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  • Three Belated Mother's Day Stories

    Three belated stories from Mother’s Day:

    My mom’s mom died a week after her daughter was born prematurely some 77 years ago. Soon after, my grandfather joined the Navy and sent my mother to live with her grandparents in West Texas. While he was in the Pacific, both of mom’s grandparents passed away within a week of each other; she only saw her father a handful of times in the first five years of her life. And when he returned, it was with a new wife — a person devoid of almost all maternal instinct — in tow.

    Tragedy and loss are things my mom knew intimately before she could recall all the details, although her memory always has been sharp and specific, as has her tongue at times. My parents had a great love story that was not hindered or halted by my dad’s illness that consumed much of the last 34 years of their 43-year marriage.

    More than anything, my mom is a survivor who somehow has maintained her generosity of spirit. She gives a lot and asks for little in return. We agree to disagree on a lot, especially today’s politics, but what I admire most about both of my parents is they never told me what or how to think. They let me figure it out on my own.

    This past weekend, my mom was honored for her 50 years of membership in Alpha Delta Kappa, an international honorary organization for women educators that promotes excellence in the profession while embarking on a host of community-based altruistic projects. Because of graduation-related events here, I could not attend the surprise party on Saturday that drew teachers and retirees from all over the state of Texas.

    I called mom Sunday to wish her “Happy Mother’s Day” and to see how the ADK event went. She was getting ready — or fixin’, as she says — to go to a birthday party for her 4-year-old great grandson. She was genuinely surprised (hard to do with her) and touched by the outpouring she had received.

    No one I know is more deserving of such an honor. ADK has been part of her life for all but four years of my life, and I know how much it has meant to my mom. I hope she knows how much she means to all of us.

    ••••••

    Two weeks ago, our daughter Emma graduated from college. On Saturday, our niece Margaret graduated from American University.

    On Mother's Day, Jill and Margaret's mom Jennifer threw a graduation party for the two on a rainy afternoon in D.C. All of the family, plus significant others, a couple of the extendeds and a number of friends, joined in the celebration.

    As moms are wont to do, Jennifer and Jill went above and beyond for the event. The party was a huge success and a great way to congratulate both girls, the last of the six first cousins to cross the threshold into adulthood.

    Congratulations again to Margaret and Emma, and here's a shout out to the women who raised them (and the others as well).

    ••••••

    On Sunday morning, I went to get Jill coffee and breakfast as a small Mother's Day token. Because the D.C. weather has decided to take on Seattle/London characteristics — we beat a record for the most rain over a 365-day period this past week — the four-block walk required a raincoat and a quicker than usual pace.

    En route, I saw a homeless woman sitting in one of the narrow gaps between the buildings on King Street. She's a familiar face around here; you can often see her sitting on one of the benches, talking to people we think of as imagined but who seem real to her in that moment.

    Standing in the Starbucks line, I thought of my mom's altruistic work with ADK and Emma's insistence on giving her hard-earned money to those who are homeless or less fortunate. So I bought an extra coffee and croissant and gave it to the homeless woman as she sat in the rain.

    "Happy Mother's Day," I said.

    "Same to you," she replied. "God bless you."

    I have no idea whether she is or was a mom to someone. All I know is that she is someone's child. And none of God's children should ever go hungry, especially if they are looking for a dry place to sit on Mother's Day.

  • Happy Birthday, Mom!

    A very happy birthday to the lady on the far left, the person we affectionately call Mom, Grandmom, and Grandmommy. Still smart and full of, um, sass, we love you!

  • Happy Birthday, Mom!

    This is one of my favorite photos for a number of reasons, but the reason I'm reposting it today is to wish my mom, Olivia Cook, the happiest of birthdays. She is a feisty, fiery person who cares deeply about her family, including each (now numbering in the double digits) of her "grands." 

    We love you, Mom/Grandmom!

  • Happy 75, Mom!

    "So my Mom turns 75 today. Not sure how that happened, because she always says she was just so young when she had me."

    Pause. Punchline. Followed by, "Of course, calling your mom a liar in public is not polite."

    She's not really fibbing. Mom and dad were 23 and 24 when they had me. But this is the type of humor we share, a back and forth that has been a never-ending game of ping pong for years.

    I wish I could put into words the influence my mom has had on me. Perhaps the best way is to describe her as "my first, best teacher," who has shared her talent with countless school children, friends, and family for her entire life.

    I love you, Mom. Happy birthday. And may the ribbing continue for a long, long time.

  • Texas: Adventure and Tragedy

    The Austin run of Billy Elliot started on December 11, with Ben scheduled to perform on his 15th birthday with my mom and several of her friends in attendance. That meant I had to get on an early morning plane after seeing Emma — I can’t miss seeing my twins on their birthday, even if they are in separate states — off to school.

    Little did I know that my time in Texas would be such an experience, or that it would be extended by several days due to a family tragedy.

    Here’s a rundown of what happened on the trip:

    • Dec. 11: Made it to Austin and was greeted by a traffic jam that would make my NOVA and NYC friends blush. And in this case, size did matter. I barely made it to the theater in time to give Ben a birthday hug before his call, then bought my sixth-grade English teacher a beer this evening before the show. Bid a fond farewell to yet another childhood myth. After the show, we had a cake for the boy that my mom bought in the hotel bar.

    • Dec. 12: Touring the state capitol with Mom, Ben, and Ginno. Really a fascinating place.

    • Dec. 13: Media day with stops at four TV stations and my favorite Austin music station. That was cool… Meanwhile, back home, Jill had to go to North Carolina where her Aunt Sybil was buried after a long illness. Thoughts go out to the McFarland and Mercer families.

    • Dec. 14: Had a terrific time watching Kylend Hetherington's final show and seeing Ben again as Michael (a sweet surprise and a wonderful performance by both boys).

    • Dec. 15: Tonight, the boy is on as Billy, with my mom, my sister and her family, my aunt and her friends, and several dear friends in the audience. But our thoughts are with the one who won’t be there. My second cousin, Kerry Bowman, was killed in a head-on collision while driving from Albany (a small town in West Texas) to Austin to see the show.

    • Dec. 17: After an emotional week, Mom and I are sending Ben and Ginno off to Baltimore and heading to West Texas for my cousin's funeral on Wednesday. Many thanks to everyone who expressed sympathy and concern. Also, we need prayers for Jill's ailing father, who also is in the hospital and in increasingly failing health.

    • Dec. 18: I’ve enjoyed crossing into West Texas with my mom over the past two days, taking pictures of small towns and sights along the way and learning more details about my roots. We drove through Baird, where she lived until she was almost 7, and made it to Albany for the visitation.

    My mom is always good with the one-liners. Example: “They have an antique credenza in there. You don't see that often in a Dairy Queen.

    Me: “Everyone is self-centered to a certain extent.” Mom: “That's called survival.” Smart woman...

    • Dec. 19: A beautiful service was held for my cousin Kerry this morning, one that focused on the positive with nostalgia, humor, and honor. And a few stories untold, I know... 

    That’s when I made the three-hour drive to Odessa, where my Texas adventure came to a close. Of course, I had to narrowly dodge a huge tumbleweed amid 40 mph winds on Interstate 20.

    The trip stayed interesting to the end, that’s for sure.

  • March Madness

    In our family, March is one of those months — like December — that makes me shake my head. Somehow, without help from the NCAA Tournament, we have managed to jam a year’s worth of madness into a single 31-day period we revisit every 12 months.

    From birth to marriage to death, our family has it all. And considering that we’re a theatrical bunch, we also have musicals, comedies, and dramas.

    The last week of the month is larded with psychological landmines, none more than March 27, the day of my parents’ wedding anniversary and the day in which my second “dad” died.

    Bill’s death, six years ago, fell on my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. It was not completely unexpected, because he had been in poor health for several months. What was unexpected was the chain of loss that would follow, with my father and second “mom” (Bill’s wife, Fran) and Jill’s mother dying in the next three years.

    This year, I was fortunate to be with my mom on March 27, doing something I would not have thought possible in 2004: Driving more than 600 miles in one day to see my son, Nicholas, in a play. (The reason we drove up and back was because she saw Ben in his show the next evening.)

    Although it was a long day, the trip was nice. We didn't focus on the past, but looked more at the present and future. And it's a bright future because my mom, thankfully, is in a good place now. For the first time in her life she is financially comfortable, and traveling as all people who worked for their entire lives should get to do.

    More important, she has rebounded spectacularly from a hellish year that no one should replicate, in which she lost her husband, her best friend of more than 40 years, another close friend, and the woman who raised her — all in a four-month period.

    The circle backs were in full swing on this day. We drove through Reidsville, where I lived when I moved from Texas to North Carolina, got a divorce, met Jill, had three children in a year, and saw the course of my life change forever. We were going to see Nicholas in “South Pacific,” a play I had seen only a few weeks earlier with Ben in New York, and one that tells the stories of servicemen and women similar to my grandfather’s.

    As it tends to do, our conversation meandered from topic to topic. No great revelations, no family ghosts looking for skeletons. The occasional nod to the past.

    Just a nice day.