Brand building through storytelling

My Mother – Myrna Cheeseman

Myrna CI don’t tell my mom, Myrna, often enough, but she inspires me regularly.

My mom was 37 when she and dad adopted me, and mom was essentially a single mom for large stretches of time. My dad was a professional fundraiser in the days before the positions were in-house, and he had to be where the campaign was. That meant that dad lived out of hotels in Halifax, Charlottetown, St. John’s, Regina and a host of US cities. He would be gone 6-8 weeks at a time, and my job was to spot him at the airport as mom drove slowly by. We would go where he was in the summers, but for the most part, mom was a solo parent for much of the school year.

When my father lost his job in the era before older workers were valued for their contribution and experience, my mom stepped up to fill the gap. Mom never finished high school, but she is one of the smartest people I know. She took an income tax course and worked at HR Block. She went to work for my uncle, who was a family physician, and when that didn’t work out (big ugly story best left in the past) she took a typing course and then ran another doctor’s office with military precision until she retired at 67. She kept the ship off the rocks on the home front, and although we were tight for money, it was never obvious.

My mom grew up during the Depression and World War II and that early experience shaped her. She is frugal, thrifty and smart about stretching a dollar. She doesn’t particularly like cooking but has signature dishes that are still favorites. No one cooks a turkey like my mom. She is a minimalist, and she doesn’t like the feel of new clothes-probably because she always wore her sister Helen’s hand me downs. It’s hard to convince mom to wear new clothes-she’s always “saving” them. She never had much, so she made do.

My mom had strong ideas about how her daughter should be raised, and although I resented it at the time, I’m modelling it now with my daughter. She sat me down at the end of the kitchen table as soon as I could hold a crayon to write thank you notes; it’s second nature now.

She taught me respect for others and for myself. She taught me right and wrong and was marched back into a store when I was child after I’d helped myself to a gumball. The storekeeper was much more understanding than my mom was. I went to church weekly when I was a child, but mom was smart enough to give me space to decide for myself. She dropped me off at church by myself when I was 13 or 14 and with a parting “see what God tells you to do” she drove away. I took her advice and I still go to church weekly. If she’d forced me, I would have left. My mom and dad taught me about the need to take care of others, and although we didn’t have much money, there was always something found for the less fortunate. We supported charities, food banks and other social agencies.

We donate used clothes to the Salvation Army because there was some good left in it and throwing it out would be wasteful. Teenage girls had curfews, and there were certain places that I was not allowed to hang out at, and it didn’t matter a fig whether all my friends were doing it or not. School was important and homework came before play. I juggled part-time work from the time I was 15, and successfully completed a double-honours degree with A- average, and later, a Masters degree. My mom taught me the work ethic that still guides me.

My figure did not fit teen fashions. I was curvy (putting it mildly) and “the girls” did not fit junior fashion. My mom was sympathetic but insistent that my clothes fit-PROPERLY-and were classic and tasteful. We tramped many hours through many stores to find a prom dress or t-shirts and tank tops that was stylish and age-appropriate. While my sense of style has evolved, and is still evolving as I’m still learning to embrace and accept my curves rather than hide them, the basics that my mom taught me still power my decisions.

My mom has become my close friend as I’ve aged. She’s my sounding board, my grounding, my cheering squad and I was so glad that I was able to give her a grandchild to brighten her days. We talk 2-3 times every day about current events, politics, my daughter, my work, our family. She?s one of the first people I turn to in good and bad times, in triumph and in failure. My mother motivates and inspires me.

I lucked out when I married, because my in-laws are wonderful people. My mother-in- law raised her boys to be self-sufficient and respectful and they treat their momma (and their wives) well. My mother-in-law is a loving person and she’s scrupulously fair. She’s added a bar of chocolate to a Christmas gift to make sure that the value is exactly the same. She loves good food, and she remembers trips by what she ate along the way. I tease her that she was a southern belle in another life; she likes nice things and a life of leisure. My father-in-law worked many hours and she kept things humming at home; she’s earned the right to a cup of tea and her television shows. She’s been completely supportive of my erratic, work-from-home writing career and she likes nothing better than to buy books for my daughter. She buys practical things for her grandchildren that still take into account their individual tastes and likes. She has yet to miss with clothes that she’s bought for our daughter—a little bit of bling or butterfly goes a long way.

There are 2 other mothers in my life. They stay in the background, but neither I nor my mother would be mothers without them. I am talking about my and my daughter’s birth mothers.

I was adopted at a time when information was minimal and contact was non-existent. My mom said that she couldn’t even talk to the foster mom to find out what I liked to eat or what comforted me-I was handed to her and that was it-not even a favorite blanket came with me. (In Quebec in those days, the baby stayed in foster care until the adoption was final to spare the adoptive parents the pain if the adoption wasn’t finalized.) My birth mom made a loving and courageous decision to make an adoption plan. She knew that the life I would have with her would not be as good as the life I would have with someone else. Until I became an adoptive mom myself, after the pain of infertility, I never understood fully what that sacrifice meant.

My daughter is adopted. I was fortunate to be able to meet my daughter’s birth mom, and we have pictures. She was a smart and funny person who had more than her share of challenges and tough breaks. She named my daughter Serenity, because that is what my daughter represented to her, and we kept that name as part of my daughter’s go-forward name. I will never forget the look on my daughter’s birth mom’s face as we pulled away with her child in our car. I can tell my daughter without a shadow of a doubt that her birth mom loved her.

So here’s to the amazing and inspirational mothers in my life. Without the courage and love of two young women a few decades apart, neither my mom nor I be mothers. My mom and my mother-in-law inspire me, support me and teach me to be a better person, day after day, and give me great parenting models to raise my own daughter. Moms rule.


My name is Lisa MacColl, and I am a freelance writer and editor, a work from home mom, a wife, a singer, and a craft-making chick who likes to make cards, click sticks and yarn and poke needles through fabric to make pictures and clothes. I had a cover feature in Canadian Living about helping your spouse through job loss (under a pen name because I wanted to stay married to my husband) which earned me a spot as a featured guest on a radio talk show and I have been featured in Readers Digest, Music Times, Cat Fancy and Today’s Bride. An aspiring children’s author, I once wrote a Young Adult novel in the 3 Day Novel Contest (that I am now editing and hope to publish) and I am a published poet. It’s amazing what coffee, white wine and skittles will accomplish and creativity is often fueled by the knowledge that the Winnie the Pooh DVD is exactly 47 minutes long. Work-from-home moms need to be creative. You can find more of my work at or .

Posted by Lisa MacColl

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