In my life I have been blessed with the presence and support of excellent women. Being International Women’s Day, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank a few of them:

Ann Marie Hartlep

The woman whose surname I use as my own. This woman dedicated her life to babysitting. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but the dedication, patience and love she put into raising every single child she took care of, is comparable to Mister Rogers. But in person. She was my neighbour when I was a child. Already in her 80s, she took care of me from when I was two weeks old to when I left to go to Italy at the age of 6 and a half. She would talk to me, listen to me, stayed with me whenever I needed it, and she made sure to keep me engaged no matter what we did. She would help me do exercises as a toddler, she’d tell me I’d be an athlete. She’d tell me to go up to the top of the stairs and introduce me to an imaginary audience, “Ladies and gentlemen! Tonight we have the one and only, Lili! The star!”. She told me I’d be a performer. She told me I was talented. We would read, and she told me I was smart. She encouraged me and loved me every second we spent together. What she gave me can not be bought at any price. She supported my parents when no one else would (or could). We weren’t even related. She was ‘simply’ a neighbour. The best neighbour we could have ever had. The best person we could have ever met. Ann gave me, what I later learned is called, intrinsic confidence. She gave me a core of self-belief, optimism and confidence. Traits I still carry with me today, and push through hard times. She taught me patience, empathy and the importance of being a loving person. She is truly one of a kind and a blessing to all that have met her. I can only hope and try my best to follow her example and continue her legacy of genuine love and care.

My Mom

This woman is a prime example of the ‘modern day independent woman’. In Italy, in the 90s, no one hardly ever left the country. My mom didn’t let that stop her. As a teen she left Italy to be an exchange student in the US. She stayed there for 10 years and mastered English beyond a native speaker’s level. She was married and had me by the time she was 22. She carried out her studies in University, while working night shifts as a waitress and finished her degree with honours in a language that wasn’t even her own. She kept up with all of it and eventually flew her family to Cambodia to adopt my sister. She then flew her family to Italy and kept everything afloat, working, raising kids, paying rent and bills. All of this on her own as my dad was still in the US selling our old stuff. In just 10 years time she started as a waitress and worked her way up the ladder. She’s now in charge of HR in a multinational company in Milan. With a higher pay than certain men, in a country still heavily affected by traditional gender roles. And as if it wasn’t enough, over the years, she always found the time to organise trips to historical cities, museums, festivals and foreign countries for the whole family at any chance she got. She even found the time to keep me on track with my studies in times I didn’t want to study anymore. I watched her as I grew up. Her work ethic and organisational skills are second to no one. The levels of multi-tasking she accomplishes without breaking a sweat is unbelievable. She made her own meritocratic system and built her way to the top while respecting her moral principles and never falling into the ‘easy way out’ so many other Italians do. She is truly a hero in my eyes and an exemplary modern day female role model. I’ve learned the power of discipline and hard work through her. My goal is to one day equal (or even go beyond) her accomplishments and prove I’ve learned how to use the power she’s taught me.

My French Grandmother

Way ahead of her time for the feminist agenda. At the age of 16, she left her home town in the countryside of northern France and moved to the capital by herself. Her family insisted she work simple jobs and eventually marry a butcher for the sake of business. She refused and went against her family’s wishes and proceeded to study medicine. She worked very hard, passed her entrance exams and studied to become a nurse. She wanted to learn how to help people. After her accomplishments, her family realised her potential and became incredibly proud of her. However, her career only lasted so long. She met my grandfather and moved to Italy. She became a chef in a family run restaurant and later became a stay home wife to spend more time with her daughters. Nonetheless, her vocation to be of help to others never ceased. She pursued reiki treatments and other alternative approaches to well-being. She’d babysit children, elders and help anyone else who asked. She was the only grandparent who gave my parents full support when I was growing up. She’s also the only grandparent who I have extensive childhood memories with. She’d even visit the US when I was a child, and refused to not spend as much time with me as possible. Of course her and Ann became good friends, despite the lack of a common language. When we moved to Italy, my mother had to work full-time, so my grandmother would take care of my sister and I every day. She was there for all of us. She never asked for anything in return, if not for us to go have lunch at her house on Sundays. She, too, was infinitely supportive. She helped me with my studies. She was creative. She was an artist. She taught me a variety of arts and crafts. She was proactive. She cared so much. She was extremely patient with me in my worst sassy preteen years. Even now, when it’s our turn to be supportive in her older age, she “doesn’t want to be a burden” (although this may be tricky and slightly challenging at times). Nevertheless, she remains the embodiment of the concept of ‘family first’ and the most outstanding example of selflessness I’ve ever met.

So, thank you to these three women who set up some of the most important pillars in who I am today. Thank you to these women who have taught me so much. About love, care, work ethic, discipline and selflessness. But the most important thing all three of them have taught me, is that I am limitless. I can accomplish. I can conquer. I can do it. Anything I choose to do, I can. I will never stop being thankful for having these three women in my life. The only way I can hope to repay them in any way, is continuing what they’ve started. Apply what they’ve taught me and accomplish more than they did to give back on a larger scale. To prove that it meant something. Because, it meant everything to me.

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