I am a psychiatrist married to an academic. In our family, “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” ranked somewhere between Groundhog Day and National Oatmeal week as a celebration. It was nearly impossible to bring our three daughters into our worlds when they were young. Instead, we tried to enter theirs. Their dad coached them, we devoted Saturdays to swim meets. We never missed a concert or a play, even when a daughter had a non-speaking part as an inanimate object, or had only built the set. I, for my sins, had three painful years as a Girl Scout leader (anything, anything to avoid being the Cookie Mom). I learned to make wax dolls for dioramas, where to buy poster board at midnight, and which thrift store racks have the best fairy princess costumes (sleepwear, hands down). Still, the girls grew away from us, with their own friends, their own media, their own intellectual and academic accomplishments. Their growth left a hole in my world, and I missed my dwindling role in theirs (except for the Girl Scout leader part).
Now the dynamics have changed. Yesterday for me was “Take Your Mother to Work Day.” I volunteered in the campaign office where my daughter is an organizer. She put me through the training program with focus and poise. When I brought back my tallies, she patiently corrected my work, with generous dollops of humor and tact. To my surprise, I found that I am a Jill-come-lately to the mothers’ auxiliary of this campaign. Many other volunteers had brought parents to work with them. It wasn’t cute, like having kids in your cubicle, but it was a statement of loyalty and closeness that warmed my heart.
I guess I should not be surprised to follow rather than lead. My husband dragged me from the world of WhiteOut and erasable bond into the computer age, but it was the children who introduced me to Hogwarts, the internet (from which they still must still untangle me from time to time), and, eventually, to the worlds of opera, competitive ballroom dancing, and now voter organization. Lately, I have even tried to develop some enthusiasm for math and computer science. My daughter has been kind about it.
At one time, my sphere as a parent seemed narrow—medicine was my window into the world outside. A doctor’s experience is both wider and more circumscribed than many. We are involved with people that most others in our social class never see. They are always on our turf, however, and we too often meet them with their clothes off and with the richness of their experience cloaked in a veil of illness.
As the girls grow past college, the time they seemed farthest away, I am entering a wonderful phase of parenthood. My adult children bring back the broad horizons I once had, offering me opportunities to visit and live in worlds beyond my office and the hospital. To see them working, to engage in conversations in which they are the experts, and I the novice—these things bring intense satisfaction that mothers of young children can only dream about. Dream on, sisters, the day will come.
And did I mention that my daughter does a great job at her job?