Growing up and even today, my mom has always been a behind-the-scenes parent. With an erratic, eccentric, foreign dad, who is always traveling, and demanding attention, our mom was our modest, rational, and quietly get shit done, parent.
As I enter my 30s, where friends are becoming parents themselves, equality in the home is a hot topic, and it’s normal to be a working mom and raise children simultaneously, I forced my mom, Nancy, to reflect on her mother, grandmother, becoming a mother, grandmother, raising three kids and running a company...
In the spirit of mother’s day, let’s talk about your mom (and my grandma), what did you admire about her? My mom was very independent and intelligent. Even though she didn’t have more than a high school education, she was well-informed and a good problem solver who never took no for an answer. She was very persistent, and I hope I learned those things from her.
One of the things I miss most about her was she was so interested in my life, if I told her the kids were sick, she’d follow up the next day about it. It wasn’t smothering, it just showed how much she cared.
Nonny (Roslyn) was born in 1921, her mother (my great-grandmother) came to the states as a baby from Russia. Nonny's grandparents were the real Russian immigrants, who came to Brooklyn as adults. At that time, everyone was anxious to assimilate to the United States, and no one seemed to miss their homeland because they had suffered great persecution back home and had sought to leave.
My mother went to school in Brooklyn and met my father at age 15, they were childhood sweethearts. They had a very traditional marriage, my father owned a business, and my mom did their bookkeeping. She has home every single day when I came home from school, I took that for granted, and it wasn’t until I was older that I realized not all moms could do that.
You left Brooklyn for Boston University. What were your education years like?
I went to college and didn’t know what I wanted to major in. My sister, who was 6 years older and in graduate school at the same time, was getting her doctorate in Psychology. It sounded interesting so I majored in Psychology too. I wasn’t that academically inclined though, so I decided to get a Masters in Social Work and was a social worker for 10 years as a Pediatric Medical Social Worker. And then I got pregnant...
And then you had kids!
Yes, I had kids and decided not to go back to work full time. I started working with a private adoption agency, to do home studies as a private social worker. I liked that.
But then we moved to the suburbs and had our third child, so I stopped working completely for a few years. This was normal at the time, most of the mothers in the suburbs that I knew didn’t work, and honestly those that did were kind of shunned because they weren’t available to bring cupcakes to school or whatever. It was very much a stay at home mom culture. When my third child started nursery school, my husband (Dad) asked me to help with his work related stuff that I could do from home.
The mother I know has been running a business for the last 15 years (my parents run a consumer goods business, which used to sell multiple products and today focuses on frames) but I guess that wasn’t always the case. How did you go from social worker, to stay at home mom, to running a successful business from home?
In the beginning, I started doing accounts receivable, which was before the days of computers. We’d handwrite faxes. Gradually, I got more involved until I was doing… everything!
For a time we got into the close-out business to sell inventory internationally. There, I learned how to do letters of credit, logistics, container shipping, packing, and inspections.
Now we have a thriving business, I do everything from A-Z from product design, ordering from the factory, working with the factory, marketing, sales, billing, shipping, customer relations, and conferences.
That’s a far jump from social working, how did you learn to do all that?
Everything I did and everything I do, I just learned as I went along. No one taught me. Today, it might even be easier because you could Google it and find out a lot of things.
So even if we can Google it, it doesn’t mean we can do it! Do you have any advice?
If you keep the end goal it sight, even if the means look complicated, none of it is that hard. You just have to be organized. Since my kids were born, all the work I’ve done has been from home. When I sit down to do something, I do it. I'm not easily distracted but maybe it’s not for everyone. The other thing is, I like the work I'm doing - if you work for yourself and own it, it's very motivating.
Spoken like a true, modest woman, who dare I say, is a lot like her mother. As a mother of three children in their thirties, and grandmother of two little girls… what does motherhood mean to you?
I knew from the time I was little that I wanted to be a mom. I was a camp counselor, worked in pediatrics, I always wanted to be with children. When I had my own… I wasn’t disappointed.
This was the greatest thing I ever did, to raise three children who grew up to be self sufficient adults. I can’t think of anything more satisfying.
For the new moms out there, any advice?
I learned something really important when my first born was an infant. We had a mothers and babies group that we joined when he was born. We were in it for three years, Very early I learned that whatever my pediatrician said, was different than what anyone else’s pediatrician said. It was great to know that… it doesn’t matter. I felt freer.
It was simpler without the Internet. We just read Dr. Spock and Bruno Bettelheim, and that was it, You talked to your pediatrician and other moms and just guessed what to do.
As a new grandmother, what do you hope they learn from you?
I hope they learn unconditional love. I’ll love them no matter what. They’re still young, so at this point, I want them to feel cared for, emotional lessons, that it’s fun to visit me and that it’s special than what they do at home.
And for your children, who are apparently self sufficient adults, what should our takeaway be?
As my children become parents of their own, I’d really like them to know that there’s more than one answer. Nothing is absolute, black or white, yes or no. I think it’s important to be flexible and realize that in the end all you want is your child to be happy, healthy and well adjusted, and there’s not one route to get there.
Where we raised our family, in the suburbs - there was a lot of pressure to take AP classes, be on a specific travel sports team, apply to the top school. I just didn’t care - it wasn’t for me - and I think I’ve proven that my kids are just as successful as the ones that did all those extracurriculars. I let my kids decide what they wanted to focus on and supported that decision.
Well there you have it - when my mom talks about her life and the last half a century, it doesn’t seem that hard.
As my mom described her own mother as independent, intelligent, well-informed, a good problem solver, persistent, and caring but not annoying, as well as the behind the scenes bookkeeper for her husband’s business … I can’t help but draw the parallels. I look at my mom the way she has admired her mom, and I imagine that her grandchildren will look at her the way I looked at my grandmother, someone who knows everything, is smart, opinionated, capable, fiercely independent, beautiful, caring and proud of her heritage and family.
Happy Mother’s Day.