The invaluable lesson my Mother taught me before she died
About a month before my mom died we were sitting on the back porch of our house talking. We had done this a thousand times before, especially in the summers. The back porch with all of my mom's lively plants was our favorite place to gather.
Just two weeks earlier I had sat in that same spot with one of my best friends. It was the afternoon we got the news that they were stopping all treatment and that my mom would have six weeks to live. At my call my best friend sped over and showed up with a pack of cigarettes and we cried and smoked marlboro lights like a couple of delinquents. At 22 what else do you do with this kind of news?
The following days were full of visitors and casseroles and old stories. It would sometimes get to a point where my dad would make a "no visitor" rule so that my mom could get some rest and we could spend our own personal time with her. That was my mother, inspiring people to come together to celebrate life and share love, this trying time was no exception.
Finally alone that summer afternoon I had no idea what I was supposed to say. All of the pamphlets they send you home with from the hospital tell you that you must tell your loved one that it is ok that they go. I didn't feel like it was ok, I didn't feel ready. Saying it out loud felt inauthentic, like I was lying to my mom and sure that she would know.
We were quiet, but so much was being said between us. "Is it soon?", I asked her with my eyes. "Are you sure you have to go?" I nudged by holding her hand. I had never been so scared in my life and for the first time I was realizing that soon my mother wouldn't be here to help me.
I will never forget our conversation that day on the porch. She shared with me parts of herself that I wish I had gotten more of but time did not allow. I was the youngest so who my mom was as a person, Elizabeth the woman, was kept from me. That is the part of your parent that gets shared with you when you are older, I unfortunately don't have the luxury.
She sat calmly, legs crossed, arms folded and finally broke the silence, "I should have been a better mother. I should have had more time for you girls, been there more for you. But I didn't know how to balance. I was this woman with my own goals and things that I wanted to do but then I also was a mother. I should have been better."
Being all of 22 I couldn't really understand how my mom could possibly feel like she hadn't done enough for us. I watched her for years cook dinners, show up to sporting events, pick me up from school, wake up at 5am to braid my hair. I remember her staying up late holding me as I cried and cried unsure of how to handle the things life was throwing at me and sitting by my hospital bed as I lay sick as a child. I remember her standing and clapping at my solos during choir performances and dragging all of her friends to come and see me perform. I remember a trip to New York and California and a Clinique shopping spree on my 12th birthday and love, all of the freaking love you can imagine.
But that isn't what she saw weeks before she died. She saw a woman pulled in many directions unsure of the best path to choose. She saw a woman who wanted a career and to help others and to be a wife and a mother and a friend and a boss and a giver to her community. She saw missed volleyball games and busy schedules and untapped opportunities to show up for her daughters.
And it is a shame that she saw all of that. Because if she were here now I would tell her how unbelievably impossible it is to do it all. I would tell her that these are the conversations I am having with my friends at age 30. How do we do it all? How do we do it all well? How do I pick my kids up from daycare and still get dinner on the table after working a 10 hour day and also run a side business so I can pay for their daycare?
Should I have kids? Would I be able to do that well and have my career and give to the world and be the person I aspire to be? Am I supposed to take care of my husband or him take care of me or us take care of each other? Did I do enough at work today? Was my performance good enough? Was my parenting good enough? Am I enough?
And I am spinning. We are still having these conversations and doubting our worth and questioning our value and never feeling like we are enough. I am sad that on that summer day weeks before she died that my mother felt inadequate too. That instead of her knowing deep down in her soul that she was the best damn mother any girl could ever ask for that she was doubting the very thing I thought she was an expert in. That she couldn't see that all of those hours she worked taking care of other people and giving therapy to kids that she was teaching me what it was to be a strong, independent and influential woman and to do good in the world.
And I am dumfounded that we still get paid 75 cents on the dollar until I sit in a room and the guy meeting with us won't even look at me when he is talking. And I am suddenly reminded how gigantic this whole problem really is. That's right, I am not exaggerating. The guy only spoke to my male colleague. Because for some reason deep down inside he believed that I did not bring value to the discussion. He couldn't see that I am a stakeholder in the decision making for our organization because I am a woman. And wait for it, during the meeting I actually thought to myself, "Did I send off the wrong vibe to this guy? Is it my fault he doesn't think I have value here?".
And the more and more I reflect on that day on the porch sitting with my mother the more and more I see how she carefully planted this seed in me. That was the day my mother taught me how important it is that other woman do not feel the way my she did when they reflect back on their lives. That the pressure never get the best of us.
And I look around me and I think, "Oh my God, it's an epidemic". We all have the I am not enough disease and we are spreading it like wild fire.
And if she were here I would ask her to join me as I fight for us to stop. Stop comparing ourselves to others, stop acting as if other people's problems are worse than ours and placating others but punishing ourselves.
I read a powerful post on medium the other day, Having it all kind of sucks and I really loved it so much that I shared it with a few friends. But there was something she said that really stuck out to me:
"Instead of changing the systems, we tell women to lean in. Because of course, it's our fault for not taking initiative. F*ck you. I'm leaning so far in I'm falling flat on my face."
I totally get what Amy is saying here. How the f*ck can I do any more or be anything else? I'm drowning here. But as a huge supporter of the Lean In initiative I don't think Sheryl Sandberg was ever saying that we should do more. Leaning in is about having these conversations. It's actually exactly what Amy is shouting. It's about being easy on ourselves and coming together to say. "Damn it I feel that way too," and "How do we fix this?".
It's about showing up for each other and saying I am sick of making 75 cents on the dollar and being ignored in meetings with male colleagues. And saying yeah I have laundry all over my living room and I'm making frozen pizzas for dinner and my kids never got changed out of their pajamas today and I am not sorry.
It's about helping each other learn how to be easy on ourselves. Don't you think my mother would want us be the generation that figures this out? Don't you think she'd rather have us drinking cocktails and singing karaoke four weeks before we die instead of reflecting on how we were never good enough?
Of course she would. Let's not disappoint her.