Thursday, September 4, 2008


I have a habit of listening to political commentaries that I know will piss me off. I have no idea why I prefer that form of torture. This particular day was no exception. Actually, it happened over a two day period and made me seriously doubt my sanity (something I do on a regular basis anyway). On a bright and sunny Monday, I drove with the top down on my spiffy T-Bird convertible, listening to a very articulate child psychologist expound on the virtues of a mother’s bond with her newborn baby.
Now, I thought this would be a subject I could agree with. The doctor explained the results of the newest studies on the development of the brain during the first three years of a child’s life. He went on to lecture on the importance of the mother during those same three years. Being a mother myself, I heartily agreed with this as well. He implored new mothers to seriously consider staying at home with their new babies as long as possible. I frowned but continued to listen, after all, it would be nice to stay at home during those first couple of years. He ended his segment by warning new mothers of the danger they risked by letting someone else take care of their precious child during those first formative years. Hmmm…
But the sun shined brightly and “It’s in His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)” began to play so I promptly forgot the words of the good doctor. I forgot, that is, until the next day. Gloomy skies and a chilly wind forced me to drive with the top up. My mood matched the weather as I drove along listening to a popular Republican radio talk show host. (I warned you that I was into serious masochism, right?)
The topic de jour was welfare reform so my ears perked up a bit. He gave the Texas workfare program rave reviews. He especially agreed with making all women work who wanted to receive a welfare check. Why should the government support them while they stayed at home and raised their kids? He angrily attacked those states who wanted to exempt mothers with small children from work requirements. After all, many women went back to work within six weeks of giving birth. Why couldn’t welfare mothers do the same?
I understood his argument, I’ve heard it many times. But this time it truly made my heart hurt. I pulled over to the side of the road and laid my head against the steering wheel. At that moment, I was so damn glad I had a husband who helped me raise my kids and parents who pitched in as well. I wondered what a woman on welfare would think if she had listened to those two days of commentary. If she stayed home with her new baby during those first three years, she would be branded a deadbeat looking for a free ride. If she went to work like the government insisted, she would be branded an uncaring mother who risked the future of her own children.
I put the car in gear and switched the radio channel, looking for “The Shoop Shoop Song.”


I’ve heard the story a hundred times. It is most definitely a story worth retelling. My father’s mother was a remarkable woman, my first feminist role model. She wasn’t a feminist by choice though. It was forced upon her.
She’d decided early on that a young woman needed an education, so she got her college degree in 1918. From what I hear, she was an excellent student. I never heard much about her college years because her romance with my grandfather made for a much better story. They met in a train station and it was love at first sight. A wedding soon followed, as did World War I. His experiences in that war also taught me about a thing called mustard gas. It seems a person could get gassed and not know the full effects for years to come.
He came home a hero and got a job teaching high school and opened up his own general store in town. He quickly became a local living legend because of his generosity and his compassion. My grandmother settled in to being a wife and gave him two sons he could be proud of. Then came the sad part of the story. He got very sick and after suffering for two long years, he died before his fortieth birthday. His illness had cost them everything and the depression threatened to destroy what was left of my grandmother’s life. She had an eleven-year-old and a nine-year-old who just wanted their daddy and she had no money left in the bank.
That college education turned out to be a damned good idea, it got her a job as a county tax assessor, the only woman working in the department. It was a good job, one she could grow in. But there were those two boys to worry about. Women didn’t work outside the home in the 1930’s. Her sons had no father and for much of the day, it appeared they would have no mother.
That’s when Miss Lillie came into the picture. She was a black woman who lived in “colored town.” She appeared on my grandmother’s doorstep to offer her services. It seems that my grandfather carried her family on credit, allowing her to keep food on the table when there was no money to be found. She figured it was time to pay back the favor. My great-grandmother and Miss Lillie did the child rearing and housework while my grandmother brought home the paycheck.
But my father never lets me forget the rest of the story. There was Mr. Blessing from next door, he took my dad and his brother fishing and taught him all those other important boy stuff. There were his teachers who took turns either busting his butt in the coatroom or praising his fine work in the classroom. He can talk all day about the people in that town who helped raise him.Now, my daddy is my hero but he and I sometimes disagree on politics. He has absolutely no use for Hillary Clinton and I can understand his feelings. But he’d be hard-pressed to disagree that it takes a village to raise a kid. My grandmother knew her place, all right, and so did the rest of the village.

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