“When Mom Was My Age” is an interview series between daughters and mothers. New interviews appear every Monday. If you would like to participate, contact Jane.
The following interview is with Mary Gerritsen, interviewed by daughter Meg Canada (age 35).
From daughter Meg
My mom is 62 and she’s been married to my dad for 42 years. I was eight when my mom was my age (35). It was easily the toughest year of my childhood. My dad had received his first cancer diagnosis three years before, had a major reoccurrence and was told that he had seven years to live. (He is still alive today.) Because we thought he would die, I was an only child. My mother was superwoman to me. She had loads of energy teaching first grade and then lots of after school stuff.
Where did you live?
Amazingly I live in the same house and the same location … the house that my husband, Arnt, and his father built for the three of us. I liked our neighborhood, but I was worried about the academic standards of the schools you attended. (It was a rural school corporation.)
What was a typical day like?
I was teaching first grade then. You were in third grade. Arnt was transitioning to his new career as a toy train designer.
Life was extremely busy. I worked to balance teaching, parenting, driving to choir, swimming, ballet lessons. Plus, I was busy with relatives, friends, entertaining, jogging, the teacher’s union (AFT), Shorewood Women’s Club, church Sunday pre-school teaching. I also loved handwork, reading, and travel, but not much cooking. Cooking was your dad’s job back then and housecleaning was done only as needed. I took tennis lessons and I was terrible. Mitzi told me anyone could be good at tennis if you paid enough (and took enough lessons).
I tried to fill every day. It was like it was my mission. I suppose it was coping. I loved parenting! You were the biggest part of my life, the happiest part.
What did you worry about most?
Your dad with cancer … I worried what and how long the future would be for your dad. I remember worrying about money as well. I didn’t know how it would all work out. It was expensive to have illness. We drove to Minnesota four times a year for check-ups. Your grandmother would come up or you stayed with friends. We tried to keep you out of it. I thought, Why does she need this? But one time I took you with me. I was worried about your happiness and your dad’s happiness.
We went to Europe without you (Dad and I) that year.
Yes, and I thought there was no way you’d have fun in Europe ’cause I wasn’t there with you. I thought they’re in Europe having a miserable time. It is so funny!
What did you think the future held for you?
I thought a lot about what the future would hold in the next part of life for me after cancer took your dad’s life. It was actually scary but exciting to think about. Moving, remarrying and/or changing jobs might all be part of the changes I could make as a widow.
How do you look back on that age now?
Mainly I look back at life at that age as fast paced, energetic, ambitious, and with happy moments … although conversely at 35 years old, I felt the least important person in my life. Wanting a cheerful, flourishing daughter and a fulfilled, cancer-challenged husband were more important than contemplation about what would make me “happy.” I remembered feeling on autopilot most of the time.
Gratitude is what I should have felt, but shame on me, I don’t recall feeling grateful very often. Time, introspection and perspective now make me thankful for my memories of when I was 35. I was blessed with a daughter, husband, family, friends, job and so on. What more could one want? When you are going through the day to day it is really hard. It was a rough year.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.