Mother of All Mothers

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OLFatimaMother’s Day weekend in Chicagoland has been beautiful – mild and sunny, with flowers in bloom, lawns lushly green from abundant rainfall, and even little hummingbirds buzzing around the tree in our front yard.

Saturday also marked the hundredth anniversary of the miracle at Fatima, Portugal, when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three young children, two of whom were canonized this past Saturday by Pope Francis.

Whatever one might think about such apparitions at places like Fatima, Lourdes, and Medjugorje, The Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, holds a very special place in the lives of Catholics.  She is considered the mother of all believers, as demonstrated at the foot of the cross when Jesus gestured to his apostle John, “Behold, your mother.”

The cult of Mary has been the source of much confusion and disagreement among Christians. Many Protestants believe that Catholics wrongly worship Mary through their prayers, feast days, and other honors bestowed upon the Mother of God. But Catholic devotion to Mary is not worship. We believe that, through her close relationship with her son, Mary is uniquely poised to intercede for us with Jesus. It is the same reason we pray to the saints: to ask for their continual prayer and intercession on our behalf. So it is natural for Catholics to turn to Mary, the greatest of all saints, for help.

The image of Mary as our mother can be of great comfort to us in our journey in life. Many of us have lost our mothers. Some of us are estranged from family members. All of us have endured pain and sorrow. To lay our cares at the foot of Mary as our spiritual mother is comforting indeed.

This weekend at Mass, we were called upon to bring flowers in honor of Mary, the Mother of God and the mother of us all. Every May, in churches all over the world, statues of Mary are crowned, signifying her place as the Queen of Heaven. This title, too, is steeped in tradition. In ancient Israel, the most powerful and important figure next to the king was the queen mother, as kings had many wives but only one mother. So it is with Mary. As mother of the King, she takes her place of honor next to her beloved son, Jesus.

On this Mother’s Day, I pray for all mothers – pray that they be honored and cared for and valued for their place in our hearts and homes. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

The Bittersweetness of Motherhood

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The Mother’s Day flowers are already wilting on my kitchen table, and my spirits, even on this fine May day, are a bit damaged too.

Why is it on this day set aside to honor mothers that I feel so inadequate? I am questioning my parenting decisions, my effectiveness as a mother. I am examining my failures under a microscope and find them teeming like bacteria.

I had kidded myself that after 25 plus years, I had finally gotten a handle on this whole motherhood gig. But I feel like an amateur, a fraud. I talk tough, but my kids can still wear me down and get what they want and make me regret some of the things I allowed them to do. I am still cleaning up their messes large and small. My inconsistencies plague me.

You see, for 25 plus years this has been my job. I “stay home” to take care of my family. I should have gotten really good at it by now. If it were a paying job, though, I doubt I would be getting any pay raises. I might even get fired.

Yet despite having these low moments where I convince myself that I’m a total screw-up in the parenting department, I have no regrets about dedicating my life to my children. They have been my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Their laughter and joy have infected me at times and made me feel like the luckiest woman in the world. And they seem to be growing up into reasonably decent human beings in spite of me.

Maybe in the realm of parenting, mothers give themselves too much credit when their kids are awesome and way too much blame when they are not. The fact is that children – and mothers – are only human. We make mistakes and learn from them, and that is how we know we are growing.

It’s a beautiful Mother’s Day in Chicagoland. I have my daughter’s soccer game and my son’s rugby game to attend. We are alive and well. So no more moping about my inadequacies. As the Bible says, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mothers’ Day

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(Photos: top – Millicent; bottom – Marlene)

One day, we children at St. Catherine of Siena school were instructed to create a spiritual bouquet for Mother’s Day. A spiritual bouquet is a card with a promise to say certain prayers for the recipient – say, 5 Hail Marys, 2 Our Fathers etc. We were told that this spiritual bouquet should be for our mother, whether living or dead. This conforms to the Catholic belief in praying for the souls of the deceased.

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The assignment posed a dilemma for me. My mother had died when I was 13 months old, but I had a new mother, the woman my father married when I was 3. What to do? I made two cards.

Losing my mother Millicent at such a young age must have been traumatic, but I don’t remember her or the time she was taken away from me. After her death, my Aunt Patty, who was married to my father’s brother, took me in and mothered me and my sisters along with her own children.  I am eternally grateful to my beloved Aunt Patty for saving my emotional life.

When my dad remarried, I gained a stepmother. Stepmothers don’t have a very good image in folklore or popular culture. My new mom, Marlene, always said how much she disliked the term. But I sometimes clung to the image, especially when I felt Marlene’s discipline was too harsh. I even recall once wishing my “real” mother were still alive.

When I became a mother myself, I started to realize what a “real” mother truly is, and it’s not just a matter of biology. I looked back and saw what a struggle it must have been for my mother Marlene to take on five new daughters in addition to her own five children. I saw the many sacrifices she made for us on a daily basis – all the cooking, cleaning, sewing, doctor visits, baths, hair washing, discipline, faith development.

My mom Marlene was and is a beautiful woman. I loved the way she wore her hair in a French twist, loved her chic outfits and even her fancy aprons, the ones she’d wear when cooking for company. I loved to go to the grocery store with her and hang around in the kitchen while she worked. In a family of 13, those were some of the only times I got to be alone with her.

I still have vague recollections of the day we kids were all adopted. We got to get out of school, dress up, and go to the courthouse in downtown Chicago. There we witnessed our parents declare they would always take care of not only their biological children, but their spouse’s children as well. So my mother is not really a stepmom, but an adoptive mom. I myself am an adoptive mom, and I couldn’t love my biological children more than I love my youngest child from China.

I’m not discounting the special bond of a biological mother, though. I remember the intimate feelings of connectedness with my children from the very first flutterings I felt in the womb. Pictures of my biological mother Millicent confirm that I look a lot like her, and I know that losing her left a hole in my heart that has been difficult to fill. Surely some of my insecurity and fear of abandonment stem from losing her.

On Mother’s Day, I celebrate the great good fortune to have had not one, but two beloved mothers (three if you count dear Aunt Patty), and I treasure all I have meant to them and they to me in our lives. No matter whether you are a mother by biology, marriage, or circumstance, know that your presence in your children’s lives is the greatest gift they will ever receive.

Happy Mother’s Day!