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The Austin moms who made us think since last Mother’s Day

Nicole Villalpando

As the Raising Austin columnist, I get to share the stories of some pretty incredible moms.

Moms who are creatively changing Austin. Moms who have nerves of steel when it comes to supporting their kids through difficult struggles. Moms who are dealing with their own struggles. Moms who have made us laugh, made us think. Moms who are just real.

Today, I share some of my favorite Austin mom stories from the past year. Click their names to read their stories again.

Andra Liemandt brought kindness to kids when she started  The Kindness Campaign. The in-school curriculum teaches kids how to be kind from a young age with the hope that a generation of kind kids will prevent bullying and lessen the amount of teen suicide.

“At first, I really wanted to know how to connect with my own kids,” she says. “I was just doing this because I was scared.”

The Kindness Campaign turned into the play, “Las Aventuras de Enoughie (The Adventures of Enoughie)” from Zach Theatre, Teatro Vivo and Glass Half Full Theatre this January.

Liemandt also started The Mrs. band. They sing songs to uplift women, sometimes with humor, always with a strong dose of reality. “We’re writing songs with purpose,” she says. Their biggest hit, “Enough,” reiterates the theme that we all are enough.

Michelle Houp  started  Prep U, a line of personal care products for young boys.

She found herself saying to sons her Carson and Colton when they got in the car: “Do not take your shoes off any more because I’m going to vomit.”

That stench extended to house, too. “I can’t get rid of the smell,” she says. “We live in a frat house. There is something funky happening.”

Now, that boy stink doesn’t have to be a part of parenting boys.

Maruxa Murphy  also has the entrepreneurial heart. She started Austin Moms’ Network in 2014 to connect moms together through a Facebook group with in-person events. Now she’s explored another passion of hers — coffee — as the owner of  Perky Perky Coffee.

Coffee became even more important to her when she became a mom. She remembers once when she had just had a baby and a well-meaning friend brought her a cup of 7-Eleven coffee. She wanted to cry. “All I wanted was a good cup of coffee,” she says.

Catia Hernandez Holm,  author of “The Courage to Become: Stories of Hope for Navigating Love, Marriage and Motherhood,” says, “I wanted other women to know they weren’t alone.”

She writes with honesty about the struggle to become pregnant, the struggle of her first pregnancy and the first year of motherhood.

Nalie Lee-Wen takes the lessons she learned as a refugee and applies them to her business as the founder of a real estate investment firm and her role as mother.

“Wherever my parents were from stayed with us for a very long time,” she says of her journey from refugee camp along the border of Laos and Thailand to settling in Utah, then California, then Seattle and finally Austin.

The PPA Group has five core values: We care, we are exceptional, we are teachable, we speak to inspire, we are bold.

That boldness means that she does things like take her children out of their comfortable life to have them struggle at a horticulture camp for the summer.

“You’re not going to be the same person five years from now,” she says. “No matter what career you will go into, you will know who you are.”

Dr. Andrea Campaigne’s profession is to help women through their pregnancy, labor and delivery and beyond. The obstetrician gynecologist had her own health crisis after giving birth to her daughter. She began to hemorrhage and had to trust in her medical team to get her through.

“The work that I do takes healthy woman to the brink on a really difficult day,” she says. “You can recover from it, but it’s a big day.”

She reminds us that even though we think we can control everything in our lives, even the doctor can’t avoid a medical crisis.

Tiffany Wilson and Monica Rul are the parents of Baxter Wilson-Rul, a 13-year-old with autism who became verbal using a letter board. He writes about the time when a school didn’t believe he had anything to say, but his moms knew differently.

They knew that Baxter was intelligent if they could just figure a way to connect to his thoughts.

“He sees things we don’t understand about,” Wilson says.

They kept going until they found the right person to teach Baxter how to use a letter board and the right school environment for him.

He wants everyone to know: “I can do everything.”

Dr. Nilda Garcia is leading the way when it comes to how children in trauma are treated. She’s changed some of the protocols, in fact. The chief surgeon at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas has done a lot in her career, but she’s still Mom at home.

Motherhood has made her a better doctor in many ways because she’s been on the other side of the gurney. She makes it a point to include both parent and child in their care. “It makes them feel part of it,” she says. “It makes them feel good.”

Shamsah Momin reminds us all that moms need to take care of themselves. She had an aneurysm Labor Day weekend 2016. One possible cause was not controlling her blood pressure.

Her family had to help her for a while, doing everyday things like taking her daughter to school and other activities. “I really became dependent,” she says. “I had always been supermom.”

Jeannie Ralston and Lori Seekatz are proof that even after the kids leave home, you still have an identity as a woman, as a mom. They started N extTribe online magazine for women of a certain age after they couldn’t find a magazine that spoke to them. Their tagline is “Age Boldly” and that’s what they plan to do and to encourage other women to do.

The magazine is like having a group of friends tell you the truth about what life post-kids is all about. “We want it to sound the way women really do talk to each other,” Ralston says.

When Kristin Schell moved a brightly painted picnic table into her front yard, she didn’t realize how much it would change her life. Now, hundreds of these tables are in front yards across the world. Contributed by Kasandra Keys

Kristin Schell knows the power of connection. She started the Turquoise Table, which has become a movement and is now a book. From putting out her own turquoise-colored picnic table in her front yard in 2013 to tables popping up all over the country, Schell found an easy way for people to find that connection we all crave.

Paint a table turquoise, put it in the front yard, sit at it and see who comes by to chat. “When I was in it, I didn’t fully see it,” she says of the growth.

“It just unfolded,” she says. “I can’t believe it myself.”

Sara Hogan  lost her daughter Mary Margaret to Turner syndrome. After Mary Margaret was stillborn, Sara and her husband Don wanted to spend as much time with their daughter before they had to leave the hospital. It wasn’t possible because of the natural deterioration of a body.

“It was hard for me to hear that by holding my daughter that I was accelerating the process,” Hogan says. “It was hard for the nurses to tell a family going through it. They are going through a horrible experience.”

They later learned about CuddleCots, a bassinet that is refrigerated for just this purpose. They have donated six CuddleCots and have a goal to put one in every hospital in Austin.

Mindy Croom and Lucia Facund0 shared their wisdom on their retirement as school counselors at McCallum High School last year. Between them they had 70 years of experience.

“We have had wonderful kids all of my years,” Croom says.

Often, kids didn’t change, but their problems seemed to grow and the pressure on them sure did.

Croom and Facundo had great wisdom to share. Gems like:

Drink in the beauty. Take time to notice the beauty and details around you.

Accept the gift of education. Be like the refugee students who come to school for the first time: Be in awe of all the opportunities that are in front of you.

Life is a journey, not a race. If you make a mistake, all is not lost.

Confession: Croom has been seen at local high schools filling in for counselors on leave. She just can’t get enough.

Khris Ford is one of those angels who figures out how to make something wonderful out of a tragedy. A decade ago she started what is now Austin Center for Grief & Loss. She was inspired by her own struggle after the death of her son Stephen in a car accident in 1989.

“Life happens,” she says. “That’s part of my philosophy. It’s not what was before. You have a choice. You can linger on death or you can let it be your teacher.”

The center offers one-on-one counseling and support groups for people of all ages who are dealing with the loss of a loved one.

“I kind of have to shake my head every time I’m here,” she says. “It’s beyond what I dreamed, and I still have dreams of where it will go.”

Marty Barnes and her husband Tim, also know what it’s like to lose a child. Their daughter Casey, died just before her 10th birthday from multiple diagnoses because of a traumatic birth injury. They started Casey’s Circle to give kids who are medically fragile or have special needs normal events like birthday and Christmas parties, movie outings and more.

The goal of Casey’s Circle is to “focus on their kids being kids first and not patients,” she says. “It’s our goal to help families make sure that they are creating the memories and having the childhood that the kids deserve. We did that as best as we could with Casey, and I think it’s good to try to give back and help other families do that.”

Jen Hatmaker  is as real as it gets. The author, social media presence isn’t putting up a public front in anything she does. Her newest book “Of Mess and Moxie” is all about embracing the mess that is life and having the moxie to get through it.

“The thing about real life is that if you don’t know already that life is messy and hard and full of failure and loss and disappointment, then you need to live longer,” she says. “That’s just true.”

The book is written after a particularly hard time in her life. “Everything felt like it was imploding all at once. … We couldn’t catch our breath from one thing, then the next domino hit,” she says. “I remember thinking, ‘We can’t recover from this. Even if we move on, we can’t undo what had happened.’”

And yet, somehow, we pick ourselves up again. “Even in the very worst things,” she says, “even then, the sun will rise again.”