What's the best piece of advice your mom ever gave you?
“Be able to take care of yourself.” How many times did I hear that growing up? I can’t begin to recall, but it was a message that I both heard and received, loud and clear. Being a single parent of two, my mum regularly had to play the role of both mother and father to my brother and me. It was often a thankless job and it certainly wasn’t an easy one. My mother was a single parent at a time when that was seen as a failure on her part. The fact that my “father” was completely useless and uninvolved – to the point where he and I have been estranged for almost 15 years now – didn’t seem to do him much harm, but she (and thus my brother and I) found ourselves on the outs with neighbours and others we’d once thought of as friends. The reasoning: how dangerous would it be for intact families to consort with “broken” ones? Luckily, we had many other loving, supportive, and caring people in our circle of friends and family. My mother, who has always been stronger than she’s given herself credit for, somehow pulled off the impossible: she kept us in the home we’d grown up in (because my brother didn’t want to leave his friends), ensured we were well looked after when injured or ill (and there were far too many instances of both), and never stopped pushing us to do our best and to be our best. My brother and I have followed very different routes but we have always been able to find a way to move forward despite circumstances, and it really is due to the example my mother set: She never gave up, when I’m sure she wanted to; she pushed herself to do it all, when she shouldn’t have had to; and she is still one of the most giving people I know, both in terms of time and financial support. Through it all she made one thing clear: it was essential to be able to take care of yourself. She learned this the hard way, when she found herself raising us on her own. And I heeded her advice. I took my education seriously and became the first person in my family to earn a university degree. My mum has often regretted that there wasn’t enough money left over from taxes, groceries, school, etc… to pay me an allowance, necessitating I begin working as a mother’s helper when I was younger. I argue that it was probably to my advantage because not only did I learn the value of a dollar, I learned that I love working with children. Which is lucky because it is what eventually led me to teaching. From my mother I learned that being able to take care of one’s self means more than simply being financially independent, though this is important; it is also about being able to be strong in the face of crisis, confident in the face of doubt, and caring (of yourself and others) when it seems no one else will stand up. These are hard lessons to learn, but all are essential. And this is the best advice my mother – or anyone else – has ever given me.