“Your mom has balls!” Came the comment from my Grandma. She was just barely over 5 feet tall and a little over 80 lbs. In her 80’s, she looked like she’d been alive more than 100 years. A heavy smoker and mother of 9, most would wonder how she got this far. But she was standing now in the tiny 3-room house (not 3 bedroom—just 3 rooms total) in which she raised her 9 kids, my mom was helping her back into her bed.
Though we knew the cancer would take her soon, she seemed strong enough to walk back in to the kitchen and start rolling tortillas like she was always doing for past visits. If you wanted one, you had to grab it as soon as it came off the griddle. With 9 kids who all lived nearby, one of the few dozen cousins would likely be there grabbing it first. We called her Grandma Bee because they say she was as mean as a bee. Maybe it was that we only got to visit every 3 or 4 years but she didn’t seem that mean to me—just grouchy.
She didn’t talk much (other than when she was griping about something), but today she was telling me that my mom had balls. “Who else would drag 4 kids across the country on a Greyhound bus?!” With that, she showed me the blanket she was making for my son who was due to be born in 4 months. It was made of small patches of her clothing that didn’t fit her anymore, gingerly stitched together. The stitches were loose and you could tell that she had put a lot of what little strength she had left into every stitch.
My mom did have balls. That year we were visiting my mom’s hometown in one of the poor neighborhoods of Albuquerque, NM. The house we were in had only just gotten indoor plumbing a few years prior—in the 80’s. On earlier visits, I recall having to use the outhouse or the bucket inside if you had to go at night. I remember it being such an adventure because I grew up in a house with plumbing. It was a different world. All of my aunts and uncles and cousins still lived in Albuquerque, but my mom had the balls to leave when I was a baby.
She had the balls to put herself through night school for an accounting certificate, even though she didn’t graduate from high school. She had the balls to work the graveyard shift so that she could make an extra 50 cents an hour to support her kids even though she would have to be awake during the day to make them dinner, do their laundry, and help them with their homework. She had the balls to chaperone school field trips even though she was up all night working the graveyard shift. She had the balls to build relationships that became her community of support even though making time for them would further lengthen her day.
Because of my mom’s “balls,” I learned that school was important. I learned that working hard is the only way to get ahead, even when it seems like you’re not going anywhere. I learned that making friends is vital to survival. I learned that no matter how hard you work, you have to get your priorities straight and remember why you’re doing it all in the first place. But most importantly, I learned to take risks. I learned that sometimes, doing things differently is the best way to make an impact in the lives around you.
From a 3-room mud-home with no indoor plumbing, to a factory-supported home with 3 BEDrooms, to a home on acreage in the woods supported by a self-owned business, my mom’s balls sure got us a lot further than just across the country.
My grandma passed away before my son was born, but we took the blanket she had started and finished it with some of my old clothes. Now my grandson will be wrapped in the courage that transformed the lineage from where he comes.
My business is called Incremental Success because I know that the most important steps toward success are sometimes the smallest, incremental steps. Most major corporations have stories of how their businesses were built on such steps. My business was built on the steps my mom took to demonstrate that nothing great is achieved overnight.