*photo of KK in front of the IDB office in Des Moines.
She's an amazing woman, and an exceptional role model. She's also blind. I tend to quickly dismiss that particular attribute of hers, not because I'm blase about all that she's done in spite of her disability but because although it's definitely shaped her, being blind doesn't define my mother. If I had a nickel for every time I've been asked, "What was it like growing up with a blind mom?" I'd be a gazillionaire. I like to tell people of the fun my brothers and I had typing naughty words into her computer so that the screen reader program would say it back to us. I don't care how stoic you are, it's funny when a computer says "shit" and "damn" and "bastard" in its robotic, monotonous voice. Another response to the 'what was it like' question is the classic reply-with-a-question-of-my-own maneuver: "Dunno. What was it like having a mom who can see?" It's all I've known. And really, you guys, it wasn't all that weird.
The reason I'm writing about her today is because she's moving away. Far away. Like 1,019 miles away to Washington D.C. where she's landed a sweet gig. She's accepted the position of the Director of the National Library Service. According to the press release that announces her appointment:
It's a great service, and I can't imagine anyone heading up that organization better than my mom. She clearly has the skills, education, training, drive, etc., but she's also a user of the services, and understands the value of having these materials accessible. A very clear memory I have of my mom when I was growing up is of her surrounded by a giant mound of laundry, (she had six kids, people!) folding away, while her talking book played in the background. If it was a good book, we knew not to interrupt her. (Now that's been repeated in the next generation. My kids get barked at if they interrupt me while I'm deep into a book. Right or wrong, books have that power over us, don't they?)
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) in the Library of Congress administers the talking-book and braille program, a free library service available to residents of the United States and its territories and American citizens living abroad whose low vision, blindness, or physical handicap makes reading regular print difficult. Through its national network of regional libraries, NLS mails digital audio players and books and magazines—in audio and in braille—directly to enrollees at no cost. Music instructional materials are available in large-print, braille, and recorded formats. Select materials are also available online for download.
Anyway. Mom and books go together like macaroni and cheese. Or peanut butter and chocolate. (Hmmm... I'm kind of hungry.) And it's a great accomplishment for her to take on this job.
Last week, she had a going away party given to her at work. (She's leaving her role as the Director of the Iowa Department for the Blind.) Many people went up to the podium to say nice things about her, they spoke of her accomplishments, shared laughter and tears. It was interesting to see that side of her. As her daughter, I've not seen her professional side very often. I know about it, of course, but watching her peers and subordinates sing her praises was something else.
Oh, and the governor too. He attended the entire program, and spoke of her accomplishments. This is Iowa's Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds, speaking at mom's going away party.
*photo of Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds speaking:
They also gave out hugs before they left:
*photo of Lt. Gov. Reynolds hugging Mom:
*photo of Gov. Branstad hugging Mom:
It was a highly organized, proper sendoff for a revered leader.
The family threw her a send off of our own on Saturday. But it was highly disorganized and not terribly proper. My brothers (except for the one who lives in California), sisters-in-law, and nephews all met at Mom's to hang out on St. Patrick's Day. My aunt and her family were able to make it. And my grandparents were there too, along with Grandma's dog, Tiny:
*photo of Gpa and Gma with Goblin:
As is usually the case with our family get togethers, it was informal, there was a lot of food, and plenty of beer. Oh, and basketball. And baby holding (This is Hollywood with Simon and a weird shadowy effect that my camera kept creating):
*photo of Hollywood holding my nephew Simon:
And Auntie M with Goblin:
*photo of Aunt M holding Goblin:
It was a day of cousins playing together:
*photo of Bumblebee playing with Izzy:
And of The Boy hanging with his baby sister:
*photo of TB with Goblin:
And my brothers and the dogs goofing around:
*photo of Erik and Korey on the tandem with the dogs running in the foreground:
We never really got into talking about what her leaving means to our family. We have so many memories of time spent at Mom's house. She's keeping it, though, and plans to return when she retires, but for a while things will be different. But, along with this change, new traditions will come. Certainly there will be visits to her out East. I'm hoping we get a chance to spend the holidays in DC one of these years, and for sure we'll head out there in the summertime.
I wish I had time to write more about my mom, what she means to me, and how proud I am of this achievement in her life and career. She will help so many people with this new position because when she faces a challenge, she attacks it with all of her will. She'll tackle D.C. like she has everything else in her life: with strength, determination, grit, and her trademarked charm and wit. Look out, Washington.
We'll miss you, Mom. Congratulations and love you.