The Gift I Didn’t Know I Received

The Gift I Didn’t Know I Received

Of all the things mothers give, many of them–perhaps most of them–we never know about. How can we? We are children and they are adults. But even when we become...

May 1, 2023

By Steve Leveen

Of all the things mothers give, many of them–perhaps most of them–we never know about. How can we? We are children and they are adults. But even when we become adults ourselves, busy with our lives, who takes the time to reflect on the gifts we’ve received from our mothers? Not me. Until at Levenger last week I got in a discussion with our CEO about Levenger’s tuition reimbursement program.

“We’ve had two employees just complete their undergraduate degrees!” Margaret Moraskie told me, beaming. “That’s great,” I replied, and then, staring out the window for a moment, I told her about my grandmother.

Born Emma Roelke on the third day of the new century (that being 1900) my grandmother became a school teacher in 1919 in rural Maryland. At the time, the degree required was called a Normal degree. I still have her diploma. She taught until she and my grandfather, George Knock, had my mother, Ada.

After George passed away in the late 1950s, Emma remarried a childhood friend who had also lost a spouse, Ralph Eichelberger. Ralph was still working for Con Edison in New York City, so my grandmother moved from Syracuse, where she had lived for decades, to Queens and began teaching school again. This being the early 1960s, she now needed a bachelor's degree and so Emma, now in her 60s, went back to school and earned her undergraduate degree.

My own mother, Ada, graduated in 1950 from Syracuse University with a degree in music. After she and my father divorced, my mom decided to take me and my sister to San Diego, where we grew up. After taking an aptitude test, my mother learned she was better suited to be a social worker than a music teacher and so earned her MSW at San Diego State, while I was still in grade school. After a career in child protective services, and now in her 60s, my mother decided she wanted to go for a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, which she earned.

While I hadn’t given it any thought, I realize now that my mother and grandmother set examples. I grew up thinking it was normal to continue your education later in life. So when Margaret told me of employees earning their degrees decades after having their own children, I was pleased, but not surprised.

Today we talk about the benefits of lifelong learning with great fanfare, as if ours was the first generation to figure it out. It’s another example of presentism, which if it isn’t a word, it should be. Of all the isms out there, it is perhaps the most pervasive. You hear it in lines like, “Now, more than ever…” Or “The country has never been more divided…” I can hear my grandmother saying, “What nonsense!”

In any event, I’m happy that Margaret started this conversation which finally got me, ingrate that I am, to reflect on a gift my mother and grandmother gave me, without me even knowing it. It’s the gift that made me retire from Levenger and go back to school myself when I turned 60, thinking it was a normal thing to do.

Gratitude journals seemed corny to me before. Now they seem like a good idea, now that I’ve tasted this unexpected feeling of gratitude. It feels like hot buckwheat pancakes served on blue willow plates on a cold morning.

Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Grandma. And happy Mother’s Day to everyone, because we’ve all had moms who tucked us in with gifts we can yet discover.