♥ This is a photo of my mom. Her name was Gerry Glowen Gorden, and I keep this picture, in a beautiful frame in my kitchen so I can smile at her every day. My mom served as Chicago public high school social studies teacher until cancer grabbed her away from us when I was 25 years old.
My mom earned a college scholarship and danced and marched as a majorette for the college marching band. She completed her masters degree in geography and she almost finished her PhD; I came along and she turned her focus on giving me her best.
For eight years she stayed home with me but realized she missed helping her inner city teenagers so much that she returned to teaching when I was in the third grade. She taught me independence, time management, and the power of loving your work. The power of giving of yourself to make the world a better place. The power of enjoying what you do so much you can’t believe you receive a salary.
Some of my mother’s students would struggle to get to school safely as they navigated the dangers of their neighborhood but they made it. They made it to her social studies classroom where she motivated them by saying, “If we can’t all travel to this country in person, then let’s learn as much as possible for when we can go! India, Norway, Peru, Zimbabwe, let’s learn and pretend we are there!”
She loved making those teenagers smile. She loved motivating them to reach their best and wore a big red smiley face piece of unique jewelry on her suit every day to school to, “bring a smile, or hear a laugh,” from one of her teenage students.
On the day of my mom’s funeral, my family received a large number of hand written notes, from her former students, expressing their love and appreciation for, “Mrs. Gorden, the only teacher who cared about my future and my happiness,” or “The teacher that pushed me to go to college, when no one else in my family encouraged that direction in my life.” My mother taught me how to understand a person’s current situation and perform the sophisticated dance of how to push a person to reach his/her potential despite obstacles, challenges, and fears.
My mom has never known my own four children and yet I see the best of her traits in each one of them, every day. I hear her loud laughter when they crack up at one another, remember her keen ability to focus when they study or receive coaching, and feel her hugs through their warm arms. I recognize in myself, her traits of staying positive while helping teens, focusing on the end result with their assignments or essays, and using patience when teaching difficult concepts.
When I first lost my mom, my brain would trick me in that I thought I would see her out in public – any “around age 57 year old,” polished, peppy woman wearing red, blue, or yellow with short blond hair was her! However, in looking back, I must have been missing her so much that I’d subconsciously try to will her back to me through these look alike strangers. It didn’t work; however, now, I see her come alive every day through the blessings in my own children, and even in myself as I thrive on encouraging, motivating, and mentoring, teenage students through my tutoring and teaching.
My mom knew that each student has a story and has the potential to succeed; yet many students need more direction than others in understanding how to get there. I’ve learned from my mom how to extract the best of each student to help them believe in themselves, even during difficult times.
I have spent a lot of time gazing at this photo above of my mom: what would she be like now? How would she manage to be involved in my life as a full blown grown up with four children yet go on and be as involved as ever with her own educational endeavors, exercise, teaching, and friendships? Would she finish her PhD? Would she and my dad return to sailing? The cancer took her away far too early than anyone could have ever imagined given her zest for life, love of people, and desire to help her teens become the best possible versions of themselves.
I wish I could have her back. I wish she could know my children now. I wish I could bring her to beautiful North Carolina; introduce her to my new friends and neighbors and show her how my business has grown, how I love working with teens and hear her laugh, “See, I told you so, Amy!” I wish I could watch her attend my kids sporting events and hear her yell her head off, cheering for my children and their teams. She was my biggest cheerleader.
But, most of all, I would like to thank her. Everything I am or ever will be, I owe to this vibrant go getter mom, this inner city high school teacher, this lover of life. A gift to the world who left us early, an incredibly smart woman who was willing to dedicate herself to all those children when life threw incredible challenges at them. A gem of a woman who gave me the ability to not only believe in myself but to believe in every single teen out there who wants to try.
Happy Mother’s Day and thanks so much to all the mothers! Your love, devotion, dedication and sacrifice are what make our worlds go ‘round!
With much love,