Mom Suzanne (left) with best friend Marge (right).
Spring in the Hudson Valley is a beautiful rhythmic orchestration. Hiking will bring you up close to the emergence of skunk cabbage, fiddleheads, wild mustard, and columbine, to name a few. The sidewalks are littered with maple and oak flowers, and the redbuds, dogwoods and wild cherry trees begin their flowering. The “really big show,” as if Ed Sullivan was announcing it, would be the apple trees blooming, letting us know Mother Earth has stolen the show; perfect timing, each year, for Mother’s Day.
I am not a big fan of Hallmark Holidays, but Mother’s Day has always been a chance for my sister and I to take our mom Suzanne and her best friend Marge out to brunch, followed by a quick stop at TJ Maxx on the way home. My husband and I decided years ago that we would do whatever we wanted on “our holidays” - he plays golf on Father’s Day with his buddies.
My mother was no doubt the most influential figure in my development and life beyond college. We both are extremely social, both educators, we love to garden, hike (when she was able), and we chat for hours at a time about whatever comes up in conversation. I grew up one of five children, and my mom gave us all a lot of freedom. This freedom came at a cost, and we certainly stumbled here and there, making our way through the 60’s and 70’s as kids. The most important piece of advice my mother gave to me was to make sure I could take care of myself before I decided to marry and have children. My sister and I took that advice very seriously, with my mom’s words never leaving our thoughts on the subject for too long. She raised two girls who are fiercely independent.
My mom moved to a piece of land adjacent to our property after she retired, my husband built her a beautiful house, and we were neighbors. She was the epicenter of our family gatherings, and with two houses on the properties, hers and ours, we were able to navigate this large group. Little did I know at the time how vital she would become, when our children were diagnosed with autism. Daniel, then five years later, Matty. My mom was their second parent, as she helped us with time and emotional support. She had a very special relationship with Daniel, our child with high-functioning autism, and they cooked together, read together and in turn he learned to care for her as the years progressed. When Matty was diagnosed at 3 with autism, and his path led to regression and his still present non-verbal place, my mom did what she could to help. Matty knew her house, she always had his favorite snacks and videos, and he was safe there in her loving care.
My mom had a stroke when Matty was 6 years old, and it was our turn to give back to her. She continued to live in her home, with assistance. As Matty got older, we talked about his future and what would be best for him, and my mom listened, never judged. When Matty was 16, my husband and I made the most difficult decision of our lives. We placed Matty at Anderson Center for Autism in Staatsburg NY. We did this for Matty so he could be in an environment that was set up with all the supports he needed, a loving staff, and an opportunity to be as independent as possible. He still lives and goes to school there today, with one more year until he gets to move to his “forever home” in the Hudson Valley.
My mom passed away 4 months after Matty went to live at Anderson. I wish she could have seen the progress he has made, but she lives on in me, so she is there, maybe not physically by my side, but she’s there. I feel her presence always, and have her incredible nurturing spirit with me as I use my experiences with our boys to help others who have children with autism. She would be so proud. She knows I have been able to let Matty spread his wings towards independence, just as she did with her five children. Today we might call this “Dignity with Risk,” a new buzz word in the special needs community.
For all the moms out there, I hope you are doing what you want to on this Mother’s Day. I have a new ritual, getting together with other mothers and enjoying the day, as we talk about our mothers and enjoy a good brunch, and maybe a little shopping or a nice long walk. But the day isn’t complete without an acknowledgement of the Apple blossoms. Some years when they are early, by Mother’s Day they are dropping from the trees like snow. A magical sight to see.