Single motherhood is less of a stigma in today’s society, but no less challenging. So, imagine becoming a single mother in the 1970s and having to raise seven kids. 

My mother was widowed, and had to immediately shift from being a stay-at-home mom to returning to a workforce that was sometimes arduous for women. I was number seven of those children, who ranged in age from 15 to three years old at the time. 

On top of the challenge of navigating a new and unfamiliar workspace, the economy was also terrible. The rampant inflation we are experiencing now was prevalent back then too. I remember sitting in the car with my mother as she waited in gas lines. Yes, you heard that right. As Smithsonian Magazine explained,

The oil crisis affected everything from home heating to business costs that were passed on to consumers in a range of industries. But the impact was most obvious on the roads. As Greg Myre wrote for NPR in 2012, gas station lines wrapped around blocks. Some stations posted flags—green if they had gas, red if they didn’t and yellow if they were rationing. Some businesses limited how much each customer could buy. Others used odd-even rationing: If the last digit of a car’s license plate was odd, it could only fill up on odd-numbered days.

To this day, the smell of gas makes me nauseous. We would sit for what seemed like days, but was probably a few hours, waiting to fill up the gas tank of my mother’s 1973 Impala. 

Even at the tender age of seven, by that time, I was getting a taste of how bad governance and bad foreign policy, can make life more difficult than it needed to be for regular Americans. Perhaps this marked me because I became an active political watcher, and now, as an adult, I am an active political participant and activist. Much of what my mother taught me was caught. She didn’t actively lay out lessons, but I learned to watch and glean.

We were by no means rich, but my mother was the most hospitable of humans, especially with family. We always had a full refrigerator and open arms. Two of my cousins lived with us for a short time, and Mom also took in foster children. Mom was old school when it came to discipline and punishment, so the few problem children we encountered when they first arrived, left our home knowing how to say, “Yes Ma’am,” and “No Ma’am,” a set of manners, and a healthy respect for authority. She quietly made an impact; perhaps larger than we know.

Mom was also a voracious reader. I learned to read before I was five, and that love of the written word was passed on (obviously). I remember when I had my first published article at the age of 15; Mom was so proud and sent copies of the publication to my aunts and uncles. 

My mother worked a swing shift, which allowed her to be home during the day so she could attend to teacher meetings and educational issues for us. Mom was very stealthy about this: a velvet hammer, and an active participant in our education. She moved me and my youngest brother from public school to a parochial school when she felt we were not getting the education we needed. She also took the parochial school principal’s recommendation that instead of attending a parochial high school, I should be placed in a college preparatory school. That was a difficult adjustment for pre-teen me, but in hindsight, she made the right choice, and I am thankful for her discerning hand.

Probably the greatest gift Mom gave us was a work ethic. Whether it is a job well done or an article well-written, I owe the importance of presenting my best self to my mother. She went from a stay-at-home mom to being forced back into the workplace, and she did it all with grace, while also raising seven children. My mother took a secretarial course to pick up typing and shorthand skills—again, this was the 1970s—and she found a job doing that, and then moved up to become an underwriting assistant at an insurance firm. Toward the end, she didn’t love her job, but her work ethic and need to provide for her family allowed her to stick with it and continue to do well. 

Family, community, education, and showing up in the world are all gifts given to me by my single mother, and I am very thankful to this day for it.