We all have special women in our lives who make our world go around. For me, I’m lucky to have many. But there’s always been one special woman who made me who I am, and even though she’s been gone for almost 12 years it’s almost like she’s still with me because I still feel her influence in everything I do. My mom was a tour de force in my life, and I’m thankful to her for the solid path she set me on and the values she instilled in me, just by being herself.
When I was little and my parents divorced, my mom became a single mother of two, with one daughter almost out of high school and another in elementary school. She didn’t make much money and hadn’t really ever been on her own before. But she damn sure made it work.
In addition to her day job, my mom took on several part-time gigs before the gig economy was a thing. She stocked food in her spare time at Phar-Mor and Wal-Mart. She cleaned houses and businesses, among them a massage school, insurance agent’s office, even relatives’ homes. And we hosted garage sales. Tons of them. And with every part-time gig she had, I was there with her, learning about having a strong work ethic by watching and helping her. Those memories are some of the best I have from my childhood.
We’d cut open cardboard boxes filled with Bavarian pretzels, enchilada sauce, or Hanukkah candles, and place the products neatly on the grocery store shelves. After a hard night’s work, we’d grab dinner at home, or for a special treat, get McDonald’s ice cream cones. God, I miss her when I think of these memories. We’d laugh and our hands would be so dry from the boxes, but damn we worked hard.
The next week we’d fill our cleaning buckets with supplies and drive over to our client’s house or business. She’d start in one room and I’d start in another, and we’d meet in the middle. We’d blast music to pass the time. I didn’t mind helping, and in fact I looked forward to spending these days with my mom. It made us closer, bonded us, and she taught me life lessons every time we went. I even began to look forward to our work adventures together, because I was spending time with my favorite person.
There’s another side to this, though – we knew we’d have dinner next week if we did these jobs together, so it never was really a question of whether I’d help or not. We weren’t dirt poor and I don’t mean to make it sound like that. But these jobs did provide extras – treats at fast food places, clothing, little vacations here and there. Also, they helped my mom build a sense of financial and personal security after her divorce from my father, something she needed to do on her own. She was a damn strong woman.
I also watched her grow personally during this time. I look back on our jobs together so fondly because I really got to know my mom during this time as so much more than just my mom. She became my superhero. I knew she was doing this for me, for us. I couldn’t have been happier to help or to be just like her. She was kind, and humble, and my everything. And she taught me how to be a strong woman.
People often credit my father for how strong I am. But honestly, it was my mom who made me this way. My dad had a strong personality, yes, but it was my mom who was strong. She had a resilience that I admired and wanted to emulate. She lived through an abusive marriage and came out the other side strong and only grew stronger by the year. I loved watching her, even from a daughter’s point-of-view, transform into the woman she became.
She emerged from her marriage and worked her ass off to eventually secure a solid part-time job that allowed her to have extra money for trips and buggering, so that she eventually could drop the gigs we did together. When my sister and I questioned why she still worked her part-time job, which she did until literally the day she died, she was resolute. She wanted the extra income and knew what it meant to her. Also, she enjoyed the camaraderie with her work friends, both at her main and part-time jobs. She knew who she was as a person and had figured out what she didn’t want in life. That’s something many of us grapple with, but yet I watched her figure this out. Perhaps that’s why in my own life I’ve never been afraid to end something if it wasn’t right, or to protect myself above all else. Those are things I learned from her.
When I asked her once if she ever wanted to marry or even date again, she told me she liked living alone and didn’t want a man to disrupt that. She’d be interested in dating, but on her own terms this time around, not how she’d done it in the past, even after her divorce. She told me she’d learned her lessons and enjoyed her independence and her friendships. She was happy in life. And I’m thankful for those conversations, because they instilled a great sense of pride in me, while teaching me it’s okay to be alone.
I can’t even remember all the little things she did for me to make my life special. She was my world, right up until the last moment we shared. So, on this International Women’s Day, I want to say thank you, Mom, for showing me by example how to be a strong, independent woman who can in turn love freely and have full, lasting relationships because you taught me to be a complete person on my own.
In turn, I’m asking my readers on this International Women’s Day, make a promise to yourself and the women in your life to make this the year you stand on your own. That you work to create your dream life, and you support your fellow woman. It’s important that we continue to learn from each other. Much like I learned how to be a woman from observing my mother, we can all learn how to be better humans from watching each other. Be the person the person you admire most would be proud of.
I know my mom would be proud of me today, and that’s what I want for all of you. She was my biggest supporter when it came to my writing, and I think she’d really dig Conjure. Without her, there would be no online magazine or me, really. No matter what it was, she always encouraged and showed me the way, from making sure I went to college to making sure I stayed and graduated, to making sure I did something with that degree. She bought me books on writing, and she just knew I’d write a book someday.
This one’s for you, Mom. I love you, and Happy International Women’s Day.