Motherhood Then

by Mary Shipp Bartlett

I was 22, in my dream job. As junior publicist for George Stevens’ film classic, The Greatest Story Ever Told, I was ready to bowl ’em over as a Hollywood publicist and writer. I got to work within shouting distance of Charlton Heston, Telly Savalas, Max von Sydow, Shelley Winters, Dorothy Maguire – and they were kind enough to overlook my naivete (I was Glendale through and through not Beverly Hills) when I ran errands, brought them coffee, and asked the occasional question that might find its way into a press release. I knew this was the best way to build my career in the field of entertainment.

Then, I met my future husband, on the streets of Jerusalem (in reality, the Culver City back lot). A little more than a year later, I was married and pregnant. I gave birth to my daughter at age 23, six months before the release of the movie, working up to the day before she was born.

My boss, one of the top publicists in the business and a woman, hoped I would be back to work after a few weeks off. (The consummate professional woman, she had left her own daughter to the care of her aunt in Arizona until the daughter had passed through puberty.) This Joan Crawford look-and act-like even suggested setting up a crib in an adjacent office so I wouldn’t have to leave my baby. How modern!

However, I wasn’t modern enough. I had no model for being a “working” mother. So I stayed home, nursed my baby, learned to cook and sew and even macrame. I loved being a mother, so I had another child, a son. Now I had plenty to do. So I thought.

I soon yearned to do something that used my education and writing skills. Again, no model. Living in a Los Angeles suburb, I did not have one friend who had a paying job. And my children demanded my full attention, with Brownies, swim team, and play groups. My life was full, there was no financial need to work, and I was in a traditional marriage of the 60s, where my husband never changes a diaper or fries an egg. In the evening, when I might have found time to write, I was exhausted. I could always write, I thought, when the kids were grown. While frustrated, I was hardly miserable.

Eventually, I become one of the first in my neighborhood to take a job outside the home (this was in the early 70s, and people actually asked me why I had to do such a thing, as if there were a stigma attached to being a working mother). These were part-time positions because I wanted to be available when my children needed me, and I never missed one of their activities – whether it was a school play or a water polo game.

When my children were both in their late teens, I returned full time to work I loved it: public relations and writing – this time in the world of academe, not entertainment. Did this timeout mean I missed out, career-wise?

Perhaps. Who knows what I would be doing today had I had an uninterrupted career path. However, I love my work, where I work, and the people around me. The world of the movies can be seductive, but rarely substantive.

In retrospect, the choice I made (rather, fell into, as no real choice was offered) as a very young woman to be a full-time mother, not a star chaser, was the right one for me, given the times and circumstances. Were I faced with the same choice in today’s world, I might take a slightly different path.

And I was good at mothering. Today my children are successful young adults in both their personal and professional lives; one is successful as a freelance writer who works out of her home, with a young son, and the other is a high school English teacher, with two young girls (and he’s very good at cooking and changing diapers).

I also benefit from being a fairly young grandmother and look forward to being close to my three grandchildren for a long time. Perhaps I’ll be their role model.

Ah, Chuck. Ah, Max. See you in the movies.