An archive post. Feeling thankful this week and missing my Mom. Enjoy.
I am the product of a working mother. Yes, it’s true. I was seven when my Mom started working and I wore a gold key on a red and yellow lanyard, tucked inside my parochial school uniform. I couldn’t actually unlock the door, so a neighbor kid would open it and let me in. My brother, two years older, went to a different school and got home an hour or so after I did. Today this would be illegal (Illinois’ current legal age for home alone children is 14). In 1977 it was merely shameful.
There are a few very potent memories I have about this status of latchkey kid: one was really enjoying Brownies, but opting out of Girl Scouts after hearing a neighborhood mom complain about driving me home from the meetings. I could really rail on this witch, but I won’t. Who am I kidding? Of course Imma rail on this witch. First off, why on earth would she say that in my presence? Secondly, my Mom didn’t drive, so she would be carting my little Brownie ass around anyway. Thirdly, her own daughter was a Brownie in my class and we lived a half block away, so really? Finally, I could name names, but the gal’s daughter is my facebook friend, and even though I haven’t seen her since 1983, who would wantto know that about their mom? I take great pride in keeping that particular sadness to myself and never shared it with my Mom. Instead, I said something about not wanting to sell cookies, which my Mom was probably pleased as punch to not have to deal with anyway.
Another memory I have is standing on a street corner with my Mom. Get your mind out of the gutter, people! As mentioned, my Mom didn’t drive when I was little, so every morning she would stand on the corner and wait for another mom who lived a few blocks over to pick her up and drive to their mutual job – – an attendance office for a high school in a neighboring suburb. My Mom left early, something like 7am, so she woke us up early, made certain we were dressed and fed, and took off a little before my brother and I walked to school. At that age I hated that my Mom worked. If I’m honest, I think I was ashamed. And know that I write that only because my Mom is dead and it can’t hurt her to read those words. Sigh. Anyway, every morning I would walk out to the corner with my Mom and hang out with her while she waited for the other gal to pick her up. Many years later, me all grown, my Mom told me that it just about killed her that I did that. She felt terrible, she said, guilty as all get out, driving away as I waved. Now I get it.
A year or two later, my Mom was laid off from that gig and started working at the local library. For some reason, I liked her working there more. Maybe because she really liked it. She stayed in that position through my college years. God bless her. This was full-time work and involved two evenings a week. At this point I was about 10 and my brother 12. Double digits. She and my Dad had a very traditional marriage – – she cooked and cleaned and he didn’t. So for those two evenings, she taught my brother and I how to make dinner. It was usually just heating something up she had prepared in the morning, but once in a while I cooked a pork chop or a hamburger. Not a bad lesson for a 10 year old, I think. This is when we started doing our own laundry, too.
Another really sad result of my Mom going to work was her cutting my hair. I had mad curls and screamed every time my hair was washed or combed because of the tangled mess it gravitated towards. When my Mom got hired she sat me down and told me it was time to get it cut. Ouch. This was 1977, folks, so we went for a Dorothy Hamill do. Word to the wise: never give your mop top curly girl a short cut. It just doesn’t work. Actually my Mom wore that same do from 1976 until she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004. She was a knockout with it – – it just totally suited her. When she stopped styling her hair because the tumor had paralyzed her right side, I was shocked to learn her hair was just as curly as mine.
(Yes, I went to Bradley.)
So what’s my point? It’s complicated. Yes, that’s my point: it’s complicated. I have mixed feelings about working and mothering, just as I had mixed feelings about having a mom who worked. In the end, it worked out. I was a good kid. Probably the worst that came from it was that I watched too many ABC afterschool specials, which taught me that if you took PCP you would jump out the window of your high school classroom. I ate too many Ore Ida Crispers and Steak-Umms for afternoon snack. I was a little lonely. None of those are the best things, but none are the worst, either. It’s hard to imagine my little seven year old self alone for an hour every afternoon and I kind of want to give that girl a hug. By the time I was a working mother, my Mom had already died. Just five months earlier. How I wish I could talk about working and mothering with her – – what it was like for her, what it is like for me. Sigh again.
(This is totally superfluous, but this is why I fetishize the 1950s. My Mom’s engagement photo. My Dad was a lucky man. Seriously.)
So what about you? Did your mom work? How old were you? Did you, too, wear the key on a lanyard and hang your head in shame? Talk to Mary Tyler Mom about it.