I’ve been blessed in many ways but none as important as being raised by one strong, loving, generous, independent, intelligent and caring mother whose presence continues to enhance my life today. Some believe that our souls choose our parents and all of the circumstances of our lives prior to our birth; others believe it’s all up to God. Either way, I count myself incredibly blessed. And in light of the recent Gosnell horrors which have shone a spotlight on the brutality of abortion, I am also grateful that my mother is staunchly pro-life. My impending arrival came at a time of great financial hardship for my parents who already had four children, including one girl and weren’t purposely seeking to add to that number.
Over the years however, my mom has been my biggest champion, supporter, shoulder, confidante, teacher and dispenser of discipline, wisdom and stability. Thankfully, she hails from an era in which women not only worked and pursued their goals but also upheld traditional values and treated marriage, motherhood and family with reverence and respect. My mother took pride in all of us, and never looked upon her children as “inconveniences” but as developing individuals with their own talents, skills, abilities and desires. She took great pleasure in nurturing our intellectual, spiritual and physical growth. If I had one wish for Mother’s Day, it would be that all children could experience the unconditional love of a mother in the same way.
For me, my mother will always be my role model:
While we tend to think of “empowerment” as a modern phenomenon, I’ve been blessed to be a part of a family in which this has been quite common for many generations. My cousin Millie — the first female graduate of Temple University Pharmacy School — had a distinguished career back in the 40s. My Great Aunt Emma was a self-employed business owner of a Philadelphia beauty salon around the same time, while also a wife to my Uncle Al and mother to my cousin Joey (and eventually, grandmother to five and great-grandmother to twelve). And my mom’s sister, my “favorite” Aunt Marie, also owned a thriving gift shop in Flourtown, PA while also raising a family with my Uncle Merle. (May God rest the souls of these wonderful women).
But no one has had as big an impact on my life than my mom, Rose. While technically a “stay at home” mother of five during the critical years of infancy, childhood and adolescence, due to my dad’s crazy schedule as a general and vascular surgeon, the heavy lifting of child rearing mostly fell on her highly capable shoulders — thus in that sense she was a “single mother”.
She also managed the books for my dad’s office, while volunteering for endless school- and hospital-related endeavors like homeroom mother, Home & School Association President and Physicians’ Wives Auxiliary, to name just a few. Additionally, she helped with homework and various projects, shuttled us to various activities like baseball practice and dance classes, and exposed us to art, culture, history and professional sporting events — even if my dad was not available to come along.
I never heard my mother once complain about having to do it all herself, or about not having my father around her every waking moment. She accepted the fact that as the breadwinner, provider and head of the home, my dad’s demanding profession would keep him away much of the time (though when he was home he was fully present in whatever was going on). On the contrary, she reveled in her independence and in her children.
And lest anyone think being the wife of a surgeon was always glamorous and financially secure, let me add that my father was the son of immigrant parents who worked three jobs throughout high school, college and medical school to help pay for his tuition. In fact, when first married, my parents had to live with her parents because of dire financial circumstances. And even after they’d managed to move their young family out to the suburbs years later, they still couldn’t afford furniture for their two-story colonial in Springfield, PA.
When they found out they were going to have a fifth child — me – it could not have come at a worse time. Add to the financial stress the fact that my mom’s father suffered and unexpected heart attack and died very early into the pregnancy, it’s a miracle I am even here.
But for me, the defining moment of our family (and the biggest testament to my mother’s strength and resolve) occurred over eight years before I was even a glimmer in father’s eye: the birth of my second-oldest brother, Ralph:
Celebrating mom’s birthday, circa 1992.
Ralph arrived on October 4, 1959, the second-born child of my parents, Rose and Al. Despite the trauma of his premature birth and the absence of my father who was working in upstate Pennsylvania as part of his medical residency, Mom was thrilled to have a baby brother for her older child, Mark, then 17 months-old. When she held the beautiful blond-haired, blue-eyed infant in her arms, the young 28 year-old mother felt truly blessed. Ralph was a sight to behold.
Her joy was shattered early the next morning, however, by a visit from Ralph’s pediatrician, who matter-of-factly informed her that her baby had been born with a terrible affliction known as Down syndrome. With clinical certainty, he pronounced that Ralph’s future would indeed be bleak. Pointing to a tree outside the window, he explained that my brother would be just like a tree trunk—unable to do anything but stand there. To say that this guy had no bedside manner would be an understatement. He completed his “professional analysis” by recommending Ralph’s institutionalization since my Dad was a resident doctor, and the presence of a handicapped child would be a “stigma” on the young family.
The more he spoke, the angrier my mother became—after the initial shock. Summoning her courage and faith in God, she ordered the doctor out of her room with the firm admonition to stay away from her baby. As of that moment, he was no longer Ralph’s pediatrician. Filled with an inner strength and supported by my father and close family members, she vowed to do everything in her power to help this special boy reach his full potential. And she would soon discover its scope went far beyond anything the “experts” foresaw.
Under the guidance and tutelage of my determined mother, Ralph crawled early, walked early, ate with no problems, and even toilet-trained early. A loving, affectionate child, he was a source of joy for his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and a wonderful playmate for his big brother. Mom switched to a new pediatrician—a kind, caring man named Dr. John Williams—who applauded her efforts and was amazed at all that Ralph had accomplished.
Please click here to read the whole thing. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for my upbringing and most especially for a mother who taught me to be strong, independent and courageous not only by her words, but by her example.