I’ve never seen the actual paperwork, but a mother’s contract must contain a clause that says she’ll forever put her children first. My mom was like that, although I gave her every reason not to be. When I was a teenager, the world’s most powerful microscope could not have detected a speck of gratitude within me. Fortunately, this condition went into remission, and by the time I left high school, years of overdue hugs, kisses, and repeated I-love-you’s reminded my mom that she was essential.
She knew I was proud that, while in her 40s and raising five kids, she had the gumption to return to school and graduate from college. She also knew that in time everything she had sacrificed for her family would be returned tenfold. This was the only cold, thin sheet of comfort left to us when she passed away 25 years ago at just 54.
In my memory, she was the best mom ever. If you share the same sentiment about your mother, it’s probably because she’s the only person you’ve ever known who is equal parts caregiver, teacher, housekeeper, nurse, lawyer, and chauffeur. Just ask and your mother will step up as your personal counselor, chef, secretary, psychologist, dresser, custodian, and best friend forever. At no additional fee, she’ll even tuck you in, give you a goodnight kiss, and chase away monsters.
Not only can she do everything for the sake of her kids, she will do anything. I watched my wife raise her son alone after her husband had passed away. Diminutive but determined, Nancy served double duty as mom and dad and did it all without a second thought. Mothers are protectors — a SEAL Team Six with perfume.
Sandy Francis is a protective mom. With two mentally challenged daughters — Heather, 37, and Sueann, 33 — she has to be.
“Because they can’t fend for themselves,” she says, “I fend for them. I’m there for them 100 percent. No one will hurt them as long as I’m around.”
No one who knows Sandy would doubt that. Often while working the register at Mount Dora’s Christian Home & Bible School thrift shop, daughter Sueann is by her side. With Heather in a group home, Sueann is a nearly constant presence when Sandy runs an errand, goes shopping, or grabs a bite.
In most cases, children grow up and parents enjoy a transition period as their kids map out their independence. At the Francis household, that will never be. Sandy is forever her daughters’ long-term caretaker and constant companion. To be sure, her road is not always smooth.
“I have my moments when I think I can’t do this anymore,” she confesses. “And then I hear a voice from God saying, ‘Yes, you can, and yes, you will. You can get through this.’ That’s when God has His arms around me and I don’t have those thoughts anymore.”
Melanie Knight of Leesburg is a kindred spirit. Already the mother of one, she had room for one more in her house, as well as in her heart. She decided to adopt a son, then 17 months old and living in a foster home.
For 10 consecutive Mondays, Melanie gave up profitable dinner hours as a server and enrolled in foster parenting classes. She collected references from neighbors and fellow employees, provided fingerprints, and invited inspectors into her home.
“They asked me about my childhood, like if I was ever spanked as a kid. Everything comes out,” Melanie explains. “They checked my house, tested my drinking water, and checked the temperature in the refrigerator, and I had to pay for the tests. Since I’d have to be there, I’d miss work and that also cost me income. I had an above ground pool, too, so I had to go to Wildwood for a water safety class.”
Nineteen months later — the same month that her son turned three — the process was complete. In the decade since, she has accepted that medication is a necessity to steady her son’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and borderline autism. However, even when things get rough, Melanie shares a perspective familiar to most mothers.
“I always tell my kids, ‘Even when I’m mad at you, I still love you.’ No matter how old they are, what they’ve done, or where they are, you’re always their mom.”
So, for moms everywhere, here’s my hug for you.