenging to talk about the grey areas of life with your children.Everybody has problems, and your ability to deal with them and learn from them is what's important. That's the gift of a hard time. But it's hard, as a mom, to know where to draw the line between being over-protective and being present enough. "
Another thing Denise feels has had a positive impact on her children is that they've never had television at home. "In the last few years, we've gotten Netflix and that's changed things a bit, but the girls aren't exposed to commercials and the commercialism rampant on television. You don't get the garbage. Kids are so easily influenced at a young age, so I think that was a really good decision."
The Monahan's are all avid readers as well. "That's what we do every night to wind down. Art and I are both big readers, and so we hope we have set a good example for the kids. So far, they seem to love to read as much as we do."
When asked if there are things as a mom she wishes she did differently or better, Denise says with no hesitation, "Oh, I am sure there are some things I could do better.But everyone has their own personality."
According to Denise, one of her personal quirks lies in the realm of decibels.
"I'm a yeller - I was raised in a yelling family. And you know what? I think it's okay that I'm a yeller. Sometimes, when the girls are upset about a teacher, a counselor, or another kid, I say to them, 'How would you have handled this person if you weren't already used to my yelling' you know?" Denise relates this with a laugh. Talking about herself this way, and thinking of her daughters' responses to her, reveals an underlying amusement with and understanding of herself."So, yeah, it's okay that I yell sometimes. But there are things I wish I did better. I wish I had more patience. I wish I didn't react as quickly and emotionally to things as I do sometimes."
Although you can see the flotsam and jetsam a family of four causes to drift about the house, the Monahan's home is clean and comfy. When asked how this relative order is achieved, Denise laughs and admits to being "a horrible housekeeper. Art's stuff is neat as a pin, but he's rather tolerant, and he helps with the housework. The girls have chores, but not as much during the school year because I really want them to focus on school. Their room is a disaster, but I'm not going to be one of those mothers who cleans it for them." Forgiving their "disaster", the girls' mom says they work really hard at school. "My take on it is, if they are working hard every day at school, and they want to have some fun at night, well, that's just as important. The room can wait."
With both daughters beginning to spread their wings, Denise finds herself very busy making sure they get as much exposure as possible to what interests them, doing everything her time and budget will permit. "It means giving up a lot of personal time, driving around a lot, changing my plans around. But you know, that's what you do.You don't know what's going to stick, so you have to give them the opportunity to try a lot of different things.Hopefully, they'll find a passion that will stay with them. The majority of my time is spent making sure these things are available to them. I love raising my kids."
A family gives its members the opportunity to learn how to live with others, how to solve disagreements, how to tolerate each other's differences, hopefully balancing that with a lot of love and happy times together. Denise Monahan is consciously working to achieve this balance. She's a great mom.
Happy Mothers Day to all the great moms of Fort Myers Beach!
A previous SP Article (issue #579-March 16, 2012) discussed the Monahan's company Seacoast Cottage Company. Denise talks a bit about this endeavor she and her husband embarked upon and why they are so enthusiastic about it. "There is an architect who created the 'Not So Big' architectural movement. I remember when were living on the boat, we were first introduced to the 'mother' of this school of thought - Sarah Susanka. I remember Art saying, 'See, this is what we've been talking about.' This was during the time when we were building these McMansions, and yet we would come home to our boat and loved it. We feel like the smaller spaces bring a family closer together. We are really optimistic about this trend." Clearly excited about it, Denise adds, "We are going to be featured in the July issue of Southern Living Magazine."