You’ve Got the Power

By Angie Mizzell

My mom named me after actress Angie Dickinson. When she was pregnant with me, she was watching an episode of “Police Woman” and liked the way “Angie” looked when it flashed across the television screen. Even then, she knew I was a girl. Even then, she imagined big things for my life.

She was 18 years old and recently married. It was also the early 1970s, a time when people were inclined to look away and pretend not to notice the trouble going on behind the scenes. For a while, she felt stuck. Then, a few years later, at 21, my grandparents gave her money to file for divorce. Now, living on her own as a young, single mom, her divorce attorney helped her get a job as a receptionist at another law firm.

My grandmother helped raise me, and it’s important to note that she was also young. She married my grandfather at 17 and was a housewife. Considering I had my own daughter at 37, it occurs to me that I’m technically old enough to be her grandmother. But my life turned out differently because my mom and grandmother told me that it would. They believed it, and so I believed it, too.

My mom said I would go to college and have a career before marriage and babies. She wanted me to pave my own way. My high school job as a restaurant hostess taught me how to pay for my own gas and extracurricular activities, balance a checkbook and complete a simple tax return. I graduated from college — thanks to affordable in-state tuition and access to student loans — and spent the first decade of my career working in television newsrooms.

I met my husband in a journalism class, and we tied the knot at 25. Nineteen years later, we’ve adopted some of the more traditional roles of running a household with three children, but we continue to operate from the same mindset: equal partners, divide and conquer. Still, there came a point when I had to reconcile a question that many Generation X women have faced. We were told that we could have it all and do it all; be anything and everything. But what does that even mean?

I’ll never forget the day that I called my mom from work. I was in my late 20s and frustrated about a whole host of things. She listened to me vent and then calmly replied, “Angie, you have more power than you realize.” I sensed that she was sharing this wisdom as she was learning it herself. To really become the kind of woman my mother and grandmother dreamed I would become — a woman who paves her own way — I would have to claim my true, innate sense of worth — regardless of paycheck or employment status.

When my mom and grandmother told me that my life would be different, I always sensed that they meant better. I wonder if they inadvertently discounted their own power, not realizing they were superheroes in my eyes. When my grandfather died suddenly of a heart attack at 52, I watched my grandmother sell the house and downsize, go to cosmetology school — she learned how to do nails, how fun! — and support herself. And mom would eventually remarry, move up in her job and become a paralegal. (I’ll always remember her getting dressed for work each day, looking beautiful — like Abby from the ‘80s TV show “Knots Landing.”)

The badass women who raised me taught me this: Sometimes it doesn’t matter what we want to do. We do what we have to do. Still, regardless of our circumstances, we can learn to make choices, sometimes hard choices, that support our overall well-being. As we pick up the pieces and move forward, we’re making a positive impact on the next generation. We’re all a beautiful and complex combination of the women who came before us.

Today, I observe and admire my own daughter. At 7 years old, she has more confidence and access to opportunities and experiences than I did when I was her age. I, too, imagine big things for her life. I will teach her to be proud of her accomplishments, and at the same time, remind her that her value is never measured by her successes or her failures. She never has to shrink down and place her worth in the hands of others. Eventually, she will see: She has more power than she realizes.

Angie Mizzell is a contributing writer for Skirt and an on-camera spokesperson and host. A Charleston native and mom of three, Angie writes a personal blog about creating a life that feels like home. Connect with her at angiemizzell.com.