“How I define beauty and I view myself sends powerful messages to them. Helping them see the strength and beauty in others starts with recognizing that within ourselves and the words we choose to describe it.”
This message is played out in their home every day. Especially when Max, age 11; Isaac, age 8; and Shea, age 5 are participating in or watching sports on television.
“Both my sons and daughter are lucky to be growing up surrounded by strong women and to see that reinforced with women athletes gaining more media attention. The boys watch women’s hockey and soccer and followed all the games for the World Cup.”
US Women’s soccer players like Meghan Klingenberg and Abby Wambach and USA Olympic Hockey team captain, Julie Chu are among those their favorite players. “My kids aspire to people who have had to work a little harder to get to where they are today.”
Working through Obstacles
That’s a character trait this mom, who is also a family and elder law attorney and athlete can appreciate.
“I started doing sports because I had terrible asthma. I spent a lot time in and out of the hospital from preschool until third grade. My allergies were extremely severe and the type of asthma I had affected the upper part of my lungs.”
Margaret endured some pretty bad asthma attacks as a young child including one during which she received Last Rites by a priest.
Then a game plan was executed to work through this obstacle in her life.
“I was a patient of the late Dr. Murcek who was a strong proponent for sports to build up lungs to compensate for damage and illness, thus my parents had me in a sport almost every season from 3rd grade on.”
Margaret grew up to become a star basketball, track, and cross-county athlete -setting a high school cross-country course record and records in the 1600m and 3200m relay. She was captain of both her high school and college cross county teams. And she earned top scholar-athlete awards: The Hank Opperman Award at Connellsville Area High School and the William Rafferty Award at St. Vincent College.
“These are probably the awards I am proudest of because they required consistent dedication on the field and in the classroom as well as sacrifice and balance…I am sure this helped me in gaining the skills to balance work, which motherhood requires!”
Running with Mom
Some of that work takes place on 5k courses like the John Woodruff race, held annually in Margaret’s hometown of Connellsville, PA. “I’ve run it almost every year since the 6th grade and our family does it together…baby carriers, strollers and now as a pacer for my kids.
Everyone gets dibs on who will run with me in a 5k. One of my kids always wants me to run with them. I don’t run for me or my time. My time will be later. It’s for them now.
“She has such a drive about her. Her goal was to pass as many boys as she could. When she’d pass them up she’d say, ‘Yes!’
The Bigger Lesson
What Margaret appreciates most about sports, beyond the health and well-being it provides – are the lessons it teaches her kids.
“Sports teach so much including that you can recover from failure and how to play fair. Athletes, because they have had coaches, are more likely to seek out mentors in their professional life.
She added, “Like few other activities can do, sports also give a level of confidence.”
Music is a Motivator
The Zylka-House family has found that nothing builds confidence on the way into court or on the ride to a soccer match or hockey game like music. Margaret has a play list to calm her before a proceeding and to pump her before a race. Her kids follow suit.
“Music is motivational. It can make you feel like you can take on the world. “Underdog” by Imagine Dragons is one of their songs on the early hockey commutes. The kids love it in that it talks about getting up early to set to work and loving to be the underdog.
Max will download music and will share it with me. It’s not the song you buy the album for. He’ll say, ‘I found this song and think you should listen to it. That one on one time in the car sparks conversations that begin with sports.”
Support of Family
It’s quality time Margaret knows well from time spent with her father. “Growing up, my dad and I had sports. He was always supportive of track and field, taking me to Saturday meets and invitationals.
His support hasn’t waivered.
“One January 1st, I called him up and said, ‘Dad, I think I want to jump in the Yough (an annual Connellsville Polar Bear Club river plunge). He said, ‘That’s going to hurt. I’ll be ready in ten minutes.
He was always interested in everything I was doing. I want to do the same for my kids.”
Margaret said her husband, Max, has supported her goals as well. “After my undergrad at St. Vincent College, I was working in my husband’s business as a financial planner then decided to go to law school.
While still in school, I wanted to start a family. Our first child, Max, was born after taking my Evidence final exam. I found out there is now an urban legend at Duquesne University that this professor’s finals are so tough, they sent a woman into labor!
Her parents, both retired teachers, made this challenging pursuit manageable. “I’d drop off Max in the afternoon. My husband would pick him up and my mom would have dinner made for them.”
She added, “My mother is a great cook. Making food from scratch, we always ate fresh and healthy growing up. When my kids were little, we didn’t use canned baby food. Instead, we pureed food my mom had prepared.
My kids are getting to have the same gift of being in a close relationship with their grandparents as I did with my grandmother. Isaac loves to cook and learned how to make fudge from my mom. He gets cookbooks out of the library and in his letter to Santa he always asks for one gift that is food. This year it was BBQ ribs. We helped Santa by putting out a crockpot before going to bed.”
It’s not easy with a busy schedule, but Margaret has made strides in shaping her kids’ food preferences by preparing healthy casseroles and crock-pot meals. She keeps binders full of recipes she finds online so that there’s always something new to try. When it comes to eating out, she said, “We take them to actual restaurants and do take out, maybe once a week, after late soccer or hockey practices.
If I’m having a bad day, I’ll make one of Isaac’s favorite foods. He’s so appreciative and complimentary when I do. It’s a self-esteem booster!”
When the family isn’t in the kitchen, on their way to sports practice, or running in a 5k race, they are outside. Their home, located on several acres with a nearby creek, is the perfect playground to explore and discover the outdoors.
“We’re big for running, being outdoors and appreciating the environment. We go hiking on local trails and look for water falls. While they have electronics, the kids would rather be outside playing hockey or scootering. They set up obstacle courses in the driveway.
These experiences are what kids will take with them – not the material things in life.”
It’s not only what they take. It’s what the kids been given by their ancestors that is making them strong.
Margaret comes from a long line of strong women – great-grandmothers and grandmothers who worked farms, helped to bring babies into the world, put food on the table, and one who came to America alone on a ship at the age of sixteen, supporting a family as widow during the Great Depression.
She sees their strength in her children.
“Last winter, when I was sick, Shea prepared me a tray of food. She brings ice packs to her brothers and helps her teacher, who had a broken wrist. My grandmother was like that – taking care of all of your physical needs. And she was opinionated too, just like Shea. It’s like a little piece of my grandmother lives in her.
A devout Catholic, my grandmother’s favorite saint was St. Teresa. That’s Shea’s middle name. On vacation, Shea took her dolls and when she unpacked, I saw that she also brought her Blessed Mother statue. She said, “I wanted her to be with me when I sleep!”
“Max keeps statues in his room in a religion corner. One statue is St. Michael, a warrior. He wears a St. Sebastian medal, too, the patron saint of athletes. The kids love going to church and being surrounded by their faith.”
Strength Training for Life
Margaret said she’s been blessed to be among strong women as family, teammates and friends – and to be able to help shape the views of her children.
“Everything in my life has been the result of training. To get somewhere in life, you have to put in the work. I want my kids to apply that whether they are working on a school project or playing sports.
If I try to do the best with what I have, my kids will too.”