My mother and I have a very “unique” relationship. I love my mother, unwaveringly, without question or exception. And I know that my mother loves me, unwaveringly, without question or exception. That said, we don’t particularly like each other. She’s rediscovered God, and I’m a foul-mouthed atheist who deserted the family to join the Army, then deserted them again to pursue the go-nowhere career of professional writing. But even with all of that, I know that when push comes to shove that my mother will be the one person who will always be there for me.
In fact, in almost every measurable respect, my mother is my hero.
My mom raised my younger brother and I, by herself, in a dinky two-bedroom trailer home just outside of Mount Morris, Michigan, a suburb of Flint about an hour north of Detroit (which I claim as my stomping grounds because I spent my formative years there and, well, it’s just easier to say “Detroit” when people ask me where I’m from). When I was growing up there, Mount Morris was a white-collar town. You went to church every Sunday, you voted Republican, and you either worked as a school teacher or you took I-475 into Flint and worked the assembly line at Buick City.
My family had the distinction of being the poor family in town. My mother, legally blind since the age of fourteen, couldn’t work. Hell, she couldn’t even drive. So growing up we relied heavily on disability checks each month, as well as the kindness of family friends to make sure that she could go to and from the grocery store to pick up food and pay bills, back when you could pay your phone, electric, and cable bill at your local grocery store. As if the deck wasn’t stacked against her enough as it was, my brother was diagnosed as being severely autistic and therefore required full-time care. With no father in the picture it fell heavily on my mom and my grandparents, who moved into the same trailer park so that they could keep an eye on us.
Although my mother couldn’t work, she still had a full-time job. She was raising two young boys, one of whom needed constant supervision so he didn’t get his mouth stuck on the bathtub faucet (true story), practically by herself. My grandparents helped when they could, and after my grandpa died my grandmother basically moved in with us for about three years before her health went south and she was put in a hospice home. My grandmother died in 1995, leaving my mother all alone to raise my brother and I.
I was eight.
In the weeks after my grandma’s passing, my mother started to slow down. She wasn’t eating a whole lot, and sleeping almost all the time. My mother’s friends thought she was taking my grandma’s death particularly hard. I, naively, thought she was just tired and needed a vacation like all of those parents have in those silly Direct-to-Video live-action Disney movies.
Then she nearly died.
It was a picture-perfect late-spring afternoon and I was coming home from school. Now when I’d come home from school, every day, my mother would greet me at the front door. She would tell me what she was making for dinner, and remind me that I wasn’t allowed to play “that dang Nintendo” (JBJ NOTE: It was a SEGA Genesis) until I had eaten and finished my homework. It happened every day, rain or shine, without fail.
But on that idyllic May afternoon, it was different. My mother wasn’t there to greet me at the door, and there was no dinner being made. The television was turned on to The People’s Court, and a person was lying unconscious on the living room floor while my little brother sat on the floor next to them, waling inconsolably. I didn’t recognize who the person was at first. I thought that maybe we had been robbed and my mom had gone to fetch my neighbor or call the police. But as I put my ragged Power Rangers backpack down and walked over, the cold hand of realization crept up my spine and squeezed my brain.
That was my mother, and she was not waking up.
I panicked. I cried. I ran to my neighbor’s house, begging them to help. “Mom’s dead! Mom’s dead,” I screamed as tears streaked my cheeks. It was the first time in my life that I felt true fear.
The good news is eight-year-old me was wrong! Unfortunately, I wasn’t wrong by very much. It turned out that my mother had developed a very rare form of kidney cancer which resulted in the growing of a tumor the size of a softball on one of her kidneys. Her prognosis was grim. Her doctors advised that my uncles say their goodbyes. My brother and I were brought in to see her, and she told us that she may be going away for a while but that no matter what, we’d see her again. I found out some time later that a priest had administered last rite to her in preparation for the end. There was just one problem.
My mother is stubborn. It’s where I get it from. She fought, and over the next three months she made a slow and steady recovery. During her stay in the hospital my brother and I were put into the care of a woman named Judi; a physically and psychologically abusive alcoholic who put my brother and I through utter hell. My extended family didn’t know, of course, and luckily she grew bored and offloaded us on another couple of family friends. They were lovely people, and to this day I feel bad for feeding their son’s Super Nintendo a peanut butter & jelly sandwich (long story). But they couldn’t compete with my mom, and when she was released I could not wait to go home.
Things were never the same, though. Looking back, I don’t see how I could have ever expected them to be. She was home, sure, but she was still undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which completely obliterated her immune system. She was sick all the time, spending most of her days laying on the couch – though she’d still will herself the strength to take care of her two kids. When school started back up, I didn’t go very much. I’d stay home for days at a time to take care of her and the house. She did recover, physically, but the stress of taking care of two boys, one autistic, on top of losing both parents in just under three years and nearly dying herself… it wore on her. My mother was never quite the same after all of that, though her commitment to her children’s health and happiness never wavered.
So why am I telling you all of this?
Because my mother is the greatest human being I have ever known.
She sacrificed so much of herself for my brother and I. When the summer storms would rage outside and I couldn’t sleep, she’d stay up and play Sonic the Hedgehog with me despite not being able to see a damn thing half the time. When I would come home from school, bruised and weeping from being picked on for being the “poor kid,” with my plaid flannel shirts and Moe Howard haircut that my mom (my legally blind mom) insisted on doing herself because it’d save a few much-needed dollars, she would remind me of the importance of keeping my chin up. “They may make fun of you,” she’d tell me. “But they can never take away from you.”
My mother stayed home to take care of us, even when she knew she was seriously ill. My mother made sure that my brother and I didn’t go hungry, although she did more than a few times.
My mother marched through hellfire for my brother and I, and not for one moment did she ever complain or let us see the toll I now know it took on her.
For those reasons and a million more, my mom is my superhero.
And someday your child(ren) will feel the same way about you.
Happy Mother’s Day.