When I was 6 weeks old my mother returned to work. She was 28 years old, and she worked as a registered nurse. She worked at the hospital where my parents would go to work and be nurses for the next 10 or so years of my childhood. My mother gave birth to me there, 6 weeks before coming back, and she would give birth to my next sister there 2 1/2 years later. She was relatively new at the time, so she worked an evening or night shift. And because the night workers started their weeks on Sundays, my mom started back to work on the Sunday of Mother's Day.
Mom cried all the way to work, as the story goes. It is a story I heard several times growing up. I knew that Mom was sad to leave me on the day that was meant to celebrate her. I knew it was extra special because it was her FIRST Mother's Day, and I was her first baby. I just did not understand how heartwrenching it must have been. Now that I am a mom, I have a little better idea.
My first Mother's Day was spent with Olivia, Jake, the Vaseys, and Grandma Jones. We had a lovely brunch and Jake got be an antique ring with one pearl on it. Beautiful and simplistic, inexpensive but meaningful. I wear it now with pride. And I imagine wearing it some day when I am older and richer (as we all plan to be, right?). If someone were to ask me if it was real, I would say No, but it is more beautiful than all the fancy jewelry (that I would presumably own at this point in my imaginary future).
We could not afford real pearls on my first Mother's Day, and we can't really afford them now either. But I was happy that I'd been given the chance to start a new job, and that job was going really well. We were no longer in "unemployed" status. Jake was happy that he got to take the month of April off to be home with Olivia. And no one had to work the night shift that day. (Not even Olivia, who was sleeping like a champ--finally!)
My mom's story sounds so heroic to me now. She might not see it that way, and at the time I'm sure she was just trying to get through. My dad was still finishing nursing school, and I think they had just purchased a house with my grandparents' help. There were several sources of stress for them at that time. But my mom carried on. I picture her driving in her uniform in our old yellow car. I can see her pull up to the hospital and straighten herself out. Wipe away the tears. Fix the make-up in the rear view mirror. And then walk in, work her shift, clock out, and eagerly come back home to me and Dad.
That is heroic. That is motherhood. It's everyday stuff, but it's not, too. Her baby was 6 WEEKS OLD. That is so little. And hardly enough time to heal from a C-section. She could have driven back home. She could have broken down at work and confirmed everyone's predetermined notions about women and having babies and trying to "do it all." Instead she showed up, and made a living for her family.
At that time, there was no such thing as FMLA or protected maternity leave or even pregnancy discrimination. And rather than being outraged by that fact (like I am), my mom was probably just grateful that the hospital let her have 6 weeks off and did not fire her. It's not right. And it's not much better now, but we are getting there.
* * *
This year was my second Mother's Day, and it was great. It started with a brunch outdoors on the patio of a one of our favorite wineries, and it ended with a sweet little conversation that I had with my Grandma Evie, that went something like...
Grandma E: "How is Olivia doing these days? She is getting so big! Isn't she getting tall?"
"Yes, she is big for her age, she is quite verbal for her age too. Grandma, I know everyone thinks their child is special, but I really think Olivia is going to be pretty smart."
Grandma E: "Honey, you just keep thinking that, and she will be. She will."
*Heart bursting with pride*
My favorite place to be