My mom and I were watching my kids play in the yard the other day. Somehow the conversation turned to her knowing how to ride a skateboard. I remembered that I had a white one once but that I wasn’t very good at it because I didn’t have anyone to teach me. At the time I didn’t realize that she knew how to ride so I never asked her to show me. But her next comment “Oh, I guess I wasn’t around to show you”, really struck a cord with me. My mom pursued her Masters degree when I was young but I never thought of her as “not being there” and I realized at that moment that she holds some guilt about taking that time away from us to further her education. I’m very proud of her for pursuing her Masters and working a job in a non-traditional field for women (computer programming). In fact, there are many things that I am proud of her for and never once have I thought negatively about her pursuing her career or education because it may have taken some time away from me. I don’t remember her not being there. So, I have decided to write this piece to tell you my mother’s story so you can know just how awesome she is and how lucky I am to have her as my mother.
I don’t ever remember my mother telling me about feminism or even using that word around me, but she certainly raised me from a feminist perspective. I always knew that I could be who I wanted to be and pursue any dream my heart desired. When I graduated high school, I had it in my head that I was going to be the goalie for the US Women’s Olympic Field Hockey Team and work for National Geographic as a photographer. Neither were small dreams, but I had every confidence in my ability to do those things. Granted, I never actually did those things, but that was only because my interests and passions changed, not because I tried and failed and certainly not because I thought I couldn’t. This was because mom instilled a sense of confidence in me that carries me through everyday even now. (Note: when I say confidence, I do not mean narcissism or conceit. She also taught me to be humble when it matters.) She also taught me to be independent and to learn to do things for myself. Thank goodness for that! That is one thing she taught me that I used the most. She shared with me the wisdom that her mother shared with her: never let a man leave you without a car, always wear clean underwear in case you get into a car accident, and always have a financial cushion/save as much money as you can.
She learned that first one the hard way. On one of her trips up to Richmond to attend Masters classes at VCU the guys she rode with from work left class at break and went to a local bar that was having a wet t-shirt contest. They asked to take her keys so they could put their bags/briefcases in the trunk on their way. When it was time to go, they were nowhere to be found and she was stuck 2 hours away from home in a not so safe part of town with no way to get back. Just the thought of that makes me want to physically hurt those men, leaving my momma stranded like that, but she gave them what for. Around about midnight after waiting around in a local deli she finally saw them coming out of the club. She told them exactly what she thought about what they had done and also let them know about it while she drove them home. Of course, the guys didn’t see what the big deal was. This was in the 80’s before everyone had cell phones so my Dad was at home worried and waiting for her to come home, not knowing all that had gone on. One of the guys was married and his wife also had something to say to him about his behavior and how he treated my mom. The guy who was married finally got it and apologized to Mom the next day. The single guy went around the office telling his funny story thinking nothing of it until all the women in the office responded the same way that Momma did. I think he finally apologized and hopefully they both learned a little about how to treat women better. Of course, the fact that they thought it was a good idea to go to a wet t-shirt contest makes me think not, but maybe it set them on a road to a feminist revelation. One can only hope. My mom also taught me to be an optimist, but never naïve, so I know better.
At another point in her career in the non-traditional field of computer programming, Mom experienced sexual harassment that she actually blocked out and didn’t tell me about until this past year. One of the centerfolds “models” in Playboy magazine had my mom’s same name one month. The guy down the hall at work thought it would be funny to hang up that picture with a cutout of my mom’s face pasted on it in the break room for everyone to see. Now, this was in a time before we had the word “sexual harassment” that could help women describe what they had been experiencing. She felt embarrassed, but mostly angry because with that one act he had reduced her to a sex object after all of her hard work to do a good job and gain respect from her peers as a computer programmer. The guy had no idea why she was upset about it (seemed to be a trend at this place) and brushed it off as “just a joke”. As I said, my mom blocked out this experience , and she was only reminded of it when this guy reached out to her through email this year. He had some sort of “come to Jesus” moment now 20 years later and realized what he had done was wrong and was seeking her forgiveness. In a switch in our roles, she asked my advice. She told me the story and I confirmed that what she had experienced was indeed sexual harassment. I think validating her experience helped her to do what I suggested next. My mom is a Christian so I told her that it was up to her whether or not she chose to forgive him. However, I suggested she not let him off easy, but instead spell out for him just how his actions affected her and why what he did was wrong, because she probably wasn’t the first nor the last that he harassed. I could see she felt empowered and she did in fact email him and let him know just that. I forget whether or not she forgave him but she said she felt better afterwards. It makes me wonder about other women from that generation and what experiences they had with sexual harassment and what they have blocked out. It’s hard enough now to call out sexual harassment and we have a word for it, when they didn’t even know what to call it. I’m very proud of my mother for standing up for herself then and now.
Another thing I admire about my mother that I try to emulate is her compassion for others. One thing in particular is her encouragement of young people, especially girls and young women, to pursue their education. In my line of work I get to interact with and hear the stories of many young women and men and encourage and empower them to follow their hearts. Knowledge is power that no one can take away from you and it can help you to achieve your goals in life. My mom has helped a few women financially that I know of with their college books and the like so they could pursue their degrees. She also tutors kids in math and also guitar (something she tried to teach me but I didn’t have the patience to practice, just like the piano). I love watching her with my two boys teaching them new things, taking them on adventures, and reading them the books she brings for them. Instilling in them a love for reading is something very important to me because it is something that both myself and my husband enjoy. Other ways she shows compassion for others is by giving to charities and volunteering for the local library and various other non-profits, especially her church. Also, she’ll gladly talk to you about her faith but she won’t push it on you. High five for that, Mom! She recognizes that we all have our own point of view and experience of the world. She knows what works for her and won’t deny another the right to have that for themselves, whatever that might be.
My mother is a wonderful person and every time you see her she will have a smile on her face. That smile is not just to be pleasing for others (something that is expected of women), but because she is a genuinely happy person. She loves life and her family and friends. She has worked hard and come through adversity all with a smile on her face. I may be in my 30’s, but nothing makes me feel better and more centered than a hug and conversation with my Momma. I love you Momma! You have always been there for me when I needed you. Happy Mother’s Day!
(Post originally appeared on http://www.GrrrlWithBoys.blogspot.com on 5/11/14.)