Having kids, if nothing else, does a wondrous job of putting life into perspective. It makes us more empathetic, it inspires us to create a better world for future generations, and it allows us – no – it forces us to understand and appreciate our own parents in a way that we were never quite able to understand and appreciate them before we became parents ourselves.
For me, it was the birth of my second son a few weeks ago that really made me look at my own mother with a sense of complete and utter awe.
Let me explain…
You see, not long after I was born, my parents received the news that no parent is ever prepared to hear. My sister, a mild-tempered, kind-hearted, 2-year-old had been diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia – a diagnosis that in the late 80’s meant an extremely unsure outcome, years of experimental treatments, chemotherapy, hospital stays, spinal taps and a slew of other things that no person with a two-year-old and an infant would ever be expected to handle with any amount of grace. Oh and did I mention that just months into her treatment, my dad got transferred through work to the other side of the country? That’s right; Ever the team player (understatement of the century), my mom packed up our whole life – an ill toddler and a crazy 1-year-old in tow – and transitioned us from Toronto to Vancouver, where we ended up setting our roots for just over a decade.
When I say, “I don’t know how she did it”, I mean it in the most literal sense…
I. Physically. Do. Not. Know. How. She. Did. It.
I don’t know how she got the news of her first born’s diagnosis and somehow didn’t let our family unit fall apart at the seams.
I don’t know how she didn’t throw up on that flight across the country, knowing the challenges that awaited her once we arrived in Vancouver.
I don’t know how she managed to decorate my sister’s hospital room to look like her room at home.
I don’t know how she spent 4 years living between our house and a hospital without completely losing her mind.
I don’t know how she went and bought an assortment of adorable hats for my sister when her hair fell out after multiple rounds of chemo.
I don’t know how she smiled for photos when we went to Disney World with Give Kids The World for my sister’s “last wish” when the outlook became grim.
I don’t know how she never made me feel like I was less of a priority than my sister who clearly needed her more.
I don’t know how she never held anything she did for us over our heads, even when we became prepubescent assholes and spewed the words “I HATE YOU!” at her. *Knowing that phrase ever came out of my mouth now makes me want to turn back time and slap myself upside the head* but I digress.
What I do know is that she had an angel in the outfield – her own mother, my Oma (an O.G. #rebelmama in her own right), who quit her job, packed up her life and followed us out to Vancouver to help out (and by “help out” I mean spoil the shit out of me with fresh made cinnamon toast for breakfast and hand peeled grapes; I’ve always been a bit of a diva).
The two of them acted as a tag team extraordinaire, making sure that both my sister and I always felt loved and comforted (and that we received enough discipline to keep us in check). Between them, they managed to ensure that there was always a homemade meal on the table. They made sure our hair was done and our Halloween costumes were on point.
By the time my sister turned six and had entered into full remission, I was 4-years-old – completely wild, full of energy, and blissfully unaware that our life circumstances for nearly half a decade had been vastly different to those of my schoolyard compadres. Somehow, someway, our family matriarchs had managed to make sure there was a sense of normalcy in our household that I am not sure that I would be able to recreate had I been dealt a hand like the one they were dealt.
I always knew that I had a great mom, but it wasn’t until I saw my 2 babies together, 2 little boys with the exact same age difference as the one between my sister and I, that I realized that not only is my mom loving and warm and kind and funny, she’s brave as shit and tough as nails. My mom went to battle for our family. She fought to make sure a scary, asshole-of-a-disease didn’t harm the spirit of EITHER of her kids and after the battle was over, she picked up, carried on and moved forward.
She moved us through elementary school (and even remembered to put little “Have a great day!” notes in our lunches). She moved us through high school (allowing our house to act as Grand Central Station for a bunch of sassy teenagers). She moved us through University and our early professional lives, and now she’s moving me through motherhood – from the moment my first son was born, she has been right there with me every step of the way. Reminding me that “this too shall pass” and offering up her expert babysitting services at the drop of a hat.
I’m willing to bet that a lot of you out there reading this are thinking, “Um, Nikita, do you have any idea how lucky you are?”
Yes. I am entirely aware of how lucky I am. I hit the familial jack-pot and there’s nothing in life that I’m more thankful for than that.
And on that note, Happy Early Mother’s Day, #rebelnana. Love you long time.