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Ask the Right Question

And you hit the jackpot

Imagining a question that works like a Rorschach test is the secret of success for stories like this week’s feature, Mothers at Work. You know you’ve got it when you and your test subjects spill out answers the way Maryland gamblers are hoping slot machines spit out quarters.
    We hit the jackpot this time.
    Here’s how it happened.
    Mothering choices have been topics in more than one presidential campaign. This time around, a Democratic consultant said Ann Romney had never worked a day in her life. The consultant, who later apologized, meant something different than raising children.
    Like the Hundred Years War, the Mommy Wars are pretty much continuous. Should mothers stay home with their kids, or should they work in the world and the home front? What’s best for the kids? The family? Society? Mother?
    Grandmothers fret the subject, psychologists study it and pontificators swear by one way — or another.
    The question is fascinating. We all have mothers, and many of us are mothers. So we can all relate.
    We all have our stories.
    That’s what we wanted for Bay Weekly’s 2012 Mother’s Day issue.
    So we had to have the right question, a stimulus to evoke a unique personal response. In theory, the randomly amorphous inkblot starts you free-associating into the recesses of your subconscious. The right question gives you an irresistible invitation to tell your story.
    Husband Bill Lambrecht and I, both people who make our living making words, tried questions on each other.
    The trick, we found, was avoiding the Ann Romney trap. We couldn’t ask if your mother worked when you were a kid, because of course she worked. Mothers have always worked, as I write to introduce the story. What’s changed is where, when and how they work.
    Finally, we got to this:
    When you were growing up, did your mother stay at home? Or did she leave home to go to work the way you did to go to school?
    Bill paid out. Promptly and neatly, he told the story of his mother’s jobs including, during his most precious years, devoting herself to this pretty, precocious boy, born 14 years after his only sister and just at the same time his aunt, Ada’s youngest sister, gave birth to her only child.
    Ask the right question, and you hear the truth.
    Ask a lot of people and you see patterns that reveal bigger truths about the complexity of motherhood and family life.
    Ask people of many ages, and you see the evolution of women’s roles.
    Read our stories, and you’ll likely refine and redefine your understanding of the job description homemaker.
    It’s a beautiful word, isn’t it, and one almost all of us want in our lives.

A Proposition for You

    Appearing before Bay Weekly’s many readers is exciting. Will you join us?
    To illustrate this year’s Summer Guide, we want photos of the fun you and your family have shared in Chesapeake Country. Bay Weekly’s Indispensable Guide to Summer comes out on May 24. So you’ve got a week to share your photos. Send now!
    Email to editor@bayweekly.com. Write Summer Guide Photos in the subject line. Size to about five by seven inches and resolution of 300dpi; attach no more than four per email. Include your name, address and phone number.
    Summer Guide’s cover photo could be yours.

Sandra Olivetti Martin

Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com