Saturday, January 23, 2010

Finely Aged

I got a call from my mom this morning voicing some concern over my mention of her 60th birthday in my previous post. She was worried I was stating it in more of a "Wow, my mom is old!" manner than what I really meant: I think it's simply amazing and awesome that she's lived 60 years of life and she's still so young at heart. My mom is one of the wisest, strongest and most humble people I know, and I'm fortunate that I have a concrete role model to show me what it means to struggle through seriously unforeseen hell and come out on the other side more alive and vibrant than you were before. I doubt anyone would guess she was 60 upon meeting her.

Mom in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Christine in the Blue Ridge Mountains in fall

I guess commenting on her age came so easily to me because I think about my own age quite a bit in context to my work. Last year I turned 29, and every day I'm surrounded by people who are many years younger than me, yet have been in the industry for many more years than I have. I've gotten used to most of my bosses being younger than I am, but it doesn't bother me because what matters in the end is experience. We joke about my age sometimes, and I'm amused to find myself explaining to my coworkers in their early 20's what Thundercats and the Care Bear Stare meant to me. It's quite a thing in our industry that some of the best chefs out there are 25-year-olds who have been cooking for 8 or 10 years.

Not that I was always comfortable with my age. When I first considered cooking professionally I was highly conscious about the fact that I was getting a late start. I looked around at the fresh-faced, straight-out-of-high-school kids in my culinary school class and I won't deny I felt a tinge of the weight of age. The thought crossed my mind, 'How am I going to keep up?' The harder I worked, however, and the deeper I got into the industry, the more I realized a couple of things: First, how glad I was to have had some years of living before I made a career choice. I've mentioned this before, but I'm certain I wouldn't be as put-together about my work life if I had started this insane job 10 years ago. And secondly: I feel young. I think this has something to do with the fact that my surgery was a rebirth for me. It was like I was given a chance to hit the "Restart" button.

I credit my mom with giving me context. Seven years ago my dad died in an accident and left my mom with a small business on the brink of bankruptcy thanks to an industrial depression. She literally became president overnight. She was thrust into the limelight and suddenly had the weight of an entire company and 20 years worth of my dad's work experience dropped on her shoulders. It was a ludicrously tough hill to climb that I will never fully comprehend, and to be honest there's a part of me that doesn't want to know. In seven years my mom completely turned the company around and then some; last year she was on the cover of a widely-circulated business journal as a success story in her industry, and was listed in the top 50 fastest growing women-led companies in North America. She looks younger and more vibrant now that she did 10 years ago.

The most stunning and possibly unusual part of it all is I've never once heard my mom complain. Not once. She's never been a complainer by nature, but if there were any excuse to complain, I think this would be a pretty good one. Not only that; she thinks it's weird that there's so much fuss over her success. Before my dad died she rarely met clients, never went on business trips, and took care of accounting and the behind-the-scenes paperwork. Three days ago she left the house at 5:30AM to drive four hours to a business meeting that ended at 2PM, after which she drove another two hours to the Charlotte airport to take a 6PM flight with a layover to New Orleans for an industry conference, flying back to Charlotte 36 hours later and driving another two hours home. This kind of travel is not out of the ordinary for her. When I talked to her this morning she was chipper as usual and praised the meetings and flights and drives for being smooth and on time.

Context, y'all. Context. If I have even half the strength that she does, I'm certain I can accomplish what I want to in my career and in my life.

She'll probably call me again after she reads this to tell me that she doesn't see what the big deal is. My mom is the youngest 60-year-old I know, and I wouldn't be where I am without her.


Ruth said...

Yes, yes, and yes! Christine is my hero, too. In my grandmother's tradition, it's best not to worry about aging gracefully when there's so much to DO first.

AdventuresInSF said...

Awww, this was such a nice post. Thank you for sharing it. Makes me thankful for the time I did have with my mom, but also makes me miss mine even more. Enjoy your time with her!!