People often talk about my strength and I am quick to tell them, “Well, if you were in my shoes, you would do the same thing, too. You do what you have to in order to survive.” In all honesty, though, I’m not sure if that is entirely true. A huge part of the reason I am the way I am is because of my mother, Liz.

My mom tried to shield me from the fucked up stuff going on at home when I was very small. She was a mama bear with her cubs and we were her first priority – no matter how traumatic her own situation was, whether it be the collapse of her marriage or her first bout with cancer.

My mom knew when we were hurting and needed the extra TLC. It was ok to cuddle in her bed to watch Rocky on the little black and white television. Bed times were not a priority – making sure we felt loved and secure was.

My mom picked a stepfather for us that not only didn’t physically or, God forbid, sexually abuse us but, one that treated us as though we were his children, every bit as much as his own. Sure, there were some kinks to work out in a situation like that – a single man suddenly has not only a wife but, two ready made children who, as I mentioned earlier, had been through a lot and were a little lacking in the strict discipline department. We are proud that we did work it out. He is our dad. My mom gets a lot of credit for seeing that the situation went as smoothly as possible, as well.

My mom had fun. We were allowed to mess up the house to build “forts”, we were allowed to pull up the basement rug to roller skate, our kitchen became a Lego Land, with no less than thousands of Legos in every corner of the room, we could make a mess painting, we could have friends over at the house whenever and my mom made everyone feel welcome. We certainly didn’t have the biggest house, with the most amenities but, there were always kids there. It was a warm and welcoming place. We would do projects and arts and crafts. Most of all, we would spend lots and lots of time together and she was PRESENT. Even though she was struggling to get by as a single mother, and working her ass off to make sure that we had a roof over our heads and clothes on our back, she was LISTENING when we talked, PAYING attention when we put on our plays, reading to us for hours. She was not just there but, PRESENT. I think the moms reading this will know the difference, what a struggle that is to accomplish and how important it is to try.

My mom has also always had an awesome ability to make the best out of every situation. We loved to watch her get ready to go out with friends while she blasted her Donna Summer music in the house and I remember how pretty she was, with her dancing clothes on. I was so proud that I had a mother that didn’t just sit and cry in a corner (like some other people I knew back then whose husbands had opted out). She refused to just settle for the fact that she was going to be sad for the rest of her life. She was young, she was beautiful and she was entitled to be happy. What a wonderful thing to show your little girls. What a beautiful example to set.

My mom was also fair. When we messed up, we paid for it but, she picked her battles wisely. She also understood and empathized what we were going through. We had been through a lot, for sure. She really tried to think about how whatever we were going through was affecting us, and cut us some slack accordingly. I always felt like she had our backs. We came first, no matter what.

My mom taught me how to have a kick ass work ethic. I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t working hard to make sure that here family was provided for. I remember helping her address envelopes at the kitchen table. She would get us ready for school, work all day, help us with our homework, get dinner made and get everything prepped for the following day. The, she would then take all of her paperwork out and work at the kitchen table until all hours of the night. I was in awe of her. She seemed to never tire. She worked her way up from the mail room to a professional position due to sheer will, hard work and determination.

My mom sacrificed so that we could have. Without going into details, I found out as I got older, and by accident, things that she had done that I hadn’t even known about so that I could have something I wanted, so that I could go to the school I wanted to, so that we always felt financially secure. She sacrificed and did for us and not only did she not expect anything in return except for our best efforts but, she never even let us know the sacrifices she made. Again, all of you parents out there will understand the gravity of this.

My mom taught me strength. The first time she was sick, I was too little to understand how bad it was. We were blessed that she survived that and was able to be there for me and my sisters. The second time I was in college. I was devastated. We all were. She comforted us. Now I know. I know how scared she was, how she probably felt like screaming and yelling and crying and railing at God but, she stayed calm, and she comforted us. And when she recurred, right after I was diagnosed, she took care of me. She was in so much pain but, she cleaned my house and watched my babies, and talked to me and loved me.

My mother is selfless. She would give you her last dime, if you needed it. She is a wonderful grandparent to her grandkids. She thinks nothing of breaking out into a full clog dance in the middle of a store, singing a song at the top of her lungs, if it can make one of her beloved grandchildren laugh. My oldest son told me the other day that he will have his kids in his twenties just so that his kids can know his “Mimi”. They love her so much, it’s palpable when she is in a room with them. She is also a wonderful and loyal friend and a supportive and loving wife.

For those of you who know and love Liz, none of these things will come as a surprise. I had the urge, though, tonight, to let the whole world know that with all the crap that I got dealt, with all the pain and the heartache that I’ve gone through in the past ten years, for all of the daily pain that I am in, I am the most blessed woman in the world. Because I was born to a woman who was able to provide the example that she has to get me through it all.

Make no mistake about it, I would never have been able to do it without her.

I always think, “what would my mother do?” when faced with a situation where I am unsure.

Here she is this past weekend, enjoying herself in the pool with her family all around. For all of you who know what she is going through now, the picture is nothing less than a miracle.

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I love you, Mommy. Keep fighting the good fight, because you are needed more than you will ever know.