A(nother) Toast to My Mom, Karen Pryor, on Her 80th Birthday

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Editor's note: Enjoy this enlightening and heartfelt letter that Karen's daughter, Gale Pryor, wrote in celebration of her mother's recent 80th birthday.

My mother has a persistent habit of changing the world.

Karen and Gale in Hawaii

Karen and daughter Gale Pryor driving a favorite
Welsh pony mare, Farnley Phosphor,
in Hana, Maui, Hawaii c. 1966.
(click to enlarge)

When she was a young mother in her 20s in the 1950s, and was told she couldn't nurse her baby because she had a difficult labor and, besides, no one breastfed anymore anyway, she thought, "Well, that doesn't make any sense at all." So she learned all about lactation, and then she nursed her babies, and wrote a book about it, and pretty soon, a few more women rediscovered breastfeeding, and they taught others. Today, 70% of new mothers breastfeed their babies. Karen got that ball rolling, and in the process, redefined motherhood in America.

In the 1960s, when animals were trained with whips and chains, Karen thought, "Well, that doesn't make any sense at all." And she searched for the science that would enable her to train, teach, and communicate with any animal without punishment and fear. Then she applied the science, and refined it, and wrote several books about it. Soon, a few more people tried it, and they taught others. Today, positive reinforcement is far and away the most widely accepted approach to training. Karen started that, too, and in the process, redefined our relationships with the animals in our lives.

Today, the day Karen turns 80 years old, she will put in a full day of work at her company, finalize details for her trip to Paris and Prague with her granddaughter in June, savor a busy weekend of entertaining friends of all ages late into the night, catch the appraising eye of handsome strangers, offer to do an errand for her daughter, and cross wits and crack jokes with her grandsons at dinner tonight. If someone told her that most 80-year-olds don't spend their days like that, she would say, "Well, that doesn't make any sense at all." Today, and every day, Karen is redefining what it means to be 80 years old.

So, let's all lift our morning cups of tea in honor of the remarkable Karen Pryor. Happy birthday, Mom!

About the author
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Gale Pryor is a writer and editor at Pen and Press, an editorial services and consulting company. Her writing credits include Parenting Magazine, Mothering Magazine, Teaching Dogs, National Public Radio, and two bestselling books.