In the Suburbs: Saluting a special, albeit unorthodox mother

Picture a beautiful dining room table, set with our finest china for the perfect Mother’s Day. A large salad bowl with my wife’s amazing salad is in the center of the table. The heavenly aroma of a wonderful roast is filtering from the oven along with roasted vegetables.

It’s the perfect Mother’s Day dinner...just not at our house.

Mind you, as much as that pretty image might have been real at one time, this year we’ll actually be celebrating the way we have been for the past several years — with take out and paper plates, very minimalist — with our older daughter Stacey and our two miracle grandsons. My beautiful wife, still the love of my life after nearly 55 years and a great mom, will wear her favorite and finest pair of sweats, lounge around the house and watch her favorite cooking programs or Hallmark. Of course, I’ll remind her like I always do that it is Mother’s Day, that we’re having company and how grateful I am that she’s such a great mom.

In turn, my wife will remind me yet again that she really isn’t a great mom and probably didn’t do the best job with the girls, now 50-plus and 47, so what does she have to celebrate? I’ll reassure her, as I do annually, that thanks to her lousy mothering job, we have two wonderful and independent daughters, who are living excellent lives.

Our older daughter, poor, messed-up Stacey, is a terrific single mom and an excellent special education teacher with a master’s degree and reading certification. Determined and committed to have a family, Stacey adopted Lucas, a beautiful little boy from China, the first love of our lives; and soon after was finally able to have a wonderful in-vitro pregnancy and deliver Caleb, the second of our miracles.

Our other daughter, poor incapable Jeri, works as an optical technician. She married Gervasio, the love of her life, eight years ago and has a great life in Ann Arbor, Mich. Gervasio is a chef and loves cooking delicious dishes for Jeri.

The reality is that while my wife chastises herself for her perceived shortcomings, she has actually been a terrific, albeit unorthodox, late-bloomer mom who had dreams and achieved them. At first, she made up her mind when we were living in Reading, Penn. that she wanted to become a dental hygienist. That decision meant our deciding that my wife needed to live in Philadelphia if she was going to succeed. For the two years she spent at Community College of Philadelphia, my wife lived in a tiny apartment near the Penn Campus.

Meanwhile, I worked full time and took care of the girls during the week and my wife was home every weekend making up for lost time with our daughters. But she made everything work and graduated as a dental hygienist.

Right after her graduation, my new job took us to Connecticut in 1982, where this unorthodox mom got a job as a hygienist. But she still found the time to drive car pool for religious school, take on a community tablecloth project from our temple, bake for school projects, quilt and offer time and that all-important moral support to the girls.

Barely two years later, after deciding that she preferred talking to patients more than cleaning their teeth, she decided to pursue a degree in mental health. While maintaining her busy work schedule, she found a weekend social work program from New Hampshire College. All of this was accomplished and my wife remained involved in the girls’ various activities, like piano and religious school.

My wife also managed to save every dime, despite our tight Connecticut budget, for Stacey’s beautiful Bat Mitzvah in 1984 at Oronoque Country Club. And two years later, after recovering from a severe brain aneurysm in 1986, she planned another wonderful, more low-key Bat Mitzvah party for Jeri at home. For both events she looked like the gorgeous mom she is.

In 1988, with the aneurysm behind her, my wife was accepted to Yeshiva University in Manhattan for a two-year master’s degree program in social work and graduated in 1990. A month later she took the exam for Licensed Clinical Social Work (LCSW) and passed.

I wanted to add that during her entire education at Yeshiva, this always tough-on-herself mom managed to attend 90 percent of Stacey’s track meets from then Fairfield High School and cheer her daughter on to victory or hug her when she didn’t win.

My wife was already a practicing social worker during the girls’ college years. Both attended Southern Connecticut State University, but Jeri completed her degree in Spanish at Eastern Michigan University in Ann Arbor. That meant trips to Michigan and a lot of support from mom when Jeri’s original journey to occupational therapy didn’t work out and she had to change majors.

There were other tough years when both girls struggled with job challenges and Jeri had to overcome a serious illness that sent my wife to Ann Arbor for several weeks to provide care and support.

And after planning a fairy tale wedding for Stacey in 2000, there was the pain of her divorce after 11 years. That was followed by Stacey’s desire for a family on her own and my wife’s countless trips with her to the fertility clinic. Then mom had to be there for the agony of a daughter’s loss when in-vitro didn’t work.

But joy came for all of us in 2017 when we traveled to China for Stacey’s adoption of Lucas, a six-year-old bundle of joy. Suddenly, we became Loyeh (grandpa) and LoLo (grandma) and LoLo lit up like a Christmas tree when Lucas came into the hotel lobby. These days, she still “kvells” (gushes) over Lucas every time he comes to visit or stay over.

And another joyous day came for my wife in 2019 when she entered the delivery room with Stacey for her Caesarian and watched little Caleb’s entrance to the family. Watching my wife holding and cuddling our second miracle grandson gave her a glow that only a grandparent knows. And that’s still the case as Caleb approaches his second birthday.

This Sunday, our daughter and our two special grandsons will arrive about 5 p.m., and we’ll probably be heading to Boston Market, Fairfield Pizza or Danny’s Hot Dog stand for some kind of lactose-safe feast. All of those places are Lolo/grandma’s favorites and there’s very little need to dress up. Her sweats will be just fine.

Mother’s Day gifts probably include a gift card to Joann Fabrics, a dark chocolate KitKat or Hershey bar and maybe a small dairy-free ice cream cone later.

Do I miss the fancy Mother’s Day celebrations? Heck no! I couldn’t be prouder of my wife’s accomplishments as a mom and I’m pretty sure, except for an occasional blip, that her two daughters feel the same way. Happy Mother’s Day, Mare. You carved out your own unorthodox motherhood and it’s been a slam dunk.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at