When Mom Was My Age (#35)

Dianne Frye

Dianne Frye (1992 & 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 Dianne Frye (age 51), reflecting on her life at age 33, interviewed by daughter Lisa Bartelt.

Where did you live?
1106 Fargo Avenue, Dixon, Illinois.

You never left Dixon. Did you want to?
No, I never left Dixon. I don’t think I ever wanted to. When I graduated high school, I went to business school and drove to Rockford, Illinois, every day. I wanted to be a paralegal. But I always saw myself working in the area. I never had a desire to leave.

Do you still feel the same way now?
Yeah. When we moved out here (to a house in the country), we always said it was where we would retire to.

What did you do for work? What was a typical day like?
I worked as a secretary at Grand Detour 6th Grade Center (Dixon Public Schools). A typical day was working from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., getting home and fixing supper, maybe a little housework, either running children to activities or attending the children’s activities, making sure homework was done, and bedtime at a decent hour.

Was that your first year in the schools?
Let’s see, I started at Madison (School) in 1988 and spent three years there, so it was my second year at Grand Detour.

I thought you were at Madison when I was in junior high.
Your 7th grade year was my last year at Madison. I went to Grand Detour with (son) Chris.

Before that you worked at Spurgeon’s?
And I helped grandma and grandpa at the Dairy Queen.

How did you adjust to the “career” change?
I liked retail. It was OK. I like dealing with people. In high school I took all the office classes. I always wanted to work in an office. Spurgeon’s (a department store) was just a stepping stone till I could get into the school district. I wanted to work around your guys’schedules and have summers off. It was an adjustment because you were dealing with parents and their children rather than people buying stuff.

How did you feel at the end of a day? Were you happy with your life?
I think I felt fulfilled but exhausted, thinking that I got the kids where they needed to be and got stuff done at home.

I remember sitting in the kitchen with you after school while you made dinner or washed dishes and we’d just talk. That’s a vivid memory for me.
Yeah, I do, too. I think I always tried with both of you to ask, “How was your day?” I remember one time you got upset with me. Because I worked at Madison, your teachers would come into the office and say, “Lisa did good on her test today.” You got mad because I knew before you did. “I never get to tell you!” you said. So, then I would pretend I didn’t know so you could tell me.

What did you worry about?
Keeping my family safe and if I was providing the right kind of structure for my children to grow up as responsible adults.

What did the future hold?
Getting my children through college, being financially sound, enjoying retirement with my husband and having grandchildren some day.

How do you look back on that age?
I don’t think I’d change anything. I was a young mother and would sometimes hear people say that my life might have been different if I had not married and had children so early in life. When I look back, I’m glad that I had my children at a young age. It kept me feeling young, and I still feel young enough to enjoy my grandchildren.

That’s really eye-opening for me. I guess I always felt kind of guilty that you had me when you were 19. But you were always the “cool” mom to my friends. Sometimes I resented that. I just wanted to be “normal.”
A lot of people would say, “You’re just starting your life …” Things happen for a reason. I’m glad I was young enough to be the “cool” mom. I felt like I was young enough to relate to you. I felt that being young did make me closer to you guys. I think there are some advantages to starting a family young. Sure, we had financial difficulties but now we’re in our 50s and are financially sound and could retire if we wanted to. We don’t still have kids in college.

From Lisa
When Mom was my age, she was raising a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old. That stops me in my tracks when I consider that I’m raising a preschooler and a toddler. She did what I’m doing fresh out of high school. Wow. On the days when I think I’m going to go mad over my children’s in-house escapades, I think of my mom and the very different motherhood journey she was on.

I was fortunate to be able to use my college degree in a job I both loved and hated. She had unfulfilled dreams but carries no bitterness about them. I had the chance to leave home, attend college and travel to Europe. I’ve moved twice with my husband in our four years of marriage. She lives in her hometown and couldn’t be happier. She has lifelong friends, is involved in bettering her community and selflessly takes care of her parents, who also live there. The path may have been different, but our worries, our feelings at the end of a typical day, and our hopes for the future are basically the same. When I look back on motherhood 19 years from now, I hope I can say the same thing as my mom: I don’t think I’d change anything.


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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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