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eleanorr

eleanorr
Location
Chicago, USA
Birthday
November 09
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Looking for a place to leave pieces of her heart, and fill in the blank spaces.

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SEPTEMBER 16, 2010 1:27PM

The Problem With No Name

Rate: 7 Flag

Have things changed for women? 

I was one of the first generation of women for whom having a job and children was the norm.

Not so the Greatest Generation.

My mother received a college degree from a good university.  She worked for several years as a second grade teacher.  She is a gentle soul, with the internal magnetism that draws little children to her like bees to a hive. 

When she was pregnant with her first child (two years after her wedding), the school administrators decided that it was too shocking to have a pregnant woman teaching seven year olds.  They fired her and she came home to raise her children and care for her husband and aging parents.

Her husband came home every night to a home-cooked meal, ready for him when he walked in the door.  His dress shirts, always perfectly starched and ironed, hung in a row in the closet they shared.  She chose his tie every morning, and got out his wingtips setting them at the foot of the bed. 

He often had civic meetings in the evening, and ran out of the house after dinner.  She cleaned up the dishes and when he came home, he talked with her about the meeting, whether it was community or church or school.   She advised him, and I could hear their discussions from my little bedroom.

She made her children breakfast in the morning and walked us to school five blocks away until we were old enough to walk ourselves.  She helped us with our homework and corrected our grammar.  As we grew, my grandparents needed her more and she drove them to doctor's appointments, stayed overnight if one was in the hospital, got their prescriptions filled.

There was never any talk about her going back to work.  In my elementary school class, there was only one mother who worked outside the home.  She was a night nurse at the local hospital.  We felt sorry for her only daughter.  What must it be like to not have a mother at home?  While mine was not a June Cleaver in a shirtdress and pearls, she always looked nice when she went out.

She and her friends met mid-morning in their  pedal pushers for coffee, and talked about their children, their husbands, their small lives.  My mother never seemed to me to want more.

When I was in fifth grade, a local church decided to start a pre-school program and asked my mother to locate materials and be the first director. 

This was a side of my mother I had never seen.  She went to night meetings, like Dad did, and she wore a blue tailored suit, white gloves, and a little white hat.  She carried one of Dad's old briefcases, filled with mimeographed blue copies of research she did at the library, and notes on lesson plans.  She was a different person.  For nearly three months, she balanced all her normal responsibilities wit, someone I didn't know. She threw off new energy for starting this pre-school.

One night she came home in tears. 

The church decided against funding the pre-school.  She had worked very hard on a pro forma, and the board was too conservative.  They gave her a letter citing her hard work and excellent planning. She never tried anything outside of home again.

I noticed a change in her after that.  While I can't pin down that this was the exact cause, she soon would be in major depression, a disease that would haunt her for years to come.  She would be hospitalized for a suicide attempt, and participate in many private therapy and group sessions.  Knowing what I know now, I suspect that the traditional definition of depression "anger turned inward" was exactly at work.  She was too timid to speak out to her gregarious husband, overbearing parents, and growing, engaged children.  But she was the proverbial wind beneath all their wings.

I think back on this sometimes with great sadness -- as a woman who had many choices and as a woman who was ready to meet those choices because my stay-at-home mother invested so much in me. 

I imagine it was incredibly difficult to "put herself out there" into a changed world after a decade of not working, or not engaging with the wider world.

She was always there when I was little, like an inviting tree in our back yard whose limbs reached out to embrace everyone around her.   Always giving, never taking. 

What did she need?  What choices did she have?

 

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How many of the women of my kate mother's generation had these thoughts?
So well written and loved it.
Rated wiht hugs
For some reason, I am thinking of my grandmother, my mother's mother who was born in 1889. I remember being told that she wanted to be an English teacher. Perhaps money kept her from that pursuit. She did train somewhere to become a legal secretary which was work she did until she was in her mid-thirties when she married. When she was 38, she had my mother. When she was 40, she had my uncle.

My grandmother appeared in pictures to be quite happy when she was young. She met my grandfather when they both were young, but they waited to marry because of obligations to look after their parents.

One might think that she would be so supportive of a daughter who wanted to pursue a profession. My mother wanted to be a nurse. My grandmother told her it was a filthy profession and no daughter of hers would do that work. If anyone would study for a profession, it would be my uncle. My uncle wanted no part of that. One might think then that my mother would be allowed to train. None of it.

So much was going on in the background. So much lies in the mist. Something changed my grandmother from a happy young woman to a nervous, angry, sometimes bitter mother. Perhaps one pregnancy was enough. Perhaps my grandfather wanted a son. No one ever spoke of any reasons. Everyone talked of my grandmother's moods.

My mother worked in a business office for eight years until she was pregnant with me. Almost the minute she learned she was pregnant, she lost her father. Life for her was never the same. Life for my grandmother .... Well, she became a widow and a grandmother within six months. When I was three, my mother took a part time position at a hospital as a nurse's aide. Thanks to a grandfather clause aimed at recruiting more nurses, she took the exams once she had worked for three years and passed. She had made her dream come true. I lived part time with my grandmother.

My mother's other grandmother had been widowed when young and with several young children to raise. She became a midwife and delivered a generation of children.

I am taking a long time here and I don't know that I have an answer.

I do know that my mother's life was happiest when she was at work. Home was not where she really wanted to be. Perhaps as she had grown up during WWII and had seen so many women working, it never occurred to my mother that she would not work. Had she been forced to stay at home, my family would have self destructed. We came close enough as it was.

Sorry to have rambled for such a time, but I don't know if there are easy or clear cut answers. I think life is life. I also know why finding one's voice is so important to me. I feel more rambling coming on and so I'll stop. I'll be interested to see what others think.

One tiny thought more. When I married, I married for love and I knew that it would last forever. On the day I realized that despite my love, I could no longer breathe, I began to know that I would die if I stayed. I packed what I could and walked away. Could the women in my family who came before me have done the same? Does any choice provide a safety net?
I really am glad that women are not defined by who they married! Well, excepot for those awful 'Real Housewives' shows! R
Your mother sound like an incredible woman. I understand the desire women have to care for and nurture their children. But I always wonder about the the other parts of those women that remain unused and untapped. Being a mother was my favorite gig. But I'm so happy I am able to have other meaningful reasons for being as well... Your mom's story makes me sad.~r
Wow does this hit home with me, and I'm working on a post -- not about women of your mother's generation -- but of my own. Me. I've been far luckier than your mother (my family, my husband and his family have always supported me so sweetly) but there have been consequences for my choices (or non-choices). It doesn't surprise me at all that your mother faced an existential crisis when her rather modest (by today's standards) were shot down for being radical, when in her heart she was dumbing them down to be more palatable.