At the end of every phone conversation that I share with my mother, she leaves me with, “Be safe!” When I leave her house after a visit, she shouts “be safe” from the door. “Be safe” has become her tag line, which I suppose is appropriate because I’ve always counted on my mother to keep me safe and, of course, happy.
Throughout my childhood and teenaged years, my mother was a stay-at-home mom who had warm, fluffy pancakes with melted butter and piping hot syrup sitting on the kitchen table for my brother and me when we woke up in the morning to get ready for another school day. She was there to listen to me whine about problems with my friends or school work that I didn’t want to do, and she always found a way to make me feel like tomorrow would be a new and better day. Whether it was singing me goofy, made-up songs, dancing in the kitchen, or simply sitting on the couch with me watching Mary Tyler Moore reruns on Nick-at-Nite, my mother always made me feel as if my world would be perfectly fine as long as I had her on my team to fill the role of my most reliable and resilient help defender.
There was a moment, however, when I realized that my mother would not always be there to step up and challenge my greatest opponents with me. During the summer of my sophomore year in high school, I was playing in an AAU basketball tournament in north Jersey, about two hours from home. My mother packed up our car and trekked up the Garden State Parkway with my grandmother and my brother in tow to cheer me on.
On the ride home, we were stuck in gridlock traffic, and I noticed that my mom started sweating and grimacing in what seemed to be pain. We asked her what was wrong, and she said she just didn’t feel right. After traveling a few more miles, she began to panic and finally pulled our car off the road and into a rest stop. From what my mother was vocalizing to us, it sounded like she was having a heart attack. My brother and I raced into the Burger King located inside the rest area screaming for someone to please call 911.
I really don’t remember what happened after the rest stop employees called 911 because I think I was feeling something close to shock, but soon thereafter, the ambulance arrived, and we rushed off to the hospital. My brother and I sat in the waiting room, while my grandmother stayed with my mother in the triage area. I remember thinking that something terrible was going to happen to my mother. Thoughts were racing through my head. What if the worst possible scenario happens? What would I do without her, my go-to-girl? Tears ran down my face as my brother did his best to console me and assure me that our mother was healthy; she would be fine.
Thankfully, it turned out that she had an allergic reaction to all the caffeine she consumed that day. It was about 110 degrees in the un-air conditioned gym I was playing in, and my mother couldn’t resist gulping down a 32 ounce Snapple to seek some relief from the heat.
While we all look back and laugh about the day mommy got rushed to the hospital because she drank too much iced tea, I realize that that day really shook my version of reality. My mother has been the playmaker of my happiness. As I sit here typing this, I am clueless as to how I will someday navigate my way through this high-tempo, relentless transition game of life without her.
My mother isn’t just my most skilled help defender; that is the hat she wears for our entire family. When my father burned his hands in his racing accident, my mother fed him, bathed him, and dressed him, while also supporting his quest to return to the sport he loved. Last year when my father was diagnosed with colon cancer, my mother was a font of strength for us all, and she played a major role in his full recovery. As my grandfather’s battle with asbestosis worsened this spring, my mother took a leave of absence from her job to care for him until his last breath, cooking for him, driving him to his many doctors’ appointments, and staying by his side.
My father has been on television and is very well-known for his racing career, and I have received many awards and accolades throughout my basketball career, but neither of us could have accomplished even an iota of these feats without the help and strength of my mother. She is the quiet player on my team who does all of the little things that create a successful unit; she may not get the headlines or the fanfare, but I don’t think that she’s ever wanted that for herself. She just wants to help us be happy, and she will always fight and give every last bit of herself to keep us safe.