This is not very politically correct to say but I never wanted to work, never coveted a career or job, never, nada, not one iota. I wanted to be Dick and Jane’s mother, that fabulous icon of 1950’s primers on which all baby boomers learned to read. She wore white blouses underneath crisp aprons and continually baked cookies. My mom had to work for financial reasons and cookies were the last thing she had on her mind. Her income was a necessity. Unlike many educated women of today who want to fulfill themselves, my mom had to fulfill the grocery bill.
So I was the original latch key kid. Lucky for me my best friend’s mom had an open-door policy and I was able to spend a great deal of time in their apartment. Being an only child alone in my apartment was scary and not much fun. Television was my companion. I watched the 1950’s “normal families,” with stay-at-home moms breaking bread around the dining room table while I waited til my mom, exhausted from work, came home. There was no family dinner around the table but a long walk to the Stadium diner for roast beef sandwiches. I longed for the warmth of a table surrounded by family and dinner rolls and lively chatter as “seen on TV.”
My mom would have preferred not to work outside the home in the traditional sense. She was a gifted artist and would have had the stimulation she needed from her painting. She could have tailored her hours had financial necessity not been factor. She could have painted and illustrated from home. Playing cards and gossiping was not her thing. She was never one of the “women.” But earning a living meant more than fulfilling your artistic bent. She needed guaranteed income and health coverage.
When I married, I was on the edge of generation of women emerging as career-oriented. Many of us went to college, married and worked to put husbands though school and buy homes. Some returned to work when the kids were older, and some did not. I had been an early childhood teacher for seven years. The thought of rereading the same story with three different reading groups, unpacking the same toys and eating the two snacks a day that were enlarging my waistline made me decide the time for retirement, be it early, was now. When I announced I was done working my husband looked dumbfounded. Several weeks later I drove in my car savoring the fall leaves while blurting out Martin Luther King’s famous “free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I am free at last.” I felt liberated.
It is odd but my liberation was the exact opposite of the celebrated women’s liberation of the 1970’s. Freedom to move up the ladder of career was the last move I sought. I wanted to get off the ladder. I relished, and still do, the freedom to explore friendships, crafts, volunteer work, history and New York City as others toiled away. Three kids took up most of my time, thoughts and energy, but that was fine. There was freedom in the mom job, and a lot of reward, plus I worked from home and was my own boss most of the time. I still have the music in my head of my kids’ growing-up years. Did I bake cookies? Sometimes. But they never looked as good Dick and Jane’s mom’s cookies. Oh, and I never wore the crisp apron either. I achieved getting what I didn’t want and it was the best choice for me.