‘You did everything. I tried so hard to not do that.’
This article is part of Ambition Diaries; read the full series here.
Kelly Desical never had a specific career in mind for her daughter Bianca Sical-Serle. “I always told you, you will be the one to make me proud,” she told her on a recent afternoon in Los Angeles. The 66-year-old mother of three moved her family to the United States from Guatemala in the 1980s. Sical-Serle, now 42, didn’t receive her green card until age 19, and because of that instability she says she didn’t have big career ambitions. But during the pandemic all of that changed.
While many women left the workforce, Sical-Serle climbed the ranks at the toy brand Mattel from administrative assistant to manager of a creative operations team. She juggled remote work and virtual schooling for her three kids, ages 9, 11, and 13, while her husband worked at an eldercare facility. Her mom filled in the childcare gaps while also running a travel business.
As part of the Ambition Diaries project in partnership with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, the pair spoke with Fast Company about how the pandemic changed their career ambitions and their relationship.
The following conversation between mother and daughter has been edited for length and clarity. Click here for more Ambition Diaries stories.
“WAIT A MINUTE, YOU DON’T HAVE TO GET MARRIED. YOU CAN FIND HAPPINESS WHEREVER.”
Kelly Desical: What did you think about my job and role in our household when you were growing up?
Bianca Sical-Serle: You worked. You ran the house. You cooked. You cleaned. You did everything. That was your role . . . I tried so hard to not do that. And that’s what I do now.
I mean, [my husband] Keith is fantastic. . . . He used to work for you for a long time when the kids were really little. . . . And he was the primary caregiver for the kids. . . . Then the travel business wasn’t doing so great, so you had to let him go. And he went and found a job at a care home.
When the pandemic hit, he was considered an essential worker. Then I got sent home, and now the roles have changed again. Now I’m at home. I was homeschooling. I talk to their teachers, I take them to all of their practices.
Kelly Desical: When you were a kid, what goals did you have for yourself as an adult?
Bianca Sical-Serle: I think just get married and have kids, and go to college. But beyond that, it wasn’t really much. You used to have us pray for our future husbands and wives before we went to bed. I did the same [with my sons] Gillespie and Levi. I finally realized what I was doing by the time [my daughter] Niamh came around, and that certainly has been phased out.
It was very specifically for Levi and Gillespie, their future wives, but then you realize, it doesn’t have to be a wife. It could be a husband. And wait a minute, you don’t have to get married. You can find happiness wherever.
I feel that the church has contributed to a lot of negative things in my life, and so it’s just not something that I want to be a part of anymore, and it’s not something that I completely believe in anymore, either. It’s difficult to say that out loud in front of my mom; I don’t think I’ve actually ever said it out loud.
Kelly Desical: No, but I’ve known it for quite some time now.
It is important for me that [the kids] learn [about religion] . . . because if they don’t go to church, if they don’t hear, if they are not taught about it, they are just going to go in one direction. . . . So for them to learn, especially in the early years, they will remember forever. My faith is very important. And I know Bianca has changed her point of view. And I cannot blame her because I was there, too. When you are Bianca’s age, what can go wrong?
But as different as we think about many issues—money, savings, faith, the way that we take care of the kids . . . we respect each other. When [the kids] come to us, we pray; and they ask questions, we answer. But they learn they must respect their parents. And whatever crazy idea, we would never say, “your parents are wrong” because there has to be unity in the family.
“RIGHT NOW, I’M WORKING MORE THAN BEFORE”
Bianca Sical-Serle: Mom, tell me about the moment that you decided to close the office. I know it was really difficult for you. . . . But I was trying to tell you that just because you had to close the office doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a success.
Kelly Desical: When the pandemic started, that’s when we realized. The first six months, we paid everybody, and then we lowered their wages, then we lowered even more . . . I always thought we were going to come back. So many people were gracious, I mean the landlords.[The company] provided for so many people for such a long time. Everybody worked in the company.
It was hard to see [the office] empty because, right now, I’m working more than before.
Bianca Sical-Serle: Because it was a symbol of what you accomplished and what you were capable of.
Kelly Desical: It [the office] meant a lot to a lot of people. . . . I thought, “This is going to be terrible. I’m gonna be driving by, and I’m gonna be all sad.” No. I mean, moments like this when you start remembering, yes. But we did so much. We traveled, anywhere.
“I JUST WANT TO SEE WHAT I CAN ACCOMPLISH . . .”
Bianca Sical-Serle: It was a strange kind of journey where I ended up right now at Mattel because I was just going in to be an administrative assistant. I looked for very specific companies that were family friendly… I knew Mattel had half day Fridays. I knew Mattel would give you specific paid time off that you could use for school activities… I wasn’t looking to build a big career, because I didn’t even think about it.
Kelly Desical: How do you see yourself from here? What is your goal?
Bianca Sical-Serle: I just want to see what I can accomplish . . . I look forward to going into work sometimes now. And that’s just crazy. Not a lot of people have that. I feel engaged, and I feel challenged. Maybe that’s why I enjoy being a parent so much, too, is because it keeps my life interesting.
When you grow up without a green card, you can’t drive. You can’t get a job. You can’t go to university—you can’t do anything except exist. So, when I finally got to go to University of California, Santa Barbara, and I graduated—and I had a fiancé, come on, man!—I was like, “This is it, this is as good as it gets. This is my pinnacle.” And now, I got promoted to manager, and people are reaching out to me for senior manager positions, and people are telling me, “Why are you stopping there? You should be a VP.” And I’m like, whoa! It’s great to hear that from people because I never in a million years thought that I would ever get that far. Definitely not. So it’s just exciting to see what else I can do.
Kelly Desical: Are you happy?
Bianca Sical-Serle: Yeah.
Kelly Desical: What else can a mother ask for? My job is done.
Corinne Ruff is a freelance, multimedia journalist whose work has appeared on NPR programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as The Chronicle of Higher Education, U.S. News & World Report and Industry Dive.
Allison Zaucha is an independent photojournalist and photo editor based in Los Angeles, California.
Co-published with Fast Company.