Monday, September 16, 2013

Celebrating womanhood - my Mom is my hero! #celebratingwomanhood #amwriting #mondayblogs

My mom is my hero. Not that she was a saint. She was no June Cleaver. But I always knew she loved me and I knew that no matter what she did, she did the best she could with the resources and knowledge she had at that time.

So why is she my hero? So many reasons.

When my parents first married it was one week after my mom's 17th birthday. She was third eldest of nine children and spent most of her time helping out with the smaller ones. She moved from her cash-poor shack of a home in rural BFE Michigan to an Army base in Colorado Springs. She was very immature and very naive. When the Army sent her a small bit of money to set up house, in her innocence she went out and spent it on clothes. She was so tickled with her new wardrobe! She'd never had money before and new clothes were a luxury she didn't get to enjoy often. Her new husband wasn't exactly thrilled with her new purchases though. It wasn't a great start to what would be a rocky marriage.

She enrolled in her senior year of high school in Colorado Springs but found as a married womanshe didn't fit in, so she dropped out. Her husband told her if she wasn't going to go to school she should get a job. She was so shy and insecure that she spent every day for a week walking around the block at the nearby Social Security Office before she could make herself go in to apply for a Social Security card so she could work.

After a few years, and a few cross country moves, she became pregnant and within four years she gave birth to four children. Boom, boom, boom, boom. Little stair steps. But unlike most women of her day she wasn't a stay-at-home wife and mother. And who could blame her? Four kids under the age of five? It drove her nuts. So even though she wasn't highly educated she found work and she worked hard.

What kind of work does an under-educated young woman do? Waitressing of course.

The entire time I was growing up my mom waitressed and my dad did factory work. My dad worked five days a week. My mom worked six. Six eight-hour days every single week. On her feet all day. Serving people. Her only day off was Saturday. To be fair, my dad did a lot to help out then. He did the cooking, the shopping and more.

And when my parents split when I was a preteen this work pattern continued. Six days a week, every week. She worked her ass off. My dad never paid one cent of child support. My mom busted her ass everyday, six days a week. She raised four kids on a waitress's tips. If she sent us to the store for a gallon of milk you can bet we paid for it with rolled change. (ALWAYS tip your waitresses well. Those tips ARE their wage - their hourly wage is a joke and doesn't even pay their income taxes.) She worked hard for the money (cue Donna Summer).

At a particularly bad point in her life when my parents were splitting up, she tried to end her life once. She drove her car into a tree. I believe that was when she really began to grow, because she later told me that while in the hospital under psychiatric care the psychiatrist told her something that stayed with her for the rest of her life.He asked her, "Who made you God?" When she didn't understand he explained to her that she was not God, she could not control anyone but herself. That little piece of insight that doctor gave her freed her and she blossomed in her independence.

She often told us when we were kids and complaining that a sibling was embarrassing, that no one could embarrass us but ourselves. I always remembered that and tried to ingrain it into my own kids. I believe that was a direct result of the control lesson she learned in hospital.

She was never afraid of hard work, or getting her hands dirty. She had an incredible sense of adventure. And she inspired my love of reading, again, by example.

My mom took a course in basic auto repair at the local community college when I was a teen and she learned how to change the oil in her car all by herself amongst other handy things. She did a little research and all by herself she replaced the wax ring under our toilet when it began to leak. She rolled up her sleeves and painted our bathroom blood red (I loved that!). She and a friend later painted our ugly dark grey house a lovely shade of buttercup yellow. She was a doer, not a talker.

She loved country music and with her ex-mother in law (they remained friends throughout their lives) and a few friends, she attended concerts of some of the big country entertainers at the time when they would play small venues near us, like high school auditoriums. The country scene was much more intimate back then. Some of her favorites were Mel Street, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty and Mickey Gilley. 

She loved nothing better than a road trip.

She was beautiful, and vibrant and not afraid of anything anymore.

She read herself to sleep every night for as long as I can remember (and slept with the light on - if you turned it off she would wake). She and my grandmother and some others had a book exchange going for years. My grandmother would come over with a paper bag full of books. My mom would read them and load the bag back up to pass on to the next in line.

We were really poor. There were times our phone got shut off and every month the mortgage was late, but we never went without food or shelter or basic necessities. It took all she had to do it, but she swallowed her pride and applied for food stamps and the school's free hot lunch program, and Medicaid. We may not have had everything we wanted growing up, but we had what we needed. She made sure of that. And if there was something that was really important to us, she always found a way for that too.

My mom taught me that racism was wrong and she stood up for what she believed in. She taught me that sex was not a crime and women have to right to their own bodies. She offered to take both my sister and I to the doctor to get birth control pills whenever we decided we were ready to be sexually active. All we had to do was ask.

She took in strays - people, not animals. If you needed help, Bernie had a huge heart - you could always count on her. Her youngest sister lived with us for several years. When a woman she worked with needed to leave her abusive husband, Vicky and her two year old daughter moved in with us. The same with another aunt of mine when she was homeless and needed a place to go. When my brother's friend had a falling out with his parents, he also lived with us (with his parents knowledge). Luckily they weren't all there at the same time, but our house was never empty.  It was a haven and a refuge.

When the last of my siblings had flown the nest my mom decided it was time for her dreams to come true. To live her life. She moved to a new state. She went back to school and got her GED. And she went to nursing school.

My mom, in her forties, worked forty hours a week - an eight hour shift five nights a week ON HER FEET at a convenience store - AND simultaneously attended nursing school FULL time (with all the studying that entailed) for two years to fulfill her dream of being a nurse - another job where she would be on her feet all day and serving people. She loved nursing.

From watching her example I learned that if you want something bad enough, and are willing to work hard enough to get it, you CAN achieve it.

She even raised my sister's son for many years when my sister was unable to, despite the fact that it did, in the end, cost her that long term relationship she'd had for many years.

When I decided to move to Australia my mom had been disabled for over ten years with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease from having smoked for forty years (See? I told you she wasn't a saint.) She was living in a nursing home near my brother and sister in Texas. I visited her there on my journey to my new home. We spent some lovely time together and as I left the nursing home I began to cry. I knew it would be a long time before I got back to the States and there was a big possibility that I would never be in the same room with her again.

What I didn't know was that her doctors had told her a few months before that her condition was terminal and it was time for hospice care. She didn't tell me that because she wanted me to move ahead with my plans to move here and marry my husband. Because she didn't want me to delay or reconsider my plans. Because she saw her own life in mine. I'd raised my kids on my own and they were grown now. It was my time to live for myself. Because she wanted me to be happy.

Two weeks after I arrived in my new home I got a phone call from my mom. My wedding was still six weeks away. She said "I have to tell you something. You sister says you'll be mad at me for not telling you before." And she told me then, what her doctors had told her. And she told me everything I said in the paragraph above - her reasons why she hadn't told me then. She had only just told my sister, because my sister was her medical power of attorney.

I wasn't mad at her. How could I be mad at her for doing what she had always done? Putting my needs before her own? I reassured her that I could never be mad at her and I loved her so, so much. I told her it must have been so hard on her keeping it secret for so long. I thanked her for loving me so much. And we cried together on the phone.

A week later she was gone.

My mother is my hero because she grew so much in her lifetime. She taught me by example the love of reading, how to survive adversity, how important education is, how to be an independent woman, how to give, and how to love.

I admire her more than any other woman I've ever known. And I still miss her every single day.


  1. I don't know why I didn't expect it, but a tissue warning would have been nice, woman! I shall only continue to be your friend if you promise to warn me next time.

    Your mother sounds like a wonderful woman, and reminds me a lot of my aunt who raised four kids on her own. (She also went to school to learn how to work on her car. Seems pretty smart to me.)

  2. Sorry about that Amanda. Thanks for sharing. Off to your blog now. :)

  3. well written post. Our moms can be such an example to us eh? Reminds us to be a good example ourselves. :)

    1. Thank you Annette. It does indeed. I appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment. I hope you'll come by again some time. :)