By Lee Shappell
A greeting hangs over the front door for all who enter the home: “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Doreen Garlid’s husband of 25 years, Scott, hand carved it for her. It’s a spacious home on an expansive lot with a sport court and plenty of shaded patio space in back that their four kids and the kids’ friends made the neighborhood hangout.
It sits in a late-1970s upscale neighborhood in south Tempe with huge trees and mature landscaping.
Inside, the warm Southwest décor is punctuated by Native American art and Navajo rugs. Doreen’s grandfather was Native American, and her mom grew up on the Navajo Reservation. The home is comfortable, unpretentious.
Lacy the horse lives across the street in the stable at the neighborhood horse park.
“She’s pretty old now,” Doreen said. “We can’t really ride her anymore. It’s kind of like having a big dog now.” (They have one of those, too).
It fits the Garlids, who have lived the American Dream as they’ve raised their children. By all outward appearances, this is a family that is doing well, traceable in large extent to Doreen. Mother’s Day, this year on Sunday, May 13, is the day moms like her are honored or remembered. Usually, she says, this is a day of joy for her.
This year, though, she will be conflicted. She’ll still have Daniel, 23; Kathryn, 21; Michael, 20; and Eric, 19—all of them now in college. And she’ll still have husband Scott.
As to whom they’ll all dote over that day, Doreen will still be the matriarch. For the first time, though, she will not have her own mom on Mother’s Day.
“It’s a crazy thing to think about,” Doreen said. “For Mother’s Day, my kids will do things that are special for me, but my Mother’s Day was just for my mom. I always made the Mother’s Day dinner because I didn’t want her to do it. We’d have her over here.”
Garlid, at 54, is entrenched firmly in the Sandwich Generation. With her kids now in adulthood, her focus shifted to giving care for her parents. She and Scott helped her mom and dad move nearby a few years back so that she could be their primary caregiver. She’d go over early in the morning to make sure they took their medications. Back at noon to make sure they ate. Back again in the evening for more medications. Her mother’s passing was recent. Her father remains in declining health.
This Mother’s Day will be difficult for her, but that base support of family that she and Scott built will come back around to help see her through.
“When I think about being a mom and what gifts I can give my kids, there are three things that always pop up: smothering them with unconditional love, spending time with them, and loving their father,” she said.
“The kids need to know that even when they’re not perfect that you still love them. It’s important that they know that no matter what they have done or not done, good or bad, that they can come home and know that they can talk to you about it, that you can listen to them and love them unconditionally. That’s the best thing a mom can do for her kids.”
Shortly before Daniel was born, Doreen left her job as newsroom business manager at a Valley television station to be a stay-at-home mom while Scott worked.
“I’ve been home with them since,” she said. “I was fortunate to be able to do that.”
To say that Doreen has been an engaged mom is an understatement. It was helpful that C. I. Waggoner Elementary School is two blocks away and that Kyrene Middle School is almost next door.
She volunteered at school frequently, especially when all four of her kids were at Waggoner at the same time. She and two neighbors started the 4H program in their neighborhood for the kids.
Doreen started a Girl Scout troop for her daughter and was a troop leader since Brownie days. She worked with Tempe South Little League once her boys started playing baseball. It was important, she says, to spend time with them individually and their activities. She still does.
“I’ve enjoyed being here for them— also for some of our neighbors’ kids,” she said. “I could take their kids after school and have them be here and play, and enjoy them. It’s a good way to get to know your neighbors and be part of the neighborhood.
“And what’s nice about that is it really has built the community around us. We got to know a lot of families and lot of kids, and we love that.”
She has seen that love reflected back to her on Mother’s Day. She loved when her kids would come home from school with little handprints on gifts they had made.
“There is something so cute about kids’ art,” she said. Her favorite Mother’s Days were when the kids cooked up something on their own, like “kidnapping” her in her pajamas and bathrobe and taking her to Waffle House for breakfast.
“It’s the only place you can walk in in your bathrobe,” she said. “It was cute because it was an idea they came up with, and they could kind of make me look silly and have fun with it.”
The challenge was finding time for Scott.
They made it important to get a babysitter and go on a date each week and one vacation a year without the kids.
“We did realize that in order for us to be a strong family and love the kids that we needed to be strong in our relationship, too,” Doreen said.
Not all families are in a position for the mom to stay at home with the kids. Not all are blessed with the resources the Garlids have.
Doreen realizes that, but, she said, there are basic elements that all moms in all situations can give their kids.
“It’s creative time, then,” she said. “It’s finding that creative time on the weekend to do something really special with your children that is fun for everybody. The kids love you and the time that you spend with them.”
Doreen recently unearthed a creative gift from her late mother, her final gift.
As Doreen and her sister were going through their mom’s things, they found four handwritten books – one for Doreen and each of her siblings.
“We did not know that she had done this,” Doreen said. “It’s her life story, handwritten, for each of us. I just started reading mine—I have to read a little bit at a time and then put it away.
“I have my Mother’s Day gift. If I can say something to mothers, having a written memory of your life to give to your kids is a spectacular thing. Now I look at it, I wish I would have asked these questions just to hear her own voice answer them. It’s a crazy thing this Mother’s Day, realizing how much she gave me and all the important things she taught me. Darn it, I want to give my kids those same things.”
Doreen had not seen the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” before she met Scott. It was among his favorites, and early in their relationship he persuaded her to watch it.
“I absolutely fell in love with the movie, with the message,” she said. “That’s kind of been the motto for our life. You have to remember what a great life you have and all the great lives you can touch. Remember in the good times, and even in the bad times, it’s a wonderful life.”
Lee Shappell was an editor and reporter at Valley newspapers for nearly four decades. He now enjoys semi-retirement as a freelance writer.