Like many left coasties raised in the 70s, I wore the "Girls Lib" and "Girl Power" shirts with my tennis shoes and head scarf. My Mom took me to her NOW* and AA** meetings and took pride in not showing me how to cook. My brothers were given black baby dolls the same Christmas I was given a train set and skateboard. My parents took seriously the call to raise little girls to be firemen, and little boys to be ballerinas. We listened to "Free to Be You and Me" and all of us adored Wonder Woman.
I was encouraged to be any old thing I wanted, excepting of course a traditional woman (stay home, raise kids, cook nice dinners). But this free and open wide horizon left me wanting more structure and feedback and encouraged an absolute worship of education and teachers and books and (good) grades.
I’ll never forget walking home from school at 15, sobbing over a newly received B- on a French paper. I remember a kindly neighbor pulling over and asking me what was wrong, and attempting to make me feel better with the usual talk about it being a perfectly respectable grade and why when he was young he was lucky to get a "C."
Even at the time I knew it seemed overly dramatic to get so upset, but I know why I was so heartbroken. I wanted the hard work and discipline and love of learning to be reflected in the universe around me. I wanted my love to translate into success. And success wasn’t a B-. I wanted there to be a seamless line between my inner world and the world of other people.
And this discordance is so like how I feel about my job loss that it’s uncanny. I thought if I brought my best most open self to my work and if I led the organization with determination and integrity and treated the employees fairly, well, the good would just spill out of the clouds and the people would see my effort and admiration would flow forth. Of course now that seems terribly naive.
That last day, the worst day, when I listened to the complaints about the direction of the agency and the vote of no confidence, I was so stunned that I was absolutely frozen. All I could think of was getting out.
I dream about work still. I dream that it turned out better, or worse (depending on the night) and I wake up thinking it’s time to get ready to go to work. Then I realize it’s just me and the kids today at home. And they ask me what we’re going to do today and sometimes I honestly have no idea. So I make them breakfast and try and think of something.
*National Organization of Women
** Alcoholics Anonymous