Gym Class Hero (Ode To My Mother)

Image courtesy of iStock.

“I’d be lost without her,” my friend lamented the other day.

She was talking about her mother.

It was a foreign sentiment to me–the earnest appreciation of the bond between mother and daughter. I suppose it’s because the relationship with my own mother has always been strained.

From an early age, I knew my mother was different from other moms. Around the same time, I believe she came to a similar realization about me; that I was not going to be the daughter she’d always imagined I’d be.

I think that’s when the distance between us began to grow. We have always been two extremely different people from two extremely different worlds. Throughout the years, I’ve lost count of the times and ways we’ve hurt each other; the months we’ve gone without speaking.

Today, the absence between us is as wide as it is far. It will never recede–something I accepted long ago. When I became a mother myself, it still wasn’t enough to bridge the gap we’d created over time and space.

But when push comes to shove, she’s always had my back.

GYM CLASS HERO

It was 1996 and I was in the eighth grade. Gym class had just ended and I was changing in the locker room with the rest of the girls from my class.

Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, one of the loudest and most aggressive girls in the class yelled out, “Rebecca smells!” and the room erupted in laughter.

For the record, this was probably the first and only time I’d ever experienced any form of “bullying”. By today’s standards, being called out for stinking up the place (which I did NOT, by the way) wouldn’t even register on the bullying scale.

While being made fun of in front of half the class by the girls who could afford new clothes and dance lessons wasn’t exactly high on my list of priorities, I got over it pretty quickly. Again, let’s not even call this bullying.

Let’s call it what it really is–kind of hilarious.

At least I thought so.

I remember casually mentioning the incident to my mother over supper that night, but thought nothing more of it the next day. Life resumed.

At least I thought it did.

Little did I know, while I was eating my lunch in the cafeteria the following afternoon, my mother was on a mission. After the lunchroom cleared out and the children were herded outside, something strange started happening.

One by one, they came up to me.

And one by one, they apologized.

“I’m sorry I laughed yesterday in the locker room.”

“She shouldn’t have said that to you for no reason.”

“I apologize for saying that you smell, I won’t do it again.”

It was a very confusing time.

Don’t Mess With My Child

I never found out exactly what she did, or how she did it.

Did she spend the night calling around to a handful of eighth grade moms, demanding an apology from their daughters?

Did she march down to the schoolyard that morning to meet with the gym teacher?

Did she somehow manage to personally track down and confront each and every one of those girls?

Furious and mortified beyond belief, I refused to speak to her for days. My life was over. How dare she embarrass me like that! I didn’t need my mommy to fight my battles. This wasn’t even a battle!

But that’s the thing. She wanted to fight for me, even if I didn’t want to fight for myself.

And whether she knew by doing what she did, she would make my life a lot worse, I eventually came to understand that it came from a place of love. Despite our differences, at the end of the day, she was just a mom, standing in front of a gobsmacked preteen girl, asking her not to bully her child.

So happy Mother’s Day, mom.

We may not always see eye to eye, but you’ll always be my gym class hero.

Three Mugs

This past Christmas, we surprised the grandparents with the announcement of a new baby on the way.

I came up with the idea of sharing the news via personalized mugs, each containing an ultrasound photo. I bought the mugs, and I printed the photos. I carefully wrapped each mug in colourful Christmas cheer, and presented it to each of them on Christmas Day.

It went off without a hitch.

There was joy, and there were tears.

There were only three mugs.

five years

Five years ago today, my father passed away. It’s been 1,826 days, and I still don’t talk about him much. I’ve written more words down than I’ve ever said aloud, and that suits me just fine.

I still think about him, though.

Mostly, I think about what he’s missed, what he’s missing, and what he will continue to miss as my life — and all of our lives — continue on. I think about my anger surrounding his illness and death, and yes, I still curse to high hell the grief that just never seems to subside.

As I lined up those three mugs on Christmas Day, I felt robbed and empty and gutted, but nobody could know. Especially not my mother, whose solitary Nana mug stood bravely in obvious isolation to those of her co-grandparent counterparts.

Robbed because he’ll never get to meet my sons.

Empty because he never got to see me become a mom.

Gutted because I know he would have loved my kids more than anything in this world, and he never got the chance.

But when I became a mom, I spent some time reflecting on being a part of the Dead Dads Club as a parent. Here are my top three pieces of advice to fellow club members with little ones, or little ones on the way:

1. Stop feeling let down by good things.

Creatively revealing my pregnancy to my mother and in-laws over the holidays should have been fun, but it just ended up feeling insincere and forced. I felt like a giant, phony ball of excitement as I plastered on a fake smile, waiting for their reaction. I was too focused on who wasn’t there, and not focused enough on who was. I ignored their joy, and focused on my misery instead. So if you’re standing where I am right now, stop looking through each one of life’s milestones with grief coloured glasses. You can’t go back. You can only keep living your life. The good things — I mean the really good things — don’t come around very often. Cherish them.

2. It’s okay to feel cheated.

I hate that my dad never got to see me become a mom, but what hurts even more is my sons won’t grow up to know him. I got 29 years with him, but all they’ll get are faded photographs and grainy, 80s-era home movies. But that’s life, and life isn’t fair. It’s a sobering reminder, and it’s helped me to appreciate what I do have a lot more. Yes, I’ve been robbed. But I’ve also been blessed. See #3.

3. Remember that they’re still here, in a way.

Though I’ll never again hear his voice, see his face, or surprise him at the holidays, my dad is still here, in a way. I get to see him every day. No, he didn’t get a mug this past Christmas — but he got something that nobody else did. Something infinitely more valuable.

He got his smile.

And nobody — even death — can take that away from him.