The Woman Who Taught Me to Rock

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She was always the cool mom. My friends always liked hanging out with her and knew they could be themselves around her. She likes her music loud, whether she’s in the car or in the house. Even when I was a kid, she didn’t listen to typical “mom” music. She liked Queen, ELO, Journey, and Styx. We would often drive around town with the windows rolled down and the bass from the stereo pounding. She was the softball coach at my school for many years and taught me how to play. When it came time for the Junior Olympics in our area, she helped coach us, making us run more than we probably wanted. But we did well and placed in the top three, a good showing for a small class. She helped out in the cafeteria the days we had hot lunch. I would get out of class, run down to the cafeteria/auditorium and find her in the kitchen. She’d hand me money for lunch and I’d get an extra cupcake. When I was having a hard time in the sixth grade, feeling alone, rejected, and betrayed by friends, she told me I could switch to the public junior high the next year if I wanted. I told her I wasn’t going to let mean and hurtful kids drive me from my school. I got that fight and spirit from her.

One day in the eighth grade, my classmates and I were let out of PE early. It was raining and we decided it would be fun to go out on the lawn and “ski.” This was where three of us would hook arms and run across the lawn, then the middle person would put their feet out in front of them and slide as the other two kept running. We did it in the winter when frost was on the ground and it was some innocent fun. The seventh graders saw us and ratted us out to our teacher. The principal dragged us into her office (she was one mean nun, by the way) and called our parents to bring us dry clothes. We were “in trouble, blah, blah, blah.” Some moms showed up absolutely furious. My mom drove up, stereo thumping, laughing at the whole thing. I got in the car, changed clothes, and we went to Wendy’s for lunch before she dropped me back off at school.

She was a star athlete in high school and got good grades. I wanted to do the same. I was never a star athlete, though if I’d made a few different choices, I might have been. I did get good grades and took pride in that. I may not have had a lot of friends, but I had my brain and that would serve me better in the real world. She taught me that what others think about you doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether or not you are proud or happy with your own work. She proofed every writing assignment I had and made sure I corrected problems. If my paper wasn’t organized well or I didn’t have support for my arguments, she had me go back and work on it until it was better. Because of her careful attention to my writing, I became a better writer. I rarely wrote drafts once I got out of high school because I had learned to do the hard work before I sat down to write.

When I was a kid, we’d go to the tennis courts in the summer. She’d play tennis with her friend and I would hang out with my best friend on the playground. Sometimes we’d join our moms on the courts for a little while, but we weren’t that good at that age. My mom had played tennis in high school and could beat most people. As I got older, I got a little better each year. I wanted to be able to play like my mom. I practiced hitting a ball against the garage in the hopes that someday I could play as well as her. Though I’m sure the sound of a ball hitting the garage irritated her, she never told me to stop. In high school, she and I would go to the courts at my school in the summer and play for several hours a day. I was getting better, but was nowhere close to her level. More practice, more persistence, and by some miracle, a decent backhand, resulted in me being able to keep up with her on the courts. She still beat my ass on a daily basis out there, but at least it wasn’t as easy. And I actually won a few sets over the years. Even in her 50s, she could get to the net faster than I could, and I’m pretty quick. In college, we started playing on the junior college courts because they were nicer. I could actually challenge her then, and we had fun hitting the ball at each other as hard as we could. A group of older men and women played there every weekend, and they often asked my mom to join their group. She politely declined. She told me she didn’t want to play “ping pong” with them and would just get irritated.

For the last year and a half or so, my mom has been fighting lymphoma. It took some time to get a diagnosis and treatment. She’s had complications from the illness and a bad cocktail of medications, not crosschecked by doctors and pharmacists, came close to killing her last year. The illness and medications left her weak and exhausted, two things that are difficult for a woman who is used to being strong, independent, and energetic. My family has dealt with a lot of stress and loss the last several years. Watching my mom’s health decline so quickly was probably the most difficult thing we’ve been through. She was not the woman we were used to, the woman who, aside from migraines, was rarely sick. We all felt powerless to help, and she felt the most powerless of all. Through determination, research, doctor changes, and tough love, she has regained much of her strength and is back to being her feisty self. She is still battling this disease, but new doctors have given all of us a better outlook. We will not see or allow a repeat of the medications that almost took her from us.

She still plays her music loud. My friends still ask about her and send her their love and wishes to get better. Even after all these years, she’s still the cool mom.

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