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The ridiculously terrible mother-daughter camping trip that taught me when to let go.

One woman's Mother's Day tribute to her strong, nonconforming mom.

The ridiculously terrible mother-daughter camping trip that taught me when to let go.
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Mothers Everywhere

I’m not sure if it was my idea to join Girl Scouts or if it was my mother’s.

In September 1998, I was starting fourth grade in a new school, and I was really looking forward to rebranding myself. Small and shy, I had enjoyed origami club at my old school, and I spent my weekends reading "Little House on the Prairie." But faced with a whole new peer group to befriend, I determined that I should be less of a "weirdo."

I quickly picked up that in our new town, playing sports was the quickest route to popularity and a sense of belonging. But given my size and aversion to running, I quickly ruled that out as a viable option. Some of the cool girls were joining Girl Scouts, though, and I loved nature.


Image via iStock.

My mother is an artist and a wholly sophisticated person.

Before my brother and I arrived, she worked in fashion: living in Greenwich Village and flying to Paris and Milan for runway shows. While she raised us, she designed and painted textiles from our home, taking the train into Brooklyn for painting seminars on the weekends.

My mother’s studio in 1996. Photo by the author, used with permission.

I spent most of my early years playing on the floor of her studio, surrounded by art supplies from Pearl Paint (RIP), rummaging through her sketchbooks and fabric swatches.

For my mother, and for me, fitting into our new suburban town did not come naturally.

It seemed like everyone else’s dad worked on Wall Street, and everyone else’s mom drove a Chevy Suburban. The town had three separate soccer leagues: one recreational, one school-run, and one competitive. Later, in my angsty teenage years, I would not be able to imagine why my parents chose to move to such a homogenous, boring place.

Of course, I know now that every single thing my parents did between 1985 and 2010 was for my benefit. My mother saw the good schools and the safe neighborhoods and resigned herself to coexisting with J.Crew-clad peers for the next decade. But at 9 years old, I was determined to fit in — come hell or high water.

The first official Girl Scout trip of the 1998-1999 school year was to Hershey, Pennsylvania.

We were going to visit the amusement park, see how Hershey kisses were made, and most importantly, camp next to an actual river. I had lucked into bunking with three extremely popular girls, and my excitement level was high. If my mom was less enthused about the trip, she didn’t let on, but she was concerned about the weather — there was heavy rain predicted all weekend.


Photo via iStock.

While the three other girls packed their sleeping bags into my mom’s car, she talked to the troop leader about the impending downpour headed our way and got the brush off: We weren’t worried about a little rain! We were Girl Scouts. We would tough it out. Not wanting to be alarmist, my mother decided to go with the flow.

I don’t remember much about the amusement park or how Hershey kisses are made, but I do remember what a lime green Girl Scouts of America tent looks like as it gets washed away in a flash flood.

The campsite “next to a river” turned out to be in a literal river basin. By day two of our trip, it became apparent that the rain was going to be a little more than we’d bargained for. After a soggy lunch on the second day, we returned to find the campsite in very different conditions than when we’d left. The peaceful green river was now muddy and brown, surging, and full of debris.

Photo via iStock.

The water in our camp was knee-high, and as everyone scrambled to move their possessions to higher ground, my mother registered two things: The river was already lapping over the sides of the only bridge out of there and the campsite closest to it was completely underwater.

She made an executive decision: We were done going with the flow; the flow was now a whitewater rapid.

As a tent from the campsite next-door bobbed away downriver, my mom threw me and my backpack into her car and peeled out of the parking lot in her Swedish sports car.

Somewhere in her rearview mirror, a group of blonde women in Hunter boots and North Face fleeces continued “toughing it out.”

They all survived, of course. Apparently camps were assembled in a nearby parking lot, and it amuses me now to imagine what the rest of the trip must’ve looked like. I picture 20 soggy 9-year-olds camping between SUVs, their mothers resolutely singing the Girl Scout smile song over the sounds of a raging river, never conceding defeat.

I spent another four years trying to get mean girls who played sports to like me before I transitioned seamlessly into the aforementioned angsty teenager phase.

But I’m fairly certain that for my mother the charade ended in that very moment, while dragging a 10-year-old and her pink sleeping bag through knee-deep amusement park water.

She was just plain out, and she gave not one thought to the opinions of others in that moment.

It took me another decade or so of growing up to understand the real lesson in my mother's decision during that camping trip.

We’re always taught to never give up — “don’t be a quitter” — but honestly, what does “not giving up” look like in a flash flood?

When you’re slogging it out, giving something your all, don’t you ever stop and think, "Even if I could eventually break through this brick wall with my bare hands, do I really want to spend the next five years clawing at it?"

I suppose it depends on what’s on the other side, but sometimes I really think it takes a stronger person to back up, redirect, and choose a new goal. It’s something my mother does well and something I wish I did better.

These days, when I’m staring at the proverbial brick wall, trying to figure out why it still doesn’t like me, I try to recall the look on my mother’s face as she watched that tent float away downriver.

And I laugh, and remember that sometimes it’s just not worth it.

Pre trick-or-treating 1998, just after realizing that everyone else was going as a Spice Girl. Hand-made costume by my mother, of course.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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