Mom passed away yesterday after a long battle with Leukemia and my sister perfectly summed up my family’s feelings about the situation with a tweet:
I know it’s weird to think & talk about but I keep getting this feeling that Mom’s hanging out with Whiney Houston up there. Don’t know why. — @elaina_peters
Well, I know exactly why.
For starters, Mom was a diva who owned the dance floor during the disco era and burned through two eight tracks of Donna Summer’s “Lady of the Night”. She also loved the soundtrack from The Bodyguard which produced Houston’s anthem “I Will Always Love You”, so Elaina’s feeling makes sense. Mom would totally hang out with Whitney Houston.
But more importantly, Mom was the ultimate caregiver capable of helping anyone with their problems — even the Whitney Houston-sized ones Mom read about with her multidecade subscription to the National Enquirer.
Mom helped local drug addicts get clean, guided children through the struggles of growing up and was always sure to tell the regular, everyday person what was special or fantastic about them.
Despite being insecure about never graduating from college and lacking confidence in her “smartness” — a trait that’s grossly overrated — Mom spent her time comforting the scared, depressed and worried. Julie Kofron Peters truly gave more more than she took.
She’ll never get to hold her grandchildren or watch Elaina and I walk down the aisle. And she won’t get to enjoy retirement with Dad or sip the glass of wine in Tuscany she always wanted. But she can leave the Earth knowing she paid some of the “smartest” people she encountered a lesson in the most valuable human trait: empathy.
The story that’s most important for all of us to remember about Mom is something that happened the first couple of months we moved to North Carolina. It really shows her commitment to children.
I just started my first semester at Clyde Campbell Elementary School and made a new friend on the bus. He was a chubby, charismatic fifth grader who loved the Green Bay Packers, but was a little rough around the edges.
My new best friend’s Dad died when he was very young and his home life was rough. His mom had to work, was rarely around and often drunk. And his older brother, a problem student, had teachers and administration scrutinizing his every move before the school year even started.
Suburban soccer moms raising little overachievers quickly warned my new friend was trouble. Teachers asked me for weeks why I spent so much time with him. And after my new friend and I received office referrals for printing out the raunchy lyrics to Nelly’s hit single “Ride Wit Me” and passing them out to our class, the assistant principal pulled my Mom aside to have a chat.
He ranted for 30-minutes about how my new friend was hurting my academics, citing the “troublemaker’s” long elementary school rap sheet filled with food fights, fist fights and curse words.
Mom listened without interrupting as the assistant principal questioned why she would let a boy with such bad hygiene and character hang out with her son. He closed his argument with an obvious appeal to her maternal instincts: “Trash is trash, don’t let it ruin your baby boy.”
After that ignorant comment, I watched as Mom took a breath and delivered the most important life lesson I’ve ever received:
You’re right. He stinks sometimes and he curses too much. He even wrote the word ‘Dick’ on my daughter’s favorite baby doll’s forehead because he thought it was funny. I’ve seen all of this first hand. But it’s terrifying that as a principal who knows what this ‘problem’ child’s home life is like, you’re still missing the most important question. Sure, he can introduce my son to bad things and encourage my son to develop some bad habits. But have you ever asked what we can do for him? What Cory and Cory’s family can do for this struggling child?
The principal regurgitated a few facts from some journal article to rebut, but he knew Mom had just taught him and her son something no one can learn from some professor or book. Empathy can only be taught by regular people — like my mom.