The unsinkable Debbie Phelps—who captured the hearts of the world when her son, Michael, triumphed at the Beijing Olympic games—shares her inspirational story
A Mother for All Seasons is the heartfelt, intimate memoir of an everywoman—a single mom and an educator who raised three exceptional children, including the greatest Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps.
During the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, when Michael achieved the impossible with his record-shattering eight gold-medal wins, Debbie Phelps nearly stole the show. For the millions who were riveted to the most watched Olympics in history, few could forget the homage that Michael consistently paid to the one person on Team Phelps most responsible for making it all possible: his mom. Nor can we forget how after each medal ceremony, Michael walked proudly to the stands to reach up to his mother and his sisters, Hilary and Whitney, to deliver his winning bouquets to them.
While those highlights will forever be remembered the world over, very few know the behind-the-scenes stories as lived by the members of Team Phelps—a roller-coaster ride full of dramatic ups and downs, heartbreaks, and disappointments, yet one guided to triumph by vision, courage, and tenacity. Now at last, in A Mother for All Seasons, we're given the untold story as lived by the mom on the team.
An educator in home economics, motivational spokeswoman, visionary middle-school principal, mother of three, and grandmother of two, Debbie Phelps is also the eternal cheerleader who was raised in a small, blue-collar, working-class town. An avid believer that achievement is limitless for each and every child, no matter the odds, Debbie reveals the universal themes of her story, which is rich with struggle, humor, hope, advice, and passion.
Infused with the indomitable spirit of “America's mom,” as she has been called, A Mother for All Seasons rallies us to cheer for all of our children at every stage of their growth and in every endeavor. Candid, lively, and charming, it offers timely, commonsense wisdom, lessons, and insights, and provides a much-needed reminder that life doesn't always turn out how you plan it, but in fact it can sometimes turn out even better.
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About the Author
Debbie Phelps is the principal of Windsor Mill Middle School in Baltimore, Maryland, where she lives. As a public speaker, Debbie addresses a range of topics related to education and child development. She sits on multiple business and community-advisory boards. A Chico's model, she is a proud Baltimore Ravens fan.
Read an Excerpt
A Mother for All Seasons
The arrival of my sister Amy, the third-born child in the lineage of four that made up the Davisson pecking order, was a most auspicious occasion. The year was 1958. I was seven years old at the time and my big sister, Donna, was fourteen years old. We never really knew why there had been a gap of seven years between Donna and me, and then another gap of seven years before Amy was born. My mother always told us it was because she wanted to savor the first seven years of each of our lives. Two years after Amy's birth my parents conceived a fourth child, allegedly by surprise. That was my brother, B.J.—also a Bernard Joseph like Dad—who was considered to be a change-of-life baby.
While having their kids so spread out kept my parents busy, it was a bonus plan for me. The idea that I could just adore my younger siblings and watch them grow from infancy to childhood, with me getting to help raise them too, was thrilling!
So on that day when news came from the hospital that Mother's baby had been delivered—whatever that meant—and Dad told us we could go meet our new sister, I could barely stand still. That was me—energetic, active, a tomboy, and Daddy's little girl from the word go.
"Stand still, Susie," Dad told me, using my nickname rather than the more proper Deborah Sue—or Debbie, as everybody else called me from as far back as I can remember. He began to fuss with my hair, puzzling over how to put it into a ponytail. As he set his strong jaw with determination to get the job done correctly, I detected the pleasant smell of tobacco from the pipe he smoked only inthose strategic areas of the house where Mother allowed it. Back then I usually wore my long, naturally curly dark hair neatly pulled back in a ponytail—thanks to Mother's agile fingers that could brush it and remove tangled knots in no time.
Dad didn't have the same hairstyling ability or, for that matter, patience. He did his best and then gave up, reminding me and Donna that if we didn't get going, hospital visiting hours would be over and we'd miss our chance to see Mom and our new baby sister.I guess my ponytail had gone askew by the time we got to the hospital, but I wouldn't have known it if the ladies who worked at the check-in desk hadn't asked, "Who did your hair?""Daddy," I said matter-of-factly.
Everyone laughed heartily, including my father. For my part, I was just being honest. But it was also my first taste of being the center of attention, and I must say it was a great feeling. It was almost as memorable as the first sight of baby Amy Jo, who couldn't have cared less about my hair. I absolutely adored her from the instant I saw her in my mother's arms. Needless to say, I felt that way all over again when B.J. came along to complete our happy family.
And truly, when I think back to all my years of childhood and adolescence, they are filled to the brim with just about nothing but happy memories. That was the world that first shaped me—in a time and place I can't help but miss at certain moments, every now and then. However, when I visit the small town of Westernport, Maryland—one hundred fifty miles southwest of Baltimore and a hop, skip, and jump from the West Virginia state line—I wonder if it's really the same place where I grew up.
Of course the street names are the same, and it still has its equal mix of industry and nature, with the steady stream of smoke rising from the Westvaco paper mill, alongside the natural beauty of the mountains and the rich foliage. But in many respects Westernport today is a dwindling spot on the map, like so many other small towns in the United States, places where time and interest seem to have passed by as if lost to a bygone era. Few of the younger people stay around anymore; instead they grow up, go off to college, marry, move away, and put down roots elsewhere. That was true for me and for my siblings after we graduated from high school, as it pretty much has been for the generations who followed us.
What hasn't changed about Westernport, however, is the kindness, the decency, and the warmth of the community that has remained and that shares the same spirit of home and family that's at the heart of the wonderful memories I cherish of where I come from. Indeed, the farther I've traveled, the more I've come to see how fortunate I was to grow up in the kind of supportive, friendly atmosphere that thrives in the Tri-Towns, as we called Westernport and Luke on the Maryland side of the state line, and Piedmont on the West Virginia side.
Interestingly, our region of Allegany County has a proud and patriotic past going back to the time of George Washington, who successfully led his troops against the British at Fort Cumberland, which later developed into the biggest city in the area. The "Fort" part was dropped as Cumberland grew into a major trading post. About twenty miles south was the area that became the Tri-Towns. In the late 1700s, after the American Revolution was won, war veterans and their families were given tracts of land along the Potomac River, where they could build homes, and farm and raise livestock. Apparently, the settlers who came to our part of the region didn't have an easy time of it; they called our town Hardscrabble, after the thorny soil that was so difficult to cultivate. But as soon as a few industrious citizens realized they'd landed smack-dab at the intersection of the Potomac and George's Creek—an ideal stop for the riverboat trade transporting coal and timber—they quickly claimed this spot as the last, westernmost access point to the Potomac. And that's how our forefathers and foremothers shed the unlucky identity of Hardscrabble and took on the new name of Westernport.A Mother for All Seasons. Copyright (c) by Debbie Phelps . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Seems like a wonderful book i think im going to get it
I absolutely LOVED this book and highly recommend it. Being a Mother, I took alot away from this book...advice, ideas and mostly the fact that the Phelps family is an ordinary family just like you and I. They go through ups and downs and Debbie proves that it's possible to make it through it all. I found this book motivational...again, more from a Mother standpoint. Very enjoyable.
I read a lot of biographies and this is a very good one. It's about so much more than Michael.
I struggled to get through this book, and it was not what I expected. Much of the book is about the author's young life in high school, dating, etc. which was quite boring, and not unlike millions of other young people. There was, in my view, way too much emphasis on that and way too little on Michael's incredible accomplishments. Also, the author mentioned that her one daughter was named after the highest mountain in the United States, Whitney. The highest mountain in the United States is not Mt. Whitney in California, it's Mt. McKinley in Alaska.
Debbie Phelps shows us how she always puts family first and still manages to be a successful person in her own right...She is an inspiration to all of us mothers out there as well as teachers. She reminds us what it is like to be a truly remarkable human being by working hard, caring for everyone, and living life to the fullest while sacrificing her time for her family...I'm glad she chose to share it with all of us...