For the boy who made me a mother

You know those journals that ask you questions or give you writing prompts to tell your life story? I love them.

I got my mom one over twenty years ago and I think she filled out some of it. Then almost 13 years ago, I got a book that we were both supposed to fill out - it was a mother-daughter combo. It wasn't overly long, but it was a Christmas present for her in 2004 when she had just finished over 6 months of copious time spent in the hospital. After I gave it to her, she told me to take it back home and fill out my part first. So, I did. 

That trip was the last time I ever saw her. She died a year and a half later and the still-blank pages of that book make me sad.

Lately, Brandon has been asking me lots of questions about my childhood, so this Mother's Day, I thought I'd answer these as a gift to him. That, and I'll keep working through this book so he doesn't have to stare at blank pages when he's older.

What are your favorite memories of times you spent with your grandparents?

I never knew my grandfather on my dad's side; he died when I was only 8 months old.  And though I was 10 when my grandfather on my mom's side died, I really didn't know him well. He was a very nice man, but for various reasons, I hadn't spent a lot of time with him. However, I spent lots of time with both my grandmothers - they both even lived with my family (at different times). 

My grandmother on my mom's side is responsible for introducing me to Anne of Green Gables. She shared the movies with me and, when I saw they were based on books, I found and devoured them. That series is one of my all-time I-can-read-them-a-thousand-times-and-never-get-bored favorites. And, given that L.M. Montgomery is such a beloved Canadian author, it's interesting that I latched onto her books long before I ever even had a reason to think about moving to Canada.

My grandmother on my dad's side was a storyteller. My younger brother and I used to beg her to tell one particular story about her childhood over and over because it was so funny. And, since you are loving Captain Underpants so much these days, Brandon, you'll like this story, too.

My great-grandfather (my grandma's father) owned a drugstore in south Florida. One day when my grandma was about three or four, my great-grandmother (my grandma's mother) made Grandma a new pair of underwear and she loved them. She was so proud of them, in fact, that she went to her father's drugstore to tell him about it. When she got there, her father was in a meeting with a group of businessmen. But that didn't stop her. She yelled out to her father, "Daddy, daddy! Look at my new panties!" And she lifted up her dress to show him. In front of everyone.

What was your grade school like? What do you remember about your favorite teacher?

My memories of grade school are fading fast these days, but I would say that grade school was mostly uneventful. I attended two different elementary schools because we moved from a small town in central Florida to Tallahassee when I was eight, just before I started third grade. Up until that time, I attended the school where my mom was the special education teacher. Being in the same school as my mom was fine. I was a bit of a goody-two-shoes so the threat of teachers talking to my mom wasn't a big deal since I didn't get in trouble anyway. 

When we moved to Tallahassee, someone decided I should be tested for the gifted program and my mom agreed. I got tested and was put in the program, which meant going to "special" classes that most of my classmates didn't attend. This kept up until I graduated high school.

I have mixed feelings about being in the gifted program. I got a lot out of it, but it had some downsides too. That's a story for another day, though.

Who was your best friend? And what did the two of you like to do?

When I lived in central Florida, I had a best friend, but we lost touch when I moved. From 8 to 13 I didn't really have a best friend. Then Angie moved to town and started attending my school. We became friendly in 8th grade and got really close in ninth grade. We were tight all through high school and a bit of college - distance was hard to overcome back then. We go years now without talking, but she's one of a handful of people that time spent apart doesn't impact our ability to pick right up where we left off.

Angie and I liked to watch sappy movies and write sappy stories. There may be notebooks still in existence that we'd never give up because the memories are important. But we wouldn't want anyone else's eyes on those things.

Angie also happens to be one of the kindest, most amazing women I've ever known. I hope you choose your friends wisely and find good people who try to be as kind as you are, Brandon.

What did you do as a kid that got you into trouble at home or school?

When I was in third grade, I experimented with swearing for the first time. My first big, bad words were "shut up." Those two words seem pretty tame, but we didn't use them in my family. They were as forbidden as any curse word you could name. But one day at daycare, a little boy just would not leave me alone. I was really upset by whatever he was doing.

I remember shaking which means there were probably tears. I finally screamed at him to shut up. And he actually did. But I was terrified. I was sure the teacher was going to tell my mom what I'd said. She didn't, but I did. After hearing what happened, my mom wasn't even mad. She just talked to me about how I could handle the situation a bit differently if it happened again.

Sometime after that - the same year - a girl in my class did something (I don't remember what) that I felt warranted a scathing note from me. In this note, I decided to use every single real curse word I'd learned. Anyone reading that note could see it was my first time using them.

I don't remember what I wrote, but I remember my teacher talking to me about it and she knew I hadn't ever cussed before. I didn't get into major trouble because (once again) there was understanding that I had been provoked. 

However, I did learn very early that writing things down isn't a good idea. I don't know if the teacher told my parents about this, but now my dad will definitely know about it along with a couple of other people who still read my blog.

Growing up, what did you want to be?

For a really brief time, Christa McAuliffe inspired me to want to be an astronaut. And Whitney Houston made me want to be a singer. In truth, I didn't really have a clear idea of what I wanted to do until I was in high school. Up until then, I didn't really think about long-term plans. In high school, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Fortunately, I figured out before I went down that path that it wasn't the right career for me.

Outside of the family, what was the very first job you had that you got paid for?

Because I wanted to be a lawyer, my dad helped me get an unpaid internship at a law office as part of a program I was in at school. When school ended, the firm hired me part-time for the summer.

How did you meet Dad? How did he ask you to marry him?

I met your dad online and I've written about it before. As for the proposal, that's kind of a funny story. I was living in Florida until the week of Thanksgiving in 2000. I received my permanent resident visa from the Canadian consulate about three weeks before and I immediately gave notice at work.

Matt and I had planned for him to drive down in a minivan, we'd pack all my stuff into it, and head back to Ottawa. I still had to work two more days at the beginning of that week and I was filling all my free time with saying goodbye to family and friends - and packing, since I didn't get that finished before Matt arrived. 

On my last day at my job, Matt spent the morning running around to every building on the campus to grab empty boxes from the kitchens where the photocopiers were. After he'd collected as many boxes as he could, he came back to my desk to see if I would just leave already.

Of course, I hate leaving anything undone, so I said I couldn't and kept pushing through. Matt was frustrated - rightfully so - that he couldn't seem to get me alone and I was 100% oblivious to his frustration. At one point while I was working, he got down on one knee and asked right there in my cubicle. As he was about to ask, one of my co-workers was walking by and stopped to talk to me, but she saw what was going on and quickly detoured.

After that, Matt finally got my full attention. He asked. I said yes. Then I went around the office showing my ring to all my friends.

I think about that proposal and it's kinda perfect. It was such a stress-filled time and I love that Matt decided not to wait a second longer. He just pushed forward and did it. Because there's no perfect time and place, nor does there need to be.

What is the hardest thing that you ever had to do in your life?

Definitely moving to Canada. I knew I was leaving behind my family and my mom was living with chronic illness. I was going where I would be way too far away to ever help. I was going way too far away for us to be part of each other's day-to-day lives. I don't regret coming to Canada and my mom and family 100% supported my move, but that didn't make it any less difficult.

What is the greatest compliment that you have ever received?

When I auditioned to attend Florida State University's School of Music, I did so with four hurried weeks of vocal coaching on the two songs that I was singing in my audition. I had sung in choir at church all my life, but I'd never been in choir at school or had any real vocal training. My 18-year-old self had the audacity to believe that I was good enough without training. When I got in, no one was more surprised than I was. After my audition was over, it finally hit me that it was an extremely long shot. But I got in. Then I got an A from the faculty in my first jury. That was an amazing moment.

What is one thing you still want to do that you've never done?

Ever since I learned about Holland from my neighbor when I was a kid (he was from Holland), I've always wanted to go and see all the things in person that he shared with me in pictures and stories. When I finally get around to making that trip, I'm sure you and your dad will be with me. :)

Brandon, I hope you've enjoyed reading a little more about me this Mother's Day. You're the best kid a mom could ask for and I love you so much.

This list of questions came from here and I have to give a hat tip and thanks to my bloggy friend/fellow Spin Sucks Crazies buddy, Paula, for sharing it with me.

Awesome moms deserve recognition - Happy Mother's Day, ladies!

Mother’s Day – like every other holiday – has become marketed and commercialized to death. The pressure for sons, daughters and husbands to commemorate the day in a way that truly shows the appropriate level of gratitude and appreciation seems to increase each year. The more money you spend or the bigger the gift, the greater your appreciation. What an unfortunate perspective our kids are being exposed to these days!

Generally, I’m low maintenance when it comes to birthdays and Christmas. I grew up in a family that didn’t do much for birthdays, and Christmas wasn’t about presents though we did exchange them. We always acknowledged birthdays, but it was unusual for us to make them into a huge deal with parties and lots of gifts. I had a whopping 2 birthday parties growing up. One when I turned 6 and the other when I turned 16. In my family, birthdays were made special, but not necessarily huge. As an adult, I don’t expect or want much for my birthday or Christmas. 

Mother’s Day was a slightly different story, though – at least to me. I always wanted to make the day really special for my mom. We got her sweet gifts some years, silly gifts other years. I think we hit Dad up for money to help us buy flowers once or twice. We often cooked meals for her or took her out for a special treat. I was and still am very grateful for my Mom. I liked having a day set aside to specifically and purposefully show her what she meant to me. That gratitude gets easily lost in the day-to-day comings and goings of a busy family, especially as children get older and rely less on their parents.

After moving away from home, I must admit it got harder and harder to do something truly special for my mom because “special” was usually something that involved spending time together - hard to do from 1,500 miles away. So, I’d order her little things online that I knew she’d like but also find practical and convenient. Mom and I had very similar taste so it was easy to please her. Sometimes I’d send flowers, but I didn’t like to do that every year – it doesn’t take much effort or thought and I like thoughtful gifts. But the flowers were something nice that Mom always genuinely enjoyed as she didn’t get them very often.

Since having Brandon, I have to admit that I like the recognition of my newish role in life. I’ve wanted to have children most of my life and I waited a very long time to become a mom. I’m thrilled to be a mom and I try hard to be a mother who is deserving of some measure of gratitude. I want my son to grow up with an appreciation of motherhood in general so that if he has children with a future partner he’ll cherish that role she plays to his kids. If I fulfill my role to him growing up, it will give him a good foundation of respect for mothers and motherhood.

Mother’s Day shouldn’t be about getting an expensive present or making a big deal – though that’s how some choose to show their mother what she means and there’s no harm in that. I want my son to learn that it’s about making your mother feel special for her contribution to your life. It’s not about buying cards or anything else. It’s about taking a day to show specific and purposeful gratitude, because so often we forget to do that on a daily basis with the people we love who have such a huge impact on our lives.

A Mother's Day tribute to my mom

This Mother’s Day, I’m thinking about my mom quite a bit. In 2007, the first Mother’s Day after her death, I felt her absence very keenly. Last year, I was caught up in the euphoria of being a mom for the first time myself. Though I did miss her and thought about her, I wanted to celebrate my new little boy. This year, I have been reflecting on the things I know she would have loved to experience; seeing and holding Brandon, hearing his baby babble, talking to me about all the questions I’ve had, giving Matt and I advice, etc. The list is miles long. I’ve also been going through old family photos to scan them and so I’ve been getting a very concentrated look at Mom’s life through the photos.

My mom was born on October 24, 1949, the fourth and final child of Philip and Sally Dickey. She enjoyed learning and doing things with her hands. She learned to sew, embroider, knit and crochet, though she didn’t ever feel that she was as good at them as her mother. I think that was mostly because she didn’t have as much of an interest in them as my grandmother, who spent many, many hours creating beautiful pieces for herself, her kids and her grandchildren.

Mom’s talents were very broad. She played the bassoon in band through middle and high school and taught herself how to play tenor sax because she had access to the instrument through her sister who played. She used to tell me how she would read the encyclopedia for fun. It’s no wonder that she was the salutatorian of her high school graduating class in 1967. In fact, the girl who was the valedictorian tried to get school administrators to award the honor to my mother because she felt mom had taken harder courses and was more deserving, even though her GPA was slightly lower. We certainly don’t live in a time when many teenagers would make that kind of request now. Mom didn’t feel that she was cheated; she was in the right place because she had the lower GPA.

In 1969, Mom (like her sisters and brother before her) entered the military. She went into the Navy and served there for a couple of years. She didn’t talk a lot about the time she spent in the Navy, but I know that she spent a chunk of it quite ill with mono and then was honorably discharged after she got married and became pregnant. Knowing my mother, she was probably thrilled to be discharged so she could be a full-time mom. That was something she wanted very badly: to have a big family. I think it must have been quite difficult for her to make the decision to take my older brother and leave her first husband when she found he wasn’t who she thought he was.

After leaving her first husband in Virginia and moving back home to Tallahassee, Mom spent several years as a single Mom. She then reconnected with my father, whom she’d known years before. We found out from Dad after her death that he’d attended her first wedding (shown right). He actually drove 17 hours to be there. Mom and Dad began meeting up regularly and eventually decided to get married. They had a civil ceremony and took a short trip to Jacksonville for their honeymoon. Their marriage was not the stuff of dreams for many years. After many struggles, though, they became the best of friends.

In 1985 or 1986, Mom was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis (neurosarcoidosis). She struggled with breathing problems, deteriorating eyesight, muscle breakdown, various gastro difficulties and eventually nausea attacks so severe that she had to be hospitalized for anywhere from 3-10 days at a time. In 2004, Mom was never out of the hospital for more than 4 days at a time from June to December. There were a couple of instances when there was very real fear that she might not make it. Just before Christmas, she had a surgery that stablized her system and she didn’t need hospitalization for almost a year and a half. When she had to go to the hospital for the first time again in June 2006, she was very discouraged. I think, in a way, she simply didn’t want to get on that roller coaster again.

Mom dealt with this disease for over 20 years and often concealed the severity of her symptoms, even from my Dad. She stayed positive and upbeat for all of us, only telling us what she felt we really needed to know so that we didn’t worry. She cared about us so much that she kept going, doing things to make us happy, even when it could be detrimental to her health. My mom was an amazing woman…strong in spirit, smart, beautiful, kind, generous to a fault, selfless, loving and a woman I absolutely want to emulate in my own life. My mom is my hero and I was so privileged to have her in my life.