Yesterday was my mother's last day at work, and the night before I attended a retirement party for her. Today, I know she can't wait to get started on all the fun and exciting activities she has planned, now that she doesn't have to get up and go to the office everyday. Having lived survived several mergers over the course of her career in human resources, upon retirement she had 35 1/2 years of service with a company that is officially only 11 years old. Even though I never went with her on any of those "take your daughter to work" days, her career has had a profound effect on me and who I've become. This quick little story might give you some idea:
One day when I was about 4 or maybe 5, my mother came into my room and found me playing with my dollhouse. She sat down next to me and started asking me about different things in the house, and what the people were doing. I showed her how the girl and boy dolls were playing together, and I think the father doll was in the kitchen. The mother doll was about to go out of the house, but she had something rather like a domino stuck to her hand. When my mom asked me what that was, I replied "Oh, that's her briefcase. She's going to work now."
Thanks to my mother (and my father, and their mutual support of one another's dreams), it simply never occurred to me that anyone's mother might not work outside of the home. Later, when we moved to Syracuse, I had friends with stay-at-home moms. One of them ran a daycare in her home, and in retrospect I'd venture to say that she worked at least as many hours as my mom (who typically worked 10-plus hour days). I came to understand that all moms work hard, no matter where they spend their days. But because my mom had a career in industry, and my dad was the one at home (at least until he finished grad school), I never had the chance to get stuck in the traditional mindset that mothers should not have their own outside careers.
I'm not going to lie and say it was a breeze for her. She faced many challenges (especially considering the corporate culture of the late 70s and early 80s) in balancing work, marriage, motherhood and personal time. I remember that the summer after my first year of college, she and I went on a mother-daughter canoe trip in the Adirondacks for a long weekend. By then I was as strong a paddler and as good a camper as her, and the route we picked wasn't too challenging, so we had plenty of time to relax and enjoy each other's company. One evening we were sitting by the campfire and started reminiscing about my early camping trips. Mom likes to say that my first camping trip was actually in utero, since she was 5 months pregnant with me when she went on her first trip. Then we started talking about those very early years in general, and my mom began to cry. She told me how guilty she still felt for not having been around as much as she felt she should when my brother and I were little, and she asked me to forgive her. All I could say was, "Mom, there's nothing to forgive. If it weren't for the choices you made, you wouldn't have been the example you are to me, and I wouldn't be who I am today."
I think reflecting back on my mother's career is particularly apt at this time in my life. Even though I'll be 30 this year, I'm really just starting out on my own career path, I'll be getting married soon, and hope to have kids one day. It seems like everywhere I turn there is pessimism about the plausibility of balancing work, marriage, and motherhood, never mind personal development. But whenever I start to worry about it, I just take a deep breath and think of my mom, and my faith in myself returns. I know I can do it--she proved to me that it's possible.
Lots of women friends my age have started noticing--often with a certain level of concern--that they are turning into their mothers. All I have to say to that is, I should be so lucky.