Life is full of detours, isn't it? You block off that one free Saturday to organize your closets, but your youngest gets the flu. You've been saving for your children’s education, but the roof needs replacing... like, now.
You exercise like a maniac and eat healthy foods, but cancer shows up anyway.
I'm taking a brief detour of my own, and dedicating this February SocialMom of the Month column to my very first Valentine: my mom. Right now, she's home recovering from last week's mastectomy and reconstructive surgery... and I’d love to introduce you to this strong woman who’s inspired me all my life.
Mimi, as she's known by her six grandkids, is one of those women "of a certain age" who married and had children young, just as she began her career as a second grade teacher. Then I came along -- maybe I was detour #1 -- and she happily switched gears to stay home and raise me, along with my two little sisters.
I think that back then, women didn't torture themselves so much over career choices, or whether to stay home. I kind of envy her that. My mom threw herself into her role as mother, wife, sister-in-law, friend to many, champion tennis and bridge player, volunteer, and community leader. Yes, she was lucky… and I think she knew it.
But really, we were the lucky ones. My sisters and I enjoyed a happy, secure childhood, always knowing that Mom loved us and supported our choices and dreams. She guided us as we grew into irritable teens and brash young adults, celebrating with us in our triumphs, and consoling us in our failures. She taught us, by example, how to forgive. She showed us how to love, without expecting anything in return. And she taught all of us how to host a kick-butt party.
But we aren’t the only members of Mimi’s fan club. See, my mom has one of those personalities that draws you in, and includes you in her radiant warmth. Not surprisingly, she and my dad have a vast network of close, dear friends, all cultivated the old-fashioned way – no online social networking necessary. All the more amazing is that in a week’s time, she’s had more than 500 visits to her CaringBridge website, with hundreds of loving messages, prayers and well wishes.
In the words of one of those friends: “Like always, you make us all feel like we're part of the family. How lucky we are!”
Given all I know about her, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at how my mom has handled this latest detour, after six years cancer-free. All the uncertainty, the worry, the waiting – for pathology results, for an appointment, for a diagnosis – it would have killed most of us before the cancer did.
But Mimi is a master at compartmentalizing. You make your plan, and draw a box around what you can deal with at this moment. And then you do it. You don’t waste too much energy worrying about the things that are out of your control. Not a bad life philosophy, even if we used to tease her about sticking her head in the sand.
The only time my mom showed any cracks in her armor was in the last couple of days before surgery… and even then, she didn’t sit around moping for long. She made plans – for her grandson's upcoming birthday, for my sister's impending cross-country move. And for my dad, in case she didn’t make it.
He later told me her last requests: 1.) Hire a cleaning service (because he “just doesn’t see” the dirt the way she does); and 2.) Don’t marry anyone too young, because “the girls would HATE that.”
Just before they wheeled her away in her special heated hospital gown, she said, “Today begins my recovery.”
I hope that when I’m facing my life’s next big detour, I can muster the strength to face it like my mom. And I hope you can, too.