Fifty Things I Forgot to Thank My Mom For on Mother's Day

This has been the toughest post yet to try and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Especially approaching the first Mother's Day without my mom.

My mom who was one of my biggest fans passed away somewhat unexpectedly in February. Our mom was one of the last ones off the dance floor at her first grandchildren's wedding (Maya and Marco) in August. She suffered a massive stroke shortly thereafter in September. I say unexpectedly because we had the highest hopes that she'd recover and we'd have more weddings and holidays to spend with her.

Happy Mother's Day Mom












As a family, the adult children supported a plan of my sister Kim and her husband (Saint) Marc moving in to care for her as she'd lost almost all of her speech and had to go through extensive rehab to learn how to walk and eat again.

There were certainly moments of hope as short sentences and certainly her personality began to re-emerge from the fog of a stroke. Not that there were many unspoken words of love and gratitude but the new short lease on life gave her kids and grandkids the opportunity to share with her how much she meant to all of us. On her last day, we'd actually shown up for a "kids meeting" (you never stop being kids to your parents) to discuss next steps as it had become untenable to care for her at home despite 40 hours of weekday companion care we brought into the home. 

Grandma and her grandkids posse
On her last day, I was able to hold her hand and tell her again how much I loved her and how much she'd done in her life and for her grandchildren. She was the quintessential grandma who put kids and grandkids ahead of her own priorities. I sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to her as her hands had become cold and fingers started turning purple. The three local kids all spent the night knowing she was down to her last couple of days. It will take a long time for me to forget the painful screams that shot from her hospital bed in her bedroom up into the loft where my wife and I were sleeping when Kim realized she was gone.


I used the word "gift" quite a bit as I described the time near the end that we had with her--to tell her over and over how much we loved her. Despite those precious moments, a mere two months later, I am crying less frequently but felt there were a number of other thanks that I wasn't able to share. With that, the "Fifty Things I Forgot to Thank My Mom For." (The "1000 Things" version will be in my third unpublished book.)

1) Taking us to the movies when our Stepdad Bob was going to take us on one of his trips with extra seats in the corporate jet he flew for Stearns Rogers. The extra seats were filled by other execs at the last moment; thus we were bounced from the flight. Mom took us to the movies--I think it was a Bruce Lee Movie. She knew we were sad and she wanted to divert our pain to the dark air-conditioned theatre. 

2) Letting me move back home after college and again in my forties as I was going through a divorce.

Two things my mom loved, holidays and grandkids
3) Letting one of my boys and her granddaughter move in as young adults as a similar financial safety net.

4) In grade school, attaching a ski pass to my down jacket before going to school on Monday. We'd gone skiing that weekend but I'd put the pass on my ski pants. I wanted to show off  that I'd skied so she somehow reattached a pass. Years later I'd tell her the kids at school were onto the ruse as she'd tacked on an Adult lift ticket instead of a Youth ticket. #busted

5) Being there when I broke up with Ruth in high school, again when I broke up with Leslie in college and lent a crying shoulder when I divorced in 2000. She was always around to mend a broken heart.

6) Taking all my phone calls in my early twenties. We were close and spoke nearly every day. My mailbox was often met with birthday and holiday cards or letters. Later in life, she'd inevitably throw in a paper I wrote in grade school or an old white bordered Kodak photo.

7) Even though I never collected flamingos, my mom thought I did. For a period of time I'd get figurines, swizzle sticks and cocktail napkins all adorned with pink flamingos. We probably laughed about it but I thanked her for the sentiment. Please don't send me flamingos. I don't have anything against them--I just don't collect them.

"Dress Like a Johnson" day at Family Reunion
8) The Hawaiian shirt she bought me that hung in my closet that I never wore. Nobody put more thought into gift giving than my Mom. Not all of them "hit the mark," but love exuded from the time she took to try and find something special to give.

9) Taking me to see "Howard the Duck" in 1986. One of many horrible movies I talked her into including all of the "Planet of the Apes" movies. We both would later laugh as we should have walked out of the movie theatre as it was absolutely horrible.

10) All of the loaded station wagon trips hauling me and my brothers to football practices, games and as I discovered my love of art, many an art show in Jr. High and High School where I'd won a few awards.

11) Coming home from a trip from Virginia with my Dad (Tom) and Stepmother Ruth which was shortly after my parents divorced I found a special surprise.  Inside my bedroom was a ten-speed bike which would give me years of fun and transportation to school and to my first job as a dishwasher, (then busboy) at the Plankhouse Restaurant by the mall. My best friend Dave and I would trek up to the mall on our bikes to dig hangers out of dumpsters to turn around and sell them to the local dry cleaners for a penny a piece. (Dave jokes to this day, that I made him carry the "lions share" of the cargo.)

12) Lending a shoulder to cry on when I brought home a grades school photo that seemed to magnify my teeth as something between Chiclets or choppers on a donkey. I was convinced I'd never get a girlfriend. She was always a sympathetic mom especially during my "cruel" Jr. High years.

Grandma loved her grandkids
13) Building and lending to my early sense of style outfitting me (and my Brady Bunch siblings) with the coolest clothes to wear to school which included purple bell sleeves and a fringe leather vest. We were the "cool kids" at school--at least in grade school I thought we were.

14) Taking me to many embarrassing Dr. appointments like the time I was convinced around puberty that I had some kind of growth "downstairs." Dr. Schiff politely explained anatomy and that what I thought was certainly testicular cancer was normal development. There was a another such appointment I wrote then erased. Nobody wants to know where Dr. Schiff stuck his flashlight, but Mom held my hand throughout.

15) Making holidays super special as a kid that carried into my adulthood and as a parent. We would always look forward to Christmas, Halloween and 4th of July. A tradition I try and continue today.

16) Being one of my biggest fans with my run endeavors. She was a proud mother that would often talk about all of her kids' accomplishments including my five Boston Marathons.

17) Marrying my Stepdad Bob. Bob was an amazing provider and calm during the biggest life storms we would encounter. Bob and Marlene (my mom) put me through college and I have them to thank for the lucrative career I had in technology.

Our Beautiful Mom

18) Not yelling at me when Tony McCurdy and I got busted for underaged driving by the cops behind the King Soopers near our Jr. High. Bob and Mom were convinced it was my older brother Todd who was more inclined to get into trouble but alas that was the one night he was home in bed while I was in back of a patrol car.

19) When I was trying to survive my awkward Jr. High period, she'd gracefully try to give me social tips without making me feel like a loser. In one of my old photo albums is a black and white pic of me planting flowers and she offered me a can of Coors. My sheepish grin showed it was unnatural and contrary to the angel I was at the time. (Sorry--the albums are in the attic of our Dexter Street home that's rented out so you have to paint the visual of the skinny kid with red "bangs" awkwardly holding a can of beer--later in life, I'd learn how to comfortably hold a can of beer.)

20) When I broke up with Leslie in College she'd suggested "I show her" by taking (beautiful family friend) Alison Lobato to a school dance. Or was that Ruth in High School? Clearly I'd picked up that trait as at least one time I wanted to kick some kid's ass on the playground that wasn't being nice to one of my boys.

21) Trusting me to be her power-of-attorney and executor of her estate. The later is a much harder job emotionally especially calling numerous entities to close accounts and explaining why.

22) Knowing what to say or what not to say over the last couple years as I coped with Long Covid. I felt sorry for her as she took my physical decline much worse than I have. That was her nature--when we hurt, she hurt. When we had something to celebrate, she was happier with a bigger smile than we did.

Proper credit should go to Kim, but we loved German Pancakes
23) The blue shag carpet and blue and green scheme that adorned my room in fourth grade after she'd married the second time to stepfather Bob. She wanted our new home to be special and it was. Same room that the ten-speed showed up in.

24) Being in the delivery room for birth of two of my three kids. Somewhere in my camcorder archives, I can still hear her extol, "ten fingers and ten toes" with the birth of Anna-Nicole--happy that we'd given birth to a healthy baby girl. Halfway through as little Anna-Nicole wasn't quite delivered, I said, "I think she has red hair." Mom and Grandma dismissed this as unlikely given the jet black hair Nikki's mom has. Sure enough, my carbon copy was born. Fortunately "Ty in a dress" (Nikki) grew out of her gangly awkward clone into a beauty inside and out.

25) Taking us to see Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five when it was the original Jackson Five. She was scared to death--think about a single mom taking kids to a Motown concert downtown in the 70's but showed the lengths she'd go to treat her kids. She was confused over the concertgoers in our row at the Denver Coliseum that had to "share their hand-rolled cigarettes"--but they weren't cigarettes. One of the many stories we tell over and over--especially the part where she knew the concert promoter who offered a backstage introduction. We gave her a hard time about not taking him up on that, but she was ready to escape back to the suburbs.

Grandma always attended school events
26) Helping me get my first two jobs; one as a consultant with Don Johnson across the street and the second (indirectly) through our neighbor and friend Tom Costello Sr. Tom Jr. has covered my Long Covid story for both NBC Nightly News and the Today Show. That second job (with a company called Greenbar) would be the launchpad for a successful career in technology.

27) Encouraging my passion for art and writing. While it did not become a career, she supported my initial desire to be an art major. While I  felt I "sold my soul to the devil" my sophomore year switching to the business college both Mom and Bob fully supported both choices. Art and writing are still a part of my emotional fiber and adorn these pages.

28) Taking each one of her four kids on a trip with just her. My trip was to San Diego and Rosarito Beach near Tijuana, Mexico . I can still smell and taste the buttery white meat from "Lobster Village." One overcast day on the beach, she protected me as we spotted armed Federalies approach our beach blanket fully armed. We would laugh later how her sister, my Aunt Marge scrambled to grab her beach towel and scurry back to the beach house as we took a photo with the armed soldiers. I didn't realize at the time, but I think they were (ahem) checking out my mom.

29) Spoiling my kids every bit as much as she did her kids. She attended countless dance, karate, and school performances.

30) When she walked into my childhood bedroom and saw me and my GI Joe going on a nude boat ride with my sister's Barbie, you didn't make me any more embarrassed than I was. Good thing nobody every heard that embarrassing story about me...until now.

San Diego Trip Post College
31) In college, I was working part-time at Montgomery Wards in the paint and hardware department. I mentioned in passing that I missed a party at the fraternity because I had to work. She told me to quit the job and enjoy college. Another example of her selfishness treatment of her children.

32) Thank you for leaving the Cosmo magazines laying around the house so it could feed my curiosity when I hit puberty. Not sure how I would have survived without secretly reading "Unhappy Lovers--Do you Need to Suffer" from the safe confines of the avocado-tiled bathroom on Detroit Circle.

33) Thank you for all the bragging you did to your bridge club over the years. I didn't ask for it, and didn't need it, but she was so proud of all her kids. For me, this reinforced the admiration you had for me and gave me confidence as I began my career in sales. This pattern continued into adulthood as I'd buy a home, a car, and eventually conquering my desire to qualify for the Boston Marathon. My first marathon photo still hangs on her fridge as we're taking on the tough task of selling her home.

34) With my recent health and resulting financial challenges, you would generously slip me a few bucks as you worried more than I did about the volatility of my situation. With your stroke, the questions stopped, but the concerned looks would still occasionally surface. Before you'd lose capacity, you Venmo'd me twice; for birthday and coffee money as my wife Phronsie and I went west for lung relief.

"Textbook" Grandma with Anna-Nicole and Jesse
35) Your last gift was a few See's suckers. Not quite like the flamingo hobby I never had, I'm not sure it was my favorite candy but it was a special bond we had as she thought it was my favorite. Just as she'd often deliver a pint of raspberries on my birthday. She put special thought into giving.

36) Probably because you wanted to leave an inheritance to your kids, you didn't drive a fancy car but a 1999 Toyota Camry. You never went outside North America like I did. You saved as an inheritance was more important than a trip. I have regrets that she wasn't able to see more of the world but she loved the trinkets I'd give her that adorned her mantle when I would return from exotic locations around the world with my work. Of course she'd undoubtedly show them off to bridge club.

37) A lot of clicks. I use many of the same jokes over and over again here (perhaps testing if anyone reads this,) a common one was, :"I just hit 937K pageviews on my blog. I didn't realize my mom could click that much or have that many friends." "Badump, badump." 

38) My first suit (not tri-suit) was from Sears. I'd read and took the book quite literally, "Dress for Success" early on. Even though my all-season poly suit didn't exude success, I felt ready to conquer the business world forty years ago. On one of my first cold-calling outside sales jobs, I decided to go to the tallest building downtown Denver. I went to the top floor (to get shut down by the receptionist) and decided I would walk each floor through the concrete and steel stairways. I didn't realize the stairwell was not just locked but also without air-conditioning. The first time I sweat in my Sears two-piece suit.

39) Pretending it was actually the flu when I went out drinking with my high school buddies after getting turned down for a dance invite from Jill Parrish in college. I was devastated and thought that Southern Comfort was the answer. Perhaps numb from my brother's escapades where he always got caught. I called it flu and she didn't challenge. Sorry for the brown bottle white lie Mom.

Broncos were a consistent passion
40) While she caught few races as that's tough on a grandma in her 70's or 80's but she was there for my first marathon in San Diego and my last race in San Diego with Liam where Aunt Marge and my mom were yelling louder than anyone as Liam and I cruised through the Liberty Station park. We exchanged a sweaty high five and glances of admiration as we flew through the park she had been patiently waiting in for the blade, the boy and her boy to fly through.

41) The man with the boner artwork. We shared a couple of laughs when she found an erotic artist who incorporated copper relief into his work. Aunt Marge got the naked woman prominently displayed in her bathroom. I got the "slightly excited" nude male which we hung (no pun intended) in the guest room in the basement along with the female nude I created my freshman year in college.

42) I'm beginning to realize most of these are thick with embarrassment. Going to the movies (just the two of us) to see Jane Fonda and Jon Voight in the movie "Coming Home." The title was appropriate as Voight had returned from Vietnam without the use of his legs but he figured out how to (ahem) please Jane in other ways. Once again, we let silence counter the sheer awkwardness of the moment. Awco-Taco.

43) Buying me the game "Masterpiece--"the art auction game from Parker Brothers. Also beginning to think this should have been "blueprint for a life as a nerd virgin" but at an early age, she saw and supported my love of art. While that switch to business provided financial rewards, art would be part of my fiber for my whole life.

44) Taking my brother Todd and I to see Andre the Giant at a carnival in Saskatchewan in the late '70's. His fingers were the size of beer cans and I marveled at the "monster-like" creature that would dominate the wrestling world before he'd have a brief career in Hollywood. "Little Beaver" was the other wrestler we remembered from the trip as a "small person" wrestler.

Wedding Goofballs
45) Sometimes it was the "unspoken word" like not saying anything about what Jane and Jon were doing. Another was the case of the nickname I hurled at my brother's football coach, Grant Kielman. My brother was with a few of his football teammates on the way to practice in the faux wood-paneled station wagon. I was trying to be funny and threw a phallic term (I didn't know what it was.) It was either Jay Milburn or Jim Roman yelled at me, "do you know what that is???" I didn't. Mom kept driving--hands ten and two on the steering wheel.

46) How to iron a shirt. As I'm typing in a coffee shop in Rochester, MN between Mayo Clinic appointments, I ironed a crumpled shirt before my day started. Believe it or not, there's a proper (and improper) way to iron a shirt. Cuffs, sleeves, and that odd trapezoid panel below the neck across the shoulders--which is the tough part if nobody taught you how to do it.

47) There are few playbooks in life but plenty of books on life changes like divorce. I learned a lot from my mom on how to manage young children dealing with separated and divorced parents. I also appreciate how she took in my new wife and especially our son Keenan. My wife's dad Leroy and mom shared the same birthday which added another layer of closeness with my new family and in-laws. I appreciate her not using the label "stepkid" or "stepson" for Keenan as Phronsie and I both raised him as our own.

Nikki and Grandma at Drag Queen Brunch
for her last Birthday
48) Road trip skills including the re-purposed use of a coffee can when the next rest area or gas station is a couple hundred miles away. I now prefer the "big mouth" Gatorade bottle which is also my trick (below a Hefty garbage bag) in the corral of a marathon waiting for the gun to go off. Yes, I've done that in the car and in a race--one time sitting next to a young woman who didn't realize I was talking and peeing at the same time. These are some serious life skills you taught me.

49) Movies seem to be a theme throughout life as Mom would describe going down the hill from Evergreen into Denver or when they lived in Denver on Clayton Street paying a nickel or a dime for a movie. After her stroke, I came over to her home on Tappy Toorie to watch football on a Sunday to give Kim and Marc a break. 

She was propped up in her bed and the games commenced as I was tuning into my fantasy football that day. I could tell she was not quite into it (like she would later be watching Marc's Bengals progress through the playoffs.) I called an "audible" and found "True Grit" the original John Wayne version) on her corner bedroom television. Our Stepdad Bob loved Westerns and I suppose she did too having them always on in the background on our childhood home on Detroit Circle. We watched the whole movie and I was impressed with how attentive she was to the film. Our last movie together.

50) The "gift" of San Diego which is perhaps my favorite place in the world. I mentioned the solo trip we went on (that included a trip up to see Isabelle and the LaBrea Tar pits up in Los Angeles--the later leg of the trip, I remember jigsaw puzzles in the dimly lit house and just how many TV channels they had in LA!) San Diego is also synonymous with my "favorite aunt" Marge (no disrespect intended towards Aunt Joan and Aunt Nova--they are equally special.) 

Trips and memories to San Diego are too numerous to mention (walking home from the movie theatre as kids because Fantasia was "boring," Aunt Marge flashing us from her and Claudia's bedroom window, many a "Camp Margarita" as an adult in Marge's comfy Point Loma home, and hosting Todd and I when we watched Denver win their first Super Bowl (XXXII) at Chargers San Diego Stadium.










By pure happenstance, my IRun4 and eventual Team Hoyt run buddy Liam is also from San Diego. If it weren't for the fact that my mom and Marge met Liam (before I did,) I don't know that I would have flown out to meet my virtual run buddy Liam on his 18th birthday that turned into eleven races together. This last weekend, Liam's mom called crying. Dad Fabian and Liam had completed their first triathlon and thanked me for that gift. Without my mom, there likely would not be the most rewarding part of my run career racing with Liam.

As for Auntie Marge, she has (always been, and is now) wearing the "Queen Mum" crown. No pressure Marge, and don't worry, it fits you well. 

Love you mom, and I will miss you this Sunday and every day after.









Comments

  1. Wow ! Wish she was here to read this

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