As my three wonderful daughters were growing up, my husband and I were taking more and more responsibilities in our careers. We emigrated from Brazil to the United States in the early ’90s determined to build a good life for our family here. Jose is a surgeon, and I ran businesses in the services and technology industries, two stressful and demanding lines of work. Our daughters attended all the “right” classes, played sports, and got good grades while, with the partnership of a nanny who has been with us for 25 years, I juggled work, children, husband, and other commitments. Life was crazy busy but all of us coped, survived, and thrived. And even though our daughters, now 25, 23, and 20, say that we inspired them to be who they are today — grounded, kind, and hard-working young women — I saw myself more as an efficient “operational mother” rather an “inspirational mother.”
Fast forward to 2020. I am now retired as a former CEO and serve on multiple corporate boards. Joanna, Bella, and Alessandra are pursuing their careers and dreams and, while I wait for Jose to retire from his 40+ years career as a surgeon, I spend most of my time in our Florida home getting ready for our next life act. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world. All of us but Jose and our youngest daughter, who work in hospitals, were bound to work from home. A completely new lifestyle for somebody like me who had spent 80% of my life traveling all over the world for meetings, clients, and conferences. Three weeks into the lockdown, Joanna, her boyfriend, Aaron, and dog, Joey, decided to come down to Florida to stay with me and work from our home as opposed to their tiny studio in downtown Chicago. I confess I was a bit scared at first. Joanna and I are both strong and assertive women, and our conversations sometimes (or most times) end in passionate arguments (codeword for fights). They came with a one-way ticket and ended up staying five weeks.
And then something different happened. Since we were so intentional about not fighting, our conversations took a new tone. Truth be told, I would have been content just observing Joanna working hard all day long and being amazed at the responsible, poised, and thoughtful woman she became. She reminded me of my young self in conference calls and speaking with clients. But I discovered more than that. I discovered a relationship with Joanna that I had never had the time and space to have. When we cooked for each other, we savored more than food. We marveled at how similar we actually are and how much we appreciate each other. In week three, I adopted a puppy with her support, and Joanna and Aaron guided me through his first weeks at our home. Did I tell you that I was the woman who always said that I would never have a dog because I didn’t have the time or lifestyle for that?
After five weeks, Joanna, Aaron, and Joey went back to their home and Bella, our middle daughter, came down to Florida for a month. Bella has always been my free-spirited, sensitive, and inquisitive child. She is a behavioral therapist who works with children and adults with disabilities. Again, we caught ourselves in long conversations until late hours in the evenings. We talked about serious topics such as politics and American history, but also about spirituality, past-life regressions, and how she felt growing up and being raised in a Latin family in a very traditional American neighborhood. We walked in the beach, meditated and practiced yoga together. And, call me crazy, but Bella convinced me to adopt another baby-dog. In a funny way, bringing another puppy home took me back to the time when I had multiple babies and didn’t quite know what to do… Except that now I had my wise and sensitive daughter guiding me through a “puppy onboarding process.” I know Bella will be an amazing mother…
Now I am expecting our youngest daughter, Alessandra, to come over for a few weeks in July before college starts in the fall. And like a child anxiously waiting to open my new gift, I can’t wait to spend time with her and intentionally connect at the deepest and most meaningful way with my baby girl. I told my husband not to worry, I will not adopt another puppy.
In business we ask leaders to “never waste a good crisis.” In unprecedented moments like this, I invite you to not pass up the opportunity to deepen your relationships with those you love. In a very twisted way, this horrible pandemic with all its tragic consequences created an opportunity for me to connect with the people I love the most in this world on a level we had never had the time or space to explore before. Ironically, by confining all of us in the same home and giving us more time together, the lockdown created the physical and emotional space and time for a kind of pause and reflection we never had before. Whether or not we had the intention to let go of judgement or righteousness to solely focus on being appreciative and interested on each other, that’s exactly what we did. And that’s when magic happened — the magic of authentic love and deep gratitude for being able to discover the joy of having each other in our lives.