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Mother’s Day Lessons


There are many lessons to learn from our own mothers and from other mothers, too. Most importantly, we discover the kind of mother we’d like to be if we were blessed to have children of our own. In my 54 years on this planet, I’ve seen a variety of parenting styles, and even, sadly, lack of parenting. It only makes me appreciate the incredible sacrifices made by my mother, and the lessons I learned from being a mother.

I’m blown away by working women who raise two, three, even more children without a staff and without losing their patience. Certainly, there are times that we all lose our composure. When my son was just a baby and we were on a plane trip, he was cranky and it’s no wonder. It’s not natural for babies to be in confined areas, have their ears pop from the air pressure change and want to be in their comfy cribs rather than surrounded by strangers. My child had to be changed so I created a make-shift diaper station on the floor in the aisle of the 757 jet. During that, um, procedure, my infant decided that was the time to urinate. Let’s just say the people nearby weren’t all that elated. We all try to do the best we can. There’s no foolproof handbook for mothers. Ask four moms how to potty train and you’ll most likely get four different answers.

Many mothers desperately try to shield their children from disappointments and injustices, from hurt feelings and scraped knees. When Rocco was seven years old, I enrolled him in the YMCA swimming program. In my youth, I had been a state champion swimmer and wanted to make sure I passed down that trait. I gave my son a few extra tips and put him in the hands of a competent and successful coach. After a few months of practice, we entered Rocco in a Novice swim meet. It was an opportunity for children who had never swam competitively to learn about the rules and procedures of a swim meet. It was exciting for me as a mother, to watch my son go through the anticipation and excitement leading up to the race. When the kids were called to get on their starting blocks, my stomach did a flip-turn and my heart thumped thunderously in my chest, as if I was the one to swim for the first time. An official called the children to attention with a loud and deafening command that I had heard many times before, “Swimmers, take your mark…” and then came the powerful sound of the starter gun blasting.

The stands were filled with anxious parents and grandparents hoping their kids would be the one to come home with a first place trophy, but there could only be one. Rocco’s reflexes were quick and he attacked the water with the skill and command of an older, more experienced athlete. The joy and elation I felt watching my son follow in my footsteps – or strokes – was both exhilarating and tense.

Was he swimming too fast to keep that pace for two laps?

So many things raced through my mind…

Maybe he should have had eggs instead of cereal for breakfast.

Wow! He could actually win!

Rocco’s drive and determination during his months of practice paid off, big time! Before a couple of kids even made it to the end of the first lap, Rocco finished the second lap and won! To see the smile and joy on his face was priceless. It was an achievement that could give him the confidence to continue swimming, and set him up to succeed in other areas of his life.

The elation, however, was short-lived.

After the race was over, Rocco’s coach and other swimmers congratulated him on his first place win, but when we went to pick up his trophy, we were severely disappointed. Although there was no denying that Rocco finished first, he was not given the first place trophy or any trophy. The reason we were given was quite unfair and unjust.

“Rocco swam too fast and it wasn’t fair to the other children,” said the official in charge.

Instead of coming home with a trophy and the confidence that his hard work paid off, Rocco was given a stack of comic books. Seriously.

Part of me wanted to scream and yell about the injustice of it all (ok, truthfully, I did a little). Here was a child who followed the rules, he had never swam competitively, but just happened to be better than the others. Apparently being too good was unfair to the kid who came in last.

Life isn’t fair…

…is one of the many things I learned from my mother. She taught me how to be kind and compassionate, to give to others when they are in need. I remember visiting my grandfather who had Parkinson’s disease. My mother would take off his shoes and rub his feet. She was and is always available to help a friend move or to plant flowers for someone or to be a cheerleader in the stands at my swim meets. She taught me how to be a mother, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mother and all the moms who give so freely of their time to their children and who constantly remind us of what it means to love unconditionally.

Check out Shemane’s podcast “This Rockin’ Life” available on iTunes http://shemanenugent.rocks/podcast/

Coco
Emotional Wellbeing, family, Finding Strength, Happiness

Coco

She would have been 22 years old, but I never mourned her until now. Life gets in the way, you know? I’ve been busy raising my son Rocco, who is now 26, and helped to raise two of my stepchildren, Sasha and Toby, although they were nearly adults when I married their father. Five other step-children came into my life, Fleetwood, Starr, Louisa, Heather and Chantal but we only visit once or twice a year. This morning when I Googled “how to do music.ly” a social media site that marries lip sync and dance, I found a tutorial of a young girl teaching her mother. And I cried. Through the awkwardness and the banter, it is obvious the mother and daughter are very close. Thirty seconds into the eight minute video, the mom cannot contain her pride and hugs the young girl, while her daughter pushes away, smiling. The mother says “I love her. I love her so much! This is my only chance to get to hug her…” Although likely embarrassed, as any teenager teaching a parent how to lip-sync to a rap video would be, it is clear they have fun together. They giggle, and playfully tease each other as the mom tries to learn this new technology and be “hip”. I know…., my son will be embarrassed I used that archaic word.

It was then that suddenly, after more than two decades, I realized I missed her and I never even knew her. I missed having a close sibling for Rocco, and another child of my own. I would have named her Coco, because, yes, I like Chanel, but also because it rhymes with Rocco. I wonder what they would have been like as brother and sister. I wonder what it would have been like to have a daughter I could tease and learn from, and hug. Would she be embarrassed by my selfies, clothing choices and attempts to lip sync and dance? What would she teach me, I wondered.

On those crazy-long information sheets required to fill out at the doctor’s, I have to acknowledge that I have been pregnant twice, but only delivered one child. I have to check the box for ectopic, or tubal pregnancy. It never, ever bothered me until now.

Like many women who’ve had miscarriages, I felt all the symptoms of pregnancy for weeks. It’s hard to deny the hormonal changes that occur in the body; breast tenderness, fatigue, and a sudden aversion to certain foods. I’d endured it all before when I was pregnant with my son. The most important symptom was, of course, my intuition. I knew that there was a tiny human growing inside me. And I knew it was a girl.

On a ski trip with my father, son and husband, Ted, I woke up one morning with incredible pain in my abdomen. I immediately wondered if I had food poisoning. An hour after the initial cramping started, I was bent over in pain. I knocked on my dad’s hotel room door and told him I wasn’t feeling well. My husband was going to drive my son and I home. We had a couple of good ski days already. Maybe I was over-doing it and needed some rest.

It was only thirty minutes into the four-hour drive home that I realized the pain was becoming extraordinarily severe. In fact, I thought I was going to die.

We found a nearby hospital and I was admitted immediately. “I’m pregnant,” I said through sobs. At that moment, I started to realize what was at stake: a life. Maybe two. Hundreds of women still die during pregnancy-related deaths every year in the United States.

The ER doctor said surgery was imminent and urgent and that I would lose one of my fallopian tubes and the fetus, the baby. The human. The soul. While I was being wheeled into the operating room, as if in a movie, Ted and Rocco told me they loved me and they’d be waiting for me.

Was this really happening? The pain subverted my attention from the fact that I would no longer be pregnant. What does that mean? Where does she go? Perhaps I’d never be able to have another child. Maybe I will die.

After the surgery, I woke up in the maternity ward. Couldn’t they find another place for me? I heard women screaming during childbirth, and then..babies crying… The pain prevented me from thinking about it too much.

The phone in my room rang. Although I was still groggy from the procedure, I struggled to answer it. “Is Ted there?” A woman asked. She said she heard that Ted Nugent’s wife was in surgery there and that she was a big fan. I hung up. Seriously?

And then it was over. Life got in the way.

I returned home and went through the motions of raising Rocco, going to Toby’s basketball games and Sasha’s volleyball games, and being my husband’s wife. Years passed and I continued to write the number “2” in the doctor forms inquiring about how many pregnancies I’d had.

I never sulked. I never cried about the life that was lost.

Until now.

Now, I wonder what kind of video tutorials I would have done with Coco. What career path she would have taken.

I miss her.

And I never had a chance to hug her.

Top of the mountain with my son Rocco and friend Danielle Russo-Slugh
Emotional Wellbeing, family, Happiness, Relationships

One Good Run

As I trudged through the hotel lobby with layers of long johns, two turtlenecks, a wool sweater, ski pants, gloves, helmet and a jacket, feeling like a sweaty Abominable Snowman with cement blocks for boots, I briefly questioned why I go through all this effort just to ski down a snow-capped mountain ten thousand feet above sea level. For those of you who don’t appreciate winter sports, it might seem as though the hours of preparation for snow skiing simply aren’t worth the payoff. The sub-freezing temperatures alone are enough to scare any cowboy.

Having been born and raised in Michigan, however, ice-skating, snowmobiling and skiing are in my blood. Growing up, my brother and I and all the neighborhood kids made igloos, snowmen and had serious snowball fights for hours in single digit temperatures. During the long, cold, depressing winter months in the Winter Water Wonderland, the big thrill was to climb up the side of a nearby bridge and ski down the side of the overpass which lasted a total of fifteen seconds, if you were slow. That’s how I learned to ski.

Your first time on skiis (or a snowboard) probably feels a lot like getting on a bucking bronco. Beyond the physical challenge, it’s just plain scary. Someone can tell you all day long to lean forward and point your skiis or snowboard down the hill and not to sit back in your boots, but when you’re standing on two slippery boards headed for the bottom, your body will think that’s an insane suggestion. Even if you’ve skied for decades, as I have, and you’re feeling pretty confident about your ability, you can get distracted for a second, cross your ski tips and bam! You’re suddenly tumbling down the hill somehow still attached to your skiis and poles, flying down the slope like a drunk Tazmanian Devil.

Now, I’m not intimidated by advanced runs (a black diamond) that are so steep you cannot see the bottom until you look over the edge, but there I was on a groomed Intermediate run (a blue square) taking a nasty spill that would have been hilarious on You Tube. As I laid there with snow down my pants, up my sleeves and all over my face, I actually laughed. A young snowboarder came by and asked if I was okay. I did a quick physical scan: arms and legs worked. I could tell because I felt the pain. “Yes,” I told him. “I’m okay, thanks.” He handed me my goggles that had flown off in the fall. I got up, brushed myself off, grabbed my ego that had suddenly been misplaced and headed down the mountain for more physical and mental anguish. Like any good adrenaline junky, I cannot get enough!

We ski for that one moment when everything comes together and turns the extraordinary effort into complete bliss. The sunshine warms your back as you dance down the slopes, knees close, hips making figure-eights, breathing the cleanest air imaginable. You glide effortlessly on top of the snow, feeling exhilarated, and that is the magic moment when you realize all the trouble is worthwhile. There is an unexplainable chemistry amidst the mountain air and your spirit, like a first kiss with someone special. A physiological reaction hijacks your heart and soul. You cannot imagine doing anything else or being anywhere else.

That’s what happens in one good run.

Hours after my laughable fall, I was lost in the glistening, snow-covered mountains. I ended up at the top of a double black diamond run (extraordinarily difficult) that I doubt Tom Cruise could ski down without stopping at least once. It was the only way down the mountain, so I pointed my skis toward the bottom and prayed to make it down alive. Taking my time, I traversed from one side of the slope to the other as that same young snowboarder who stopped to help me earlier flew by. Seconds later he was tumbling down the steep mountainside. I counted six times but I’m sure it was more. After the snow dust cleared, he laid face down in the snow, not moving. Sliding down toward him, I grabbed his hat that had flown off in his tumble and handed it to him. “You okay,” I asked. He looked up and smiled. “Yeah. Did you see that? It was awesome!”

Apparently there is more than one way to have a good run.

family, Happiness, Inspiration, Wisdom

Gram

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Today my grandmother, Ruth Cowan would have turned 100 years old. Gram, as so many of us lovingly caller her, was truly one of a kind: an electric and buoyant woman who looked into your eyes, into your soul, upon meeting.  Some of my most cherished memories are from our late night conversations. We played cards and talked, ate large bowls of Breyers Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream and she would listen – really listen.

 

She was the first person I wanted to talk to when I endured seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I couldn’t wait to hear her advice for my most devastating tribulation – when my husband had an affair and a child with another woman. Her answer, however, was unexpected.

“What would you do, Gram?” I asked.

We were at a restaurant and she took her time, chewing her food slowly.

Sixty seconds is a long time to wait when you are eager for an answer, advice.

I waited.  And waited.

And then she finally blurted out, “I’d get a boyfriend!”  And as a second thought she added, “…and a yacht!”

It was hard to be in a sour mood around Gram even in the darkest moments.  She had a way of livening up the room, and the world.  She made it a better place while she was here.  Indeed.

Like most people from the Greatest Generation who endured real hardships like the Great Depression and World War II, she had a moral compass that was always pointed in the right direction.  As a young mother who lost her husband to cancer, she worked two jobs and struggled to make ends meet for her three children.  There were hard times in her life, yet I never saw her without a smile.

One of the things that inspired me most about my grandmother was her ability to live life to the fullest. She entertained at night clubs until she was more than 90 years old, belting out cover songs of the forties, fifties and sixties and playing the piano – although she never learned to read music.

The highlight of every family gathering was watching her play Mama Goes Where Papa Goes, with all of her children and grandchildren singing along. She had a powerful, soulful and authoritative voice that didn’t need a microphone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=v4Q8w_nHDYg&app=desktop

My grandmother taught me to live life to the fullest and dance if no one was watching. At 92 years old, she joined Ted on stage at one of his rock ‘n’ roll concerts. In front of twenty thousand hard-core rock ’n roll fans,  Gram strutted across the stage as if she owned it. She did.

On my desk is a photograph of her laughing.  Whenever I have one of those moments when I’m sad or frustrated, I look at that picture and ask myself, “What would Gram do?”  I hope I make the best of every second in my life and make as many people smile as she did.