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My mom, Emilie Brzezinski, has always done a lot of things at once. That includes being a mother to three teenagers when my dad became national security advisor under President Carter. She was also in charge of the physical work at our house, a 100-year-old property full of mold and cobwebs and overgrown plants.
But she never once lost sight of herself as an artist. Every day, despite all the work of raising kids or attending White House events, she’d be down in her studio creating her grand sculptures out of wood. She had to have that time with her chainsaw, chisel or axe.
She’d often come to get me at school in her work jumpsuit, covered in sawdust and deep in thought about whatever piece she was working on. When we got home, she’d march back into her studio and keep going.
My mother’s determination to constantly pull back to what mattered to her— even when the world was insisting on pulling her away from it — showed me grit, resilience and perseverance. Was she a perfect cook with a neat house and a stocked fridge? No. That wasn’t her priority in terms of what she wanted to leave as her legacy.
She didn’t allow herself to be saddled with that “working mom” guilt, and as a mother of two daughters, that was a huge lesson for me.
I still spend a lot of time in consternation about my career and, like many women, worry about my kids suffering. But what I’ve learned is that’s really our own suffering. My mom has been really practical her whole life, and she showed me that you’ve got to still be able to pursue what you love. It’s a mistake to lose yourself entirely.
She’s what inspired me to keep going during tough times. I work in a competitive business, and as a result, I sometimes felt I wasn’t home enough. But my mom was living proof: Not everything can be done well all the time, but you still pick up that axe when you can.
My admiration for my mother has always been so huge that it’s indescribable. She was the wife to an amazing man, a wonderful mother to three kids and has put together a legacy of incredible monuments in New York, Miami, Washington D.C., Chicago, Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
But she’s been through a lot in recent years. We were all devastated when my father died in May 2017. In an instant my mother lost her partner of 64 years. Then she suffered two heart attacks. Soon afterward came a Parkinson’s diagnosis.
And though my admiration for her hasn’t changed, our relationship has: I’m so happy to say we’re closer than ever.
Joe and I recently moved to Florida, and we felt my mother needed to be there, surrounded by sunshine and a new environment. When we first got her down there, she was kind of quiet. So much had happened. I really did not think she would recover.
But she did. She’s found a way to rebuild in the best way she can. And she’s entered a whole new phase of her career.
She’s 87 and is working like she’s 37. She has a huge exhibition in Boca Raton slated to start in June 2020 and run for seven months. She has a show planned in Miami. She’ll be showing her work at Art Basel.
This is just who my mother is. And she’s always been herself.