“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 Irene Sears, interviewed by her daughter Janet Koops (age 40).
Tell me about where we lived.
We lived in a bungalow in Scarborough (a suburb of Toronto, Canada), with you and your Dad, and we shared it with my sister and her three children. It was a very happy time in my life to have all the family together. We had great neighbors and would often have a street party, it brought us all together and we all got to know each other and I felt very comfortable being there.
I remember the Sunday dinners, always roast beef and always heated debates about politics, although at six years old, I just sat and listened.
Tell us about where you worked and what a typical day was like.
I worked at that time as a secretary for the Board of Education. I worked specifically as a secretary in the Library and at a high school in Scarborough. I enjoyed this very much. The school was only a short ride from home, and I had always wanted to work in a school atmosphere and of course I loved working with the young people. I guess I must have done, for I stayed there 22 years.
My day was a typical day for a working mother, as it is today. I got you off to school and then went to work and then was home to prepare dinner. I was also involved with Brownies and Guides, so that took time of an evening. We had to do most things by hand and just copying machines. It was great fun.
What did you worry about most?
I worried about most things as Mothers do today. I was concerned about safety of the family and keeping meals on the table and I think in a way it was probably a bit easier. We were not bombarded by all the information on the TV, computers, and Facebook that surrounds the young people of today. We felt pretty safe when our kids played in the street and went to the corner store with a friend. There were certainly world problems, but nothing compared to what is today.
Looking back, what did you think the future held?
At the time I don’t think I thought about the future too much as my life seemed very busy. But I know I used to think that I would have liked to have bought a house, but unfortunately this never happened. I also knew that I wanted you to have a good education and that happened and I’m very happy and proud about that.
How do you look back on those times now?
I enjoyed these years very much. I loved having all the family around me and being part of it. We did so many things together, we went on trips together, and will never forget our Sunday dinners together and the talks we had. We were all busy at that time and there was always comings and goings but the home was alive and lots of laughs. I miss all that now.
Reflections from Janet
My mom grew up in London, England, survived the war, and left school at 16 to work. In her early twenties, she and her husband immigrated to Canada to meet up with her sister.
I, on the other hand, was born and raised in Toronto, obtained a master’s degree, and married at thirty.
I’ve never thought of our lives as being that alike, but after this conversation, I’ve realized just how similar they are at this particular age. I too waited until my thirties to have children, I too live in a family friendly neighborhood in Toronto where I have great neighbors and friends, I’ve even started serving roast beef on Sundays, wanting to give my children some of the same family traditions I had growing up.
I think this is a valuable lesson. All too often different generations see themselves as being so distinctive and unique but if you get down to it, and look beneath the polyester bellbottoms or the lululemon pants, we’re all pretty much the same. Thanks Mom, looks like you’re still teaching me things.
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.