The Choices We Make: My Mom the Spy

There’s a family joke that my mom is a CIA agent. Even now at 83-years- old, when we mention it, she just smiles and shrugs her shoulders, or says there is no point in denying it because we wouldn’t believe her.

As with most jokes, there is a kernel of truth in it. My very smart and capable mom graduated from college in the early 60’s with a degree in Far Eastern Studies and fluency in Russian. The CIA was actively recruiting from college campuses at the time and offered her a job. Her story is that she turned down the job because she met and married my father instead.

But over all the years since, she’s maintained her fluency in Russian, she went back to school when I was in college to get another degree in Russian language and literature, and she’s traveled there – when it was the Soviet Union in the 1970’s and later when it was Russia, many times. Would there be a more perfect cover for an agent than being a pastor’s wife?

It took me becoming a parent myself to understand how ridiculous this story, as fun as it is, really is. Not only because I finally understood that she didn’t have the time while raising three kids, of which I’m the youngest, but also because there is no way her heartstrings could have been in both places.

She made her choice. Instead of translating documents, she took on the work of translating the patter of baby talk into something intelligible. And then developing the sources into people who could talk the language properly.

She gave up a life of intrigue and instead instilled intriguing thoughts and ideas into her children’s lives.

Instead of secret meetings at night, she was called to hold our hair when we threw up and calm our fears when the bad dreams came.

She traded briefings about the state of affairs for parent-teacher conferences and traveling to sports events. And instead of establishing confidence in sources and colleagues, she chose to do the work of instilling confidence from the ground up in three young people.

Instead of fighting the bureaucracy at a government agency, she taught her kids that we had agency and were capable of fighting our own battles for what we believed in.

Instead of patiently nurturing a career that would challenge her brilliant mind and sense of adventure, she chose to nurture her patience with three young people who challenged her peace and equanimity.

Instead of running agents with their own backstories and motivations, she chose to help build a solid and stable backstory for us, fully present to launch our own motivations.

Instead of changing the world balance as a spy, she was the world for us.

My mom has never framed it as a sacrifice, but now that I see how much it takes to lose oneself to take care of others, I know that it was. I understand now that she had to make all these choices, from what might have been interesting and rewarding to her mind to hopefully what was interesting and rewarding to her heart.

She made her choices in life so that I could make the choices in mine.

Thank you, Mom.  

I’ve continued this theme of choices on my personal log looking at the choice I made to have kids: Looking In Through The Sliding Glass Door. I also post on Mondays at the Heart of the Matter blog. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @wynneleon

(featured photo is mine)

43 thoughts on “The Choices We Make: My Mom the Spy

  1. This juxtaposition between CIA agent and mother is great, Wynne. What a gift that she was willing sacrifice exciting opportunities abroad to be present for her family.

    1. Thanks, Erin. I have no idea if my idea of an agent is more Hollywood than reality – but at least I’ve had a great view of my mom. 🙂

  2. How beautiful this post is as a loving testament to your talented mother, Wynne. I love the photo you shared — your mom looks warm, wise and I see a sense of “knowing” behind those eyes! So lovely…and this thought: “I see how much it takes to lose oneself to take care of others…”. Oh my, yes. You just described the core of what parenting is. xo! 🥰

  3. Beautiful Wynne. I dont think we really know our parents while we’re children. We don’t really think of them having a life outside of us. I think we need to be adults to appreciate their life choices and sacrifices

    1. Wow, Brenda – what a wise and impactful comment. Yes, we do need to be adults to appreciate their choices and sacrifices. So true! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. My mum became a private investigator for a company that was bought out by the Pinkerton Agency. She would have preferred to be a home-maker but as a single mum in the 1960’s she didn’t have that many options. Your mom sounds like a fascinating character – great post.

      1. My mum worked in retail fraud so it was rarely that exciting. It did allow her to travel all over the UK and eventually supervise other agents.

        She was able to switch between a US and UK accent, so I enjoyed hearing about her pretend not to understand about the money, to see if someone was deceptive. She regularly testified in court.

  5. What a lovely tribute to your mom. It’s funny that, when we’re kids, we don’t see our moms as anything other than moms. It’s only as I’ve gotten older that I learned to appreciate everything that my mom is and what an interesting life journey she has had.

    1. So well said, Michelle. We just don’t understand their context until we grow up a little bit, right? I love that you appreciate your mom’s interesting life journey!

  6. Your words really put some things in perspective… as a nurse, my mother has been taking care of her family and the families of strangers for years now, never once complaining or backing out… not even during the pandemic…
    “She made her choices in life so that I could make the choices in mine.”

    This is wonderful post…

    1. Oh, what a lovely statement about your mother, Zara – especially “not even during the pandemic.” Wow, what amazing work. Kudos to your mom — and you! Thank you for reading and commenting!

  7. This one rang a bell for me, because I was, in fact, one of the college recruits from the 60’s! I entered into a sleuthing world of mystery (without the fluency of a foreign language under my belt), but like your mom, marriage erased any thoughts of travel to exotic places. Oh, the choices that we do make! Lucky for us, she made her choice and now we have you! Happy Mother’s Day!

    1. Oh my goodness, Julia!! I love that you shared this story. How fascinating – even for a short while. And I’m glad you made the choices you did because I’m so happy to be talking with you here! Happy Mother’s Day to you, Julia!!

  8. I keep scrolling up to look at the picture of you as a girl! Still see the same smile and expression!

    What a sweet post just in time for Mother’s Day.

  9. What a beautiful ode to your mom…and what a fun way you viewed her as a child! I think mothers have the ultimate in spy skills…lol.

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