What a fun afternoon, as family members gathered in Oklahoma to celebrate two birthdays and an early Mother’s Day. Surprised today, was my brother Bryan, whose actual birthday is Tuesday. He was suspicious when he arrived at his mom’s house, and found too many cars parked around it. And genuinely surprised, I think, to find his sisters, sons, mother-in-law and other family waiting for him on the back patio. He arrived kind of quietly, so we almost muffed up the shout of “Happy birthday!”
Also surprised today was my sister Debbie, whose birthday is tomorrow. She thought she was attending a surprise party for our brother. My stepmom prepared birthday cakes for Bryan and Debbie and we all brought celebratory cards for both.
And, because tomorrow is also Mother’s Day, we honored my stepmom, Jerri. She received her own stack of cards and loving hugs.
It was an all out party. Steve grilled hamburgers and hotdogs and Jerri made her famous crockpot beans. Bryan’s wife Christel brought yummy hummus and I supplied organic non GMO tortilla chips and plant based dishes…potato and herb salad and colorful chopped salad. I passed on the burgers and hotdogs. And while everyone else enjoyed chocolate cake and ice cream, I had a delicious bowl of fresh chopped fruit.
I appreciated that Jerri gathered us all together. There was much laughter and an easy flow of conversation. The four younger kids present had a big yard to run and play in and the covered patio offered protection from the sun while allowing the breeze to cool us.
We chatted about life and summer plans, sang happy birthday, told stories and loved on each other. My family does many things well, and near the top of the list is celebrating each other.
These are precious times, as we create joy filled memories. The hours spent together are made more poignant by the keenly felt absence of my father, who passed away seven years ago. I still hear the echo of his voice, and his infectious laughter, in this place, the house he shared with my stepmother. I know he was with us in Spirit this afternoon, celebrating Bryan and Debbie. And I know he must feel proud of his wife who walked so valiantly with him through his illness, and now lives life to the fullest, for both of them.
As so often happens, after a fun day of being with each other, we vowed to get together again soon…for another celebration, or just because.
Happy birthday Bryan. I love you brother and I am proud of the amazing man you have become. I look forward to many more adventures together, including a shared trip to Scotland! Let’s plan that journey soon.
Happy birthday Debbie. I love you sister and appreciate your creativity and your compassionate heart. We have shared many adventures, with more just on the horizon. Thank you for walking with me.
Happy Mother’s Day Jerri. I love you, my second mom, and I am grateful to have you in my life. Thank you for your gracious hospitality today and for your courageous and generous heart.
I am so blessed with the beautiful souls that I call family.
Today is my stepmom’s birthday. Jerri became a part of my life when she said “I do” to my dad. I was eleven years old.
Dad and Jerri didn’t live far from where my sisters and I lived with our mom. Linda, Debbie and I spent every weekend with my dad and stepmom. That routine became a very normal part of my childhood.
It was later, when I was a teenager, that I realized that our situation was anything but normal. My friends told horror stories about the animosity between their divorced parents and their intense dislike of their stepparents. I was shocked. And then deeply appreciative. My parents, stepmom, and later my stepdad, never treated each other with disrespect or hostility, which created a secure and loving environment for us. In fact, I have memories of my dad watching us while my mother and stepmother attended jewelry parties together.
I have not experienced being a stepparent. So I can only imagine what that’s like, to step, literally, into a ready made family. I’m sure there are more challenges and stresses involved, when the person you promise to love and cherish already has children. However, Jerri didn’t create that impression. She rapidly became another family member, a second mom, and later a Mimi to my children.
Jerri didn’t parent us in the stepmotherly way that fairy tales portray so negatively. She was herself. She modeled strength to me, resilience and confidence. She was and is a hard worker, smart, and deals well with people. When my youngest, Adriel, was tiny, she heard me refer to Jerri as my stepmother during one of our summer visits. Eyes wide, Adriel was quick to protest that I was making that up. It couldn’t be true. My toddler had watched Disney’s Cinderella too many times to believe that the fun Mimi that she adored could be a stepmother. I quickly assured her that I was just teasing. I’m not sure how old Adriel was before she sorted it all out!
I looked up Jerri’s name.
“Jerri, you are introspective, prophetic, philosophical, and soul searching. You can also be analytical, critical and opinionated. You think deeply and clearly, have an air of mystery, and can sometimes be solitary and secretive. You live an eventful, exciting life. You are versatile and have the ability to learn easily.
Creative and outgoing, you look for opportunities that showcase your strengths. You are flexible and like to feel appreciated. You look for chances to mix with others socially and to communicate your ideas. You speak well and can easily relate to different cultures and concepts. Your high creativity can lead you to happiness. If you understand your goals, you can make major decisions in life and follow them successfully, without worry and uncertainty. You are able to achieve great things.
Those words create a portrait of a powerful, secure woman, who communicates well and enjoys successes in life. That’s Jerri. Her strengths and flexibility enabled her to help raise three girls and one boy, the son she and my dad had. That strength also carried her through the difficulties of my dad’s battle with cancer, a battle he ultimately lost.
My appreciation for my stepmom deepened during those two years that she journeyed so faithfully with my dad. I watched her help my father fulfill his bucket list, care for him, and remain upbeat and positive, no matter what the prognosis, or how heavy her heart felt. She loved him well, and that meant so much to his four children. After my dad’s death, Jerri seized life, as if living now for two. She’s adventurous, running in marathons, riding a motorcycle, skydiving, and zip lining, among other things. I can hear my dad proudly cheering her on, in spirit.
I’m cheering her on too. Jerri lives her life full on, with passion. She’s an amazing example of carpe diem, seize the day, to the youngest members of the family, to the grandchildren who are all young adults, and to us, the children, who are inhabiting middle age. We can all learn, as we observe her life.
As I’ve celebrated Mother’s Day this weekend, loving on others and being loved on, I have thought about all the strong and influential women in my life. In my journey, I’m in the esteemed position of having generations before me to appreciate, mothers and grandmothers, and generations after me to encourage, children and grandchildren.
Granny Grace, baby sister Linda, and me.
Grandma Mildred and me.
My grandmothers are gone. However, I was blessed to have them both, well into my adult years. These women hugged me and supplied bowls of ice cream and homemade cookies, played games and taught me to sew and crochet. Beyond being fun grandmothers, they modeled for me independence and perseverance, kindness and devotion. I still think of both of them often, as I carry their wise words with me through life’s circumstances.
I am so grateful for my mom. No one else has had as great an influence on my life as she has. My creative side has been nurtured by her my entire life. And even greater, she has lived her life creatively, writing, gardening, sewing, sketching, owning several businesses, making crafts and DIY projects. She didn’t live this way for my benefit. She lived as her authentic self, pursuing her interests and passions fearlessly, which was the greatest invitation I could ever receive, to do the same.
Jerri became my stepmom when I was eleven, and she has been a strong influence in my life as well. Although I have never experienced being a step parent, I have welcomed new grandchildren into my family, embracing them as my own flesh and blood. Jerri has modeled blending families together, to create a larger stronger family. Beyond just nurturing my sisters and me, Jerri also embraced my mother. I don’t know if my mom, stepmom and dad realized how incredibly precious the gifts of unity and respect were to me and my sisters. When my friends spoke about the hate and animosity between their divorced parents and new step parents, I felt deep gratitude that in my family the adults lived in a bigger way. I am grateful for Jerri and for her willingness to create and maintain a different kind of family.
Leta became my mother-in-law, my third mom, when I was 18. She had two sons and she excitedly embraced me as her daughter. Leta was one of the most gracious and generous women I have ever met. She modeled love to me, by way of her actions. She cooked delicious meals and luscious desserts, made crocheted blankets and enjoyed surprising me and later her grandkids with gifts that she spent hours shopping for. She had a child-like sense of wonder about the world that she never lost. However, she was strong, a survivor of losses and illnesses. I am grateful that she taught me that circumstances don’t determine how I live life. She chose to respond to challenges with faith and joy. I choose to follow her example.
There have been and continue to be many other strong women in my life…aunts, cousins, sisters, friends. We honor and nurture and mother each other. And when I have needed to, I have mothered and nurtured myself. When I faced my fears a few years ago, I was able to nurture the frightened four year old who cowered within me. I am continuing to mother my wee self, and the results have been incredible.
One of my greatest joys in life is being a mom and Yaya. When I was still a child, I couldn’t wait to grow up and become a mother. I have never taken this role lightly, praying earnestly to be a joyful mother of children, long before my babies arrived. My first pregnancy ended very early in miscarriage, something I didn’t talk about until fairly recently. I named that baby Daniel, making me the mother of four children. I have had the pleasure of raising three…a son and two daughters… and I couldn’t be more proud of the beautiful adults they have become.
Elissa and her husband Josh.
Nathanael and his wife Megan.
Adriel and her fiancé Nate.
Today, as I reflected on motherhood, I am exceedingly grateful for the experience of parenting and nurturing these children. They have helped me to be a better person. They have encouraged my growth. They cheer me on in all my endeavors.
As I journey with them and observe their lives, I have seen my older daughter Elissa switch careers, learning new things and stepping up into greater responsibility. She and Josh are so very present for their sons, showing up for events and awards. As Dayan nears the end of high school, I see his mother preparing him for life beyond living at home with his family.
I have watched my son deal with high stress situations in his career and life, with grace and strength, his wife Megan at his side. They too are involved in the lives of their children. In spite of long hours working, keeping his community safe, Nate takes the time to have lunch at school with each of his kids.
My younger daughter worked for years to achieve her desired career. She’s very good at what she does, showing great compassion. I watched yesterday as Nate brought their car to a stop, and Adriel hopped out to rescue a turtle who was slowly crossing the street. She carefully placed him in a grassy area, away from the dangerous road. Nate does the same thing often. It’s who they are…caring people.
Being a Yaya to my five grandchildren has magnified my joy. As a little girl, longing to be a mother someday, I couldn’t imagine anything greater than that. I possibly couldn’t imagine myself being so old that I’d be a grandmother! I have become the person that I so looked forward to spending time with as a child.
I am coming full circle, in my journey, from a girl with powerful women in my life, to the grandmother who desires to show her granddaughter and grandsons how to live a life full of love and joy, creativity and strength. These kids are continuing the task of helping me grow into the kind of person who can live such an open and authentic life. They inspire me.
Surrounded by such brave hearts…grandmothers who still journey with me in spirit, mothers, and sisters…I can offer with confidence from my own heart to my children and grandchildren. I have a family legacy that I want to pass on.