Friday, August 7, 2020

Mother’s Day: The Ever-Changing Holiday for Coronado Moms

Mother's Day may only fall once a year, but its significance changes from year to year depending upon the cards that are dealt. I celebrate with my fellow moms, marveling at how uniquely different each of our experiences is.

My last Christmas with my mother Margo, who died when I was three years old

When I was just nineteen days shy of my fourth birthday, my mother Margo, who was just thirty years old, was killed by a drunk driver, leaving my father, my eight year old sister, and me behind. Mother’s Day 1979 fell just twelve days after she died, and I learned from an early age that Mother’s Day is a holiday that is ever-changing depending upon one’s circumstances.

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My mother Margo

While I was too young to form any tangible memories of my mother, one of my earliest Mother’s Day memories was formed when I was in kindergarten.  In art class, as elementary students often do, students were making a Mother’s Day craft, handprints on felt.  As students excitedly began dipping their hands into the wet, red paint, the art teacher, Mrs. Dorman, said to me from across the room, “Coree, you don’t have to make one since you don’t have a mom.”  The last few words stung my eyes as my classmates all stared at me.  “You don’t have a mom.” I’ll never forget how sad and isolated she made me feel, and just thinking about it takes me back to that moment, which is crystal clear in my mind.  I wasn’t about to let Mrs. Dorman or my friends see that I was upset though, and made it clear that I too would be participating in the activity.  I gave the artwork to my Dad’s sister, my Aunt Ruthann, and I remember for years how she had it hanging in her home, which made me feel special.

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My father remarried a few years later, and I was so excited to have a new “Tamie.” I didn’t call Tamie my step-mom, I simply called her Tamie.  I was now back in the same league with all of the other kids.  I had a mom!  I learned though that not everyone put the same value on a step-mom as they do a “real” mom.  I hated when people would say, “She’s just your step-mom.”  There was nothing superficial or less significant about the role she chose to take on, and Tamie loved me, and continues to love me, like I was her own. She always introduced me as her daughter rather than referring to me as her step-daughter or Bill’s daughter.

When my younger sister was born, I started calling Tamie “Mom” instead of calling her by her first name.  It felt good to be able to introduce her to people as “My Mom,” and I was convinced that would now put me on equal footing with my friends.  Of course, I was naive. Just because you call someone “Mom” doesn’t stop the never-ending stream of questions. “That’s your mom?  How come you don’t look like her?”  Somehow there was always someone out there who made me feel different from everyone else.  I learned early on how intrusive people could be, and how their questions could totally rock my confidence and my identity.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my mom to step into the lives of two young, motherless girls, and to make herself a part of our shattered family, but I thank my lucky stars each day that she did.  When my brother was born, our family of six was complete, and my mom would always correct anyone who tried to suggest that my older sister and I were the “half sisters” of the younger two.  She raised us to be a “whole” family in every sense of the word, and did so in such a graceful way that still leaves me in awe.

My wedding day with my mother Tamie
My wedding day with my mother Tamie

Margo’s mom, who I called Oma, was a German immigrant with the cutest laugh in the world.  It had to have been hard for Oma to watch another woman step into the maternal role vacated when her youngest daughter died, but Oma embraced Tamie, and the two formed a special bond.  When my mom became a grandmother herself, she decided that she wanted to be called Oma, honoring Margo’s mother.  I loved how Tamie was secure enough to let Margo’s memory and family history continue to be part of our family, and as an adult I now appreciate that even more than I’ll ever be able to express.

Growing up in a large family, I always knew I wanted to be a mother someday. I loved children, and wanted at least two.  My husband, who is the oldest of three, also wanted a big family, but in the words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

We struggled for several years with infertility.  Mother’s Day changed for me again during those painful years when my friends were all having their first and then their second and then their third babies while my husband and I were still struggling to conceive.  Don’t get me wrong; I was thrilled for my friends, and loved watching them become doting mommies, but my heart felt sad because as I watched their joys multiply I saw firsthand exactly what I was missing.  Mother’s Day became a day that seemed to haunt me, a painful reminder that I wasn’t a mother yet, a day that made me worry even more if I would ever get to become a mother.

For years both my husband and I had to put up with annoying questions from friends, family, and complete strangers.  “When are you two going to think about starting a family?”  We used to try to downplay that awkward question by looking at each other, and saying, “Oh, my God!  Thanks for bringing that up!  We totally forgot to even think about starting a family!”  Others would pry, “How long have you been married?  Why don’t you have kids yet?  Don’t you want kids?”  The endless barrage of questions made me want to crawl under a blanket and hide from the world.  I taught high school students for several years, and it felt especially cruel that some of my students, who didn’t even want babies and certainly weren’t ready for them, were pregnant.  In my mind I questioned why it was so easy for some women to get pregnant while it was so hard for me.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to start a family, we decided to adopt a baby from China.  We carefully filled out the mountains of paperwork and background checks, and we were approved with an agency and officially on the waiting list.  Mother’s Day took on a new importance for me because I was finally about to become a mommy!  Yes, I still didn’t have an actual child yet, but I was in line to have one, and could at least answer people’s rude questions with responses full of hope instead of painful silences when my eyes brimmed with tears that I willed to not spill down my cheeks.

Love at first sight!

Of course, Mother Nature always has a good sense of humor because right after we sent in our hefty non-refundable deposit to the adoption agency, lo and behold, I discovered I was pregnant.  We were dropped from the waiting list and lost our deposit because the agency had a specific clause in it that couples could not be pregnant or have a child under the age of one living in their home during the adoption process, but we didn’t care.  We were having a baby!

The day I became a mommy

After eight and a half years of marriage, my mini-me entered the world, and filled my heart with so much love that I thought I would burst.  My first Mother’s Day as Addison Margo’s mommy found me with yet again new feelings about the holiday.  I finally was a mommy, and I loved being a parent even more than I imagined I could.  Years of heartache disappeared the moment she wrapped her tiny hand around my finger.

A special moment with my daughter Addison

My daughter is now nine years old, and I continue to love Mother’s Day, saving each homemade card and savoring the hugs, kisses, and smiles that my daughter brings to my world.  Mother’s Day is a reminder to me of how lucky I am to be Addie’s mother.  She was worth the wait.

For me Mother’s Day represents so many emotions.  I mourn the mother who was taken from me by someone’s unforgivable recklessness.  I honor the mother who chose to take on the enormous task of helping to raise me.  I empathize with the women who yearn to become mothers someday, who outwardly show brave smiles to the world while fighting heartache and disappointment.  I feel excitement for the women who are in the process of adopting, and so much respect for those women who have patiently gone through such great lengths to become mothers.  I celebrate with my fellow moms, marveling at how uniquely different each of our experiences is.  Mother’s Day is also a time for me to thank my mother-in-law Patty for raising the man I love.  My daughter has been blessed with having two grandmothers who absolutely adore her, and on Mother’s Day I always wish that we didn’t live so far away from family because I know Addie’s Oma and Gram would like nothing more than to spend time with her.

Mother’s Day makes me think of my friends and family too.  My high school friend Carrie’s beautiful, blue eyed boy Bryce died a few days after turning one back in 2010.  I think of her each Mother’s Day.  Each year I also think about my Aunt Terry, whose seventeen year old son Charlie died in a horrific tragedy.  I’ve always admired Aunt Terry’s strength, and love that she still talks about Charlie’s memory even though he left us back in 1998. What must it be like on Mother’s Day for women who have lost a child?  I can’t even imagine.

Mother’s Day may only fall once a year, but its significance changes from year to year depending upon the cards that are dealt.  What does Mother’s Day mean to some other women here in Coronado?  I was lucky enough to sit down to talk with a few Coronado moms, each of whom brings a unique perspective to this special holiday.

Ruth Klamper with her daughter (Photo courtesy of Ruth Klamper)’s own Ruth Klamper is a first time mother. “For my first Mother’s Day I’m celebrating life (the life that I now have as a mother and the life my husband and I share in parenthood), love (the unconditional love I have for my daughter and that I know she has for me), happiness (the kind of deep rooted, true happiness that I didn’t know existed), and joy (because my daughter’s spirit, smile, and touch brings me endless amounts of joy).  My Mother’s Day will be very low key.  It will probably consist of snuggles, spit up, and no sleep – but I wouldn’t trade those things for the world.”

Becca Garber, another writer, and mother of two, is expecting her third baby.  “Mother’s Day feels more like a celebration every year, it seems, because every year I realize more and more what a world-shaping task motherhood is.  This year, with my third child due a week after Mother’s Day, it is especially joyful and precious!  It is such a privilege to be a mom.”

Becca Garber with her daughter and son (and baby #3, who's due this month.) (Photo courtesy of Becca Garber)
Becca Garber with her daughter and son (and baby #3, who’s due this month.) (Photo courtesy of Becca Garber)

Amy Schiaffino, a mother of three, is looking at Mother’s Day differently this year.  Her oldest son is a senior in high school, and this will be the last Mother’s Day that all three of her kids will be living under the same roof. “When I went to the Coronado SAFE Parent Conference back in January, they mentioned children’s synapses aren’t finished forming until they’re in the twenties.  They also said something that really resonated with me. ‘They have to be a little bit crazy when they’re eighteen to be able to fly and leave the nest.’  Even though I think my little flower needs to be fertilized, and clipped back a few more times, it’s time for him to go bloom, and do whatever he needs to do.”

Left: Amy Schiaffino with her son before Coronado High School’s senior prom in April. Right: Amy Schiaffino’s husband and kids at a recent baseball game at Petco Park. (Photos courtesy of Amy Schiaffino)

She continued, “We recently went to a ball game, and it’s something our family enjoys.  It did take a minute to realize that this will be the last time all of us will have all of our schedules in alignment.  Mother’s Day might be the last holiday where all of us will be home together, and you just don’t know when that will happen again.  We’ll try to make this Mother’s Day a really good one this year.”

Ann Marie Bryan, who also is an writer, has three grown children who no longer live at home.  “My children are on the east coast creating their own wonderful lives.  I have overwhelming gratefulness that I got to be their mother, that I was the one who got to watch them grow into the beautiful young adults they are today.”

Ann Marie Bryan (second from right) with her husband and three children at her daughter's college graduation. (Photo courtesy of Ann Marie Bryan)
Ann Marie Bryan (second from right) with her husband and three children at her daughter’s college graduation. (Photo courtesy of Ann Marie Bryan)

Hilary Ruiz, mother to four girls, says, “I hate Mother’s Day.”  When Ruiz was 35 years old, her mother had cancer, and passed away.  “Since my mom died, Mother’s Day has been totally different.  Now it’s hard to always be happy.  You see all these people saying, ‘Oh, I have to do this for my mom,’ or people complaining, “Ugh!  My mother’s coming for Mother’s Day!’  I would love to be able to have a Mother’s Day again with my mom.  I guess I kind of get sensitive when people take their moms for granted.”  She adds, “You never know what someone else’s Mother’s Day means to them.  Instead of complaining about your mom, appreciate that you still have a mom.”

Left: Hilary Ruiz's mother with Ruiz's four daughters. Top right: Ruiz's mother. Bottom Right: Ruiz with her mother when Ruiz was a child.
Left: Hilary Ruiz’s mother with Ruiz’s four daughters. Top right: Ruiz’s mother. Bottom Right: Ruiz with her mother when Ruiz was a child.

Kris Collins is a military spouse and mother of three girls.  To her Mother’s Day is a time to reflect on how much she appreciates her fellow moms and reflect on her role as being the sole caretaker of her daughters when her husband is away.  “There are times in which I wish my mom was closer than a phone call away.  But I am lucky to be surrounded by moms who are in the same position I am, with spouses on workups or deployments.  It seems like they are always gone and once again, I am a single mom on duty.  I was asked a while back if I knew what was to lie ahead for me marrying Pete and the Navy. My response was, ‘I am marrying my best friend.’  Yes, I knew at some point I would play two parental roles, but I want to show our daughters that life can get rough (moving around, new friends, new schools, and deployment separations), but we can still stay positive and make the most of each day.  Hopefully they can take the events which I call ‘roughed up rocks’ and turn them into beautiful diamonds.  Of course, once Pete leaves, something inevitably breaks. I have learned to fix things without always calling a repairman.  Nonetheless, there is another mom right there to help; a new mom or even a seasoned mom right there who drops everything to help.  Thank goodness for all the moms I know who are always willing to help out, and say, ‘yes,’ when you are dropping your child(ren) off because of something or other.  That helping hand and welcoming smile just tells me everything will be okay.”

Kris Collins with her three daughters and Princess Sofia (Photo courtesy of Kris Collins)

She continued, “There are days when it’s not the most glorious job (sick kids, etc.), but at the end of the day when my girlies are about to drift off to the land of dreams, to get the biggest sweetest hugs and kisses from them makes it the best job I could ever want. There is nothing more that I want.  So if you asked me if I love being a mom, I would say absolutely 100%.  We are here to help our children become smart, confident, and amazing. They are our future.”

Theresa Jones is a military widow who is raising her two young sons.  Since her husband Landon died, Mother’s Day has changed for her.  “I was never super pampered on Mother’s Day, but it became more of an obvious loss.  There was no one there to say, ‘Let’s go make Mom a card or a present or anything like that.  Also at the same time, it made my job more important as a mom.  Instead of feeling like I should be pampered or taken out somewhere, I just want to be with my boys, and be around them, and be their mom and be there,” adding, “not to say that there’s anything wrong with going out or being pampered.” She continued, “I think that’s probably the biggest thing.  Normally the dad is the one to say, ‘Let’s get her a card,’ or ‘Let’s make her some coffee,’ or whatever kids would do.  It was almost like I then had to rely on Anthony’s [older son] school to take care of making cards or presents.  The nice little words that he would put in his cards were that much more sweet.  He would write, ‘You’re the greatest mom in the world,’ and ‘I’m so lucky.’  I feel like all year long I’m screwing up, and that one day [Mother’s Day], I think, ‘Okay! Maybe I’m not doing so bad!”

Theresa Jones with her sons holding a photograph of her late husband Landon (Photo courtesy of Theresa Jones)
Theresa Jones with her sons holding a photograph of her late husband Landon (Photo courtesy of Theresa Jones)

Jennifer Hale has been a divorcee for the past seven years, and has been raising a teenage daughter and an elementary aged daughter.  The lifestyle changes brought about from her divorce have made her relationships with her girls stronger.  “For me I think Mother’s Day has changed from when I was married to now as a single mom. It’s gone from Mother’s Day brunch at the Del, which was really great at the time, and I wouldn’t take those years back, but now as a single mom my Mother’s Days are spent at the zoo or at the park with my kids.  It’s not about how much money you can spend or the coolest restaurant you can go to, it’s about knowing I’m so blessed to just be a mom and be with my kids.”

Jennifer Hale with her daughters (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Hale)

She continued, “We used to live in a huge house, 3,000 square feet two blocks from the beach, and now I’ve downsized so much, but my kids aren’t running off to their rooms where I’ll never see them again the whole night.  We have to see each other every night,” she laughed, explaining, “We’re always crossing paths. Being a single mom now, we’re way more cohesive; we complete each other’s sentences.  We’re so strong. We know each other so well.  We’ve just supported each other in so many different ways unknowingly for so long that I wouldn’t change it for the world now.”

Hale concluded, “This year I’m asking the girls how they want to spend Mother’s Day.  It’s just about being together.  I think that’s what being a mom is.  It’s great to be pampered, but I can do that by myself.  I would much rather spend the day with my girls.  That’s what it’s about anyway.  I’m happy just being home with my family.”

No matter how mothers choose to celebrate their special holiday this Sunday, May 8th, here’s to hoping that their day is filled with just as much love as our Coronado moms are! And for those of you who still can, call your mother!

(Photo courtesy of Google Images)




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Coree Cornelius
Coree Cornelius
Resident, Educator, Military Spouse, and Mother."I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list." - Susan Sontag.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to:


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