My mother is almost inappropriately proud of me. At parties or social gatherings she will announce unsolicited that I am a physician (or was a medical student, or was planning to go to medical school, etc etc). She will go on, to whoever hadn't made an excuse to refill their drink, about whatever particular detail makes me fabulous, the word "doctor" coming up repeatedly. And although I find her rosy accounts to be both flattering and endearing, I have had to pull at her arm and mutter in her ear “Mom, come on” when I sensed our crowd is not interested.
I would of course like to think that my dazzling success, tireless benevolence, and deafening charisma has deemed me worthy of her immoderate praise. But I recognized that part of her pride stems from the fact that until she made a huge mid-life career change (into social work) never derived much pleasure or satisfaction from her own work. She raised my sister and I to “reach for the stars and let the rest shake out where it will”, and with the expectation we would have our own careers, earn our own money, and generally live as independently as possible.
My mom is very bright; however raised in Latin America as part of a family whose hopes and expectations for my mom did not extend beyond that of marrying "well". Her education and personal development were not valued to the same degree as those of her younger brother, who was sent to boarding school in Italy when no satisfactory local school could be identified.
Despite, or perhaps in reaction to, being presented with so few options, she spent her twenties partying in night clubs around the world, working in generally low paying jobs, and becoming engaged to six different men. I find the motley anthology of my mom’s travel and love trysts almost painfully exotic, especially in comparison to how I spent the same decade of my life. She strongly disagrees with my characterization, insisting that she would have spent her twenties very differently if she had known how to get herself on a different course.
Last month my mom lived with me while my husband was out of town and I was on our busiest inpatient ward service. With my pager going off starting at 7am six days a week, I needed help with everything, including but not limited to getting my daughter ready for school, making her lunch, dropping her off, picking her up, dinner, and all the other small tasks that can become monumental when I am on my own.
I am unfortunately now accustomed to the constant distraction of my pager, so it was interesting to see my mother’s frustration grow each time it went off. She watched curiously as I had to leave the dinner table to get on the computer. She worried that I was too tired to work. She wondered aloud how I was suppose to attend to so many people’s needs without being able to meet my own.
Slowly, she started to understand that which I realized soon after my daughter was born - I can still do anything, but I can’t do everything.
Her rudest wakening came during a conversation we had about the upcoming plans to “transition” my daughter from the toddler to the preschool room at her daycare. When my mom inquired as to my “strategy” for said transition, I stared at her blankly before replying that the great plan was to drop her off, as I would any other day, and go to work, again, as I do every other day.
My mom looked at me as if I had just said I was going to kick her out of a moving car on a cold and raining morning, with the hopes that fear and hypothermia would drive her into her new classroom. She immediately started planning a return trip so that she could oversee the "transition".
I would like to think my mother is still proud of me, but as she realizes how much I have missed, and will miss, of my daughter’s early years, she seems less enthusiastic about my choice in career. She has become almost bitter about my inability to be in two places at once, and would like to hold the "male-dominated world of medicine" responsible for this failing.
And now we both wonder to what degree we will encourage my daughter to pursue a similar career pathway. My mom might never have been satisfied with her career, but she was at every soccer game and running event. She was there when I got home from school and on weekend mornings. And she never left in the middle of the night.
I owe a great portion of my accomplishments to my mom, who was always by biggest fan and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. But, armed with only the best of intentions and an incomplete view of the consequences, my mom inadvertently overlooked the cost of this success.
With the full appreciation of its benefits and limitations, how I counsel my daughter in this regard remains an unanswered question. I love what I do, but I love my daughter more.
And I think that will be only contribution I can make over that which my mom gave me; do something you find meaningful, but know that nothing will mean as much as your children.
s is a Hematology/Oncology fellow in California. She lives with her husband and two-year old daughter. She blogs at http://www.theredhumor.com/