Sunday, May 08, 2005

My Working Mother


My mom at 16 working at Polaroid in Holland.

I grew up in a household where my mother worked my entire life. When I was a kid in the 80s, my dad had a job where he drove to the city and worked at a fancy company, and dropped me off at daycare in his awesome car that had a cassette player in it and listened to Olivia Newton John's greatest hits over and over again. And then my mom would pick me up and I would join her at the end of her day on the construction site. Yep. The construction site.

My mom grew up in Holland and her father was a minister and a carpenter. She was the youngest in a family of saints. By this I mean that they invited the whole town into their home and fed them, and they also sang together like the Brady Bunch. This was a good, wholesome family. But my mom was (is) the mischievous one. And oh so independent. Determined not to follow the ordinary path in life, she didn't take homemaking classes, though she's a fantastic sewer as well, she set out for the big jobs. Working for Polaroid as an executive secretary in Holland at 16 yrs old, she was smart as a whip and she always wanted to be something more than she could predict.

Off she came to America for the first time at 19 with my Jewish father in hand- they had met on a train in Germany during the Vietnam war- and eventually made her way to New Jersey, my hometown, where my parents bought some land, built the house where I was born and raised, and my mother began her career in construction. She was the superintendent of the site. She had her own small company and she specialized in building mansions and one-of-a-kind houses in Morris County's loveliest neighborhoods. She loved organizing, planning out the houses, building people's dreams. She even worked on the actual construction with her team. Her colleagues were big burly builder men, and no one questioned whether she belonged. My mom is boss. I mean boss in the urban dictionary type of way. She's super fly, and super slick, and commands respect in the way she handles things.

The construction industry went sour by the end of the 80s and it was time for her to peace out. My father was peacing out as well. My father never worked for anyone- else- since that time period. He's a big dreamer. And he means well. And he started his own business. He's invented brilliant inventions and scientific science things. Unfortunately to this day he's not made more than he's spent on the business. But we love him and support him, and this is not his story, this is my mother's.

She started out as a secretary at Rutgers University, from there she moved on to working for a financial company in the World Trade Center. I went to visit her on the first "take your daughter to work" day. And she showed me the magical city where mommy spends her daytime hours. I tried sushi for the first time in the park next to Trinity Church, she said "Try the salmon kind, it's kind of like lox." And I'd visit again, looking out of the windows of these magical towers, across to the Colgate Clock in Jersey City. And I was special. I was not a tourist. I was allowed in the special employees’ cafeteria on the 43rd floor. Not the top, but high enough to keep my eyes peeled to the window the entire time.

And my mom worked hard. She still works hard. And she's been making her two hour each way commute every morning and she wouldn't have it any other way. My father is an excellent cook, and since he works from home, he always has a hot dinner on the table when she comes home.

And today my mother still makes that commute, and still works in that big beautiful city. Some things have changed. I can't visit that magical world that my mom worked in back in the day. But now I am in an office in this city, and she's in midtown. But now she works as an executive at a big company. She's got a team of assistants working for her, and all of her co-workers not only have college degrees, but most have doctorates or law degrees. And she's only finished high school. In Holland, at my mother's time, college and women were a rare combination. Just this week my mom sealed a multi-million dollar deal with another big company, and she's still as impressive as ever.

People say that a woman's place is in the home. People say that kids need their mothers at home with them to grow up right.

My mother loves me endlessly and has always been there for me whenever I needed her. I cherished my independence and ability to make food for myself and watch TV when my mom wasn't around. I learned how to do all kinds of things by myself and my independence and fearlessness that I gained has given me a solid backbone as an adult that no one can deny. People say that I'm not typical for a woman. That I like things that boys like, and have the confidence and humor that boys do.

Well I was raised by a woman like me. And a woman's place need not be in the home. Her place is everywhere.

Thanks, mom, for showing me that I could go and be anywhere and everywhere, because that's just what you did.


Your Allerliefste Schatteboutje,
(pronouced allur leaf scha scutt about cha)

Happy Mothers Day.

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