The good work of mothers, their children, and their great-great grandchildren, even if they don’t know it.

I am hopelessly nostalgic, especially when it comes to family. I treasure the beautiful black and white photos in our dining room of my paternal grandparents and great-grandparents mugging for early prohibition-era snaps. One of my top “save in a fire” possessions is the beautiful, fragile, crumbling album that they came from, rich with imagery of Atlantic City Boardwalk visits, country homes, and general silliness in the face of this newfangled camera thing.

But mostly, I just think it’s so important to know where we come from, to the degree we can.

Recently, my daughter’s first grade glass may have participated in my favorite school project to date, creating a gallery of sentimental family heirloom objects. Walking the rows left me breathless, seeing this diverse group of children posing proudly with items as varied as vintage Seder plates, porcelain teacups, African dresses, a weathered, generations-0ld fur hat rich with family lore, and a photo of the single cabinet brought from “the old country” when an ancestor immigrated.

Not a lot of Mayflower memorabilia in Brooklyn. We are not Greenwich.

Thalia chose the original naturalization certificate of her maternal Great-Great Grandmother Tillie, the one I was lucky to inherit when my grandmother died.

Thalia was named for Tillie. In fact, she was nearly named Tillie, but my insistence would have lead to the speedy demise of Nate and my relationship. (So bless you Name Candy for the kind approval of my children’s names. You have noooo idea. No idea.)

Tillie was the first working mother in our family, that I know of. The strong matriarch  who, divorced at a time when such a thing was shameful, made that trip from Russia to Philly by herself to create a better life for her children. She arrived in the early 20th century, and was officially naturalized in 1925.

This is the paper that let my Great Great Grandmother move to the U.S.A. in 1925. Her name was Tillie. I was named for her. It is special because she died and I never met her.


While my mother lived with her grandmother, my own memories of Tillie are vague–I recall running around a coffee table in circles, ducking under her legs each time as she grabbed my four year-old face, gave a good squeeze, and uttered in Yiddish, Shana Punim. What I didn’t know then was that she was one of the early ILGWU workers who worked her tuchus off to support her three children alone with her sewing skills. It goes a long way to explaining my passion for supporting mom-run businesses on Cool Mom Picks.

I was only five when Tillie died, but I remember her memory carrying on through those old Look for the Union Labels jingle on TV.


Remember somewhere our union’s sewing, our wages going to feed the kids/and run the house.

We work hard but who’s complaining…


Every time it came on, parsing episodes of The Price is Right or Bewitched, my mother nudged me and said, “that was your Great-Grandmother” and we watched and listened and beamed with joyous pride that our family was in some small way part of something that helped America and helped families and merited its very own TV commercial.

So I’d imagine it’s no coincidence that  my grandmother, my mother and I each have had an ardent commitment to family expressed both through love and through work, whether that work was in the home or outside of it.

I’d imagine Tillie had a little something to do with that. Or a lot.

(And man, if only there were an organization writing commercials extolling the importance of all moms, and not just the ones who work out of the house. Wouldn’t that be progress?)

In a few weeks, I’m so honored to be acknowledged for some of the things I do out of the home, the way so many in my Great-Grandmother’s generation never were. Working Mother Magazine and the Advertising Women of New York are naming me among their 2012 Advertising Working Mothers of the Year and I am wildly humbled by it.

The best part about it is that my children get to escort me up on stage.

The second best part about it is that the nomination was submitted by my own father. Because it’s not just mothers who are proud of their daughters.

I assume I’ll get some sort of plaque, and my kids will have the memory of sitting there, feeling good about what their mom is doing for their family, and maybe understanding it a little better. Even if they miss me sometimes. Even if I can’t make every pediatrician appointment or every PTA meeting.

Maybe one day it will be Thalia’s Great-Granddaughter who brings that plaque in to her own class’s family heirloom day.

Or maybe she’ll bring in something of Thalia’s.


53 thoughts on “The good work of mothers, their children, and their great-great grandchildren, even if they don’t know it.”

  1. I love this! So powerful and such a good reminder that we working mother’s should have none of that “mother’s guilt” crap lingering. We should stand tall and be proud!

    1. We shouldn’t…but we will. I try to think of it as just a reminder how much we love our kids. That’s not all that bad.

  2. That was lovely, so great that your kids have such a good understanding of who their ancestors are! And can I just say, your first-grader has some fantastic handwriting. My poor son has inherited my awful handwriting and is very lucky that he was born in the age of computers. (Or maybe it’s his teachers who are the lucky ones, mine had to try to decipher my handwriting.) On the bright side, maybe that means he’ll turn out to be a doctor one day 😉

  3. Let me echo the sentiments above and say congratulations, job well done, and Yay! Love that your dad nominated you, that your kids get to escort you, that people like you get recognized for your good work, that Thalia (and Sage!)knows where she comes from.

    And like Doug and Dorf’s Daughter, this one is bringing some tears for me too.

  4. I love this post! Like you, I love all things having to do with family history, and you are instilling that love in your daughter. What a wonderful person to be named after! And congratulations for your award.

  5. Lovely post. Family heirlooms are so great because they tell a bit of a story about someone’s life you might never have otherwise known about. Congrats on the award – you deserve it!

  6. Beautiful, beautiful! All of the generations are coming together in this one moment…and because of who you are you can appreciate and recognize it. Yay for you, your Dad, your lovely daughters, your great grandmother, your history. Huge congrats on this amazing honor which is so hard-earned and well-deserved. Thrilled for you!

  7. What a beautiful post, Liz. Obviously your great-grandmother passed on a strong heritage and a sense of purpose and identity. No doubt you will do the same for your daughters and their daughters and their daughters.

  8. Thank you for writing this. My greatest source of guilt right now is how many nights I’ve had to work from home recently, with my son clamoring: “No, mami. Stop working,” whenever I pull out my laptop. However, I try to remember how proud I always was of my mom and how I wanted to be like her.

    Keep up the great work, Mama!

  9. This is a beautiful little window into the traditions the women in your family have shared. It makes me wonder if there are any values specifically handed down by the women in my family. Thank you for inspiring me to spend some time thinking about the strong females in my family tree!

  10. The juxtaposition of the old pictures and travel documents with the beautiful face of your little girl in 2012 is stunning. We keep our loved ones alive by remembering them and I hope that someday my own great- (or great-great) granddaughter will see herself in the beautiful wedding pictures that are about all I have left of my own grandmother.

  11. I think the best part about that award is that your daughters are a part of it. I know I wouldn’t be the working mom that I am without my kids. They have taught me patience in a way nothing else could. I’m a better employee for it. I get to love my job which makes me a better mom.

  12. congrats Liz on an award well deserved.

    this post made me smile from ear to ear. I have rich memories of writing about my grandmother in the 5th grade when we were asked to do a report on a woman who inspired us. It is so true that our legacy often becomes intertwined with those that we look up to from the past.

  13. Wooooa….don’t want to lose sight of the honors bestowed upon you but hard to continue reading about them with eyes glassed over in tears and wonderful fond memories of Nanny. I know she is as proud of you as we all are. Beautiful and congrats and thanks.

  14. Congrats to you, Liz! I can’t think of anyone more deserving. You’re definitely an inspiration – as an entrepreneur, a working mother, and simply, a mother.

  15. Grandmothers are amazing and so are you. Congratulations and thanks for reminding me of so many great memories. Oh, and I too snuck in some named after Grandma history into my daughter’s name.

  16. Liz, this is fabulous. And I have just arrived this week at an epiphany about what our children will be shaped by. Not if they stayed at school until 2.30 or 5.30, or if their birthday cake was homemade, but what we, their parents did with our own lives. Did we run races on the weekends? Did we help other people in our communities? Did we win awards for our hard work? Did we pursue our hobbies and dreams, through weekend retreats, nighttime classes, a messy art studio? These are the actions that model behavior that they’ll imitate later. These are the things my mom did that inspired me to be independent and intellectually curious. I really never thought “Why am I in aftercare every day?” I thought my mom had a good job because she was smart and capable. It wasn’t about me.

  17. I was just thinking about this today: what will my sons remember when they think about their childhoods, about me? I suppose it will be that I clanked around in the kitchen while they ate their after school snacks and did their homework, and then yelled at them all night long to “STOP PLAYING ROUGH!” and “STOP ROARING!” But I hope what I do for them will be absorbed into their character as men. That’s the true legacy. Although those sentimental items are precious, your virtues will undoubtedly be the most valuable things you will pass on to your girls.

  18. Beautiful! Your writing is so beautiful. My eyes filled when you said your daughters would escort you on stage. The tears fell when I read your father had nominated you! Congratulations! Your girls are lucky to have you!

  19. Here’s to the Tillie’s of the world, god bless them all.

    What strikes me most about your ancestor Tillie is, she was kind, her hard life could’ve made her harsh and unforgiving. Glad her spirit lives on through your family.


  20. You deserve that recognition, Liz. After reading you blog for years now, your dedication to all that you love, your family and your job, comes through so clearly. You would have made Tillie proud, but I’m sure Thalia (and Sage and Nate) will be proud enough to cover her. Congratuations!

    1. Thank you Isabel. One day we’ll have a cool family manifesto poster like yours, and that will be another heirloom. (I still envy that.)

  21. I love how you wove all of this together, the project, your Great Grandmother’s hard work, as well as yours, and the accolades you are receiving. So good.

    Congrats and yes, love the project.

  22. Congratulations, what an honor!! I do hope your plaque will become a family heirloom and as cherished as it should be. I, like many of your readers, have pangs of guilt as I try to grow a brand new website into something. Luckily, I’m able to work with my daughter, but my son and I can’t share the experience, but I do hope I’m setting a positive example of what women can do when they set their minds to getting it done!

  23. Congratulations! An award well-deserved – you’re continuing a long line of matriarchal achievement, obviously, which means that the world had just better look out for what your daughters are going to do. Kick tuchus, that’s what. And they can say they learned how to do that tuchus-kicking at their mother’s knee. So to speak.

  24. My great grandmother got divorced from my great grandfather in 1919, and raised four kids by herself, supporting the family as a seamstress.

    My other great grandmother hopped a ship to America from Norway by herself around the same time. She had a step-mother who wasn’t very nice, so she got away.

    I love that these stories get carried through to us. I know as I’ve studied up on my own family history, I see traits that I learn about them in my own children. Sometimes it feels like a circle that keeps coming around and around.

  25. I gather in the Somalia communities children are taught to recite their lineage. A rather nifty idea me thinks. We are because we were.

Comments are closed.