Tina Shattuck is a force of good, a connector, a woman who supports other women in her life and her work. She runs an organization called Women Hold the Key, which works with women and girls, and those who identify as women, in community to recognize each other and create more community. The keys are meant to be a gift from one woman to another—or an older woman to a younger woman—a talisman by which we can show we are “…committing to women inside and outside of our community, seeking inclusion and equality for all.”
I wear my key everywhere I go.
The mission statement: “Be inclusive, be kind, be supportive, be of service.”
Tina also helps to run Working Mothers (R)evolution, which is about “…empowering mothers and inspiring possibilities through working transitions.”
Seriously, this woman is a force of nature.
She is also—I am lucky enough to say—one of my best friends. She makes me laugh. She supports me. And our conversations are always incredible. That’s why I asked Tina to come over for a physically distance coffee date and let me interview for one of my Porch Talk Profiles.
What is your definition of enough?
As a young person, I thought about how that word applies to me and whether or not I had enough. As part of a unit now, I think about what my family has. How lucky we are to live here on Vashon right now. In reference to the pandemic, I have more than enough.
In general, I think enough is a feeling of gratitude. I’m grateful.
Where do you feel like you learned that definition of enough?
I think age and experience has taught it to me. When I was a younger person, I thought that my personal experience, my family, my home—I must have been one of the worst-treated people. Life seemed so unfair.
Then, you get a little bit of life experience and you realize you had it pretty good.
Being a parent changed my definition of enough. The things you think are your values are upended when you become a parent. If you have the same values after being a parent, then you haven’t grown. How does parenthood not intrinsically change who you are?
[Shauna: well, there are some people for whom becoming a parent doesn’t change their values that much. They still want the fancy house, the new car, the better job.]
To me, that is an absence of something. It is a reaction or a behavior, caused by an unmet need. The work we have to do as people is take a look at our good behaviors and bad behaviors and look at what is beneath them, so we can take a look at unmet needs and change what is not working.
Of course, I didn’t think of it that way until 15 years ago. I didn’t know I was allowed to have needs. They never factored into anything when I was a kid.
My friend Cindy is the one who told me I should take a look at Maslow’s hierarchy. How are your needs being unmet? I looked at it and thought, “Holy shit! This is pretty simple. And it’s transformative.”
It was another woman of color, an immigrant, who taught me to think about my needs and the needs of others.
How do you feel your work helps other women find enough?
My work is to provide a container or space where women get to have what I feel like I didn’t have as a young person. I didn’t feel like I mattered. That wasn’t communicated to me. As a young, fairly insecure person, I did things so I could be seen on the periphery, or seen by the wrong people.
So I hope that my work is to create communities for women so they can be seen for who they are. Our stories matter. Our experience matters. You matter.
Can you tell us about Women Hold the Key?
It was an idea that I had for a long time but it was around my 50th birthday. The morning Christine Blasey-Ford testified in the hearings for Kavanaugh to be put on the Supreme Court—I felt hopeful. I understood her bravery. I felt her integrity. I thought she was being heard.
And then, by the end of the late afternoon, when he testified? Well, by the end of the day I knew nothing was going to change. I felt deflated.
At that point, I realized I needed my own community to circle up. I needed them to know that I felt they mattered. And maybe by doing that, we could make change.
Right now, it is becoming clear to me that we have even more of an imperative to recognize women of color and particularly Black women, to show them that they matter. And make sure they are heard.
Can you tell us about a time when you believed you didn’t have enough? And what caused you to understand that you did?
Let me talk with you about it in terms of not having enough but of not being enough. I still struggle with the idea that I’m just not good enough. That I’m not smart enough. It doesn’t have to do with being pretty. That’s not an option now. I don’t add a lot of value to our culture because I’m not pretty enough. Being in our fifties means we are invisible, in a lot of ways.
Also, the fact I am half Japanese. There were a lot of times when people were not kind. There was still a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment when I was a kid, even in the 60s and 70s.
I don’t have a lot of formal education. I know I’m smart. I’m intuitive. But this culture said that we are only smart if we go to college. Smart people have formal education.
I have never trusted that I am smart. I’m getting there.
The great thing about the internet is that anyone can find any information they need. People have to verify if something is true or not true, rather than having a teacher or parent tell them. And that requires critical thinking.
Having experiences with communities of women is starting to show me that I am enough.
Do you ever look at other women and feel they’re not good enough?
Yes, sometimes I do. But I know now that it happens when I am projecting my own feelings of not being good enough onto them.
[We talked about one of my favorite quotes: “That which irritates about others can teach us about ourselves.”]
That’s what most of us do. We project.
Can I go back to the topic of Alaska? You said you were raised there.
I was raised in Alaska from birth until I was in the third grade. And then I went back for two years of high school, my freshmen and sophomore year were in Alaska, in the Anchorage area. My dad built roads in the interior of Alaska. I think maybe at that point both my sister and I were growing up and maybe he wanted to be close to us. Because he was gone—funnily enough—like my husband, nine months out of the year, building roads in the interior of Alaska.
Were you and your sister the only non-white people there? Were there other Asian kids?
Of course, there were indigenous people. Asian kids? I don’t remember a ton of them. Maybe a few? Maybe a handful.
But I don’t present as Asian to most people What people usually say about me is, “I know you’re not white but I don’t know what you are.” When I lived in Brazil, people thought I was Brazilian. In Alaska, they thought indigenous.
If my sister and I stood next to each other, however, people thought we were Asian.
Your mom was Japanese. How did your mom and dad meet?
My grandfather’s wife, whom he met in the Korean War, was Japanese. She was his third wife, I believe. He was a character. He met his third wife in the Korean War and I don’t know why he met her in Japan. He lied to her and told her he was 25 years younger than he was. I don’t know why she believed him.
My father—I found out just recently, before he died—when he was 14 he left Southern California by himself, took a train to Seattle, then a boat to Alaska by himself. He lived with his mom until he was 17, and then he lived in the interior from the time he was 17 or 18 until he was 28. He lived remotely in a log cabin, in the middle of the 40-mile, which is in the middle of nowhere. He hunted, trapped, and gold mined for a decade. That’s how he lived until he was 28.
That’s wild to me.
When he was 28, he decided he wanted to get married. So he asked my grandfather’s wife if she knew anybody. She set up this meeting between my mom and my dad. He flew to Japan twice, I believe. They were very different people. My mother was a surgeon’s nurse in Japan and she ran the surgery department in a hospital. She was really smart, educated, and driven. And she gave all that up to come to Alaska, which seems odd to me. He didn’t ever tell me why.
My dad just passed away three weeks ago. And a really good friend of his told me after my father’s death that my birth mother was the love of his life. He never talked about her. It was just too painful. So I don’t know a whole lot about her. Miyoko was her name.
She had a brain aneurysm a few days after I was born and then she was in a coma and then she died, when I was 2 weeks old. I never got to meet her. My poor dad got a daughter but lost a wife. My sister was 2 when I was born. So, there’s lots of trauma there. And in some ways, it has formed who we are. But, you know, that’s not unlike a lot of people who have intense trauma.
We all have trauma. We just have different stories.
Did your dad talk about her?
I knew very little. He talked about my mother a little more the last couple of months of his life. He was softer and more open. He told me that for a year or two after she died, he would see her walking in the street, with other people’s faces.
But I never got to know her.
Do you think that is part of the reason that you felt like you were not enough?
Absolutely. I thought for a long time that someone had to die for me to be loved. And my dad couldn’t love me very much because I killed his wife. As a kid, you believe all these things. Come to find out that brain aneurysms have nothing to do with birth trauma. She had cancer when she was pregnant with me—mouth cancer—and she had surgery when she was 6 months pregnant with me. So it was probably all that body trauma that caused it. But no one ever told me that, so I made all these assumptions. I didn’t know that as a kid.
My dad and I were never that close. It might have been too painful for him. But he was 87 years old, so he wasn’t a gentleman who was in touch with his feelings. [Laughs.] In any shape or form. He did the best he could.
But sure, absolutely—losing my mother informed who I was.
Do you think that feeling of not being good enough might shift after his death? Can you feel that?
I think that the gift I have is that I get to see him as a whole person, not just my father. He was really a man who tried to do the best he could. I can separate now what I did and didn’t get.
But it was really difficult for me. When I first had kids, I really wondered if I could love them enough. I had this interesting ability to sometimes detach myself and float above fights and trauma. It’s just a survivor instinct.
[Note: I spent most of my life doing this too.]
The birth of my second son was bigger, emotionally, than the birth of my first child. Because I was my mother’s second child, and she was 35 when she died, two weeks after I was born. And my son is 15. That may be when I woke up.
He was born and lived. But he almost didn’t.
He was 11.3 pounds. He was a really big dude. I had him at home. All signs pointed to everything being okay. But they weren’t. He had a really big head and a really big shoulder and I just couldn’t get him born. So by the time he was born, I was exhausted, in the bathtub, and he fell out of me. He hit his head on the side of the tub and he wasn’t breathing. So he was airlifted to Children’s Hospital. I couldn’t go with him. Nobody could go with him. No room in that helicopter. There was lots of trauma around his birth. I couldn’t go for about 6 hours because I couldn’t even walk. But when I got there, the amount of shit I got for having a home birth? It was pretty incredible. I had to stay there for a whole week. They had CPS come and talk to me.
It took about 4 days for them to realize that he was okay. He had some bruising on his head–they picked that up on a CT scan. But it was superficial. He was fine.
When it was all over, I thought, “He could have not lived. But he lived. And I have now surpassed the age my mother was when she died.” So I think it might have been when he was a few months old that I began to believe that it would all be okay. And I started to change.
I think maybe I had been holding my breath until this happened. And then I could breathe. My brain passed the magic marker. Maybe I had been holding my breath my entire life.
You have been through a lot. And now, you are just starting to both recognize how hard your early life was and distance yourself from it at the same time. Is there anything you would like to share with other women to help them find their own definition of enough?
I think the only thing I can say is that it is so important to have community. It could be your girlfriends who support you, no matter what. It could be your family. It could be an entirely different group of people who have nothing to do with your family. If I had been able to have a bigger support system, I might have been able to come to some of this understanding earlier.
I see some women in their 20s recognizing their power, and having their communities now. And I think, “Man, I wonder what I could have done if I had been able to do that!” But then, it’s good to know that it doesn’t take everyone until they are 50 to figure out, “Oh, I might be worthy!” And there are a ton of women who talk a big game but don’t feel it. If you can feel it a little bit more, that would be good.
I just want women to recognize they are powerful. The more we can support each other, the more we can recognize our own power.
I feel that women, together, as a whole? We are a big part of the change—systemically and globally— and it is going to be on the backs of women. That is a weight. But I really do feel the ability to change structures of power cannot happen any other way but through women.