It may be fitting, or perhaps just bitterly ironic, that my postings fall on Sundays, and therefore Mother’s Day this week. Before you start to criticize or lament Rene’s choice to leave me on the Sunday schedule for a day focused on and celebrating moms, let me just state that it’s possible I may be perfectly suited to discuss this day.
Your mom gave you so much more than just life; a good mom shows you how to live. I know, that sounds cheesy and I’m already blushing a little from writing it, but I stand by the statement. Why? Because the influence my wife and my mother had on my children was most clearly evident to me the day I lost my beautiful Andrea. The worst thing I have ever – EVER – had to do in my life was to come home to those four, amazing kids and tell them that Andrea had died. It should have been the darkest day of our lives – and it was – but there were tiny, embers of hope, and they didn’t come from me.
My son, Noah, came up just a couple hours after he lost his mom and said, “Dad, can I tell you something?” When I asked what he needed, he looked up at me, his dark blue eyes glistening, and I could tell he’d been thinking about something since we all scattered to our own personal grief some hours before. As he screwed up the courage to tell me what he wanted, he started to clench his fists and tears started to slowly stream out of the corners of his eyes and down his cheeks.
“It’s okay, Dad,” he said, struggling to get the words out. “I wish Mommy was still here, but she gets the biggest part in our hearts . . . because without moms there wouldn’t be any people. Without moms, we wouldn’t know about life, so she gets the biggest part of my heart and I know she’ll always be with me.”
I leaned down and he put his arms around my neck, and squeezed very tight.
“But I’m still going to miss her,” he said.
I hadn’t taught him that. I hadn’t even broached the subject before, but as the tears slowly streamed down his face, I knew Andrea’s thoughts, love, and faith had influenced him. Like his mother, who spent more time caring for all of us than for herself, he just wanted to make me feel better. I was torn to shreds and here was this little person, who perhaps lost far more than I did, telling me it was OK. That was his mom’s influence, not mine.
We also had another bit of support: my mom. A couple days before Andrea died, she took a horrible turn, ending up in respiratory arrest. At 2:30 in the morning, I was speeding down the freeway to get to the hospital, rain pelting the road and my windshield. Hyperventilating, I called my parents’ cell phone because they were on a trip from Nebraska to Texas to visit my brother and had stopped halfway at a motel in Oklahoma. I spoke to my mom first. My two brothers and I, we’re Midwestern, pseudo-strong boys. We hardly ever break down, cry, none of it. It’s not that we’re not emotional, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with crying, we’re just not wired that way. (Well, at least I wasn’t until last year). As a result, when my mom hears us break down, it affects her horribly, and she can’t stand to hear us hurt. I tried to hold it together, but this night I couldn’t. I lost it and was a mess. I was gasping for air and crying on the phone and my mom, after saying, “Oh, my God, David . . . “ said they’d help me figure it out. She handed the phone to my dad, but it wasn’t because she was passing the buck. She immediately got dressed, packed their suitcases in the middle of their motel room in Norman, Oklahoma, at 4am Central time. As my Dad calmed me down, I heard her shuffling around as she shouted, “Tell him we’re on the way!”
It was that simple; no thought, no hesitation. They got on the freeway and started driving west. Two days later, literally an hour after I had told my children that their mom had passed, my mom walked in the door, took us all in her arms, and took care of us. She immediately assessed the situation and began working on a routine that we continue today. It was at this point I realized that all the basics, my tools for life, I had learned whether I knew it or not. Cook, clean, change diapers, fix bottles, everything that has been necessary to raise four kids came from my mom, only I never realized it. I became an involved, loving father after the example I was given.
This month has taught me so very much about what motherhood means – particularly because I can see, beyond the basics, the deficiencies of my own parenting. By the time you read this, my oldest daughter will have had her junior prom. This wasn’t an easy time for either of us. My daughter’s dilemma with trying to get a date for the prom weighed very heavily on her. My social interactions with the opposite sex were poor at best. As A result, my advice for a girl, knowing I’ve never had a woman’s perspective – not even a sister in our house – was pathetic.
When I thought I’d done such an amazing thing by getting her a beautiful designer dress (with money I’d been saving for guitar parts . . . but totally worth it!), I hadn’t taken her figure, her boobs, or the work it would entail into account. I had to figure out how to get a tailor; had to help find a body suit or strapless bra (and question why, even a large cup-size was padded and lifting?), everything prom entails. I was scrambling for ways to end the, “bad cleavage” only to be shot down at every turn by my daughter.
“I’m sorry,” was all I could muster, and I meant it. “I don’t know what I’m doing, kiddo, I’m just throwing out things I hope will work.”
“That’s okay,” was Abbi’s response. “I’m learning about it all as I go. Mom had to do it; so will I.”
She’s so right, too. Andrea had grown up that girly-girl. She wanted the fairy tale and the happily ever after. She had a Mom who hated to talk about sex, life, boobs, private parts, men, relationships, all of it. She often talked of the problems she’d had because of it, thinking that she had to “snare a guy” rather than simply meet and fall in love. It caught her by surprise when she did and she was constantly saying how she wanted better for our kids.
My middle daughter had her first period and was so scared to even tell me. I made it a point, even if I have any amount of consternation or hesitation, to let her know that I understand. It’s part of life, part of becoming a woman. But at the end of the day, she told her older sister and tried to avoid me most of the day. All I could do was give her some medicine for her cramps and tell her I understood and that this is what worked best for her mom. She needed her mom to be there – not to make it some big, massive,“rite of passage” and call it her “path to becoming a woman” (something her mother and her both hate – because Andrea’s mom kept calling it that) but to tell her it’s natural. Her sister filled some of the gap, but at the end of the day, it’s still not her mom.
I try to be the understanding, calming, caregiver they need, but where their mom would be a nurse or caregiver, I must seem more medic: they’re battle wounds that need fixing and thrown back into the fray. At the end of the day, nothing replaces the softness, the gentle comfort of your mom.
So it must seem that we’re just . . . well . . . screwed, right?
The reason is that we did have her, even if it was just a very short time. We remember her and we celebrate her not just on May 13th, but every single day. Our story is incomplete, but like an incomplete Shakespeare play, we have the template written by her and our outside influences. When my son comes to me with such faith and love on the worst day of his short life, it seems the template is a good foundation. Andrea loved being a mom and loved her kids more than anything. She’d forego buying things for herself so that her kids would have more. She showed us what being a mom is all about. She showed us in how she treated us.
Do you think about what your life would have been like if you hadn’t had your mom? Could you have the courage of Noah to hold her in the largest piece of your heart? Or will you buy a card with someone elses’ sentiment on it simply to do your duty? Remember, for us, that she’s your mom. For good or ill, she’s given you the outline of your story. It’s up to you to figure out where the story goes from here.
Happy Mother’s Day to the mom’s out there!
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Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.