During this week leading up to Mother’s Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mom, Carmella, and I wanted to tell you a little about her today to honor her legacy. This post is quite a bit longer than usual, so thank you in advance for taking the time to read it. I hope my mom’s story, and my story that’s intertwined in it, will inspire you to give yourself the loving care you deserve!
I’ll start at the beginning…
My mother was born in 1924, to Italian immigrants, in a small coal mining town in West Virginia.
Her father, my grandfather, stopped working for the coal mines after losing his brother, who was working beside him, in a mining collapse when he was just 19.
My grandfather then worked for the railroad as a laborer his entire life. He never learned to read, write, or speak English, but he was sharp as a tack, teaching his children mathematics using matchsticks. And he was an amazing storyteller—full of wit, wisdom, and charisma.
My grandmother also did not learn to speak English, but she was able to read and write in Italian. She was an avid reader and passed this love onto my mother.
My grandmother was ill for most of my mother’s childhood, and she passed away at only 54 years old.
Needless to say, my mom grew up poor, although her family always had food on the table—thanks to a giant vegetable garden. They also frequently had a house full of guests, friends and family, who stopped by for long visits and meals.
Life was not easy for my mom, being the female middle-child of an Italian family, where the girls were expected to serve not only any guests who visited, but also their three brothers and father.
And, in addition to the machismo culture of her household, she also had to deal with a bigoted town, intolerant of her Italian heritage, economic status, and gender.
But my mom was a trailblazer and a rebel—she always held her ground.
She was well-read like her mother and smart like her dad. My mom’s grades were pristine. She was top in her class; however, she was demoted from valedictorian to salutatorian for discriminatory reasons.
My mom later told me, “Of course, I knew the stats better than anyone, so I knew I was valedictorian whether they honored me for it, or not.”
My mom came to the Cleveland area while in her late teens to join two of her siblings who came first to find work. In an unprecedented move, her eldest brother, John, paid for her to attend two years of college to study accounting. He believed in her potential—truly extraordinary given the machismo household they grew up in.
My mom then worked as an accountant her entire career and worked her way up to accounting supervisor in 1967.
She was the first female supervisor at the Towmotor Corporation, but only received the promotion when the man who was being groomed for the position stepped down. Company leaders had my mother training this fella to be her boss. But, when he learned this was the case, he couldn’t in good conscience take the position.
It was a big break for my mom, but it left her feeling like she always had something to prove.
My mom was a 4’11” woman working in a man’s world, with half the education of most of her male counterparts. She was always hustling for worthiness, working harder and more hours than her peers.
She was also a divorced, single mother at the time. Although not unusual by today’s standards, it definitely was in those days. We lived in a catholic neighborhood filled with big families with lots of children, and generally stay-at-home moms.
My mom did not have the luxury of taking time off from work to help at my school, or even to take a phone call during the workday. She sometimes put in 15-hour long days and would get up the next morning and do it again. She was competing in the “boy’s club”, but she held her own—and then some!
That being said, my mom loved fiercely and always made me feel like I was the light of her world. I can still feel her love at my core.
Sadly, my mom passed away too soon, at age 64, when I was a young woman in my early 20’s. She was diagnosed with lung cancer the day after Thanksgiving and died soon after—just five days before Christmas that year.
Her loss was profound for me because she was my person—my family—my world.
This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom’s legacy and all the parts of her that have lived on through me and my daughters, who are both strong women in their own right. I’m proud that I’ve instilled so much of my mom’s values in them.
In them I see her tenacity, independence, and grit. I also see her empathy, compassion, and insistence on living in integrity with their values—no matter what. They both appreciate the value of education, feminism, and the importance of lifting other people up.
I have distinct memories of lessons my mother taught me by watching how she showed up in the world, and these values have lived on long past her days on this earth. . .
*I remember my mom washing the coat of a young girl from my class, who was a guest at my 8th birthday party. She did this on the DL behind the scenes during the party. My mother later told me that the coat was so dirty that she didn’t want the child to feel “less than” because of it. She taught me the values of respectfulness, kindness, and compassion.
*I remember my mom telling me that my dad once told her that others at work thought she was a “bitch” because of the way she ran her department. She then explained to me, in no uncertain terms, that this didn’t bother her in the least. “I have high standards and I expect that from my people. I would be doing them and the company a disservice otherwise. If I were a man, I would be commended for the way I lead.” She taught me to assert myself, never apologize for living in integrity, and to ignore the haters.
*I remember my mama instilling in me that women MUST be independent, in every sense of the word, especially when it came to finances. When she married, she kept her accounts separate from her husband’s and kept track of every cent. She also paid for everything in cash and didn’t even own a credit card. She taught me to be financially independent and responsible.
*I also remember my mother being playful with money, especially when it came to the stock market and trips to Las Vegas. (Once, they had to call for her in the Vegas airport so she wouldn’t miss her plane because she was playing the slots in the bathroom and lost track of time. The entire plane applauded when she boarded, lol.) She taught me not to take money too seriously, have fun with it, and embrace an abundant mindset.
*I remember that my mom always had a housekeeper because she worked long hours, and she didn’t want to spend her time off working around the house too. She taught me the importance of balance and that it it’s more than okay to delegate tasks to achieve it.
*I remember my mother kept a small bottle of French salad dressing in the fridge, because that’s what my new boyfriend (now my husband) preferred, rather than the Italian dressing that was a staple at our house. Jerry was special to me, so my mom wanted him to feel welcome, comfortable, and cared for when he visited. She taught me the importance of kindness, thoughtfulness, and hospitality.
*I remember when my mom finally came out of the surgical recovery room, after having one and a half lungs removed. As soon as she saw me, she put up her finger and mouthed, “Go home and rest. Please, go home dolly.” She taught me the importance of caring for myself and resting.
*I remember the Thanksgiving before my mom died. She knew she was sick but hadn’t received the biopsy results yet. My mom put on the biggest, fanciest, most festive family dinner one could imagine. And then that Christmas, before she went to the hospital for her surgery, my mom decorated the house in grand fashion, and she left beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree. She taught me the value of family, generosity, and love.
I have many more memories, for sure, and I will always feel my mom’s love.
However, since I lost her at such a young age, I’ve had to spend most of my adult life “mothering” myself.
So many times, I’ve had to ask myself: What would my mom advise?
And even though my memories of her have faded over the years, and I’ve had to make up the answer—I’m pretty sure that I know what my mom would say . . .
My mom would tell me to slow down and to rest. She would encourage me to nourish my body with healthy foods, cut back on the wine, and stick with my twice daily walks by the lake.
She would remind me that my dreams are important, and she would tell me to never give up. She would be proud of all I’ve accomplished and would encourage me to reach even higher. She would tell me to ignore the critics in my head and stay focused on what brings me joy.
And my mom would LOVE the mission of my coaching practice and Shine On program—I’ve visualized her telling everyone about it and being my greatest fan, biggest cheerleader, and advertiser!
This is what I’ve imagined over the years, and one way that I’ve learned to love and care for myself. And this is something I’m recommending to you.
Whether you’ve had a loving mom like mine or not, you can always find your “inner mama” inside of you.
Then on those days when you’re not being so kind to yourself or nurturing yourself like you know you deserve, let your “inner mama” give you a nudge.
Would she be okay with you skipping breakfast?
What would she say about the long hours you’ve been working?
How would she feel about you not making any time in your schedule for fun?
I’m guessing she might have a word with you if she noticed you were putting other people’s needs, wants, and dreams ahead of your own?
Am I right?
Please listen to her and take good care of yourself!
On this Mother’s Day, I’d like to wish a beautiful day to all who are mothers. Sending happy thoughts to those who will be spending the day with their children or celebrating with their own moms.
And to the women who’ve courageously chosen not to be a mom, sending a respectful shoutout to you too!
But especially to those of you who might find this day painful because you’re disconnected with your mom, or she is ill or has passed away; Or if you’ve lost a child, been unable to conceive, or something else . . . I send you so much love and empathy.
Please tap into your “inner mama” and listen to her—take care of yourself the way she would want you to.
You deserve to nurture yourself, love yourself, and BE yourself.
Give yourself a warm, loving hug—from your “inner mama” and from me.
Happy Mother’s Day, my friend!