A Conversation With Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

MS. DIANE REHM

10:06:55
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In 2009, Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic and third woman appointed to U.S. Supreme Court. In a new memoir, she tells the story of her early life with the candor and intimacy unusual for a sitting justice. She writes about growing up in the Bronx housing project, her father's alcoholism, her diabetes and her struggles as a minority student. The title of her memoir is "My Beloved World."

MS. DIANE REHM

10:07:33
And Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor joins us from a studio at WBEZ in Chicago. I invite you to be part of the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to you, Madam Justice. I'm honored to have you with us.

JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR

10:08:05
Good morning. And thank you for having me.

REHM

10:08:07
My pleasure. Madam Justice, I am so glad you wrote this book because seems to me that too many of us forget that Supreme Court justices sitting up on that bench are human beings first and foremost.

SOTOMAYOR

10:08:31
You hit right on the head one of the main reasons I wrote this book. I wanted everyone who read it to actually identify with some life experience I've had or with some feeling that I've described. I've tried to be as honest about my emotions and what's occurred to me as I humanly could be, good and bad, successes and failures. And the book was an attempt to reach out to people and show them, yes, I am just like they are.

REHM

10:09:07
Do you think that there were any, perhaps even on the Court, who might have thought she's gone too far?

SOTOMAYOR

10:09:21
I don't know. I have the trust that I've built a sufficient relationship with my colleagues that they will see this in the way that I gave it to the world as an attempt by me to be open with them. And as you'll learn from the book, I am a little bit of an eternal optimist...

REHM

10:09:42
Yeah.

SOTOMAYOR

10:09:43
...a realist. There's no way that I overlooked the limitations of others. I try always, however, to have a balance view, to see their strengths with their limits at the same time. And I hope that it'll be an invitation to my colleagues who have become friends to be equally open with me. I've been so deeply touched by the letters and emails that I've been receiving since the book has been published, some by my friends who I have known for years and years and years who had never told me something personal about themselves. It's a wonderful experience...

REHM

10:10:25
Yes.

SOTOMAYOR

10:10:25
...and so deeply touching.

REHM

10:10:28
Tell us first about your mother. She had a most interesting background of her own, and you really didn't learn about that until later.

SOTOMAYOR

10:10:43
No. My absolutely favorite chapter in this entire book is chapter seven, and I encourage people not to skip the chapters beforehand...

SOTOMAYOR

10:10:54
...because they put chapter seven in an important context, and that context is that, because of my dad's alcoholism, I really had never known them to be happy together. And all of a sudden, I go about writing this book, and I finally sit down and have a conversation with my mother in which I asked questions that I never thought of asking before. Did you love him? I had never seen a kind moment between them that I remembered as a child, and the answers she gave me were so enlightening.

SOTOMAYOR

10:11:33
I found the father I never knew and a love affair between them that I had never heard about. But more importantly, I finally was able to come to the end of a long journey with my mom in us finding out more about each other. After my mom read this book, Diane, you know, I called her up and I said, I want honesty from you. How did you feel? And she responded, you know something? I didn't know you had done half the things I read about in that book.

REHM

10:12:06
Oh, that's wonderful. But you know what's even more wonderful is that most of us, many of us, I should say, never had that opportunity or never take advantage of the opportunity of trying to find out truly who our parents are.

SOTOMAYOR

10:12:31
That's so true. And one of the things that I talk about with people now is if you have a living parent, if you're lucky enough to have one or grandparent or aunt or uncle, anyone who's older than you and knows your family history, take the time to sit down and to really talk to them. You know, I go to a lot of Sunday dinners where there are parents or grandparents.

SOTOMAYOR

10:12:59
And as soon as one of them starts telling a story, my friend will walk out of the room with a raised eyebrow like, I've heard that a million times, you know. I think we all do that. You sort of hear the same story over and over again, and you stop listening. Or you never think of doing something as simple as saying, when that happened, how did you feel?

REHM

10:13:24
Exactly.

SOTOMAYOR

10:13:26
Not what the story was, but what were you feeling inside of you?

REHM

10:13:30
I'm interested. You've already mentioned that your father was an alcoholic. What about his background? What do you think lead him into that heavy drinking and that relationship with your mother that you witnessed?

SOTOMAYOR

10:13:55
Dad was very, very intelligent. My mother fell in love with him, which I discovered later, because he was the first person she met who read as much as she did. And he only had a sixth-grade education, yet he had a great, great facility with math. Although he died when I was in fourth grade, he would occasionally help me with my math homework. And he taught me shortcuts on multiplication and addition that I still remember to this day. I can multiply by 11 any set of numbers.

SOTOMAYOR

10:14:34
But I think that intelligence in a place that was so poor like Puerto Rico, where he was born, the need to earn money to support -- to help support a family, because his own dad had died when he was 9 years old, I think all of that frustrated his potential. My mom told me -- and this I discovered in writing this book and talking with her -- that he was highly creative. He was an artist. He apparently worked for a mannequin factory and helped make the faces and bodies of the mannequins.

SOTOMAYOR

10:15:17
In fact, one of my favorite stories is mom describing how he made a mannequin of her head and how strange she felt seeing herself through his eyes. And that was a very, very touching moment in her description to me. But I think he was or had become a lost soul, someone whose potential was never given a way to show itself.

REHM

10:15:48
How did he earn a living?

SOTOMAYOR

10:15:52
Well, he -- I understand the last job he had when he left Puerto Rico was in a button factory that used to make buttons from the seashells that were left on the sands of Puerto Rico. I don't know exactly whether the factory closed, but I think that's what my family understood because the whole family, many of whom were working in the factory at the time, that's when they started to migrate to New York City. When he came here, I understand, he started at the mannequin factory, and at some point it closed.

SOTOMAYOR

10:16:28
I thought, for the longest time, that he worked in a tool and die factory because that's what one of my cousins had told me when I was younger. In writing the book, I learned it was probably a radiator company in which he might have made tools, but it was a -- he was a factory worker. And the drinking, as mom said to me, you know, at that time, everybody drank. And the family, as you'll learn from the book, loved to have a party. Yes, he drank a lot, but who knew what a lot was back then?

SOTOMAYOR

10:17:06
I've been asked why he never got treatment for his alcoholism, and my answer is it wasn't an age where people thought of it as a problem. You know, some drank more than others. My father apparently always drank more than others. But it got worse with time. And after my birth, it was pretty bad.

REHM

10:17:27
And you describe yourself as a difficult baby and toddler. What do you mean by that?

SOTOMAYOR

10:17:37
I was full of energy. Well, mom will tell you that I had colic. And they -- my father and my cousin, who I describe in the book, Alfred, would spend hours walking me around trying to calm me. She then says that at age seven months, I went from not even crawling. I just one day got up, and I ran. And I never stopped running. I was very, very curious. I was the one always getting my cousins into trouble. I was the mischief maker. If something went wrong, the first question was, Sonia, what did you do?

REHM

10:18:21
And...

SOTOMAYOR

10:18:22
In fact, when my cousin and I were much older and she had a child and her child was misbehaving a little bit, my cousin Miriam looked at her daughter and said, Karen, you're just as bad as Sonia was when she was little. And that's how bad I was.

REHM

10:18:41
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Her new book, a memoir, is titled "My Beloved World."

REHM

10:20:05
And welcome back. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is with me. We're talking about her brand new memoir titled "My Beloved World." And before the break, we were talking about her father's alcoholism. As you may have heard, her father died when she was in the fourth grade. And, Madam Justice, you said that your mother went into such grief that it was almost impossible for you to deal with what happened until you finally somehow got her attention. What happened?

SOTOMAYOR

10:21:02
I thought, again, until the conversation with my mom about this book, that my mom had gone into some form of depression. Obviously, I was a kid, so I had no idea what clinically depression meant. But the pop psychology of a child, of a Lucy at 5 cents, I thought that there was some sort of guilt-induced depression because all they had done was fight.

SOTOMAYOR

10:21:31
And so when he died and she couldn't stop crying, and she was so depressed that we would get home from school, she'd cook us dinner with hardly saying a word and then lock herself in her bedroom each night, I just couldn't understand that sadness. And I watched it for weeks and weeks on end. My escape, maybe my life salvation was that I found books. And I found a way to escape the misery around me by reading. It became my rocket ship out of the sadness that I was in. And it opened an entire world to me.

SOTOMAYOR

10:22:21
I tell kids now that I hope that the Internet, as important as it is, as great a learning tool as it can be, that they don't lose the love of words, of the way words can create images in your mind and promote creativity in yourself because it makes you paint pictures in your head. And, in fact, one of the things I try to do in this book, Diane, is to use words to create images that I lived with. And I think in the ways that so many people have responded that I might have succeed a little bit in that.

REHM

10:23:02
I think so.

SOTOMAYOR

10:23:04
But, you know, I watched mom -- I didn't watch mom. I didn't see mom. There was no music in the house. Living in that kind of quietness, you can go a little stir-crazy. And one night, I just had had enough, just couldn't take it anymore. And when she locked herself in the room after a while, I went and just started banging on the door as hard as I could. I would think -- the frustration was so overwhelming, and I started screaming at the closed door.

SOTOMAYOR

10:23:42
Are you going to die too? What's going to happen to Junior, my brother and I? Are we going to be left alone forever? And I finally walked away and climbed back into my bed with my book. I'm not much of a crier. But that day, I couldn't read 'cause the tears wouldn't stop. She didn't come out that night.

SOTOMAYOR

10:24:06
But the next morning -- she always went to work before we got up. And the next morning, she wasn't there, and we went to school. But when I got home that night, it's an image I'll never forget. The radio was back on, and my mom opened the door in a black dress with polka dot white. And I just knew she was back. Now...

REHM

10:24:38
What courage you had as a young child to be able to express your sadness, your anger, your frustration to your mother. How many children could really have done that?

SOTOMAYOR

10:25:01
You know, I don't know that it took courage. What it took was fear. And you'll read a lot in my book about how fear, which I talk openly about 'cause I have a lot of insecurities. As successful as I am, I'm really driven by the fear of failure, mind you, and having failed enough in my life. OK. Diane's pointing to herself.

SOTOMAYOR

10:25:29
I think many of us are. You know, I don't know that I had courage. What I said to her was very much what I was feeling, that somehow I would be left alone, that my brother and I would have to continue fending for ourselves. Look, what I've learned much, much later, almost 50 years later, is that it wasn't depression, and it wasn't guilt.

SOTOMAYOR

10:25:53
It was grief my mother was experiencing. The loss of a marriage that at one time she had valued so greatly, of a man that she had deeply, deeply loved despite the ending -- there had been true romance between them before -- and the fear of raising two kids on hardly no money.

REHM

10:26:19
I wonder how she felt reading that portion of the book and perhaps reflecting back on her own grief.

SOTOMAYOR

10:26:33
You know, we've taken a life journey together, and I described that in the book. As you know from the book, my relationship with her before my dad died was not an ideal one. She, you know, alcoholism, addiction of any kind, obsesses everybody in a family. It becomes the center of everyone's attention, and it becomes the burden of everyone.

SOTOMAYOR

10:27:03
And my mom was deeply unhappy with my dad's drinking. And how she escaped it was by working at night, so we hardly saw her, my brother and I, during a day. And on the weekends, she would take me to my grandmother's, my brother and I, and I felt dumped there, as much as I loved my grandmother.

REHM

10:27:25
Yes.

SOTOMAYOR

10:27:26
I felt neglected by my mother. Now, let me be very clear. When I talk about words like neglect or abandonment, I'm talking about the emotions I felt.

REHM

10:27:37
Of course.

SOTOMAYOR

10:27:38
But it wasn't the reality. My mom was working. Without her working, we wouldn't have survived. My dad did two things with his paycheck: He paid the rent, and he bought food on Friday night. He drank every other penny. And so without my mom working, we would not have been able to go to school 'cause mom wanted us in Catholic school.

SOTOMAYOR

10:28:02
And we wouldn't have been able to buy the things that we needed, like clothing, et cetera. So it wasn't abandonment in the sense that people think about. It was a coldness because of her own inability to deal with a situation she didn't know how to control that I experienced.

REHM

10:28:24
Talk...

SOTOMAYOR

10:28:24
And it took us years to come to a place where we resolved what I had felt.

REHM

10:28:30
Talk about her decision to send you to parochial school and begin speaking English in the home. What was the critical lesson that actually led to your success at school?

SOTOMAYOR

10:28:53
One has to remember that, even at that age, the neighborhood I was in was a poor neighborhood. And the public schools in the area were not very good schools, perhaps certainly not then and perhaps not even now. And for poor people, the only alternative for what they perceived as a safe haven in which the three Rs would be taught was Catholic school. It was not affordable. But if you worked really hard like my mom did, almost six days week, you could pay for it.

SOTOMAYOR

10:29:36
Certainly, you couldn't pay for a private school that wasn't a parochial school. And for mom, she had this sense from her love of reading as a child that the only way you could get ahead in life was by education. And so for our entire childhood, mom worked doubly hard to make sure we received an education that would give us every opportunity in the world.

REHM

10:30:06
So you started reading Nancy Drew books. You wanted to be a police officer or a detective, but you thought you couldn't make it because you were a diabetic. Talk about how you found out you were diabetic.

SOTOMAYOR

10:30:34
This was the age where you didn't eat before you went to Mass on Sunday mornings. And I went to Mass one Sunday morning, and I fainted. And the nuns encouraged -- I think it's a little more than encouraged. They commanded that my mom take me to a doctor. Mom will tell you that she had seen some of the signs. I was drinking excessively because with out-of-control sugars, you get very, very dry, and you drink a lot of water, or even not water -- whatever you can get your hands on.

REHM

10:31:16
Sure, sure.

SOTOMAYOR

10:31:17
And I was wetting my bed at night. Excess urination is one of the signs of diabetes because the body's...

REHM

10:31:26
And this would have been at what age?

SOTOMAYOR

10:31:30
I was 7 1/2.

REHM

10:31:31
Seven-and-a-half.

SOTOMAYOR

10:31:33
Urination is a way for the body to get rid of that excess sugar.

REHM

10:31:37
Of course.

SOTOMAYOR

10:31:39
And so if you have a child who is getting a little bit pale, who's drinking a lot of water, who may be wetting the bed after they've stopped for many, many, many years, I would encourage every parent to pay attention. Mom will tell you -- she was a nurse, but there is a desire in a parent sometimes not to see what's right in front of their face because of the fear of learning something you don't want to know.

SOTOMAYOR

10:32:12
And mom understood, once I had fainted in church, that she couldn't ignore it anymore. In fact, when I was diagnosed, I was sitting in the reception area in this tiny, little hospital my mother worked in, and I could see the doctor's office and her sitting in the chair by the door. And when she started to cry was the first moment I understood something serious was going on. The experience of being diagnosed with a chronic disease is terrifying for parents. And as much as most parents try to hide their fear, they should always remember that their kids have a sixth sense. You know, we...

REHM

10:33:03
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So, even now, Madam Justice, you are taking insulin on a regular basis.

SOTOMAYOR

10:33:18
Anywhere from three to six times a day, every single time I eat, I take a shot.

REHM

10:33:26
Every time you eat, you take a shot. Wow. And what does that mean for you when perhaps you are out at a dinner party?

SOTOMAYOR

10:33:43
You know, for years and years, a product of what it was like when I was a child, when anybody was sick, you hid it. No one talked about illness when I was a child. It was seen as a deficiency in you.

SOTOMAYOR

10:33:58
But as I grew older and I realized that my diabetes is an integral part of who I am, it's taught me so much about discipline, about moderation, about things that most people should do themselves without diabetes: how to eat sensibly, how to exercise, how to watch yourself when you're sick. You know, I'm careful about my care 'cause I understand that only with care can I live a healthy and full life. But...

REHM

10:34:32
I want -- I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you. Go ahead and finish that thought.

SOTOMAYOR

10:34:40
No, but what I was saying was that it is all-consuming...

REHM

10:34:46
Yes.

SOTOMAYOR

10:34:48
...and it seemed illogical to keep the people who loved me the most from not knowing when I was at risk. And at a certain point, I understood that if I wasn't open with my disease, if I got sick in front of a friend, they wouldn't know what to do. And it happened, actually, at a party...

REHM

10:35:12
Wow.

SOTOMAYOR

10:35:13
...where I had almost blacked out, and none of my friends knew that I was having a low sugar reaction. I could have died simply because I wasn't open to my friends. So you asked me a question: What do I do at a dinner party? I no longer hide. I -- now, some may ask me why, and it's not an intended provocation of the people around me. I'm a very, very controlled diabetic. And in a lot of places, they'll sit you at a table. And sometimes in the past, I would take insulin in the bathroom, but they wouldn't serve food fast enough.

REHM

10:35:57
Ah.

SOTOMAYOR

10:35:58
And my sugar levels would lower, and then I'd be having a low sugar reaction, waiting for the food to come. So I've learned to do it at the table.

REHM

10:36:05
So how much time do you have once the insulin is injected to when you must eat? What's the time interval?

SOTOMAYOR

10:36:23
I wish I could tell you that the care is that simple, Diane.

REHM

10:36:26
Ah.

SOTOMAYOR

10:36:27
The insulin starts working in 15 minutes after you take it, but how fast you have to eat depends on what your sugar level is when you take the shot. The lower you are, you sometimes don't take it before. You eat first and then take the shot. Sometimes if you're very high, you have to take it earlier so it kicks in and lowers your blood sugar before you start eating. The care of diabetes requires a lot of thought.

REHM

10:36:59
So what you've got to do is check your insulin level before you take the injection or a number of times a day just to see where it is.

SOTOMAYOR

10:37:17
I am constantly monitoring myself inside to see where my sugar is, and I'm taking blood from my fingers to find out what the actual number is.

REHM

10:37:30
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Her new memoir is titled "My Beloved World." Short break. When we come back, we'll invite you into the conversation.

REHM

10:40:05
And for those of you who just tuned in, my guest this morning is Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. We're talking about her brand new memoir, "My Beloved World," in which she tells a very compelling and intimate story not only about her childhood years, but her years in college, in law school, her early marriage. And, of course, she stops at a point when she does arrive at the Supreme Court.

REHM

10:40:51
We're not going to be talking about Supreme Court decisions, either past or some that may come before the court in the future. Rather, we'll concentrate on the justice herself. She is joining us from WBEZ in Chicago. For the first part of the program, we had her on Skype. We're trying to get her back on Skype now. Here's an email from Suzanne. Madam Justice, she says, "Salud, Justice Sotomayor. I, too, experienced great emphasis of hard work and education by my wonderful parents. How did you cope with the cultural differences when you attended Princeton and Yale?"

SOTOMAYOR

10:41:58
That's big part of my book. And I felt when I first got to Princeton like I had landed not on a different planet but in a different universe. You know, for a kid who came from a housing project in the South Bronx, back then one of the poorest and most crime-ridden areas in the nation, to walk into the majestic grounds of Princeton, the gates that you walk into at Princeton face Nassau Hall, this beautiful collegiate building with these huge two tigers sitting on the steps on each side of the building, it was like being transported into a magic land.

SOTOMAYOR

10:42:51
But there's no way that you can feel a part of something like that, so different from so many of my classmates. Almost all of them were better educated than I was. They had traveled and seen more than I had. They knew more than I did. It took me my first year at Princeton in talking with my college roommate -- or a woman who would later become my college roommate, but that year was just becoming a friend.

SOTOMAYOR

10:43:24
I was talking to her about my sense of being an alien, and she said, you're like Alice in Wonderland. And I looked at her, and I said, who's that? And in kindness, she didn't look at me in the way that I thought she might today. She's very kind, and she said, it's a wonderful book that you should read. Well, when you come from a household where your mom was so poor and was educated in a different language, that the only book she could ever read were those in the library and it was a very tiny library to start with, she didn't know anything about children's classics.

SOTOMAYOR

10:44:14
So my mom did try to give us -- or she bought for us Highlights, which was this famous children's magazine back then. And she got us an Encyclopedia Britannica. But she didn't know about the classics. So I had to spend my first summer at Princeton reading classics and also buying grammar books to improve my English. As I was buying the grammar books, I spied a series of vocabulary books. And I spent every day of two summers, one summer in particular, reading five or learning five new words every day.

REHM

10:44:58
Every day.

SOTOMAYOR

10:44:59
Every day.

REHM

10:45:00
Gosh.

SOTOMAYOR

10:45:01
And using them the way the book said. I did that, and my brother followed my example when he got to college three years later. And so it was difficult. You never quite feel like you've caught up to others. I still don't. There are still things I'm learning that others know. But one thing that's given me consolation is the realization that life should be a learning experience.

REHM

10:45:37
Absolutely.

SOTOMAYOR

10:45:39
And that it's not that I'm deficient, but that I just have so many more opportunities to enrich myself for a longer period of time. And so being a lifetime student, that's OK.

REHM

10:45:54
All right. I'm going to open the phones first to Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Antonia.

ANTONIA

10:46:03
Good morning, Diane. I love your show. Thank you so much.

REHM

10:46:05
Thank you. Thank you.

ANTONIA

10:46:08
I just wanted -- it's more of a comment as well as to thank Justice Sotomayor. Fifteen years ago, my mother was -- been placed in prison in New York. My father had been placed in prison because of selling drugs, and he's still there today in prison. But you gave my mother a chance and to let her go back home to us. We would've been orphans without her. And you told her never to come back again. And I just wanted to thank you so much for that. I'm college now, a senior, and I wouldn't have been able to have any of this without my mother. And I wanted to thank you for that.

SOTOMAYOR

10:46:49
Antonia, I don't want you to tell me your mom's name, but I am glad that it turned around for you and your family.

REHM

10:46:58
Just wonderful, Antonia. Thank you for calling. And let's go to Panama City, Fla. Good morning, Nina.

NINA

10:47:09
Good morning, Diane. I love your show.

REHM

10:47:11
Thank you.

NINA

10:47:12
I just want to make a comment to Ms. Sotomayor. I'm born and raised in Africa, and my mom died when I was three. And my father has been an alcoholic and still today. And I was raised by my step-mom. And now I'm here, and I am being called successful by community. I put myself in school, got my bachelor's degree, and I happen to be a nurse. And I also have two kids I constantly chasing after, make sure they got a better life than I have.

NINA

10:47:54
And I feel sometimes they think that, you know, I'm neglecting them because I work hard, and whenever they come home I make sure I follow up with their education. I do some fun with them at times, but since, like, they not getting it more and they feel like I'm, you know, the mean mom compared to my husband, which my husband allow them to do anything that they want to do. But I also strike by what you have said earlier. Your success is driven by fear. I do have that feeling at times. I feel like I am successful now, but I still feel I can do more.

NINA

10:48:36
But my, you know, going to what I want is not because I feel like I'm motivated, but I feel like, what if something happened tomorrow to my kids, or what if something to me happened to me today? So I feel like I'm still doing that. And do you still feel like your successful come from your fear? Or do you still feel like you are successful now, you are done with your -- I guess, your, you know, line where you have...

REHM

10:49:11
I don't think we're ever done, Nina. Justice Sotomayor, do you want to respond?

SOTOMAYOR

10:49:20
Nina, no. I'm still driven by that fear that I will fail, and that's what keeps me going. But you know something? It's that thrive, not just the fear but a persevering. I think that as long as your kids are around and as long as you have a goal in life, you're going to keep going. And it's not so bad, you know that? Because look at how far you've come from where you started.

SOTOMAYOR

10:49:52
I'm assuming that you're very grateful to your stepmother for how she helped you. I do mention in the book that I think that every child who succeeds in life has to have someone in their life who gave them confidence in a sense of security.

REHM

10:50:10
Could be a teacher?

SOTOMAYOR

10:50:12
It could be anybody. But it's clear that maybe your kids occasionally resent that you're hard on them, Nina. But, believe me, over time they'll be eternally grateful that you stood by the other side and helped them move forward. Please don't ever regret the choices you have made. It seems you've made very wise ones.

REHM

10:50:35
Thanks for calling, Nina. You know, there's been this great discussion, Madam Justice, about women having it all. And, you know, I've always felt that perhaps we as women could have it all but maybe not simultaneously. Maybe we need to do it in stages and maybe the workplace needs to adjust to us rather than the other way around.

SOTOMAYOR

10:51:18
Well, you know, from my book -- because I know, Diane, you've read it -- that I talked directly about this issue and think that this conversation about having it all is a little bit ridiculous. We can't have it all every minute of the day. I don't know a working mother who isn't like Nina. She's at work, and she's thinking about what her kids are doing...

REHM

10:51:40
Absolutely.

SOTOMAYOR

10:51:41
...what's -- what they're missing. If you're with your child doing something, you're thinking about that pile of work on your desk that's not getting done. It is perpetual tension, this perpetual sense of being torn between your two worlds. But countless, countless women do it every day, and countless good fathers do it as well.

SOTOMAYOR

10:52:07
You know, this isn't just relegated to one sex. The idea of being able to do everything at every single moment of the day is a pernicious thought. It's just not useful. I think what you learn is that you sort of -- a little bit of what you were talking about, Diane, how to balance it. There are days you've got to be at work.

REHM

10:52:30
Yep.

SOTOMAYOR

10:52:31
And there are days you have to be at home.

REHM

10:52:33
Yep.

SOTOMAYOR

10:52:34
And despite the conflict, you do what you have to do at the moment that's necessary.

REHM

10:52:41
All right.

SOTOMAYOR

10:52:41
In the end, it's never going to be easy for any working parent, but it's important for your family. I do have a one very favorite line of mine in this book. When I talk about when we reached equality is when we will never hear someone say that a stay-at-home mom has been not using her potential or that a working mom is not giving up herself to her children. You know, we all make choices. They're important choices. We do what we think is right for ourselves and our family. Equality will come when women can make a choice and not feel guilty about either.

REHM

10:53:28
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Norfolk, Va. Good morning, Henry.

HENRY

10:53:38
Good morning, Diane and Justice Sotomayor. I just want to kind of relay that I think Sonia and I had pretty much the same parents. I was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. And after a certain age, we moved back to the island Puerto Rico. And I went to a one-room school and so on, so forth. But it was very similar situation. But I joined the Navy as an enlisted man, and I finally got selected for officer candidacy.

HENRY

10:54:12
Well, I retired as a Navy captain, and I live here in Virginia. I have a wonderful career and so on and so forth. But what I want to thank Sonia Sotomayor was that even with my success, I never thought that it would be possible for my daughters until she got selected to the Supreme Court. And I want to thank you for giving me that peace of mind.

REHM

10:54:42
How lovely.

SOTOMAYOR

10:54:43
Henry, that -- Henry, that's so sweet. Thank you very, very much.

REHM

10:54:48
Just lovely. Here's an email from Holly, who says, "My 11-year-old daughter Arianna and I saw you speak about your book earlier this month. She was so moved by your directness. She begged to read your book. She is at school today, but one question she wanted to ask you is, why do you think your life and your cousin Nelson's life ended up being so different?"

SOTOMAYOR

10:55:26
Arianna, as you know from my book, he and I were the closest cousins. We were brother and sister. And we have close to the same life. We certainly came from nearly identical families. He took a different road than I did. I think in part it was because he was a boy, and they let him out to play in the neighborhood. And our neighborhood was not a good one. And because I was girl, I was more protected, and so I wasn't exposed to drugs the way he was.

SOTOMAYOR

10:56:00
But I also think that I had something he didn't, and he is the one who told me this first. He said, Sonia, you have perseverance. You just don't let anything stop you. Because, you see, Nelson was smarter than me. He was absolutely brilliant. But he used to tell me that he would get bored, and he would just give up on doing things.

SOTOMAYOR

10:56:33
You know, I do agree that I don't think it's how smart you are in terms of natural intelligence. I think a lot of success is based on how hard you're willing to try and whether you let failure knock you down or whether you see it as a challenge to get up and keep trying.

REHM

10:56:56
And clearly, that's what my guest this morning, Sonia Sotomayor, associate justice on the Supreme Court, has done. She has kept on trying, and you can read how hard she worked in her new memoir "My Beloved World." Someday, Madam Justice, I hope to meet you in person and have you sign this book. Thank you for joining us.

SOTOMAYOR

10:57:35
Thank you, Diane.

REHM

10:57:36
A real pleasure. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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