(I love telling stories. It might be my favorite “style” of writing. It is, without a doubt, the stuff that most of my readers best respond to. This year, I want to tell you some stories about my past– about people who’ve made me who I am today. Some will be happy, some will be sad. Some you will find encouraging, some you will find maddening. But they all have one thing in common. They are all: People Who’ve Made Me Who I Am Today.)
I was fourteen years old when I met Mrs. Johnson. She was the petite blonde woman who taught my Honors English class. Even as a freshman, I already had several inches on her.
That first year of high school was the first time they had separated us by ability in such an obvious way. Always before that, we had had groups with letter or color names that were vague. Now, let’s be honest here– we all knew which group had the advanced kids and which group contained those who struggled more. But, as far as “labels” went, we were all pretty equal.
It wasn’t a huge surprise that I was in Honors English. All my classes were honors classes and, later, AP classes. I was a nerdy little “smart girl” and I was the third straight-honors kid in my family. No shockers going on here.
Mrs. Johnson rather liked me. I was a strong student with an affinity for writing. My vocabulary was vast and I adored journaling out the day’s topic. She loved my passion for learning.
One day, she walked down the hall beside me and asked, “So, Jessica, what would you like to be when you grow up?”
I mentioned some fields I found fascinating and said, “I think I’d like to explore that for a few years, until I have children.”
She paused, mid-stride, and faced me, “What do you mean ‘until you have children’? You mean you’d give it up when children entered the picture?” I nodded. She tossed her blonde bob and scoffed, “Well, you don’t want a career, then. You want a JOB.”
As she walked away, she glanced back once over her shoulder and added, “You’re too smart to be just a mom.”
Too smart to be just a mom.
The words stung, because they were obviously criticism. I was young, of course, and criticism hurt. It still hurts, to be honest.
But, even through the hurt, I felt indignation rise. What does she mean “too smart” to be a mom? Doesn’t the world need smart moms? Won’t my kids be fortunate to have a mom who’s “smart”?
Mrs. Johnson might be appalled to see me now, at home with three young children, no career in sight.
But I can say with sureness that, when I was asked to learn to operate oxygen tanks, apnea monitors, and feeding tubes– I was glad to be a “smart mom.” When I needed to learn CPR backward and forward– and demonstrate mastery of it in front of a huge medical group– I was glad to be a “smart mom.” When I had to advocate for, not one, but two special needs children– I was glad to be a “smart mom.”
And, as I now mother a seven-year-old who does math through Johns Hopkins University, I will confirm that–
Yes, Mrs. Johnson… the world benefits from smart moms. And this “job” I’m doing? Adds value.
I’m grateful that your words have made me truly realize it.