By Heather Barrow
As a mom of two, I wake up every day with the hope that today will be the day I get everything right with my kids. From breakfast to bedtime, I will sail through the day being the perfect mom without raising my voice one time. It has yet to happen. Even with the heavy handed help of Bennett (aka super dad) I frequently end the day frustrated with a laundry list of things we all got wrong during the day. I am hard on myself, and I imagine if you are a mom reading this, you are as well. I revisit some of the big moments in my children’s lives and wonder if there was something I could have done differently that would have changed their future. Did I do something to cause my water to break at 24 weeks with Hill, causing a premature birth that will impact him every day for the rest of his life? Could I have watched Claire a little more closely when she knocked out 2 teeth, broke her hand (twice), potentially broke her nose, busted open her chin? The accident list goes on and on with that one. Luckily I have gained clarity that my struggles (and my children’s obstacles) are inconsequential compared to many moms out there whose daily lives are much more difficult. I imagine their bedtime conversations with themselves are similar to mine but I hope they rest well knowing they are the best possible mom for their children. In my life there are two exceptional moms who can teach us all a lesson on guilt-free parenting:
Porter Cusmano is 35 and one of my oldest friends, going on 24 years. In 2012 she lost her husband Phil, the love of her life and her best friend, at age 35 to pancreatic cancer. Phil fought hard but passed away five short months after his diagnosis. Porter instantly became a widow and single mom of two young boys, Andrew (an infant) and Sam (4 years old). I can’t begin to imagine how hard every day has been for her working full time to support her children while trying to be a mom and dad to them both. Her boys have to be dropped off at school after she has to be at work, and picked up as her workday ends. A logistical nightmare for any two-parent family, somehow Porter makes it work. As if getting her boys to school wasn’t enough to worry about, as a teacher at a local high school, she also wants to ensure the kids in her class are in school every day on time. Many of these children also come from a one parent home and I think this is close to her heart. One story in particular sticks with me of a young man who had been consistently late for school in the year following Phil’s death. When Porter investigated, she found he was sleeping on the couch at a ‘friend’s’ house and walking a very long distance to school every day, which caused him to be late. The friend’s house was far enough from Porter’s for this to be a terrible inconvenience with everything else she had to worry about for her own children. Porter drove that young man to school and got him there on time for months. I do not know where he is today but I bet he will remember that gesture his entire life.
Porter also has to handle all of the ups and downs alone, church, homework, illnesses, doctor appointments, teacher conferences and tee ball games. In the beginning, help with the boys was plentiful. Everyone wanted to do something because they felt so terrible for the entire Cusmano family, especially Porter and the boys. Now several years later, people (including me) are wrapped up in their own lives and problems and the help for Porter dried up. Although she is the one person who should, Porter has never complained, not once. She does not demand support or ask why this happened to her family. She takes one day at a time and does the best she can for her family. She is raising two caring boys to follow in their daddy’s footsteps and to be “a man for others” as Phil was. Is Porter perfect every day? Probably not, but she knows she is doing her best and that is good enough. There will always be a large void in Sam and Andrew’s life because of the loss of their father, but Porter works hard to fill it as much as humanly possible. She is kind, compassionate, loving and a strict disciplinarian at exactly the right time. Phil was an incredible dad for a tragically short time and Porter is an incredible mom. The boys will be OK because of both of their strength and love.
Meredith Mueller and I lived together in college and have been close since she moved to Tampa in 2005. I will never forget the middle-of-the-night text I received in 2010 (one year before HRH was founded) the day her third child (and my Godson) Will was born. It was her husband Trey asking me to call our Pastor, John DeBevoise, and get to the hospital as soon as possible. The baby might not make it through the night. Meredith had a full placental abruption, when the wall of the placenta detaches from the uterus, she had lost a lot of blood and the baby’s oxygen supply was completely cut off for several precious minutes. By the time we made it to the hospital, Will had been delivered via emergency C-section and was immediately transferred to another hospital to become the first child in Tampa to undergo cooling therapy (to prevent brain damage from the loss of oxygen he suffered during birth). Will spent one month in the NICU and came home to a mom who was already his biggest asset and health advocate. From his birth, Meredith has done everything in her power to ensure Will has the tools he needs to overcome his traumatic birth. From twice-weekly (and sometimes daily) therapy sessions to finding the best schools for him to shielding him from judgmental people, she is ensuring that the several minutes right before and after his birth will not define the rest of his life. Will is the most adorable boy you will ever meet and is the love of all of the Mullers’ life. Will is four years old and has worked hard every single day of his life to achieve things the rest of us take for granted in our children. Each milestone Will meets is a great one and she is always there to celebrate with his favorite treats (dinosaurs, diet Mountain Dew and sour gummy worms).
Her encouragement has rubbed off on the girls, Mackenzie (9) and Ellie (6), who are mini-Merediths when it comes to Wooty (aka Will). My favorite story is from this summer when Will was swimming in the pool with another little boy who had a starfish toy. Will looked at the boy and said “I want the starfish” and the little boy, who couldn’t have cared less if Will wanted the starfish, didn’t give it to him. Mackenzie and Ellie jumped right in, didn’t the boy hear him??!! Will wants the starfish, give HIM that starfish! They knew that Will asking for the starfish was a very big deal and that boy better give him the starfish. In caring so thoroughly and selflessly for her son, Meredith is also teaching her girls to be empathetic and kind to others. Meredith is a gift to all of her children and is teaching them all how to one day become gifts to their own children.
Whenever I feel I’ve had a tough day with my kids, or that what I am doing is not good enough, I think of these two inspirational women and I hope you will too. This is my chance to tell them both how much I admire them and every day I will try to be the mother that they already are. If you know them, you should tell them too.