On the way, however, I had some pretty interesting workplace experiences. My first job was at Pine Knoll Nurseries in Suffern, NY. I worked for the female accountant as a bookkeeper, adding rows of figures after school. Eventually I got scooped up out of there by the crazy, strong, wonderful Japanese florist named Mieko, who opened her own flower shop and took me with her. Mieko was amazing. Looking back, she was a bit like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. She scared her new customers (and me, initially) half to death, until she’d grilled you enough to decide she wanted your business. And then a better florist and boss you’d never seen. Her work was legendary in our area. I gratefully worked for her through my senior year of high school and for many summers thereafter.
In college, I worked for Paige’s Music – a huge Indianapolis-based music distribution company – in their music education department. There were a lot of men at Paige’s, particularly in the band department, but I reported to a woman. I came close to eschewing teaching and staying there to travel and give music education workshops at conferences, but my dream called.
I taught elementary music at St Paul’s School in Baltimore, where I stayed for the next 25 years. I worked under 3 female principals, and 3 male headmasters – but except for salary negotiations, 90% of my dealings were with the principals. After about 10 years there I made a conscious decision that I liked working with and for women. I heard my friends complaining in the business world about how hard it was to work for men, to get time off for family leave. I never had those issues. I was chronically underpaid, but it was worth it for the support I received.
Around the same time I switched all my doctors to females. I supported women-owned businesses whenever possible. I set about raising a strong daughter, making a point of giving her female-centric books to read full of strong heroines. Three female colleagues and I started a music teacher training program together.
Looking back, this was also the time period of my lowest sense of self-worth. I questioned myself constantly and needed to be “right” to feel safe and strong in my own life. Surrounding myself with other strong, confident women gave me role models and allowed me to not have to defend myself in a world of men. I was busy enough doing that at home, where every decision I made was usually deemed “wrong.” When that marriage ended, I finally understood the words of my therapist, who said “You can be right, or you can be in a relationship.”
Now, I work for myself. I direct a summer program for Kodály music teachers, and my university contact is a woman. I run my own business teaching Alexander Technique and piano lessons, out of a healing arts center owned by a woman. I am proud to have this legacy and to have supported and had the support of women for all these years. I no longer feel like I am running away from the world of men, but instead I can face it head on as a strong, experienced woman, confident in my own self-esteem.