My mother was born and raised in a small town in Sicily. The oldest of six children, she developed her mothering skills early on as she helped raise her younger brothers and sisters. When my parents met in Italy, my dad had already been living in the states for many years. So when they married a year later, my mother had to say good-bye to her family and homeland to begin a new life in this country. I cannot imagine the strength and courage it took to start over and raise a family in a foreign country without knowing the language or having your family by your side. But somehow she managed to create her own loving family and network of support among her other Italian immigrant friends and relatives. Another amazing and brave thing about my mom is that she was 44 years old when I was born! Not an uncommon occurrence today, but in the late ’70’s it was virtually unheard of and considered extremely high risk. But my mother, without question or hesitation, risked her life to give me mine. For that I am forever grateful.
My mother has been battling Alzheimer’s for many years now. It has progressed to the point that she does not remember my daughter. But when she sees me, even though it takes a minute or two for her to recognize me, I see the love she has for me in her eyes immediately. If I had to list the valuable lessons my mother has taught me, it would be mastering these qualities in life: Compassion, love, faith, nurturing, tradition, and loyalty.
Even though I do not have the fortune of raising my daughter with my mother by my side, the greatest way I can honor her is to try to be the mother she was to me. Whenever I do something as a parent that my mom would do, I get a surge of joy and I laugh to myself for doing the very same things that used to annoy me. And I realize that she was right.
Here are some ways we are similar:
*I run around the house yelling at my husband and daughter to “STOP walking BAREFOOT!!!” and beg them to wear socks or slippers. I laugh at myself when I do this because I am just like my mother.
*I let my daughter help me cook despite the fact it’s a messy disaster and someone ends up throwing a fit (usually the 3 year old). I still believe this is an important mother-daughter activity though, just like my mother.
*Wiry grey hairs are growing randomly out of my head (eeek!), just like my mom’s.
*I frequently wipe my daughter’s face with wet paper towels to wash schmutz off her face, just like my mother.
*On Sundays I like to make meatballs and sauce using my mom’s beloved “passa tutto” or food mill. It comes out just like my mother’s!
*I am now a firm believer that “Nothing in this world compares to a mother’s love.” Just like my mom used to say.
I feel really lucky to also have a fabulous sister. Many times, my older (and very wise) sister Joanne has been like a second mom to me. She’s awesome, super organized, and an amazing wife and mother. She has always been there for me when I needed her, especially when I was a stressed out new mom. My daughter calls her Zia, which is Italian for Aunt. My child adores her and her fabulous cousins. My sister is definitely the grounding force in our family. After our father passed away and my mother’s dementia began to progress, my mom went to live with my sister and her family. She took care of my mother for THREE years before we made the painful decision to place her in assisted living. She did this while also raising her two young children. I cannot imagine the stress and strength it took to take care of my mom like that, but she did it, without any complaints and with pure love.
Here are some ways she is similar to my mom:
* Takes care of EVERYONE and puts their needs before hers.
* Meticulously cleans her house and perfectly folds and irons bed linens!
* Is an excellent cook.
*Wakes up at like the crack of dawn and by the time everyone else gets up, breakfast is prepared, the house is clean, and laundry is going. I don’t know how she does it!
Growing up, my mom used to say: “Guarda la madre e sposa la figlia.” Which translates to “By imitating or watching the mother you marry off the daughter.” The young feminist in me never took it seriously since I thought there was way more to life than just getting married. But years later I realize this means so much more. Not only did she teach us the “old school Italian” way to run a household, she exemplifies what it means to be a fundamentally good, hard working, and loving mother. And for that, I am forever grateful.