My son needed toadstools. In 20 minutes.
We had just been through a hot, dry spell, and I had no idea where I'd find them, but extra credit in honors biology was on the line, so I put on my Super Mom cape and leapt to the rescue.
I called Roger's Gardens and spoke to a nice employee who wasn't fazed a bit by my strange question. I was in luck. He had spotted some large toadstools on a patch of grass nearby.
I grabbed some plastic bags, raced over, foraged enough mushrooms for my son and his classmates to share, hopped back in my car, and delivered them to school with a minute to spare.
That was several years ago, but I have no doubt that similar scenarios are being played out on a daily basis throughout Newport-Mesa. Someone needs something, and Mom figures out how to make it happen.
Of course, there's nothing new about this. Moms have always been the go-to gals, the family planners and organizers, the human glue that holds everyone and everything together. What's changed, I believe, is that moms like me are increasingly recognizing their own power, and are starting to wonder why the rest of the world hasn't noticed too.
This is a common topic among my circle of friends in Newport Beach. We are, as a rule, a well-educated group of career women who — whether we continue to work in traditional jobs or not — have always made the management of our families our top priority.
Many of us represent a step on the evolutionary scale that saw women making significant strides in the worlds of business, government and media. We demanded greater equality and respect in the workplace, and fought back against society's inclination to marginalize our roles at home.
But most of us have sacrificed at least some of our professional aspirations to our families' needs. We've turned down job opportunities, declined to pursue chances for advancement, or cut our work hours to fit our kids' schedules. Many years ago I walked away from a job that defined and fulfilled me because I believed it was the right move for my family.
Like other women I know, instead of dwelling on could-have-beens, I threw myself into motherhood as if it was the most important project I'd ever accepted. I volunteered, fundraised, baked, stapled and made late-night supermarket runs. I overcame my aversion to anything that crawls to find bugs for science class.
If my kid needed the Penguin Classics version of "Pride and Prejudice" by the next morning and there was just one copy left in Orange County, I'd dare anyone to get in my way.
Recently, however, my circumstances changed. I became an empty nester — or as one friend put it, "You've been fired." And though on occasion my sons still kind of, maybe, a little bit need me, it's time to face reality.
It's not so much that I need to be needed; I need to feel useful. There are only so many closets to clean. And that means I must figure out what to do with the rest of my life.
Given all the skills I've accumulated throughout my years as a mom, it's rather hard to understand why I'm not being showered with opportunities.
It was actually another mom and fellow newbie empty nester who urged me to write about this subject. She recalled discussing with friends their conviction that "the best man for the job" is usually a retired mom.
Or, as she put it, "someone that has been told at 10 p.m. that their student needs an American Revolution costume at 7 a.m., or someone who had to cut out 500 little Valentine hearts or Christmas trees, or someone who helped out in classrooms doing everything and anything. Or recreated Ellis Island. Or helped produce a huge play production with 120 children. You name it, we've done it!"
But exactly where on a resume would you include the fact that you once made an awesome Ben Franklin costume for your kid out of stuff that was just lying around the house? (Yes, I did.)
I expect that for many of us, the future won't involve a traditional employment route, given that age and gender discrimination is still pervasive. We may be Renaissance Women, but we know we can't compete against younger job seekers, and many of us wouldn't want to anyway. We've run our own show for some time now, and fitting back into a conventional job just doesn't hold much appeal.
True, many women will be forced through economic necessity to at least try to compete in a hostile job market. But perhaps the answer for many of us will lie in the lessons we've learned through motherhood.
All that patience, flexibility, capability and formidable creative energy we employed as moms might now be directed toward figuring out how to stay relevant, engaged and fulfilled.
Whether it's through a job, charitable work, entrepreneurship, political activism or any other big project, we must do now as we've always done — make a plan, get organized and get busy.
And it's time to let everyone else in on our little secret: That "next big thing" people talk about? It's actually us older moms.
PATRICE APODACA is a former Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She lives in Newport Beach.