Sarah West Vattano 1931-2020
When my mom died in December, I got an outpouring of messages from family and friends about how wonderful she was – the “mom of all moms”. I heard familiar stories about her kindness, her humor, her engagement, her optimism, her strength and her unconditional love for her seven kids. All of it was true, heartwarming and helpful as I processed her death. However, my mom and I were very different from one another, and while I loved her dearly and respected her wholeheartedly, I often disagreed with her perspective.
A sophomore in high school, I made the junior varsity basketball team as one of two alternates. Thus, I practiced with the team but didn’t play in the games unless they were down a player. My mom’s advice when I was disappointed about being on the bench was to quit and do something else with my time. I, however, went a different way. I played basketball for hours in my backyard after every practice, determined to get into the game. By the end of that season, I was the starting forward on the team. Similarly, when I was newly married and working, I called my mom to complain about how my working life was too hard. Her advice was to stay home and take care of my husband. Again, I went a different way. I got my master’s degree while working full time to accelerate my career.
Her advice often made me upset and I didn’t take it. In fact, I would do the opposite. She was neutral when I wanted to advocate, she took the easy path when I was willing to put in the work. She wasn’t someone whom I could call and connect with for hours. I sought out others for advice and guidance. My sister became my best friend – part friend part mother. Maybe my mom and I were simply generations apart, maybe we were simply opposite personalities, maybe she was simply exhausted from running a nine-person household, and then again, maybe she knew exactly what she was doing to parent me.
I’ve thought about my mom more in the past five months than I have in many years. The only girl of five kids, she put herself through college after a tough childhood to become an occupational therapist. She got what she wanted out of her life – a kind, loving and supportive husband and a stable family. If she did have a passion in her nerves-of-steel demeanor, it was the love for her kids. She cooked dinner every night for 40 years, and faithfully came to all of our sports games, choir concerts and dance recitals. She created family traditions with the holidays and celebrated the small stuff. She was always there when we needed her, and she loved, accepted and supported each of us unconditionally.
My mom was an incredible mother and an inspiring woman. She fueled my self-reliance, independent thinking and drove me to make the most of the hand I was dealt. If she were able to give me advice today, I still may not take it, but I would appreciate it more, tell her I loved her for who she was and thank her for making me the person that I am today.