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Celebrating my Mum's strength... and bubble baths

I love Mother’s Day because I get to celebrate my mum, a trailblazer, educator and role model. This Sunday, we will celebrate with her as she marks her 57th year as a mum. When I was a child, I looked forward to creating Mother's Day artwork and cute cards for her each year. My sister and I would buy my mum her favourite bath product - Fa bath gel. I don’t think it’s available anymore, in its distinctive aqua green container that reminded me of a mermaid. Every night of my childhood, the second floor of our Toronto house would be enveloped in the aloe vera scent of my mother’s nightly bath. After teaching all day as a psychology professor at a downtown college, on her feet in nylons and heels, my mother savoured that bath. And we fed her habit with as much Fa as she could handle. Maybe she got tired of the same gift, but she always smiled appreciatively with a theatrical air of surprise. After her bath, my mum would pull out her monthly wall calendar. Remember the Milk calendar, created by the Dairy Farmers of Canada? The recipes didn’t matter because my mother never enjoyed cooking - what was important was my mum’s entry in each daily box. In slanted cursive penmanship, she wrote “green plaid blouse, navy skirt” or “beige suit, paisley plum blouse.” No day was alike. My mother planned every outfit so that her students would never see her in the same ensemble in a month. When I was old enough to understand her wardrobe shorthand, I asked her why she bothered. Her response, “my students deserve a great education by a professional who takes the job seriously. And I’m not going to bore them in the same outfit.” She was the teacher you never forget. To this day, my mother gets stopped on the subway by former students, usually nurses, who remember her. My mother is the sort of educator you would thank... if you won an Oscar. Lighting up a room with her charisma, she dazzled her classes with her intelligence and wit. At the time that the stylish 60’s inspired Mad Men TV series became popular, my mother was asked what she thought of the show. It was an apt question for her as a great lover of fashion trends through the decades. She cleared her throat dismissively and said, “I lived through that sexism, why would I watch it on television?” One of her favourite pro-women stories centres around a young male bank teller, in 1959, who would not let my mum withdraw all the money in her bank account. At the time, she was getting married and moving from her native NYC to Montreal with my dad. The money in the account was the salary she had saved from her first teaching job. It took much convincing for the teller to release the money to her. Decades later, she has turned this incident into a witty cocktail party anecdote but it still rankles - that a man would make judgments on how she should manage her own money. During my childhood, my mother wouldn’t refer to herself as a feminist but rather a working mother. She saw herself as a trailblazer but didn’t expect to be applauded. The child of immigrants and the first in her family to attend university, she knew how to use her intelligence, her beauty and her hard work to build a family AND a career. My sister and I, both mothers ourselves, have a terrific role model in her. She still shares some zinger stories with our own daughters, who may become mothers one day and pass these lessons along. Now, as adults, we don our own uniforms each day, maybe without Mum’s trademark hosiery and heels but with her determination to make a difference. And at the end of the day, we give ourselves permission to self reflect and rejuvenate because that’s the gift my mum has given us. So to all the mothers out there, especially mine, Happy Mother’s Day! May your day be filled with celebration and relaxation for all that you do.


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