I leave on my road trip later today, on what would have been my mother’s 89th birthday. And #WhereSheIs, is in my heart.
My mom died in March and, until the very end, was a woman who demanded and got what she wanted. She lived her way and died her way, within what she believed were unbreakable rules and limits. Very much a product of her generation, she almost unquestioningly followed what she was taught and urged me to do the same, repeating dictums like:
- Don’t question authority.
- Remember your place.
- Girls should be seen and not heard.
- Raising your voice is not ladylike.
I did none of these things. And I think that even though she would have denied it, she was something of a rebel, too.
Looking at her life, I can see places where she pushed the boundaries of the rules and roles she worked to maintain, doing things like demanding equal pay when she worked for the Farrell Corporation in the 1950s and, when I was in school, lobbying for more comprehensive high school sex education. At home, even though my dad was the one who made the money, my mom was the one who determined how it would be spent. Both of my parents grew up during the Depression. But my dad was too frivolous, mom said. So it was she who paid the bills, handled the bank accounts, set up an account with Morgan Stanley and made all of the big financial decisions.
Despite all of this, she bristled at the word “feminist” and literally blanched when, in January 2016, I told her I had become president of Connecticut NOW.
NOW? That Gloria Steinem group? Was I becoming a radical? Did I really want to get mixed up in all that the ERA business? In all that women’s lib stuff?
“Humph,” she said with as much seriousness, worry and disgust as if she were Phyllis Schlafly. “Next thing you’re going to tell me is that you’re going to stop wearing a bra.”
It took everything I had to swallow the HA! that wanted to explode from my mouth.
Yet one day last year, she wrote the note below. Especially her last few years, note-writing was how she made sure she didn’t forget to tell me things.
Reading it, I got excited. Was she reconsidering some of her ideas about feminism? When I asked, she said she wasn’t interested in talking about it.
But the note proved that even if she didn’t want to talk about it, she was at least thinking about it. She was paying attention, which is how change begins. And it’s never too late for any change, whether it be in policy, action or mind.
When I get done teaching at 3:30 today, I’ll be off! And where the me of #WhereSheIs will sleep tonight, I’m not quite sure. My goal is to drive as far as I can, sleep, and arrive in Chicago by early afternoon tomorrow. Please wish me luck!