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)