#10: She connects with people
One attribute that I have always admired about my Mom is her ability to connect with people. Whether it is a safari driver in Tanzania, a crepe storeowner in Thornhill or a fellow patient at Princess Margaret Hospital, my Mom has this remarkable ability to very quickly and genuinely connect with others. She is truly interested in hearing people’s stories and learning what drives them. She has the perfect balance of positive energy and pragmatism. And as anyone who has had the opportunity to spend time with her can attest to, when you are talking to her, she makes you feel like the most important person in the world.
#9: She’s a learner for life
When I was little, my Mom used to teach me one new word every day. And late into the night before one of my Mom’s workshops, she’d review her presentation with me, talking about Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits, Insights Discovery colour energies and new leadership styles. She has always been a fantastic Human Resources practitioner because she is constantly learning new skills & upping her game. As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen my Mom’s love for learning extend beyond her professional life. Now, when Shayne or I come home, she reserves 1 hour of dedicated, uninterrupted time with us to learn new things — how to download music, how to use Facebook (Shayne edit: sorry, still not accepting your friend request!), what clothing trends are in style, iPad tips & trick…anything and everything! No matter how many birthdays pass, my Mom will never grow old because she’s constantly learning & stretching her brain. As she likes to say, “A mind once expanded, never goes back to its original dimensions.”
#8: She has excellent taste in music
One of my most vivid memories growing up is hearing my Mom channeling her inner Christine Daaé and singing the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack. Years later, she introduced an Ottmar Liebert cassette to her regular rotation and played it every time she vacuumed the house. It is no wonder that 20+ years later, Phantom is my absolute favourite musical, and I still listen to flamenco music whenever I am cleaning. More recently, while in my apartment in Nairobi, she started singing along to the music that was coming from my speaker. “Now this is the music that I really love and miss!” she proclaimed. What was on that playlist, you must be wondering? Jagged Edge, 112 and Donell Jones. And of course, who can forget her propensity for singing and dancing loudly to Kanye West and Jay-Z, while cruising the streets of Toronto in her Rav-4. #coolestmom
I’ve never been quite comfortable in my own skin. Growing up, I never felt smart enough, pretty enough, good enough. I would put on a mask in public, and be exhausted at the end of each day from pretending to be someone I was not. One December evening, while decorating our Christmas tree and talking about life, my Mom said in her wisest voice, “The moment you stop worrying about what others think about you is the day you start to really live.” My Mom is who she is, and doesn’t apologize for it – she is confident, without being arrogant, spirited without being pretentious. Her authenticity, her ability to be who she is without trying to please everyone, is what I admire most.
#6: She invented “pulling a Muni”
Chicago, Illinois – March 2002. One of the reasons we decided to tag along to my Mom’s business trip to Chicago was to be in the same city as March Madness, the annual U.S. college basketball playoff tournament. Tickets had been sold out for weeks, so my Dad and I were satisfied with attending one of the open practices the day before the game. As we were leaving the practice, my Mom asked whether we had checked if there were tickets available for tomorrow’s big game. My Dad and I both laughed and said, “No, because tickets have been sold out for weeks. It’s March Madness!” Even if they weren’t sold out, you had to buy tickets in blocks of four games – two on Friday and two on Sunday – and we were leaving on Saturday. My Mom told us to hold on a sec, while she walked up to the box office. Five minutes later, she came back with a pair of tickets in her hands. Not only did she get tickets, but she somehow convinced the attendant to break up the block and sell us only Friday’s games. The next day, my Dad and I were cheering on as the Creighton Blue Jays knocked off the heavily-favoured Florida Gators in overtime (who were led by none other than the Red Rocket, Matt Bonner). History repeated itself many times over the years, as my Mom repeatedly pulled a rabbit out of her hat in the most improbable of situations. Soon we came up with a moniker for these extraordinary feats: “pulling a Muni.”
My Mom is an incredible life coach. She knows exactly what to say when life hits one of its inevitable speed bumps. But sometimes, when things get really bad – like an unexpected illness…or a bad date! – and words are not enough, she will take me into her arms and hold me tight. And in that moment, everything seems right in the world. That’s the power of my Mom’s hugs.
#4: She made us
Enough said. #ouch
#3: She’s too cool
When I was 16 years old, my super cool Mom sat me down to have a very serious conversation. Her unsmiling demeanor had me thinking I was in trouble. As I braced myself for impact, she said matter-of-factly, “You’re 16 years old. I think you should start dating.” I couldn’t have been more shocked. Isn’t that something the daughter is supposed to say to her Mom! (Shayne edit: I laughed as I read this. When I was 16 or so, I remember my Mom having a similar conversation with me. “Make sure you date lots of girls. How are you going to know what you want in a girl if you haven’t dated many different ones?”) As the years have passed by, my Mom has only gotten cooler. She rocked bright red pants before they were mainstream, she frequently blasts Beyoncé & Rihanna music and can tell you everything you want to know about the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s one thing to have an awesome Mom – it’s a totally different story when your Mom is your best friend. Someone to share clothes with, someone to talk to about your first kiss, someone to give you advice about life. My Mom and my Best Friend are both wrapped up in one beautiful, skinny jeans-wearing, Rihanna-listening woman. I’m so lucky!
Many years ago, I completed an Insights Discovery Profile at the behest of my Mom. One of the key takeaways from my profile was that I was high in ‘Green’ energy. From Insights: People with a high level of Green energy are often concerned with the feelings of and relationships with other people. Your concern for other people’s welfare can often lend personal warmth to a situation. You can be sensitive to the values implicit in people’s actions. I complained to my Mom that I didn’t want to be so Green: “People who are too caring and considerate are seen as weak. And if I reveal these qualities at work, I’ll get eaten alive!” It took a few late night conversations, but she eventually convinced me that my Green energy is a wonderful gift and one that’s shared by many members of my family, most notably my grandmother. When I think back to my favourite memories with my Mom, they are conversations like this one. She sees things that most people don’t and is able to cut out the noise and identify what really matters. And it always comes from a place of love.
#1: She thrives in the face of adversity
When someone hears the word ‘cancer’, life stops. There’s an uncertainty about whether life will ever be the same. When someone hears the word ‘cancers’ (plural), life ends. Weeks in the hospital, pokes & prods that no one should have to endure, trial drugs with unknown outcomes – it’s a path that would test the strength of the bravest. But what does my Superwoman Mom do? She decides to treat hospital visits as social occasions, getting to know each person’s story. She embraces her loss of hair with 13 different wigs. She stops worrying about everything that is out of her control and instead focuses on what she’s going to do when she beats cancer. My Mom is an extraordinary example of courage, faith, bravery and thriving in the face of adversity.
Today, on January 25th, we want to wish our Mom a very happy birthday all the way from Nairobi and New York. We miss you and can’t wait to see how you will change the world this year! Go get ‘em tiger!
So much love,
Sabrina Natasha (aka your bestest friend) and Shayne Aman (aka your partner)