When I was born in 1945, my grandmother had just turned 47; my mother wouldn’t be 24 until a month later. Now, at age 62, I am the oldest member of my immediate family. I am also the oldest of 45 first cousins. My father’s parents died when I was a teenager. My grandmother died in 1985; my dad died in 1987; my mother died on Good Friday, 2004. Both my grandmother and mother were true matriarchs, the heart of the family, the person through whom all communication seemed to flow. I was born in my grandmother’s house; I have been understudying the matriarch role since birth:) I know I cannot possibly live up to the lives of these two great women.
I have five brothers, 18 months, 3 years, 7 years, 11 years, and 13 years younger. I am the mother of four grown daughters, 32, 30, 27, 23. I now have three wonderful sons-in-law. I was first married in 1968; that marriage ended in divorce 28 years later. Four years ago, I married an absolutely wonderful English computer programmer whom I met on a Jane Austen listserv 6 years previously. From 2000 to 2004, I was the primary 24/7 caregiver of my mother, who suffered from dementia and Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.
Professionally, I have worn many hats. In my twenties I edited psychiatry and psychology books. I stayed home full-time with my daughters for 15 years, volunteering as a childbirth and parenting educator and a La Leche League leader. Then I went back to school, got my master’s degree in both library science and social work. As my children grew up, my parents needed more of my time; my dad died of Alzheimer’s Disease in 1987. My mom was splendidly independent until 2000; then she needed help with everything and could not be left alone until her death in April 2004. I was only able to care for her because I had the magnificent support of my husband and brothers. We are all so grateful that we could give back to her a fraction of what she gave to her mother, siblings, husband, children, and grandchildren.
A lifelong feminist, I am jaundiced and disillusioned. If anything, it seems harder to combine caregiving and career than it did forty years ago, when I began to struggle with the dilemma. I want to explore why and what to do about it. Dramatic social change is needed for my daughters and sons-in-law to be able to raise their children without damaging their careers.