This Mother's Work

I'm more than happy to introduce a special guest contributor this week: my cousin Michelle. As children, we spent summers, holidays, and many a weekend together. Now, as  adults, we unfortunately see each other much more sporadically, as Michelle currently lives in Baku, Azerbaijan, as the Program Director of the American Bar Association's Rule of Law Initiative in Azerbaijan. Impressive, huh? Michelle writes about her mom here. My aunt, or "Annie T" as we call her, holds a special place in my heart, too.  She and my mom were night and day, but as sisters-in-law, they shared a deep respect and love that bypassed any and all differences. Personally, I'll be forever indebted to my aunt, for the love and support she has shown my sisters and I since my mom died. Clearly, commitment to family was one thing my mom and aunt shared in common. And with that, I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did.

By Michelle A. Brady

There’s a picture, stashed away somewhere in a drawer or closet at my parents’ house in Rochester, of my mom and I relaxing in our bathing suits and inner tubes at my grandparents’ old cottage in the Finger Lakes.  It’s the summer of 1982 and I’m five years old.  I haven’t seen the photo in awhile but I remember that we are smiling and laughing.  A couple months later, that September, I carried the picture with me to my first day of kindergarten.  I cried the entire morning, missing my mom, and feeling perhaps, that our five years of intensive mother-daughter bonding were about to end.  Years later we would recall that day and joke, because as an adult it seemed I was always eager to get away.

Over the years my mother and I have laughed and cried together, shopped, danced, and traveled together, and yes, at times yelled and said hurtful things to each other.  Despite our ups and downs and growing pains, I am forever indebted to her for one thing in particular, because without it I would not be the woman I am today.  This one thing she gave me above all else was the example she set as a working mom, laboring tirelessly along with my dad, to provide a better life for me and my brother.  That example, and the values it instilled in me, has made all the difference in my life.

I never thought it weird that I had a mom who worked full time.  From kindergarten onward, my mom went back to work, remaining at Eastman Kodak Company---along with my dad---until retirement many years later.  I stayed with baby-sitters and at after-school latch key programs and, quite honestly, never thought twice about it.  In fact, I have positive memories of using these morning hours at the baby-sitter to watch cartoons: G.I. Joe, Jem, and Transformers, in particular.  I ate snacks in the afternoon at latch key and finished my homework while waiting for my mom to pick me up.  And when I was older, I’d arrive home to an empty house and immediately call my mom to inform her I’d arrived safely and that yes, of course, I would get started on that homework right away!

Having a working mom, though, often proved to be a major lesson in organization and planning ahead.  When I was in junior high, my dance lessons really took off.  This required cross-town transportation to dance class right after school, in order to be dressed in my leotard and tights with hair pulled back by 4 p.m.  More school days than not, my paternal grandmother was tasked with this responsibility.  Like any doting grandparent, Grandma Kay arrived on time everyday in her Cutlass sedan, smoking a cigarette and carrying a Wendy’s large chocolate frosty, because every budding ballerina needs some carbs before a workout. Hours later, my mom would arrive at the dance studio with dinner and a ride home.  I would often collapse into the seat, sweaty, exhausted, and not too happy with her efforts to catch up on the day.  Yet she paid for the classes and costumes, supported me at competitions and recitals, and even joined a mother-daughter tap class to spend more time with me.

While my mom was busy with my dance lessons, my dad was similarly busy with my brother and his hockey and lacrosse activities.  During the winter season---which is excruciatingly long in Rochester---my mom would often cook chili on Fridays, a low-maintenance meal that could simmer all day and be ready when we arrived home late after my brother’s hockey game.  In typical pre-teen fashion, I didn’t appreciate this practical dinner choice in the least; in fact, I hated that chili. So one Friday, knowing my fate for dinner, I “came down” with the stomach flu at school.  This, of course, required my mom to leave work early and pick me up at a school.  She was calm and quiet as we drove home, seemingly concerned about my well-being.  But within just a few minutes of questioning, my mom had me confessing that no, I was not actually sick; I just didn’t want chili for dinner that night.  In hindsight, I’m sure my mom didn’t appreciate having her work day interrupted like that, but she never said a word to me. And I never did eat the chili again.

So many of my childhood memories are connected in some way to my mom, and especially, to her role as a working mother. When I look back on it all now, as a 35 year-old single woman, living out my dreams halfway around the world, I realize the extent to which it has affected me. My mom gave me the example of a working mother who handled stress at work and paid the bills at home; a mother who cleaned the house and organized everyone’s schedules; a mother who was tough and forceful when necessary, and equally conciliatory and compromising; a mother who did all of this while remembering every detail and splitting responsibilities with my father in a gender-equal way.  Above all else, I witnessed first-hand the benefits of organization, multi-tasking, and motivation, and along the way, saw the rewards of goal-setting, hard work, and investing in education.

I haven’t told my mom nearly enough how much I appreciate the example she set for me.  So I will tell her now, and then again the next time I see her in person.

Thank you, Mom, for showing me what is possible, and for selflessly paving the way for me to realize my dreams.