The month of May makes all of us think about how what it means to be a mother. I truly believe that there is no greater privilege, and through all the angst, frustration, work, and mess, I would not trade my three babies for anything in this world. Everything I know about being a mom I have learned from my own mother — who not always made me feel special, but always let me know I could do anything I put my mind to. It is only now as an adult that I realize what an uphill battle that must have been as a single mom.
From Monday through Friday, she schlepped from our Windsor Terrace home to Spanish Harlem, where she worked as a nurse at New York Metropolitan Hospital. She would turn off her alarm a few minutes before 5 am, always waking up on her own, and would be out the door before my sister and I went to school. It was a five-train hustle each day to get there and a five-train bustle to get back home.
Before I was old enough to go to school, I’d often get up while it was still dark out and sit at the kitchen table while she ran around getting ready for work. I’d spring out of bed and drag my red terry cloth robe along the cold, linoleum floor, so I’d have some time with her before she left. It wasn’t quality time, but even seeing her color on her Cover Girl eyebrows and bright pink lipstick made me happy. Once the bathroom became a cloud of VO5 hairspray, I knew she was ready to leave.
Sometimes, while she was getting ready, I’d make her a sloppy sandwich on thin bread. Two slices of bread, one slice of cheese (any more would be in excess of our budget) and a smidgen of mayonnaise or mustard, sometimes both. We had a square plastic sandwich container, so we didn’t have to waste tin foil, and I’d place the messy bread in it and surprise mom with lunch.
When she’d get home from work, she’d always tell me that it was the absolute best thing she had eaten all day. She’d say that she could never make a sandwich like that, which made my 5-year-old self feel nothing but proud.
I had the best role model a girl can have: a mother who told me I could be anything, and one who was also strong enough to show me just how to do it. On any given day, my mother would work, take care of her mother, our dogs and cats, and us, and still help elderly neighbors who were sick or just needed a sympathetic ear. Working two jobs (sometimes seven days a week), she managed to clean the house incessantly when “off” from work, and went above and beyond what was expected of her both at work and at home. Somehow, she was always grateful to have a job, no matter how much it drained her.
Today, I see women like my mom everywhere; those that are doing their best each and every day to raise their kids the finest way they know how given their circumstances, those who put their personal turmoil aside for the sake of their kids, and those who are insanely brave in the face of harrowing health conditions and financial constraints. I have friends and colleagues who, like me, and you, are struggling daily to make good, yet often, tough decisions for our families. Sometimes, we fail because we are human, but we keep getting up and trying, because we remember (like my mother still says), “children are only young once,” and we want to give them a happy and loving childhood.
Yet, all of our efforts are certainly not in vain.
Many times, I have been driven mad by my kids, overwhelmed by various mothering situations, and have felt desperate with no answers in this parenting game. But I have then been lifted up by my family, friends, and fellow moms — just enough so I can take a breath and look at my kids and remember what an exceptional honor it is to not only be sharing my life with them, but also helping them grow in theirs. It’s something that all of us mothers know deep within ourselves, that we have been graced with an incredible gift, and we know we will do what it takes to make it through.
I salute — and feel both pride and solidarity with — today’s moms, and wish each and every one of you a very happy Mother’s Day!
Danielle Sullivan, a mom of three, has worked as a writer and editor in the parenting world for more than 10 years. Sullivan also writes about pets and parenting for Disney’s Babble.com. Find her on Facebook and Twitter @DanniSullWriter, or on her blog, Just Write (Pet) Mom.