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By John Rezell

Five kids. FIVE KIDS!

That never struck me much growing up, that I was but one of five children of Jane and Reiny Rezell.

Growing up in Milwaukee, and later Brookfield in Wisconsin, I spent most of my hours being a handful on my own. I didn't have time to contemplate the fact that my mother juggled five kids — four of us boys.

It didn't really hit me until I started a family of my own, and had two daughters. Then the daunting task of raising five kids became the stuff of legends for me.

As I began to ponder just how to be parent, I wondered about the ultimate question: How did they do that?

How did my parents get me to be who I am? How did they raise five, in my humble opinion, really amazing kids?

See, I love my life. I wouldn't change anything about it. Ever. I love who I am. I consider myself an obsessive optimist — always focused on the bright side.

I jump into bed each night, not roll in. I can't wait to see what tomorrow has in store. I love to face the next challenge. And savor the details of life.

How did they do that? This week I wonder, how did SHE do that?

If I think back, one element of growing up jumps to the forefront: You could not exist in Jane's house if you were grumpy. No moping. No sulking.

If there's one word I heard more than any growing up, it was simply this: SMILE!

If you weren't smiling, you weren't living. Not really living.

I wasn't an unhappy kid; I just made the mistake of walking around now and then without a smile on my face.

So she would say, SMILE! And I did. My eyes would sparkle. My face would crack. My spirits would soar.

When I did, the world transformed right before my eyes. No matter what obscure thing I might be doing — or lost in thought about — suddenly had a meaning. I learned to appreciate every moment.

I think about that every morning as I ride my bike to work. I attempt to smile at everyone I pass. Say hello.

Now most of the time it's nothing more than a passing greeting. But every now and then ...
I'll pass someone who, even though they haven't made it to work yet, is having a crummy day. It's written all over their face.

I smile. I say hi.

Their eyes sparkle. Their face explodes into a smile. I can see that I made a connection. Made a difference.

I smile and say quietly, "Thanks, Mom."

I've traveled all around the country, and many parts of the world. I've lived in Wisconsin, Iowa, California, Colorado, Texas, Tennessee and Oregon.

As I chased every challenge I could uncover, my parents were always behind me, 100 percent. They never questioned me. They supported me.

We always knew that. We always knew no matter what, Mom and Dad were there if we needed them. It's easy not to fear failure when you have that safety net. It makes life a thrill.

There is no more brilliant example of that than when I had to go to Las Vegas to help my brother Tom.

I called my parents and filled them in on the situation. Without hesitation, without missing a beat, Mom said, "We want him to come home."

We WANT him to come HOME.

She didn't say, if he wants to come home, we'll be here,

She didn't say, whatever he decides, we'll support him.

She said, We want him to come home.

That was 20 years ago. My brother straightened out his life, and lived with my parents. For the past 13 years, he lived alone with my mother. Taking care of her. This past year has been tough. A real challenge.

Tom came home. Made it a home. And kept it a home.

For that, my brothers and sister are forever in his debt. Words can't express how we feel about him. Our pride. Our love.

Tom couldn't put into words how he felt. He asked me to. He said, "I'll always remember Mom for who she was."

What Tom is saying is that he doesn't necessarily want to remember this past year. The decline. The hardships.

That's understandable. It's phrase you hear a lot in these situations.

I went home last month to visit Mom, and say goodbye, while she still had a pinch of life left.

It wasn't easy. It was a challenge. I wondered how I would react when she would ask, "Which one are you?"

Then again, I remember even at her peak, she could be looking right at me across the room and yell "JIM TOM JOHN JOE BARB...GRRRR..."

Then she'd get around to whomever she was yelling at. So I was a bit prepared.

I spent a few days at the hospice with her. One day at lunch, with all the aides in the lunchroom, they began asking about Mom. About who she was.

I told them: Five kids ...

Then, they told me about who she is. She's the sweetest woman. So easy going. So calm. Always talking.

I thought, yeah, that's my Mom.

Later, we sat together. She looked at me. She asked, "Which one are you?"

I smiled. John, from Oregon.

Her eyes sparkled.

A smile crept across her face.

I knew I made a connection.

Joan is our best friend in Oregon. I texted her to see if she would be around Memorial Day weekend to take care of our black lab, Ridgely.

Mom passed away peacefully in her sleep May 19th, at the age of 87.

Joan texted back: Sorry about your loss. She raised a great son.

It hit me straight in the heart. I chuckled and said to myself, Yes, Joan, you would say that. Because you've never had the pleasure of meeting the other four.

Five kids. FIVE KIDS.

That's amazing. Thanks Mom, we love you.