Thanksgiving is the time each year when I sit back, kick off my heels, take stock and think about life – the good and the bad.
It is a time I try to put events into perspective and rise above the dramas and tribulations of my daily life.
I try to reflect on those things for which I am particularly thankful. It is the best exercise I know for realizing the glass is half full.
I’m thankful to be a woman living in a time of consequence, as part of that first generation of women – probably in world history – who could be anything they wanted to be.
Women born just a few years before me had to choose between family and career, and even so their career choices were usually limited to being nurses, teachers or administrators. A woman might graduate at the top of her college class, but she was shuffled off to the secretarial pool in hopes that she might rise to be an administrative assistant to the (male) boss. Women were expected to work until they got married, then quit to stay home and raise the children who were soon to follow.
I’m also thankful for my two daughters. I am thankful that they are smart and hardworking, and that they adhere to a moral code that will guide them through life as they pursue their dreams to the full extent of their talents. (PS: I’m also thankful they are no longer teenagers.)
I am especially thankful to see those two blessings come together.
I had the chance to yank open doors that were previously slammed shut to women, but I have daughters who can now walk through those doors with confidence, knowing that the world they enter is filled with opportunity and promise.
My daughters and their contemporaries can move gracefully into those careers as a matter of right, not as token hires or, as it was in my era, hired in spite of being female. My generation was barely tolerated in the conference room; their generation has a chance to run it.
I’ll never forget being at a Capitol Hill staff meeting in the early 1980s, after being at the top of my class at Oxford University and teaching nuclear weapons at MIT. One of the male staff members who was several years my junior, not as well qualified and not as productive, felt entitled enough to ask me to get him coffee.
Later, when I asked my boss about it, he suggested I might want to throttle back on working so hard, because it was making the men on the staff feel threatened.
My older daughter, born just a few years after that, now has men working for her, and offering to get her coffee! My younger daughter has generals and CEOs seeking her advice. The world has changed.
I was thankful to go to my older daughter’s college graduation – a college that was closed to women when I graduated in the early 1970s. I was thankful to watch her receive her university’s highest athletic award – an award that didn’t exist a generation ago because there were no women’s college athletics.
I am thankful for watching my younger daughter go off to a university abroad and join a student organization that was off-limits to women for 600 years.
I have often thought back to why my generation of women broke through the barriers. I think it goes back to when we were little girls growing up in the animated world of Walt Disney.
While our brothers were watching "Road Runner" cartoons or bopping each other over the head like "The Three Stooges," we were transfixed by "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Snow White." Our heroines may have ended up marrying Prince Charming and living happily ever after, but they had very interesting journeys along the way.
They overcame hardship, coped with tragedy, foiled assassins and outsmarted mean girls. They didn’t whine, complain or mope around.
They triumphed over every adversity and defeated every adversary. Although there was always a handsome and wealthy Prince Charming in the story, he was more Ken Doll than hero.
I loved watching all those animated movies with my two girls when they were growing up. And I particularly loved their Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty costumes at Halloween.
Take Cinderella. She was orphaned at a young age and forced into servitude by an evil stepmother and cruel, ugly, mean stepsisters. Then, friendless and dressed in rags, she managed to connect with a fairy godmother, enlist the help of household pets and pests and charm the most eligible bachelor in the kingdom. Prince Charming fell so profoundly in love with Cinderella that he searched high and low until he found her again. He defied the wishes of his wealthy and powerful royal parents and happily married a penniless orphan.
Or Sleeping Beauty. She was born into a royal family, but at her christening was cursed to die an early and miserable death. Sleeping Beauty was spirited away to be raised by three wacky fairies, who instilled her with self-confidence and pluck. By the time Sleeping Beauty was a teenager, she was in charge of their little cottage in the woods.
Then there is my personal favorite: the beautiful, brunette Snow White. She, too, was orphaned at an early age. Her jealous evil queen/wicked stepmother targeted Snow White for assassination and ordered the huntsman to kill and disembowel her and deliver her heart back to her.
Snow White, although still just a little girl, managed to convince the huntsman to spare her life. She fled alone into a cold, snowy forest, wearing little more than a thin red cloak. She found refuge in an empty house, met the seven dwarves, and set up a well organized, functioning group home. Snow White made a new life for herself, away from the castle, and was cherished by her dwarves.
I am thankful for living in a time where I was raised on a steady diet of animated heroines, where hard work was rewarded and initiative expected. I am thankful for having access to an education that would not have been available to women just a few years older. I am thankful for all the lucky breaks I got along the way, of mentors, of living in interesting times where I, like my heroines, could overcome obstacles.
My generation of women didn’t set out to change the world. Like our childhood heroines, we just kept putting one step in front of the other. We made the best of what we had, seized opportunities when they presented themselves and never took no for an answer. And we changed the world.
We created our own legacy and gave it to our daughters. For that I will be happily ever after thankful.