My mom has always been a tough cookie. She has no qualms telling others what she thinks or how she feels, whether or not it is going to upset them. If her meal is cold, she’ll eat it, but she’ll darn sure tell the waitstaff before she leaves. People talking in a movie theater? They’ll wish they weren’t sitting next to her long before the end of the show. More than once I’ve witnessed a well-timed not-to-subtle “I wish people knew they weren’t in their living rooms when they come to the movies!” In other words, she does not let fear of conflict or someone else’s displeasure prevent her from standing up for herself or for her children. 

It was 1977 and I was in 8th grade. Science had never been my favorite subject, and that year it became even less so. My teacher was a huge man who favored jocks and pretty blonds, not shy, pale, redheads. He liked making fun of students and intentionally set them up to look bad. He was even known to intimidate the other teachers.  The first 6-weeks I made all A’s. But the second 6-weeks my grade dropped to a D. 

My friends worried about their dad’s getting involved. Not in my house. 

My mother was FURIOUS…but not with me; she was livid that my teacher had done such a poor job teaching the subject. She also couldn’t believe he had not sent word home to let her know that I was struggling. In other words, he was in trouble; he just didn’t know it yet.

The next day, mom sent me to school with a note. I was so nervous. It was already bad, now it was going to get worse.   The teacher took my note, propped his clunky feet on his huge desk at the front of the class, and slowly, silently read my mother’s letter. It began, “I am appalled,” and got stronger from there.  He was so angry that he kept his feet on the desk and stared at me for the entire hour, never saying a word.  

The next day I was moved to another class. 

I never did find out if it was my mom who asked for me to be moved or the teacher, but if I had to wager a bet, I’d pick the teacher. Bullies are usually like that—all bluff and hot air until someone stronger and more courageous confronts them.

Mom has taught me many, many lessons. Even now at 88, she looks at the Coronavirus as just something one must face, as unpleasant as it must be. A month ago, we welcomed into the world her first great-grandchild. She would give anything to meet him, touch him, rock him to sleep. Thanks to Coronavirus, that’s not possible. It isn’t lost on her that she might not ever be able to do so. It’s heartbreaking on many, many levels. But she teaches by her every example that we must face with courage whatever is before us. So, we find ways for her to feel connected to him and to the rest of us in whatever ways we can. 

What Peggy has taught me:

  • Fear shouldn’t prevent us from confronting what must be changed—and what cannot be changed.
  • Courage isn’t a feeling—it’s a decision.
  • Other people’s discomfort should not always be a determining factor in my choices, and never used as an excuse to avoid doing what’s right.
  • Courage combined with laughter and a good attitude creates a life of joy regardless of the circumstances.

I’ve learned many things from watching my mom, but celebrating fear isn’t one of them. Don’t believe me? Just ask that 8th grade teacher.