Every year, as Mother’s Day approaches, my mum tells my two brothers and me not to do anything for her. After all, the annual celebration is little more than an attempt by greedy, capitalist Hallmark pigs to boost second quarter earnings. Though I’m quite skeptical when it comes to days such as this, Mother’s Day encourages us to pause and think about how our mothers shape our lives. In the case of this article, I hope to contribute to a Wanderer mini-series initiated by Julia Rudko, who wrote a wonderful piece about her mother last week.
My mum, Marla Csorba, is a single mother. Over the last twelve years, she has taken up the daunting task of raising three boys on her own, which is especially impressive when one considers that these three boys play elite sports, a costly pursuit. As far back as I can remember, my mum shuffled us from baseball to soccer, racking up thousands of kilometres on the Chevy Tahoe in the process. I have written about this elsewhere, but to keep things brief, my mum has done all of this with little help from anyone else. She has provided three boys with elite sporting experiences, strong educations and social experiences that have prepared us for fulfilling lives in the world. One article cannot describe the challenges in accomplishing this feat. It is something that society really should value, since the complexity of raising three boys on a relatively minuscule income is probably as challenging as running a small business, serving as a politician, lawyer, and so on.
In a distant past, Marla grew up in Los Angeles. She was a gifted runner, and as a thirteen-year-old joined the prestigious Los Angeles Roadrunners, one of the best track clubs in California. Running alongside several future Olympians, Marla racked up 70 miles per week as a junior high student, running highways in L.A. and besting her classmates in recess sprinting competitions in San Bernadino schools. Though she was a strong runner with a future in track, my mum’s family deterred her from a long and potentially outstanding career. In twelve years between kindergarten and high school, Marla attended nine schools. Imagine that. In sixteen years of schooling, I have attended just three, and I suspect that this is much the same for others. Much to my dismay, Marla’s mum suffered from a severe mental disorder, and could not even say where her daughter went to school. Though an incredible man, her father was similarly detached, having little use for her daughter’s schooling. My mum would finish grade twelve, take her GED and then enrol in a community college. Just one semester into the college experience, my mum dropped out. This would be the last of her formal schooling.
In the next ten years, Marla worked as an administrative assistant to executives in several different cities; namely, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Houston, Honolulu and Rio. Though men adored her and flew her out to Formula One races, pro soccer matches and NFL games across the world, she maintained a studiousness quite characteristic of what one would see out of an intense university student. I attribute this to my grandfather, who despite dropping out of school in eighth grade, read the Western literary canon and studied the English dictionary in his spare time. Even today, my mum drops words such as “supercilious,” “asinine,” “obsequious” and “peripatetic” as if they were common words. In a matter of years, Marla had lived in a handful of exotic locations, from Rio in Brazil to Honolulu in Hawaii, living a rather luxurious lifestyle. She would be invited to Playboy photoshoots and was encouraged to be on the Edmonton Sun “Sunshine Girl” calendar on multiple occasions, but turned this down each time. More of a family person than an extrovert looking to party, I find that my mum’s personality has rubbed off on mine. Family comes first, and is the basis of a meaningful life.
In her twenty-one years of raising children, my mum has ensured that her three sons benefit from opportunities she was never provided. As the oldest son in the family, I have enjoyed many backyard “chats” with my mum, which to this day leave indelible impacts on who I am as a person. In many ways, my mum has done all that she can to see that her sons receive the best possible education, being “fully-present” in whatever it is that we do. Far from being a helicopter parent, my mum asks questions about our days, asks us what we learned in class and what we enjoy in our learning. This curiosity has shown me just how enjoyable learning can be, and that it is something that I should be grateful for. I remember, for example, being a grade nine student at McKernan, enrolled in the French Immersion program. At the time, I longed to go to Old Scona Academic High School, considered by some to be the top overall academic high school in Canada. During the lead-up to the entrance process, my mum and I would drive to the school and then park at the front steps. For minutes, I would stare at the school, hoping that I could one day walk the creaky floors of OSA. When I received the unforgettable call from the Principal, Dr. Yaniw, I was ecstatic, and had a good cry with my mum. Indeed, Dr. Yaniw’s good news validated my mum’s parenting, showing that the time dedicated to her children’s learning was paying off.
The same support was provided in baseball and soccer. Despite an average income, my mum always found ways for her boys to travel North America for competitive sports. As a pitcher, I was fortunate to travel to Scottsdale, Arizona to train with a former Boston Red Sox pitcher. Several months later, I would go to the University of Notre Dame as part of its college showcase program. For Bennett, who twice represented Alberta in baseball nationals, my mum would always be cheering him on, whether it was in Calgary or Victoria, B.C. And in soccer, the youngest of the family, Cooper, was able to fly to Spain to compete in international tournaments against Real Madrid, Osasuna and other professional youth clubs. All of this cost money, but in usual form, my mum “found a way.” Though disadvantaged, we were given the same opportunities as everyone else.
Some of the most meaningful words that my mum has ever said are the following: “We will figure things out.” Not “I will figure things out,” but “we.” Single parenting is immensely difficult, sometimes leading to 70-hour weeks and clean-up at home upon returning from work. The stress of such a fast-paced life has at times led to the worst of arguments, involving name-calling, broken spatulas (I deserved it!) and my clothes and suitcases thrown on the lawn (not to mention a solemn walk in the rain to my fraternity house at the beginning of second year, where I would spend my first week on the couch). However, we always forgive and pick up where we left off: laughing, poking fun at each other, and then arguing some more. Most important, though, is the determination to find a way. For my mum, there has never been an option other than providing for her family. Motivated by what her parents never gave her, my mum has persisted against significant odds to give her children a life that she never had. Bennett and I are the first in our parents’ families to attend a four-year university, and we will graduate with first-class honours. All of this, because of a mum that knew that the only option there ever was is a good life for her children.
As I reflect, it is clear that this mentality has been incredibly beneficial in my life. University is tough, and it sometimes kicks you to the ground; however, one should always “find a way.” Whether it is with The Wanderer, Students’ Union politics or academic success, there is only one option: setting a high standard and achieving it. In whatever it is that one does, there should be no option but to commit oneself fully to the endeavour, striving for excellence no matter what the circumstances may be. So when adversity beckons and the future appears a little dreary, I think of my mum, who endures much worse and always figures things out.
So on this Mother’s Day, I care not about purchasing a Hallmark card. Instead, I dedicate this article to you, mum: a woman whose persistence, intensity, kindness, wonderful sense of humour, smile and love for her children build a life well worth living.