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You Have Options, For Now

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In the 1970s my grandmother believed there were only four job options for a young woman: teacher, nurse, secretary, or to marry fictional heartthrob, Keith Partridge and make babies.


My dad poked me to go on.

“College,” I said. “Data processing, you know, computers.” This was me trying to explain to my lovely Italian grandma why I wasn’t getting married.

“Nurse-a”? she said, a bit confused.

I could have been speaking English, Greek or Swahili. It didn’t really matter because it wasn’t her Sicilian dialect.

Living in America for seventy plus years, she’d survived just fine with a toddler’s vocabulary and hand gestures. Yet she could sing every word of the Partridge Family‘s theme song. With an early version of a fist bump to the heart, she made it clear “bello” Keith Partridge and I should get together. Which was the goal of every girl sleeping with a Tiger Beat magazine under her pillow.

“Mah-ry,” she rolled her R’s. And then patting my belly, “bah-bees.”

Her smile made me wonder if she knew more about college life than she let on.

“I’m going to school,” I tried one more time, and motioned walking with two fingers.

“School-a teacher?”

And this explains why I was picked last by the kids at summer camp for charades when I was an adult counselor.

I shook my head and said “data processing” slowly, enunciating each letter. I was as successful as one might be attempting to connect with a blind person fluent in lip reading.

Grandma smiled and nodded, not frustrated in the least. For all she understood I was going to become a school-nurse-teacher with the hopes of marrying Keith Partridge and making bah-bees.

My dad threw up his arms. “Nobody knows what data processing is!”

It was true. At the time no such major for computer science existed in the college catalog. The business department chairman, while scratching his back with a ruler, had conceded to “create” a course outline. He’d heard of an up and coming computer lab, located next to the janitorial storage closet in the Science building, in the basement. It was good enough for me to commit four years of my life and thousands of dollars I didn’t have in the hopes that my ambition would catch up to technology.


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From where my immigrant grandmother hailed from, becoming a nurse or teacher represented true progress for women. The word ‘computer’ was as foreign to her as jarred pasta sauce.

Data processing has come a long way since the 70’s. So have the growth opportunities for women in all fields. Unlike my grandma who had no viable options beyond homemaker, my generation reaped the benefits of those who paved the path before us.

My maternal grandmother, who spoke perfect English, once said: “You girls have options today.” This made me a little sad. Wondering if all her life she’d felt stuck by the limitations of tradition or her own self-doubts.

Maybe you went down one road a LONG time ago and have settled in. But deep inside you wanted to do something different or explore somewhere new. Can you change your mind mid-way, mid-cycle, mid-life? Oh hell, yes you can.

As my dad wrapped a coat around grandma to take her home, she turned to me in what can only be described as a eureka moment. “Ahhh…Sec-ah-tah-ree!”

I never became a nurse, teacher or secretary. Saddest of all, Keith Partridge and I never married. But I did have three bah-bees. Grandma would be happy.


Other posts you might like:

Declare Your Dream (a sweet remembrance of my Dad)

Time For You To Change?

Original graphic: Stephanie DelTorchio



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