Episode 59: Visiting with Jennifer Hays Schottland of Bloomington-Normal, IL and her story, “Level Up”
SSPP ep 59 JENNIFER HAYS SCHOTTLAND “Level Up”
Our hosts, Kerry and Jenette, welcome back Jennifer Hays Schottland to learn why she came back to tell her story “Level Up” in Bloomington 2022, after first appearing on stage in Champaign in 2014. .
ANNOUNCER 00:00 Raising women’s voices one story at a time. Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast
[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]
JENETTE JURCZYK 00:28 I have to tell you, season six of The She Said Project Podcast has been so much fun. I don’t know if it’s because we’re live in the studio, because we have so many more amazing stories to share, or maybe it’s just because I love spending time with my co-host, Kerry Rossow!
KERRY ROSSOW 00:45 No better way to spend my day, yucking it up with you.
JENETTE 00:47 Aww, thanks, Kerry. This is Jenette Jurczyk, your host. Thanks for joining us today on The She Said Project Podcast. What are we gonna talk about today?
KERRY 00:55 Oh my goodness, all the things! Our guest today, what I love about her is she can make you laugh, she can make you cry. She is the real deal. And she’s the whole deal. This doesn’t sound quite complimentary, as complimentary as I mean it, but she’s a big old package. That doesn’t sound quite right. But ‘she’s amazing’ is what that translates to!
JENETTE 01:19 Jennifer, if you’re with us, I don’t know if you’re offended and hung up or if you’re still hanging on. But why don’t you just join the conversation? We’re, of course, talking about Jennifer Hays Schottland, who appeared on stage in That’s What She Said not once, but twice. And there’s a really unique story to her relationship with The She Said Project. Hi, Jen, how are you today?
JEN HAYS SCHOTTLAND 01:41 I’m good. Thank you. I take that as a huge compliment.
KERRY 01:45 Oh, good. Oh, good. [Kerry and Jen laugh] Okay, so you have to tell the story of how we wound up getting you on stage twice.
JEN 01:53 I’m not sure how I got on the stage the first time. My sister was asked to be on stage, and she couldn’t—she physically couldn’t—so you all asked me to do it for her. So I told my sister’s story in Champaign in 2014. Then you asked me to come to Bloomington, because, well, because I live in Bloomington, to tell my story.
JENETTE 02:15 There was this moment when the light bulbs went off. You did share your sister’s story to represent her in the Champaign cast because she lived here.
JEN 02:23 Hmm-mmm.
JENETTE 02:23 And then a couple years later, fast forward, we had launched in Bloomington, we had a couple of shows and Bloomington, we were checking in with you to be on the podcast and come back into the She Said fold, and all of a sudden there was this, this moment where the lightbulb went off. Wait. Jennifer never got to tell her own story. And she’s in Bloomington and we have a show in Bloomington. Ding. Ding. Ding. It was so much fun to welcome you back to join a brand new cast and to have you be in your own community, sharing your story on stage in That’s What She Said, just very recently, in September of 2022. Not that long ago.
JEN 02:58 No, no, it is amazing. Both of them were amazing.
KERRY 03:03 And I’m sure for different reasons. Because we typically have a rule, you can only tell your story. You can’t tell anyone else’s story. And it was such a special circumstance when Trisha was too sick to do her own. And there was something special about her sister carrying that torch and telling it for her. So we adored you from meeting you during that experience. But like Jenette said, we wanted to hear your story and to loop back and hear from you and where you were and boy, you, you nailed it.
JEN 03:33 Thank you. Thank you.
KERRY 03:35 Who knew you were so funny?
JEN 03:38 I don’t know.
KERRY 03:40 [laughing]
JEN 03:41 I don’t know - it was a great audience.
JENETTE 03:43 It was, but from the very first line that came in, hold for applause, please. And then hold some more. It was magical.
JEN 03:49 It was magical. It knocked me off my feet.
JENETTE 03:53 Awww!
JEN 03:53 It did.
KERRY 03:54 It was great. Well, what was the response you got? I’ve been dying to know, especially from your children.
JEN 03:58 The daughter that I mentioned, she ran up to me and said, “I’m so sorry, Mom.”
KERRY 04:05 Awwww!
JEN 04:06 Gave me a big hug. I told her I said, “I told you that this is what I was going to talk about.”
JENETTE 04:13 It’s one thing to to know it I think it’s another thing to be sitting in the audience and having your mother share how her child’s words affected her. It was such a simple moment but I think it makes all moms have that moment that thought, and I don’t want to give it away because we’re going to play your story, but you definitely took an opportunity to reflect on the evolving relationship between you and your children and then you related it to something hilarious like a video game.
So let’s just, let’s just jump right in. Let’s play for our listeners the story that Jen Hays Schottland shared on stage in September 2022 That’s What She Said, Bloomington-Normal Illinois. Here is her performance called, “Level Up.”
(Originally recorded on September 25, 2022 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts in Bloomington, Illinois.)
JEN HAYS SCHOTTLAND 04:59
A few weeks ago, my daughter and I, my 14 year old daughter and I, went to the grocery store. While she’s getting a cart, I’m standing in front of the avocados, reading the sign: Buy three avocados for $5. I hate when stores use advanced math. [laughter]
05:30 Apparently, I was looking kind of funny standing there talking to myself. As my daughter approaches with the cart, laughing. She shakes her head at me and says, “You look like an NPC.”
05:45 A what? An MCP?
05:50 “Nooo, mom, an NPC, a Non Player Character, like in video games.”
05:59 You know what I’m talking about… For those of you that don’t know, these are the bystanders and extras that mill about in the background bumping into walls, getting run over, or shot. [laughing] Talking to themselves oftentimes getting in the way of the real life players called Player Characters or PCs.
06:28 NPC. Non Player Character. Yes, thank you, dear child of mine. For naming and validating these feelings of irrelevance [laughter] I’ve been having these past couple of years as a mother of two adolescents. Obsolete, annoying, exasperating. A ‘Boomer.’ it is a complete 180 from the constant neediness of earlier childhood. I don’t miss that. But I always thought I was gonna be one of the cool moms. (Yeah, I’m not the only one.) Well, something magical happens when you spend 12-13 years raising little homosapiens thrown in with a sprinkle of perimenopause that transforms some of us into obnoxious antiquated caricatures. (Not unlike our own parents.) Not you mom and dad. [laughing] I know it’s the way it’s supposed to be so kids are ready and excited to move out and we are too! [laughing]
08:01 Great plan, God. Thanks.
08:05 That revelation a few weeks ago got me thinking about NPC versus PC and single player games versus multiplayer games. For most video games, if there even is a multiplayer option, it tends to be rather limited. All the coolest parts, like going through levels, unlocking boards and items and earning achievements, mostly happens when you’re in single player mode. Sure, it’s fun to play a video game with a partner. But you have to be able to play by yourself. I never got better at a game just following someone else around who shoots all the bad guys while I’m still trying to navigate the 50 buttons on the controller. I think life is a lot like that. At least mine has been. I learned a while ago that I should not depend on someone else for my own happiness. Now I’m not saying that we don’t need those other people in our lives, but I’ve learned that even the most integral folks in anyone’s life cannot be forever constants.
09:10 12 years ago, my sister, Tricia (Hays Evans), was diagnosed with ALS. She had just turned 40. ALS is a progressive disease that affects the nerve cells that control our voluntary muscles. Within 13 months, Tricia was confined to a wheelchair and beginning to lose the use of her hands, arms and diaphragm. She decided to be put on a ventilator because she was not ready to die.
09:40 My family and I moved back down to Central Illinois to be closer and to help with the caretaking. It was a lot of work. I did things I never thought I would do. Like shoving a tube down her tracheostomy to section up mucus from her lungs, emptying her catheter bag. But honestly, none of that was the hard stuff.
10:06 Communication was difficult. Not long after she couldn’t speak, or even smile. She would only move her eyes: to the right for yes to the left for no. We used the alphabet board so she could spell out her thoughts. And while Tricia was very dependent on us for her physical needs, she relied on herself and her faith to get her through the mental challenges, and a little Ativan. [laughter]
10:40 Grace and dignity were the words most frequently used to describe my sister at that time. Using that damn spellboard Tricia cultivated amazing friendships with her caretakers, even new ones who had never heard her speak or seen her beautiful smile. They fell in love with her.
11:01 Grace and dignity. Let me tell you something. Before she was sick, those are not exactly words, I would have used to describe my sister. [laughter] We were not very close growing up, even though we were only three years apart. She was the ‘perfect’ bossy big sister. And I was the never perfect, annoying little sister. Her favorite thing to say to me was, “Don’t cry, baby.”
11:33 But as we traveled through her ALS journey together, we grew much, much closer. Now I had this sister who was dying, that I couldn’t imagine my life without. That was the really hard part.
11:49 And then we did lose her. After four years of endless limitations and struggles, Tricia was ready to let go. She had been losing control of her eyes and she didn’t want to get locked in, completely unable to communicate. She got excited to go to heaven. She trusted that her family would be okay. She, she never wanted to give up. her because of her peace and joy, was ready to let go.
12:21 My sister let her difficult circumstance make her a better person. She learned that by focusing her attention on others, her vanity and self consciousness melted away. She learned that gratitude brings unbelievable joy and hope. Telling her story has helped me to become a better person. And I’ve learned that day resilient and self reliant means knowing I can survive and thrive through anything. Especially when I’m being an active Player Character in my own life.
13:01 The timing of her death coincided with my lifelong plan to go back to college and both of my kids were in school full time. I’m really grateful I already had that plan because it helped keep me from sitting at home all day wallowing in my grief. I returned to my alma mater, ISU [whoops and applause] and I got my master’s degree in social work. [applause continues] I’m not gonna lie, it was hard. My comfort zones were obliterated. My paradigms are shifted, not to mention the countless all nighters writing papers, which is a lot harder when you’re in your 40s. I had my people supporting me in the background, but it would have been super easy to quit at any time. I’m so glad I didn’t though because I love my new profession. And I’m pretty darn proud of myself for what I have accomplished and what I will accomplish.
14:05 Back… [applause] Back to my two teenagers and being NPCs in their lives. Well. I’m growing okay with that. Life is a single player game. Now I do believe in a great and benevolent creator and designer who passes me cheat codes. And with all of my privilege, He definitely has my life in easy mode most of the time. But He knows I don’t learn and grow in easy mode. So He allows my difficulty level to get bumped up to hard periodically, and that’s okay. I do not want to be an NPC in my own life. [applause]
KERRY 15:05 Okay, hello. I think everyone, every mom on the planet was nodding their head. That was amazing.
JEN 15:13 Thank you. It’s something I’ve been struggling with for the past couple of years. Where do I fit in? And why do I keep feeling like, I don’t know, it’s a crappy feeling.
JENETTE 15:24 But you gave it a name you, you put words to that experience. For me, that was an eye opening moment because you gave it a name. So I’m kind of at the cusp of going through that; my oldest is 10 years old. And when you said that your daughter validated this feeling of, I think the word you used was irrelevance, I like fell out of my chairs, like, oh, no, that’s, I’ve gotten a taste of that. And think I’m in for some more of that. And yet, then I still have these moments where she’s snuggly, mommy’s girl, wants to be near me, wants to be holding my hand or, or snuggling with me on the couch. And I’m like, embrace it. I’m like, hold on, hold on, don’t let go. Don’t let go. I’m not ready. You really called it for what it is. Moms watch out!
KERRY 16:10 I think it… what Jenette said, it gave word, it gave name to what so many of us are experiencing and you know, we spend all of these years, making sure the lunches are packed and papers are signed and all of the things—check, check, check. And those things go unnoticed. It’s a slippery slope. I remember shouting one night, everybody was having fun. And I kept trying to include, you know, my very funny humor. And it was getting dismissed. And I remember finally yelling, “I’M FUNNY!” Oh, good one mom. Nothing says funny like shouting how funny you are. That really drives it home. But when you were talking, I thought that’s it, you start to feel like, oh my gosh, is anybody seeing me or just the permission slip signer?
JEN 16:51 Right. Right.
KERRY 16:53 What was the feedback you got from other moms or people you knew?
JEN 16:55 They feel the same way. For sure. And how validating it was for them to hear—not only that, like, like you said, Jenette, to have the words for it, but to know that it’s not just them. But other moms feel that way too.
JENETTE 17:12 But you also shared how it is what it’s supposed to be. It’s part of that master plan. And I think you said if it doesn’t happen this way, then you risk failure to launch and then the children don’t grow up and spread their wings and, and fly out of the coop.
JEN 17:30 Right. I mean, that’s our job is to teach our kids to be self reliant. See, I realized if I wasn’t becoming an NPC in her life, then, you know, that’d be a hell of a lot laundry for me for the rest of my life and I don’t want that.
JENETTE 17:44 So being an NPC is not so bad.
JEN 17:47 No, no. At the right times. Right.
KERRY 17:50 And let’s just for a minute talk about, you looked freaking amazing. That is not like, like you were not looking like an irrelevant soccer mom. You rocked that stage. Did you feel nervous? Please tell me like you secretly felt nervous because you just looked like…
JEN 18:05 I was so nervous.
KERRY 18:06 Oh my gosh, really?
JEN 18:07 Yes. I was so nervous. I had to change because my armpits were all wet [Kerry laughing] for the after party. I was so nervous.
KERRY 18:18 That’s great.
JEN 18:20 I picked that dress actually, because I felt like it had kind of that ‘50s housewife’s…
KERRY 18:25 Yes. Loved it!
JEN 18:26 NPC look to it. I feel like I’ve seen that character in Grand Theft Auto.
KERRY 18:32 Yes! Well, I love it. I love that look, because I love, like, the 1950s look, and then the 1950s housewife.
JENETTE 18:40 [laughs] You did, you did some photoshoots in that look,
KERRY 18:44 Yup, yup.
JENETTE 18:44 As a character, it’s fine
KERRY 18:45 Totally as a character, right.
JENETTE 18:48 But not for reals. No.
KERRY 18:49 Or to feel for all those 50s housewives that like didn’t have platforms like this or the resources or opportunities—talk about feeling irrelevant.
JENETTE 18:57 We’ve come a long way, baby. It’s true. It’s true.
KERRY 19:00 [laughs] That’s right.
JENETTE 19:01 You said it in one of the versions you worked on, you actually refer to the video game Wii and how, you know, you make all these characters for everyone in the family who plays and then when you’re playing a game, Grandpa Stan is in the background cheering you on and there’s Aunt Jodie, you know, crashing her car on the side. And I had this super awesome visual of playing the Wii games and all the little mes that walk around and say hello. To actually use that as a metaphor for life. It created an opportunity for some deep thought.
KERRY 19:30 Deep Thoughts with Jen.
JEN 19:33 And the most important part is to not be NPC in your own life and sit around doing nothing and going out there. And that’s another big thing I wanted my girls to know, is that the world is your oyster but you gotta be the one to go swimming for it.
JENETTE 19:51 You did share what that looks like for you today in your story after your experience with your sister and your family’s transition into life without her. You made some big choices. You went back to school, you started a new career. That screams, “I want to live this life to its fullest.”
JEN 20:09 Yeah, definitely, yeah, I feel like my life is just starting at the ripe old age of 49. With my girls transitioning out of the house, I feel like I’ve got my whole life ahead of me, and I don’t want to waste it.
KERRY 20:22 And the great thing is, I’m a year ahead of you, so you’re knocking on 50’s door, but the great thing is when you hit that, your kiddos are kind of coming out of that, where they don’t see you. And so you’re going to be hitting your stride right when your girls are like, ‘Oh, hey, look at that! She’s a person outside of this house.’
JENETTE 20:40 You’ve said that a lot, Kerry. You’ve said it many times and those words stuck with me: “I wanted my children to see that I have a life outside these four walls.” That was a phrase that you brought to the mission and that came up again and again. And that looks different for different women. And I mean, it’s not the same career or journey. But for you to to live the life, not just talk about it for you to set the example, to inspire your children to do more and want more and take chances in their own lives.
KERRY 21:09 And how do you contribute? And that’s what I think Jen talks a lot about how do you contribute to the world and whether it’s you’re passionate about your job, you volunteer at your church, you’re on the PTA, whatever it is, I do think it’s really important for our kiddos to see my one job and life is not solely to entertain you and sign these permission slips. You know, it’s important if you want them to live a life of service, then they have to see you live a life of service.
JEN 21:35 Absolutely.
JENETTE 21:36 Jen, I’m dying to know all the dish, you had a really fun cast that came together. In preparation for the show. It’s so much fun for me to go through that process, finding these nine or ten women—that most of whom don’t know each other before saying yes to this adventure, to watch these friendships, blossom and grow. How did that work for you, being in your own community this time?
JEN 21:58 It was, it was so, it was amazing. The other women are all I’m so glad to have gotten to know them like I did, being on the cast with them. They’re all phenomenal women. And they’re all funny, and they’re all so insightful. And it’s exciting to me that I get to hopefully run into them now. Or I can meet up with them to see how our social circles cross over each other. We all know some of the same people. I have mutual friends on Facebook with at least five people with each of them that aren’t associated with That’s What She Said. And so I’m very excited to be able to hook up with them in the future…
KERRY 22:36 Big small world.
JEN 22:37 ...because we’re in the same town. it is it is a big small world.
JENETTE 22:40 Little did you know—because our friends don’t know— when we were in Bloomington in 2021. Jen snuck into the audience thinking she was undetected.
KERRY 22:49 No, I saw her. I spied her!
JENETTE 22:51 Kerry’s like, “That’s Jennifer Hays Schottland! She was in That’s What She Said 2014.” And boom, like, you never know what’s going to happen when you walk into an auditorium and Kerry and Jenette are there.
KERRY 23:01 It was a light… That was the light bulb moment.
JENETTE 23:04 Yeah. So thank you for being in the sisterhood and for showing up and supporting the next cast and the next group. It meant something to us, it meant something to them. And now you got to create a new set of sisters and friends and share a new story. I had so much fun finding your story, because there were so many little nuggets we were playing with. But man oh man, the day that you showed up with the NPC story. Oh, yeah, you Nailed it. Nailed it. That was the one that was the one. That was the one
JEN 23:33 I’m sorry that I caused you so much stress, Jenette. [Kerry laughing] I didn’t mean to.
JENETTE 23:36 It was worth it. It was worth it to get…
KERRY 23:41 Nobody handles it like Jenette. She is a pro. Because she knows, that you know what? You just hold your breath because when you get to the other side of it, beautiful things like this always appear.
JENETTE 23:51 Always. It’s true. It always comes together. No, I never get nervous. It’s always gonna be a good show. [Kerry laughing]
JEN 23:58 It’ll be fine. It’ll be fine.
JENETTE 24:02 Because we have each other. No one in that group is going to let anybody else fail. Period. Yeah. And that’s how you walk into that setting, knowing you can’t go wrong, it’s gonna… Something’s gonna happen. And it’s gonna be great no matter what happens. So I think, Kerry, what you’ve created in the concept, the sisterhood, even how the stage, you know, appears to be a living room set. You know, it’s like the old coffee clutch.
KERRY 24:27 Yes!
JENETTE 24:27 That you know…
KERRY 24:29 The 1950s wife!
JENETTE 24:30 Kevin and I came across a video of you and Jill, you’re talking about the coffee clutch? And we’re like,
KERRY 24:35 “What’s a coffee clutch?” Shut up, you young people!
JENETTE 24:39 But that’s exactly what we’ve recreated with a, with a modern twist. Yeah, with a feminist twist with empowerment twist that, you know, it’s still important to share your stories and to build those friendships and those relationships so we can go out kick some butt and be PCs in our own life.
KERRY 24:59 [laughs] We might be old when we can’t keep all of our initial straight. I’m over here like wait, what is it? OMG lol ...I can’t. I’m struggling.
JENETTE 25:06 Oh my god.
KERRY 25:07 Yeah, there we go. PC.
JENETTE 25:09 Today they don’t speak English acronyms. It’s crazy.
JEN 25:14 Well there’s a lot of empowerment with the TWSS
KERRY 25:18 Yay!! Aww, Jen for the win!
JENETTE 25:25 Okay, we couldn’t have asked for a better, a better response. That was great!
KERRY 25:29 There we go. Well Jen, thank you for saying yes, I’m so grateful. I’m so happy to know you’re in the world and somebody so kind and awesome is out there but also thank you for shining your light on our stage for a little bit.
JEN 25:43 I loved it and appreciated it. Thank you so much for inviting me and having that light shining.
JENETTE 25:48 And we appreciate you. And so all of our friends out there who are listening: remember! Go be a Player Character in your own life. Learn from Jen. Life’s too short. You gotta you gotta go big. Go big or go home.
KERRY 26:02 That’s what she said.
JEN 26:03 You gotta level up!
JENETTE 26:04 Level up! I think that’s the perfect moral to the story
KERRY 26:07 I love it! I love it!
JENETTE 26:08 You have to level up. So, thanks for listening here on The She Said Project Podcast.
KERRY 26:12 Over and out.
[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]
ANNOUNCER 26:17 Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast for the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to https://shesaidproject.com
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives.
KERRY 27:05 I just need to record Jen non stop for any sound bites. It was so good. Thank you!
JENETTE 27:09 It really was. Like Jen, that story was just ... popped!
Our hosts, Kerry and Jenette, welcome back Jennifer Hays Schottland to learn why she came back to tell her story "Level Up" in Bloomington 2022, after first appearing on stage in Champaign in 2014.
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.