My mother was an accidental feminist. Here are three things she taught me, the best way, by example:
1. My mom, a single parent, worked two jobs so that I could go to a good school and have a near-normal life among my Ozzie and Harriet friends. Being divorced, she was an outcast, but a feisty one. She had to be tough and independent, not qualities that women were supposed to have in the 1960s. My friends were a little bit awed by her. I learned that a single mom scared the heck out of people…and that being a beautiful mom isn’t always pretty.
2. My mother wasn’t always happy as a suburban mom, struggling to balance the demands of her second husband, stepdaughter and a rebellious teenage son with her own desires to be creative and independent. When she tried to be superwoman, it didn’t always work – once she threw a party and was so exhausted that she passed out, face first, in her salad…like many parents of the time, she sometimes took refuge in drink. As a teenager, amid the turmoil I realized that, sadly, my mother wasn’t perfect, something we all figure out eventually. Somehow, her support meant even more once I understood this, and I learned that it is possible to love someone in spite of their flaws.
3. After I left for college, my mom plunged into a new avocation spinning and weaving wool. Before long she was raising sheep and building a career as a fabric artist. I was amazed…my mother, the farmer and artist? Being a mother and a having a career isn’t easy, something that women still struggle with. She made a second career for herself in her late 50s, doing what she most wanted to do. As I pass that age, her lesson is more meaningful than ever.
We all learn from our mothers. I was lucky that mine was a good teacher.
You can read more about her and how our relationship changed in one dizzying year in Some Way Outa Here.
Photo: In 2001, my daughter Elinor and my mother explained her artwork at Elie’s school.