The Fashion Magpie Elizabeth Sites Woman of Substance

Woman of Substance: Elizabeth Sites.

I have featured many strong women across a diverse range of disciplines in this women of substance series, but I have never showcased a woman who has chosen to stay at home with her children — a vocation as important and meaty as any other.  And when I thought about the stay-at-home mother I respect the most, my sister Elizabeth sprang immediately to mind — and not only because she is one of the most dedicated, solicitous, “all-in” mothers I know, but because she embodies, in her every word and gesture, what a true woman of substance is to me: passion, deep concern for others, and intellect.

When Elizabeth was in high school, she wrote a thoughtful, passionate paper that ruffled the feathers of her English teacher.  I seem to recall that it was something along the lines of the treatment of race in Huck Finn, although I could be wrong, and the two wound up in a stand-off: Elizabeth was unwilling to apologize for her views on the book, and the teacher was intent on putting her in her place.  The friction escalated to the point that my parents were called into the school for a conference, and I will never forget my father’s furrowed brow as he told her: “You are absolutely right to stand up for what you believe.  We’ll go to bat for you.”

Elizabeth is bold.  She has conviction.  She is tenacious.  She is unafraid of speaking her mind, of standing up for her beliefs, of accomplishing what she’s set out to accomplish.  She does not waffle: she thinks things through, considers all angles, and then commits fully to her perspective.  I have fought to find the courage to speak up on many occasions, and have resorted to mnemonics and head games to self-improve (I used to force myself to speak within the first ten minutes of any class I was in because if I let too much time transpire, I’d remain silent for its entirety — and I did the same when I joined the workforce and would find myself intimidated by more tenured associates and partners) — but it has always seemed to come easily to Elizabeth.  I don’t know that she knows how many times I have taken a deep breath before entering a meeting or stepping onto a dais or picking up a phone and thought: “C’mon, Jen.  Put on your big girl pants and channel Lizzie.”  With her in mind, the task at hand seems to simplify: “You have a perspective.  You have a right to communicate it.  Go!”

Many of her most deeply held convictions are selfless ones, arising out of her concern for those in need and her rock-solid faith.  When she was in college, she spent a summer caring for orphans in Bolivia.  None of us found this remotely surprising: she is the type of girl who gives the literal shirt off her back to someone in need, who drops everything she is doing and rushes to the aid of a loved one, who petitions various causes to her family and friends, whether it’s saving a lost puppy or helping a classmate in need or promoting a philanthropic undertaking launched by a close friend.  Elizabeth has, for many years, volunteered with the non-profit For a Day Foundation, which ministers to children fighting cancer, and, when she was a schoolteacher to kindergarteners and first graders, taken on the woes and struggles of each of the children in her classes as if they were her own.  When I think about Elizabeth, I think about the way she prioritizes her relationships over all else; of the hours of deep and honest conversations I have had with her, sorting through our innermost convictions in a mode I rarely take on with anyone else; of the many ways in which she has dedicated her entire life to the service of others — those less fortunate than her, the children in her classes, her husband, her siblings, her own children.  She is a woman for others.  

{Elizabeth and her future husband.  I love the way they are looking at each other here.}

{No one I’d rather have standing at my side on my wedding day.}

{Elizabeth standing with one of my other sisters at her engagement party.}

{On her wedding day.}

When we were little and shared a room, Elizabeth and I used to act out the Catholic Mass and devise various games that would afford us the opportunity to dress up as nuns.  And my mom loves to tell a story in which she was tucking us in at night, saying prayers with us, and a six-year-old Elizabeth insisted upon singing her intentions, just as they do at Church: “For-the-children-without-food-in-Af-ri-caaaaaaa” she prayer-sang, and then held up her palm in the Catholic gesture that means: “Please join in with the refrain.”  “Let us pray to the Lord,” she’d sing, loudly, responding to her own call.  My mother looked over at me and I had my fingers in my ears, rolling my eyes.

“Jennifer!” she scolded.

“You don’t understand, Mom,” I replied.  “She does this every night.”   (Don’t let our apparent religiosity deceive you, though — we would also routinely deface books beneath the small glow of our nightlight, drawing poop pellets behind a rabbit or adding devil ears to a little girl.)  But these childhood stories cemented what would become a lifelong special kind of sisterhood between us — a sisterhood in faith.  She is the only person, besides my mother, to whom I will turn in search of a prayerful reply.  If I ask for intercessions, she will say them.  When I need someone to remind me that everything happens according to God’s plan, she’s on speed dial.  Her quiet, steady faith is a source of peace for me: when all else is in motion around us, I know she will sit and pray with me.

{Elizabeth and I on Easter.}

{Elizabeth and my sister in Colorado — where we spent our summers growing up.}

And then there is her incredible intellect: she is deeply curious and introspective and her reactions to the books we occasionally read in our sporadic “sister book club” never cease to startle me.  She picks up on threads I’ve not quite registered, posits interesting provocations, and is unafraid to have real emotional reactions to books.  I remember her once saying that she was “angry” at a book.  Angry!  At a book!  Sometimes I’m so keen on over-intellectualizing things that I forget to take stock of how a book has made me feel.  She was always an incredible student — I believe straight As all the way through graduate school, in fact.  She attended Wake Forest, where she earned a B.A. in Elementary Education, minoring in Spanish and studying abroad during that time in Salamanca, Spain, and then an M.Ed. in Reading Education from the University of Virginia. She is deeply invested in understanding and unpacking theory when it comes to the topics she’s passionate about — whether that’s teaching young children to read, the best approaches to sleep-training your child, or how to best housebreak a dog.  She’s hell-bent on being the best she can be and she takes the time to absorb much of what’s been written on a topic.  Oh — and she’s also low key been writing children’s books for several years now.  (She’s an expert in early childhood literacy — see her top picks for baby books here!)  Let’s just say intellectual curiosity is a large arrow in her quiver.

Rereading this description, there’s an important element missing — and that’s the fact that she could have been the woman who wrote the want ad in Rupert Holmes’ song “Escape”:

“If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
If you´re not into yoga, if you have half a brain…”

Lizzie is an adventure-seeking-dance-like-no-one’s-watching-stay-up-til-three-am-talking-laugh-out-loud-roll-down-the-windows-and-blast-the-music kind of girl.  She’ll start a dance party with you when everyone else is being a boring stick in the mud, suggest a tequila shot, scrawl her friend’s phone number on the back of a receipt for a handsome bartender.  Some of my favorite adventures in this life have been with her at my side, usually doubled over in laughter.

{There are literally dozens of pictures of us like this.  This was at a bonfire party just out of college.}

So to my big-hearted, passionate, bright, tequila-loving, true-blue sissy: I love you, and that’s all there is to it.

Proust Questionnaire.

Your favorite qualities in a woman.

I admire women who have self-direction, purpose, integrity.  Down-to-earth but put-together. Women who create their own inspiration.

Your favorite heroine.

Elizabeth from The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch.  My favorite character, though — and she’s part heroine and part portrait-of-a-woman-I-love-and-to-whom-I-relate, is Emma (from the book by Jane Austen). And my favorite real-life heroine is Lauren Bush Lauren, who started the charitable company FEED and is a poised and passionate role model.

Your main fault.

Taurus stubbornness.

Your greatest strength.

Loyalty and faith in God.

Your idea of happiness.

A long morning walk around Falls Church with my husband, golden retriever, and two boys in our beloved Uppababy Vista stroller.  There’s a small wooded peaceful trail we walk along to get to the farmer’s market… and of course we grab a chai tea latte at Starbucks along the way.  A glass of wine on our front porch with great music on and long real conversations with friends and family is up there too!  And traveling and exploring as well!

Your idea of misery.

Living a shallow life. I am learning that doesn’t mean I need to live a flashy, dramatic life, but just one with ways to make genuine connections with others and reach out your hand to help whenever possible. I think you can be inspired by anything to create great writing as well. Ben Franklin once wrote, “Either write something worth the reading or do something worth the writing.” I hope that at least my future grandchildren will read the children’s books I’ve been writing, even if I never get published!

Currently at the top of your shopping lust list.

Girl mamas can match their daughters so easily, but not so for boy mamas! So I’d love to buy the Lilly Pulitzer Guac and Roll collection including a shift dress for me, shorts for my husband, shorts for my toddler son, and a bowtie for my baby boy

Desert island beauty product.

Water bottles — practical, as you may not find fresh water and can’t survive on saltwater (ha), but I also cannot stay hydrated enough.  Or maybe conditioner for my thick, unruly hair — I like Aussie 3 Minute Miracle.

Last thing you bought.

We are just finishing redecorating our living room. This Magnolia Home coffee table just arrived and I love it almost as much as I love Joanna Gaines!

I feel most empowered wearing…

These days, I am either wearing Paige jeans, a white, black, or striped nursing-friendly shirt, and my favorite ball cap with white Keds or my worn Ariat cowboy boots I got a decade ago in Austin visiting my brother when he lived there. That’s my roll-around-on-the-floor-playing-with-my-two-boys gear.  Or, Paige jeans (again… it’s winter! in summer I live in dresses, though), a bright printed Lilly Pulitzer top (beats the dull grays and browns every other brand seems to survive on during winter) and my favorite DVF flats. That’s my go-to for volunteering-at-my-son’s-Montessori or other around-town-errands. Lastly, my sweet friend Jodie gave me a delicate necklace monogrammed with both my sons’ initials and my own, and I treasure it and wear it often, along with diamond studs my husband bought me, though I tend not to wear much more jewelry than that.

Favorite Magpie post.

The one you were waiting — ready — for baby Emory to be born, walking around the nursery. That to me captured an emotion and moment so perfectly that I never had shared with anyone.  I think many can relate to that — being on the verge of something completely life-changing and meaningful, so personal and raw.  I would fold and unfold and refold all the baby clothes carefully as a loving ritual awaiting both my sons’ arrivals, but the post also touches on the unique position of the parents-to-be specifically awaiting their first child. It’s a beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime feeling. I think I will cry again now.  

Lizzie-Inspired Picks.

Below, a few items that remind me of my sister Lizzie — click on the images to access product details, with the exception of the Chanel tote, which you can only buy in-store.

P.S.  Like Liz, one of my all-time favorite books is by Austen.

P.P.S.  My other sister and brother are pretty cool, too.  Now I just need to share a bit on my littlest sister — possibly the most impressive of us all!

8 Comments

  1. Such a sweet tribute to your sister! I love the love you show for your siblings — it inspires me to do the same for mine in one form or another. xx

    1. Aww – so sweet to hear this. Sibs are the best. Can’t imagine life without them.

  2. I absolutely love how you take the time to praise women in your life who inspire you and who you aspire to emulate in some ways. In so many female relationships, this manifests itself in jealousy and you’ve taken a completely opposite and wonderful approach. Judging by your kind words, I am sure these women feel the same way about you! Your sister seems like a joy…I hope we can all channel our inner Lizzie a bit more!

    1. Oh my gosh, thank you so much for this note! It’s particularly refreshing after reading “The Selection,” and spending time thinking about the portrait of women as competitors there :/ So glad this series resonates with you. Lizzie IS a joy!!! Thank you for reading.

  3. Soooo many comments!!! 1) I want to hug her, 2) you two are GORGEOUS, 3) she sounds like a Jane Austen character come to life!!!!

    In the spirit of your daring loving and giving sister, I’d like to ask you and your readers to consider donating to Help the babies at risk of dying from the chemical warfare in Syria. The images are keeping me up at night.

    But this is what I’m doing: https://preemptivelove.org/syria-attacks/

    1. Hi Bunny — Oh my God, those images were too much. Thanks for sending this link along! I’m sure Liz will love to know that this post inspired you to share this, too. She is a Jane Austen character come to life!!! xo

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