Elise Raimi: International Aid Consultant Turned Mom/Co-Director of ‘Listen To Your Mother Spokane’

Elise and I originally met when we were both participating in The Moms, a panel on local morning show Good Day Spokane (hosted by Kjerstin Bell, who’s joined us before here on The Woodsy). While the panel was a great way to get to know other moms in the area, I was especially curious about a project Elise mentioned a few times, Listen To Your Mother (LTYM). The annual show”features live readings by local writers on the beauty, the beast, and the barely-rested of motherhood, in staged community shows celebrating Mother’s Day,” as their national organization’s website explains. Thankfully, Elise wasn’t too busy with preparation for this year’s show to tell us more about herself,  her background, and her experiences with the show. -Dena

LTYM Spokane is at 7pm this Sunday, May 14 at the Bing Crosby Theater in Spokane.

Name: Elise Dora Raimi

Where did you grow up: Durham, NC

Where do you live now: Spokane, WA

What do you consider home (if not the above)?: Well, the only place I would leave Spokane for is Durham, so both!

Where can others find you/your work online?:

Favorite thing about the PNW?: That first true day of spring where everyone is out jogging, walking the dogs,  and visiting with neighbors they haven’t seen since it first snowed six months ago. I love the feeling of hope and community and warmth that day brings.

How do you take your coffee?: This is embarrassing. Coffee with half and half and 3-4 Splendas, depending on the size of the cup. Gross, I know, but I don’t like to actually taste the coffee.

How do you like to keep notes?: I have a paper calendar with pages in the back where I write ideas, lists, to dos, et al.

Favorite season in the PNW?: Spring!

When you’re out, how do you protect yourself from the rain?: I used to use an umbrella but was told by a friend who was born here that umbrellas are for “East Coast Wimps”, so I caved to her peer pressure and now have a North Face rain coat (which I love because it has a hood and comes down below my butt) and a pair of purple rain boots which make me happy.

What is your career path?: My studies throughout undergrad (Tufts University) and graduate (Harvard University) school were focused on international health and humanitarian aid. I spent two years working in Nepal starting in 1999, where I ran a program that brought doctors into the country to staff health clinics in rural areas. I absolutely loved living there and learning the language and the culture. When I finally returned to the States, I spent a year working for a pro-immigration lobbying and policy group in Washington DC. By the end of my time with them, I knew that my heart was in international aid work. I studied International Public Health in grad school, graduated in 2004 and married Jeremy that summer. He had just finished his medical training and was obliged to work for the public health service for three years to repay his scholarship. So, I moved between a job in Phoenix, where he was, and work in East and West Africa for two years. In early 2005 I got pregnant with our child–in fact, I had my first ultrasound in Monrovia, Liberia! Jeremy was moved from Phoenix to Spokane in 2005. We arrived in September, and I gave birth in December with the naïve plan that I would hang out with the baby for a few months and then return to my life as an international aid consultant. I never returned to traveling for work. I tried to hold on to my career for awhile by doing report writing and research on a consulting basis but the work didn’t feed my soul the way that traveling did, and I became a stay-at-home parent.

What other passions do you have?: I have been shocked at the things I have found satisfaction in since becoming a stay-at-home parent. I co-direct a production called Listen To Your Mother  (LTYM) every year. The process of putting the show together, meeting new people, and getting to hear their stories is amazing. My co-producer Stacey Conner calls it a “shortcut to connection.” We meet people, and within five minutes we’re learning things about them they have never told anyone; it is an honor. Facilitating LTYM and watching as it creates connection and community is a passion and a privilege.
Tell us about how you and your partner decided to come together and produce LTYM Spokane?: I joke that I made Stacey be my friend. I was new to Spokane, new to motherhood and new to staying at home. I would take long walks with the stroller and would see Stacey doing the same, except she had two kids for my one and one of them, born in Haiti, had dark skin. We had started the process of adopting our daughter from Ethiopia so I was on the lookout for multiracial families and always made it a point to walk by Stacey’s house, which was a few blocks from mine, until one day I “just happened” to be walking by while she was in the front yard. I said hi and we made plans to go on a walk together. We walked most days and discovered we had lots in common; we both grew up on the East Coast with Jewish dads who couldn’t change a light bulb to save their lives. We both had multiracial families. We both had kind, loving, sarcastic husbands who weren’t the most social beings. We were both new to stay-at-home parenting, and we had both recently started blogging. This was right as the “mommy blogging” craze was coming about, and Stacey was going to a conference (Blog Her) for women bloggers. There she hooked up with Ann Imig, the founder of LTYM, and asked Ann if Spokane could be a part of the show’s expansion. When Stacey asked me to co-produce with her, I jumped at the chance. That was seven years ago, and we are still going strong.

Tell us about producing that first show, compared to this current one. What’s the journey been like, what have you learned?: What a difference seven years makes! We knew nothing for the first show. We had no sponsors, no experience directing or editing or advertising or marketing. Our first show was at the Lair Auditorium at Spokane Community College. The janitor was working the lights. Our friends were taking tickets (actually, they still do that!) and we were a bundle of nerves. Now we have reliable sponsors, we have a tech crew and a standing Mother’s Day reservation at the Bing Crosby Theater. We have notes from< years past and an amazing alumni network that continues to be our biggest supporters. We have learned to jump without being absolutely positive (as out Type-A personalities would prefer) that there is a net, and it has been amazing.

What has surprised you most about working on the show over the years?: How important and difficult it is to hold in your head and heart that everyone is struggling with something about which I know nothing. On audition day, we see 40-50 people. Every one of those people tells us a story and within that story (even the funny ones) is a struggle that weighs on their being. This knowledge, when I can hold on to it, allows me to be a kinder, more generous and forgiving mom, partner, friend and citizen.

How do your own experiences as a mother affects your work on the show?: At our first show my daughter was 1, and I read a very raw essay about how when we adopted her I was scared that I wouldn’t love her. It was what I was feeling back then, and now it is on the internet for all time, and I wish it wasn’t. What was my story then is my daughter’s story now. When my kids were little, I didn’t know, like, truly know, that they would be their own people some day. Watching them grow and take ownership of their lives and their stories has greatly curbed what I feel comfortable writing and sharing about motherhood.

How has LTYM shaped your view of our region and/or the women here?: Truth: I moved to Spokane as a snarky Boston transplant who flipped people off in traffic, honked if you didn’t get a move on the second the light turned green, and made fun of stay-at-home moms who had no greater worry (in my mind) but when they would fit in a workout. Through LTYM, and through raising my kids here I have met SO MANY women whose paths are not what I would have assumed, whose choices are thoughtful and powerful, whose love for their families and communities has the power to shape and change our world. I love Spokane. I love that I have friends here who are on the opposite side of the spectrum from me politically who I can have conversations with about our disagreements with. I love our ridiculous landmarks. Dick’s Burgers always makes me laugh, and we call the garbage goat the “Loud Moose” because that’s what my son first named it. I love that my kids walk two blocks to school down a tree lined street and we can afford to live on one income and my husband’s office is a five-minute drive. I know that this is not true for all of Spokane and that even within the city we as a family are very privileged…I try to appreciate that and give back to the community that I feel so lucky to be a part of.

Is there anything in particular about this year’s show that’s standing out to you?: We have an amazing story this year about a woman who had donated one of her frozen embryos in a “open adoption” type of relationship. Hearing about her experience having her and her husband’s biological child born to an other woman is a first for us, and is such a complex, fascinating story.

What do you love talking about at parties?: OMG, I HATE parties! I am such a party pooper. I just tried desperately (and failed) to talk my dear friends and husband OUT of having a 40th birthday party for me, since that’s how much I don’t enjoy them. I am an introvert; Crowded spaces stress me out, chit chat stresses me out, what to wear stresses me out. A night with a few good friends and some wine and cocktails where we talk about everything under the sun, from politics to kids to how being in our 40s is ravaging out bodies, and we laugh and laugh about stupid internet videos and embarrassing things we have done recently…that is my idea of a good night.

What are people surprised to learn about you?: That I went to Harvard–apparently I’m smarter than I come off!

What hidden talents do you have?: I am an accomplished pianist who won awards in high school and college. I also used to sing back up in a band called Daddy-Os Fishbowl. I am super good at stage diving and crowd surfing.

What’s your most ambitious career goal?: To get a position in local government. I recently applied to be on the school board and made it to the final round but got rejected. While I was sad not to make the cut, I realized how much I want to be a part of making our community a better place for everyone who lives here.

Any big “wish list” or “bucket list” items that you’re looking forward to accomplishing?: We took our kids to Ethiopia (where my daughter was born) last summer. It as an amazing experience to experience the country with the kids, to meet our daughter’s birth family and to travel in a country like Ethiopia with my family. We would like to go back to Ethiopia in a few years and I am scheming to tag on a trip to Namibia and see the Skeleton Coast, a place I have wanted to see since my junior year of college.