An Ode to My Mama

I wrote this many years ago as a new mother who was just beginning to understand the depth of my own mom’s love for me and my siblings. Happy Mother’s Day to all the sacrificial mothers out there—biological & spiritual! Today, look a mother in the eyes (even if via zoom) and tell her thank you!

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My Mother’s Eyes

I remember my mother’s eyes. They were clear, light blue, deep-set with a faint perimeter of feathery skin that crinkled when she smiled. Those calm, translucent eyes managed to communicate so much. But her childhood snapshots were incongruent somehow. As a child myself, paging through tattered, old-fashioned, black paper photo albums, her youthful eyes seemed slanted and squinty, only faintly reminiscent of the woman I knew. I actually felt a little pity for my homely, little mommy. Her face must have needed to grow in order to accommodate such complex and interesting eyes. As she aged, the skin around the eyes became more delicate, thinner, and fainter, giving her penetrating eyes a whitish, oval frame. Now, when I look back at photos of her during her mothering years, I see so much light emanating from her face. I’ve heard it said those who are filled with goodness sometimes seem as if they are shrouded in light. Her goodness radiated from the eyes.

As a kid, if I got hurt she’d give me a quick, concerned once-over as if silently recounting all of my limbs. Once all were accounted for and intact, her gaze would fix on me, offering such comfort. When she was proud of one of my little accomplishments, her eyes would soften and seem to laugh. They would light up to cheer me on when I was struggling, like trying to get my first hit in softball. My stare would zero in on her eye line in the stands as I waited out the right pitch. But there were also times throughout my youth when her eyes betrayed the otherwise well-adjusted motherly exterior. I had a natural love for baking, one of only a few interests we did not share. My mom was usually exhausted after a long day of work. She was a school teacher who rushed home and did the lion’s share of the housework as well. Having the impeccable timing of a child, it was then that I would generally hit her up to help me bake cookies. Her eyes were incredulous and impatient. But soon, without much prodding, they would look up signaling resignation. In that glance, I could almost instantaneously smell the homemade chocolate chip cookies.

My mom was a voracious reader. She had taken a speed-reading course in college. She could tackle the biggest book in no time, as evidenced in her weekly towering stack of extra dense library books. From my earliest memories, she always had a book on her person. While my brothers and I would whine at the dinner table about the “Texas hash” she would sit peacefully and bore through her giant, hardback library book with laser focus, seemingly unaware of our complaints. I remember how dazed she would appear if I tried to get her attention. It was as if her mind required some type of passport to enter back into reality. The vacant stare would last a beat or two until our pleading and her brain got the green light from the sluggish border agent. Once the commotion settled, her eyes would quickly turn back to the book with renewed intensity.

I sometimes resented her seemingly omniscient eyes, especially throughout my teenage years. It was as if they could sear through the barbed wire fortress in which I had locked away all of my secrets and personal angst. At the time, I perceived her knowing looks to be somewhat patronizing, but as an adult, I’ve come to think of them more as signs of her understanding, commiseration, and the profound concern of a mother.

There was no mistaking the dark blue flash of anger directed at me after I dragged myself in past 3am one weekend. I hadn’t phoned to say I would be out past my 12 o’clock curfew. Her glare was firm and accusatory. My friends and I had “innocently TP’d a teacher’s house” then sat and gabbed at Denny’s. I had lost track of the time, or maybe, in all honesty, I didn’t care. I could be such a mouthy, self-centered teenager. But she did not let me off the hook. I realized immediately that I had mercilessly put her through hell as she waited for me or worse a call from the highway patrol. She didn’t need to say, “how dare you?” She needn’t remind me of how much she loved me and worried about my well-being. There was no lecture about the freedom and flexibility she had afforded me as a burgeoning young adult. I could see all of that in her eyes. I always remembered to call after that.

Although my mom has been deceased over twenty years now, her eyes continue to follow me. I am starting to see them in my own children. When my kids came along as fresh little newborns, I couldn’t pick out any familial resemblance, despite loads of trying. I would stare at them at long intervals trying to glean some link to my mom. Instead, they just looked like their own little elfish selves. I didn’t see myself and I certainly couldn’t point out my parents in their squished little faces, eyes squinting. As they grew I came to know them in their own individuality, not how they related to anyone else. So I will never forget the utter shock, and I mean literal jolt, of removing my son’s first-grade school photo from the large white envelope and seeing my mom looking right back at me! She never took a great picture. She was always the first one to admit it too. Her face never looked relaxed and sometimes her eyes took on a faraway expression as if she’d been caught daydreaming. My son had the exact look. It was that signature, deer-in-headlights,  awkward stare that I treasured.

Imagine my surprise, when at around the age of 40, I began to see her gazing back at me in the mirror. After I put on mascara (it’s such a rare occurrence for me these days), my eyes take a few moments to adjust to the addition of the foreign goop on my lashes. It’s then I see her gaping at me, eyes heavily lidded, as if uncomfortable with the bright fluorescent lights. She had the same look when applying her makeup every single morning as she stared at the small hand mirror, delicately layering her Mary Kay cosmetics. I know because I used to watch her. Sadly, I also sought that gaze on her hospital deathbed. The sight of her dying eyes became seared into my memory. For a long time when I closed my eyes I would see those soundly shut slits, puffy and unnatural looking, in direct contrast with my formerly vibrant 51-year-old mother’s striking eyes.

Fortunately, the painful flashes of her pained expression are almost nonexistent now. I have time to thank for softening those stinging waves of memories. But occasionally they resurface out of nowhere, causing me to flinch. In those instances, I remind myself to look in the mirror or to seek out my children’s eyes. Then I am transported again to that limitless, calm sea of blue. I like it there. No matter how many incredible, useful lessons she taught me with her reserved, common-sense approach to life, it’s her eyes I will never forget… all that light. Most of my memories of her have faded, but her eyes persist. They always will.

 

 

*Photo by Victorien Ameline on Unsplash

Hanging By a Thread… of Beads

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Amidst the strange events that are unfolding worldwide, I have been so grateful for my Rosary. The Holy Rosary is my tangible link to the Blessed Mother who continually leads me more deeply into relationship with the Trinity. A month or so ago, I gave a talk to a moms’ Bible study group in which I shared my personal story of how I came to rely on the Rosary. A mere string of beads has been a source of strength and comfort when I had nowhere else to turn—and thanks be to the Almighty, those beads are fortifying me once again when so much uncertainty and fear abound. What a profound sense of peace to pray the Luminous Mysteries with the Pope and the rest of the world this week. I hope we all continue to pick up this powerful devotion daily and marvel at the results.

You don’t have to enjoy saying the Rosary. Truth be told, I often don’t. But, now more than ever, give it a chance. I hope the talk I’ve linked below helps you understand why.

Here’s the intro they read before I began.

Our speaker today is Mary Jo Gerd. She has been married for more than 15 years to a wonderful husband she believes God handpicked for her.

However, she is currently employed by three overbearing, domineering bosses…ages 13, 11, and 9. They just happen to call her mom which is the best and hardest job she’s ever had.

Before taking on that important role, she worked as a promotions writer and producer for a movie channel, doing trailers, celebrity interviews, and red carpets. She traded in her “glamorous” media job for the more rewarding, albeit lower-paying vocation of full-time wife and mother. She hasn’t looked back since. Well, maybe once or twice.

She and her family are active members of their Denver parish. She enjoys writing about family life and her reversion to the Catholic faith on her personal blog, Late For Church.blog. You can often find her essays featured on New Advent. She’s been regularly interviewed on Relevant Radio’s, “Morning Air” discussing all sorts of Catholic topics. And she is a brand new board member of the non-profit organization, Families of Character.

Please welcome Mary Jo Gerd.

Hate This! Not That!

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Years ago I used to enjoy the mind-numbing babble of a popular national morning show while I got ready for work. One segment that caught my attention was, “Eat this! Not that!”  The ultra-skinny host whose own diet clearly consisted of an occasional rice cake topped with kale would run through a display of mouth-watering dishes, often well-known fast food items. With the help of an “expert” guest, the bobble-headed anchor would compare the fat and calorie information of each. By comparison of the nutritional facts, they would conclude, “Eat this grilled chicken sandwich which has 50-billion fewer calories than that one loaded with mayo and fried in gobs of fire-retardant lard. (Gasp.) And for heaven’s sake, don’t ever eat that!” But the greatest shock entertainment value came when they compared seemingly healthy salad entrees against obvious fat-laden dishes like pizza, or hamburgers and fries. The plates piled high with greens and veggies often contained—wait for it—double or even triple the calorie content of the junk food items! The moral of the story: unsuspecting customers were often hoodwinked into heart disease by the lurking fat in “healthy” salads. Poor shmucks! “They should eat this delicious all-beef patty! But not that deadly harvest salad piled with carcinogenic croutons and dreaded trans fats! It contains enough calories to nourish a small town for two years. Just look at all that BACON and RANCH!” Yum…

Recently, I came up with a twist on the morning show game which has shed some light on the problem of recurring sin in my life.  Let’s call this little game of spiritual discovery, “Hate THIS! Not THAT!

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Happy Mother’s Day: Lessons My Mom Never Taught Me

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I think about my mom almost daily since her death 26 years ago. While it’s been too long since I’ve heard her laugh, she has left me with a bounty of wisdom that sustains me. In fact, there are simply too many lessons to enumerate. She was a Catholic school teacher by profession, so it was in her nature to instruct and impart knowledge. But there were also things she most certainly did not pass down. There are some worldly teachings she decidedly left by the wayside. And for that, I am even more grateful and bolstered.

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Beloved Children

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Bear with me. I’m about to brag about my kids. Proud mama alert! Go ahead. Look away and grumble, but there’s no putting this exuberant lioness back in her cage.

And I’m not embarrassed to admit that you will probably be quite underwhelmed by the source of all this maternal delight. It’s neither a virtuoso violin performance nor a  prize-winning science project. In fact, none of my kids even plays an instrument, (excluding kazoo) or cares a whole lot about making scientific breakthroughs. (Sadly, there’s no fighting genetics.) I am fully aware the rest of the world will consider the source of my pride as something banal and utterly unexceptional.

Nonetheless, it causes me to light up like a roman candle in a cloudless, dark country sky.

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A Mother For All

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When I was a wee lass, my grandma came to stay with our family for what seemed to me to be an extended period of time. It may have been in reality only a week or two, but to my fuzzy childhood memory, it was longer than usual. And yet, it felt excruciatingly too short.

When she stayed with us, it meant there was a smiling, warm face to greet me after an arduous half-day of kindergarten. My loving parents were hard-working Catholic school teachers trying to carve out a meager living, so they dealt with childcare by entrusting us kids with the heavy responsibility. My brothers were tasked with unlocking the door and not burning down the house until my parents returned a couple hours later. But as the youngest, they wisely thought it best I should spend my after-school time with adult supervision. It was arranged for me to stay with a neighbor mom who had a daughter my age. While we lived only two doors down from each other and attended the same school, our families were very different. My “little” playmate was at least twice my size and a physical and emotional brute. Today she’d probably be characterized by that popular buzzword, “bully,” but I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate it back then. To add insult to injury, this mean girl’s mom was pretty mentally checked out and had a knack for turning a blind eye to her daughter’s mean-spirited mischief. She even mocked me when I complained. So I learned to quietly suffer through those seemingly interminable four hours, day after day.

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Serena Williams Doesn’t Speak for My Daughter or Me

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I’m not a serious tennis fan, but over the years, I’ve followed the amazing career of Serena Williams. In fact, she’s hard not to watch, such a force of sheer athleticism and drive, not to mention all the spellbinding, gutsy grunts that accompany each swing of the racket. In addition, her striking, glamorous face has covered countless magazines over the years from fitness to fashion. She’s got the world’s attention, including mine. That’s why her recent rant at the US Open truly disappointed this mom.

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Filth & Faith: How My Husband and I are Talking to Our Kids About the Problems in Our Church

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Is it just me or have you noticed how every single reading from Mass over the last couple weeks seems to point to all of the unrest and scandal in the church of late? Not in that oblique, beating around the bush kind of way, but overtly, and in a way that seems to strike you to the core. It’s kind of how I remember feeling after a romantic heartbreak. No matter what station I tuned the radio dial to, I’d hear a song that eerily seemed to be speaking directly to me. But this a lot different. It’s not the voice of Tears for Fears. It’s God who is knocking on our collective foreheads, trying to break through so we might truly hear Him in the midst of such devastation.

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A Big Whopper of a Lie

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When my kids were really small and just learning to talk they occasionally told “fibs.”

“I don’t know how that gross banana got mashed into the carpet. I think I umm… just found it like that.”

Their little half-truths coupled with their beguiling faces were just too cute. I couldn’t consider their stories lies. “Lie” is such an ugly word. My kids told fibs.

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A Holy Cheat Sheet for the End of Summer

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I’ve been a mom for over a decade now. But each year, summer still seems to slip through my hands like sand through one of those sandbox toys my husband runs over while mowing the lawn. There is roughly one month left to make the most of these endless hot, unstructured days. I’ve challenged myself to step up my game—the result, a list of family activities that will capitalize on our last weeks of freedom while helping to lead this domestic church from hullabaloo to greater holiness. Join us as we 

Carpe Do’em!

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