Let me start by say that you were right about good manners, the importance of fiber and that boy you didn’t like from the start. You were right about fabric softener, friendship and why clean underwear in case of a car accident is vital (although luckily never tested, it just makes more sense now that I’m a mother too). You were right about a lot of things, including the times you said “you may not like our rules, but you’ll understand why we make them when you have children of your own.”
A few months back, I wrote a letter to my daughter, as she was leaving for college. You did the same for me, on lined notebook paper in your beautiful, scrolling handwriting. These past two days of Parent’s Weekend, I wondered (as I tried not to run across the parking lot and tackle her), if you felt that same swelling in your heart, that same wash of feverish relief, that I did to see my grown up girl walking toward me. I vividly recall you, that same first Parent’s Weekend, (run)walking across the Vassar College quad toward me, in a fabulous green polka-dotted dress, sunglasses and matching pumps- smiling like crazy. Although you were already ill with breast cancer, that image is forever sealed as my last memory of you ‘well,’ turning heads with your energy, beauty and magnetism. I was so proud to be your daughter!
That was always the case.
Being a working mom in the early 1970’s meant that you took a lot of grief from your women friends, from people who criticized your business travel, your passion for work, your schedule. Our babysitter was hard on you, and I often overheard other kids’ moms talking about how you ‘let other people raise your kids’ or were ‘acting like you wore the pants in the family.’ But I was always so very proud of you, and how accomplished you were. You radiated power and compassion- and I knew you were changing the world for the better. I prayed I would be strong and smart and gutsy like you someday.
I was always proud of my working mom. And I know my kids are proud of me.
Some things have changed for working moms, and some have stayed the same. People still say dumb things to me like “your husband lets you travel- wow! He must be a great guy!” Lets? LETS me travel??! Or my personal least favorite, “who’s taking care of the kids while you’re traveling?” When Jon travels, I suspect no one asks him that. A few years back, I started offering responses that were purely about my own entertainment, like “I left them with Good Dog, Carl,” or “I put out some food on the counter and left the cat door open, they’ll be fine.”
What’s changed for working moms?
There are more of us, a lot more. There was a time when I would pick you up at the airport and you were the only woman coming off the airplane. And, there are ways as women, we are better friends and allies to one another. We cover each other’s backs more, help with each other’s kids, share home-life secrets. And, there are ways we still make it harder for each other, too. We can be judgmental of other women’s work-life integration, we don’t offer a hand or a glass of wine or an understanding look when we could.
As I get older I realize the importance of this kind of ‘being present’ for other women in ways I did not in my earlier years. I recently made a pledge to speak only kind words about other women, in order to help, not harm where I could. I have done pretty well, not perfect- but well. And I am working on it every day- to offer a kind word where I can, so give voice to my positive thoughts about other women, to encourage working mothers in every way I can.
Mama, I am so very grateful for how you modeled loving your work and loving your family. There was enough for all of us. It was not perfect- we were not perfect- but you were forging a new path and in your own bold, gracious and sometime pain in the *&%$# way. So too, will we forge ahead as best we can, to ‘have it all’ without having to ‘do it all.’
Thank you for being a pioneer, for leading the way through harsh territory and working hard to leave a path we could safely travel after you.
What would you say to your mom in appreciation today?
And, by the way– Have you had your mammogram? Deb and I care about your health!
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Remember: Lower the bar, and drop the guilt (today).
This blog was originally published by the Times Union and can be accessed here.