Years before she became a distinguished Harvard Law professor, a nationally recognized consumer activist, and a presidential appointee, Elizabeth Warren was a working mother whose grasp on the first rung of the career ladder was slipping.
She had moved to Texas for her husband’s career and landed her first job teaching law school. But her toddler and 7-year-old had burned through seven child care arrangements in six months. Nobody was happy.
“My Aunt Bee had called me, and I started to cry,” Warren recalled. “And I said, ‘I just can’t do this. I think I’m going to quit.’ ”
Her aunt calmed her down and instructed her to wipe her nose, Warren recalled.
Then Aunt Bee told her, “ ‘Well, Sweetie, I can’t get there tomorrow. But I can be there Thursday,’ ” Warren said. “And she arrived with seven suitcases and a Pekingese and stayed for 15 years.”
By the time Aunt Bee moved in, Warren’s conventional life had already skipped the tracks. She had traded speech pathology and preschool teaching for law school, graduating at 27 years old and eight months pregnant again. Her life would veer even farther off its course when she filed for divorce from her first husband.
But as she pursued her increasingly ambitious career, she was steadied by the support of family and the grace of second chances. She had Aunt Bee. She had her parents, who moved to Texas to help. And soon, she had Bruce Mann, another law school professor who would become her second husband.
For months, talk of Warren’s family has had a bitter, biting edge to it, following revelations that she had claimed a Native American heritage in employment forms and law teaching directories. She has said that her heritage claim, based on family lore and no documentation, did not bring her any career advantages.
But family did help Warren get where she is. Her experience as a mother informed her writing, including two books on family finances she coauthored with her daughter, one of which offered the damning conclusion that the best predictor of a woman’s financial collapse was having a baby.
Unlike her opponent, US Senator Scott Brown, who has increasingly relied on his camera-ready wife and daughters to vouch for his appeal to women, Warren’s family appears less often. Only her husband is out on the trail. Her grown children and her grandchildren live in California. Her son is not campaigning, and her daughter appeared with her only at the state’s Democratic convention.
“I didn’t even know if she had a family,” Rita Mercier, a former Lowell mayor, said from the stage at a Brown rally last weekend, “because I didn’t know where they were.”
But Warren’s campaign aides are eager to show the hard-charging bankruptcy lawyer’s softer side as a doting grandmother who shops at Target.
And Warren, who tapped her personal family experiences in her writing as a consumer advocate, often embroiders her folksy campaign speeches with scenes from domestic life. She got the call about her first teaching job, she recalls, while frying porkchops on the stove and trying not to slip on the crayons underfoot. She got her daughter potty-trained before her second birthday, because Warren was starting law school that day and her day-care provider did not accept toddlers in diapers. “I’m here today thanks to three bags of M&Ms,” she tells audiences.
Her colorful anecdotes, though, may take some liberties. Last spring, Warren was mocked for saying she had been the “first nursing mother to take a bar exam in the state of New Jersey,” an assertion she could not support. Her story about potty training says more about her daughter’s temperament than her own skills, she acknowledged. Her son still was not potty-trained at 3½.
“If Amelia had been more like Alex about potty training,” Warren said, “my life would have taken a very different turn.”
Returning to law school could be overwhelming, recalled Patricia Nachtigal, who, like Warren, had taken a few years off before attending the Rutgers School of Law-Newark, where they became friends.
“But I didn’t have all the responsibilities she did,” said Nachtigal. “I would occasionally think: ‘Holy smokes, she’s got a house. She’s got a husband. She’s got a daughter.’ It was a traditional arrangement. So she did all the shopping, all the cooking. She was in charge of all the child care.”
Warren had started dating her first husband when she was in high school. The late Jim Warren was a computer engineer, a long-distance runner, and a science fiction reader. He was, Warren hastens to note, “not a bad guy.” But it was the 1970s, and she was the mom.Continued...