After cashing in her stock options, Linda Robertson* took home $18 million. She resigned her position as president of a major corporation, leaving "to pursue other interests." Recently named to the board of a Fortune 500 company, Linda also sits on boards for a university and a philanthropic foundation. Never one to rest on her laurels, Linda spoke at the Most Powerful Women Conference along with First Lady Laura Bush, Meg Whitman (President, CEO, and Director of eBay Inc.), Anne-Marie Slaughter (Dean of Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University), and Ann S. Moore (Chairman and CEO, Time Inc.) Impressive company Linda keeps.
Funny thing is, I know Linda. We worked together on a political campaign. Our business careers in full swing, Linda took a marketing position at a local company; I worked for an international firm. Our careers headed down the same path. We both worked for reasonable men who rewarded performance regardless of gender. We both put in long hours of dedicated service and offered creative new approaches to age-old business problems. At the time, neither one of us had children.
For several years, Linda and I remained friends and colleagues, but in 1989, we both had babies. My firm did not offer paid maternity leave. Due to a complicated merger, I found myself working without pay as I nursed my newborn. I did not feel anger or resentment; after all, I understood mergers much better than I understood newborns.
I "enrolled" my six-week-old son at the premier downtown daycare center, designed as part of a newly built office building, not an architectural afterthought, or a renovated basement. My baby also accompanied me on my all-to-frequent business trips. During meetings, I could hear him giggle in another room, knowing that the office manager was entertaining him. Back in my office, my toddler came to represent the home life of the happy, female employee, and was often spotted after 5 o'clock playing on my secretary's typewriter or drawing pictures on the conference room white board. As I recall, Linda hired a nanny.
Since we were now juggling both children and careers, Linda and I only found time for the occasional lunch. But even as our lives moved on, we often spied each other in the lobby of the symphony or the theatre and exchanged a quick catch up of information. "Elizabeth, how are you? How are the boys?" "Wonderful! Nice piece in the Times."
Once my son became too active for my business trips, I found myself alone in hotel rooms. I did not welcome the quiet. No matter how elegant the surroundings, they did not compensate for the pang of disappointment when I heard that my son went to the zoo that day. This was his fourth trip, but I had have never taken him. So, as I watched Linda's career goals continue to expand, mine narrowed. After giving birth to my second child, I focused on one goal: to enjoy those Mommy and Me classes I missed when my first child was small.
Accustomed to a predictable, measurable business routine, I disliked the chaotic existence of a stay-at-home mom. At first, I was sleep-deprived from a baby who never slept and a five-year-old whose activities had me everywhere but home. I ran our household like a small business with daily projects and goals that were rarely met. While I never successfully attended a Mommy and Me class, I was thankful to be the parent-in-charge. "I hear you retired. You certainly went out on top!" "Yes, and it WAS my choice."
Then tragedy encircled our family. My new goals included supporting my dad as he battled cancer and exploring solutions for my mom who suffered from Parkinson's. The final months with my dad went quickly and without regrets. I left my 1-year-old and my 6-year-old at home with their father as I traveled to Texas, relieving my sister from bedside duty as my father lived out his remaining months. My aggressive business acumen served me well as I battled military doctors and hospital procedure. My financial background came in handy as I juggled my parents' finances and prepared my dad to move to a skilled nursing facility. During those sad and difficult times, my sister and I connected as adults in a way we never had as children – a positive outcome among the negative ones.
After my father's death, I moved my mother from her home of 40 years to my home 1,800 miles away. Caring for my mother during the next four years challenged and pressured all of us. Yet her presence in our family created such warmth and compassion. I strove to find more time to spend with my mother during her remaining years
Soon more goals presented themselves: to help my husband recover from a life-threatening illness, to heal my own body after a car accident, to find alternative therapies for our youngest son's increasing episodes of depression. "I'm Dr. Murphy. I've looked over your son's charts and I agree with Dr. Cook. Your son suffers from an anxiety disorder and from double depression. He'll most likely be on medication for the rest of his life."
A better person could juggle both a successful career and the demands of family life. I can only imagine that Linda, whose children appear loved, cared for, and well-adjusted, reconciles these two existences easily. Personally, I am lousy at it.
Now that I am over 50, I think of all the successes and goals I almost achieved -- in journalism, in the theatre, in the publishing world, in a business career. I wonder where I would be today if I had persevered in any of those areas. Instead, I persevered at home.
Am I having a mid-life crisis over the lives I could have lived or am I experiencing more of a mid-life reflection? After all, I chose to be the Queen of the Carpool (I love to listen in on the kid's conversations), the Lady of the Lunchbox (I enjoy preparing healthy meals), the Princess of Planning (you should see the family calendar on the refrigerator).
Have I paid too high a price for motherhood? Am I envious of Linda, her position and her $18 million? You bet I am! Would I trade the last ten years of my life -- not a chance! My goals and dreams continue to carry me happily through life. After all, I'm only 50 and there's still time for writing that great American novel.
"Mommy, do you know where my soccer shoes are?"
mmo : may 2006
*To protect the privacy of the individual, I changed her name.