Maria De La O with her mother, Joan, in San Diego. (Family photo)
Maria De La O with her mother, Joan, in San Diego. (Family photo)


Ventura Highway in the sunshine

Where the days are longer

The nights are stronger than moonshine

You’re gonna go, I know


‘Cause the free wind is blowin’ through your hair

And the days surround your daylight there

Seasons crying no despair

Alligator lizards in the air, in the air


One of my earliest memories is twirling around in circles to “Ventura Highway” by America. We always had music on in the house—Moody Blues, the Beatles—but this song was the best for twirling. It was the part about “alligator lizards in the air.” As a Southern California three-year-old who lived blocks from the beach in San Diego, I knew what an alligator lizard was, and I felt the free wind blowing through my hair on a daily basis. Life was good for a barefoot toddler.

My mother remembers these days for the first signs of depression she felt in her young life. Just 22 years-old, she had dropped out of college when I was born and her marriage to my father was in trouble. In just a year, she would put me and a few possessions in the car and start a new life. We would go live with my grandparents and she would make some quick calculations to figure out how she could make the most money with the least amount of schooling.

My mother ended up becoming a licensed vocational nurse, a career that fed her soul but took a toll on her body. She provided for me, but we never had anything extra.

Forty years later, I now have a young daughter of my own. And when I think about how my life compares to my mother’s, I can answer indisputably: Clearly, my life is easier.

The reasons why aren’t so hard to decipher. My mom was born in 1950, and while I believe her expectations for her future came from the ’50s, her reality bumped hard against the Sexual Revolution.

Although she always told me that I was the best thing that ever happened to her, I always believed that her life would have been better, easier, if I hadn’t come along. I knew that the last thing I wanted to do was to have a baby, not at 19 and possibly not ever. I came of age in a time and in a circumstance where I knew I would have to depend on myself, a knowledge that provided me great clarity.

It also propelled me through an undergraduate and a graduate education, and, if you ask my mother, delayed certain eventualities. My girlfriend and I were together 20 years, emotionally linked yet financially independent, before we finally decided to have a child, a daughter who is the best thing that ever happened to us. My only hope for her is that she lives her life with the independence and the courage that is her birthright.

We took our baby daughter down to San Diego last Christmas to visit grandma. On a whim, we decided to take the Ventura Highway on the way back to San Francisco. Lizard habitat had been replaced by tract homes, reminding me that not everything has changed for the better. But a great deal of it has.

Women told us about how their lives differed from their mothers’, particularly in the professional space. Read about how expectations, choices and opportunities changed across generations: Not my mother’s world.