Smiling Faces...A Mother's Day 2021 Story

This past week was a tough one for me...emotionally and physically.


Emotionally because I was thinking about the fact that tomorrow, May 10th, will be 16 years since my mother passed away and it changed the way I celebrate/honor Mother's Day ever since. Most importantly, I vowed to always be with my kids for every Mother's Day no matter where we all were in the world


This year, though, will be the third year in a row that hasn't happened. In 2019, I was willing to let it slide because I knew I was going to see both of my kids as well as the rest of my immediate family two weeks later when we were all congregating in California for my niece's graduation from UC Berkeley. Photos of our smiling faces from that trip are no doubt part of what got me through this past year...my bangs parting in a weird way not so much...



Had I known we would be in the throws of a pandemic a year later, I still wouldn't have been able to be with them on Mother's Day in 2019 but I might have insisted we were together at some point that fall or early winter. Instead, we weren't able to be together until this past November, 18 months since the trip to California. This photo was taken at The Great Sand Dunes and it may go down as the best photo we will ever take. The sheer joy in that moment was a memory I will never forget...


Now it's 2021 and I did get to see my son for a few hours when he passed through Boulder on Thursday night (he lives in Telluride) before he headed to stay near the airport to get an early flight Friday morning to Mexico to do whatever it is that a bunch of 20 somethings do there these days. I learned long ago...don't ask. I do, though, still feel the need to remind him to be extra cautious and safe, especially traveling to a foreign country that may want our American tourist dollars but is still reeling from 4 years of contentious diplomatic relations over the border wall debacle and the horrific handling of undocumented immigrants.


My daughter lives in Brooklyn and a few months ago I mentioned that if I could get vaccinated in time maybe I would go there for Mother's Day? She, though, had already planned to do an intensive weekend upstate working on the script for a film she is writing. Despite the fact that I would have liked to be in NY I am one very #proudmama knowing my child is doing whatever it takes to be hyper-focused and driven to complete what is truly a labor of love for her. I would, though, like just a little bit of credit for modeling good executive functioning skills for her to emulate. I mean, doesn't every parent want some recognition for surviving the years between 13 and 21 no matter how old our children get?


As luck would have it, though, she will be in LA later this month and given how easy it is to fly from Denver I will be heading there to see her the week leading into Memorial Day Weekend. She won't have a lot of time but I will take what I can get. Besides, I will be able to spend some time hanging out with my brother and sister-in-law as well as several friends while still managing It's Just Stuff clients virtually and #TeamIJS is busy back in Colorado handling any projects physically. In addition, I will be participating in a Mental Health Awareness Month event in collaboration with Mental Health Partners. This is truly an honor for me to be on this panel to discuss "Cluttered Home, Cluttered Mind: Exploring The Connection Between Mental Health & Physical Space". Please register if you can in advance by clicking HERE or just join the Zoom call on May 26th at 1:30 ET/12:30 CT/11:30 MT/10:30 PT.


But I digressed just a little for the event plug...back to Mother's Day...


Next year I don't care where any of us are in the world...we are going to be together! I will no doubt drive them crazy in the process of figuring out how and where but I am thinking since I will be turning 60 in 2022 that we may do a big adventure. Iceland is high on my bucket list but so are Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and a road trip through the Pacific Northwest as well as hiking the Camino de Santiago. Just thinking about the possibilities makes me smile. And the organizer that I am is ready to start planning for the next 10 years or so. My kids? Yeah, they are definitely more of the "let's wait and see, we can't think that far in advance" mindset. But this girl ain't getting any younger and wants to dream of traveling again. And that, my friends, is what always gets me over any emotional hump.


Physically this past week I had a very unexpected migraine that lingered for 3 days leading up to my second COVID vaccine, something that I was excited but also admittedly nervous about getting, mostly because almost everyone I know had side effects that took them down for at least 24-48 hours. And as a small business owner with an unprecedented amount of last-minute requests for #TeamIJS' home organizing and move management services I had to time my vaccine around a pretty tight schedule and really didn't want to lose more than 1 day of productivity if I had any amount of control.


The one side effect that I was most nervous about?


Getting a freaking migraine!


Instead, I had to worry about the existing migraine becoming intractable and, as my history with migraines has, in fact, led to more trips to the ER than I care to remember to get infusions, that was B.C. aka Before Colorado. Since moving here from Florida 5 years ago, they have been very infrequent and a minor inconvenience.


So waking up at 5 am to horrific stabbing pain behind both eyes and feeling like a 100 pound weight was on top of my head this past Tuesday was debilitating and, yes, scary. It's been a wonkier than ever spring here and with the weather ups and downs it does mess with anyone who is sensitive to drastic changes and lots of pollen. Meanwhile, the pain started to subside by the time I went to bed Tuesday night, but I had post migraine "brain fog" the remainder of the week and, therefore, struggled with getting anything done.


If there is one thing I have learned suffering from daily chronic persistent headaches my entire life, that is, until moving to Colorado, I cannot fight them and what will be will be. No amount of organizing or planning will ever prevent them. Trust me, that was not an easy conclusion for my Energizer Bunny personality to embrace but I had to make peace with it long ago.


So walking into my vaccine appointment around 5 pm on Thursday I was understandably concerned. I thought about canceling the appointment but decided that I would just suck up whatever the next 24-48 hours would bring. I went home and put together my post-vaccine "arsenal", a plethora of supplements, fluids, gluten-free bread to cut any potential nausea (because gluten is a huge contributor to inflammation, something my body apparently doesn't like anymore), herbal tea, a large bottle of water with electrolytes, and a thermos of vegetable broth along with some Ibuprofen in case I woke up in the middle of the night with a fever.


Suffice it to say... #organizersneverstoporganizing ! That and I have to give some credit to the amazing "Good Witch", Mitten Lowe of Journey To Wellness for guiding me these past few months on my, well, journey to better wellness. I've featured her and the "magic" she "performs" in a previous blog and she was this past week's #whatsonyourmindwednesday guest blogger so clearly I am a HUGE believer in what she does and her suggestions to prep for the vaccine was something I took very seriously.


When I woke up the next morning it was almost 8:30. I had to blink a bunch of times to make sure I was seeing the time correctly. Over 10 hours of sleep??? No way! I average 4 most nights. I immediately did a quick scan of how my body felt because the only explanation for me ever sleeping that much would be if I was really sick. But no chills, no pain, not even a minor headache. I was cautiously optimistic that I would essentially sail through the next 12 hours without any major side effects.


I had already blocked off the entire day to stay home and just do some "adulting" if I was feeling well enough. I also had planned to finally bake off some chocolate chip cookies that I had been trying to get to all week so I could ship them in time for a few family and friends to partake in my annual "Have A Cookie And Smile Day" on May 10th, a made-up holiday of my own creation to honor my mother's memory on the anniversary of her death in 2005.

Among the recipients I had chosen to get cookies was a family in Florida that a few weeks before had experienced the death of a loved one. I wanted them to know how much I understood how hard it is to get past the grieving and find ways to celebrate a life that should never be forgotten. And as I started to write what I really did intend to be a short but sweet letter to include with the cookies I found myself telling a much bigger story, one that I decided would have to be shared as part of today's blog (below).


Yes, it is long, however, as I have said many times before, you can blame my father. I definitely got my gift of gab from him. But this particular story is one that I do believe will bring smiling faces not only to the family receiving the cookies but hopefully to anyone else reading it, especially if you lost a parent far too soon. Death is inevitable and even if you are a mother and are lucky enough to be with your kids no matter their age on Mother's Day, I really miss celebrating the day with my mother.


So without further adeiu, this is the letter that I sent. If your eyes have already started to glaze over then consider reading it tomorrow on Have A Cookie and Smile Day or save it for another time when you need to smile. And, of course, Happy Mother's Day, especially to us moms who can't be with our kids or our mothers for whatever reason. ❤✌😊


Dear Aimee, Marc, Bella and Zach,


I was so sorry to hear about the recent passing of Marc’s father. It never seems to matter how old any of us get...losing a loved one definitely leaves a void that never gets filled again. But you have to hold on to the memories with all of your collective might and never forget them. You have to find even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant of ways to truly honor the legacy they left behind.


When I lost my mother in 2005 at the age of 65 to cancer, I lost my rock, my inspiration, my cooking and baking partner in life. And there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss her. Unfortunately, though, I will never forget the last 72 hours of her life because it was, quite frankly, hell.


From the moment they told us less than 12 hours before she died and rushed her to the CCU that she had, in fact, had a heart attack days before (undiagnosed despite her complaining of being severely nauseous and a terrible headache, the two most pronounced signs of a heart attack in women, not chest pain)...I think I stopped breathing.


And when we had to go to the Little Rock airport later that morning, I don’t think I have ever been as physically and emotionally drained as the moment I saw my father coming down the escalator after racing to the Detroit airport in the middle of the night to get on a plane with the hopes he would make it to see her alive at least one last time. My father hadn’t even gotten through security when my brother had to make the hardest phone of his life to tell our father that his wife of almost 50 years could not be resuscitated. My father is not a big guy but he looked eerily small as he approached us and we all collapsed into each other’s arms in a collective familial hug.


And in the hours that followed...I simply couldn’t stop crying.

For days I couldn’t really talk.

For weeks I felt numb.

For months I would wake up at 4:02 am, the exact moment the phone rang in the hotel room in Little Rock when the CCU nurse called to tell me and my sister that our mother had gone into cardiac arrest. And for the next 2 or 3 hours, I would lay in bed with the video replay of the hours before and immediately after her death in my head.


That first year sucked...I am not going to sugarcoat it.


But on May 10, 2006, I woke up at exactly that same time one year earlier when I was sitting at the desk in our hotel room in Little Rock trying to do a little work while waiting for a progress report when the CCU shift change would occur. But the phone rang, as previously mentioned, at 4:02 am and we all know nothing good comes from a phone call at 4:02 am when your mother is fighting for her life. I am relatively certain that I go to bed on May 9th every year with my subconscious thinking about that video replay and I still wake up at exactly that same time on the anniversary of her death. Yes, I know that sounds very woo-woo, but I swear it happens. The mind is a very complicated thing that is for sure.


On that first anniversary, I took it upon myself to reach out to dozens of family and friends and wrote an email letting them know that I needed to shift the mindset of what the day might forever symbolize and turn it into an opportunity to teach my kids about life after death. And I don’t mean in a reincarnation way...I mean in a way that would teach them how to move on and away from the grief yet still try to commemorate the light that shined while she was alive.


The only way I could think to do it given my kids’ ages at the time?...I baked her chocolate chip cookies.


She did, in my family’s opinion, make the best. And as my son said when he first walked through the door at my childhood home in Detroit one year earlier for the funeral of a grandmother that he had really only known as having cancer, “Mom, I love your cookies but they will never have Nana’s touch of love.” You can’t argue with that logic, especially from a 6-year-old.


So in the email I sent out that day I told everyone to please just have a cookie...any cookie...and smile on that day to remember my mother and anyone else they chose to remember. That email resulted in a slew of responses asking if I would make some cookies and send them to various places across the U.S. Everyone wanted to pay me but I insisted that they make a donation to the Multiple Myeloma Foundation in my mother’s memory.


For the next few years, I continued to honor her memory by baking A-LOT-OF-COOKIES. I believe I once did a very loose calculation and it was around 250,000 cookies on a purely voluntary basis and sending them off to anyone that requested them. The year my father turned 75 we went to Detroit to celebrate and I made my kids and my husband all take carry on bags with us filled with raw cookie dough and baked something like 50 dozen cookies to distribute at the party and to many childhood friends that knew I would be baking them.


Side note: I called Southwest Airlines in advance and told them my plan for carrying the cookie dough on board so they wouldn’t confiscate it thinking it was the makings of a bomb or some sort of other terrorist threat. The customer service rep said that would be no problem but I might want to bring a few cookies to bribe the gate agent and flight attendants. That was all I needed for the rep to say for me to take it upon myself to look up how many seats would be on the plane we were scheduled to take and I paid for an extra carryon with about 175 baked cookies to give out on the plane to anyone that trusted some random passenger that I hadn’t tainted the cookies. Suffice it to say, I was very popular on that flight 😉


Eventually, the cookies lead to the launch of a baking business and I began promoting May 10th as “Have A Cookie And Smile Day” in memory of my mother which ultimately morphed into a month-long fundraising opportunity. It resonated with a lot of people and even though I repeat this story every year across social media I don’t think it ever gets old. Or at least I hope it doesn’t. It’s just become “my thing” even though I no longer have the baking business.


Last year I ended up living with my brother and his family in LA during the initial pandemic lockdown and coordinated a family zoom call on May 10th which also happened to have been Mother’s Day where we all made the cookie dough together...and, of course, had one...ok maybe two...well, probably 6 or 8...and we all smiled. And we also lit a Yahrzeit candle together and said Kaddish. Never would I ever have imagined doing either via Zoom but when in a pandemic we did the best we could under the circumstances.

But this year I have been so busy with my other passion turned profession, my home organizing and move management company, that I almost forgot to organize anything for May 10th. And then I was driving to a client last week when I heard a commercial about Mother’s Day and I started crying spontaneously thinking about the fact that I wouldn’t be with any family at all on what I consider the most sacred day of the year not only because I am a mother but, more importantly, because my birthday, November 7th, happens to be the same day as my kids’ father.


From the very first Mother’s Day in 1994 when I was truly a mother (my daughter was born in January that year), I decided I was no longer going to compete for birthday attention with the man that would eventually become my ex-husband and it only got harder to celebrate the day with my kids. So Mother’s Day became MY HOLIDAY…until my mother died the day after it and then Mother’s Day became more of a celebration of life and honoring the memories of all of the mothers who are no longer alive.


So I was feeling a bit emotional thinking about the fact that I would not be “celebrating” with any family this year when a client called. I had just finished doing a significant amount of decluttering and reorganizing of her sister’s caregiver’s kitchen the day before. I was hired to help this woman get her entire house back to it’s pre-pandemic orderly state. We decided to start with the kitchen and while I would have preferred bringing at least one member of what I refer to as #TeamIJS (or Team It’s Just Stuff) with me that first day, the caregiver asked if I could come alone the first time. She admitted that she was embarrassed and hadn’t allowed anyone other than her son and my client in the house in over a year. So this was a really big deal for her to let a complete stranger in, one that was going to see the layers of “stuff” that had accumulated and all of the emotions behind each layer.


Meanwhile, the reason my client had called the following morning? To let me know that she had spoken to the caregiver’s son the night before and they had decided to bring me back with my entire team to literally attack the entire house and actually try to do it as a big surprise. The caregiver will be going away the day after Mother’s Day, May 10th and will be gone all week. My team will essentially “swoop in” and peel back all of those layers with her son there to help with any editing decisions, meaning stuff that could be tossed or donated. We are going to be there 3 full days and possibly into the evenings if need be and on Saturday a professional cleaning service will be doing a very deep clean. Suffice it to say, I cried even harder with the knowledge that this woman, a sweet, caring, loving woman who cared more for another person’s sister than she did for herself or her home this past year was going to get an incredible post Mother’s Day gift.


I hung up from that call and said out loud, “Thanks Mom”. I am a big believer in energy and there is no doubt my mother’s energy still shows up at exactly the right moments. This was definitely one of them and I cannot wait for the big reveal next Saturday. My mother was my inspiration for building a baking business but there is no doubt that she has also been one as I found my way to being what I refer to as “the conduit for change from chaos to calm”. She was a very calming influence on me and while I am generally a very high energy and intense person, her ability to remain so calm, cool and collected, especially under the worst of circumstances, was never lost on me. I try to channel her with each and every client to help me stay balanced and focused on the tasks at hand.


Bella and Zach...if there is one thing I would ask of you it is when your parents ever ask you to clean your room, do the laundry or dishes, take the dog for a walk or whatever other seemingly menial task that you may not want to do, just do it. You will thank them when you are adults and living on your own. You never want to have a service like mine. That said, there are unfortunately always going to be so many people that do really need a professional organizer. Some people lack executive functioning skills and there is nothing they can do to ever successfully maintain any type of systems or order in their home. That doesn’t make them lazy or irresponsible any more than I should be labeled that because I don’t do my own taxes. I have an accountant because she is the expert at what she does. I am the expert at what I do and we should never disparage each other because we lack each other’s skills.


So why am I telling you all of this? Because I regret that the cookies I have sent to you are arriving past Mother’s Day and past May 10th aka Have A Cookie And Smile Day because I clearly lacked better time management this past week and that’s ok. I had a massive migraine thanks to Colorado’s wonky spring weather where it is sunny and 75 one day and rainy/snowy and 35 the next. It definitely wreaks havoc on my sinuses and causes migraines that I have otherwise been relatively free from since moving here almost 5 years ago...and by relative I mean a few a year as opposed to daily chronic persistent headaches living in climates that never agreed with me. Couple the migraine with a full client load this past week and then all of the anticipation about getting my second COVID vaccine on May 6th and whether I would sail through without any significant side effects? Yeah, it’s been a week.


Now, as I am sitting here halfway through the day I blocked off on my calendar to schedule absolutely nothing in case I did feel like crap after the vaccine I am actually feeling nothing other than some residual brain fog from a 3-day migraine that finally dissipated overnight...go figure.


Maybe the vaccine will be the cure to my migraines forever? One can only wish and hope right? Anyway, I finally had the energy to sit at my computer and write this letter, one that is infinitely longer than I anticipated but I’m sure that shouldn’t surprise you, Marc and Aimee. Your kids? Well, whether you share this with them that is up to you but by all means feel free to paraphrase if they roll their eyes at you when you attempt to hand them what I believe will be my blog this Sunday, Mother’s Day. Hey, #twobirdsonestone … that’s what entrepreneurs have to do every day.


Bottom line, it really doesn’t matter what day it is on any calendar. Remembering a loved one can be a daily occurrence but it doesn’t have to be painful every day for the rest of your life. That is not what Marc’s father or my mother would have ever wanted for any of us. And it doesn’t have to be cookies that make you smile. You each can find your own way to cherish the memories. This just happened to have been my way and I hope it will make you smile.


One more thing...the cookies are gluten-free. The texture isn’t quite the same but I promise they still taste good. Hey, I said they were gluten-free but not taste-free. Despite being on a pretty consistent gluten, dairy, sugar, and alcohol-free diet for the past few months, as my mother always said, you really need to approach everything in life in moderation and that does include an occasional chocolate chip cookie, with or without gluten, the old-fashioned way.


It’s been a helluva year for us all but as we continue to create our “new normal” I wish nothing but peace, love and lots of smiles for all of you.


Be well, be safe and be smiling always just like the beautiful one that I look at every day and the familiar scent from a bottle of perfume that was actually my mother’s and I never use, only take a quick “whiff” of it every morning when getting ready to leave for whatever I have to do along with the one word that reminds me of the woman who fought so hard for 7 years against cancer, BELIEVE!


Beth