By Karen Elgersma
When I was a little girl my favourite game to play was “house.” According to my mom, every day I would ask my older brothers, neighbours, anyone, if they wanted to play “house” with me. Apparently, I always wanted to be the mom. Then I grew up, and just two days before Christmas, in my 27th year, I became a real-life mom.
During the past 21 years, my role as a mom has evolved dramatically. I have cried, laughed, screamed and prayed my way through this bumpy journey — and with each high and low I have slowly inched my way into becoming the woman I want to model to my kids.
My children have taught me that I can’t just teach confidence, love, generosity, kindness, discipline; I have to live it, and my 12-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter have been excellent teachers. These lessons don’t come easily, but darn it, we moms do love to share our war stories. Not only is this sharing cathartic, our stories have the power to teach, inspire and help us know we are not alone.
In honour of Mother’s Day, I sat down with four mamas, each with some serious mojo and a story that will give you a reason or two to celebrate motherhood.
What motherhood means to her
When I met Julie Cove 20 years ago, she was a successful designer, with her own home décor store. I called her the Martha Stewart of Vancouver Island, and Julie often appeared on TV with me, inspiring us all with her creative DIY ideas. Today, she is the author of the new cookbook Eat Better, Feel Better, Look Better and is one of the most fun and creative moms I know. But what really makes Julie a rock-star mom is that this confident, strong woman was orphaned at five and grew up in foster care, living in four different homes by the time she was 18 and could live on her own.
“It wasn’t easy growing up without a mom,” she says. “I longed for someone who would just love me unconditionally. Even the simple things, like having someone who can care for you, go to your soccer games, make sure you get to school safely. I became independent quickly because I knew I had to depend on myself for those things.”
When Julie became a mom, she had some underlying fears, since she didn’t have any great role models from her own childhood. She says, “I am the kind of person who just figures it out. If I wanted to know how to do something I would ask friends, other moms and even strangers, and I would always get amazing ideas.”
Julie is open to hearing what anyone has to offer; the only thing she won’t tolerate is when people complain about their moms. “It just irks me; they have no idea how lucky they are to have a mom, to have someone who loves them.”
Julie has taught me that sometimes you just need to drop what you are doing and play. She says, “You don’t want to regret not taking the time with your kids to do the fun things that create the precious memories.” Memories she wished she could have had with her mom.
The hero in her own story
When I met Michelle Ford and her husband, Chris, they were madly in love, travelling the world, taking dance lessons and renovating their cute little heritage home in Sidney. Then tragedy hit, and Chris got cancer. Just days after Chris died, Michelle found out she was pregnant with their first daughter. This courageous young mom decided to have another child, and through the miracle of science (in vitro fertilization) she gave birth to their second daughter a few years later.
This tall, beautiful, artistic mama never ceases to amaze me. She lives this big, adventurous, crazy life. Her blog is filled with stories and photos of her and her girls riding horses in Australia, exploring France (her favourite place to visit), the latest painting she is working on (she’s also an artist, and art student) and updates of her kids’ achievements in karate.
It isn’t always easy. Michelle didn’t expect her life to turn out this way. “I have found myself breaking with the tradition of what a family should be and letting go of the weight of those old values,” she says. She believes the secret to finding deep joy as a single mom is embracing her family just the way it is.
“I am trying to do things in a new way — it wasn’t the life I planned — but I am paving a new way of looking at what it means to be a mom, and a family, and I’m passing this knowledge to my children.”
If Michelle is having a bad day, she doesn’t spend time feeling sorry for herself. Instead she blasts some music and dances around the house. Now working on a fine arts degree, she says she strives every day to be the hero in her own story and to teach her girls to do the same, and when I hang out with this modern mama I always leave feeling a little braver. “The loss is immeasurable,” she says, “but also immeasurable is the love left behind. So be indefatigable … Time waits for no one. Be adventurous!”
You have to figure it out
Annie Wong-Harrison is a crazy-successful entrepreneur who loves running her two businesses, National Car and Truck Sales, Leasing and Rentals, and the Arbutus Inn. Also the CEO of three children, Annie magically juggles multiple offices across the Island and Lower Mainland, while cooking a dinner for 12. Her secret? According to Annie, the credit belongs to her mom and her children. Her Chinese-Canadian mom taught her how to be self-sufficient and hold true to her values, and her kids, well, they blessed her with a wicked sense of humour.
“My husband and I didn’t plan our first child, who we had at 24, and we really didn’t expect our third child, who came as a big surprise (post-vasectomy kind of surprise). Having children has taught me how to manage a crisis and deal with unexpected conflict. No matter what happens, you just can’t fire your kids; you have to figure it out.”
Laughing, she adds, “These kids are my CEO training; they taught me about relationships, how to be a better person, and to let go of feeling like you can do it all. I learned that it’s OK to make mistakes. You are not perfect, and that’s OK.” Annie’s best advice for spending time with your kids? “Food! Who doesn’t love to sit around the table, eating a yummy meal, talking and laughing? These are my favourite moments.”
Confidence comes in stages
I met Barb Bishop Fetherstonhaugh when I did a story on a local rhythmic gymnastics club. Watching Barb choreograph a piece that was both technically difficult and visually stunning was impressive. I was blown away by the respect and love the kids had for her. But what really made an impression was seeing how her daughter, also an instructor, interacted with Barb’s other daughters who were part of the club. The respect and love these sisters had for each other and for Barb was amazing.
This mom of three daughters and a son owns a family business and is very involved in her View Royal community. She says her kids taught her the value of faith, love and hope, for herself and others. Having a big family is crazy at times, but she loves the connection they have, “sharing, enjoying our family times, especially the stories, and the crazy humour ….”
Barb makes it look easy, but for her the most challenging moments are those of letting go. “Each time I let go I gained a bit of confidence in the journey of our lives, but each change is hard for me, from kindergarten to university, each new driver’s licence, romance, breakup or when they go off travelling alone abroad.”
Even though it can be hard, Barb says, “I always listen to their dreams and hopes. Even knowing it means they will be moving away, I encourage them to go for it.”
When I ask Barb how she has evolved as a woman and a mom, she gets choked up and says, “I think of the little girl I was, who has lost friends and feared the darkness of the world. But that little girl has learned to believe in the best of the universe, and each day to affirm that we all deserve good, and my kids are the evidence of that. I worry less, enjoy more and breathe deeply.”
Finding My Own path
Writing this article, I find myself leaning in to every word of these brave, smart women, because I am facing a big decision about my own future, as I complete my Master’s in Communications and need to decide what it is I want to do next. So I take all their wise words, store them in my head and go for a hike. I think about how each of these moms wants her children to have the courage to live out their own dreams.
One mom tells me the theme in her house is “If you can dream it, you can do it.” As I walk through the rain-drenched forest, I almost feel as if these amazing women have inadvertently mothered me. I also hear my own mom’s wise voice telling me to just be completely honest with myself and have the courage to do what I authentically want to do. Then my daughter Charlotte calls, interrupting my hike and forcing me to put my what-the-heck-am-I-going-to-do-with-the-rest-of-my-life thoughts aside.
“Mom,” she says, “I don’t know what to do when I graduate in a few months. I’m panicking. Can you help?”
What can I say? How can I offer my own daughter wisdom when I can’t even figure out what I want? After listening to Charlotte for a few minutes I respond, “You know exactly what to do. Don’t do what you should do — do what your heart is calling you to do, even if no one approves, even if it doesn’t make sense, even if it’s scary.”
Then suddenly it hits me — I too know exactly what I should do. I have had a dream of starting my own show for as long as I can remember, but I never had the courage to actually do it.
I can hear a thousand voices in my head telling me why this is a terrible idea, but then I think, “Wait, I need to take the advice I gave my daughter, the wisdom given to me by my mom, by all the moms I know, and just go for the BIG DREAM, no fear, no doubt, no second-guessing.”
It took four moms and a daughter’s dilemma to help me come to a place where I find the courage and insight to pursue my heart’s deepest desire. You know, maybe playing “house” and being the mom is just as fun as it was when I was little — and maybe even more so.