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During my sophomore year of high school, my mother took me to a jewelry store at the local shopping center. She wanted to buy me a bracelet. The two of us picked out a nearly one-inch-wide cuff of sterling silver.

I remember the day as being sunny, and not too cold as we walked outside from store to store. Looking back, I imagine us chatting and laughing at some story about one of her friends. We were comfortable together. At the time, it seemed like an ordinary mother-daughter moment.

A few months later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and a year after that, she was gone forever. In the wake of those facts, that we ever enjoyed such ordinary moments seems extraordinary.

Now that I’m a mom myself, I’ve learned to savor the everyday time with my sons. It’s in those moments when we truly connect as people. It might happen in the car, for example, when a son finally ‘fesses up to what’s been on his mind, or plugs in his iPod to share some music that exposes his softer, romantic side.

Sometimes we connect over food, or while walking around a son’s new neighborhood. A spark might flare in a complicit, but loving, exchange of looks triggered by something amusing that Dad has just said or done (usually in the kitchen).

I love those exchanges. They say, “I know you,” and they almost always show me something new about myself and the people I love.

My mom has been gone for my entire adult life. And while the example she set as a mother is forever imprinted on my psyche, it’s the men in my life who have taught me the real down-in-the-trenches lessons of mom-dom.

My husband not only taught me how to make an infant laugh, he continues to give me the young man’s point-of-view when there’s something going on that I just don’t get. And each of my sons, in moments both painful and gratifying, have shown me something that I needed to know, or pushed me to acknowledge something that I didn’t want to see.

So this Mother’s Day, as I remember my own mother, I also give a nod to the men in my life. Thanks guys, you make my life more beautiful every day.