A few years ago, when my youngest daughter was about thirteen years old, I heard her run across the floor over my head, bound down the stairs, and fly through the open door of my home office. Out of breath and very excited, she asked, “Mom, will you get proactive?”
As a Union leader, and someone who was always participating in one demonstration or another, filing somebody’s grievance, or preparing a case for arbitration, I instinctively, upon hearing the request, scooted my chair back from my desk and whatever it was that I had been working on, and rolled up my sleeves while simultaneously answering her with, “Sure honey, about what?”
I did not yet know if there was something going on at school for which she and her friends, or she alone, wanted to take some grand stand for or against, or if something had happened in our community that required attention, but I knew I wanted to help. And I couldn’t wait to hear the details. I wondered briefly how often in a parent’s life that a child actually wants Mom to help with something this big. And I was proud that she had asked.
My oldest daughter, already grown at the time with children of her own, denies that she is an activist. But just let something go wrong in her community and she is the first one to write a letter or make a phone call with regard to the injustice of whatever the situation may be. My youngest daughter, though, had participated with me during my years of activism that began before she was born.
So imagine for just a moment my Unionist’s pride. My little girl, after all those years she’s assisted me in one way or another, has just asked me to assist her. I didn’t know what had gotten her so excited, but I was grateful that she wanted to get involved. My chest swelled and I sat a little taller waiting for her answer that would surely be delivered just as breathlessly and full of excitement as her question had been. I reveled in it.
“Mom, will you get proactive?”
“Sure Honey; about what?”
But before she could answer and give me the details in her teenager’s language that I would have to decipher as I listened, I had a brief flash of her history with me. It was only a fraction of a second, but it was filled with memories from her childhood that had led us to this moment in our lives. Parents who are reading this will know what I mean; it’s that time when something profound happens and everything else stops peripherally while these memories instantly flash through your mind like a movie reel, and it’s a moment that only you notice because it takes no real time at all.
In that frozen moment before she could answer my question, I remembered my daughter sitting beside me all those years ago at my Local’s Union meeting. I remembered how the President would call for all those in favor to signify by the sound of ‘aye’ and the raising of hands, and her little two-year old hand would fly toward the ceiling and she would shout ‘aye’, thinking she had done something wonderful to participate in the events. That she also voted ‘nay’ in the same manner, each time, on every issue, always brought a chuckle from those seated around us.
In that same fraction of a second came the memory of my little girl at about eight or nine years old and very small for her age. She had accompanied me to a Kerry rally when he was campaigning for election to President of the United States. She sat on my shoulders waving a small USA flag, chanting with the crowd, “Kerry! Kerry! Kerry!” When the senator, tall and lithe, loped through the crowd toward the stage and then leapt up on top of it in a singular bound, avoiding the steps altogether, my daughter asked excitedly, “Is that him, Mommy, is that who we want to win?”
“Yes, Honey,” I replied through a smile that stretched as wide as the Kanawha River by which we were gathered, simply awed that she was doing this with me. “That’s him.”
And in that same frozen moment I recalled just a year or so later when she walked a picket line with me, carrying a sign bigger than she was, during one of those times when I had waged war against an abusive supervisor. Her sign read, “No More Fear; Stop the Abuse” in hand lettering that she had helped me color with markers and stencils the night before as we and our materials lay sprawled across the living room floor.
Imagine my pride, my little girl, after all these years of standing with me, was now asking me to take a stand with her.
“Mom, will you get proactive?”
“Sure, Honey; about what?”
And as she spoke her answer, to my severe dismay, she pointed a finger to the side of her nose, to the small zit she had just discovered that, in her opinion, was the size of Texas. Proactive, she informed me with winded excitement, was the facial wash she had just seen advertised on television that promised to clear up all a young girl’s problems. Just as quickly as she had entered, she blew out of my office and ran back upstairs.
Deflated, all of the air sucked out of the room I still occupied upon her breathless exit, I scooted my chair back up to the desk, unrolled my sleeves, and tried to resume my concentration on the grievance, or whatever else it was, on which I had previously been working.
I then added “Get Proactive” to the next available line of my to-do list.