Home during my freshman year in college, my mother called to me from the guest bathroom I was using. “What?” I said, as I rounded the corner and saw her holding my plastic dial-a-day pill dispenser.
“You’re on birth control?” What followed was not what I would have expected. Instead of Who is he? Why haven’t we met him? Are you in love? she laid her palm against my cheek, and said: “Carla, while I love you and your brothers, I would have been just as happy had I not had children. Don’t get pregnant.”
I was marginally hurt – but not shocked. My mother had been accelerated through high school to help fill the needs of the workforce while the men were fighting in Europe or the South Pacific. Instead, she married her boyfriend and gave birth to my brother Keith. Unforeseen was that Keith’s father would not go off to war because of the illness he succumbed to rather quickly. At the age of 21, married now to a returning soldier, Mom became Mom to my brother Sam. And eight years later, I came along.
I look at faded photos of my mother standing with us outside our Veterans Administration home. And it looks just like the photos of other post-war moms I saw while watching “Women Who Make America,” on PBS last week. Moms who may or may not have had higher educations, but who still felt that raising the seemingly obligatory three children was not fulfilling enough. Moms who read “The Feminine Mystique,” who lauded Shirley Chisolm over meatloaf dinners, who bought copies of “Our Body, Ourselves.” Mom borrowed mine. Mmmm. I wonder if she ever did the hand-held mirror “exploration.” And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up. ☺
Anyway, about a year after Mom found my birth-control pills, she started going to township meetings, won a council seat several times before becoming the first woman mayor of our rather large industrial municipality, and sat on a New Jersey state planning commission. At 84, she still consults on local politics and waits in line at weekly meetings to say something prickly to the administration she does not support.
While it may not have been the most eloquent way to voice her personal frustration and fear that I would not achieve my goals, I knew what Mom meant about not having children, having experienced the limitations of her generation. She got a late start, but she got started. And while other moms may have kept on keeping on with the times, as was socially accepted and expected, each was still a member of that sisterhood of unrest that launched the Movement. So to celebrate International Woman’s Day, which honors the advancement of women around the world (more at http://internationalwomensday.com), let’s first honor the women at home, the Moms Who Made America.