Let me start out by stating something that is a matter of fact to anyone who knows my mom: she is one of the smarter and funnier people you will ever meet.
Dianne Darwin does the Sunday Times crossword in pen, and when I’m visiting St. Louis we spend hours laughing, her dry observational humor an endless source of giggles and belly laughs. She really is a wonderful woman and mom.
Today, after 45 years of employment, many of them as a single working mom, my mother is retiring. I never appreciated what she did for my sister and I until recently, as the end of her working days approached.
For decades my mom put herself through the dull, throbbing pain of working jobs that did not allow her to express a fraction of her intellect or creativity.
Often her bosses (and their spouses) were unkind; they regularly did not fully recognize her needs, her family situation, her health, her humanity. Over the years some bosses — and especially co-workers — appreciated her greatly, but then there were the phases where she spent years getting up, getting dressed, and clocking in, knowing that the people who benefited the most from her hard work saw her as lesser.
She did this so that my sister and I could grow up and work jobs that allow us to fully expressed our intellect and creativity. I am sitting here writing this because for so many days she sat and wrote boring reports and memos and spreadsheets. She traded years of her right nows for my sister and I’s tomorrows.
Today, I am 38-years-old — so better late than never — but my lack of gratitude must have been almost as grinding as the endurance it takes to show up to a not-necessarily-inspiring job every day. How many times did I shout at her about breakfast, clothes, or missing homework as she steeled herself for another day working as an executive assistant? The gall of that child that I was!
The gall of the children so many of us were, right?
A parent who sacrifices their own dreams to work a job they don’t like to put bread on the table is giving their kids one of the greatest gifts in the world: a childhood.
Details of the struggle emerge in faded memories: tagging along as she shopped for fancy enough clothes at the second hand shop in the nice part of town; her trying to distract me in the check-out line of the grocery store as she handed the cashier food stamps; the occasional moments where my adolescent jerkiness would be the spark that lit the keg of all that built up tension, and she would be forced to raise her voice.
I think it can be hard, probably impossible, for anyone who is not a working single mother to understand that lived experience. This past year I dated a working single mother, and I am not being hyperbolic when I say that I do not know how she did it.
Actually, I do know how she did it. She never stopped moving. And she almost never put herself first, instead living in a sleep-getting-the-kids-ready-commuting-work-commuting-looking-after-kids-sleep continuum that sometimes never seemed to end.
My mom was released from the child-rearing part of that continuum some years ago when my sister graduated high school. Soon, she will have all of her time back.
And that’s what it’s really, truly, going to be, for the first chapter in 45 years: her time.
Finally, she will be able to use her intellect and creativity however her chooses. After sacrificing so much of it to us, for so many years, I have only one wish for her:
That she does whatever the hell makes her happy for once, and for the rest of her forever.
She’s earned it.