When something important happens in my life, I don’t feel like it has really “happened” until I’ve told three people: my wife, my dad, and, of course, my mom.
My mom has been there for me through good and bad my entire life. My earliest memory is being sick in the hospital as a child and looking out across the room, seeing her and feeling comfort that she was there. Whenever I got in trouble with my dad and was grounded, my mom would talk to him — often negotiate with him — on my behalf, and buy me a reprieve for whatever event it was that I desperately needed to attend.
My mom was there for me each morning … as my alarm clock. I’m not kidding. I would just tell her what time I needed to get up in the morning, and she’d come into my room, sit on the side of my bed, and gently wake me up. The most insane part is that my mom did not — and still does not — use an alarm clock herself. She just tells herself what time she needs to get up and does it.
My mom was there for me during my high school football years, even though she never wanted me to play because she was scared I would get hurt. As luck would have it, the first game of my freshman year (maybe even the first play), I broke my leg on the field. Funny thing: I don’t recall my mom ever saying, “I told you so.” Even now when I watch the videos from those games with my own children, I can literally hear her cheering “Go Jimmy!” from the stands.
A couple of years later, my mom was the one who spent hours and hours on the phone with college football coaches that were recruiting me. While she herself never went to college (she came from an old-school, Italian family, and her dad didn’t want her going away), she helped put together all of my college applications. I still remember the day I got the call from the head recruiting coach at Cornell, my first choice, telling me I’d been accepted. When my mom heard the news, all I remember is hearing her scream with joy.
Then it was my mom who was able to deliver me my good news. She was the one who got the letter telling me I got into my law school of choice. She was the one who received my NY State Bar exam results and called me to let me know I passed.
The support I received and continue to receive from my mom goes far beyond just “being there for me.” She has always been my role model and my teacher (without ever letting me know that she was teaching me). All of my most important values come from her. She never told me what was right from wrong; she showed me. I remember when I was younger, my good friend was having a rough time at soccer camp after his dad passed away. I saw how my mom went out of her way to connect with my friend and make his life just a little bit easier, and I tried to do the same. My mom showed me how to be there for him. To be compassionate and sensitive and by his side through this incredibly tough time.
A little later in life, another good friend was incredibly upset because he was moving and would have to change schools. My parents invited him to live with us during the school year. During that time, my mom treated my friend like he was her own son and demonstrated a generosity of spirit that was unrivaled.
Really, these two friends of mine didn’t experience any “special treatment” from my mom. She shared the same generosity with all of my friends. We had a revolving door in my house growing up; my friends would regularly come over to visit, eat, watch TV, etc., and my Mom never complained. She never asked for any privacy or advance notice. My mom opened her home to my friends and, to this day, all of them, and I, remain deeply appreciative.
My mom has always focused on others before herself, especially her family, and this was always magnified during the holidays. She has always had one ask each year of me and my sister: that she get to spend Christmas with us. It got so severe that, in my late teen years, my mom was hoping I would marry a non-Christian; this way she wouldn’t have any competition on Christmas Day. While I did eventually marry into a Christian family, I have still been able to comply, for the most part. As has my sister. And that’s not only because we love seeing her but because we love seeing her so happy. My mom is never happier than on Christmas. Her real joy comes from giving, and Christmas is her opportunity to do just that.
Knowing all this about my mom, you can just imagine her now as a “Noni.” She absolutely adores my kids and is amazing with them. She never gets tired and relishes every second with them. She loves getting down and dirty on the floor, playing with Legos and dolls, or in the sand box. My kids adore her because she is compassionate, gentle, attentive and fun. They usually count the days until her next visit. I do my best to pass on to my children what I’ve learned from my mom.
At work, I keep it simple and focus on two big things: working hard and being nice to people. I learned both of these things from my mom. Last week I had the opportunity to represent The Walt Disney Company at the “Newfronts” in New York City. I presented on stage to an audience of our key partners, and, just like when I was a child, I was able to look out and feel comfort because my mom was there. I’ve been able to accomplish most things in life because of my mom’s love.