It’s almost Mother’s Day again. These years, Mother’s Day is very different for us. Our mom, Linda, died in 2006 after a long battle against cancer. Mother’s Day 2006 we could barely force ourselves to acknowledge the day because we were still grieving so terribly. The past years have been easier, but never without their moments of longing for just one more afternoon with mom. We’ve spent the beginning of each of the past three Mother’s Days at the cemetery, spending a moment connecting with mom by leaving flowers at her grave and telling her how much we miss her.  Now, Tiana is in Utah and I’m in New York – 2,500 miles away from where she was laid to rest.  We’ve realized over the last few years, though, that mom is with us all the time…and we owe her a debt of gratitude for the success we’ve had as moms and as stepmoms.

When mom was 11, her parents split up. This was in 1961, when divorce was not common. Technically, our grandpa took off, leaving our grandma with four kids, of whom our mom was the oldest. The youngest, our uncle, was only six weeks old.  Our grandma didn’t have any money, and our mom lived in poverty. After a time, she also got a step dad and a new sister (shortly after her 16th birthday), along with a long-distance move that left her spending her senior year in a high school full of strangers. She knew all about being a stepkid, about what it felt like to have a parent abandon her, and about how lost and lonely you can feel when your family disintegrates.

When I got married, not only did mom welcome my stepkids with the open, loving arms of a grandmother (Nana, the kids all called her) but she took a particular interest in trying to fill them up with love to wash away the pain they had experienced from having a parent choose a life away from them. As Tiana and I added kids of our own, she cherished them in ways that have left a lasting impression on all of her grandkids, all of whom remember her with joy and happy memories.

When I was first learning to be a stepmom, it was our mom who helped me do better. When I was exasperated because Dave and I couldn’t get a babysitter and get any time alone, she reminded me how much the kids needed to feel like I wanted them there. When I was frustrated because I felt like an outsider, she helped me understand what it must be like for the kids to have a stranger suddenly living with them. When I felt like my stepdaughter was trying to undermine my authority, she helped me realize how terrified Kira must have been to have her mom gone and only her dad to cling to.

When Tiana was having her babies, our mom was at her side. When her marriage fell apart, mom helped her deal with having four kids under 7 years old on her own. Whenever either of us needed advice, mom was the one we turned to first. With her gone, we rely on each other. I share with Tiana what I’ve learned about being a stepmom. We share memories of her and strive to honor her.

Our mom died because her heart gave out. The chemotherapy treatment was too much for her heart to handle. But we always think about how much her heart gave in the time she was with us…how she helped me open my heart and transform a little group of virtual strangers into a strong and loving family, how even my youngest daughter, who was only four when Mom died, still sings the songs she learned from Nana and still remembers cuddling with her, how each of us have inherited some of her strengths. She may be gone, but her gift of love lives on in us, in our children, and in the many people whose lives she touched.

It is in her spirit and memory that we have started MomsGetReal™.com … we want to share with others the joy that comes from motherhood – and share the laughter, tears, frustrations, and tear-your-hair-out moments that happen along the way. We hope you’ll join us.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom (Nana). We love you and miss you so very much.