Nur­tur­ing wom­anly am­bi­tion

Tampa Bay Times - - Opinion - Con­nie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-win­ning colum­nist and pro­fes­sional in res­i­dence at Kent State Univer­sity’s school of jour­nal­ism. Reach her at [email protected]­hoo.com © 2019 Cre­ators.com

Afew days be­fore my mother died, at age 62, she sat teth­ered to oxy­gen in her crowded hos­pi­tal room and ex­pressed two re­grets about her life.

“If I had it to do over, I’d dye my hair red,” she said, “and I would own cats.”

Some of us laughed ner­vously. Her voice was un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally an­gry, and the tar­get of her re­sent­ment was in the room. My fa­ther, vis­i­bly ir­ri­tated by her pro­nounce­ment, stood up and walked out into the hall­way. As soon as he had left, Mom added in a softer voice, “He would never let me. Why did I lis­ten to that?”

She wasn’t talk­ing about Clairol and pets. Her re­gret was so much big­ger than that. She had never been all that she had wanted to be, and she was sad that she’d let some­one who was sup­posed to love her limit her.

I thought of my mother as I lis­tened to Glenn Close’s speech last week after she won a Golden Globe for her star­ring role in The Wife. The movie is based on Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 novel of the same name, and as Close noted, its fe­male sub­ject may have been why it took 14 years to be­come a movie.

When Close started talk­ing about her mother, it was that mo­ment when an­other woman’s wis­dom hits some­thing so deep in­side you that your bones start buzzing.

“To play a char­ac­ter is so in­ter­nal, and I’m think­ing of my mom, who re­ally sub­li­mated her­self to my fa­ther her whole life. And in her 80s, she said to me, ‘I feel I haven’t ac­com­plished any­thing.’ And it was so not right.

“And I feel what I’ve learned through this whole ex­pe­ri­ence is that, you know, women, we’re nur­tur­ers. That’s what’s ex­pected of us. We have our chil­dren. We have our hus­bands, if we’re lucky enough, and our part­ners — who­ever. But we have to find per­sonal ful­fill­ment. We have to fol­low our dreams. We have to say, ‘I can do that, and I should be al­lowed to do that.’ ”

At 71, Glenn Close, tear­fully and with great clar­ity, as­serted her right to be ev­ery­thing that she is — and not the di­luted ver­sion too many women of her gen­er­a­tion were raised to be.

The women in the room, and in the world at large, erupted.

We women have al­ways had our am­bi­tion — and by am­bi­tion, I mean want­ing to do any­thing that runs con­trary to the re­lent­less and time-hon­ored tra­di­tion of keep­ing us in the shad­ows of our own lives. So many of us were raised to be­lieve there was some­thing un­fem­i­nine and un­seemly about tak­ing se­ri­ously our own rest­less­ness. Putting our­selves first? Ever? That’s a Life­time movie right there, and it doesn’t end well for that self­ish witch.

Are we round­ing a cor­ner? I want to think so. So many young women keep me hope­ful, in­clud­ing the ca­reer women and moth­ers in our own fam­ily. Still, con­ver­sa­tions with them fuel my worry that we are at least a gen­er­a­tion away from women learn­ing how to, when tend­ing to the needs of oth­ers, add their own names to the list.

After her suc­cess­ful con­gres­sional race, 29-yearold Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez an­nounced last month on In­sta­gram and Twit­ter that she was go­ing to take a week off for “self-care” be­fore be­ing sworn in to Con­gress. Pre­dictably, she was mocked by some as a self-in­dul­gent mil­len­nial, but I loved her will­ing­ness to say that she needed nur­tur­ing and that she wasn’t wait­ing for some­one else to do it. In my 61 years of life, I can count on one hand the times I’ve said out loud that I need to take care of me. Even ad­mit­ting that makes me self-con­scious. I worry that I sound self­ish.

After my mother’s death, more than 800 peo­ple showed up for her call­ing hours. They stood in line for hours, wait­ing for the chance to share their tales of her many acts of kind­ness, her abil­ity to make them feel spe­cial and im­por­tant. I was moved to tears so many times, and I could re­cite many of their sto­ries even now.

Twenty years later, though, I still can’t see an older woman with bright red hair with­out think­ing of Mom. That’s part of her legacy, too, at least for rest­less me.

Allen J. Sch­aben/Los An­ge­les Times/TNS

While ac­cept­ing a Golden Globe for her role inThe Wife, Glenn Close struck a chord with many when she spoke of women giv­ing up their own dreams for their hus­band and/or fam­ily.

CON­NIE SCHULTZ

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