These last couple of months have been brutal. The election kicked off the dread, and the inauguration (and subsequent legislation) spurred the rage. I’ve neglected Project Girl Crush because, amidst this sickening depth of despair and exasperation, it doesn’t feel like enough. It feels ignorant to pinpoint women on women insubordination as a major issue we must overcome, because the problem is much, much larger than that. This project isn’t answering the thousands of questions spinning in my head, it isn’t acting as the rage release I so desperately crave.
So instead, I’ve gone to the rallies. I’ve marched when I have been called to march. But with the joy that has come from gathering strength in numbers, the frustration has remained. And all the while, a little voice in the back of my head has whispered (quietly at first, but growing louder) that I was forgetting something. Something major.
In DC, we marched in solidarity amongst hundreds of thousands of women. And still, over the noise of the crowd, there was the voice. You’re overlooking something, it reminded.
And that’s when Angela Stowell texted me.
I had interviewed Angela for PGC prior to the election (back when the world felt brighter and shinier and more hopeful). Angela is the CEO and co-owner of 15 Seattle restaurants. She has two young boys. She has been involved in city, state, and national politics, especially over the last year as she helped with the Clinton campaign. She is the epitome of everything PGC stands for. And she was there, in DC, marching amongst the thousands.
With that little note, the voice in my head grew so loud I could no longer ignore it. Angela, whose article sat half written on my laptop, has a powerful message that needs to be amplified. Because now, more than ever, women’s voices need to be heard. We need to tell our stories of strength, of perseverance, of devastating loss and recovery. It is a privilege to have a platform with which to share Angela’s story, and by allowing this administration to shut me up will only lead to defeat. If this article acts as even a small source of inspiration to one person, it’s done its job. If you walk away feeling a little lighter, a little more hopeful, that’s all I can ask. Because right now, hope is all we have. We will channel is into fuel, and with that fuel, we cannot be defeated.
Tell me your life story!
I grew up in a small town in Eastern Oregon. My parents divorced when I was just a year old and we spent much of my childhood living with my great-grandmother. I have three other siblings on my mom-side and my dad remarried and has three kids on his side so it was a little bit like the Brady Bunch. My mom eventually married my stepdad, who was the Under-Sherriff of our county. He passed away four years ago. After high school I eventually found my way to Seattle to UW and got my BA in Political Science. I had planned to go to law school but got sucked into the restaurants and then the wine industry. I met my husband in 2005 and we’ve been married for almost 10 years. We became business partners in 2008, have opened fourteen restaurants together and have two amazing boys, Adrian and Franklin (Frankie).
What was it like growing up in a small town?
It was hard. I lived in the stereotypical small town, worked in an ice cream shop in high school and found myself somewhere in the popular group, but was sort of the weakest link in the group so I was an easy target for the “mean girls”. I’m not sure I had the happiest childhood but I think growing up the way I did made me really determined to get out of the town and scenario I was in. College wasn’t something that was a huge priority for my family so I applied to Central Washington University, where I thought I wanted to study paramedic science. I lasted a year before the out-of-state tuition became more than my financial aid could support. I couldn’t stand the idea of going back to Eastern Oregon so I moved from Ellensburg to Seattle. I worked as a server at various restaurants, spent some time working a low level job in the admin department at Children’s Hospital and then when back to school at UW, while waiting tables at Ray’s Boathouse. I am proud of how hard I had to work to get to where I am but it’s something that I rarely talk about. I am not ashamed of where I grew up but I also have to acknowledge that the sometimes close-mindedness of growing up in a small town has given me a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. I feel like I have a lot to prove.
Talk about being considered ‘wife’ before business partner, and how that has changed in the recent years.
I think it I was probably more doting of a wife before becoming business partners with my husband. We started working together a year after we got married so we went from honeymoon phase to life/business partners in a very short time. It can be a really fine line to walk. My husband and I are both incredibly headstrong so being partners at business and home can get a little tricky. We both really like to get our way and when that doesn’t happen at home, we struggle to not bring it to work, and vice versa. At first, it really felt like I was working for Ethan so that power dynamic was really clear. He was the boss. As time has gone by, we have become equals in the business, which can sometimes cause a power struggle. We’ve worked really hard, especially over the last year, to remember that we are spouses and parents first and business partners second. Ethan is my family and that will always come before our business partnership.
What do you love about yourself?
I love that I wake up every day committed to be a good mom and showing my boys as much love and compassion as I possibly can.
What don’t you love about yourself?
I am a perfectionist (to my benefit and detriment) and that sometimes means I put too much pressure on myself and those around me to meet my expectations. Sometimes my expectations are too high or unrealistic and I could be better about accepting that I can’t always get what I want and things aren’t always going to go perfectly.
What drew you to becoming active politically?
I think I’ve always had a passion for politics. I can remember being sick with the flu during the first Gulf War. I spent two weeks on the couch watching the news unfold. I was 11.
When I went back to college I decided I was going to study something that was really interesting to me and that led me to political science. After I graduated from the UW, I did a paid internship with Planned Parenthood, lobbying in Olympia for comprehensive sex education. I did a minor in women’s studies and being from a small, conservative town made me very conscious of the expectation (or lack of) put on women. I found a real passion for politics – and especially women’s issues. I ended up in a very different field but found my way back to it a few years ago when we got involved in some city issues. I’ve remained pretty involved in state and local issues and spent the last year and helped where I could with Hillary’s campaign.
So, who's one of your girl crushes?
I couldn’t go without naming Hillary Rodham Clinton as one of my girl crushes. She has fought so fearlessly for the advancement of women and is an icon for our time. She has taken so many punches, including losing the recent election but she is still imploring us to stand up for our beliefs and against the things that will divide our country even more. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the work she has done and the example she has set for other women.
I also have to name my mother-in-law, Francia Russell. She and my father-in-law were the founding Artistic Directors of Pacific Northwest Ballet and worked together their entire careers. She was able to balance her marriage and motherhood with a really successful career as one of the greatest ballet teachers in the world. Working with your husband and raising kids can be really hard and she’s set a great example of how to handle it all with grace and to own her power as a wife, mother and professional.
How do you think others see you?
Honestly, I think a lot of people see me as “Ethan Stowell’s wife”. I’m okay with that. I am his wife and I’m proud of him and to hold that title. I’m sure some people find me to be a little brash and bossy. I might be – but I will own that as both a strength and weakness. I hope people see me as someone with a voice of my own, with my own business principles and as a loving mother who wants to set a good example for her kids.
How do you see yourself?
I am a work in progress.
When is the last time you remember feeling incompetent?
I’m a mom. It’s a daily occurrence that all mothers, especially working moms, can probably relate to.
When do you feel the most yourself? Why?
I am most myself when I am with my best friend, Brooke. She has been one of the most important people in my life for almost 18 years. I think when you go through that much of life together – from single young women, to careers, marriage and kids you develop an intimacy that can really only be shared between women and best friends. I can be my best and worst self and she is always there. I couldn’t be more grateful.
Talk about the loss of your twins.
It’s the worst thing that has ever happened to me. It has also made me a better mother. Ethan and I were both excited and terrified to find out we were having a baby and then even more so when we found out it was twins. They were identical and shared the same placenta, which is like two flowers sharing the same root system. We found out when I was about 20 weeks pregnant that there were some issues with the flow of blood from the placenta to the babies. We went to two or three doctor’s appointments a week for about six weeks. Things seemed like they were getting better but one day things took a turn. That was a Friday. I was scheduled to go back on Monday to either have surgery to separate the babies’ blood supply and had been prepared for a potentially long hospital stay and/or very premature babies. That Sunday I felt off – I knew something wasn’t right. I walked into the office on Monday and told the doctor how I was feeling and that I just needed to see their hearts beating. Sadly, they weren’t. It was crushing. The rest of it was a blur. I was induced later that day and the boys, Nathanael and Gabriel, were born a day and a half later.
How did you make it through that time?
The weeks and months after were pretty raw. Honestly, even now, five years later, it is still a really emotional thing for me. I spent at least a month after, just in shock. Ethan and I retreated to Whidbey Island, to his family house where we got married. We drove around the island looking for the right place to scatter or intern their ashes. Ultimately we decided to plant two trees and divide their ashes between them. The trees have flourished and are planted just feet from where we were married. Going back to work took a long time. When I delivered the twins I looked like I was almost full term with a singleton, so going to the bank and grocery store was often met with questions about “the new baby”. I found an amazing support group, spent a lot of time reading, crying and talking through what happened. Ethan and I founded a nonprofit event, called Eat Run Hope, to raise money for fetal diseases. It was something for me to focus on while honoring and remembering the boys. I think the thing that really got me through it was the birth of our son Adrian, just over a year later.
Talk about the birth of your two boys, Adrian and Frank:
I honestly feel like Adrian healed my heart after the loss of the twins. He was so peaceful and sweet. He was exactly what I needed at that time. If there was ever a picture of a perfect baby, he was it. He’s four now and at times a wild man but he’s such a tender little boy with big emotions and a very caring spirit.
Frankie was the exact opposite in temperament, from Adrian. He was born furious and still gets dubbed “Furious Frank” from time to time. The first four months with him were pretty rough – and Adrian was still really little. They are only 21 months apart and both really needy, which made things stressful for all of us. The transition from a family of three to a family of four was a little bumpy but Frankie is one of the funniest and loving kids I know. You look at them and the world becomes a better place.
We talked a lot about ‘Mommy culture’ in Seattle. Can you explain what this means for you, and how it’s shaped your experience as a Mom?
Seattlites like perfection and sometimes that is reflective in the way that the success or failure of motherhood is measured. There can be a lot of competition about what it means to be a good mom. Even with friends, there can be the tendency to measure yourself against their actions or philosophies. It can be really subtle too. No mother whose baby isn’t sleeping wants to hear another mom gloat about how well easily their child is sleeping through the night. I’m sure I’ve done it to other moms but I really try to catch myself because I also know what it’s like on the other end. In general, I find Seattle to be a really supportive community but I think there is some cattiness between working moms and moms who stay home with kids, those who breastfeed vs formula feed (which by the way, is no one’s business), etc.
When was the last time you were guilty of judging a woman too quickly?
This is a tough question. I can’t think of any specific examples but I know there have been times when I’ve thought that friends who aren’t married or don’t have kids could not possibly understand the challenges in my life. I have been dismissive of their problems because I saw mine as bigger or more complex. The fact is, we all have our own issues and mine are no more important than someone else’s.
What frustrates you about the way women treat each other?
It is frustrating when women get caught up in the very own sexism that they are trying to overcome. I think sometimes women are more likely to limit or downplay the power and success of other women. I recall a few years ago a young server saying to me “Wow, it must be so fun to have a husband who owns restaurants”. It didn’t even occur to her that I was just as much an owner of ESR as he or that my position in the company was/is just as important.
What do you love about the way women treat each other?
I think there has been a lot of progress in how women are trying to empower each other. We saw that in the most recent presidential election. I see more women celebrating the strength of their girlfriends and lending a hand to help them reach that next goal. Women, in general, are really empathetic and willing to put themselves in someone elses shoes. That allows us to better support and celebrate other women.