– Anonymous, Ontario
This story is for my mom, the woman who taught me everything I know and showed me the beauty in life. This story is also about my mom and the lessons I have learned from watching her over the years.
My mother is an amazing woman. Her life has by no means been easy and she has worked hard to get where she is; a very successful businesswoman and a mother of four girls. She commands respect and attention with grace and elegance everywhere she goes. She is the perfect hostess, the perfect partner, friend, sister, wife etc. But to my siblings and I, she is just mom, the woman who orchestrated family dinners every night of our childhoods, juggled a household of endless afterschool activities; hockey games, dance recitals and soccer games. She read to us every night before bed and was always available to help with last minute homework questions or essay editing. The woman even sewed our Halloween costumes. By hand!
“On business her most important lessons were, 1. Never volunteer to take the minutes in a meeting and 2. Never bring baked goods into the office.”
As I mentioned, my mother taught me everything I know: how to bake the perfect cake, cook a full Sunday roast dinner, write a proper essay, steer a canoe and be a confident woman in a world a men. On business her most important lessons were, 1. Never volunteer to take the minutes in a meeting and 2. Never bring baked goods into the office. She said both were quintessentially female actions and doing either would change the way men looked at me.
Whenever I think of my mom, I think of Christmas, when she is at her most impressive. The days leading up to December 25th are always hectic in our house; my mom cooks up a storm, cookies, squares and cakes literally covering every surface, all while somehow sneaking off to find us the perfect gifts and still working full time. Everything comes to a head on Christmas night when my mom hosts a black tie dinner for our family of about 30 people. After a busy day of church, presents, cleaning and still more cooking, we put on our party dresses and stay up all night drinking and laughing with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. As if that isn’t enough, the woman makes all of the place settings herself, out of ginger bread. She constructs gingerbread sleighs, decorated with candy and filled with chocolate for each person to mark their place at the dinner table. Gingerbread fucking sleighs! People used to tell me that my mom is Superwoman, and with good reason, she is a force to be reckoned with.
I want to take a moment to talk about my father as well, as he holds a very special place in my heart. At first my dad comes off mild mannered but once you get to know him (or get a couple drinks in him) you quickly realize that he is probably the funniest person you have ever met. I love my dad, he is incredibly supportive, ambitious and a freaking genius. My mom and dad are quite similar, both incredibly successful business people, both present and dedicated parents and they share many of the same interests and passions. I will however always respect my dad especially for his support and dedication to us, his daughters. Introducing myself to people as one of four sisters always has and always will elicit the same reaction: “oh your poor father”, to which I counter “No, he loves it”, and I truly believe it. Some men would, however unconsciously, wish for a son or encourage one of us to take up “boyish” activities. Not my dad. While all of us grew up playing sports (one of my sisters did become quite a serious hockey player) and two of us are engineers, we never felt any pressure from my dad. His ability to respect my mother as an equal and encourage her ambition and his unconditional love and support for us is truly inspiring and I will forever be grateful to have a dad like him.
“I began to realize that my mom is a classic example of a woman being caught in the double shift.”
I am often told I am just like my mother, which I take as a compliment. I would love to be as confident, gracious and successful as her but at the same time it is intimidating. How can one person accomplish so much? How am I supposed to have a successful career, have kids, be involved in charities and local community activities all at the same time? How does one woman pull all of this off without breaking a sweat? The idea of living up to my mother’s image is terrifying. Or, it was terrifying. It wasn’t until I had grown up and moved away from home that I began to understand my mom as a person, not a superhero. When I was 18 she suddenly quit her job and went into early retirement. She started gardening. Not that she hadn’t before (perfect household and all), but she had never seemed so passionate about it. Slowly she began to take up jobs on committees and boards, unable to stay permanently at home, but at a much smaller scale. I began to realize that my mom is a classic example of a woman being caught in the double shift. Growing up in the 60s and 70s she learned that she was expected to do well in school, have a successful career and still be the perfect mother and run the perfect household. But she is not a superhero, in fact for much of my childhood she was probably just exhausted. I will always think my mom is amazing, but seeing this more human side of her is probably the best lesson she could have ever taught me. It helped me to understand that as a woman I deserve to do whatever I want, whether it is work outside the home, become a scientist, be a stay at home wife and mother, not have kids, whatever I want, and not because it is expected of me or because I am a woman but because it is what I want. Her step away from the corporate world helped me understand that life is about being the best version of myself and deciding what my priorities are. I consider myself lucky to have grown up with parents like this. I think the world needs more mothers and fathers who trail blaze and make space for future generations to grow and shine. I will strive every day to be like my mom, but thanks to her hard work I will do it for myself and not because it is what is expected of me as a woman.