This I Believe

Margaret - Washington, District of Columbia
Entered on November 17, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: work
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This I Believe

I believe there comes a moment in every working mother’s life when she is convinced she is making the right choice. For me, that moment came on a bright sunny day on the Eastern Cape of South Africa. I had worked in the documentary world for a very long time, but at age 38 some ‘big ticket items’, namely the death of my father and the birth of two children, took me off the work track. It was never a conscious decision. It just happened. I tried to stem the flow of pain from missing my Dad and tried to adjust to the joyful but overwhelming demands of motherhood. I took the occasional freelance job, but there was a gnawing sensation that I might never figure it all out. Then came the call – could I go to South Africa as part of a team covering a talk show host’s work in that country. The stories would focus on AIDS orphans and possibly include meeting Nelson Mandela. I couldn’t believe it but I said “No. I’d love to but I can’t. 3 weeks is a long time to leave my babies.” But after a night without sleep and a tuned-in husband, the decision was made.

I felt more alive on that shoot than I’ve ever felt in my life. The South African people were open, warm, welcoming and sang like a dream. The days were filled with energy, with poignant stories and with lots of hugs and sometimes tears. One day I found myself in a wide open field waiting anxiously for the sound of chopper blades. I will never forget seeing that big army helicopter land and the doors opening to reveal a beaming Nelson Mandela. I was frozen. I looked over and saw teenage boys who had climbed into surrounding trees raising their fists in praise of their beloved hero. It is a moment that will stay with me until I close my eyes for the very last time. The camera crew and I followed “Madiba” (as he is fondly known there) to his visit with thousands of school children. They squealed with delight as he danced to Kwaito music and they listened with rapt attention as he told them that education was the key to success. I knew each one of these kids had an amazing story to tell and I was convinced that documenting their lives was where I was meant to be. When the kids raised their voices to sing their moving National Anthem ‘Nkosi Sikela Afrika’, I felt tears spill out of my eyes.

I wish I could say that everything from there on became an easy choice in terms of being a “working mom”. But, no — I still grapple with the balance of telling other’s stories while giving my daughters the time they deserve. But I believe for every mom who has ached over making that decision, there comes a time when she knows she is making the right choice.