Though my mom is the woman I talk to most in my life, she’s probably one of the people I write about least. She likely prefers it that way, since she hung a quote from Philip Roth in my room a few years ago that reads: “When a writer is born into a family that family is finished.”
But Sunday is Mother’s Day so I thought it might be nice to introduce her a little bit more to you. Because it just so happens I am the offspring of a pretty fascinating lady.
Some of you may know her from when she came down to ride the Tour de London several years ago. For those who don’t remember the Tour de London, suffice it to say it was 42 miles of Hard. But my mom hauled down her heavy hybrid bicycle from Winnipeg and was bound and determined to get through the ride — despite having never ridden on hills, despite having only rarely experienced 95-degree heat. Except for the last two miles, at age 60, she made it through, arriving with her plaid baseball cap slightly askew.
“Plucky” would be one word to describe my mom. And while she was on that ride, she met about a dozen people. While I plugged along, a lone rider in a sea of cornfields, my mom made friends — whether that meant people on the side of the road watching the race or other people on the ride.
That night, after we went out for a celebratory dinner, she ran into one of her new friends, who was likewise celebrating, and had a cheerful chat with her. “Americans are so friendly,” she said upon her return, exhaling happily. “I just love Kentucky.”
My mom grew up in a little French-Canadian town right outside of Winnipeg called St. Norbert. She is the youngest of five siblings who have a penchant for laughing when things are good and throwing axes at each other when things are not. She went to a Catholic school where she hated all the nuns. She wore her hair short and her mini skirts even shorter. She bought a convertible Fiat and sometimes wore a wig. She went to Europe by herself.
In her early 20s, she went to Montreal, where most of her family had moved, but came back to Winnipeg to be with my dad. Together, they managed to find the cool areas in a city not necessarily known for its cool factor. They lived in an apartment on Dorchester Avenue, a street that, interestingly, she lives on again. She had a dog named Alex.
When she had children, I know things changed for my mom. But she was able to navigate and keep her identity. Though she found herself deep in a suburb so suburban it wasn’t even part of the city and in a marriage that, mostly, wasn’t a very good one, she got through by making friends and getting together with them for coffee, wine and, probably, a few cigarettes. My mom has always had a killer body and I remember long afternoons swimming in my best friend Kristin’s kidney-shaped pool while my mom and Kristin’s mom Jocelyn lounged in their bathing suits. My mom’s was always a shiny, usually one piece, but she could get away with a bikini if she wanted to. What she and Jocelyn would have done if Kristin or I ever started drowning in the pool is anyone’s guess, since they are both deathly afraid of water. Still, she was always there watching and, to this day, when Matthew and I come home to visit, she often can’t fall asleep until we get home.
When I was 7, she went back to work — in part so our family would have extra money to travel, which she has always deeply valued — and quickly earned a reputation for being a pretty dresser. I remember one coat in particular: a snow white lamb’s wool jacket whose shaggy coat sprung out in crimped curly-cues. Even in the ‘80s, you had to have attitude to pull off that jacket and my mom, she really did. I always liked to put it on, the inner silk lining so soft and the neckline always smelling of her Clinique perfume.
I wouldn’t say my mom was a laid-back mom — “Don’t be lippy with me,” “Don’t grow up too fast,” and “Did you mean to say can I have more some milk, please?” were some of the mantras of my childhood. But I knew I could always tell her anything and get some good, solid advice in return.
In fact, giving advice is probably one of my mom’s best attributes and that’s partly why she has so many friends. She listens loyally and then helps break things down so that whatever seems huge and overwhelming at first gets smaller and more manageable. Especially over this hard winter, I’ve leaned on that. My mom has never faltered in staying positive and, even when things got so bad with William’s illness she just had nothing left to say, she just stood there — because of course she flew down to be with us — and rubbed my hair.
So for this Mother’s Day, here’s to you, Mom. You’re an incredible woman, and I learn lessons from you every day. I love you to bits.