Vanessa Whitaker, Philadelphia Portrait by Lori Pedrick

Vanessa Whitaker, Philadelphia
Portrait by Lori Pedrick

The success of a Rebel

“Rebel, rebel you tore your dress…” (Bowie, 1982)

Since as long as I could remember, I was always a rebel. I was a Philly girl raised by a single mom during the explosion of the latchkey kid generation. My mom set an example for me by working two jobs and going to school at night. My father taught me that females were punching bags. When I turned 10 my mom finally learned to believe in her inner strength and she divorced my father. During that time, I was a loner who had no friends but I found solace in reading books and rescuing cats and dogs that were thrown to the streets of Philly. At the age of 14 I fell into the exciting world of punk rock music. I found other teens like me who had rough upbringing and the life style and music helped us express ourselves. I spent my days cutting school and hanging on South Street, the area where all “the freaks meet up.” My nights were filled with dancing and braving the unsafe streets of Philly. The movie Sid and Nancy was my bible. I was living on the edge. 

       At the age of 29 I decided to hang up my doc martins and embrace motherhood. Motherhood was a reality check and definitely a struggle. Not only was I a first time mother, but I was married to a straight-laced man who listened to classic rock and I had also decided to complete my undergraduate degree in Psychology and move onto my Master’s in Counseling. During this time, I closed the door on many of my “punk rock” friends because they were still acting like we were 15 and living dangerously. When I was 36 my closest friend overdosed. I thought my whole world had ended. But I pushed on. At the age 38, I had my 2nd child she, a preemie who taught me patience. Now at the age cough…cough…cough 43, I have finally embraced my identity as a mom, a punk rocker at heart, a rebel, a social worker, a bartender, a wife, a friend, a member of a dragon boat team and a preservationist (for historic buildings). 

       I often long to relive my youth and I think that if I did so I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d keep every stupid act. I have amazing friends who support me and challenge me every day to strive higher and to never accept someone telling me NO. I am either advocating for animals, historic buildings or my children. I’m forever grateful that my husband continues to stand by me, his support allows me the time to give to the other projects in my life that fulfill me so much. Through my years I have learned to find balance and to find healthy ways to relieve my stress. Part of my stress release has always been music. No matter how shitty things are, I can walk into a record store and things are all good. 

       Growing up girl has been about striving to do more, about proving that a female—who was raised by a single parent, who is from South American and has Polish decent, who is covered with tattoos and who is a punk rocker—can make a positive impact and be successful.  

— Venise I. Whitaker