Friday was my mom’s last day of work.
For 32 years she has worked for the same corporation, through location changes, job title changes, changes in upper level management, and much more. She was one of the only “original” members of the staff, and they had to create a “Thirty-Two Years of Service” award for her, since no one else had ever been with the company as long as she has.
Thursday night her colleagues held a gathering in her honor and Don and I were asked to be there. Of course we said yes! I was excited to celebrate with her and to see the people I’d gotten to know from my visits to her office over the years as well. My dad had retired nine months ago, and I was excited that my mom would be joining him so that they could embark on this next part of their journey together.
What I did not expect however, was for this night to be such an eye-opener for me, such a look into my mom’s life as a young mother back in the early 1970’s and 1980’s and as a valued co-worker to the company for the next 32 years. I was struck by so many things as I listened to her talk to people and tell the story of how she got this job, when she hadn’t even been looking to go back to work at the time.
I am continually amazed as a mother and as a parent, at the perspective I gain into my parents’ years as young parents. I think of them whenever my kids are sick and I remember how sick my brother, in particular, was when he was young. I think of the times we got chicken pox together and strep throat together, every time a stomach bug wipes out my family all at once. I thought of them managing the Blizzard of 1978 as we recently managed Blizzard Nemo of 2013.
But last Thursday night, my perspective was a new one, as I put myself in my mom’s place as a young mother and I realized what hadn’t hit me til that moment: how similar our stories were.
My mother graduated from a secretarial school after high school, prior to having children. She worked for two of the mayors of the city I now live in, as it was the city she and my dad grew up in and lived in for a time as well. When she had me, she left her job to become a stay-at-home mother, as many moms then (and now) did. At some point when we were little, she became an “Avon Lady,” a home-based business owner, circulating catalogs, taking orders, meeting with customers and delivering orders. I remember being a runner with my brother, jumping out of the car, running up to doors and leaving the catalogs in bags hanging on the door handles, as she drove from house to house.
Although I finished up a four year college program after high school, I too, left my job and took on a home-based business when my kids were born, my path mirroring my mother’s. Although slightly different along the way, we ultimately ended up in the same place. I had gone back to work teaching when my oldest was just nine weeks old and stayed there for two years, but started the home-based business when she was one year old, a year before I left my job, in order to get the business up and running. I kept my home-based business for eleven years through two more pregnancies, only closing up shop just two years ago this summer. I had three children, rather than two, but I worked hard during the days, nights and weekends, working my business in between having babies and caring for toddlers and preschoolers. I took orders, filled orders, wrote newsletters, hosted meetings, taught classes, spoke at regional events and more, all while raising my children. It was very difficult, but it was very worthwhile and very much like what my mom had done with the two of us in tow, all those years ago.
One day my mother received a phone call, around the time her children were in elementary school. I was nine, my brother was seven, (similar in age to the ages of my younger two children today). A friend asked her to cover her job for a number of months while she went out on maternity leave. As I listened to my mother tell the story on Thursday night, she relayed how surprised she was to get the call, and how she had not been looking to return to work.
“I set out conditions. I couldn’t leave before they were on the bus and I had to be home when they were getting off the bus. I needed school vacations and summers off and if they were sick, I couldn’t work,” she told a colleague the other night.
Again, as I listened, I realized how similar our journeys as mothers were. When my third daughter was just three, I was volunteering at a school event for my oldest daughter. My middle was in preschool at the time. At that event I was “discovered” taking photos for the school scrapbook by the editor of our local paper. She asked to see my photos, loved them, asked me if I could write (to which I said I could), and offered me a job as the education reporter, right there on the spot. I had not been out looking for a job, I had just been coming in to volunteer my time. I had three very young children, two of whom were not even full-day elementary school aged yet.
I laid out conditions: I would not work full time. If they were sick, I couldn’t work. I needed to be home whenever they needed me, including summers and vacations. I had to be able to put them on the bus and take them off the bus, drop them off at preschool and pick them up at preschool. And because I had one more child than my mother had at the time of her job offer and because my kids were much younger than hers were at the time, I also had to be able to take them all with me any time I had to cover a story and there was no one home to take care of them, since most of them were not school aged yet.
My mom never left her job that was supposed to be temporary. As the years went on, she worked longer days, taking less time off, because we were older. As my children have gotten older I too, have taken on a bigger work load, even taking on writing for an additional newspaper, working longer, fuller days and weeks when I can.
My mother proved to be a valuable asset to the company because of her strong work ethic, her honesty and her Type A personality. She moved up. She went to college for twelve years, earning an associate’s degree and then a bachelor’s degree, ranking first in her class at Providence College when I was pregnant with my first daughter in 1999.
I’ll never forget watching her carry the flag into the graduation ceremony, leaning over the railing to see her better. I was 28 and she was 52. I was so proud of her. A woman next to me asked if we were twins.
“No,” I answered. “That’s my mother!”
But I realize now, that oddly enough, although not twins, our stories as mothers are similar. They’ll obviously never be exactly the same, but our core values are the same, our goals as mothers, career women and our work ethic are the same. I can only hope that our paths will continue to be similar as I have learned so much about the type of mother that I insist on being, from her. I know now more than ever that so many reasons I am the way I am both at home and at work are because of the way she was as a mother and an employee, and because of the things she held dear to her heart.