Last week I was staying at my mom’s house. Usually I go up to bed early and just read. My mom stays downstairs and goes to sleep much later.
I saw her at the door when I was lying in bed about to open my book.
She came in and sat down. I closed my book. Instead of my usual annoyance, I was curious.
“What’s going on, mom?” I asked.
I don’t remember how she got started, but she just started sharing with me about her life.
I just lied back and listened. I was afraid to saying anything. It was very unusual for her to talk about herself and I didn’t want her to stop. It was like being let into a part of her past I had never really known about.
Her undergraduate college degree was at a local teachers college in music education. She was a little embarrassed to be going to a local college, but she did because it cost less to go there and she never wanted to be a burden to her parents.
It was ok, because she had a dream – to get a Masters from Columbia. That would make up for the stigma of the local college in her mind.
Upon graduation from undergrad, she applied and was accepted to Columbia. She got a job teaching music in a local elementary school and commuted into the city at night and on weekends.
Nowadays, one might be afraid to get off at 125th street and take the bus through Harlem to get to Columbia. But she wasn’t. She was driven to accomplish her goal.
She graduated at the same time as her brother, Richard, who was getting his pharmacology degree. He was older, so I’m not sure why they finished at the same time. I think he might have been in the “service.”
Anyway, she was recruited away from the smaller town into Westport, a larger town, by the head of the music department. At that time, there weren’t really instrumental music programs, and she was hired to develop one. I love that she was discovered and sought after. It makes me very proud of my mom.
She taught a few years, got married to my dad, and then got pregnant with my sister.
My sister was born in January so the summer before, she knew she was pregnant.
“We have to let you go,” her mentor said.
“What?” I asked. “Why couldn’t you teach until December?”
“In those days they didn’t do that. Once you were pregnant, it was an embarrassment. You were simply let go immediately.”
Unbelievable, I thought. How different it is nowadays.
A few days later I was talking to a woman at the gym. I asked her about her career. She was in finance. She was a successful executive, working long hard hours. As soon as she told her company she was pregnant, she was asked to leave. Same thing. OMG!
Not even showing. Just pregnant.
I’m blown away by how different it was. Was it only men in charge? Did we not have a say? Did women just accept that that’s the way it was? What about all their education? What about their hard work? Poof, that’s it?
OK, I have to stop asking these questions. I’m getting negative and pissed off at the unfairness of it in my mind. Who knows what it was really like back then? I wasn’t there.
“We’ve Come a Long Way Baby!!” Now we can practically give birth at our desks and nurse at work. (Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, I’m not sure). But I do know, being pregnant is not something that’s embarrassing or has to be hidden which it seems like it once was.
I don’t know why this struck me so hard. I guess it just makes me wonder ………..what was the purpose of going after your career and working so hard if it could disappear so quickly?
I guess it’s just the way it was.