Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Mom Contest

For years, my sisters and I have bantered about who is winning the "mom contest."

Of course, the playful digs are there:

Most stubborn like Mom? Me.

Most clinical like Mom? Again, me.

Who would rather have a tooth pulled before going shopping for clothes at the mall? My mom and I would hold hands at the dentist.

All of these things play out in good-natured fun, and yes, I am probably “winning” this “race.” But my mom and I share a lot more than stubbornness. One facet of our connectedness lies in the professional paths we chose—medicine for her, military aviation for me—both at times when women in these respective fields found themselves in the rather small minority.

She graduated from the University of Nebraska College of Medicine in 1955, a class comprising 80 men and 4 women. She had to apply three times to get in, and when she did, she wasn’t exactly met with balloons and confetti.

Her biochemistry professor bragged that the women in his class would flunk. He even sat them in the front row of his lecture hall—they had to sit side by side—so he “could keep an eye on them.”

Crotchety old medical school professors aside, my mom said she felt fortunate to have had so many World War II veterans in her class. They had come home from the war older and more grounded—you can imagine—so having a woman in their class was small potatoes. 

The picture of my mom above was taken in her physiology class in October 1953. She showed it to me for the first time a few weeks ago, and I had one of those hit-me-over-the-head-with-a-brick moments. One woman, surrounded by men, in an overwhelmingly male-dominated environment. Score another point for me in the mom contest.

Fast forward 44 years to my search and rescue squadron at Naval Air Station Fallon, NV. This photo represents the typical scenario I found myself in throughout my Naval career, and I suspect most of my female Naval Academy classmates have similar photos.

My parents received quite a shock when I told them I wanted to go to the Naval Academy. But in hindsight, sprinting down the unbeaten path wasn’t anything new in my family. This move had my mom’s DNA written all over it. Fortunately, she passed down a good dose of humor and inner fortitude to go with it.