Happy Mother’s Day, for all of you – mothers, soon to be mothers, trying to be mothers, surrogate mothers, and many, many, many more.
Chatting with Nat (my amazing Sis, I’ll love her forever and a million days more) this morning, and she mentioned that today can be a tough day. Yes, I saw a few things in my various online feeds this morning that proved it.
Looking back over close to 56 years of existence, I was lucky enough to spend 47 of her 68 years with my Mother. I look back at all the things that she gifted me with throughout those 47 years, along with all the memories, and especially some of the goofy shit that we got up to over the years, those days when we would be laughing non-stop until our sides ached and tears were running down our faces. Don’t look at me! *side-eye* and we’re off laughing again!
One gift is an insatiable appetite for reading! At least once a month, sometimes twice a month, we would make our rounds, Sam’s Club (for the brief time it was in Toronto), Costco, Chapters/Indigo, and when it was still around, World’s Biggest Bookstore. It was a slow month if we didn’t leave the store with at least two bags bursting at the seams with books! A typical haul would be 20 books, and of those 20, at least 10 were fiction, half again were non-fiction, and the remainder would be research/information/textbook material. As Mom often said, although it was a lifelong wish to go to university full time, nothing says we can’t do the reading, research, and learning on our own!
We would come home with bags of books, and the only sounds you would hear that weekend, besides our cats up to their usual antics, was the sound of the coffeemaker brewing a pot, and pages turning. We would dive in and spend an entire weekend immersed in books. The ultimate thing to do when the weather was nasty outside.
The gift of unstoppable curiosity and appetite for learning. At one time, we had all four local newspapers delivered on Saturday morning. Some weekends, 6 inches of newsprint piled up in front of the apartment door when we got up in the morning. Coffee, oatmeal, bagels, and the news of the day. The usual gear off to the side, a steno pad with a pen or pencil clipped into the coil, reading glasses (before we both needed them full time), and a full pot of coffee at the ready in the kitchen. One or both of the cats joining us on the table to help us read the papers, or do the puzzles. And every once in a while, stopping to read something to each other in that morning’s news, or some outrageous direction a columnist had taken, that had us wondering what they were smoking that week.
Every now and then, we both would hit on something in the news, and the question asked “did you know about this before? No, do you have any information on it? Sweet bugger all! Fetch the Mac? Yup!” and we would be sitting on the long side of the dining room table with our steno books, pens poised, and we delved into anything and everything we could find about some topic in the newspaper that had piqued our curiosity. On occasion, if we couldn’t come up with enough to satisfy us online, it meant that likely we would be spending Sunday afternoon at the Toronto Reference Library, where we could dive into all kinds of reference works. If that didn’t solve it, a phone call was made during the week, and the following weekend, we would meet a friend or two, and spend the day in the stacks at the University of Toronto, digging up all the material that we could find. Finally, comparing notes at home, and looking to see if there was even more to research. I feel for those who have no curiosity about the world and how it works. I swear half the fun is in the search for information!
The gift of music. I was told that I showed an aptitude for music when young. Likely why Mom started me in music lessons before my 5th birthday. There was this little music shop in the plaza just down the street from our house, and I still remember my instructor, Leo C., who started my learning with a piano accordion. As I grew up, I moved up to a full size instrument, and when I needed a new challenge, we switched to guitar. While doing that, let’s stretch the mind a bit more, and take on piano to keep both hands working away while learning even more musical notation. Then, let’s switch to the organ, and teach the feet how to play another register on the foot pedals! I still recall some of the tricks used to learn the scales and where the notes were placed on the staff. Add more instruments and classes once in school, along with a couple of choirs (school, church, others), and various opportunities to sing (when I had a decent voice that didn’t sound like fingernails on a chalkboard!), and taking every opportunity offered, by the time I graduated, could play 10 instruments, and had conducted a few school groups.
That was the laugh when we saw photos of a speech I gave last year in Durham Region, the way my hands were moving when the photo was captured, I looked like I was conducting a choir. If I lived in a house, I would have a piano to play, just for my own entertainment.
The gift of making a difference from behind the scenes. I liked Mom’s approach to things. And I’ve taken it as my own approach in the years since (37 years worth). Some people love the spotlight, we saw an abundance of it in the family. We enjoyed being out of sight, and getting things done. I have found over the years that I am at my most effective when entirely invisible to most outside of a classroom, lecture hall, auditorium, or meeting room. When you are the face or voice of something, you’re set up to be under attack every time you open your mouth or blink. If you want to make change happen, you have the conversations with those people who can influence things to bring that change into being. Causing the change of viewpoint to allow for flag-raising events across Canada a few years ago, was entirely born out of an abundance of conversations had quietly and out of the spotlight. At times a bit more intense, and other times a “wouldn’t it be amazing if you… ?” That’s the question you ask when you go to bed at night, “Did I make a positive difference in some person’s life today?” If the answer is yes, you’ve had an amazing day. If not, then look to see where there are opportunities tomorrow.
The gift of love and understanding. Mom was like a PFLAG parent before PFLAG ever came into existence. It would be so natural then, after her death, that Irene, the President of our local PFLAG would quietly and without a lot of fuss, step into her shoes, and just be there when needed. The biggest lesson Mom had was that it does not matter WHO you love, all that matters is HOW YOU LOVE, and that you LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY. The way I have phrased it in lectures over the years is, “I don’t care who you snuggle up next to at night, just as long as you are loved, safe, and treated well.” Why does it matter? Because, if you judge someone for who they are attracted to, what are you missing out on from the rest of that person? You’ve slapped on a label, and you have completely negated their existence. If you love someone, you understand where they come from, you learn about their history, not to hold it against them, but to learn how to ensure they are treated properly. When somebody opens up to you about their past, they are not looking for pity, they are explaining to you, should you care to pay attention, listen, and understand, what occurred that has made them the person that they are today. When someone opens up to you in that way, they are giving you an opportunity to learn how to include them in what you do. The greatest gift you will ever give to another human being is to include them. Even if they refuse it, at least you tried.
The gift of communication, in all forms. We learned to read at home long before we ever set foot in a school environment. It was the time after dinner to sit at the table with that day’s Toronto Telegram (yeah, I’m dating myself!), and Mom would say, “read that story to me.” Get to a word you don’t know, sound it out bit by bit. Don’t know what it means, look it up in the dictionary that’s nearby on the bookshelf. Again, learning numbers and math at home long before school. Mom had won awards as a teenager for mathematics, I used to have the old faded newspaper articles announcing the results. So, we learned numbers, times tables, division, etc. Mom did it all her head, as I learned to … which was hilarious, because it drove teachers to distraction because they could not understand how you know the answer without needing pages of scribbles to figure it out. We had a game, from my earliest memories, we would keep a running tally of everything in the cart when we were grocery shopping. Before the cashier began checking us out, we’d say what the total we had was. As time passed, it got that we could nail it every time, the pre-tax total. I still do math in my head to this day, using the methods from the 60s. Used to blow a few minds in the aerospace world by figuring out the total cost on a bill of material for an aircraft component, before running an adding machine tape to prove it.
And it showed up in more ways. I learned to write, both printing and cursive writing at home. Mom still had her Esterbrook cartridge or bottle fill fountain pen from her senior year at high school. She taught me all the same tricks that her penmanship teachers instilled into the students in class. To this day, I will always prefer writing with a fountain pen over anything else.
And, from all of her work at home with us, while growing up, I picked up a love for educating. It has come in very handy while dug in with activism and advocacy work over the decades. It is what led to my taking a year away from the tech world and diving in with both feet into teaching. I managed a few courses, looked after the office finances, and was the fill-in for the office manager when out of town. I’m a writer, I love words, so one of my favourite courses was Communications. This was more spoken than written, but they do come under the same umbrella. Being an Empath, I listen much closer than most do, either in written communication or in person.
The gift of exploration. We loved taking day trips, from my earliest memories up until the year before Mom’s brain cancer hit her full force. One memorable day was spent in Midland, the morning at The Martyr’s Shrine (two Anglicans in a Catholic shrine? Lucky the holy water didn’t boil!), and the afternoon across the highway at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons. That trip inspired a lot of reading and research, and we actually travelled back a few more times that summer to learn more. Or the Ontario Science Centre. We LOVED the Science Centre!! We would go 2 – 4 times per year, away from any school trips. It was a great environment for both of us, keep the grey cells in full romp, and constantly triggering curiosity in a number of areas. I haven’t been in years, but one day will find the time and spend a day wandering from exhibit to exhibit again.
The gift of laughter! Anyone who has sat in one of my talks/classes/lectures has heard a few of the *ahem* cleaner yet hilarious stories of some of the goofy shit that the two of us got up to over the years. There would be days when we would be laughing so hard, that tears were streaming down our faces, and we’d be banging a fist on the table while gasping for air. I knew that look, when something uproariously funny and risqué was about to emerge. It was my cue to do the pearl-clutching gasp while exclaiming, “Mother!!” Which was Mom’s cue to pull the most comical innocent look she could and looking up through her eyebrows, say, “whaaaaaaaat?” Which would put us into hysterics all over again.
We had tickets to see Robin Williams at the Sony Centre downtown. Three seats, front row balcony. Glad they had those giant video screens so we could see the expression on his face or what antics he was up to on stage. Well, near the end of 2 hours of side-aching hilarity, he launches into this whole routine about Viagra (we can’t cure cancer, but we gotta pill to make you harder than algebra!), and one look at each other and we howled with laughter throughout the whole routine, especially the water bottle and the curtains! We were sore for days after from all the laughing we did that night. And the next time the old man called, drunk off his ass, and started grumbling about the cost of his Viagra pills, how much chance d’ya think he heard somebody not laughing?
Even in Palliative Care, Mom’s humour was legendary. Near the end, she had suffered a massive stroke. She could move her eyes, wrinkle her nose, and had use of her index, middle, and ring fingers on her left hand. That was it. She was unable to speak, or do much else. Now, I lived with her for 47 years, I knew every look, every gesture, we could speak entire paragraphs without making a sound. One night, a new nurse is trying to get her night meds into her. Mom’s determined that this will not be, because she doesn’t like the nurse. I looked down at her left hand, and she was flipping the bird! I started to giggle. I finally had had enough, and I said, step aside, I’ll do it. She was about to object, but I had give her a look over the top of my glasses that said, I am not kidding here. “Ma! Gotta take this please.” Wrinkled nose, flip the bird. “I know, but will you give it a shot for me?” Eye roll. “C’mon Ma, it tastes like shit, but it’s good for ya!” Got her! I had recalled a line from Crocodile Dundee that we had both laughed at, and it was just the trick at the time. Cancer might have been trying it’s hardest to do a number on her, but her sense of humour was there right to the end.
The gift of awe and wonder. To be regularly touched, moved, and inspired, by people, by music, by art, by books. How dull would life be without any of these? I had that entire touched, moved, inspired set when I read Nat’s first book. It threw me for a loop a few times, because it had occurred like she was in my mind, looking at the files, and telling my story too. I come from an era where things “just are not talked about.” I was diagnosed with anxiety before I hit double digits in age (it started between 5 and 6). Depression hit in my teens with a vengeance. I’ve lived with this stuff for decades, and for most of it, never breathed a word. But, imagine being awed by another person, by their words, by their spirit/soul. To live in wonder about how they go about creating something, how they survived their past. Yet, that sense of awe and wonder remains, to be carried along by the lyrics to a song, to look through photographs of scenery that moves you beyond words, to experience another person’s life force that leaves an indelible mark on yours. It is why we enjoyed so thoroughly our time at concerts, whether it was the symphony, the pops orchestra, a pop singer, an ear-splitting rock concert (one time we couldn’t hear for three days after!), or bopping around in the kitchen to the radio … music was a place for awe and wonder. The words of another person were cause for awe and wonder. And so much more.
There are folks, that today is picking at the scab covering an unhealed wound. It’s still raw, it hurts like a bugger, and you’ll bleed all over if people keep picking at it. Got that, been there, done it, didn’t want the stinkin’ t-shirt. I’ll only tell you this – it takes time, be patient with yourself, no two people grieve in the same way.
The days that I receive messages like these, it is what makes it all worthwhile. While I may have been unable to have children of my own, I have been a mom to hundreds over the years, and there are many still here.
Remember to love each other intensely.
Love, sunbeams, and kitten dreams.
Christine (CityMom) 💙💙