First Person

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Women Get Stuff Done, winter edition: ‘Katy and the Big Snow’ and my 2-year-old son

I live outside Chicago (or as you may have heard it referred to this week, “Chiberia”), and things outside are looking rather…tundra-like at the moment. We have about 8 inches of snow on the ground and the air temperature dipped to -22 this morning. Schools are closed; many businesses remain closed; even the mail isn’t going out again today. It’s a good morning to stay inside with a good book.

For my 2-year-old son and me, that book this morning was “Katy and the Big Snow,” by Virginia Lee Burton. Do you remember it? Written in 1943 and beautifully illustrated, it tells the story of Katy, a can-do red crawler tractor who works for the highway department of the City of Geoppolis. “The harder and tougher the job, the better she liked it,” we learn about Katy.

"Katy and the Big Snow"

“Katy and the Big Snow,” by Virginia Lee Burton

One blustery winter day after a storm piles snowdrifts several feet deep, Katy heads out to plow out the city. “One by one the truck snow plows broke down… the roads were blocked… no traffic could move… Everyone and everything was stopped… but…….KATY.”

What a joy “Katy and the Big Snow” has been to rediscover and to introduce my son to. Truth be told, the book was a favorite of my younger sister’s—my own reading interests trended toward books about different countries or historical fiction, less so books featuring vehicles that had names. But now as a parent, and even more so as a working-outside-the-home mom, I’m grateful for this book as an example of selflessness, hard work and perseverance—and for the fact that the protagonist happens to be a blue-collar hero and happens to be a she.

As we noted at our breakfast honoring IWIM 2018 honorees last September, we’ve unofficially made #WomenGetStuffDone the theme for IWIM 2019. And if ever a female-fictional-character-who’s-also-a-municipal-asset ever embodied that, it’s Katy. The police chief of Geoppolis calls the highway department for help. “Sure,” Katy responds. “Follow me.” That’s the same response she gives to the water department, the electric company, a doctor, the airport…until Katy has plowed out the entire city. “Then…and only then did Katy stop.”

How neat is that? Go, Katy, go. I love all of the STEM-psyched characters my son is getting to know in books (“Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering!”, a gift from a dear friend who’s a member of the Society of Women Engineers, was an early favorite) and TV series such as PBS Kids’ “Ready Jet Go!” and “Peg + Cat.” But I also love stories where it’s good old-fashioned hard work, even when you’re tired, and a selfless commitment to helping others that saves the day. It’s good, too, to be reminded that roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done heroines were out there and were showing kids the way long before my son or I was born. (Did you remember, too, that The Little Engine That Could was a she? In Watty Piper’s 1930 story, the three engines who refused to help deliver a broken-down train’s toys and food all happened to be “he” engines; the Little Engine That Could–the one who said, “I think I can, I think I can” and made it over the mountain—was a she.)

Heroines—fictional or real-life—are important. It’s critical for our daughters to have a chance to meet courageous, change-making female protagonists and to share stories of real-life trailblazing women whose backgrounds they can relate to and whose work and impact they can aspire to. But it’s equally important for our sons to meet a variety of heroines, too. What you see is what you begin to expect to see. And I want my son, our sons, to see women and girls who are leading the way, whatever the work they’re engaged in, so that they will expect to see women in leadership roles in their schools, workplaces, organizations and communities.

“Sure,” said Katy. “Follow me.”

Here’s to getting stuff done.

Have you submitted a nomination yet for IWIM 2019? Nominate a colleague, a mentor, a mentee, a professional associate or yourself—submit your nomination today! All nominations due by March 31, 2019.

Christine LaFave Grace is managing editor of Plant Services.