Her Story, Mine

There is a story I’ve been told for as long as I can remember…

The first time my mom met her future father-in-law, my grandfather, and revealed, upon his request, that her major was Secretarial Sciences, his response was, “What are you gonna do with that?”

I like to imagine my mom in that moment…taken aback by the comment, polite in response, but accepting of the challenge—as though her thoughts spoke even more loudly this– “What am I going to do with that? Watch.”

As an English major at LSU, I ran into similar commentary from more people than I care to admit. “English, huh? Well, that’s a husband hunting major.” Which, in case you were wondering, translates like this: “Well aren’t you cute, little lady, with your fluffy major.”

“What am I going to do with that? Watch.”

As a teacher for the last 20 years, the script has seen few revisions. “Well, I mean, it’s not like you have a real job…you get off at 3:00 after all and those summers, I would love to have summers off…I mean if you were really capable, you wouldn’t be justa teacher” And nearly every time I’ve heard these words, I’ve simply imagined my mom facing my grandfather, the challenge she met with a quiet fury, and the accomplishments that followed. Sure I’ve been baited into argument over these statements…I am the daughter of an attorney after all—I know how to build a pretty formidable case and sometimes, I cannot resist. But more often than not, my response is a quiet, internal impulse to excel, to achieve, to succeed.

“What am I going to do with that? Watch.”

These diminishing questions make a statement that extends far beyond a major or a profession. Women have been enduring “well-meaning” demeaning commentary for centuries and continue to carry the burden of having to prove themselves equal, worthy of being heard, and strong enough to lead.

This past August, my mom and her business partner sold their court reporting firm and she finally stepped into a much-deserved retirement. As she began planning for her days without the stress of work and owning a business, I was stepping out of my classroom and into a far more stressful position—Head of High School. The juxtaposition of these two moments struck me and I think that maybe for the first time in my life I fully understood the weight of my mom’s example in my life.

You have to know this before we go any further here: I have a really amazing mom.

The kind who finds out her adult child is sick and spends every waking hour for two straight days cooking so her sick child won’t have to…the kind who shows up at the hospital when she has the full out flu because her little girl is giving birth to her first child—20 weeks early, too early…the kind who teaches you that “nobody ever said life would be a bowl of cherries” and then comforts you when it isn’t…the kind who owns Thanksgiving like a boss…the kind who you can emulate but deep down you know you will only ever be able to be a shadow of the mom she has been and continues to prove herself to be.

My mom is certainly not the first working mom. However, in a world where so many moms feel judged and judge themselves even more harshly for the choices they make (stay at home, work, nurse, bottle feed, etc), her example enables me to feel validated in my decisions—to feel that I’m not sacrificing selfishly. She has always been fully a mom and has also always worked—first from home, then for a boss in an office, then in her own office as she and a partner bought the company and kept it going for nearly 23 years. She had to be creative at times both in how she worked to keep her company afloat and successful and in how she worked to still be absolutely present in the lives of her family. Her notebook was always in her bag and she was always at the ready to answer calls “Alliance Reporting, this is Karen speaking…” And this was true whether she was at home, at the hospital with one of us, or spending the day with a sick grandchild. Work was always present in her life, but so were we, and as she strove for balance there, the love and kindness she poured out were undeniable.

My mom has this strength that is formidable and a savvy intelligence that I’m not even sure she recognizes. I have a vivid recollection of the hours she spent ensuring a software patch was installed that would survive the feared Y2K crisis. I mean countless hours with the tech guy, on the phone, in the office.  A lot of people did this I suppose—things were so uncertain and planning felt necessary. However, I feel it is pretty important to note here that in that same year, in those same moments, she was also making my wedding dress (that’s right-making it without an actual pattern) and doing the lion’s share of wedding planning as I was in the middle of my first year of teaching and sort of just threw it on her. Needless to say, my dress and wedding were gorgeous and her company survived Y2K without a hiccup—but none of that would have happened without her tireless persistence and resilience

I could go on at length with examples like this but what does it all come down to besides the fact that I have been blessed by her ever-present love and strength?

It comes to this.

I never gave her enough credit for being more than a mom. I never stopped to think about the example she was setting for me. I never paused to realize that all my feisty independence, all my “don’t you tell me I can’t…” came from her quiet presence. I never understood that while I look up to all these women who have proven that women are more than they are often given credit for—and there are so many—the woman who has influenced me most in this way is my mom…the woman who has enabled me to fight (hopefully with grace) for people who need a voice is the woman who gave me my own.

As I begin this new rather auspicious job that kind of terrifies me as much as it exhilarates me, I’m leaning on her example more than she realizes. As I blindly seek balance between my school kids and my own kids, between my coworkers and my family, I remember that my mom has done this already, that we all survived, and that we always knew she loved us. When I fight for kids whose voices desperately need and deserve amplification, I remember the spine and integrity with which she led those she worked with and my own is strengthened. When I feel like I have so much to prove and that there are those who will second-guess, the quiet hush of my heart speaks these words:

“What am I going to do with that? Watch.”

1 thought on “Her Story, Mine”

  1. Good evening Dear Amy- I really enjoyed reading this beautiful tribute to your MOM- MY SISTER- She has always been a fabulous port in a storm for me- a very steady rock that I could cling to- until I got my balance back and could see thing much clearer- even though she is 7 years my junior- I have always looked up to her- admired her plan for her life and working that plan perfectly- I am so proud to have 2 great women in my family and in my life that show us the way to calm clear thoughts and actions- that is you AMY and your great MOM — I feel that every action in my life has brought me to where I am today —-I had a career of 40 years at one company, that I loved- I looked forward every day to going in- I was able to retire with a home -paid in full- no debts- and a planned out budget -so I could live comfortably – thank you again for this great blog sincerely N.K.

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