“My mother the _____ “

I read this beautiful tribute to a mother today: “My Mother the Scientist” by Charles Hirshberg. It’s about his mother, Joan Feynman, who retired about a decade ago as a senior scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

To become a scientist is hard enough. But to become one while running a gauntlet of lies, insults, mockeries, and disapproval—this was what my mother had to do. If such treatment is unthinkable (or, at least, unusual) today, it is largely because my mother and other female scientists of her generation proved equal to every obstacle thrown in their way.

Ms. Feynman is a hero. Her mother told her, when she was eight and enthralled by science (and just shy of our daughter’s age) that “‘Women can’t do science… because their brains can’t understand enough of it.'”

Even after that, Ms. Feynman overcame indignity after indignity and obstacle after obstacle. Institutional and personal sexism. Shortsightedness and utter stupidity, etc. And then in 1971:

“[T]he economy was in recession and NASA’s budget was slashed. My mother was a housewife again. For months, as she looked for work, the severe depression that had haunted her years before began to return.” With no solace even from her rabbi, she told her son “I know you want me here… [b]ut I can either be a part-time mama, or a full-time madwoman.”

Now, I’m not sure how she would define herself subsequent to that (read her bio, read her son’s tribute), but would define her as a full-time mama and full-time scientist. Period.

I asked what a scientist was, and she handed me a spoon. “Drop it on the table,” she said. I let it fall to the floor. “Why did it fall?” she asked. “Why didn’t it float up to the ceiling?” It had never occurred to me that there was a“why” involved. “Because of gravity,” she said. “A spoon will always fall, a hot-air balloon will always rise.” I dropped the spoon again and again until she made me stop. I had no idea what gravity was, but the idea of “Why?” kept rattling around in my head.

A fantastic mama. A fantastic scientist. All. The. Time.

I wrote a post last year in response to another. Mine was called “Why I [Don’t] Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom.” Last year, it’s what I was. This year? We’ll move to a new place, I’ll meet new people, and I will introduce myself. As a mother, and a writer. I’m happy for a lot of reasons, lately. But that right there is the best reason.

I still don’t regret having been a full-time mom. It allowed me to be a part-time writer.

I am a mom. And a writer. Wherever I am. It’s fantastic. All. The. Time.

Opt Back In to your fine old self

Great highlight of (an update on) those opt-outers: Returning to Work after a Career Break: The Good News.

Especially good news:

“That fact is one of the least well-known, but most critical aspects of career breaks: that people’s view of you is frozen in time. They remember you as you were…”

You know, you can maintain that view of you, over time, too. Social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) — use it and use it well, at-home parents.

Opting In… if it’s still an Option

Best thing I’ve read in a while:

The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In – NYTimes.com.

Thank you very much, Judith Warner. I can see a part of myself in every one of these women. And that is why, just over the past several weeks, I am doing what I need to do to get back in the game, as a starter, not a benchwarmer. (I cannot believe I just used a sports metaphor.)

I am lucky. I have a husband who knows I want to get back to work. He knows his employment trajectory has made that complicated for me to just “do.” When I have the occasional and short-lived crisis of confidence, he reminds me that I do not need to compare myself to Sheryl Sandberg or June Cleaver. He reminds me that the only thing that matters is what I want to do and how I want to do it. He has utter faith and complete confidence in me and my abilities.

I am lucky.

And this lengthy, well-worth-the-time and perfectly timed article reminds me to do three things, always.

1. Know who you are. Your worth is not defined by your spouse, your job, or your children.

2. Invest in and protect your marriage. If you feel unequal, or equal, say so. If you feel happy, or unhappy, say so. Expect the same of your partner. Work to level things out. Spouses may take turns in life doing different things, but it’s not okay to take turns in feeling inadequate or unhappy.

3. Don’t be complacent. Remember to wonder what could happen next. Marriages can end, jobs can be lost, health can be compromised. Stop and smell the roses, be in the moment, but don’t wear rose-colored glasses, don’t let anything pass you by.