14 May Mother’s Day – A time for reflection and celebration
Whether your mother is near or living afar, or whether she has passed on years ago from this earth, Mother’s Day is an opportunity to remember and celebrate her. It is also an opportunity to recognize all the moms around us. Whether these ‘moms’ come in the form of a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a sister or sister-in-law, an aunt, a cousin, a niece, a friend, a neighbor, or even a distant acquaintance, Mother’s Day is pause for celebrating every one of them.
On Father’s Day 2022, I published an article about fathers and the importance of their role in our lives. It was an opportunity for me to share fond memories and stories about my own father as I was growing up. It was a chance to let him know how much he has meant to me. Today, I want to share memories of my mother and what she has meant to me throughout the years. I’m incredibly fortunate both my mother and father are still here with us today.
This article also highlights and reflects on so many of the amazing moms that I know, not necessarily calling them all out by name, but by the shining, positive impact they provide their own children and others. This is also an opportunity for me to give a huge shoutout of admiration and thanks to my wife, Ruth, who is one of the most amazing moms I know.
Without question, the most meaningful, rewarding, challenging and sometimes difficult role is one of a mother. There is no other role more important.
Meet my mom, Joann
I’m the oldest of four children born to Joann and Earl Koss on May 4, 1959. From the earliest days that I can recall, my mother was the center of our orbit. She was always there to provide the care, love, and comfort that we needed as growing children. Like my father, she wanted the best for us. And she always did those little things to show us that family values, character, and respect for others matter most.
While my father was the ‘quiet’ leader and usually a man of few words, my mother was quite the opposite. Never shy, you always knew where she stood. And I always knew she was there to talk with me when I needed it most, whether as a young child needing reassurance, or as a ‘know it all’ teenager who had mischievous moments.
I came to realize during those adolescent years that I never wanted to hurt or disappoint my mother. That was undoubtedly one of the biggest reasons I never wavered too far off the tracks. I had too much love and respect for her to put our relationship at risk.
The early years
My father was the sole breadwinner and worked hard on the factory ‘line’ at General Motors building cars. My mother was a ‘stay-at-home’ mom, not uncommon in the 1960’s. We lived in a very modest, blue-collar neighborhood on the east side of the city of Detroit. Most single-family homes were not much more than 1,000 square feet, with one bathroom. We never thought much about how a family of six could survive with only one bathroom. We managed just fine. It was a great community to grow up in.
For the first 16 years of my life, my mom did not have a driver’s license. This meant we walked pretty much everywhere while my father was at work. Not just to school, but to grocery shop at the local markets. I usually pulled our metal, 2-wheel cart behind us to carry the grocery bags home. I not so fondly referred to this basket as “the old lady cart.” That was my pre and early teen rebelliousness coming out. Or more likely, I was embarrassed at the possibility of being spotted by a classmate or a cute girl crush. Somehow, I didn’t think it looked too cool pulling one of those things along side your mother.
While I thought I was being clever and humorous with my comments, it was in hindsight very disrespectful of me. My mom was simply trying her hardest to stock the meals she prepared for us every day while my father was at work. Please forgive me mom for being a snotty kid sometimes!
Every dollar helps support our growing family
My mom and dad were determined their kids were going to get a catholic school education during our elementary school years. Even based on 1970’s economics, I’m sure tuition payments were a struggle for them, especially given four kids. To get some relief on tuition cost, my mother worked in the school lunchroom a few days a week. The school provided some relief on tuition for parents performing duties for them. I’m not sure how much that lowered the tuition, but I’m sure every little bit helped. Besides the modest financial benefit, it was an opportunity to do a ‘checkup’ on her kids. I was keenly aware to be on my best during lunch hour. I saved the shenanigans for when she was out of sight. LOL.
I don’t remember exactly when, but my mom began baking and decorating as a side income. Wedding cakes were the primary target market. All I can remember is that my mom was quite talented and made some beautiful cakes. But it sure seemed like a lot of work, and I think the income from it wasn’t all that lucrative. No doubt, every dollar mattered though as our young family continued to grow.
Sometime around the age of 10 or so, I remember my mom started taking on part-time jobs to help further the family income. I think she waited until then when I and my sister Lori (who was two years younger than me) were a little older and more responsible to be at home to look after our younger sister (Lenore) and brother (Mark) before our dad got home from work. And mom’s jobs were within walking or a short bus ride from the house.
I know she was a very reliable and hard worker, values that both she and my father instilled in each of us children.
Family health scare causes changes
I was excited to receive my driver’s license the day I turned 16. I was long prepared to take financial responsibility for it, having a couple part time jobs as I was going through middle and high school. The freedom of driving was something I had dreamed about for some time. Not only did I enjoy it socially as one of the very few kids among friends who had a car and license at 16, but it allowed me to finally drive my mom to grocery stores and other family appointments.
Suddenly one day, my father was rushed into the emergency room. He had suffered a heart attack at the young age of 36. It was a strong dose of reality and realization that mom needed to be more independent and less reliant on my dad and I for transportation. Thankfully, my father recovered just fine but life would change course for us, and especially for my mom.
So, at the age of 35, mom finally got her driver’s license. Soon after, she was applying for jobs that carried more responsibility and opportunity. These opportunities were no longer within walking distance. This situation provided mom a chance to finally do some things for herself. She had already done a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’ on the home front during those critical, early years when we were much younger. We were mature enough now to look after each other as siblings. The foundation had been built.
Over the years with Mom
As my siblings and I grew older and eventually moved away one by one, each of us courted spouses and had children of our own. My two sisters went on to become wonderful moms themselves, which is another tribute to our mother.
This eventually provided our parents with 11 grandchildren. Christmas Eve was always our agreed to designated Christmas celebration for our side of the family, always at my mom and dad’s house. That was our tradition. It was one night we could count on all of us being together, with a chance for each of our kids to spend time with their cousins. Easter was another one of those holidays.
Those were always great times and created long lasting memories.
Over the past 10-15 years, my siblings and I pulled my mom and dad away from hosting holidays and other family gatherings. They had done their share, and now it was our turn, and time for our parents to relax and enjoy themselves with the family, without all the stress of preparation and cleanup.
Tragic loss creates a giant hole
In August of 2015, our youngest sister, Lenore, lost her 4+ year battle with cancer. We lost her way too young, just before her 52nd birthday. Lenore was always kind and full of life. I can still hear her laugh today. She left behind a husband, four adult children, and seven grandchildren at that time. We were all heartbroken.
Lenore was amazing throughout her long battle, and very seldom did she dwell on it. I deeply admired her courage. She lived her life to the fullest possible, up to the very end. And I was very proud of our sister Lori, who grew even closer with Lenore during this difficult time. The two sisters, always close, became even closer. My mom and dad were always there as well to help in any way.
When you hear that a parent is never the same after the loss of a child, it is so true. I see it in my mom and dad to this very day. They were devastated when Lenore passed away. And in so many ways, their life has never been the same. The heartache lingers.
Moms see sunshine even through grey clouds
My mom has always been my biggest supporter and continues to be today, even despite her own aches and pains of aging into her 80’s. She doesn’t like to complain and quickly shifts the focus of conversations to the well-being of others. And like many loving moms, she’s probably tended to overlook my faults and downplay some of the poor decisions I may have made from time to time. I think it all turned out ok.
If I can find one tiny fault, it’s that she often downplays times when she and dad are ill at home, even hiding the fact that something concerning health-wise is going on at their house. She always says she and dad never want to be a burden to their kids.
So these days, a daily call to mom often goes like this: “Mom, how are you and dad today?” “We’re fine”, mom replies. “How are you really doing today?”, I then ask. Sometimes I try to ask probing questions in a different way, just to catch her off-guard and get the real truth to come out.
It’s dawned on me recently, and I find it funny and ironic, but I’m now the one trying to catch my mother in a lie, just like she did with me when I was a teenager.
I’m so appreciative of her love and support, and for always being there for me. I hope she knows she’s done the best job of raising us that any mother could hope for. Thank you, mom, and always know, you are never a burden on us. It’s the full circle of life, and it’s our turn to help you!
Ruth has been an incredible mom to our two boys
There are some things in life you sometimes take for granted and don’t take the proper time to recognize someone for all they do. So next, I want to take this time to thank and recognize my wife, Ruth.
Ruth has been the steady rock in our family of four since the beginning. While I may not say it often enough, I admire her deeply for all she’s done. While I was working long hours to build a career, Ruth was the one that stayed home for the most part to make sure Brian (now 39) and Kevin (now 37) got the guidance, love and nurturing they needed to become value driven young men.
Ruth was steadfast and focused throughout the kids’ school years ensuring their intellectual growth and success. She took part-time jobs in the school during those early years. She also continued taking college courses part-time in the evenings to advance her studies in education and the medical field, in hopes to one day go back to a full-time job and advance her career. We tried our best to manage our busy schedules as we raised our young family.
While I was there for most of the parent-teacher conferences, it was Ruth who did the necessary preparation and built the agendas to make those meetings meaningful for everyone involved. And given her role as part-time worker in the schools, she was there in the background with a watchful eye, to ensure the boys were on the right track.
Last August, I wrote an article that shared fond memories about what baseball meant during the growing years of our young family, and how I tended to lean more on the social, fun opportunities as we planned vacations and other weekend activities. Many of these activities centered around sports. Ruth (mom) always reminded us that we needed to introduce other cultural learning activities into the mix along the way.
Without her encouragement (and insistence), we probably wouldn’t have experienced such fun learning experiences such as our visit to Gettysburg and other historical sites and museums we took in around the country as we vacationed for a week or two each summer.
She brought culture and well-roundedness to our children. As for me, there was no hope. The mold had already been set long ago.
Moms know sacrifice like no other
As many of our followers know, our youngest son, Kevin, suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2001 at the age of 15. I’ve shared many of those difficult experiences and challenges due to his accident in previous articles, so I won’t relive them here. Suffice to say, we’ve experienced some extremely difficult times trying our best to provide Kevin with the proper medical, therapeutic, and social infrastructure to allow him to live his best life.
While Kevin was the direct victim of this tragic, life altering injury, it was Ruth who sacrificed most in our marriage. Someone had to be there for Kevin 7×24. At that moment back in 2001, Ruth’s dreams and aspirations for career growth and opportunities were put on hold. I had the larger paycheck, so it made best sense at the time.
Ruth took the lead and was the driving force in advocating for Kevin, whether during his last couple years in high school or our never-ending quest to find the best doctors and programs to help Kevin’s long-term recovery.
She and I didn’t always agree on course and direction, which added unneeded additional stress to our marriage. But we somehow got through it all as best as possible, and I give her all the credit for sticking to her motherly instincts. As they say, mothers know best.
Career aspirations unrealized
Ruth would have been very successful in the professional world whether she had continued to focus on her academic teacher training or leaned into her prior training and experience in the medical field.
Instead, she became a full-time advocate and caregiver to Kevin, the best advocate and caregiver he could possibly imagine.
Today, I sometimes half-jokingly suggest she missed her calling as a project manager. She would have been one of the best. I’ve learned in my 40 years in the information technology industry that a good project manager is an invaluable asset to any company. Her attention to detail is unmatched. And she is quite good at identifying and reminding me of household tasks and projects that need to be done, and is not shy about driving me until they are completed. After all, isn’t that what a good project manager does?
I couldn’t resist this little barb – hopefully she finds it somewhat humorous. As she knows, humor is what I do, as it helps alleviate stress. But in all seriousness, Ruth really would make an incredible project manager.
Thankfully for both Kevin’s sake and mine, Ruth chose to be the most tenacious and caring advocate and became an even more amazing mother to Kevin along the way. She certainly also played a major role in helping prepare Brian to become the wonderful father and husband he is today.
Opportunities for the future
Given the fact I am now retired and have more time to hang with Kevin, I encourage Ruth to simply get out more socially, enjoy life, and to get involved doing and learning about things she enjoys. Perhaps working at a part-time job she finds interesting is in the cards. I leave those choices and decisions up to her.
We both agree, there are plenty of opportunities available at our part-time home in The Villages, FL.
I just want her to be happy and to know how appreciative I am for all she’s done to help raise two outstanding young men in Kevin and Brian. Thank you, Ruth!
Amazing moms are everywhere
If I were to name all the incredible moms I know, whether from personal relationships, or simply casual observation over the years, the list would be many pages long. Closer to home, I have a daughter-in-law, Grace, who quickly blossomed into an amazing, wonderful mother. With four beautiful children (our grandchildren), she has a full plate and is raising (along with our oldest son, Brian) her young family in admirable fashion. With her love, nurturing, and determination to prepare them for their best future possible, she continues to foster well-rounded, value driven growth in their children. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. I’m sure Grace would also credit the role her own mother played, and the positive influence she had while growing up. Strong family values tend to be instilled from generation to generation.
I have so many aunts, cousins, nieces, and friends who exemplify the true meaning and value of motherhood as well. It seems I’ve been surrounded throughout my life or had the pleasure of knowing so many incredible moms. Some of these women are single moms who somehow did it all on their own. Some had lots of surrounding support; some not so much.
Some I know are younger, single mothers that continue to carry the daily stress and responsibility both for nurturing and financial support of their young child, as they work hard to provide while being the best possible mom they can be. With deep admiration, we celebrate all these moms today.
A Mom of someone with special needs is ‘extra special’
A mom of someone with special needs is everything to their child. No one on earth, including family members and friends closest to them could possibly provide the level of care, love, and nurturing they provide their son or daughter. They are the most selfless, determined moms, always putting their child first. These moms are the center of their child’s universe, and always will be.
What these moms do around the clock is beyond amazing, and we celebrate each and every one today.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet and get to know so many of these women over the years, and I am proud to call them my friends. In The Villages alone, where we have a part-time home, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and observing so many amazing moms within our special needs community.
Being the primary caregiver for a special needs child can be difficult no matter your age, but it is especially challenging as we become senior citizens ourselves. It seems I know several moms in the senior age group that are caring for special needs adult children, while having lost a husband either through death or a long-ago divorce. These are some of the strongest and most determined women you’ll ever meet. They had to be, or else risk their child’s long-term well-being. I have deep respect and admiration for each of them.
And Happy Mother’s Day to any mom out there that has devoted their career or volunteered in some capacity to serve those with special needs, whether they too had a special needs child of their own or not. I know some of these moms as well.
Giving birth is not a prerequisite to be considered a ‘mom’
They may not hold the official title of ‘mom’, but there are many women out there who have never conceived a child of their own, but have been a mother figure to someone. They are looked up to or confided in just like a ‘mom’ would be to that child.
These women often are aunts, cousins, nieces, or a friend, and they love another child as if they were their own. These women were there throughout the years as a “2nd mom” to a child of their sister, sister-in-law, a cousin or a friend.
I also know women in this category who have whole-heartedly given much of their time as volunteers to mentor or befriend someone with special needs. Some mentor multiple special needs individuals. Quite often, that person fills an important void in that special needs individual’s life, and are viewed as a ‘mom’ or 2nd mom to them. This too is another beautiful thing to observe. These often become very special relationships.
What’s better than having one mom? Two, of course!
Speaking of 2nd moms and special relationships, our sons Brian and Kevin were fortunate to have such a person growing up. It was their Aunt Becky, my wife Ruth’s sister.
Their Aunt Becky always treated them as if they were her own, always there for them. She still is today.
And from what I’ve seen over the years, their Aunt Becky has been like a mom or an aunt to many of the children that have grown up around her neighborhood. Always welcoming a knock on the door, or a drop-in while she was working her garden in the back yard, Becky was always a good ear to the neighborhood kids, often sharing some kind of goodies with anyone that dropped by.
I don’t visit often enough these days, but I’ll bet Becky is still one of the most popular ‘moms’ in her neighborhood!
Remembering my mother-in-law
It wouldn’t be fitting without taking a moment to acknowledge my mother-in-law, Marie, who passed away a couple years ago, joining my father-in-law, George, in heaven. She was a strong, faith based women who loved her family deeply. She was so proud of her kids, as she raised them in a way that instilled strong values over the course of their impressionable years. She was a wonderful mother-in-law to me.
We miss her dearly and celebrate her today as well.