Just like another famous mom who’s been in the news, my mom raised five boys.
That it was a lot of work is obvious. That she did it while working full time on a Board of Education salary is improbable. It’s hard enough to get myself out of bed most days. How did she manage to rouse the five of us, get us to school, go to work and still find time not just to do things like grocery shopping but to feed our minds as well? My Dad helped of course but he was off to work before we were even awake and not back until dinner was on the table if not later. He always cleaned up the kitchen afterwards but my mom took care of all that “in between” stuff. And there was a lot of it.
When AIDS took two of my brothers nearly twenty years ago it was every mother’s nightmare but my mom had her faith to buoy her and she had the rest of us. After my little brother Peter died a few years later from a myocarditis that literally came like a thief in the night the nightmare took on cruel proportions. At one time we thought ourselves defined by the very future my parents had worked hard to give us, something we knew would come true for us just as it had for my parents. My dad served in Korea on the GI Bill and became a teacher. My mom went to college and got a masters degree in social work. They met a Catholic youth dance where they were chaperones. They got married and had a family, a big one. Then one day a very different future arrived and it looked like we were done with dreams.
A few years ago my mom reconnected with my cousin Maria who was born in Brooklyn like the rest of us but had moved to her father’s native Mexico when she was very young. She and her family would visit us for a couple of weeks each summer but after her own mom died of breast cancer we lost touch. Recently though our family has gotten together to relocate Maria and her family back to the U.S.. Her youngest, Nina, named after my late aunt, was born with Downs Syndrome and autism. In the states she can finally get the kind of medical care and developmental support she needs. Josie and Gustavo, her big sister and brother, are both scholarship students glued to Facebook, and their dad has found steady work doing maintenance at a local community college. Next year he can join the union, earn more money and have real job security. They all look to my mom, Tia Carmen, as the strong and reassuring center of everything, working hard to help yet another family build a future.
It’s hard to describe the excitement and pride I have watching my cousins become American, but I’m also in awe of a dream that’s coming enthusiastically true in a world where possibilities have for so long seemed so fragile. I’m in awe too of Maria who I always remembered as my little cousin too scared to do anything. Now she’s a mother of three, her days wrapped up with adolescent anxieties and the challenges of a special needs child. When we were kids and didn’t get what we wanted my mom always told us to “offer it up.” That’s something no kid really wants to hear but like most moms she was right at an annoyingly consistent rate. Her lesson though wasn’t about having to settle for less but about being thankful and happy for what we did have. Improbably, my mom’s never stopped believing in the possibility of happiness, never despaired or given up despite how much fate has conspired against her motherhood. Even with everything she’s lost she’s never stopped trying to find some way to make someone else’s dream come true. But that’s the real work that mothers do. More than anything they remind us to keep our eyes on our dreams (and maybe our elbows off the table). Quite a job, and like they say if you’re lucky it’s never done.