I dislike the term 'working mother'; it's demeaning. There is no such thing as a 'working' father. A man works because that's what men do. If he happens to be a father, there is no implied hyphenation. There is no contraindication; one thing does not interfere with the other. The words 'working mother' imply failure. Women who remain employed after giving birth spend the rest of their lives reaching for a standard that makes no sense. The children of the women who remain employed after giving birth spend the rest of their lives looking for an unattainable balance, as if their mothers were split in two.
The act of giving birth does not break a woman into two discrete parts. This is a terrible lie with devastating consequences.
No, I'm sorry, I will not be at your concert next week; I will be at work. I would like to come to a school event, and I'll do my best to make that happen, but not this time.
When a child hears that over, and over, and over again, they eventually stop asking. When they are older, the morning and afternoon events are rescheduled to evenings. School calendars make it possible to keep up, and children need rides. It gets easier for parents to attend, and children learn to ask their fathers. The murky transition from day to night often occurs in middle school, and by the end of eighth grade the last vestiges of missed events have circled the drain in silence.
Elizabeth knows she told me and she knows she withheld that last little bit. I know I processed it in pieces, but didn't see the breadth of it until it was over.
I can't say when she started the project but the photograph above was taken in May of 2014, about four weeks before 8th grade graduation. What I did notice was unprecedented focus. She didn't want to tell me, anymore than she's ever wanted to let me read her writing. I expect the reason for the withhold is the same for both. There is a vulnerability in her writing that she doesn't want to show her mother, and there was a vulnerability of greater weight in the project. She did tell me a little, but in the end I found out by mistake. Her music teacher, of all people, sent me a congratulatory email assuming I knew, but knowing perfectly well I hadn't been in the audience. Elizabeth's music teacher began her career at the onset of sixth grade. I smacked her upside the head a couple of times, but eventually she figured out that not all Weston mothers were available at the drop of a hat.
I don't know if the Weston school system still requires a legacy project, but for a number of years eighth grade students were required to research and apply for a grant. The sum of $1,000 would be awarded to the best proposal for the purpose of implementing the project. Each year one student would leave something behind; a sustainable legacy. There was a grant template and research assistance, but this was their first independent study. As with anything, you get out what you put in.
Elizabeth's project was very important to her. It was the catalyst that pushed her from the confines of the guided classroom to what is often the void occupied by a leader. What does it mean to find out how much you matter at thirteen? What does it mean to discover that you can, indeed, make an indelible mark on the world? I don't know. I was in my late twenties when that happened.
I did know she was a finalist. I was not clear about the end result. Does winning get you a gold star or an award at the end of the year? Does anyone see these things, or are the grants read, judged and implemented by a panel of teachers? I didn't ask. I assumed it would be one or the other.
At the tail end of the school year, Elizabeth stood on a stage in front of a full audience. I don't know how many people that auditorium holds, but it's not small. She presented twice; once for all the teachers, and again for the entire student body when she won.
Some children wanted to install vending machines. Some children wanted to supply clean drinking water to Zimbabwe. Some children wanted books for the library, and some remained undecided right up to the end. Elizabeth wanted to punch a hole through the bubble that is any small town. Specifically, she wanted to bring the unexpected into the classroom. We are not the only people in the world, not everyone is like us, most residents of the United States live very differently. London, Rome, and Paris do not represent the majority of the world population. It is we who are the minority. The money that floats below the surface of the Land of Investment Bankers cannot purchase the copyright to The Truth.
For $1,000 she installed the truth, or at least the possibility.
I am told she stood at the podium with a computer and a full size screen/monitor behind her. Keynote speakers at conferences is what comes to mind when I imagine her presentation. She talked about different cultures, languages, beliefs, and lifestyles. She talked about communication and possibility. A teacher from New Hampshire joined a Skype session that was broadcast onto the screen and out into the audience. They talked, Elizabeth and the teacher, about the value of an enterprise Skype license. The teacher talked about his classroom experience. He talked about his students interacting with students well outside their cultural norm. Elizabeth talked about what it meant to be an American, what it meant to live and breathe outside of Weston, CT. She talked about the value of intersecting cultures.
And in the end, she answered her own question.