“You can’t be what you can’t see.” That was the slogan for the release of the film, Miss Representation.
It was in reference to young women needing positive female role models and the importance of being able to witness their successes — and so by seeing these powerful women, they too would be able achieve their dreams and aspirations.
In honor of Mother’s Day, this blog post is dedicated to my mother, the most positive female role model I have ever known…
While most young girls were playing with dolls and having make-believe tea parties, I was pretending to be a “career” woman.
When I was a little girl I would play by myself in my bedroom and arrange note cards, paperclips, pencils, pens, color coded paper, manila folders, files, and clipboards and envision myself as the leader of my domain. I’d pretend to hold meetings with my fictitious friends as I delegated the necessary projects of the week. I’d have my secretary take copious notes or type furiously the minutes of the meeting. Yes, I actually acted this all out in my very ego-centric, child-like pretend world.
It was a lively imaginary playtime for me and I am not quite sure what or who to credit the inspiration for all this creative and illusory activity because neither of my parents were executives nor did I know anyone who was. I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Austin Texas (South Austin).
Inevitably, I’d smell something wonderful from the kitchen and away I’d skip to the next distraction. There, I would find my mother cooking or baking some fabulous tasting food. Here’s a video I made of her famous guacamole. It has over 1,00o views.
My mom was the epitome of a Domestic Goddess. She had five children, prepared home-cooked meals, baked cakes and pies, gardened, quilted, and sewed. She refurbished furniture and made beautiful ribbon bows, which she placed on top of gift boxes for her friends and family. She was into recycling and used the power of the sun by hanging linens and towels on a clothing line long before the “green” movement ever went mainstream.
She ran a tight ship at home with the organizational talent of a skilled systematizer. She had us all on a schedule for our extracurricular activities, recreational time, meal times, bedtime, and homework time. She was way ahead of the curve on the whole play date thing.
From driving us to and from school, teacher meetings, laundry, cooking, and house cleaning, she seemed to do everything effortlessly as she navigated her day with the momentum of a fast and efficient moving train. And, she did it all without a house cleaner or a personal assistant.
School administrators knew her kids well because she made a point to introduce herself to them. She always initiated the first “hello” with a firm handshake, a smile, and straight look into their eyes. I can still hear her voice, “Hi, I am Irene Tello. What’s your name?” She could have taught Dale Carnegie a thing or two about how to win friends and influence people.
She was a leader of the PTA, little league, football booster club and many non-profit organizations.
She was fearless and passionate and acted upon her strong convictions and constitution, even in the midst of devastation and tragedy.
When my brother was killed by a drunk driver at the age of 21, she became a political and social activist and stepped into the role of co-founder of M.A.D.D. (Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers) Austin Texas chapter. She worked diligently with the Texas Legislature to secure higher standards and safer roads. Her amazing ability to “work a room” was exciting to witness as she enchanted many politicians and lobbyists during her years of activism.
She even taught me the power of forgiveness and compassion when she received a phone call ten years after my brother’s death from the drunk driver (single mother of three small children), asking for forgiveness.
There were more years of deep darkness and uncertainty too. But again, she showed me how to live with dignity when faced with breast cancer, or some other serious health ailment that she ultimately overcame. She always landed on her feet and expressed immense gratitude for her life and her family. She always stayed positive, even in times of overwhelming instability.
My Mother Was My Role Model
My mom was also a “working mother.” In addition to all her domestic responsibilities, community volunteerism, and activism, she was a full-time working mother. Looking back now, I have no idea how she accomplished so much with such few resources.
Yes, she was Wonder Woman. She did it all.
Unlike many women of her generation, she rarely looked to her husband, (my father and another amazing role model, whom she has been married to for 52 years now) for validation, approval, or permission. She always seemed sure of herself and knew how to step into her own power and truth with a delicate balance of managing her own needs and those of her family and her community.
My mother laid the groundwork for the work I do today as a software entrepreneur. She didn’t just tell me what was possible for me, she showed me everyday and continues to do so today. The skill set and talent that she displayed as a my mother has served me well not only in my personal life, but most definitely in my professional life as well.
She will be 75 this year and is still going strong with her passion for living life to its fullest. She was and still is my mentor and guiding light — always encouraging me towards the pursuit of my highest aspirations.
Thanks mom. Thanks for the profound privilege of letting me see what I could be.
I love you. Happy Mother’s Day.