What I’m learning about raising a child through all of their 'first times.'

The other times will have their own meaning, with different value and depth, but when you meet your first child, it will be that very thing: the first time, never to be replicated again.

She will be impossibly small, and her chin will waver with an accusing uncertainty from the moment they place her warm body into your arms. How can you be my mother? You don’t look like you know what you’re doing.

And this will be true because, of course, you do not have the slightest clue.


You will assess the situation together, this first child and you. As a mother, you will notice the indentations where her knuckles should be, the rolls of fat that circle around her neck, her mottled skin and bald head. Improbably, she will seem insanely beautiful. Terrifyingly fragile.

She will hate the loudness of the room, the brightness of the lights. She will miss her old, wet burrow, with its cramped safe corners and dark shadows. Her furry brow will fold slowly. Then her unseeing eyes will blink up into the near space between the both of you, where you hold her close to your chest. Well, I guess this is it. We will have to make the best of it.

And then she will begin to cry. And you will begin to cry too.

In a day’s time, you will bring your daughter home and grow her up, in all the ways you know.

You will figure out how. She who knew from the beginning you never knew it all will regard you with purpose anyway.

She will do amazing things while you are worrying away the time. While you are cutting away the crusts. She will grow milk teeth and then grown-up ones. Someone named Mrs. Bastien will teach her cursive and make her learn which is the left hand and which is the right. She will save worms from baking on the sidewalk in the sun. She will love the things you hate and hate the things you love, and you will drive each other mad — all before she learns to drive.

Me and my daughter, Annabelle. Photo by Nicole Jankowski.

As her mother, you will do amazing things, too.

You will learn to need less: less sleep, less care, less time. You will give more. You will learn to tell the difference between "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the recorder, but it will hurt. You will not say things you would almost always have said, just to keep the peace. What hard strength there is in the measurement of unsaid words. You will be in a hurry to get to the better times when the times are worn and exhausting. Then you will hold your breath and wish it would all just stop spinning, when you realize how quickly 5 years old became 10 and then 10 years old became 15.

You will cut your own teeth, sharply, on the mothering of this first child. You will do the worst job this first time. But it will be the purest experience, the one that lives forever in your gut. The one that makes you homesick, always, for the time when she did not know anything but you and it was all so very new and unfiltered.

It will be wonderful and terrible, heartbreaking and tumultuous. You will hate it sometimes, and you will love it. You will stand nearby and watch her figure out the balance of things with the eye of someone so simultaneously invested and so incredibly powerless. It will hurt you more than she can know.

Do not tell her how much it hurts.

One day you will be counting her fingers and her toes, and the next, you will see her looking off into some foggy distance and she will be smiling. It will be the first time you realize she is counting the days until she leaves you for her first adventure, all alone.

You have only minutes now, it seems, until she leaves the house for the last time with her bedroom door wide open. There are only fleeting ribbons of days and wispy years until the last time she goes — the time she goes away, when she won’t be coming back again.

For the very first time.

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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."

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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