Voices of Athena with Priscilla Brenenstuhl

Finding Home in Foreign Lands with Barbara Wanta

Educator, author, and health advocate, Barbara Wanta, finds herself most at home in foreign lands. Knowing from a young age she wants to travel, Barbara leans into an extraordinary life that reads like a good novel.

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Voices of Athena

Sit down with the highly accomplished members of Athena Alliance, an executive learning community for women leaders, to hear the personal tales behind their professional success. We learn the real story behind their inspiring executive careers — their fears, their failures, and what song they’re singing at karaoke. You don’t get to the top without creating some memorable stories along the way.

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Finding Home in Foreign Lands with Barbara Wanta

Barbara Wanta

Barbara Wanta:
I found an autobiography I wrote perhaps in junior high school or something that said I wanted to travel and so these adventures didn’t seem so outrageous.

Barbara Wanta:
Priscilla, technology is my worst nightmare.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Holy cow, but yet you figured it out and you’re here.

Barbara Wanta:
I’m here

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
You conquered, your worst nightmare to be here. I’m just super grateful we made it. Do you know, I woke up with the flu: a fever, and pain, and my husband has been nursing me back to health and I’m in my bed, in my room.

Can you imagine – I never anticipated but here’s what happened. I thought, jeez, I’m gonna have to cancel and then I slept. And then I woke up and I said, you know, I can’t talk to my mom right now and I would love to just like chat to my mom. So maybe I could just talk to Coco’s mom and I feel like just sitting and chatting girl talk will be really healing for me.

I’ve been warded off in this room all day. And so I showed up in the hope that you don’t mind and I’m like, presenting this way.

So yes. Hi listeners. We are closing in with Barbara Wanta, educator, author and health advocate who is also the mother of Coco Brown, who is the CEO and founder of Athena Alliance. And you are tuned in to Voices of Athena, a podcast highlighting more personal side of the successful women that make up this learning community for executive women.

I’m your host, Priscilla Brenenstuhl – and today we’ll travel the distance between Barbara Wanta’s home in Florida and my home in South Africa to talk about the spirit of adventure, the value and importance of friendship. And…

Barbara Wanta:
I’ll remember all kinds of things I wanted to say after we say goodbye

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Isn’t that the truth, I hope instead of frustrating you that brings you joy, because I jog places in your memory, that maybe you haven’t visited for a while.

Barbara Wanta:
Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Good. Ok…hey, my first one.
Who is someone that inspires you and why?

Barbara Wanta:
Okay. I think she did inspire me and continues to although she died, oh, a number of years ago, and that is Aria Molineaux. She was a French woman that I met in Switzerland.

We were both working at a children’s tiny little children’s library at the international school and she was very quiet was first my thought and I’m smiling. But as we got to know each other it became a friendship unlike any friendship I’ve really had before and some ongoing friendship because she sent her then 14 year old niece to try to learn some English to join my first husband and I on our farm and that woman is now in her mid fifties, and is still an extremely close friend. A friendship again, that is unlike my friendship with people from here from the states and more Julianne introduced me to her mother Francine my friend Arias’ sister, and we have had a friendship for 20, 25, 30 years.

So it’s the ongoing friendship. I can still go back to letters from Aria that arrived a couple times in my life out of the blue, she would present things and ask things and say things but again, we’re different from other friendships much more spiritual, it’s very, very broad sense, and therefore more intimate and close, more relating to a sense of myself but felt more real. Blessing.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Great. Thank you. All right.

Barbara Wanta:
I’ve met lot’s of influential people in my life. When we talk about the event that changed my life. You’ll see that there are a lot of people, but Aria stays close to me even though she died. Oh my god my grandson, my oldest grandson is 28 and I think she died when he was two or three.
Coco met her.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Really, oh that’s lovely

Barbara Wanta:
First, when Coco did the World Trade Organization, an internship.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Okay

Barbara Wanta:
Her Early, very early 20s. I went to Geneva and met Aria, who at that time was quite ill. So I mean, she’d met her before. As a little child.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Yeah but the memory…
I love that answer, Barbara. And I think that you are the first person who’s given me that answer in this series.

And I’m so, community, and building community is one of the things I’m most passionate about. And I think it’s because just as you’re saying, I’ve had a couple friends I’ve had numerous people, but I’ve had a couple of friends that just see me – in a way that I feel like is very unique. And we get to talk differently and it feels different to be around them and I would go as far to say that in some times in my life when they showed up. They saved, I want to be considerate with my words. They saved my life.

But what I mean by that is my livelihood, my spark. You khow like they yeah they came at really important times and so I could feel that when you were telling me about her. And you see I’m already healing here in this conversation. People that in my life, in Aria, it’s beautiful.

Barbara Wanta:
She changed her name I met her as Josie Anne and her life. She just because of what she was becoming and who she was and whatever she chose to change her name. Aria, I think her husband, who was with the World Health Organization, quite high up in malaria investigations always referred to her even when I spoke with him and saw him after her death referred to him as Josie Anne. But to me she’s Aria, she’s always been Aria, for years she was Aria with me.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Well, I love I love that you know you share a name with her new respect that and I remember you saying to Coco, well I like Barbara you know, most people call me Bobbie. But I like Barbara. I think it’s a very interesting thing to kind of grow into our names.

Barbara Wanta:
Oh yes. What are names what we call ourselves and others call us that’s about it. I think she always called me Bobbie. I don’t know I’d have to go back and look at the letters.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
I’m sure for you got real still and sat for a while. You could hear her voice again in what she called you. Or maybe that will come up for you. I thought it was things when you were walking around your house later reflecting on this conversation.

What song are you singing at Karaoke?

Barbara Wanta:
Oh, I don’t do karaoke. I cannot sing I’m horrible, but the song that goes in my head or that I sort of comfort myself with is a Beatles song of all things. I mean, it’s a beautiful, but it’s Paul McCartney’s, and I think it was a response to his own mother Mary, Mother Mary comes to me in times of trouble, whispering words of wisdom and for me, it’s just let it be. Let it be. Let it be. Let it be. Just let it be.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
There’ll be tomorrow. Let it be.

Barbara Wanta:
Oh my god it’s like my theme song these days. So much we have to just let it be.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
And it’s just what it is. Is that I mean if I’m if I allow myself to let more be. Well then I just have an easier time dealing with life.

Barbara Wanta:
Yes, and it is comforting in in times of darkness and times of whatever questioning, you know, then the answer comes to me.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
You even sang it for me! So thank you so much. A lovely song that I really enjoy as well.

What is your biggest fear?

Barbara Wanta:
Oh, my goodness. Well, it’s sort of twofold based I’m a Gemini by the way so it’s the fear of being caught unawares being blindsided, being blindsided and, and along with that and then in being blindsided being very reactive, being reactive and doing harm unintentional harm to yourself or someone else. I have a very hard time. I mean, I raised two children in Coco, and we go through all kinds of horrible things. And they survived and they’re wonderful and I I love parenting them you know as children, but I have a fear of being alone with my my very young grandchildren. We still have a 6 year old grandson who I haven’t seen, Kit’s son is just 6, and when he was little, I needed his other grandmother to be there at one point when we babysat, first of all, because he doesn’t like hearing English, he’s French. It’s like having somebody so precious in your care, that if something happened to them, it would break somebody dear to you, break their heart, that is my greatest fear. it’s that unintentional harm. It will break somebody dear to you break their heart. That is my greatest fear. That and some of the biggest tragedies in my life have come from that not from bodily harm. But I think from psychological harm or from feeling emotional harm. That’s a better word than psychological, psychological. But, so that is my biggest fear that still sort of haunts me. And being blindsided even when I think I’m doing something well or I’m doing and then it gets minimized. Or it gets whatever.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Yeah, I think even that can happen emotionally. Like you said, you
think you’re doing the right thing. And then out of nowhere, you realize aren’t doing the right thing. And I think in the media right now, there’s an actor Alec Baldwin,
accidentally. I thought about the weight of that several times, just what you said just just physically, you know, but that is a huge concern. You know, of course, you know, when I drive and there’s a bicycle or something. That’s my most stressful time driving. So I identify with that. And then with my children, when I have somebody had my first child, my friends would ask me, how did your life change? And I said, I, I feel like for one of the first times in life, I became afraid of death. And it was because I want to, I want to be there for my kids. I would never want to let them go let them down in any way. And so that’s a really powerful statement that you bring up and again, it’s back to that community, right? Just I want to hold the community like they hold me and show up.

Barbara Wanta:
I don’t know what the what point I became aware of the fact that we are so vulnerable through our children. I mean, I think that’s the vulnerability that

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
When paralleled.

Barbara Wanta:
And I do remember one specific thing I can picture walking into I think it’s Queen Elizabeth hospital in Malawi, where I delivered my first child Kit and walking, walking towards the front door of that hospital in labor, I’m thinking, oh my god, I will never again not be someone’s mother.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
It is not just the child who was birthed. The woman, the woman too. The mother, the mother too. I hear that. Goosebumps.

Barbara Wanta:
At the same time, children are your greatest worry, greatest heartache sometimes but the most wonderful wonderful.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
It highlights this universe of paradox, right as teachers existing at the same time, and that’s been a real doozy for me with my children, because it’s like a fierce love that I’ve never experienced before. And just what you said, so often children catch you unaware because they’re in a different world than you most of the time. You know, I get blindsided by my kids sometimes. Or just just you know, I have the flu, right? And he wants to jump on me and he it’s affection and he misses me, but I can’t present for him. You know, and and that’s totally okay. But the feeling is devastating. You know, I get really tight you know, really just it just hits different when it’s your kids

Barbara Wanta:
Every age – it’s not going to go away! Even when they’re in their 50’s!

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
What is the most daring thing you’ve ever done?

Barbara Wanta:
I guess the whole adventure of Africa.

Heading out from England on a trip that would take us to Malawi, and then sort of culminating in going off to a little tiny village in Mozambique. With a two month old. There was no electricity. No, no clean water. No. There was clean water, there was this brother and sister in law a Portuguese friend of mine from Malawi – to visit her family. I mean, just doing these crazy. Then tent camping after after I had virtually totaled our car on the way back from Mozambique, getting fixed again in Malawi. And then going off maybe three months later, with a five month old tent camping all through southern Africa. All the way down to Cape town.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
What a childhood. What a motherhood. What an initiation!

I love I love when people stories baffle them. Like if you would have told me that similar story. Like how did you cope or like, you know, it’s like, if I had told me previously, this would be something I would do. I would say no. But then when it happens upon your doorstep, you know, you just figure it out. I guess that’s motherhood in a nutshell.

Barbara Wanta:
I didn’t learn, I kept doing it. That was with Kit. And with Coco bless her heart. I was eight months pregnant traveling halfway around the world on several plane flights to learn in the heat and humidity to land in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Why? What what in your life made this happen?

Barbara Wanta:
Well, I guess because I had opted to marry Kit and Coco’s father. At some point. He just had a travelust in a way I mean he’s also been very influential in my life. I mean, a second marriage of 31 year old second marriage so obviously that first one ended. But also, I think, because I mean, I wasn’t forced to do these things. And it must have made me feel like we can do this.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Followed love. Followed your heart.

Barbara Wanta:
Well, not just that I think it’s also following myself like, yeah, like yeah ok. I can do this.
I found an autobiography, perhaps in junior high school that I wanted to travel. So I was you know, I wanted to travel and so these adventures didn’t seem so outrageous. We went to then Burma and Mynamar. Again, Coco was three and Kit was turning five he turned five in India. We traveled all over. You know?

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Well, I don’t I don’t want to. I love that I actually I that gives me energy to hear that and I this isn’t about me and I want to hear you I don’t know, for many reasons that this reason is why we hit it off so closely is because I’ll just share it quickly.

I met my I was living in Guatemala, on this island, and I was on. I was supposed to leave in three weeks, two and a half weeks, to go to India and Goa to teach and be part of a yoga training. The person I was supposed to travel with was at a wedding. He went cliff diving and shattered his spine and so we basically I got rerouted. And it was all by going to this cafe that had internet and they switch the music as soon as I walked in somehow and I heard: du duh duh duh I bless the rains down in Africa. I just I just had heard about Cape Town. So I plugged it in and I said what would the transfer price be for me to go there? And I and it was almost exactly down to the penny. So two and a half weeks later, I was flying to Cape Town, you know dropping along street I’ll stay at a hostel and I put my bags away and I went to a cafe sat down and my husband walked across the street. Oh my gosh. We met our eyes met. And and here we are right but not not here we are because we you know neither of us. He’s Nigerian. So with immigration. We had we were separated for almost four years I was back in the states couldn’t get him over the way we intended. You know, Trump with that ordinance and Nigeria is one of the countries affected. So I raised my son who again, speaking to Kitt. I, the first seven months of my pregnancy, I was tent camping. I when I got pregnant when I realized, you know, and I didn’t have a house to move to and so I just stayed there for the time I was meant to, and then when he said he couldn’t come, I you know, I flew down, gave birth here and then had to eat again and wasn’t allowed to get papers. Okay, so So my son has moved several times and then all came back and just two years ago right before Christmas, and went into lockdown two months later, so then I couldn’t leave for my family worked out and I ended up having another baby. And here we are. So you know the tent camping the Africa the traditional weather code, those are very specific themes that we have shared albeit different. I love that I love knowing that about you.

Barbara Wanta:

Right? Like is and as you say, thinking back, you know there are times that I think

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
I really like to know

Barbara Wanta:
and I keep wanting you know I am in contact with with Kitt and Coco’s Dad, very, very superficially. But there was one incident I keep wanting to ask him about in the lineup didn’t really happen. I know. Our travels our travels when I was coming to Africa. We stopped in Jordan and went to Petra we have a Palestinian guide and he was wonderful. And he drove us to Petra. And then on the way back from Petra we gave a ride to an Australian girl. And we got part of the way back to Amman and the roads everything’s cordoned off. Apparently there was an attempted coup in place. And we could not go back to mine. And of course being pregnant I had to use facilities such as they were the Australian girl kind of accompany me.

Meanwhile, Chris and the driver, our Palestinian guide when supposedly supposedly called the American Embassy and asked what should we do? And supposedly they were told that we should go to this little town maybe 30 miles away where we find a Catholic hospital that we’d be able to stay overnight.

And I remember all this and I remember the room and I remember the girl saying “Please don’t leave me” there was a little private room. We gave the Palestinian guide the private room because the Australian girl didn’t want to be alone. Anyway it’s a strange story. But I still wonder whether it was just the guy who knew about this and the hospital my husband said they called the American Embassy to reassure me or whether they all knew or how that could happen in a city that was undergoing I mean, how I don’t know. It’s like these weird things happening in your life.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Definitely. And you know, especially as you reflect you know, that you you’re aware of the fact that you paint your experiences in your voice, you know, and that the feeling is there and perceptions that people give you. So it’s interesting because it’s like, is that real? But then you’re like, Well, it’s, you describe it in such detail, but it’s certainly real for you, you know, which was anything else is that true?

Barbara Wanta:
You know what it is without too it’s real and as I look at it, I think of the people that you encounter, who are kind and caring and real to you. And I mean, they touch your life just for a very short period of time. But again, it makes renews my faith in people, I think, in the whole, not the specific things going on in the world today. In humanity,

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Yeah, I mean, the storyline is different on the macrocosm and the microcosm. We show up for each other differently, I think in our day to day and hopefully we do the most like you said, we get blindsided but we can’t call for it, which is part of I think, what’s happening in the macrocosm my guess is that there is so much fear and uncertainty. So people are entering into situations likely feeling more vulnerable than they ever have, which is some ways you know, your prickly pears are up, you know, it’s just harder I think to really let your intuition guide and define trust, it’s harder.

Barbara Wanta:
People become much more reactive.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
So if you were to launch a dream career right now, what would it look like for you?

Barbara Wanta:
Oh, I don’t know, maybe I would be on the periphery of academia, but to do with books to do with literature and history, but still to do with mental health because I think books and reading the right books can have such an influence.

I just love books. I love what I do. I keep threatening that in my next life, I’m going to be a library librarian like you too. I had to be a librarian with ties to I don’t know.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
I mean, have you written again, have you written another autobiography since back in the day?

Barbara Wanta:
I’m trying to write a novel that I started maybe 12 to 15 years ago. That is based upon the experiences I’ve had, I mean, nobody will read it because this gets into the last question that changed your life is girl who goes well, she accidentally left what felt like a small town in Pennsylvania. Went to the big city of Philidelphia, went to the big university in Pennsylvania accidentally, and so it would seem maybe not but ended up having only flown once in our life and on an Icelandic flight crossing the ocean on a prop jett and crossing the ocean on a project to land into Oxford. Not knowing whether there was a prayer that should not be grant whe wanted or the job. I mean, I was at that point, I was a graduate and it was a graduate nurse. But that didn’t matter. But that didn’t matter in England, and it was sort of again multifactor but it ended up living in England for a couple of years. And being out of my own country. I just wish I just wish every 18 year old to go abroad for a couple of years Because it makes you it makes you question all those assumptions you grew up with. People talk differently with each other over there, the classes were run differently. I was using different textbooks different things because I did get my scholarship and I did. I did graduate study then. And then that was the start and I ended up living out of the states for the better part of maybe 10-12 years. I’m not sure how you add them all together, but it was I mean it changed my life. The first step and again, my at that time fiance Chris, the kids’ dad encouraged me he found out about this grant scholarship. He was already over at Oxford studying and he said well, you should come do this. And the committee the John Turran, registered the originator of the scholarship at one time. They did it but I told him when I met him at a dinner I told him this grant getting out of the country not that I didn’t love my country. Not that I didn’t. I can remember walking on the beach. And like in Nigeria, we stopped in Nigeria and I there was a group of people and I looked across an African American I mean I recognized him across the room. He’s American. I felt like I could connect with Americans everywhere. So it wasn’t that like with all those assumptions, all of which I had been stuck in, doors open doors into another world and I really wish so much so many more people can have this experience.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Okay. You have that privilege. Yeah. I mean, it’s definitely a privilege that I hold dear to my heart and like you said, it’s like you said it opens up doors. It opens up a new way of relating to other people, but even more so to yourself. You’re like, Wait, yeah, maybe I don’t have to think that way. Or maybe I can like change my mind. Or like maybe I’m not even sure
Who I am yet or I don’t want to be narrowed down to you know, committing to a belief.

Barbara Wanta:
Yeah. And not only that, maybe I can try some things out. Because if they seem crazy to other people they’ll just chalk it up. She’s American you know?

Because you’re, although I did have I was staying in a little village and alone and there was a knock on the door and the policeman came and he said, “You know, I need to see your papers and bla bla bla bla bla, and do you have” and, and I said, “I didn’t know anything about.” He said, That’s the trouble with you Americans. “You don’t realize you’re foreigners.”

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Ohhh, but that is that is a real that just vibrated through because which for me, it’s so true. In America, like we’re foreigners, like, how do I want to say this Barbara Wanta? Something that just came to me was this idea like right like this belief that if you’re in America, you should speak American? You know what I mean? Like, just this apprehension, maybe, towards the foreign, I think, is what I’m trying to say. Which is a really important part in it really comes from not experiencing it or not experiencing it enough. Because I’ve never met somebody who’s like traveled a lot who has a closed mind. I guess you know, for lack of a better expression, but who isn’t open to other possibilities?

Barbara Wanta:
Right and back here. I mean, when you do come home, sometimes I feel like even with people close, you know, don’t bring off those foreign ideas. People aren’t necessarily comfortable with you. When we return to Malaysia. I mean, returned from Malaysia after almost four years living there. People would say to us all the time, aren’t you so glad to be home? We’d be polite, but we were homesick for Malaysian, which for the first 9 or 10 months we were just terribly homesick from Malaysia.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Home can, especially travel you realize, home is something you carry with you. And when you connect with the land and the people on it, whatever the geography of it, the wind, the way it smells the sunset, essence, perfect place you carry that with you, especially when you’re doing things like having babies you know, like, just as you would think, Oh, I lived in and raised my children in this home for 20 years. And the stories in the that are held in this foundation. It’s like your body and the places you travel become that container. I guess. That takes you to those memories.

Barbara Wanta:
You get to keep all of that I guess!

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
I feel you and I’ve never been to Nigeria, Barbara Wanta and because it’s just not where my husband’s family’s from. It’s just not an ideal time for us to be there with small children as foreigners. So what I tell you, I pray I do I pray. I’ll say that I pray about asking them for the land really for an opportunity because in my case my children’s grandparents are there so much other family and culture that can’t be replicated, you know, he’s he’s half Nigerian, or you know, half but both of them and Ebo a completely different language tonight is so different to mine and way of thoughts and true they get it through their dad and their uncles that live here but I’m so anxious just to see where my husband comes from and, and for him to to see where I come from me it’s quite it’s quite an anomaly to say you know, I have a husband and children like one child that nobody I know, family, best friends, whatever outside of Africa has ever met. And that’s true for him. He hasn’t been over seven years. So his parents haven’t met either of his children. And I think you know, that’s the other side of this right of this movie in this expanding it’s there are other sacrifices that you make in turn. And I think sometimes for me, it’s been in an effort to be able to put more thought into an intention into how I wanted my family to look and to connect.

Barbara Wanta:
Well, you have time to do that. Remember, your children are young.
It’s all done. I mean, yeah, that’s great.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Please, I won’t, I’ll ask I’ll get Coco’s permission. I’ll ask her permission. You know, before I should if it’s, she’s very open. I think she’s a very open person. No surprises there. But I want to go off script a little bit and ask you one more question. Okay. I would love to know I would love if you would tell me something about Coco that might surprise me.

Barbara Wanta:
Oh, goodness. Well, the very first thing that came to mind and this is not I mean, Coco won’t like it. One of the things about Coco and if I’d known this ahead of time, I probably could have pulled from from, oh, gosh, dozens and dozens of different things. But the first thing that came to mind was was driving Coco somewhere and she might have been back in Pennsylvania. She might have been 5,6,7. I don’t know. Maybe just four or five, something like that. And she said mom were in the car. She said, Mom, it’s snowing. We’ll it’s October and I said no Coco, it’s October. It’s not mommy, it is snowing. And you know, I sort of concentrating and then she pointed to a part of the windshield and looked and yes, it was back snowing and Coco from I think an early age could look around at the world knew what she was saying and trusted herself, trusted herself. What she was saying was in fact there and she wasn’t going to back down. If somebody said it’s not snow. You know, I tease her sometimes. And I think you know you’re always right.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
My mom says that to me. And she say I don’t know she means it but I think you know just think you’re always right. And she would say if I said the sky was blue, my daughter would say it’s perrywinkle and I’m like yeah, but two kids that can both be true is that a bad thing? And but I catch myself with my own son. He challenges my way of thought all the so consistently. That just as you said, you know I just I have to catch myself from shaping his reality. With his perception is different than mine. And I love that story. I hope she gets a kick out of hearing your story. I don’t find that surprising, but it doesn’t it doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate you share is that you can share some glad that’s what came to your mind.

Barbara Wanta:
Well the other time was as a teenager as a 16 Maybe 15,16,17 year old I don’t know 16 When we had the conversation about you are not allowed to drink. You know, I guess it wasn’t me. If people are drinking that you’ve gone with driving, you know, that call me I’ll get you home kind of thing. And I said but you’re not allowed to drink and Coco said. But I do drink. And I said but you’re not allowed to know. It’s forbidden. You’re not allowed to drink and she said but I do. And I’m not allowed to lie, either.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Wow. Wow, right does the kind of blindsiding I’m talking about. My son does that to me and I’m just like what what do you even say after that like, okay, like, Okay, you’re right. And like, I want you to be an honest thinker who is able to speak her voice who isn’t afraid to be honest with their own mother, you know, these are attributes that I actually want in you, but you’ve thoroughly throw me a curveball as to how to respond as your mother who like you said has an aching love for you. That is, at times paralyzing. Especially when I don’t feel like I can control you or what happens to you.

Barbara Wanta:
goes back to that basic fear.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Yes, exactly, it’s that’s really what that’s and really it’s you who made me do that circle because that I feel like that is why that is such a core memory for you. Can you wait to

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
We pause from exploring the existential depths of our memories to address the delivery man knocking at the door

Barbara Wanta:
My stepson Steve, his son his son has wine from from California. It has to be signed for I’ll be right back

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
oh no problem. Take your time and cue the music

Barbara Wanta:
First interruption was a call from the wife of our sort of our South African son. Wow. I met his father on a plane flying to California to see Coco’s. I was late for the plane and I was the last one on it. Had to climb over and tuck down into the seat I recognized his accent and we got talking about anyway, eventually his son and daughter in law moved to the states and became sort of our American kids. I mean, it’s a that’s a very long story. Very short, but he and his daughter and half sister flew back to South Africa in the midst of this Omicron business because to come to a wedding a second wife his American chose not to go because she was afraid of getting stuck. She has three adult daughter daughters didn’t want to be away over the holidays. So she’s calling me because she knows I sympathize. And she knows I understand her husband very well. I’ve known him for years and years and years. I mean, this happened back when Coco first moved to California that I met his father.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
We keep making these circles ha ,friendship, right before it this and people who give you strength along the way. Well, and it’s likely that you do without them. And were yo expecting this call.

Barbara Wanta:
No. I have told her when she said it was a very hard decision to make. They’re going to go to South Africa. I’ve opted to not go I mean they have their tickets everything for some time. It’s a family wedding.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Well, that’s very serendipitous.

Barbara Wanta:
Yeah, I said. I said well, you can call me any time you notice.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Her ears we’re burning we were conjuring up this the spirit of South Africa. And she she was tapping into it. She was joining us there on the wind.

Barbara Wanta:
Well, and who knows, I mean with Fonnas and his family in South Africa and they keep saying we should come okay. I might meet you in Cape Town before you could be in Key West. Although who knows? We’ll probably end up in California at Coco’s right.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
How funny I love it. And I have friends like you said from around the world and we always do that. I love the I love to say when we leave each other that I’ll be dreaming like you know and waking dream but I’ll be dreaming of the next place in time we meet and who we’ll present ourselves as like, for example a mother you know, or a wife, or however it doesn’t even have to be that but just that we distance for those friendships. Distance knows no bounds, just like you said. I mean, we didn’t but you gave me the feeling that death doesn’t either for those connections that were always dear to you. You can have a memory of that person and they can fill you with a light that is very much alive. And they don’t need to be in the same space as you and I think that’s part of what makes it so magical especially if you’re living a life of a drifter as we do.

Barbara Wanta:
the world’s become smaller with Zoom. I mean, it’s wonderful to be able to talk with you and I hope we can do this more.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Who would think? I would love to because I have I want more stories and also, like I want to share my stories with you.

Barbara Wanta:
Yes, I mean, you living in a tent pregnant then you was very traveling and going from one place and deciding to go to another place rather than the first place and oh

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Oh how the life shifts and changes and becomes even more than you thought possible maybe at one point or or it matches the possibilities that you had as a young child when you wrote about traveling and you knew you had a knowing about yourself as well. The same kind of knowing that you’ve given to your daughter and being able to lean into that knowing despite fear, you know, it’s bold to bold decision, and your bold woman and I appreciate you and I appreciate the time that we’ve got to spend together. I’m so grateful that we didn’t cancel. I feel like you kind of gave me a little bit of a bedtime story

Barbara Wanta:
One other thing was Coco and this has to do Alliance. I think that Coco like many, like many women feel that we have got to diversify and we’ve got to have more women on boards, etc. And more people of color just want to diversify. But it’s not just there being there. And I think Coco holds on to this and you see it in the salons and what she picks and what she her participation in them what she says it’s not just that women have to get on boards a woman has to get have to get in leadership positions. Women have to use what being a woman is the way in which women are different. Think differently, respond differently. We have to be and that that comes across and the fact that she’s as Athena has grown, the fact that she can hold on to that this looks like yes, it really is snowing. Really I really will be honest, not just honest to you but true to my belief. I think she believes this and I think that she’s a bit she’s as even though it’s growing. So she is is working to hold on to that idea that women have to be women in these positions not using masculine attributes or whatever.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
I felt like one of the main things that I was advocating for as my position in the company was just as you said, like if we just put women on boards without thoughtfulness and intention to guiding to welcoming them with the space and the intention that they can show up as women and that that would shift that would cause a huge shift in the thought leadership and the way that businesses operate and that it would be terrifying and unsettling, even for men in the way that so many men have had to silence the parts of them that might be identified more as feminine, you know, leaning into their intuition or not just turning out numbers or being thoughtful about their well being you know, these things that have been isolated from their experience as well because we aren’t the only ones suffering the female. You know, if one suffers, we all suffer. Right? Right. And I I agree so much with your statement, this diversity of thought like diversity, but you know, diversity of experience, diversity of thought, diversity of background culture, I mean, there’s so many things and it requires you to be open and to take risks. Take risks. And I think that that’s the power of the Athena community is that it can be like we said, these friends, they hold you through the shaky time of, you know, presenting yourself authentically for maybe the first time and maybe you’re even in your like 50s or I don’t know, or even you’re young and you’re trying to present this new idea but be taken seriously, you know, so, yeah, I’m just proud to be a part of a community that keeps that in mind. And I’m really, really grateful that I get to spend so much of my thought and intention on how to develop the community and to make space for other people in a really thoughtful way

Barbara Wanta:
And you do a great job. You do a great job because I couldn’t have I couldn’t have done this. I couldn’t have been part of this to the extent that I am if you weren’t doing what you’re doing

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
I appreciate that. Wow, what a great way to close and I couldn’t do what I’m doing without you coming without you participating without you having the desire to see and be seen. It’s easy to hideaway.

Barbara Wanta:
Oh yes. Oh yeah. Crawling in bed with a book is what you should be doing now.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Thank you. So lovely to talk to you. Oh, Your Honor. And I look forward to next time. Me too.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl:
Before retiring from full time employment. Barbara Wanta taught and consulted in health care programs in the United States, Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe as a clinical member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy she also maintained a private practice and family therapy. She is co-author of a present for the future happiness later life and legacies and continues to be engaged in efforts to enhance mental health across the age span.

Barbara Wanta:
Let it be let it be. Let it be let it be. Just let it be.

Priscilla Brenenstuhl
Thank you for listening. I’m honored that you shared your time with me today. Our next guest is Barbara Wanta’s daughter, our CEO and founder Coco brown herself. Spoiler alert. She is our first guest who actually sings karaoke. If you’re a member and you’d like to be featured on an episode of voices of Athena, please reach out to me at Priscilla Brenenstuhl at Athena. alliance.com your story matters

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