“Now that you’re getting divorced, can I tell you what I really think about her?”
-Robyn L. Avitable, December 31, 2009
“What does NASA stand for? Need Another Seven Astronauts. Just don’t tell anyone at school I said that.”
-Robyn L. Avitable, January 29, 1986
Those two quotes sum my mother up perfectly. In the former, I see the massive love and support she provided even while knowing throughout my entire relationship that was she was right all along and I should have listened in the first place. The latter is demonstrable evidence of her morbidly razor sharp sense of humor and her total knowledge that at nine years old, I was ready to hear a joke about the Challenger explosion that had occurred less than 24 hours prior.
That’s my mother. Robyn Leah-Ann Smith Avitable, born July 12th, 1954. The only girl out of four children, she stayed ahead of her brothers by being the smartest, the most twisted, and the most independent. My mother reached a pinnacle in her career without once using her gender as a crutch, as a tool, or even acknowledging it at all. She never let the parameters of her job in healthcare keep her from accomplishing as much as she wanted, and I have always been impressed by the total respect that she commanded from those who were not only below her or on her level, but by those who outranked her.
My mother has always been a leader. She didn’t have role models because she made her own path and became the person who inspired others. Throughout my childhood and even to this day, my mother was and remains the person that you go to when you have a problem. Any problem. She might not be able to solve it, but she’ll know where to start. And she’ll almost always be right.
Her confidence is unparalleled, and I have only seen a handful of times when that security was shaken. She knows what she wants, she has a plan to get it, and I have never seen her at a loss (though she does hate having her picture taken). Throughout my divorce, my father’s struggle with epilepsy, my grandmother’s descent into Alzheimer’s, and myriad family upheavals and drama, she’s been the anchor. I can’t think of a time when we didn’t look to my mother to tell us what to do next.
Now, she’s retired. She and my father (who took all of the recent photos in this post and posted them on his entertaining blog at http://jimandrob.tumblr.com/) are currently splitting their time between the house in Ormond Beach, where I grew up, and their place in Utah. I don’t see retirement lasting forever, though. My mother, a voracious reader with an appetite that rivals mine, will get bored with the relaxation and reading after time, and I’m sure she’ll set her sights on something new. Will she write a book that talks about her adventures at Mass General Hospital leading to her career at Memorial Hospital in Florida? Will she volunteer to care for those who can’t care for themselves? Or will she wait for one of us to have children of our own so she can just be a kick-ass grandmother? Time will tell.
Mom, I didn’t get you a gift card to Amazon – there’s no thought in that. I didn’t send you flowers, because you hate flowers. I didn’t get you anything tangible other than a birthday card because you buy what you want when you want to, and you have almost everything you want in life. The best gift I can give you is my skill with words (other than a grandchild – I know!), so this post is your birthday present. I would say that I hope you like it, but I know you will.
As I grow older, I recognize how similar we are. We may have different viewpoints, and we may not agree on some fundamental issues, but there’s nobody I would rather be like. When my friends come to me to be their problem solver, therapist, life preserver, motivator, comedian, and walking encyclopedia, I know my ability to fill those roles, pursue my own goals, and follow my own path is thanks in large part to you.
Mom, thank you for being the best role model and mentor that any son could ever ask for, and happy birthday. I love you.