This afternoon I went out to a local diner with an 85 year old woman no longer able to drive. It was a treat to be with her, and I enjoyed listening to her stories while nibbling a cheese and bacon sandwich. Helen is a water color artist, and is lucky enough to have a beautifully alert and creative mind.
I learned that she trained in graphic design, and graduated from Cooper Union College in New York. She was hired for the position of typesetter; something quite unusual back in the 1940s. “Women just didn’t have those kinds of jobs then,” she explained. Although hired as a graphic designer she was initially asked to wash and dry used paint brushes and empty used paint water. “There was very little, if any, respect shown to women in the workplace then” she said, “but that attitude only made me more stubborn to succeed and more determined to show them a thing or two!”
As I was listening to her story my eye kept wandering to a table near ours with a mother and daughter having lunch alone together. The girl looked about ten years old. What a lovely thing to do with a young daughter, I thought. She and her mother will chat and be easy companions at the perfect time: just before adolescence sets in and the silent treatment begins.
But the silent treatment already had begun. Not because the young girl was giving her mother the silent treatment, but because the mother was giving it to her child. Mom was so enthralled with her cell phone, that she was totally involved with reading her terribly important emails. She barely noticed her child siting across the table from her.
How must that child have felt? What could she be thinking? Could she have felt anything but rejected? Could she think of anything but how unimportant she was to her mother?
In a strange way I saw the parallels between Helen’s story of disrespect for working women in her generation and this young girl at lunch being disrespected and disregarded by her mother. I hope she has the “gumption” (to use a word from the 40s) to use her mother’s lack of attention as a challenge to be acknowledged in her future.
But for now, can you just see that future unfolding in her family? The resentment building, the desire to escape from an indifferent parent; to find someone to speak to? The need to feel important to someone?
And we wonder why children from “good homes” wind up so disconnected from their families…