A friend of Growing Up Global, Heidi Stevens from the Chicago Tribune, recently contacted me to ask about who I might remember as a memorable mom, with some unique, magnetic qualities that stuck with me. Her story that resulted is here:
Here’s my original response to the question, which has been excerpted:
I’ve been lucky to have been surrounded by many amazing mothers, notably my own! I recently was “found” on Facebook by a friend from my neighborhood in elementary school and as much as I remember her, I remember her mother even more clearly, who was the first French person I think I’d ever met. Unlike so many immigrants in the early 1970s, this mom wasn’t trying to blend in or give in to the pressure of her children to be like everyone else. Her husband was an all-American guy from Indiana, and I don’t recall anything French about him, except his wife. Unlike most other moms, who came outside in a housedress or sweatpants and curlers and who considered a special meal a Salisbury steak TV dinner, Bernadette (I can’t believe I remember her name!) always looked fashionable, wore light make-up and heels in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day, made gorgeous French dinners, and never, ever spoke English with her children. Now I realize that I often positioned myself to play at their house before dinner so that I could see what they were having and possibly be invited to stay over. (Although my mom also cooked full Persian meals, never cutting corners with frozen food.) More importantly, now I realize that I was influenced by how exotic and glamorous and interesting she was, at the same time that she was friendly and funny and totally down-to-earth. I never thought of this before, but her example might have planted a seed for my own interest in learning French, in travelling and in becoming “that” mom that was not afraid to be herself, while also really interested in her kids and her neighborhood.
Then I wrote her a clarification:
I want to add that my telling this story is NOT TO FEED the French Parenting frenzy!! I realized later that this might give such an impression. My point here was not the mother’s “French-ness,” but rather her poise and pride in who she was – different from most others in her setting – that made such an impression on me. (Also, it’s more similar to my own mother’s experience. These were the two immigrant mothers in the neighborhood at the time, and my mother also carried (and continue to do so) herself with grace and was a great cook – even on weeknights. So it may have also validated my own mother’s different-ness.
Didn’t want to analyze myself here, but just clarifying that I hope it doesn’t come across as a French Parents Are Superior nostalgia!
I also found it interesting that this story ran in the syndicated Tribune shortly before Time Magazine’s incendiary cover photo titled “Are You Mom Enough” with a gorgeous young mom breastfeeding her almost-4 year old. The actual story was about Dr. Sears’ attachment parenting approach, but the cover was intended to sell magazines, fanning the flames of media-manufactured mommy-wars. Can you tell how I feel about that so-called controversy?