In the conversation with my mother Barbara (Bobbi) Cohen below, I experienced both resonance and dissonance. So much about who we are, what we value, and the work we have done is nearly mirror image.
And yet because she was married at 21 and I was married at 38, I am changing diapers at an age where my mother was helping me research colleges. And I, with fifteen years to establish myself as a professional before becoming a mother, often marvel at the way in which my mother cultivated a career alongside a family in an extremely balanced way. I knew how much she loved her work, and yet I always knew that I came first. My homework, my extra-curriculars, my projects and pain and happiness were of the utmost importance to my mother who managed to keep our house beautiful and put dinner on the table every night, as well. This was an invaluable gift for a daughter to receive: a role model of a woman who nurtured her family and community while also honoring and developing herself professionally.
My son’s favorite book right now is The Little Train That Could. What I love about this book is what I love about my mother. She always told me that I could do it—whatever it was. And now, every evening as I sit with my son in my lap, my mother’s voice in the well of my throat, we say together, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can … and I marvel at that little engine called faith that can climb any mountain.
At age 40, I have faith in myself. And I whisper that faith into my son’s ears before he earnestly slips into his little boy sleep. This is my mother’s legacy.
Meet my mother, Bobbi Cohen.
Where did you live?
When I was 40 I lived in a four-bedroom house in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a suburb of Philadelphia with my husband, my 16-year-old daughter and my 14 year-old son. Our neighborhood was warm, unpretentious and very family-oriented. We had the good fortune of living on a block with six families whose houses backed up to each other. Between us there were 13 children covering a span of seven years who played together in the yard on gym equipment that we purchased jointly. Some of the children could climb monkey bars before they could talk, and handle the slide before they could run. There was a real camaraderie among the families, and a close knit group in which the children thrived.
The schools in the township were exceptional. They challenged my children and forced them to grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined. They attended public schools but received a private school education. I am forever grateful to the teachers, administrators and coaches in the Cherry Hill school district.
What kind of work did you do, and/or what was a typical day like?
At the time, I was the marketing director for a company that was a spinoff of a large health system. We started and ran medical-related businesses that ultimately supported the hospitals in our system. It was a very exciting and challenging job that enabled me to use my creative energy. My boss was a wonderful man who was brilliant, forward thinking and very open to new ideas.
Every work day was different from the next. One morning I would be out with my boss looking for new physical locations for a start-up business. The following afternoon, I would be writing copy for a new program, or perhaps directing a client advisory board meeting. I worked very hard, but most days I didn’t know why I was paid for my efforts, as my job was so enjoyable. It was truly the best of times.
What did you worry about most?
I was very concerned about my children’s future. I wanted to help them identify colleges they would like to attend and provide them with the skills needed to gain acceptance.
What made you the happiest?
I loved being with my family (including my parents, aunts and in-laws) and involved in my children’s activities. I enjoyed going to their sporting events, interacting with them and their friends, and helping them learn and grow.
What did you think the future held for you?
I was very busy during this phase of my life, and I don’t know if I actually thought much about the future. However, looking back, I am sure I believed that life would continue in much the same way as it previously had.
How old was I then, and what did you imagine or hope the future held for me?
You were 16 when I was 40. I was blessed with an exceptional, caring young woman who was talented in many areas. You were a terrific singer, a gifted artist, and an outstanding writer. I wasn’t sure what avenue you would pursue, but I was certain you would have a wonderful future in whatever road you chose to travel.
How do you look back on that age now?
I look back at my early 40s as a fun and enjoyable time. However I realize that in many ways those years were the calm before the storm. During my mid-to-late 40s I met with some unexpected challenges that were very painful, but ultimately they provided seeds for new growth and happiness.
What is the most important thing you want me to know about being a 40-year-old woman?
Life is just beginning at 40. Through your 20s and 30s you have had the opportunity to have fun, be carefree, travel, find a career, and make some mistakes. Now you can pursue life at a different level. You know more of what you’re looking for, and you have the skills to obtain those things. The bumps you’ve encountered along the way have given you strength and helped you understand where your true support lies.
Now that you’re 40, take the time to evaluate and make sound decisions. Be true to yourself. Do the things you’ve always wanted to do. Help those less fortunate. Enjoy every minute with your beautiful son. Take lots of pictures. And remember to dance … The world is yours!