Introduction

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

Introduction

Moms. We love them whether we think they’re perfect or not. Because we all know that the mom we have is perfect for us.

My mom was no exception. But here’s the crazy/ awful/weird thing. After working on this book for a year — coming up with the concept, collecting thousands of submissions, narrowing down the list to these 101 stories and making the chapters — on the very day that I was scheduled to start editing the book, December 28th, my mother was rushed to the hospital. She almost died and I burst into tears when I got home that night and found a thank-you note in the mail from her, telling us it had been the “best Christmas Eve ever.” I think she somehow knew her days were numbered, because she and my father were the last to leave our house on Christmas Eve, unheard of for them. They had been the first to leave for the prior twenty years.

She was still alive as I sat by her hospital bed and edited the first couple of chapters over the next six days. And then she wasn’t. We don’t really know what happened, except that she had Type 2 diabetes and everything shut down at once. She may or may not have had cancer, too. She died right after the first diagnostic test — from the diabetes, not the possible cancer.

My mother’s mother had lived well into her nineties, smoking cigarettes the whole way. So I had thought that my dynamic mother had lots of runway despite the fact that she thought the perfect diet was a couple of regular Cokes and a Snickers bar every day. In fact she demanded and received a Coke the last day she was alive, with only grudging consent from the doctors. I watched in amazement as her dangerously low blood oxygen level soared with that first sip of Coke. She smiled and whispered “Delicious” through her oxygen mask.

My mother only made it to eighty-five but she did it her way: traveling the globe right to the end; watching her beloved Mets and Red Sox; driving around with her ancient dog — who predeceased her by three days; and visiting her friends and relatives. She had already made her plans to go to Florida in March. She didn’t feel the Mets could get off to a good start unless she attended spring training every year.

So I finished editing this collection while planning my mother’s funeral, caring for my shocked eighty-seven-year-old father, and doing all the things that you do after your mother dies. I don’t know if it was good or bad for me, but I do know that I loved these stories and laughed and cried my way through the editing process. Perhaps it accelerated my grieving and healing, or perhaps it was like rubbing salt in my wounds. But I’m a professional and this is what I do. I make my deadlines, or at least don’t go more than a week past them!

So here it is. Our collection of 101 stories about everyone’s “best mom ever,” whether they’re talking about their mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, or anyone else who ever “mothered” them. We also hear from the spouses, talking about how much they admire their wives for the amazing job they do caring for their children.

What a wide variety of tales you are about to read! I’m sure you will love them as much as I did. Prepare to laugh out loud as you read our chapter about “Adventures with Mom,” and you share Jan Bono’s week stuck in a trailer home with her mother after a snowstorm and a collapsed carport block all their exits. You’ll nod your head in recognition when you read about Sandra Plawski’s mother in our “Wise Words” chapter. She told her children that wherever they were, when there was a full moon they should look at it and know that she was looking at it, too.

You’ll think about how your mother comforted you, and you comforted your own children, when you read our chapter called “Always There for Me.” I loved how Margie Williamson’s mom waited for her every day after school with a pot of tea and a plate of cookies, so that she could support her daughter during her difficult freshman year. And I knew all our mothers would have done the same when I read Terri Rilea’s story in our chapter called “Mom to the Rescue.” Her mom ran to the mailbox during a terrible rainstorm, wrapped young Terri’s imaginary friend in a towel, and ran back to the house with her.

I was so impressed by Pauline Koh-Banerjee’s immigrant mother, who built a career in insurance sales after going through hard times with a mentally ill husband. She and many other heroes are honored in our chapter called “The Strength of a Mother.” There’s a great quote from Linda Wooten that says, “Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.” That is so true. We have no idea how strong we are until we became those protective, fierce, dedicated warriors who watch out for our children.

Now, I’m not a grandmother yet, but I will be in a few months. So I loved reading about the strength of grandmothers as well, because they’re the ones you turn to for all that unconditional love and acceptance when you need it. You’ll read about those very understanding grandmothers in our chapter called “A Grandmother’s Love” — grandmas who help their grandchildren through surprise pregnancies, family upheavals, difficult financial times, and other life changing events. You can always depend on a grandmother to come through for you. Here’s my own mother at my kids’ college graduation.

My mother was my role model in so many ways. Not only do I look like her, but I believe I inherited her intellectual curiosity, her love of travel to exotic places, and her can-do attitude. We just don’t see the obstacles — it’s like we’re driving Humvees through life, getting where we want to go. So I loved editing our chapter called “My Role Model,” in which we saw mothers overcoming challenges, quietly doing good deeds, and passing on all those wonderful life lessons by accomplishing things, not just talking about them. Prithwijit Das shares his own story about how he and his immigrant mom graduated with master’s degrees in education on the same day from the same university, and what she overcame to get there.

Mothers routinely perform miracles. We learn that very early, and we see them making things happen throughout our lives. So I loved putting together our chapter called “Maternal Miracles,” which starts off with a story by Tom Schwarz about how his mother always, and I mean always, knew when something bad was about to happen, and rescued her family from what would have been fatal accidents more than once.

And it’s not just our mothers by blood who perform these miracles. In our chapter called “By Heart, Not by Blood” you’ll meet the remarkable women who adopted or fostered the lucky children who were just plain meant to be theirs. A young man named Derek is one of them. He tells us that his mother revealed on his fourteenth birthday that she found him as a newborn in a shopping cart at CVS. And yet somehow he and his adoptive mom share remarkably consistent physical and medical characteristics, right down to having the same defective toe on the same foot.

I closed out the book with a chapter called “A Mother’s Legacy” and that was the one that made me cry the most as I was editing. It kept reminding me of all the good things that my mother did and the lessons and characteristics that are her legacy to me. Every time I look in the mirror I see her, and I continue to obey her, even getting a haircut the day before the funeral. I could hear her saying, “Don’t you think your hair is getting a little too long?” I was moved by Trudie Nash’s story in this chapter. She was driving home after her mother’s funeral, with no room in her car for a struggling young family she saw making their way through the pouring rain. Trudie grabbed her mother’s umbrella from the pile of things she had taken from her house and handed it out the window to the young parents, who gratefully sheltered their two babies.

I guess that is symbolic of all our mothers — they are our shelters in whatever storms pass through our lives: our umbrellas, our cheerleaders, our chief advisers, and our role models for how to be the very best human beings that we can be.

~Amy Newmark
January 21, 2017

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