“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 Sue Malone, by daughter Margaret Malone (age 36).
Where did you live?
I was living in Mill Valley, Calif., with my husband and you, our 1+ year old daughter.
What was a typical day like?
Since I was older than most new moms, I felt a little lost. I had worked for many years before quitting work shortly before you were born, so it was a new role for me to be a stay-at-home mom.
I was pretty lost for a while, even got tied down to a noon-time soap, I am ashamed to say. Fortunately, I met a older neighbor lady who volunteered at a senior center. She encouraged me to go with her for her volunteer duties and bring you with me.
As you might expect, you ended up being the belle of the ball at each visit, with seniors pulling up in wheelchairs to visit with you, hold you, or just admire you! We continued these visits until I returned to work when you were 18 months old.
Before returning to work, and without lots of outside interaction (all my friends were working), I would wait expectantly for the end of the day when my husband would return from work, so I could pepper him with questions about his work day, where he went for lunch, just anything for information about the outside world.
During part of that time we had also undertaken a home remodeling project, which interested me greatly. I would sit on the stairs with you, and watch the workers go about their business creating what appeared to me to be miracles out of wood and nails.
To this day I love remodeling projects!
What did you worry about most?
I didn’t really have any worries at that stage of my life, other than normal ones like worrying that your child would fall and get hurt, or something like that.
What did you think the future held for you?
I didn’t think too much about the future at that time. I probably thought that perhaps we would have another child. I did not expect to go back to work.
However, in late summer I started receiving calls from a state court judge who invited me to apply for the position of Executive Director of the California Judges Association. He had heard my name and I had been recommended by an acquaintance. At first I didn’t respond, but after several telephone calls I finally submitted an application. To my surprise I was invited to meet with the association’s Executive Committee, composed of appellate and trial court judges.
I remember vividly how intimidating the interview was as I was seated on a single chair across the room from 6-7 judges asking me questions. I remember meeting my husband after the interview and telling him about the interview. A day later I was offered the position.
It was a difficult transition for everyone, most particularly you—suddenly transitioned to a day-care home. We went through a couple of these homes until we finally settled on a Montessori School which turned out to be a wonderful experience for you.
I had no idea what the future had in store for me or that I would continuously work full-time for the next 36 years and counting. I am sure I never considered that I would be working into my 70s.
How do you look back on that age?
As I look back I would say that the mid-thirties are a wonderful time of life. You have maturity but you have so many more years ahead of you to grow, to learn, to love, to give. I have been extremely fortunate in my life, but I would have to say that those years were the best.
Because of my age at the time (about age 1), I was especially interested to do this interview with my mom because I have absolutely no memory of what our life was like then.
Many of my mom’s answers surprised me. I have always thought of my mom as a workaholic (she lives and breathes her work—she loves it!), so to learn that my mom wasn’t working at all that year was a huge shock. I had absolutely no idea. It is hard to picture her in that role. Knowing her, I can imagine that she was going crazy being shut out from that world.
Before this interview, I didn’t know where her fondness for renovation came from—it has always been one of the hallmarks of her personality. I love the image of the two of us sitting watching the carpenters together, making something from nothing. I had no idea this love of renovating houses was born from that time. Every house we’ve ever lived in has been transformed by her.
I’ve always had this idea of who I thought my mom was then, an idea that was based on the mom I know now. But hearing her thoughts about that time revealed a side of her I never knew. These days it is common, but in the 1970s it was rare for a woman to have a first child in her mid-thirties. I knew my mom was older than most of my friends’ moms, but being the child, it never occurred to me to wonder what that experience was like for her then.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has nearly 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. 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.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.