Every woman in my family, from my great-grandmother to my mother, was fond of saying, “A man works from dawn till dusk, but a woman’s work is never done.”
Even as a child, I understood this to be a statement of fact, usually recited in a soft voice at the end of a long day, punctuated with a sigh.
That was as close as the women in my family ever came to complaining about the weight of the world they carried on their shoulders.
My father worked hard at the utility plant, but every night, he came home to a dinner cooked by my mother, even after she had taken a full-time job as a nurse’s aide at the local hospital. When he was finished eating, Dad pushed away from the table to go sit in his favorite chair and watch the evening news.
Meanwhile, Mom and we girls cleared the table and washed the dishes. Every ice-cold bottle of beer Dad tipped to his lips came from the top shelf of our refrigerator, which Mom made sure was always stocked with whatever beer was on sale. Schlitz was a family favorite, but only because it looked like our name.
I share this story not to indict my father. This was the way it was supposed to be, as any woman in my family would have told me.
I have a few childhood memories of my mother being sick, but I remember having to help her out because of this only once. I was about 10 at the time. The same flu that had turned all four of us kids into a chorus of retching finally caught up with Mom, but only after she fainted in the living room did she surrender. For one whole day, I washed all the dishes and made Campbell’s tomato soup and bologna sandwiches for my siblings. I still remember that because it was such an unusual event in my young life.
Women across America are full of stories about female family members who powered through illness to take care of their families and keep their jobs. So often, their stories are autobiographical, because this is one tradition that dies hard. Those womanly lessons of self-sacrifice and soldiering on become the road map for the next generation of women’s lives. All I have to do is spend a day with my grown daughter, who daily juggles career, marriage and motherhood, to know that this particular family tradition endures. Instead of doing as I say, she is doing what I do.
This recent round of coverage about Hillary Clinton’s diagnosis — a “mild, non-contagious bacterial pneumonia,” her doctor said — has a lot of us women shaking our heads. Not in judgment but in recognition.
Should her campaign have announced her diagnosis sooner? Maybe, but I understand the hesitancy in light of how Donald Trump and his surrogates, particularly the unhinged Rudy Giuliani, have attempted to create one imaginary crisis after another about her health.
It’s also easy to imagine those around Clinton seeing no reason to believe she wouldn’t be just fine standing in the sun for a commemoration of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She has a long reputation for having stamina.
As for those suggesting it wasn’t hot enough for a woman in a suit to feel lightheaded, they are most likely men — or women too young for the armor of undergarments that emboldens women of a certain age to endure the relentless onslaught of public scrutiny. I wore less clothing when my mother bundled me up for a day in the Snowbelt. If you’re a 59-year-old woman who has no idea what I’m talking about, well, good for you, honey. I aspire to be you one day.
Maybe Hillary Clinton’s brief encounter with her physical limitations will nudge more of us women to take care of ourselves. Wouldn’t that be something?
In the meantime, I hope the next time I get a bad cold, everyone around me acts as if I’m at death’s door, too. Like every woman I know, I could use the reprieve.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.