Written By Mary Spiro

In traditional art, “motherhood” conjures up images of chubby infants cradled in the ample arms of blissful matrons.

In the real world, “motherhood” is work that requires marathon endurance and executive savvy. Moms must be energetic, thrifty and creative managers to juggle the job of raising kids.

Carroll Magazine went on a quest to find “Top Moms” and many were nominated for the honor. We discovered as many ways to be a mother as there were women doing the job.

Profiled here are four exemplary mothers. All of them are simultaneously extraordinary and yet quite typical in their approach to motherhood. All qualify as Top Moms.

Joan Mason

When Joan Mason was little, she liked to play mommy–not to one–but to eight little babies. So today, when someone asks this Hampstead mother how she manages eight children, Joan is pragmatic. “Four, six, eight kidsÉwhat difference does it make? After two children you don’t have any more hands and someone is going to have to wait.”

To be fair, only five of Joan’s children are biological–a large family by modern standards. The other three joined the Mason family in a way that’s part miracle and part fairy tale.

Abby was the first child adopted, a healthy toddler from Lithuania. The adoption process required two visits. On the first trip, officials at the orphanage begged the couple to come see another child. It was Luke, who had numerous medical problems as a result of a traumatic breech birth. Amazingly, his birth mother and father were the same as Abby’s.

“I usually like to limit myself to one life-changing event per day,” Joan recalls, but could not bear the thought of leaving Abby’s brother behind. So after months of treatment in his native country, Luke was ready to become the seventh Mason child.

Life returned to normal, or as much as it can for a family of nine. For several months, all nine crowded a two-bedroom apartment in Westminster while a larger home was under construction in Hampstead. About that time, Joan received a letter from Lithuania.

As Joan explains it, when orphaned Lithuanian children reach 15, the government reveals the whereabouts of any relatives residing outside the country. Simona, living in foster care for seven years, had been informed that she had siblings living in America.

“All I ever wanted was a family,” Simona had written to the Masons. To Joan, it was clear what she and her husband had to do. “You have to go get her!” Joan told Sam. So at 15, Simona joined the Mason clan.

Life with eight kids requires order. Children switch chores each week. Those seated near car safety seats must buckle them. Joan checks each child for shoes before taking trips from the home. Somehow, everyone gets a school lunch made and gets to where they need to be, mostly on time. Joan keeps her sense of humor and takes time to indulge her passion for long distance running–a passion Simona now shares.

“I’ve learned that no one ever died having Coco Puffs for dinner,” Joan says. “In fact, the only problem with having a large family is that you don’t know who to blame.”

Jeannie Nichols

Jeannie Nichols is no armchair quarterback. “I have an image of the kind of county I want my family to live in. I am willing to go out there and make it that way.”

As a Sykesville city councilwoman, Jeannie works with the Parks and Recreation Committee to plan events, such as Family Fun Day. She has spearheaded the conversion of Springfield State Hospital into the Wakefield business campus. From her home, she runs a growing corporate wellness business with 35 employees–mostly moms.

Before moving to Carroll County in 1992, Jeannie led a campaign to rescue the Largo-Kettering public library in Prince Georges County. What had once been a small storefront resource room is now a 55,000-square foot focus of community pride.

“One person can make a difference,” Jeannie says. “There are people out there who feel the same way you do and are just waiting for someone to step forward and make it happen.”

Does leading so many noble efforts cause Jeannie’s family to suffer? No. A home business allows her to be home with her children. There is no cable TV or video games, but there are bicycles so that her family can ride together.

Her children mostly take care of themselves and do much of the housekeeping, a task reserved for early Saturday mornings. That leaves plenty of time to read, walk or learn a new game with their dad, Bill.

“She’s an original,” says daughter Katie. “And one day, if I care about something enough, like her, I would probably do something about it, too.”

Carol Yocum

Taking care of your own children is challenging enough, but Carol Yocum has a church family as well.

For 19 years, Carol has ministered to the 950- member Calvary United Methodist Church in Mt. Airy. It’s a job she now shares with her husband. When Carol talks about life, she slips between home and church without missing a beat.

“Our family has been blessed,” Carol says. “The church is like a second home. It’s a good environment in which to raise children.”

A church family is a big responsibility. Check the calendar of any month and there’s always something going on. And church life puts pressures on Carol that other moms don’t have to face. Take school breaks. While others might spend time with their children, Carol is preparing for Holy Week during most spring breaks or Christmas in the winter. “We can’t just take a family vacation at those times.”

To preserve family time, Carol chooses not to join service groups. “As valuable as I believe these organizations to be, I say no.” Similarly, Carol has never been a Brownie mom, PTA president or even coached Special Olympics for her daughter, Elizabeth, who has Downs Syndrome. She’s grateful for the moms who do choose this path.

But there’s a perk: Carol’s church family creates a network that has had as much impact on her three daughters as any group of biological relatives could have had. Church provides them opportunities, such as choir or music. And she says she’s always felt there was someone in her church willing to help her when she needed it.

“The church should be a place where anyone can come and be able to find the support that they need.”

Jeannie Vogel

One day Jeannie Vogel found some verses written on her fridge with magnetic words.

“She treasured the ocean sun and the light in your soulÉI love peace dreams and inner giftsÉ”

The verse was composed by her daughter Meredith. “Deep thoughts from one so young,” Jeannie said to herself, “but not surprising.” Three nights a week, Jeannie works as a labor and delivery nurse at Baltimore’s Mercy Hospital helping other women become mothers.

A city hospital is a hectic place any time of day, but Jeannie has created a home for her children worlds away from the hustle of the city or the pangs of other women’s labor. It is a place with a tree fort and a cottage where grandma lives just 30 paces from the front door. There is no place for video games and cable TV or endless trips to ballet and soccer practice. Rather, there’s time to dine together and listen to their father, Bernie, play guitar.

Choosing to works nights, Jeannie sleeps when her children are in school. She is there to see them off in the morning, greet them when they come home, help with homework and keep the cookie jar full.

“I have worked very hard to find a way to be a stay-at-home mom,” Jeannie says. Delivering this sanctuary was hard work. Jeannie changed careers from pastry chef to nurse. The family moved several times before a friend suggested they check out a nearby home that needed some TLC. During the renovation, Jeannie’s stepfather became terminally ill, and together, they watched him die.

“We have been through a lot with our kids,” Jeannie says. “But we have treated them like human beings–not like small adults–but as people. We have taken their feelings into account and have tried to be honest with them.”

Jeannie treasures the almost old-fashioned lifestyle she’s created for her children. “Childhood seems so competitive now,” Jeannie says. “I used to worry that I was putting them at a disadvantageÉThey may not have a PS2, but they have a tree fort and room to roam.”