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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, May 12, 2019 1:00 am

Looking back - and forward

A Mother's Day dual reflection on lessons taught, learned and put into practice

Faith Van Gilder and Audrey Van Gilder

A letter to my daughter:

This weekend I received one of the best Mother's Day gifts ever – seeing you graduate from law school! You reached an educational goal shared by only about 34,000 other Americans this year. Even more significantly, law is a historically male-dominated field, albeit one where women are making inroads to achieve equity in numbers, salary and status. To say you are on the brink of a challenging career would be an understatement.

I always stressed to you and your younger sister the importance of having an occupation that could support you as a single person. Because my formal education ended after earning a bachelor's degree, I encouraged you to pursue graduate studies. You had so many varied interests throughout high school and college – art, French, world affairs, education, politics – and I wondered how they would all fit together into an actual career.

When you decided to apply to law schools, I was proud to be your champion in this huge endeavor. You left good friends and a city you loved, moved to Chicago, and made a three-year commitment to an intimidating level of academics, stress and debt. We jokingly compared the rigors of law school to rowing a small boat across the Atlantic, and we noted each “milestone” as you rounded Iceland, neared Newfoundland, survived storms, fixed a leaky hull and finally sighted the New York harbor.

Although I had never envisioned you pursuing law, in retrospect, the skills you needed for this undertaking were obvious from early on: fierce independence, insisting on climbing the tall slide – solo – at age 2, attending overnight camp at age 7 and spending your junior year of high school in South Africa as a Rotary exchange student at age 16. An avid reader and a gifted writer, penning prize-winning essays and heartfelt cards alike. A confident public speaker. A natural leader. An open-minded and savvy traveler. Culturally astute. A lifelong learner. Your first-grade teacher summed it up succinctly when she said shortly after meeting you: “Your little daughter Audrey is ready to learn.”

I couldn't be prouder of you and this remarkable feat you've accomplished. It's the end of law school but just the beginning of what I know will be a long and rewarding journey.

A letter to my mother:

You are my first and most important teacher.

Somehow, without any of the tools that classroom teachers use, your high expectations for me were always as clear as a bell. I knew you believed I could rise to any challenge even though you rarely said so in those words. Thank you for believing in my abilities!

How did you teach me to thrive? From the time I was a baby, you told me stories that helped me develop a sense of my own potential. Our television-free home was full of newspapers, magazines and books that celebrated courageous women and girls. You led my Girl Scout troop and planned enriching and empowering activities. I spent summers outdoors enjoying zoo camp, art camp and horse camp (I drew the line at math camp). Now, our phone conversations and Instagram DMs mostly focus on women politicians, artists and leaders doing interesting things, in addition to updates on friends and family. We still share book suggestions, usually titles by women authors and with complex women as protagonists.

You weren't a “helicopter” parent, making me fearful of mistakes. You let me earn independence over time and emphasized that with privilege and freedom comes responsibility. Today, I'm working on being more secure in my decision-making skills. I remind myself that bouncing back is possible because of what you taught me about self-improvement. Most recently, I decided to work in Italy for three months and attempt to learn Italian: risky and expensive, but carefully considered and ultimately rewarding.

I learned the value of hard work and how to savor time off because I see you work full time but somehow squeeze in vacations and getaways, too. You've always been involved in our community and city, but now are prioritizing those activities even more. At a time when many people are retreating into what they know, turning off the news and shutting out what is stressful about the world, you face life head on. I've learned how to be a woman in this world from you, and I'm so proud to be your daughter.

On Mother's Day, let's celebrate our shared successes and toast a future filled with possibilities!

Faith Van Gilder lives in Huntertown and is a senior account supervisor at Asher Agency. Audrey Van Gilder will begin a clerkship with the Indiana Court of Appeals in Indianapolis in August.