When I mention that I am the oldest of seven boys, I’m asked if we drove our mother insane or if she’d gotten her sainthood. Every time, I answered, “sainthood.” It is not that I think that she’s perfect, as we all have our faults, but her virtues and the sacrifices that she made over the years are more than enough to place her in the hall of heroes in my life. I think that many children feel the same about their own mothers and they are correct. I know my own mother the best, so I will speak from my own experiences, and perhaps they will be of value to you as well.
One of her first sacrifices, (and one that I am grateful for) was the choice to have children before she was financially secure. I know that many people wait until they’re financially comfortable. My mother felt that bringing children into the world was more important than having a stash of cash. Personally, I am infinitely grateful for her decision, as I am the direct product of that choice. I know that this isn’t an easy choice for anyone to make, especially for a young family already struggling to pay all of the bills and keep afloat in uncertain times. Yet, it can be done as my mother demonstrated, and it continues to happen.
That isn’t to say that she was a stay at home mother the entire time, for she did pick up work as we children were growing up. However, taking care of us was her greater priority. There were several times that she quit her job so that she could spend more time at home. It was not a decision that she made lightly, but she realized that her family meant more to her than her career. Having a job can seem critical in the moment, but familial bonds strengthen over a lifetime and few, if any, individuals looking back on their life wish that they had spent more time at the office and less time with their spouse and children. I am grateful that my mother was able to make that distinction and choose us instead of a paycheck.
A second sacrifice she made was with her education. She had been a top-tier student with straight A’s. When she decided to have children, she put off her formal education to focus on her family. That was hard for her, as she was a strong advocate of education. That said, she continued to develop herself, to read, and study on her own, as she raised us. Also, she was concerned for us and encouraged us to do well in our own educational paths. I remember countless hours of sitting down at my kitchen table and completing homework assignments. I imagine that she had a number of wistful moments, assisting us with our studies, thinking about her own education deferred.
Still, she did not give up on her dream of finishing her degree. When I was about twelve years old, she decided to go back to the university part-time. She took enough just enough classes to continue on with her schooling and also watch over her young household. Obviously, it wasn’t easy, but she did it and continued to hold on to her 4.0 GPA. I distinctly remember my mother bouncing my youngest brother, who was two years old at the time, on one knee, and having an open Spanish language textbook on the other. Her dedication to her family and education allowed her to raise us and obtain valedictorian status at her university. She went on to obtain both her masters degree and a Ph. D.
She made these sacrifices while maintaining her sense of humor. I think my own humor stems from hers and I am grateful for that. A certain levity makes hard situations easier to bear, and I think that is part of why she came out of the other side of raising large family, while not unscathed, but with an undefinable grace. It’s a constant reminder that my own life is much easier than what I like to imagine and my trials are tiny compared to what she went through.
Most of all, I am grateful for her presence through the years. I am also grateful that I am still able to visit her and share my love of her and all that she has done for me. She is a role model that I will spend the rest of my life attempting to live up to.