She passed away less than three months later of pancreatic cancer. She only started showing signs of that illness shortly after we returned home to Australia from that vacation. It was only six weeks after her diagnosis that she was gone. May 3rd, 2005 was the last day I saw her alive.
My mother remains my guiding light. Whenever I feel lost and in need of comfort and direction, I look to her and the lessons she taught me. I have a purple blanket that she gave me on Christmas that remains with me to this day. When I stayed at my friend’s place, waiting for a court hearing, I brought that blanket with me to comfort me. I keep it on my bed now.
I still connect with my mother through the music she enjoyed. This year I went to see Beautiful -- The Carole King Musical because she was a fan of Carole King (and oh was it an excellent musical, as well as something I felt like I could identify with at the time). I went to see Elton John on his farewell tour in San Francisco because she was a fan. And while I was dealing with the early stages of separation from my husband, I purchased a ticket to see Celine Dion in Oakland next year, which coincidentally falls on the day after my wedding anniversary (which I obviously won’t be celebrating). She had two Celine Dion albums, as well as the Titanic soundtrack. I played “My Heart Will Go On” at her funeral, and now associate that as my goodbye song to her. These are all artists she got albums from her monthly mail-order CD membership.
My mother was a role model, and not just to me. She was a pioneer for women in engineering. When she studied civil engineering, not only was she the only woman in her class, but she was also the top of her class. When she died, the mining company she worked for and the university she studied at created a scholarship in her name for women studying engineering.
With a “can-do” and “take no shit from anyone” attitude, my mother accomplished a lot in her life. She was the sole breadwinner for much of my childhood, especially after she separated from my dad, which is the situation I’m living in right now. Knowing she was able to do that pushes me onwards to believe that I can too.
I was taught the importance of family. In my childhood, because my parents are from the USA, she took my siblings and me on three family vacations to the US to visit our extended family. So in 2017, after spending so much time focusing on my husband’s family visits, I finally said “enough.” I had lived in California three years by that point and hadn’t seen any of my family during that time (nor, in fact, since 2007 or longer). So I didn’t bother with my husband’s availability and embarked on a three week road trip with my two kids from California to visit my family in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Texas.
Raising my kids right remains my number one priority, and the lessons I share with my kids came from what my mother taught me.
#1 Respect women. They are not your slaves, and are entitled to their own lives beyond being caregivers/cooking meals/doing chores for you. Yes, they can do these things, but you do not get to force them to do it, and it is not all they can do.
#2 Pursue your dreams. How can I teach my kids they have the power to achieve their goals if I don’t model that for them? They get to see that I’ve published books and I go out to perform on stage and travel to festivals because I pursue my goals. My mother didn’t let the world hold her back from being an engineer when she wanted to do that, so I damn well want to do my best to not let the world hold me or my kids back from pursuing our goals either.
#3 Respect your body and the people around you. This includes consent. Teaching my kids to say “No” when someone tries to get them to do something they don’t want to do and accepting “No” when someone doesn’t want to do something they want to do with them. This includes teaching them that cigarettes are not healthy (my twelve year old gets anxious even seeing cigarette lighters) and it’s not really a great idea to use drugs, legal or not. So far I’ve mostly shielded them from the awareness that their father smokes marijuana now, and uses other drugs on occasion like LSD, mushrooms, and ecstasy. But it’s a challenge when one of the women he brings over will smoke both cigarettes and marijuana on our property. I didn’t give in to peer pressure around drugs and cigarettes when I was in high school thanks to the conversations my parents had with me. So when my eldest expresses his concern that he might, I remind him that the fact he is concerned about it is why I don’t worry that he will.
#4 Have empathy for others around you. You don’t know what’s going on in their lives. This comes mostly from my Catholic upbringing, even though I am no longer religious. The importance of Jesus’ teachings, with love your fellow man and don’t judge others. Help, don’t hurt.
#5 Hard work makes a difference. And you need to do it for yourself. Now, granted, my mother didn’t really teach me the second half of this - I tried to work hard to make her proud. But that, I think, prevented me from pursuing things I wanted to achieve sometimes. So I learned instead to teach my kids to be proud of themselves for their achievements, rather than achieving things just to make me proud. I am proud of what they’ve accomplished, but they shouldn’t work hard just for me.
My kids are incredible. My twelve-year-old - he’s so smart that when he finished fourth grade, he moved up to a split fifth/sixth grade education, and the following year he went directly into seventh grade. He’s now in eighth grade, the current President of the Student Council, founder of the school’s Chess Club, and shows a lot of self-discipline and empathy for other students. His vocabulary is at college level and he reads at the level of an eleventh-grader. My nine-year-old is in fourth grade and currently on track for following in his brother’s footsteps of skipping a grade. He’s autistic, but has accommodations that has allowed him to thrive in the school community, and I’ve been involved in his classroom as a result of his 504 Plan that deals with his ASD accommodations. For the last three years, his class has been excited to have me come in every few months to teach improv games with them. My involvement in their lives has allowed them to thrive.
When my mother was sick from her cancer, I asked her what she wished she could have done in her life. She said the only thing she wished she could have lived for was to meet her grandchildren. Though she passed away less than two years before my eldest was born, I know she would’ve been very proud of my kids.
I like to think my mother is still around, watching over them. When my kids were a lot younger, there were times I’d catch them staring at nothing in particular, or they’d make comments that would make me think my mother’s spirit was present.