When Mom Was My Age (#31)

Gillian & Katy Lassetter

Gillian Lassetter (age 29) | Gillian & Katy (2011)

“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 Gillian Lassetter (age 63), reflecting on her life at age 29, interviewed by daughter Katy Lassetter.

Where did you live when you were 29?
I owned a home with my husband Dave in Chichester, West Sussex, UK. We lived there with our three sons—Dan (5½ years), Matt (3½ years), and Joe (9 months)—and a guinea pig and budgie, who were both male too!

What was a typical day like?
After getting up and dressed I’d change the baby, then make sure the other boys were up and dressed, all the while battling with Action Men patrolling the floor!

Once they were all fed and I’d found that odd shoe, I’d get Dan and Matt off to school. I’d go shopping, with Joe in his pram, on the way home then Joe would play in his playpen while I did the housework until I was back out to collect Matt at 11:40.

When back at home, we’d have lunch before I put Joe down for nap and read to Matt. After preparing the evening meal I’d be out the door again at 3 to collect Dan from school and, when reunited with his brothers at home, the boys would play together until tea time.

It really was a monotonous daily routine, and with three small children in tow, time for myself and time with my husband was pretty rare. Once or twice a week my parents would come round to the house and give me a hand. My mum was famed for ironing everything in sight—in fact my youngest son says he now can’t stand the smell of ironing because it was so constant in our household, with three boys to keep neat and tidy and a lack of easy-care fabrics.

My dad, on the other hand, was a dab hand in the garden and was a master at removing the food that I had burnt onto the cooker—I wasn’t that keen on getting my hands dirty! Sometimes we would all go out for a drive through the South Downs or to a local park, which made a nice break from the norm for me and the boys.

What did you worry about most at age 29?
Money! My husband took over the family garage from the age of 25 when his father died suddenly. He had no former business experience and hadn’t yet worked out what he wanted to do for a living so he was very much thrown in at the deep end.

I was in charge of running the household but money was irregular—I didn’t know when I was going to get it or how much there would be. His workload was a worry too, as well as his health and his happiness at work.

However, because we were married young (21 years) and weren’t very mature, we never seemed to get around to having adult conversations to sort things out, so these kinds of worries were always there, niggling in the background.

What did you think the future held for you at 29?
I felt at a loss, and didn’t know what my future held apart from my children. I just saw myself stuck in the same rut for the rest of my life. I didn’t even know what I would have done with my life if I wasn’t a mother. I didn’t have any ambition or drive.

I trained to be a florist from ages 17-20, working as an apprentice at a local floristry while completing my Society of Floristry Parts One and Two. Once I was in a senior position I had a great deal of responsibility with regard to ordering flowers (weekly and special) and delegating duties among the team. We also ended up counselling bereaved customers when they ordered their funeral flowers, which was pretty tough for a teenage girl at times. We were responsible for decorating the Chichester Festival Theatre and sending flowers to the performers. At this time I entered various regional competitions for floristry displays—bridal, funeral etc.

When I was in my early twenties my father-in-law offered to buy me my own florist shop but the thought of this terrified me. I had no idea about how to run a business and having to refuse his kind offer made me feel inadequate. This is probably the one and only chance I got to make a career for myself.

How do you look back on that age now?
I look back with quite a few regrets with regard to the choices I made, but I think that if I was 29 in the present day I would have had a lot more support. There are a lot more ways to communicate with friends and family now—with the Internet and social media. I think that not feeling so isolated would have been a big help to me as a young mum.

At the time, I thought I knew everything and didn’t see that there were any problems, but looking back I can see I had no self-confidence and lacked self-belief; this wasn’t something that parents instilled in you back then. I just wonder how differently things would have turned out had I been brought up in a different era.

I also think that my education let me down. When I got to 15 it was time to leave school and I was asked what I wanted to do. I didn’t have the first idea, so I received the stock answer “You should be a book-binder”—and this didn’t really inspire me!

I suppose my creative interests started at this age as I applied for a job in a bakery because I wanted to learn how to decorate cakes. If I was 29 now, I would have gone on to further education and got qualifications which would have given me more choices once all my children were in school and this would have changed my life drastically.

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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.

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