My mom says when I was five or so we got some mail that was addressed to my dad and I said, "How come it came here?"
"Because your dad used to live here."
They had separated when I was three and my mom said it never really phased me, because I wasn't used to having him around much. The reason it never really phased me is actually because of my mom. She provided a structure to my life and filled it so much that it didn't need anything or anyone else in it but the community of people she knew were good for me. I had friends, I had her, I had an older brother that was my only enemy, as all good siblings are. This ghost of a father figure could be just that to me. He didn't have to be something that was real and could hurt me.
I bring this up as an example of how lucky I am. I've lived a privileged life, almost solely because of one person. She raised my brother and me with only the emotional support of her sisters, who lived in other states. She didn't have a community to lean on, as she was a transplant to Utah and had trouble blending in with the dominant culture. But she understood that Utah had its benefits too. Utah provided a somewhat sheltered place for her children to grow up--it was clean, had good schools, and kids with strong values--even if those values didn't exactly match her own. I thrived in this environment.
As I grew up, there were more challenges, and I began to comprehend them as such, yet I never felt threatened by those challenges because I was always sure of one thing--that my mother would sort it all out. Yet It is only as an adult that I have truly begun to understand how gracefully she met and handled each obstacle. When my brother was sick in the hospital for a few weeks and she chose to be at his bedside day and night, there was no one to look after me. She worked it out with a friend's parent to take me for the couple of weeks and presented it to me as an extended sleepover. I was smart enough to know it was done out of necessity, but I wasn't smart enough to figure out that my father had told her that he wouldn't take me. She presented it like it would be more fun for me to stay with Claire than with my dad. Once my brother was home from the hospital, we baked a cake from a box as a thank you to Claire and her family and Claire's mom kept asking us for the recipe. We both giggled over our "family recipe" and kept saying, "Oh yes, we'll have to write that down for you." I was always fine; it was always fine.
When she had to go to work in Des Moines, Iowa for months at a time and had to get a live-in nanny for us, I know now that it broke her heart. But I was still fine. I talked to her every morning before school, like always. I had a note from her in my lunch every day--lunches she made ahead of time for the whole week. And then she and I would talk for an hour or so every night and I would do my homework and watch a movie and talk to her right before I went to bed. And I was fine and it was fine.
These were the challenges, and I was always fine. Through the good times, I was excellent. I was a lucky girl and I am a lucky woman that I have such a shining example of strength and altruism in my life.
When she called to tell me she had Ovarian Cancer, I actually did the whole knees buckle, fall to the kitchen floor thing. Because this was the one thing I knew that might make me not be fine.
It's been almost three years of us fighting this damned disease, and she has handled it the same way she has handled every challenge in her life--mostly alone, with the support of her sisters and a couple close friends, and with me and my brother living it with her. Me, mostly through phone calls every day. We live in hope and in faith and in courage and in strength. We have each other and we have this day, and that is all we've ever wanted.
I love you, Mom. Thanks for everything. Happy Mother's Day.