My Voice: What is Enough?
I used to stage whisper my dreams of motherhood, not sure if attending Mount Holyoke would mean I had to view my future in a different light. Would I be a disappointment to this prestigious women’s college if I did not go forth and stand out in the world? My father’s dream of my being a “Mount Holyoke Woman” stemmed from his having met Frances Perkins, class of 1902, and working with MHC alumnae throughout his career.
At Mount Holyoke I found myself surrounded by intelligent women, and we were guided toward excellence. I thrived at the College, studying to become a teacher, and graduated an MHC woman. I walked away with my diploma and the attitude that there was nothing that I couldn’t attain if I put in the hard work.
My dreams had not changed. But the whispers had: Would being a mother be “enough”?
I never pursued a career that was high profile or fast-paced. Teaching first grade was the perfect fit for me. One day my father asked when I would start my move up to administration. But I had no desire to be a principal or a superintendent. I finally cleared my throat and told him that seeking one of those positions didn’t fit into the plan I had to be a stay-at-home mom. I remember his shock at my unwillingness to “do more,” at my not wanting to reach out of my comfort zone to the next rung up. He did not see that our ladders were different.
After the birth of my first child, I left the classroom. Her two siblings soon followed, and I was knee deep in the three of them. I stayed there in the muck, struggle, and hilarity of it all. I loved those years at home. The Quarterly would arrive, and I’d read about what my classmates were doing, amazed at careers I had never heard of and experiences I never imagined. As a class scribe, I reached out to friends to write in and heard from most that they weren’t doing “anything special.” What constituted something special, I wondered. I began to write about what I was doing. About mothering. And hanging out with classmates, returning to campus to stroll around the lakes. I let my voice join the others in a place that I already belonged.
I never pursued a career that was high profile or fast-paced.
Kate Burke Laird ’95
A few years ago I was offered a job as a special education assistant in a middle school. Not in charge. Not in my age group. A bit out of my comfort zone. I went at it, guns blazing, and fell in love with my new position. It is easily measured as a “step down” on the job ladder, and yet the experience has enriched my life. It also allows me to leave work at 3:15 and spend the next six hours of the day with my own children.
At the end of my father’s life, when I took the kids to visit him, he would grab the smallest in his arms and gaze at the others playing. He told me that I was doing the most important work on the planet—guiding the next generation that would have custody of the world. He assured me I had a voice in that future.
Mount Holyoke is one of my true comforts and greatest gifts. It is where I emerged an adult, a more steadied self. It is where I learned that there is no job too small as long as I am “all in.”
This article appeared in the summer 2015 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.
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July 12, 2015