To my knowledge, my mother’s mother never worked a day in her life — that is if you count her earning a paycheck.
Instead, she birthed four girls, buried one. She also kept a garden, put up fresh fruits and vegetables, fried chickens whose necks she had just wrung, and sewed just about everything her husband and children wore.
By the way, there was no electricity or indoor plumbing on this Oklahoma farm. And the stove on which she fried those chickens was fueled by wood she had to fire up each day before dawn.
She got her first gas stove when she moved to Tucson in the early ’40s. But she still kept a garden out back for a time. And she helped raise a passel of grandkids roaming in and out of her house up until the late 1960s.
This was her career.
All three of her girls who made it to adulthood worked most of their lives, including my mother. For years, we regularly headed for my grandmother’s house, not far from ours, after school. Summertime, we practically lived there.
Once, when we were very young, my mother tried to hire a babysitter. Her name was Mary and she was very kind. But my grandmother couldn’t see anyone but kin helping to raise kin and so Mary soon departed.
That generation of grandmothers is long gone, which is why it took me 18 years to graduate from college and start a career. My kids needed me at certain times and both of their grandmothers worked full time.
It never occurred to me to ask otherwise. But now comes the story of American Kelly Yang, founder of a writing program for students in Hong Kong and columnist for the South China Morning Post.
In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Yang details how she became pregnant not long after she finished law school, moved to Hong Kong, quit the law and started her writing program.
When she told her mother back in San Francisco about her pregnancy, her mother announced, “I’m coming to help.” Six years later, two more kids have arrived and “Grandma” is still there.
Bear in mind, the lady was in her 50s and ran her own business teaching math when she agreed to do this. She also left a husband behind. This was no stay-at-home granny.
Today, writes Yang, her mother, now in her 60s, is the one who goes to after-school activities, plans play dates and birthday parties, monitors homework and takes the kids to the doctor’s.
By the way, Yang has a husband hanging around, one, she admits, who is sometimes “less than thrilled to be living with his mother-in-law.” Hmmm.
Yang does acknowledge how her mother helped her advance in her career by being there to take care of the children — “Someone who knows it takes a village to keep a mother working. Someone I call Mom.”
Well, good for her. But frankly, I can’t see this sort of selfless devotion being practiced much in today’s modern world. Neither did some other readers.
Wrote one: “This is a lovely story and you are very lucky. But when you are in your 50s, do you plan to give up your career to take care of your grandchildren?”
Somehow, I seriously doubt it.