It’s officially the week of Mom as the countdown to Mother’s Day (AKA this Sunday, May 11th) begins!
To celebrate, StoryCorps is sharing stories of the strong women in all of our lives using #momstrong! We hope you will join in the fun and show us why you admire your mom! Just share a photo with us on Facebook & Twitter using the hashtag #momstrong–we can’t wait to see them!
In the meantime, We Are StoryCorps has a #momstrong story to get you inspired. Enjoy this “never-broadcast” exclusive story from our New York Times best seller, Mom: A Celebration of Mothers From StoryCorps.
Roselyn Payne Epps (R), 78, talks with her daughter, Roselyn Elizabeth Epps (L), 47. Both women practice medicine in Washington, D.C.
Roselyn Payne Epps: I always knew I’d have a career and children. It’s interesting, you hear a lot of people talk about “Which can I have–one or the other?” Why not both? Coming from a family of African-American people the women have traditionally worked–so it has never been a big mystery about “either-or,” just how you balance it.
I never let my children think anything was more important than they were, but I never let anyone at work think that anything was more important than my job. I never talked about my kids at work…
Roselyn Elizabeth Epps: …And you didn’t bring work home.
Roselyn Payne: Nope, I left my work there. You make adjustments. I can recall when you all were starting school and I was working in a clinic. I was the only pediatrician there, so I had to be there every day. If anything happened at home that would keep me from being there, there may have been fifteen, twenty, forty parents bringing their children for examinations who would be disappointed. So I knew I had an obligation to be at work. But I also knew I had an obligation to my children.
You all were very responsible. For instance, I would tell you, “Tell me in advance when you’re going to have a program. Ask the teacher: ‘When is the recital going to be?’ Don’t tell me on Monday to come to a program on Friday–you’ve been rehearsing and rehearsing and rehearsing for months!” So then I had the opportunity to get someone to substitute for me. It was a partnership between us.
Roselyn Elizabeth: Well, as far as partnership was concerned, we all had our responsibilities. There were specific chores–there were days everybody was supposed to do dishes. If we were going to entertain, somebody was supposed to sweep, somebody else cleaned the walls, and somebody else pulled the weeds. I was the “A-One Sweeper.” You and Dad were very creative with your names: “Oh, you’re the best wall washer!” “Oh, boy, you really know how to pull weeds!” Only later we realized, Boy, we were bamboozled into our chores! But we were sweeping, and we were so happy.
Roselyn Payne: That was your name–”the A-One Sweeper.”
Roselyn Elizabeth: We all knew what our jobs were and what our responsibilities were: you were the parents and we were the kids. It wasn’t a time where people were friends and buddies; that wasn’t our generation at all. You weren’t smothering–I guess the new term is “helicopter parents.” Sometimes you don’t want your parent there every second to experience it and video it. Although you never missed a school play, never missed a parents’ night, never missed anything. For four children!
Roselyn Payne: I would get there sometimes, and I would be one of two parents. I used to say, “Where are the people? Where are the parents?”
In the early days, your dad had evening office hours and he’d be late getting home. So we made a decision to sit down as a family and have dinner at six thirty–every night–no matter what. When you went off to college or medical school or wherever you were, you all knew if you called home at six thirty, you could talk to the rest of the family because that was our time. And if your dad had to go back to the hospital at night, didn’t matter. He came home and we had dinner together every night, and we had breakfast together every morning. We had two meals together every day.
Roselyn Elizabeth: Did your experiences in medicine affect being a mother and vice versa?
Roselyn Payne: One thing I learned is that all parents want their children to succeed, and all children want to succeed. I used to go to talk to sixth graders, and I’d say, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I never heard a child say, “I want to be a drug dealer.” I never heard a child say, “I want to stand on a corner.” But somewhere in between, something happened.
I think being a mother helped parents respect me. I would give them advice, maybe about feeding an infant. I was young then–you know, I finished medical school in my early twenties, and I guess I looked younger than that. I would tell them, “You don’t have to think about feeding the baby every moment,” or whatever it was. And they would look at me like, Well, what do you know about that? She doesn’t know what’s going on! And I’d say, “I have four children.” Oh! That gave them new respect: Well, maybe she knows what she’s talking about!
Looking back, people will say, “Oh, you were a pioneer–there were only five women in your class!” But I didn’t see it. I was following my dream to be a pediatrician and have a family.
You all have done very well. But I take no credit and I take no blame. People say, Aren’t you proud?” My mother always said, Don’t be proud; just be thankful. So when you were coming along, I said, “I won’t take credit because I’m not going to take blame either!”
We never encouraged you particularly to go into medicine. When our oldest son was about twelve, he said that he thought he would go to law school. So we said, “Why are you going to go into law?” He said, “Doctors work too hard.” At the time, he had a very good friend named Bruce whose father was a lawyer, and Bruce said he was going to go into medicine. “Ask Bruce why he wants to go into medicine when his father’s a lawyer.” He did, and Bruce said, “Lawyers work too hard.” So I said, “The truth of the matter is, you work hard if you’re successful–no matter what you do. So you have to decide to do something you enjoy, because you’re going to work hard.” So he said, “In that case, I’ll go into medicine.” [laughs]
Roselyn Elizabeth: Well, of course you’re my one and only mother, and it has evolved towards friendship also. A lot of people laugh and say, “You all act like sisters.”
Roselyn Payne: True. We are very close, and we’re a lot alike. We’re buddies. We talk every day all day long. Your dad sometimes says, “What are you all laughing about so much?” I love you very much, and I’m very pleased with who you are. As I’ve said, I’m not proud; I’m thankful.
Recorded in Washington, D.C., on July 10, 2009.
Enjoy the read? You can find more amazing Mom stories like this in Mom: A Celebration of Mothers From StoryCorps–now available in paperback! Pick yours up today!