|Melissa Anne Biederman
MARNA LEERBURGER BIEDERMAN
My dad likes to tell of one of his favorite memories of my mother, the day she and Joanie Foster received their master's degrees in education. They were nontraditional students returning to the classroom after careers and four children between them. My mother had already had a successful career with the Red Cross as Director of Education. And although we were her priority, mom never abandoned her love of learning.
The day she received her master's, she and Joanie realized that they had accomplished what many women had not (after all, this was 1970 and they were mothers). Grad parties occurred all over town, but for the two Adelphi moms, invitations were not forthcoming. So they made their own celebration. They donned cap and gown and ran up and down the street taking each other's picture. Wherever my mom is, life seems to be a celebration.
I was too young to remember that moment, but for me it epitomizes so much of what I admire and love about my mother. Her thirst for knowledge, her unflagging confidence in herself, and her abilities, the way she undertakes things with enthusiasm and determination--and how intensely she loves--the love she shares with everyone, everyday. I used to be jealous of the affection she so easily shares with others. (OK I still do sometimes.) I remember coming into the classroom that she subbed in when I was in fifth grade and seeing her with students. She hugged them, she encouraged them; she seemed to effortlessly give these kids of privilege more than they had received in a lifetime. They came to her with everything, every problem, and she was always there with a hug and a kiss, with advice, or just an ear. She was hired for a semester, and fifteen years later she's still Curtis School's favorite teacher.
Then there is the home for wayward children she seems to always be running at our house. From the start, my house was where everyone could go and be assured of being fed and loved and made to feel wanted, needed, and safe. I remember the neighborhood misfit, Douggie, coming to our house late one afternoon. He was all washed and neatly dressed (for once) and he came to call on my mother. Seems he was going to be in a play that night and wanted my mom to come. When she said she had to be home for us, Douggie was crestfallen but only for a moment. She became the audience for a private performance right there on the front step, and I know he never received greater adulation or more affection.
We always seem to have a kid sleeping over or staying late into the night because a parent has forgotten to pick them up or is too busy. With my mother, though, they are encouraged to be one of the family, to fix themselves snack,s to play on the computer (usually with her), and to come for a "snuggle" anytime they want. My mom works with kids from six in the morning to seven or eight at night, seven days a week, tutoring and mothering other people's children. And the phone calls come in at odd hours, too. When a child of divorce is distraught over the latest custody battle being fought in her name, she calls my mother. When my cousin was in Paris and needed to share his greatest fears about life and death, his 3 AM calls came with regularity to our house. Friends of mine and my brother's come to mom when they have a medical or family emergency and need strength and love and support.
Yet mom has also managed to be Chair of the Mathematics Department at Curtis; to attend conferences and run SAT preparation courses; to tutor in person, by phone, even by fax--whatever is within her power to give a child the preparation he or she needs to excel. My mother has shown me that women can be smart and tough and driven and determined, as well as being nurturing, affectionate, accessible, and motherly. That, to me, is what a woman ought to be. I hope someday to be that kind of woman.