Why I spell strength & inspiration M-O-M
by Danny Manus
I’ve always been a bit of a mama’s boy.
It’s the stereotypical Jewish mother/son relationship I guess. Eat, laugh, guilt, hug, repeat.
My mother is the source of my sarcasm and humor, and as an English teacher, she always pushed me to read and write as much as possible.
Even after moving 3500 miles away to pursue my big Hollywood dreams, and through each trial and tribulation that has come with that journey, my mother has always been my biggest supporter.
She encouraged me as a writer, she consoled me as an assistant, she boasted about me as an executive, she supported me as I started my own consulting business, and she is still my favorite sounding board when I can’t decide what to do (which happens more often than I’d admit). We still talk at least once every other day.
But those talks have become all the more meaningful as our family – and specifically my mom – has been on a rollercoaster the last 18 months that seemingly had no end.
A few years ago, after being an inner city school teacher and assistant principal for 30+ years and thinking she had seen and experienced it all, my mother retired to Florida, as all good New York Jews tend to do, and she was finally going to be able to relax. Little did she know. It wasn’t a move my sister and I had been particularly supportive of. I mean, it’s Florida. And when we learned she was moving to the 55+ city known as The Villages, which also has the largest rate of STDs among AARP members, we were all the more dubious since she was raring to move on romantically from my father.
Side note, if you’ve ever seen the Meryl Streep/Alec Baldwin/Steve Martin movie It’s Complicated, then you’ve seen the last 12 years of my parents’ story.
She moved down the coast, also moving her ailing father, so they could be closer to her younger brother and his children. But in January of 2013, after a two year on/off battle with a mystery illness doctors were at a loss to diagnose, my uncle suddenly died, leaving behind three children and a heartbroken sister.
Five months later however, as if God itself was bulldogging her, she would be put to the test again, when in the same weekend she learned she would become a grandmother for the first time – she was also diagnosed with breast cancer. To get the single greatest news and single worst news she could receive all in one weekend? Oy.
And now, she had to go through cancer alone; without her brother there to help and with her children hundreds (and in my case, thousands) of miles away. But she forged ahead like a mixture of Ripley and Sarah Connor, barely ever taking a day off of work. Even though she had retired, she got a job teaching at the local high school and was back to working full-time.
She got chemo and radiation during lunch and would return to teach her afternoon classes, which were mostly filled with entitled shitheads who lacked the compassion of a honeybadger.
Several months, two surgeries, a shaved head and a single mastectomy later, my mother was finally healing from a painful fight. And not once did she ever complain because she knew other people had it worse and in her words, “I wasn’t really using that tit anyway.”
Then two weeks after her final radiation treatment and being declared cancer-free, just a few days before Christmas, the principal walked into her class and told her to pack up her things and not come back because “it just wasn’t working out.”
She was the most experienced and qualified teacher they had and – oh yea, she just survived cancer – but that didn’t matter. My mother refused to change grades as she was asked to do in order to pass the students who couldn’t legitimately graduate. But she didn’t have the inclination anymore to fight the small battles and she figured everything happens for a reason.
My niece was born on January 10, 2014. My mother’s faith in humanity was restored and she had a new hobby – being Grandma. And was suddenly relieved she didn’t have to return to the classroom because she had better things to do.
In February of 2014, however, fate played another cruel joke on our clan as my grandmother, Ethel Manus, my father’s mother and my other biggest supporter, passed away.
And if that wasn’t enough, just 6 weeks later, my mom lost her father, Al Gordon, who died peacefully in his sleep. I was in the middle of speaking at the Kansas City Film Festival and my sister had no one to leave her 3 month old baby with so once again, my mother tackled it by herself, remained strong, and never once complained. Not because she’s a martyr, but because she knew she didn’t have any other choice.
Like I said, it’s been a crazy 18 months. And this is why she is more than just my mom – she’s my inspiration. A rock in the storm. A woman, a warrior, a survivor, an educator, a therapist, a grandmother, and a friend. And because of her story, I am newly inspired to work on my own and those of my clients.
While this Mother’s Day will be bittersweet without my grandma, my mom (whose birthday is also on Sunday) will spend it with her daughter and granddaughter, living life and loving those important to her. As all mothers should. Happy Mother’s Day!Tags: Cancer survivor, Danny Manus, Family, Hollywood, Inspiration, Mother's Day, Mother-son relationship, Overcoming adversity