Following the Mother’s Day themes this week, I also wanted to write about my mom because I have so much to say (hence, the long post). There’s been a lot written about her but nothing really touches on what kind of person she really is. I want people to know that she is the person who has taught me about courage, hard work, self-worth, equality, fairness while balancing it all with love and compassion to be a better mom and person.
This is my mother. She was splashed all over the newspapers as the resilient superintendent at the helm in Newtown during one of the most horrific school shootings in our history.
This is my mommy. She is the mom who not only raised me but taught me more about the person I wanted to be than I ever gave her credit for. She is the mom to 3 awesome children (cough, myself included) and grandma to 9 (soon-to-be 10 any day now) grandchildren.
My Mom, the Superintendent and Educator
My mom has an impressive resume as an educator and leader. Her bio reads:
Dr. Robinson started teaching in Florida by substituting while her husband was in Naval Flight training. She continued teaching while they were stationed in Atsugi, Japan – preschool in the mornings and English at times in the afternoons. When they moved to Hawaii, Dr. Robinson attended graduate school at the University of Hawaii and received her teaching certificate. When they moved back to their home state of California, she taught in Anaheim while continuing graduate work. She became a counselor and then a school psychologist. Moving to Connecticut, Dr. Robinson worked for what is now Education Connections as a school psychologist. However, the result of a Newsweek article on the work that Lee Canter, with whom she collaborated in California, was doing on the west coast brought demand for professional development on classroom management to the east coast. Dr. Robinson spent the next 18 years as a consultant to school districts across the country. Weary of travelling, Dr. Robinson became the Deputy Executive Director of Cooperative Educational Services (C.E.S.). She then became Superintendent in Preston, followed by Derby, then Newtown, now Stratford in July 2013.
Education: Nile C. Kinnick High School, Yokohama, Japan; California State University, Long Beach, B.A.; University of Hawaii, Teaching Certificate; California State University, Long Beach, M.S., School Psychologist Certification; University of Connecticut, Ph.D. (Educational Leadership)
This is her on paper. However, I feel like don’t know anything about her if you haven’t met her in person.
Before becoming a superintendent, she was a consultant, going into thousands of schools to work directly with teachers and administrators. She was always very connected with the students, teachers and staff. In her role as superintendent, she’s been well respected and successful, but she’s also taken her fair share of heat. She’s always been greatly admired by her staff and administrators but is not always a “people pleaser” when it comes to certain parts of the job. She once said to me, “Holly, if someone says their superintendent is ‘beloved’ then that person never had to make the tough decisions or push someone to do something they didn’t want to do.”
I find this phenomenal. When you are in a position with so much heat, publicity and responsibility, you have to accept that you cannot possibly make everyone happy. I find that she warmly accepts the praise given to her (which she does get a lot) and just rises above the negative attacks. It’s easy to say you will rise above personal attacks but to actually do it, to say that you will not waste your energy to defend yourself, takes amazing resolve.
But in addition to the focused and firm leader, she is an incredibly compassionate educator and person and a true believer in hope and equality. When she was criticized for putting emphasis on a Chinese exchange program within her district, she remarked about what this program does for high school kids, how they are learning to be better members of the global society by seeing how other people live. She would beam when she saw things her students did that exemplified patience, compassion, and reasonable discourse. It wasn’t just about test scores. She is trying to make a difference in the world.
December 14, 2012
On December 14, 2012, Dr. J was devastated. Beyond devastated. When she tries to talk about that day, it seems like she has blocked most of it out (even though she’s had to sit through every briefing imaginable about it). She remembers the moment being pulled aside by the Chief of Police, told the true horror, then having to pull all of those emotions back in to walk into the fire house and do what she could for the families.
But she didn’t have the luxury of grieving. She had to get back to work, meet with psychologists to quickly determine the best course for the students, and work at full throttle to get everyone the help they needed and to keep the district on its tracks. Emotions were running high, politicians were bombarding her office, cameras were on, critics were everywhere waiting to pounce, and she put all of her pain and grief aside to get done what needed to be done. I find it remarkable that a human being can forge through with all of this pressure and not crack.
She spent her spare time on nights and weekends dealing with grant writers, meeting with politicians and educators, drafting comments or testimony, meeting with federal educational consultants, psychologists and grief counselors, parents, townspeople, etc. She never took a single day off, barely resting on a weekend day. The only “vacation” she had was in late January to fly to California, say goodbye to her father hours before he passed, console her mother, try to help with arrangements and fly back home all within about 72 hours to get back to work.
I’m not sure I know too many professional people or educators that can compartmentalize to this level. She has a huge heart and she suffered loss that horrible day, she lost her kids, her educators and even a friend, but she had a job to do. She attended as many funerals as she could, including some victims’ services with very personal ties. She held strong, even firmly promising the town’s First Selectman, the wonderful Pat Llodra, that they’d both be there for each other when they felt moments of cracking. And she endured all of this while people were firing personal attacks at her or sending hundreds of horrible and/or threatening emails from around the country.
My Mom, the mom
My mother is/was the epitome of a working mom. She works hard but never neglected her mom duties. My mother definitely sacrificed some of her time with us for her career. She wanted to give us more opportunities while also working for what she believed in: better education for all kids. She acknowledged this recently in her speech for a “Superintendent of the Year” award saying that she appreciates that her family gave up a lot of her to allow her to do the things she’s done professionally. However, when she was working and travelling, she wasn’t really “absent”.
When I was growing up, I did feel a little jealous of the kids whose moms were the carpool moms for soccer, the moms that attended every game, practice or school function, the moms that were able to spend hours preparing meals. My mom worked. For years, she worked 6 days per week year round. But, again, she was never “absent”.
The woman I was raised by is the one you see in all of the pictures (I really wish I was able to find a picture from the 1970s):
- Into my teens, I had the mom that had to know who my friends were, what I was doing, how my grades were, who my teachers were, what I was doing in school, after school, etc. I had a curfew when others didn’t. I couldn’t swear, drink or do stupid things. She had a standard that she expected us to meet. She wanted us to work hard and be proud of ourselves. I saw it as being hard. But I never “hated” my mother in my teens like some of my friends did. And I look back on how I was during those years and wonder if she wasn’t an absolute genius.
- I remember seeing her cry (once?) when I had to tell her that my childhood best friend and neighbor was killed in a car accident when we were 16. He was like one of her extra children. She cried then pulled it together and did what she needed to do for us. That was it.
- When we were kids and she was traveling, she’d make an audiotape of herself reading stories so we could play them at night before bed.
- Our house wasn’t the most absolutely spotless house on earth (busy people tend to have a little clutter) and my mom didn’t sew our Halloween costumes, but we didn’t mind at all.
- When she made our school lunches, we would find a yellow sticky note saying “Have a great day! Love, Mom”
- When I was a sick infant, she pretty much staged a sit-in at the hospital in Huntington Beach until a doctor evaluated me since the nurses told her she was just a neurotic mom (turned out I had meningitis).
- She is the woman who was determined to adopt my brother even though she was a “working mom” back in the 1970s had the odds stacked against her and even though she just discovered she was pregnant with me!
- She was always the reasonable mediator, hearing both sides to an argument before trying to resolve it. She often made my brother and I sit on the steps together quietly after we’d had a fight, then need to provide compliments to each other after the 5 excruciating minutes of sitting together
- She never yelled (well, maybe she did when she caught my sister smoking at 16). I don’t ever remember her yelling at us. She was calm and controlled. I found that scarier than yelling. As a parent now, it amazes me how calm she was able to stay during all of the challenges we threw at her.
- My mother wanted us to behave and follow her rules but she wanted us to learn independence, do our own chores, develop coping skills, etc. We were protected from the world while also being completely introduced to it at the same time.
- My mother is fun. I like to have dinner with her, play golf with her, go out to dinner with her and her buddies, go skiing with her, do wine-tasting, cookie parties or other social events with her. She’s totally fun.
- This January, I had the pleasure of attending the Inauguration with her in Washington DC. She was so excited about the energy in the air and remarked to me, “Holly, this is remarkable that we are here, that we are all here celebrating this event. But don’t ever get complacent and think that we cannot go backwards as a society. We must always stay alert and continue to move forward.”
- My mother is supportive. One of the hardest things I thought I had to do in my life was come out to my mom. I was 24 years old. We sat together one night over a glass of wine. I told her and she just nodded. She asked a few questions and then said “if this is what you are, then okay. I worry about you. Not in that you won’t be okay. But that being who you are will present roadblocks and barriers throughout your life. I worry that you will get hurt, angry and frustrated when you cannot have the life that others have because you believe so strongly that people should be equal. I don’t want to see you get hurt by the world around you. But I love you no matter what. Oh, and I’ll tell your father.”
- She has energy that comes from nowhere evidenced by a typical week where she will work 70 hours, teach a graduate class, try to meet her buddies for yoga one night, be available for her kids and grandkids, read articles or works to stay on top of the latest in education, respond to as many emails as she can, etc. She keeps this high level of work and makes no excuses for herself.
- She always has been and always will be my favorite golfing buddy, especially because she sings “Ol’ Man River” to me to try to make me slow down my swing.
My mother lost her best friend and soul sister, Judy, several years ago to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s). She was a big part of my mom’s life and my life. I like to think that Judy is looking down on my mom right now very proud of her friend. My mom is a formidable and admirable person. She is a great boss (according to her staff). She is a fun and loyal friend. She is an awesome mom and grandma who will always be there for her family.
I know so many women I know have conflicts with their own mothers. Mother-daughter relationships are not easy. I can honestly say that I really admire, love and respect my mom. Plus, I truly enjoy hanging out with her and her friends. Unless she gets super batty in her later years, I’m pretty sure our relationship will continue this way forever.
I credit her for the person I am today and I am trying to take a few pages from her MOM BOOK to do my best for my children.
Thank you Mom for being you. Every part of you.
Happy Mother’s Day!