Five years ago today my mother passed away. Just writing this I feel the heat build from my stomach to my face, even now. Those that know me well, would know that tears are not really part of my personality! It seems though, when I think of my mother, it is difficult to express the impact she has had on my life without becoming extremely emotional.
Recently George Couros wrote Every Adult Needs a Champion Too! I read this and I thought firstly about the way I champion for my students. This is what my mother gave me. She was a champion for every child. I knew this in my youth because it somewhat annoyed me. She was “Aunty Liz” to every kid! Sometimes I would moan “why can’t you just be my mum?”.
It was a somewhat surreal experience after her funeral service when complete strangers approached me, passionately expressing their “Aunty Liz” experiences. Some of these people had not seen her for twenty years, yet the impact she had had on their young lives was lasting.
I couldn’t begin to write all the stories down here, but I will share two that changed the way I look at the little things.
One young man (I would suggest in his late 20’s at the time) explained how my mum had visited their family home late one afternoon and delivered a box, explaining only that the items inside were for the young boy and she hoped he had a great trip. The young boy was one of six children in a local Indigenous family who were struggling financially and finding it difficult to manage. The young man had made the state basketball team and though this trip had been fully funded (my mother fundraised for every player to travel without cost-another story), travelling to a cold environment meant warm clothing was needed. Inside this box included not only warm clothing, but also underwear and socks. My mother had never mentioned this to me, nor anyone else. This adult man stood in front of me with tears in his eyes and told me that he would never have gone on the trip, it would have been too embarrassing, but for her generosity. This boy went on to play in several National Tournaments and for a short time in his late teens he played in the National Basketball League.
Not long after, I was also approached by a young woman whom spoke very little English but was desperate to express how much she loved my mother. She had worked as a cleaner (her first job) in the same government building and whilst they did not work directly with each other my mother had heard that this young woman’s mother was quite ill and she (only recently employed) had needed to take unpaid leave to care for her. My mother understood that this would be extremely difficult for her and without hesitation she started delivering meals and groceries each week to support her. This young woman told me that each time my mother arrived she would be completely embarrassed by her generosity and tell her not to do it again, yet my mother continued to do this each week until she returned to work.
My mother had never mentioned to me, my siblings nor her closest friends of these acts of kindness. I can only imagine that the stories I have heard but scratch the surface of her generosity. My mother was not a woman of monetary wealth, she was a single mother paying off a mortgage, working long hours in a government job, taking ironing on the side to support her own childrens’ sporting endeavours and she also spent her time volunteering for several community services.
Many years ago when I was considering a career change and contemplating a graduate degree in Special Education my mother simply said, “do it darlin’ they need you”. She believed that I could be a “champion” for the children that needed it more than most. From that moment I have never looked back and the days when I feel I have truly been a champion for a child, I think of her and desperately would love to pick up the phone and let her know.
My mother was my biggest champion, she believed in me, she encouraged me, she bragged about me (too much). Her example is the reason I am so passionate about the success of the young people I work with. She is the reason I will fight for them to ensure they have opportunities and experiences they deserve. I know I will continue to do this because this is the legacy she has left me.
Since reading Every Adult Needs a Champion Too! I have been thinking more about the adults I champion for. I have asked a few close colleagues and friends about this and I have discussed how whilst my mother was definitely an amazing champion for kids, she championed for adults too. One of my close friends laughed at how she would roll her eyes when hearing yet another brag session from my mother about the accomplishments of her children. She laughed at the fact that she found out more about what I was doing from her once a month conversation with my mother than she did from seeing me most days!
I am extremely fortunate to have amazing loved ones and incredibly supportive professionals who continuously champion for me. So I need to pay it forward and determine how I can grow to be a better champion for the adults in my life, both professional and personal. How I can value and appreciate their experiences, their skills and their interests and be a genuine advocate. I can see how much influence this has had on my life and I hope in the future I can have a positive impact on others.