On this day honoring mothers everywhere, I wanted to send out a special thank you to my own mom -- one of the most loving, generous, strong-willed and determined women I know. There are some in our society who erroneously believe that the concept of a strong female took hold in the 1960s, as if prior to that turbulent decade, every American woman was nothing more than an appendange to her husband (if she happened to be married), a slave to her children (as if motherhood was a form of indentured servitiude), or dependent on the generosity of others (if she happened to be single).
I am blessed to have descended from a long line of sterotype-shattering females -- spawned from tough peasant stock -- who proved long before Gloria and the girls came along that women can be independent, accomplished, smart, funny, self-assured and devout in their religious beliefs. They could also own businesses, as is the case with my late Aunt Emma, a wife and mother who ran her own beauty shop back in the 1940s; break the glass ceiling, like my cousin Millie, the first female graduate of Temple University's Pharmacy School; or after spending time in the working world, make a glorious career out of raising respectable, productive and caring human beings.
My own mom falls into that last category, although while raising kids, she also took care of the books for my dad's medical office; served as President on the Home and School Association; ran countless successful fundraisers for various organizations (Saint Joseph's University, O'Hara High School and Physician's Wives Auxiliary, to name a few) and even served as township committeewoman for several terms.
But by far, her greatest joy was her children, and seeing them into adulthood, her top priority. My mom didn't just "parent" her little ones out of natural obligation, she relished every moment of it -- whether it was taking us into downtown Philadelphia to visit historic sites or watch live stage productions; cheering for the home team with us at a Phillies or Eagles game (yeah, mom is totally into sports); teaching us our prayers; or helping with homework.
Emotionally, she was always there to lend an ear and a hug when the inevitable realities of life would set in, such as a mean kid at school making fun of me for a few extra pounds; or as childhood transformed into adolescence, having to deal with the object of my affection (a creature known as "the teen-aged male") rejecting me.
No matter what took place in the outside world, home was always a haven of comfort and unconditional love, thanks in large part to my mom. It was the place I could cry, laugh, hang out with my siblings and otherwise be myself, without any fear of rejection or ridicule. It was also a place that had well-defined boundaries and serious consequences for bad behavior. Never one to utter the phrase "Wait until your father gets home," (partly out of necessity, as dad's workdays as a surgeon tended to be quite long) Mom always administered "tough love" when the situation warranted.
She taught me about strength, courage, persistence, love and generosity through her example, and not just as an academic exercise.
I based a character from my book, Monica Rose, on my own mother, and I believe this particular passage nicely summarizes the theme of this Mothers' Day post:
"After all, hadn't it been Monica's stellar example of independence and determination that had provided Maddy the blueprint? Mrs. Rose had admirably handled formidable hardships of her own -- the death of her beloved brother Anthony in World War II, Bell's Palsy at age 13, and -- in one of the biggest tests of her adult life -- the birth of a Down syndrome baby when she was 28, at a time when conventional medicine dismissed such children as "stigmas" to be shipped off to nightmarish institutions, never to be seen or heard from again."
Everything stated in the above "fictional" paragraph was culled from my mother's own life. And the more I reflect back, the greater my admiration and respect for her. As children of course, we mostly fail to appreciate fully these realities; for me, the older I get, the deeper the realization of my mother's exceptional character and example becomes. Much of it also stems from writing commentary on the current sorry state of our culture, with its excessive divorce rate, "instant gratification" mentality and "me first" outlook -- all of which inflicts incredible damage upon today's children. I am eternally grateful to have been given a mother who not only loved her offspring immeasurably, but also genuinely enjoyed raising them.
Happy Mothers' Day to my mom, and all of the mothers everywhere. God bless you!