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It Takes a Village to Raise a Mother

From teachers to neighbors to community leaders, the neighborhood offers continuity and consistency of role models who inspire and encourage.

I didn’t set out to write a personal story about mother’s day. I'm more comfortable writing up a guide of brunch spots or finding 15 last-minute gifts at Walgreen's with the family waiting in the car. But yesterday was undeniably about learning from other women how to be a grown-up, and really, how to be a mother. In the end, I realized that yes, you can find a mother's day gift at Walgreens, because someone's mother or a neighbor or a colleague is undoubtedly also there, and that connection is the gift all mothers share, not the stuff (though hopefully the Starbuck's gift cards are well received tomorrow).

I had been dreading Friday, because there were stories and meetings and duties stacked from 7 a.m., to 7 p.m., ranging from the professional to political to parenting and back again. 

But by the end of the day, I marveled at what I had been privy to in one day.

I left the house at 7 a.m. to get to a morning fundraiser -- wet hair, throwing war paint on face, frantically trying to fix wardrobe errors, worried about being late, about cash for parking, mentally re-parking in another site. I had been invited to attend this breakfast by a professional woman, so was, functionally, part of the constant audition all networking events are.

Once there, the fundraiser, for Meta House, snapped me back to reality and changed the course of not just the day, but of my approach in thinking about my own faculties as a mother and a member of society. A room full of mostly women was there to support the place that supports women, no matter what. By the time the presentation was over, there was not a dry eye in the house. It put each of us in touch with our own identities, as women and mothers, but also made us all feel somehow protected. In this act of creating a safe haven for women who need help, I think we all felt supported. I sat there thinking about how I was, for the first time, feeling strengthened just for being a healthy woman, and for being a mother. And that was enough. Normally, I excuse the fact that I am a mother.

“Sorry I’m late” means so many things now – it can mean “Sorry I’m late, someone just threw up on my only pants,” but those things are not in the professional realm. By 9 a.m. Friday, I had had this epiphany about my life brought about by this experience. I might be good enough. Mind blowing.

In the afternoon I went to a gathering in a local park to see a woman announce her candidacy for political office. Looking around, still feeling the solidarity from the breakfast, I had a new lens with which to view this experience. I walked up to the gathering crowd, and saw a friend who’d brought her daughter, standing side by side. From within the crowd, I saw a sea of faces, looking pleased, interested, and supportive. Two women scrambled for an umbrella to hold over the candidate when the rain started, and told her, “We’ve got your back.”  A favorite professor showed up in the crowd briefly, acknowledging me with a nod. The event was not about me or this filter, but it was rich with women showing that you can stand up and be part of something bigger that benefits the small still relationship within the family, and take strength in knowing that motherhood is rooted in community. I had thought I was “running off” to do this in the middle of the day – little did I realize it was securing my role as a mother and woman. 

Then I had to race to school and coax my four-year-old to leave pre-school and rush to her first piano recital, popping her into her dress, tying the bow, stopping to pee, getting buckled in the car seat. We made it on time, to the room full of people and mothers and fathers beeping and blipping as cameras flashed and videos were recorded. I watched her, amazed at her poise, her posture, her confidence. She was surrounded by people she trusts, with a teacher she loves. The piano was obviously secondary in her mind as she paused at length to survey the group and smile.

I took her with me, then, to the volunteer reception at Shorewood High School. Role model after role model were acknowledged, with the School Board president markedly noting that the students here understand how valuable the efforts of the community are.  Young, old, friends from high school’s parents, current parents, were getting awards for years and years of volunteering and support of students and people in the community. We watched, together, from a packed group.

As is tradition, the group walked over to the auditorium building for the opening of the musical, and there were a line of past teachers, parents, and volunteers helping with this spring ritual. I reconnected with beloved teachers of mine, retired, who feel the magic of the musical at Shorewood and wouldn't miss this. We know each other well, like women since the dawning of time – acknowledging each others’ presence by handing them something to do, or patting the girl's head, eyes lighting up as she reaches for their hands. The music teacher at Lake Bluff who welcomed me and put me in the musical late in the year (way back when) when we moved to Shorewood took us with her to the back of the theater to see the opening number, to my daughter's delight (bypassing the concerned house manager), to sit in the back for a moment, to share this moment. I realized that there in the dark, we were together teaching a new generation the magic of togetherness, mentorship, and community. There, huddled with the powderpuff of a girl in my lap, next to my trusted teacher, I realized I am home, safe, and am surrounded by mothers showing me the way.

Maripat (MP) Wilkinson May 07, 2011 at 07:39 PM
Jenny, great article. Brought tears to me eyes--in a good way! We have a wonderful community and need to connect with and support each another even more. All you do is very inspirational. Happy Mother's Day!
Cheryl Glicker May 15, 2011 at 09:55 PM
Outstanding article, Jenny! I wish more women understood that "Women's Lib" need not deny the most important "job" women have... the one for which they DON'T get paid. Keep up the good work on all fronts.

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