My mom has lived a life of privilege and hardship in almost equal amounts. She comes from a loving family and had a childhood that involved vacations around the world, a house constantly filled with family and friends and an almost-idyllic and stereotypical upbringing that resembled a “Leave it to Beaver” episode. But all that was not enough to prevent my mom from marrying the wrong guy. So not too soon after her wedding, my mom found herself divorced and a single mom to an infant in the 1980s. That would be me. Now, being a single mom in those days was not cool or empowering. I’m being trite here, but back in those days, most women were not choosing to be single moms. Divorced, heart-broken and now a mother to an infant, she had to navigate her life with zero child support from my biological father and the notion that at only 25, her life was not what she thought it would be. But my mom was never one to wallow. So she did what she does best. She went to work. Working as a buyer for JC Penney, my mom worked constantly . Weekends, holidays, late nights...you name it. And she always did it with a positive attitude and a smile on her face.
Fast forward the years and two more kids later, my mom remarried a man that I call dad and he travelled a lot. Sometimes upwards of a month at a time if he was working in Singapore or Australia. So here she was again, essentially raising three kids with not a lot of help from her husband. Due to childhood naivety, I had no idea just how difficult it was for her to raise us kids, work and keep up the house all by herself. And I didn’t realize how difficult it was because she was usually volunteering her time at my school or hosting my friends at our house or cooking dinner or making sure I was shuttled to gymnastics, flute practice, cheerleading, etc. And then go ahead and times that by three. She did everything effortlessly and never once can I really remember her acting sad, frustrated, bitter, tired or unhappy about her situation. Now that I have a child of my own and am married to a wonderful man who does more cooking and cleaning than I do and shares all the responsibilities with me in raising our son, I have a completely different perspective on my mom. Like how the hell did she not go postal?!
The nights when Olly is travelling and I’m forced to leave work early to make daycare pickup and then come home to face the monotony of the dinner, clean up, bathtime, bedtime routine I am reminded that my mom did this...every single day. When I am feeling overwhelmed I think of my mom and how she is always laughing and upbeat, despite some rough patches in her life. Case in point: our family house in Chicago caught fire 18 months ago and you’ve never seen someone being forced out of her home handle it with such grace. Mind you, this happened a week before Thanksgiving where she was hosting me, Olly, her 3-month-old grandson and a host of other family members at the house. We ended up hunkering down in a hotel and I saw my mom in her typical upbeat demeanor mend all the pieces of what could have been a very broken holiday.
I look at my mom with admiration and awe. I sometimes ask her, “HOW are you still smiling and upbeat about (Fill in the blank situation).” She usually laughs and says something along the lines of, “Things aren’t so bad.” My mom has taught me one of the greatest lessons in life: the greatest indicator of happiness in life is your attitude and the only difference between an amazing day and a horrific day is your attitude. I hope I can also pass this crucial life lesson down to my son.
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