Standing at the counter, the smell of melted cheese and garlic permeates the restaurant. I adjust the sleeves on my sweater and fidget impatiently. The screams and laughter of children pierce the dining area; I pretend to play with my earrings and shift to the other side of the counter. The bell rings and the pizza is finally ready. While this chaos ensues, Karen Perry-Fontaine leans coolly against a table. She smiles, thanks the server, and grabs the tray before I have a chance to assist. We sit at the only available table and quietly pour our drinks. She finishes sipping her water and asks, “So, what would you like to know about me?” I smile and express my desire to learn how has become such a strong, well-rounded person. Pausing for a moment, she resumes sipping her water, and looks up again, “Well, to me the ultimate success is to be happy. If you are happy, nothing else matters. I was able to accept change and come through adversity. I have learned that life is short. It really is. You need to live for today. That is how you toughen up.”
Like many men and women in society, Karen had her tough times where kids were cruel and life just sucked. “From age 10 to 17, I wore a back brace. And back then they were the large metal contraptions that went all the way to the neck. Very different from the creations they have today,” she explained. She had to wear the brace 23 hours a day, leaving just enough time to take it off and tend to her personal needs. “I feel like part of the reason I am such a strong person today is because of those childhood years.” This part of her life pushed her to channel her energy into other activities. She found a serious passion in martial arts. She studied Muay Thai, Tae Kwondo, Kenpo, and Meditation. “Back then, we went to people’s houses for class instead of a studio or big gym, making the experiences authentic.” The way her eyes lit up when she discussed karate brought new color to her face. The passion, the pride, and the happiness definitely stood out when she discussed traveling all over to learn new techniques.
Along with a fire to overcome her tough times, she had a strong support system. “My mom and dad were a driving force. They were positive. My mother actually used to read me parables everyday and would relate them to that day’s trials and tribulations. My dad, he was wise and honorable. They were wonderful influences.” By having a lot of love and people backing her, she was able to push herself to explore new talents and follow her passions. After giving birth to her daughter Gina, she became involved in pageants. Gina won around 60 trophies. “Eventually, there came a time when Gina got stage fright. Once she came to me and said, ‘Mommy I don’t want to do this anymore’ I immediately pulled her.” However, Karen liked the pageant world. She was fascinated by the performances, costumes, and the people.
She became a certified pageant judge; she traveled all over the United States to judge everyone from babies to senior citizens. “What were my favorite pageants to judge? I loved the Southern Glitz pageants. I loved everything from the hair and make-up to the fancy outfits.” The pageants were another driving force for Karen to find out what her real talent and dream was. She loved to write, so she started her own pageant magazine. Although there were only four issues, she reached over 1,000 subscribers in the United States and Canada. Karen did not care about the profits or popularity, but the love of writing and spending time working on the magazine with her father. Her dad was her right-hand man, and devoted to editing each issue. “He worked up until he was severely ill. I used to bring pages to him in the next room over while he rested in his hospital bed. He worked really hard.” This was the turning point where Karen realized she needed to seriously pursue writing for her father. “I was always trying new things, but I was one of those people who would put everything into it. If I do something, it is done 100 percent. I liked having a world, and excelling in it.”
Channeling each eclectic experience from her childhood and teenage years is pushing Karen towards the ultimate goal: a book. The way Karen’s face changed when discussing writing, made the room a warmer atmosphere. After dabbling in different spectrums, she is completely content and okay where she is now. “Today, my focus is on Gina and my book. I am ready to share my writing. My father’s last wishes were for me to stop being a closet writer, and I am doing that now.” Karen reaches for her phone, and calmly reassures Gina she will be overly shortly to pick her up. She closes her phone and smiles. I tilt my head and stare, inspired. Her outgoing, vivacious, giving personality is contagious.
She makes me want to go out into the world and do anything my heart desires. She is just one fantastic example of moms who are raising their children and making their passions reality. She is a mom of a million hats. Depending on who you are, you will see a different Karen. To Coelho Middle School Students, she is “Karen the friendly bus driver.” To Gina, she is “Super Mom.” To friends, she is the lady we can always rely on when we need help with something. To a random person, she is a bubbly, approachable woman. Cleaning up our table, we leave the restaurant. Walking over to the arcade, I see Gina and her friends waving to us. I say goodbye and trudge back to my car. I open the door, recline my seat, and open my notes. I sigh and wonder, “…to be in her shoes for a day.”