Growing up away from home isn’t easy.
All of the built-in advantages of living where you grew up go out the window. For better or for worse, you’re left to associate with the people around you, to assimilate, to develop your own “culture” and try and “fit in.”
For the last 11 years, this has been my life. I have been lucky enough to meet thousands of wonderful people (and, of course, a handful of not-so-wonderful people). I’ve been fortunate enough to befriend quite a few of these wonderful people, thanks, in large part, to the way my Mom -- back in good old Huntington Station -- raised me.
You probably read that sentence and thought, oh here we go, another best-Mom-in-the-world soliloquy.
I didn't have the chance to head home this weekend to see Mom (and Grandma and my stepmom, Jean), but I spoke to each of them this morning on the phone this morning.
Each of those amazing, powerful Moms has had an immeasurable influence on my life. In speaking to them this morning, I realized that, over the last 11 years, without “actual” Mom in the next room, I’ve relied on a handful of other amazing women to fill that Mom-away-from-home role.
So this Mother’s Day, with the requisite phone calls done, I decided I had more thanks to offer.
The list has to start with Christina Ritter. Christina (pictured above with me at Homecoming 2013) will be the only woman on this list who is not an actual Mother herself, but she needs to know that when my Mom dropped her scrawny, pimply-faced only son off at Binghamton University in August 2003, Christina instantly inherited the title of go-to gal.
Christina was the Resident Director of Mohawk Hall, which I ended up calling home for the next eight semesters. With her ground-floor office door always open, “Critter” and I developed a friendship that extended to hall government, the co-rec football field and even into Newing, the neighboring residential community where she was disappointingly moved in 2005-06 (correct me if I’m wrong, Critter?).
Christina has since moved down to the Washington, D.C., area, where she serves as the co-chair of the D.C. chapter of the Alumni Association, but our friendship hasn’t wavered. It’s no coincidence that my journey is ending (well, sort of) in D.C. -- nothing will soothe the pains of 87 days and 12,000+ miles behind the wheel like a hug from Critter. (And before we move on from Critter, her Mom is pretty cool, too!)
Critter wasn’t the only incredible soul I crossed paths with on campus at Binghamton University.
Without Mary Haupt, I literally wouldn't be here today.
I can’t say enough wonderful things about Mary Haupt, the JOURNALISM professor that BU insists on coining with the word ‘rhetoric.’
Don’t let the University’s literature fool you: Binghamton University not only offers a journalism program, they offer an excellent journalism program -- and Mary Haupt is its heart and soul.
My career in journalism started with RHET 240, taught by Mary Haupt, who doubled as a part-time copy editor at the Press & Sun-Bulletin, the Gannett-owned local newspaper just across the Parkway.
I breezed through RHET 240, and you couldn’t sign me up fast enough for every other *journalism* class I could find. Other classes felt like class; my journalism classes, with Mary and the legendary Frank Roessner, felt like real life. I was destined to write -- or at least correct the spelling and syntax errors of all the “professionals” who also felt destined to write.
And so it happened: in 2006, the PSB was looking for a part-time proofer. The powers that be asked Mary if she knew any students who could use a job, and I became the guy.
I spent the rest of my undergrad career splitting my time between the north and south sides of 4400 Vestal Parkway; Sunday and Monday evenings, I had the pleasure of working side-by-side with Mary, the woman who literally taught me everything I knew about the craft.
A couple years later, with “real world” me now a full-time, front-page-designing member of the copy desk, the tumultuous nature of the industry during those years led Gannett to let Mary -- a part-timer -- go.
I was a wreck. I cried my eyes out. (If I recall correctly, it was Kristen Roby -- another one of my absolute rocks -- who consoled me through it.) I was at Gannett a few more years after that, but it was that moment I knew I wasn’t going to let that ever happen to me.
Mary is still teaching at Binghamton University, no doubt inspiring hundreds of lucky BU students to follow the noble, and increasingly complicated, path of being a journalist. She is lauded, and rightfully so, in the pages of Pipe Dream, and I hope that anyone reading this with the opportunity to fill a seat in her class does so without a moment’s hesitation.
Let me not parse my words: Mary Haupt represents everything wonderful about Binghamton University. I owe her everything, and the very least I can do is type something kind. It’s no surprise she’s married to Chuck Haupt, the single friendliest, kindest man you’d ever meet (but I promised to stick to a Mother’s Day theme!).
The other maternal figure I need to thank today is my most recent boss, Stephanie Blodgett.
This is the most difficult portion of this blog to write because, as of just over a week ago, I was still working for Stephanie, the owner/president/heart of everything at Ad Elements. Leaving the agency was difficult for a trillion reasons, but the biggest one was definitely Stephanie.
I won't touch on the behind-the-scenes of Binghamton’s premier advertising agency, but I can certainly say this: Stephanie Blodgett is an incredibly strong, talented businesswoman -- but above all of her extensive business acumen, she is a wonderful mother.
Steph could sign Nike, Apple and McDonald’s tomorrow, and it still wouldn’t mean more to her than her son, Andrew (“AO,” as she affectionately calls him). Pictures of her with her son line the window of her corner office, and anyone who’s had the pleasure of a car ride with Steph has surely heard stories about AO, as a young child, or playing hockey, or his ongoing adventures in Central Florida …
For the last two years, with AO off to college, Steph has looked out for me from all angles. If Stephanie didn’t take a chance on me -- despite my atrociously scraggly long hair that I brought to the interview! -- I would’ve remained at DealChicken where, little did I know, an impeding round of layoffs would’ve left me without a job.
It should come as no surprise that Stephanie is also a Binghamton University grad, and it was her blessing that allowed me to expand my role with the Alumni Association last fall.
I am endlessly grateful to Stephanie for giving me the opportunity to work at Ad Elements, which is, by a wide margin, the best advertising agency in this region. I’m sure Jim is making sure Steph is having a wonderful Mother’s Day.
Before signing off, and because this blog is already ten times longer than I originally intended anyway, here are a few more amazing Southern Tier Moms that have been wonderful to me over the last 11 years.
-- Diane Sansone, aka “Mama Bear” and the true "Beer Boss” at The Ale House. Diane and Tim’s son, Jeremy, has grown up before all of our eyes, and that he is the area’s most accomplished Eagle Scout says as much about Mama Bear as it does about J himself. If you’ve drank a beer at The Ale House in the last 25 years, you probably call Diane a dear friend, and for good reason -- she is as good as they come.
-- Sonia Boyesen Springer, aka Jay Boulia’s Mom. I don’t recall the year -- 2008 maybe? -- but one of the perks of being a copy editor was the exciting opportunity to work Thanksgiving night, preventing me from heading back to Long Island to see my Mom. When word of my depressing Thanksgiving plans made it to Jay’s Mom, that simply wasn’t going to work. Before heading in for my evening shift, I spent that Turkey Day with Jay’s family. It might not have seemed like a big deal to them, but to me, it meant the world.
-- Felicia Moreira, wife of Jose and Momma to a pair of adorable future Bearcats. Felicia and Jose have been friends for years and she has always been incredibly supportive and friendly to me.
-- Nicki Conroy, she of extensive Twitter fame and Mother to quite a little clan. Nicki completed her first Binghamton Bridge Run last Sunday, and I was thrilled to be at the finish line to root her on. Nicki was one of the first to congratulate me on heading out on this journey and, this Mother’s Day, I’m happy to call her a friend.
Lastly, to all the Moms out there who call many of my dear guy friends “Dad” -- god bless you.
Happy Mother’s Day.