Raised By Women, Chapter 3: Emily Boyd and Lindsay Combs
It’s always interesting when I interview someone I’m close to personally. It can be odd to take off the “friend” hat and replace it with the “journalist” one.
But perhaps the hats aren’t that different. The journey I’ve been on while interviewing the Patterson-Combs tribe has been dotted with inside jokes, long tangents – memories that always seem to tie back to working (or drinking) together at the Covington Molly Malone’s – and emotional hours of writing as I consider myself lucky to tell the stories of these unshakeable women. As I walk into Molly’s and order a Black Velvet – Guinness and Magners Irish Cider – I’m fixated on making sure I capture this next part of the story in a way that makes Cincinnati love these ladies as much as I do.
Lindsay – Women of Cincy’s very own editorial resident – and Emily walk in a few minutes later. I haven’t seen Emily since she’s been pregnant with Macie, a baby girl due in June. With a family like this one, full of powerhouse women, Macie is sure to grow up to be one fierce lady. We sit down and reminisce for a few minutes, and the conversation turns to another fierce lady: Lindsay and Emily’s mom, Dr. Sandra Combs.
Check out “Chapter 1: Dr. Sandra Combs” to hear more of Dr. Combs’ story, and “Chapter 2: Patricia Patterson” to hear Dr. Combs share what it was like growing up with five sisters and an incredible single mother.
I suggested we meet somewhere that held some meaning between you ladies and your mom. What made you pick Molly’s?
Emily: When our parents got divorced, I was 17. My mom moved down here from Mason, and this was one of the first places that we became regulars at, and this is where we found a lot of community in that first year – finding new friends and new people to help us walk through, like, what does it look like having your parents divorce when you’re 17 years old, and watching your mom go through all of this dark stuff?
We got welcomed with open arms, and it made it a lot easier to kind of build this new life in a new place, ’cause we were still partially living in Mason and had this whole life that we’d had for the last 17 years, and also rebuilding at the same time. And then eventually, Lindsay and I and our brother, Matthew, started working here, and they got to know my mom and her five sisters, and so it just became a family affair.
Somehow, no matter where we’ve all ended up or how crazy our schedules have been, we’re just as close as we were when we were spending summers all together.
Lindsay: It’s funny: I was 14 when they got divorced, and when she moved to Covington, I just remember being so like, mad, because I was so used to Mason, and Covington was so different and far, and I didn’t know anyone, and it’s not a place where a 14-year-old can very easily make friends. So when I was down here, I ended up becoming friends with these 24/25-year-olds that worked at Molly’s because we were always here, and it was like I actually had a family in Covington. This has always been this safe haven.
I always laugh, ’cause now, I very much consider Covington my home over Mason, which is how my mom was. She’s not that type of person to live in a bubble, and she wants to bounce around, and I am also very much that personality.
Emily: I think, too, Lindsay was so young, and we didn’t realize how much of an observer and like, a sponge she was, and how much she took in of what was going on with Mom and Dad. Where Lindsay’s concerned and where Covington is concerned, I got to really watch her grow up and figure out who she was. And this place has a lot to do with that.
Lindsay: It’s truly a family. One of the kitchen guys always laughs: He’s like, “I know to never say anything bad about you because the Patterson cult will come after me.” It’s more than just a healing place. It’s a comfort, for me.
What was it like growing up with the “Patterson cult”?
Lindsay: Well, it’s always a party. I can say that much. There’s always something; there’s never like, a normal situation where we’re all just sitting casually, talking.
Emily: You learn how to be okay with noise.
Now, we don’t see each other as often, but growing up, we saw our family all the time, and it was really a foundation that was set by my mom, her sisters, and even by our grandma: the foundation of “family comes first,” and that’s who’s gonna be there to pick you up.
I have very early memories of going and playing in Grandma’s basement or outside while my mom and her sisters and my grandma all met together to pray and talk and work through really crazy big life situations – which, to see your closest people leaning on each other like that, that really set us up for adulthood. Even now, we still depend on our aunts and our mom and our grandma and our cousins for that camaraderie and to have someone to go to, whether it’s for a good laugh or you need someone to talk to. Somehow, no matter where we’ve all ended up or how crazy our schedules have been, we’re just as close as we were when we were spending summers all together.
Lindsay: I think the other thing is that Mom and her sisters are all so close, but all in different ways, so it’s really interesting to see the dynamic between all of them. It then “domino effects” into our lives; we all have different relationships with our aunts, but we have a full army behind us. They always say, like, our tribe. We have our tribe of all these people that will always be there, no matter what, and so I think our family has gone through a lot of very weird, crazy, random things, and no matter what, it’s, “Okay, well, we’re gonna sit down; we’re gonna figure it out; and we’re all here together – 30 of us.”
Emily: Especially now that we’re old enough to understand it, ’cause for a long time, things were hidden from us. I don’t think the sisters wanted our generation of kids to know: “This is the imperfection of your family and this is where we fall short…”
The other dynamic that I think is important to mention is we grew up in a very strong, independent, female-led life, and I think for other people, like my husband, it’s been really hard for him to figure out, like, how do I love someone who very much depends on having me there, but is also extremely independent and doesn’t need me to “save her”? Or like, our cousin Christopher – how does his wife, Amy, fit into the picture? And she fits perfectly into our family, which is awesome. You have to be kind of a certain breed – we’re loud; we’re rambunctious; we’re emotional; we feel really high feelings and we feel really low feelings. Those personalities somehow mesh and work together even though there’s so many of us and we’re all so different in so many ways, but it’s fun, and you’re never alone.
Lindsay: Back to the strong independent woman impact – I think our grandma set a lot of that, because she had to be that way ’cause Grandpa left. They had seven women in this tiny house and she worked however many jobs and she didn’t have the education that everyone else had. I think she really set the dynamic.
Emily: She always had to fend for herself and protect herself, and then when she had her daughters, it wasn’t just her. It was protecting her daughters and making their life in a way that wasn’t like hers. Breaking the cycle – that is such a big thing that we’re talking about in our culture right now, and just the awareness of mental health and physical health, and it’s a conversation that is consistently had with our family: These things exist, and they are in our DNA, but there are ways to combat that, and there’s no reason for you to have to lean on X, Y, Z things to help figure out why you’re depressed or why you’re anxious. It’s there; it’s real; and this is where it comes from.
Just this week… I work with 8-year-olds who have behavioral issues, and some of them are given circumstances that are fantastic and wonderful, and others have circumstances that are awful, but there’s nothing they can do about it. So I called one of my aunts, and I’m like, “Listen. This was one of the worst days I’ve had at school so far; like, I don’t know how to process it.” To be able to have that to lean on and to find that self-help through your family, and have people that don’t try and fix it or make it better for you, but kinda walk you through it... And a lot of that comes from this foundation of my grandma just always caring for her pack, like, these are my daughters and I will always go to the ends of the earth for them, and time and time and time again, she did that for each of them in a different way, raising these incredible women who are now doing the same for even more people.
How do you think being raised in that matriarchal type of family made each of you who you are today?
Lindsay: I’m very much, “I wanna have a career.” I have never been the “I wanna be in a relationship; I wanna have a boyfriend; I wanna get married; I wanna have kids.” That’s never been my personality. And I think a lot of that comes from seeing them all be independent at one time or another – not always having to lean on a male figure. Three of them have been divorced, and one of them has never been married, and one of them has been widowed; they’ve all had to kind of work through their own crap without having a guy that they lean on.
As I’ve grown up, she’s become more… She’s my best friend. Being able to talk to her about like, “I don’t know if I can do this,” and she’s always like, “No. You don’t need anyone else. You can do it…” That has very much shaped my life and how I am.
My mom is one of the most driven, passionate people I have ever, ever encountered – I’m gonna start crying – but she has always been so set and “I can do this.” She went back and got her Ph.D, and I remember she was so determined and worked so hard to do that, and I have always wanted that. As I’ve grown up, she’s become more… She’s my best friend. Being able to talk to her about like, “I don’t know if I can do this,” and she’s always like, “No. You don’t need anyone else. You can do it…” That has very much shaped my life and how I am. [Tearing up.]
Emily: She has that effect on people. She’s just incredible.
It’s interesting what Lindsay picked up on: this whole view of “you can do things by yourself.” We are not created to be isolated, and you do need other humans, but not necessarily to come and “save you” or to come and take your whole load off and do it for you. We were given a foundation that says, you know, whether you’re a woman or a man, you are responsible for your shit. Like, period. And if you need help, ask for it, and we’ll help you through it, but we’re not gonna do it for you.
I’m the opposite of Lindsay. I am 24 and married and have a baby girl on the way [laughing], and my older brother is doing his own thing, just living life large, and so of the three of us, I am the homemaker, the homebody. That’s what I do and what I like, and it’s very fun for me to kinda watch them spread their wings and do what they do. We went through a lot of stuff over the last 10 years, just between my parents and things that my older brother struggled with. Just feeling like, as the older sister, wanting to protect Lindsay, and the younger sister also feeling like she has to protect her older brother… I have a very protective, caregiving nature, so it makes sense that I would be the one who’s married and has a baby and all of those things.
We were never forced to live one way or the other. We were never told that it’s right to have a husband and for him to be the breadwinner and to have the kids and to stay home. We had a working mom, but we also had a stay-at-home mom.
I cheer Lindsay on and she cheers me on, and we take joy in being able to watch each other do that, and I think that comes from having my mom and her five sisters all walking different lives. That’s kind of what I’ve always gathered: the importance of leaning on the people who care about you the most. It’s very evident in your life who’s gonna be there, you know?
The reason behind the parents who don’t show up – we don’t always know. If my grandma had
showed up for her daughters, they may not have had electricity in their house or they may not have had clothes or food on the table. She had to work, ’cause she was a single mom of six girls...
And my mom is 100 percent the reason I do what I do and why I work with kids, because I watched her be a speech pathologist with little kids. The biggest lesson I have ever learned from my mom and my grandma is: I have six kids that I work with daily, and I adore all of them and they all have different stories, and some of them have parents who show up, and some of them have parents who don’t. But the reason behind the parents who don’t show up – we don’t always know. If my grandma had showed up for her daughters, they may not have had electricity in their house or they may not have had clothes or food on the table. She had to work, ’cause she was a single mom of six girls, and every time I get defeated, my mom reminds me: Just because the mom or dad doesn’t show up doesn’t mean they’re not there. That is a huge lesson, I think, for people who are working with troubled families and troubled kids, because it’s so easy to judge. When you work with kids who cannot help the way their brain is made and that’s why they act the way they do, and you watch them go through their worst days, that’s a hard thing to cope with, and it’s very easy to say, well, it’s Mom and Dad’s fault. And that’s what I’ve gotten from my mom and my grandma – just the biggest lesson I’ve ever learned, ’cause my grandma was there, just not at school, you know?
Emily, can you talk about beginning your own journey of motherhood and how it’s been shaped by your family?
Emily: I’ve always been meant to be a mom. I love kids. But I was dead set on having a boy and only having boys. I want four kids and I wanted four boys and I was like no girls, no girls, no girls, and I think it’s a weird complex. I don’t know where it comes from, but maybe the fact that I have my mom and her five sisters, and the idea of raising that many girls terrifies me. Or maybe because I am a girl and I know what I had to deal with and I don’t wanna raise that.
Yeah, I wouldn’t want to raise me [laughing].
Emily: Yeah, I’m like, is this how you felt when you were pregnant with me, Mom? Like, you had to raise yourself. I am you.
But I’m over the moon. I’m so thrilled; I cannot wait. I know for a fact my mom prayed over us every day of all of her pregnancies, and I know for a fact my mom journaled about us, and she didn’t know who we would be, but she knew that she wanted us and that was never gonna go away. I think, for me, that has been the biggest parallel, because I have always wanted Macie, but I didn’t know it was Macie that I wanted, and I didn’t know it was gonna be a little girl, and I didn’t know what she was gonna do for me personally or what she was gonna do for my husband, and she’s not even here yet, you know? Being able to take from my mom, like, I know that I was prayed for my whole life… I know that I was given values and that I was loved and adored before I even got here, and to be able to have that opportunity with my own little girl and take all the really wonderful, awesome things my mom did with me and with my sister and brother and do those for another human – that’s a really cool thing. Remembering my mom reading with us when we were real little… I am so excited to read with her, but to also have her read with her grandma.
Lindsay, what about “aunthood”? Especially having had this tribe of aunts growing up.
Lindsay: My personality is the cool aunt. I have always seen it; I wanna be it.
Emily: You’re surrounded by cool aunts.
Lindsay: Yeah, so watching how all of my aunts have been able to impact all of our lives, and how my mom has been able to impact the lives of my cousins, and having that true camaraderie and love and compassion towards somebody that isn’t actually your child, but you treat like your child… On my birthday, my Aunt Mary Beth was here, and she made a comment, like, “Oh my gosh, you’re growing up!” And she was like, “I know you’re not mine, but you’re still mine. I will always be there. I know I don’t have kids, but you are my kids.’
Sometimes, I just need my aunt. And I 100 percent want to be that for Macie, because if I can’t do that, I’ve failed as an aunt, because I have the best teachers. If I can be half as good as those women have been to us, then I will be happy.
Emily: If I can’t be there, having that peace of mind, knowing that she or my brother or my husband’s siblings are there – that is so important. I called my aunts this week like, “Hey, wanna go get dinner?” And they’re like, “Yeah, let’s go get dinner.” To know that Macie will have that is really awesome.
Lindsay, you’ve talked about having gone on a journey of healing with your mom. Can you talk more about that?
Lindsay: It’s been a very much up-and-down, growing, learning, complete 180 process. When my parents first got divorced, I initially had a lot of anger towards my mom, ’cause I didn’t understand it. She was leaving. She was moving out. What had happened? Dad was upset about it. I didn’t get it. And I was 14 at the time, so like, prime age to just have anger and be like, ugh, my parents suck. I was mad that she wasn’t in Mason anymore. I had to spend weekends with her, and I was like, I don’t want to do that. I was very much in that “rock and a hard place” of like, well, this is my mom, but also, like, what’s going on?
She sort of took a back seat and was like, “I know you’re angry. I know you’re frustrated. I know exactly why you’re angry and I know exactly why you’ve got this frustration towards me. I’m gonna let you figure it out and let your dad be who he needs to be right now for you, and when you need me, come to me."
Emily: Well, you’d always been a daddy’s girl, too, so I think you just came to the protection of Dad. ’Cause we didn’t get Mom’s side, ’cause she didn’t tell us. She didn’t wanna stain who my dad is as our dad, which I think says a lot about our mom. So Lindsay was just always at the protection of my dad and sticking up for him.
Lindsay: I lived with them the longest time during the divorce and post-divorce. I was flipping back and forth, and there were money things, and Mom has this rule and Dad has this rule and navigating that… And throughout high school, I did a lot of back and forth between the two. There was a time when it completely flip-flopped and I was completely with my mom and I was really angry at my dad, and we had fights all the time, and it was just me growing, I guess, but also learning to navigate between who my parents were.
As I’ve gotten older, she’s become my best friend. It’s a completely different relationship now than at the beginning of the divorce. She has a lot of really good things to say and a lot of really good advice that I didn’t wanna listen to growing up, and I wanted to listen to my dad because I have the personality of my dad. I’m a more logical thinker than emotional thinker. I feel really, really high feelings when I feel high feelings. I feel really, really low feelings when I feel low feelings, but I try to kind of guard that and think, okay, logically, how’s this gonna work?
I’m morphing more into my mom. Now, I’ll get in arguments with my dad about things and my mom’s like, that sounds about right. I got into an argument with my dad this past week, and I called my mom and I was like, “Mom, I don’t know what to do,” and she was like, “I get it. But you also need to understand where he’s coming from.”
Emily: Which I think both my mom and I do, to be like, he’s doing the best he can as your dad and he’s trying to love you the best way that he can, and it doesn’t feel like it, but he is, so let’s take a breath.
Lindsay: Which is interesting, because that’s exactly how it was with my mom at the beginning of the divorce. I can only imagine what she was going through during those first two years. She sort of took a back seat and was like, “I know you’re angry. I know you’re frustrated. I know exactly why you’re angry and I know exactly why you’ve got this frustration towards me. I’m gonna let you figure it out and let your dad be who he needs to be right now for you, and when you need me, come to me. I’m not gonna force you to talk about it. I’m not gonna force you to do anything. When you’re ready to talk about everything, I’ll be there.”
So learning over the years, like, okay, you don’t always have to talk about it right away. Sometimes, if someone’s upset, and you know why, let them figure it out. You can’t force people to talk about their feelings. So thinking back on how she acted with us during the divorce, at the time, I was like, why is she distant? Why is she doing this? Well, there’s this situation that’s between her and my dad, and it’s between her and my dad. The divorce was not a family thing. It’s a marriage that’s between one human and another human. It’s not between a human and their kids. And that was hard for me to learn, that this divorce was not my business. Which I think she learned a lot from my grandma – whatever happened between my grandpa and my grandma was not the kids’ business.
And yet, your grandma’s story is so foundational to your identity as a family. You all tell the story in the same way. I think a lot of families don’t share those things at all.
Lindsay: Our family is so much more open. We’ve learned from the things that have happened in our family and in our lives. We wanna share that and be like, “Okay, well, you’re going through this; I get it. I went through something similar.”
I want Macie to talk about me the way that my mom talks about her mom, and the way that we talk about our mom.
Emily: And I think at some point in time, our family had a big transformation of learning that it’s better to be transparent than it is to hide. And I think that’s something that a lot of people struggle with, because it’s easier to play the strong card.
Is there anything else you ladies want to share about your mom and her impact on your life?
Emily: My mom is one of my biggest inspirations and one of my biggest heroes, and we tell her all the time. I hope she knows that where she holds her mom is where we hold her. We hold Grandma to that very high level of respect, and Mom is right up there with her. I don’t think Mom realizes that, and I don’t think she ever will.
Lindsay: She’s way more humble than she needs… This week, she was nominated for professor of the year, and it was a guy who won, and I texted her: “You will always be my professor of the year.” And she laughed and she was like, “Just the fact that somebody thought of me in that way…” I was like, are you kidding me? Everyone is like, “Your mom is amazing,” and I’m like, “I know!”
Emily: I feel like my aspiration now is I want Macie to talk about me the way that my mom talks about her mom, and the way that we talk about our mom. She works her tail off for everything, and parenting is no exception, and she’s not perfect – none of us are…
Lindsay: She’s taught us that her imperfections are okay. I think that’s a really hard thing – I’m 100 percent a perfectionist on almost every level of my life, and learning that: My imperfections, they’re okay. They’re allowed to be there. I can’t fix every situation. I can’t fix myself to have every human love me and like me the way that I want them to. That’s okay.
She has very much instilled that, ’cause she’s like, “I’m not perfect. I know that.” This is not an easy life, and we go through shit, and we go through hell and back, and that’s fine, but that’s one of things that molds us into who we are. She’s like, “I am not the best human in the world” – even though she is.