The words hit me like a toddler at full tilt as I sat in a memorial symposium for a dear friend and colleague this morning. The room was cold and dark and sad, a sea of dark suits and grey beards, with just a smattering of ex-postdocs and me in the back row. We had gathered to celebrate a life — a life that was drawing to a close, but a life which had been well-spent and scientifically productive for nearly fifty years. In his honor, colleagues had organized a series of scientific talks by his compatriots that he would have loved.
For he died last week, just before this gathering was to come to fruition. Instead of a celebration this afternoon, there would be a memorial service. Instead of his weak smile, there would be a (powerpoint) presentation of his life — the most fitting subject in the most fitting medium — but still verging on the edge of tragic.
A life has ended. And here we sit, mourning men in the dark, oblivious to the happy children playing just outside the window and the young mothers strolling past.
Last night, I was at another kidless event, but one I expected to be much more friendly. I ‘m not sure why, exactly, except that it was a gathering of women. Wrong? Perhaps. Really wrong? Yeah, probably. The occasion was a reception and panel on the advancement of women to influential positions in the aerospace industry. The panel was held in what I believe to be one of the five most beautiful places in the U.S. — one of the Washington offices that overlook the Capitol. When we walked into the room, heels clicking and skirts swishing, we were immediately drawn through the reception area, past the wine and cheese and mini crab cakes, to the long wall of windows at the far end. Floor to ceiling they sparkled with the last light of the sun setting over the Capitol and the warm glow that emanates from the building where so many exert all their energies and all their powers to doing the work of the people.
As the reception blurred into the panel, my mind drifted again to the lighted windows behind, and the staff working late on the Air Force appropriations bill. Would they prevail? Would their wins and losses be a net gain for aerospace, or would they be stopped by the many needs of the war?
The panel droned on with platitudes washing over the audience in waves with each change of speaker. Be the best that you can. We had to be better than the men. Things have changed. Women are now 50% of this, and 48% of that. Net gains. The words I didn’t hear, here of all places and of all times, were not percentages or statistics, but the quiet phrase “my children.”
So I asked the question, played the card, outed myself as the token mom. They responded in kind, largely encouraging. But, one by one, they stated that they didn’t have children, so they couldn’t tell me their own success stories.
Except one. She did, and she had, and she had good words to share.
But largely, in this room of successful women, I felt oddly alone. Alone with my friend, another SAHM, and we stood together, watching the young women we used to be and the old women we weren’t quite sure we wished to become.
This room, too, full of black cocktail dresses, sleek bobs, and women at the top of their game, felt strange to me.
One more vignette and I’ll bring this to a close. The last gathering of the week will be tomorrow. A casual afternoon at a Mommy-friend’s house with kids, dads, dogs, babies, and of course bouncy balls, goldfish crackers, fruit cubes, and polly pockets everywhere. I can’t paint a full picture, as it is yet to come, but I know now that the warmth of the summer day will not outshine the warmth of good friends, happy children, and families who are perfectly in tune with each other.
… even if they sometimes wonder about their careers that might-have-been.
New reviews are up at Review Planet, including a review of the latest Bear in the Big Blue House DVD. Two special breastfeeding product reviews will be posted over there later this week, so check back soon if you’re looking for solutions.