Growing up the youngest of eight kids in a small house off the downtown core, she was quiet, shy, and always the baby. Her three older brothers received the bulk of the family’s praise, attention, and money for education, while the girls were taught to sweep floors, work the stove, and scrub the work clothes clean.
My mom used to sit on her front porch and memorize all the license plates of cars that drove by. She’d guess the numbers from a distance, silently congratulating herself when she got one right. Quiet nights in the corner of the clattery kitchen, she’d study math under dim lights and curious gazes.
In 1963, she wrote the government’s standard National Exam with every other 13-year-old in the country. And she aced it.
Suddenly a fat scholarship dropped on her and she was whisked off to a preppy English boarding school in the countryside. The next few years were full of reciting The Lord’s Prayer, memorizing Shakespeare passages, and eating soft-boiled eggs in the corner of the school cafeteria.
After hitting the books hard away from friends and family, she graduated and started correspondence classes from an accounting institution in England, eventually earning her letters and moving to London and start auditing the books of big companies. It was there she met my dad while he was visiting from Canada and it was there that they got married before moving to a small, dusty suburb an hour east of Toronto.
She got a job at General Motors, saw her first dentist, ate her first hamburger, and signed up for a subscription to Reader’s Digest. When I was growing up she’d tell me her coworkers always asked what she was doing there. “Let me get this straight,” they’d begin. “You lived in Nairobi. You lived in London. How’d you end up in this small town?”
But it was in that small town she had my sister and me and it was in that small town she showered us with love every day since we were born. Although I never knew my grandparents my mom filled the void with unending praise and patience.
She took me to the library Saturday mornings and helped me slowly finger-read Hardy Boys books. She signed my sister and I up for camps and let us quit if we came home crying. When I routinely got pegged first playing dodgeball at Boy Scouts or broke my glasses playing soccer, she was always there, ready with a hug, and an “It’s okay, Neil, it’s okay… it’s okay.”
For about six months nine years ago I was getting three or four hours of sleep a night balancing my day job, updating 1000 Awesome Things, and writing The Book of Awesome. On top of that, I was walking with a heavy heart and heavy mind, but more on that later. Every few weeks over those six months my mom took the commuter train to my downtown apartment with a big canvas bag and loaded up my freezer with homemade food.
And before she left she’d reach up to give me a big hug and say “Don’t forget to take a break.”
Below are three emails she sent me over that year.
———- Forwarded message ———-
Hey Neil :
I hope you found someone to enjoy 24 with.
I hope you feel in a good place. We are fine & you always know where & how to find us.
We will talk some time …probably sounds like towards the end of the week. That is fine. Keep in touch whichever way is easy for you. Reading your blog always brings a smile to my face & I feel like I am talking to you.
Look forward to reading your Blog tomorrow. I could picture me in your blog today : waving at people from my rocking chair. Dad has got the hang of your Blog & he has joined the Fan club too.
Love You : mom
———- Forwarded message ———-
Your Website has become like my daily dose of Vitamin C. Upon awakening, I do my Yoga practice for an hour. After that, I am usually ready for my brekkie. Thereafter, I can’t wait to run upstairs with my cup of tea to read up on 1000 Awesomethings.
This week has been great each & every day. Not to mention the fact that I feel like I had a small conversation with you.
Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Love : Your Mother
So this one goes out to the moms of the world. This one goes out to the people who raised you. I know I wouldn’t have made it without that love and support and I’m sure some of you are in the same place. So moms, thank you for teaching us to read, thanks for cheering our dreams, and thanks for helping us grow up to become a little more
Check out The Book of Awesome
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