My mom gave me her name as my middle name. When I was a kid, I hated it; it was an old lady's name and didn't match the "Anns" or other common middle names that most of my classmates had. When I mentioned this to her, it broke her heart. She told me that she was just so full of love for me when I was born that she didn't know what else to do but to give me her own name. Talk about feeling like a jerk! I have loved my middle name ever since.
See, I am the baby of five and the only girl. I was brought into this world to a hospital room stuffed with pink flowers and balloons. I even got a standing ovation at just a couple months old! My mother had me in arms as she stumbled late into the school auditorium for my brothers' end-of-year awards ceremony. The principal on stage noticed, and having had all four of my brothers through his school he said "let's give it up for the first Lesnik girl!" and everyone stood up and clapped.
My mom was an ICU nurse (that worked the night shift so that she could send us kids off to school in the mornings.. she was nothing short of incredible). When she was a teenager, her parents did not support her desire to pursue a career but when she told her dad she wanted to go to nursing school (and would find ways to cover the costs herself) he agreed because he thought it would be good to have her to take care of him when he got old. She very much resented him for this and she made sure that she never burdened her kids with the feeling that we needed to care for her when she got old. This also worked for her independent, and sometimes stubborn, mindset, so I feared the day when these discussions would need to take place, but one of the silver linings to her death is that it came suddenly while she was still fully independent; she honored her word.
The other thing to come from that conversation with her father was that she made sure to fully support her kids in their pursuit of their careers, both morally and financially. My mom once quipped at me "I wonder what I would have turned out like had I had the support that you have?" I was quite young and to her surprise what came out of my mouth was "I guess we'll find out when I grow up." That was one of her favorite stories and I think it is a major reason why striving to achieve is deeply embedded in my bones. I have always been aware that I was born into this world with immense privilege so it became my personal responsibility to make sure I did something with it.
One of the compliments my mom gave me most after I was well into my career was "I can't imagine what it would have been like to have a professor like you!" and she would relay the story of her endocrinology professor in nursing school who read from the textbook. Maybe not surprising, I also had a similarly dry endocrinology professor! But that wasn't the point. My mom was wondering what she would have turned out like if after she left home to go to school she had passionate professors who taught her to stoke those fires within herself. I honestly believe she would have pursued more higher education. My mom had everything it takes to get a PhD, except the opportunity in the 1960s.
When I graduated high school I wanted to pursue a PhD so that I could teach biology at the college level. I clearly got my love of biology from my mom (I'd also say the "teaching" came from my dad, but that's comical since teaching made him miserable). But what became clearer over time is that my switch to anthropology was also inspired by her. My mom loved prehistory. Her favorite book was James Michener's Centennial. I also remember her being a fan of Jane Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear. When I was a freshman in high school I had to give an 'informative speech with an attention-getter' on any topic of my choosing. At a loss with this open-ended assignment my mother suggested I research Stonehenge because she always found it fascinating, so that's what I did. I carried around the huge S-volume of our encyclopedia for weeks. I then used it as my attention-getter, slamming it on the floor first thing and describing how to an ant the book would be huge and it would be a major feat for it to move it long distances and stand it upright. I believe I won an award in that class for that speech. So it not only got me interested in archaeology, it got me interested in public speaking. I was lucky enough that in 2018 when I had a short stint as a visiting researcher at a university in Edinburgh, Scotland, I was able to bring my mom along so that we could side trip to Stonehenge together. Funny enough, visiting Stonehenge made me remember that I have long been drawn to the metaphysical and I am currently thinking about future research directions that will allow me to indulge this curiosity.
I am grateful that my mom got to see me achieve tenure. I am a little pissed that she doesn't get to see me turn 40 (the age she was when she had me... missed it by 6 months). But more than anything, I am just honored to have been her daughter. She gave me everything one could possibly need to live a good and happy life. It is now up to me to figure out what it looks like to be my best self for me since I will no longer be doing it for her. How I see it, the achiever in me can quiet down so that the dreamer in me can soar. There are exciting things awaiting me in the next chapter.