A Letter to My Mom.
When I was eight years old, my school planned a field trip. My teacher invited parents to join for the big day because they needed chaperones to supervise the kids. I remember feeling lonely and left out, because several moms agreed to come along–and you were not one of them.
“Why can’t you come, mommy?” I asked.
“Because mommy is going to work,” you told me.
Back then, I had no concept of what “work” meant. All I could grasp was that “work” was something mysterious and unpleasant. Something that stole mommy away from me.
At age eight, I wanted a particular kind of mom. The kind who was always available to be a field trip chaperone. The kind who made homemade cupcakes (from scratch, not a box) for the bake sale. The kind who dropped me off at school every morning and picked me up every afternoon. The kind who didn’t go to work.
But then one day…
…You brought me to work.
You might not remember that day, but I do.
You took me to the opera house where you were preparing for that night’s performance. You led me backstage to your dressing room. I watched the makeup artist and costume attendant transform you into a bejeweled moon-goddess with towering hair and shimmering powder everywhere. I was awestruck.
That night, I sat in the theater on a red velvet chair. I watched you sing. I saw your tremendous talent. I felt your devotion to your craft–decades of disciplined vocal training, thousands of hours of practice and rehearsal. I felt the power of your voice. Your voice was so big, it filled the entire theater–from the floor to the ceiling all the way to the very back row. Each note vibrated in my tiny chest.
During intermission, I overheard two women behind me talking about you, raving about your performance.
“That’s my mom,” I told them proudly, gesturing to the stage. “She works here.”
After that experience, I understood what “work” meant for you. I saw that work is not necessarily a bad thing. Work can be magical and important.
Mom, I don’t know if I ever told you, but I’m so grateful that you pursued your professional dreams unapologetically. You are the most powerful role model in my life. You taught me to be brave and ambitious, too.
I’m grateful that you weren’t around for every bake sale because, sometimes, you had other things to do. I’m grateful that you showed me that a career can be anything I want it to be. It can be writing, teaching, founding a company, making art, or even mesmerizing an audience and moving people to tears.
The eight-year-old version of me wished that you were waiting at home with milk and cookies every day after school. The grown-up version of me is grateful that you were not.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to share this letter publicly, because it’s very personal, but ultimately I decided that I should.
Because I know somewhere out there, there is a mom who feels guilty every time she goes to work–whether it’s a job, business, creative project, or any vocation that feels meaningful to her. I know there’s a mom who feels guilty about writing her novel, expanding her business, or applying for a dream promotion with greater responsibilities, because she worries this might steal time away from her family. Because it might make her a “bad mom.”
I want to say to that mom: don’t be afraid.
Let your child see you loving your work. Let them see you set audacious goals and pursue them with your whole mind and heart. Let them see you take risks, win, fail, get up, and try again. Invite your child into your work–into your office, studio, clinic, or stage–so they can see what work means to you.
Mom, I get it now. Each time you told me, “Mommy has to work,” what you actually meant was:
“I love you more than anything in this world–and also, I have an identity outside of being a mom. I’m an artist, producer, entrepreneur, leader, and mentor. I have ambitions. I love to create. I’m here to leave my mark on humanity. This means sometimes you have to spend time with your dad, brother, babysitter, or at an after-school program while I’m at work. One day, you’ll understand.”
Mom: I understand. I love you. As I begin the journey of raising my own daughter, I’m proud to follow in your footsteps. One day I will tell her, “Mommy’s going to work…” and I’ll show her what that means to me.
Happy Mother’s Day!
PS. Every mom works full time regardless of whether it’s parenting work, house work, volunteer work, entrepreneurship, a job, the invisible (and often unacknowledged) emotional labor that holds a home and community together, or anything else. Dear Moms Everywhere: Thank you for the contributions you make.