As I wrote about in an earlier piece, there isn’t a more difficult or thankless job than being a mother. All too often the moms in our lives are busting their asses with little to no recognition for pouring their time, love, and energy into their children. On some level, it’s understandable: kids are kids, and they oftentimes don’t see how much effort it takes to raise a child from infancy to adulthood. But I’m not a kid anymore. I can look back in hindsight and see how much was done for me in order to provide a good life. I can also see the continued concern and thoughtfulness of the mothers in my life. As such, I’m going to take some time to celebrate a half-dozen moms who not only had/have an impact on my life, but that I also deeply care about.
A disclaimer before I begin: while there are mothers who won’t be on this list, please know that I appreciate your efforts as much as the people I’m going to talk about below. I have fantastic aunts, sisters-in-law, female friends and coworkers, etc. who do the same things for their children, all of whom deserve credit as well. Hopefully your loved ones will express their thanks to you over the weekend, no matter what form they choose to do it in.
Ready? Here goes.
1. My mother, Carmen – I’d be remiss if I didn’t start this list with my mom. No one on this planet has had a bigger overall impact on me than my mother. That’s no slight to the other people in my life. But when I look at who I’ve become during the first forty years of my life – my personality, my likes and dislikes, my worldview, my work ethic, my taste in books and movies – I see so much of my mother in me. She’s been a hard worker her entire life, sacrificing herself so that I wouldn’t want for anything as a child. My family didn’t have a ton of money when I was a tot, but she always made sure I had nice clothes, plenty of toys to play with, and a stack of books to read. As I became a young man on the cusp of adulthood, she gave me the freedom to grow as a person, to experience the world’s opportunities as well as its pitfalls, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy to let go. I imagine every mother swallows a lump in her throat and fights back tears when she sees her babies driving away in a car for the first time, or heading off to college, or dating someone who may or may not be good for her child. My mom’s grace and trust allowed me to become a man. Her love has nurtured me since the day I was born. Her compassion has seen me through the most difficult times of my life. Simply put, I would not be the person I am today without her guidance in my life. I cannot thank her enough for all she has done for me.
2. My stepmother, Lynne – My parents divorced when I was twelve years old, and they both eventually remarried. My stepmom was in my life from my teenage years into adulthood, and I’m thankful for two major things when it comes to her. First, she openly welcomed me and my brother, and made sure to fully incorporate us into her home. We were put on the same level as her own children, which made the transition during that time much easier than it would have been otherwise. Not only did she work to help us build a good relationship with our stepbrother and stepsister, but she also made sure we were a part of her extended family as well. Some of my fondest memories from that time were family gatherings for holidays and reunions. But in my eyes she’ll always be known as a superb grandmother. Her grandkids meant the world to her, and she would not only ask for time with them, but also get down on their level and make them feel special, whether it was playing toys on the floor with the little ones or building gingerbread houses at Christmastime with the older ones. She never came alive more than when they were around.
3. My mother-in-law, Joanne – I have only had Joanne in my life for roughly five years now, but she’s already had an impact on me. We don’t get to see each other much – mostly holidays throughout the year – but when we do, she goes out of her way to welcome me into her home and make me feel like part of her family. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. You see, I hurt her daughter (my wife) on an emotional level prior to us being married. Hurt her badly. Joanne had every reason to be the mama bear and push her daughter behind her, offering protection while keeping me far away. Instead, she offered forgiveness on a level that is second only to my wife. I do not deserve it, nor will I ever be able to repay it, but I will always be thankful for it. Oh, and those conversations we share while doing dishes after the massive holiday celebrations? Thank you for those as well.
4. My grandmother, Marilyn – I spent a fair amount of time with my grandma during childhood. She is soft-spoken, gives more to her family than anyone I’ve ever met (self-sacrificing to a fault), and is such a gentle soul. I have so many great memories with her – playing card games such as Crazy 8’s and Kings in the Corner, eating her famous chocolate cake with chocolate frosting (which will never be topped), watching Benny Hill together (a show I was probably too young to be watching, but one I loved nonetheless), working on jigsaw puzzles all afternoon, teasing her about wanting to watch a Star Wars movie (she hated the series). I cherish all of the moments we shared together over the years. She was the prototypical grandma in numerous ways, which was so much fun to experience. They rarely make ’em like that anymore.
5. My grandmother, Phyllis – I’m not sure I’ve met a person (male or female) who was as strong, confident, and steadfast as my grandma Phyllis. First and foremost, her faith was the bedrock upon which she lived her life. It was a quiet faith in that she didn’t beat people over the head with it, but it was unwavering in the truest sense of the word, so much so that during her final days she relished the end of this life and the beginning of the afterlife. The other thing that stood out to me was her huge heart. She *loved* my grandpa Ken with all of her being. I don’t think I could find a finer example of true love outside of my own wife. That love also extended to both her family and our family, as well as people in her community and abroad. She worked with abused women, she volunteered countless hours to various groups, she did outreach through her church. If I’m not mistaken, she won awards for her work in those areas. She was truly an amazing woman. The world lost a saint the day she passed on.
[As a silly aside, she was the only person on God’s green Earth who liked my scruffy, scraggly beard. She always made a point to gently rub my whiskers when she saw me. I think I might have reminded her of my grandpa Ken, who wore a mustache; regardless, she always made me smile when she complimented me on it.]
6. My wife, Jennifer – Last, but most certainly not least, we come to my lovely wife. Of all the women on this list, she likely has the toughest job. We each came to the relationship with multiple children – me with three, her with four – and then we had two children together. Of the nine kids, seven of them live with us. As you might imagine, it is no easy feat to be a parent in our household, but it’s even more difficult for her because she’s a stay-at-home mom and doesn’t get much of a break from the chaos in our lives. And folks, there’s chaos in the home. It’s organized chaos, but chaos nonetheless. Even if the heavens shine down upon us and eight out of the nine family members are in relatively good moods on a given day, odds are there’s going to be one person who isn’t coming along for the ride. A more realistic ratio is something like 7:2 or 6:3 when comparing good moods to bad moods.
Because I’m gone by 5am when I go to the office, she’s “on” from the time the kids wake up until I return home almost twelve hours later. That includes helping kids get ready in the morning, making lunches, and driving them fifteen minutes to school (then back home)…and then the real fun begins – dishes, laundry, vacuuming, meal prep, playing with the kids who aren’t in school, all before the afternoon ends and she’s back on the road to pick them up. All of this work generally goes unnoticed by the children. They don’t care how the clothes magically end up back in their closets. They don’t see how long it takes to make meals. They don’t know how much effort it takes to vacuum/sweep/scrub floors when all they know is that they’re always clean. As such, “thank yous” aren’t rolling off their tongues when they get home. Instead, there are usually more demands for her time – rides to activities, creation of snacks, help with homework, and on and on. After returning home for the night, I help with as many tasks as I can, offloading the incredible amount of work that sits squarely on her shoulders. Does it make a difference? I hope so. But it doesn’t alleviate the pressure and stress while I’m away, nor does it help her feel appreciated by children who don’t know the details of her day.
We also face plenty of issues that many homes don’t have to deal with, and outsiders don’t understand how tricky they are. Mixing two families together, then adding our own kids to the concoction, hasn’t been smooth sailing throughout. My wife and I are celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary in a couple months, but we’re still learning how to navigate these choppy waters. Also, the logistics of our home, with its limited size and too-few bedrooms and bathrooms, cause issues as well. This isn’t meant to be whiny – we went into this relationship eyes wide open – but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier or more tolerable. It’s work, and much of that falls to her.
So what am I getting at here? Just that my wife is Superwoman and Wonder Woman all mixed up with a hefty dash of her own strength, courage, willpower, thoughtfulness, and sheer determination. There are plenty of times she’d like to throw up her hands and say to hell with it. There are plenty of times she fights to stay awake at night once the day is over, already thinking about her repeat performance the next day. There are plenty of times when she doesn’t even get to shower or comb her hair or get out of her pajamas before noon. And there are plenty of times she goes unheralded and underappreciated…
…yet I see her. I see her weather the storms. I see her keep fighting when it would be easier to give up. I see her give herself wholeheartedly to her family. I see her build our kids up while they tear her down. I see her celebrate victories, and more importantly, prop up people when they’re down. I see her grace and forgiveness. I see her courage under fire. I see her tenacity to make it all work. I see her undying love for all of us, myself included, no matter what happens, good or bad. She is a superior woman, far more than any of us deserve, and I consider myself lucky to be her husband. Yet her true measure is as a mother. Our collective children couldn’t ask for a better matriarch. They may not know it now, but I have no doubt that someday down the road they’ll look back and marvel over her incredibly positive impact on their lives.
Happy Mother’s Day, ladies. I’m sad that only three of you will get to see this (two people – Lynne and Phyllis – are no longer with us; my grandma Marilyn has serious memory issues and, sadly, wouldn’t remember any of the things I listed above), but know that each person on this list has had an impact on my life. They may be on different scales, but all of you made me the man I am today. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your love and sacrifice, as well as the relationship we share today.
Until we meet again…