In just two weeks, I’ll be the same age my mom was when she lost both of her parents – 38. Her dad, who was way ahead of his time, getting his daily fibre fix from apples and oatmeal (never the instant variety!) way before All Bran Bars saw the light of day, suffered a heart attack at the age of 70. Six months later, her mom, a smoker on the other end of the health spectrum, lost her battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 60.
Approaching the age my mom was when she became an orphan, I know how incredibly lucky I am to have both my parents with me (and a very big part of my life at that!)
So reflecting on a blog I wrote just a few months ago called The Wonderful Wisdom of Women, while it highlighted quotes and sparks of greatness from authors, bloggers, and speakers, all from the X chromosome tribe, I realize I left out the most important woman in my life…my Mom, Cheryle. While she is not famous and she is perfectly imperfect, she is one of the strongest people I know. Today, as I shower my 3 kids with “Snugs” (more often than they’d probably like!), I’m reminded of all the times my mom and I used to cuddle and play “Huggy Kissy.” She always made me feel so loved and still does. Side note: the Danish, the happiest people in the world, actually thrive on this type of coziness – it’s call Hygge (pronounced hooga). My mom may not be Danish (she was born in the small town of Kirkland Lake in northern Ontario, home to a small Jewish community), but she was certainly onto something!
My mom was a full-time English teacher for 25 years and has been an active supply teacher for about 20 years. In her late 60s, she still wakes up at 6:00 when called for a supply position, driving from Bathurst and Lawrence to as far as Maple for a day’s work. As a devoted reader of fiction (a passion she shares with many of her close friends who are like family to her), she became my official proof-reader 30 years ago when I began writing short stories, and she still boasts that title today. Not a paragraph is published without her eyes on it first. In high school and university, when I panicked about exams and essays, she listened to and comforted me – often late into the night (okay, VERY late into the night!). Looking back now, especially as a mom myself, I can see just how exhausting I was! But if she was tired – which she no doubt was – she never showed it.
You could also call her The Good Wife. (And not because when she was watching that show, it’s the only time she actually wouldn’t take my calls!) She has stood by my dad through many ups and downs. And she has shown incredible strength in the face of a terribly sad and difficult situation – being shut out of her son’s and his family’s lives, which translates into not being able to see two of her cherished seven grandchildren. In her own blog, she has shared charming stories of the five grandkids she does see (often!) and most recently wrote a funny and touching piece that brought friends and family to tears and giggles, to honour her late father, my Zaidy Dave, who passed away 30 years ago. She is currently working on a blog to honour her mom, Helen, and mark 30 years since she’s been gone. I have no doubt it will be equally special and touching. My Kleenex is ready.
My sister, Elissa, who is 2 1/2 years older than me, has also always felt a very close bond with our mom. They speak almost daily, and she solicits our mom’s opinion on everything from kid stuff to friend stuff to fashion stuff and everything in between. In Elissa’s words: “I can always rely on her to speak the truth – which is quite refreshing when you have to tip toe around others. And it’s amazing to have a mom who is as in love with my kids as I am and truly appreciates their inner beauty and sweet, unique features.”
Maybe because she learned early on that life is short and shouldn’t be wasted on negativity, my mom is forgiving, kind, and abundantly generous with her time and affection. Oh, and she never holds a grudge. One minute we are arguing and the next we are saying “I love you.” That’s just the way it is and always has been. That’s something, she insists, was learned by example. Her mom and dad just wouldn’t allow each other or their kids – my mom and my Aunt Karen – to EVER go to bed angry. It just did not happen in their home. Not a bad rule to enforce.
Living just minutes away from my family, she is there for us literally whenever we need her.
Perhaps this piece would be most appropriate in May when Mother’s Day love is in the air, but if you ask me, there’s no better time like the present to broadcast my love and appreciation for my mom. And the truth is, I’ve never asked her these types of questions, so in some ways I feel like I’m learning about my mom for the first time. So here goes, a window into an incredibly loving and strong woman…my mom.
What was it like to be an orphan at 38 years old and how did you find the strength to keep going?
Because my parents died within such close proximity, time wise, I felt I didn’t really have the wherewithal to mourn each of them deservedly. I was raising a young family of three kids with a husband who was not around a lot…and when he was, he was often counterproductive. Fortunately, he’s a much more “hands on” Zayda. So I really had to be “in the moment” and be there for my kids in the best way I possibly could. I remember saying to myself: Cheryle, you can lie around in bed all day and mope about your lot in life…or get up, teach your classes and enjoy the camaraderie of the kind and sensitive staff with whom you work, the many devoted friends who have become your incredible support system and much more, as well as the glorious family you’re raising to be the very best they can be …and thank G-d for your lot in life. It was only later on that I realized just how hard I had taxed myself with personal expectations, perhaps too much so…deciding this past year to write blogs/legacies about both my parents.
What do you miss most about your parents?
For me, this is a two part question/answer. I have always said I miss what you, my children missed. You missed having the most devoted, adoring grandparents EVER. Their grandkids were their raison d’être. Fortunately, you had them for a while, until you were eight, and your sister and brother were going on 11 and 12. But they really were your champions and cheerleaders from the time you were born.
For me personally, it would be the everyday interactions and communications that I missed. To this day, when I become overwhelmed by a problem, I ask myself: what would Mom say, advise, suggest? Or Dad, depending on the situation. I would like to add that Mom always held the practical point of view; Dad held more idealistic views. So, for affairs of the heart, during those confusing and often difficult teenage years, I could definitely find balanced sources, though not necessarily balanced outcomes.
What do you love most about being a Bubby?
This is the most fun part of having kids. As you know, I desperately wanted a family…and as luck would have it, your dad was shooting blanks. Being rather impatient, (the biological clock was ticking), we looked into the adoption process and were told we’d be pregnant before a newborn would become available. Not quite true. A call to my school, pulling me out of class, advised that should we decide to accept the challenge, we could become parents to a beautiful, healthy baby boy within days. We did accept and the rest is history…with two adorable, healthy baby girls added to the family in less than three years.
My precious grandchildren arrived kicking and screaming, filled with wild and wonderful curiosity, and their innocence and candour never cease to astound me. When I watch them, listen to them, embrace them, I can never get enough of them. Perhaps I am obsessed, but in a good way. They give me strength, boundless love, joy, comic relief, cherished pearls of wisdom. How truly blessed I am!
What 3 pieces of wisdom can you share with your kids and grandkids?
- Always keep learning. We can never know enough, ask too many questions, satisfy one’s fiercely inquisitive nature. As a teacher of 46 years, I try to learn something new each day. And I almost always tell my students that they have something to teach me…because they do. Even when I’m not mindful of the learning process, I know I am learning something. I read somewhere that teachers don’t teach for the income; they teach for the outcome.
- Positive thinking may sound cliché, but it’s a terrifically powerful tool. There are times when you may think you’re entitled to that ‘pity party’. Don’t go there. The sun will come out tomorrow or the day after. You know it will. Remember that.
- Always count your blessings. You likely have more than most. Enjoy them, treasure them…and while you’re at it , make more, find more. They’re there…if you look hard enough.
Mom, happy non-Mother’s Day! We love you so much and we are all so lucky and blessed to have you!
Originally published in Her Magazine.