Category Archives: The Best Gift My Mom Gave Me

The Best Gift My Mom Gave Me by Lisa Hendey

What’s the best gift your mom gave you?  Today I’m delighted to welcome Lisa Hendey to share her reflection.  Lisa is the founder of and the author of  A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms and The Handbook for Catholic Moms.  A fellow California girl, Lisa and I have had the chance to hang out on several occasions and it’s always great to talk about writing, spirtuality, and parenting (she is also the mother of two boys, one in college and one in high school, and for me she is proof that there will come a day when I will no longer have to dodge Matchbox cars hurtling at great speed across the floor).  Thanks for sharing your time and talent with us, Lisa!

I grew up the eldest of five children, in a bustling, crazy Catholic home. My mom delivered me ten months after her wedding, and only a year after her graduation from college. When I was less than two months old, my parents left their hometown of Ft. Wayne, Indiana for a cross-country trip to California, and in the end they never looked back.

Three years later, we added my sister Erin to the mix, and our family joyfully grew to include Patrick (who finally earned my Daddy’s name after Erin and I both turned out to be – disappointingly – girls), Brady (yes, a sister named for the Brady Bunch!) and finally Michael (fourteen years my junior). When I think back on my childhood, the dual gifts of faith and family share the lion’s portion of my memories.

But as I age in my own mothering vocation, I see that the best gift my Mom gave me was the ability to trust – to trust God’s will for her life, to trust her husband’s love, to trust her instincts as a mom, and to trust that, despite some pretty crazy circumstances, in the end all would be well.

I look at my mom’s life now and see the moments at which that trust could have, perhaps deservedly, gone off the tracks. As a “grown up”, I now know some of the struggles she faced – physical separation from her own parents in an age when staying in touch happened by letters, miscarriages and health difficulties, financial burdens and periodic unemployment for my dad, a passel of rambunctious (and sometimes defiant) kids, and a path through life that included more than its fair share of ups and downs.

Outsiders would likely look at our family and congratulate my parents on a job well done. In raising us, they gave us active faith lives, strong educational backgrounds, and a commitment to marriage and family. But they also taught us that trust – that in those moments when others would cut and run, or take an easier path, we were to believe confidently in God’s providence for the situation.

Mom’s ability to trust is something I’ve been trying to work on in my own life. Sometimes it feels as though it would be so much easier if He’d simply go with my marching orders. That same trust has also had to extend to my own children as I watch my sons grow and mature and realize that the way I would have picked for them is not always the one they will choose for themselves.

The third chapter of the book of Proverbs tells us,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
on your own intelligence do not rely;
In all your ways be mindful of him,
and he will make straight your paths.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

It’s a lesson I’ve learned daily from my mom, both in word and in deed. When I begin to fret or to fail in that confidence, hers is the first phone number I dial. And while all of her gifts continue to be given with great generosity, this is one for which I’ll be eternally grateful.

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of and the bestselling author of A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms and The Handbook for Catholic Moms. She hosts the weekly “Catholic Moments” podcast and Catholic Mom television show. Hendey is a technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show and a regular guest on Relevant Radio’s On Call afternoon show. She is a columnist for Faith & Family,Catholic News Agency, and Catholic Exchange, and her articles have appeared in National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. She gives frequent workshops on faith, family, and Catholic new media topics.  Hendey resides in Fresno, California, with her family.

The Best Gift My Mom Gave Me

I must have been around eight or nine; ten at the most.  On the evening news, I’d heard a story that terrified me.   I’m not entirely sure anymore what the story was about — a kidnapping, maybe, or a murder — but after letting the frightening images sit in my mind for a while, crowding out my ability to think of much else, I sought out my mom and told her I was scared about what I’d heard.

She put her arms around me and held me.  “Yes, there are some bad people in the world,” she said.  “But there are many, many more good people than there are bad people.”

I’ve thought of those words often over the years.  They comforted me enormously at the time, and even in high school and college, they still had the power to help me transcend the occasional anxiety and fear.  Mom was not denying that bad things happened, which she knew would have been ineffective and false.  Instead, she acknowledged the bad, but gently reminded me to look at the larger picture, to remember the fundamental goodness of the universe rather than letting scary thoughts crowd it out.

I think that this optimistic view — of life, of others, of the world — is one of the very greatest gifts my mom has given me.  Mom’s default position is positive thinking. That’s not to say that I haven’t seen her angry, or upset, or hurt, or sad.    But Mom’s approach to life is marked by openness, by warmth, by a belief that people are, as Anne Frank wrote, fundamentally good at heart.  Mom presumes the goodwill of others; she always has, as long as I’ve known her.  There is nothing cynical or bitter about her interactions with other people.    I can’t help but feel that this is a rare, precious quality these days, when so much of our conversation, both online and in life, comes from a place of presuming the worst rather than the best about one another.

They say that your personality shows in your face, and when it comes to Mom, that’s totally true.  She has one of the friendliest faces I know, with a smile that is genuine and inviting.  “Your mom is so sweet!” I have heard throughout my life, even from people who have only met her once.  Even though there have been rough times in her life, including the tragic death of her father when I was a baby,  Mom seems to have a well of optimism deep inside,  a well that never runs dry.  She’s not naive about the world, and she recognizes the existence of what is bad.  But she actively seeks out, recognizes, and savors what is good, whether it’s  a visit from a friend, a colorful flowerbed, the eager faces of her former students, or time spent with family.  She gives goodness a place of honor in her thoughts, and this attitude makes me think of a line from the children’s book The Secret Garden:  “Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.”

The older I get, the more I realize that so much of who I am today is due to my mom’s example.  And when  you are a kid, it is a very great gift to be raised by someone who looks at the world kindly and who — maybe without even knowing that she’s doing it — teaches you to do the same.

Mom was right, all those years ago: there are many, many good people in the world.

And I was lucky to be raised by one of the best.

The Best Gift My Mom Gave Me — Guest-post by Brett Hoover

What’s the best gift your mom gave you? Today I’m delighted to have  Brett Hoover here to share his thoughts.  Brett  is a Paulist priest and visiting assistant professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.  He is the author of Comfort: An Atlas for the Body and Soul (which is a great read, by the way).   Thanks, Brett!

On Returning Home and Divine Fedoras:  My Mom and God
Brett C. Hoover, CSP

Like a lot of Americans, I left home at eighteen.  I wanted to go away to college, and my parents wanted me to go.  “It will be good for you,” my mom said.  She was right.  That was more than a quarter century ago.

My mom is now seventy-two, retired from her job as registrar at a Catholic school.  In 2010 she had a mild stroke on Christmas Eve.  There are the other health problems, enough that I can see the pain on her face sometimes.  She bears it with a quiet strength.  She jokes that her social life revolves around doctor visits, but she is being modest.  She lunches with her fellow school retirees.  She and a group of women friends, self-dubbed “the elders,” travel together annually.  Last fall she and my dad went to southern Africa for three weeks.  She came back alive with stories of a hippopotamus that lazed near their cabin on the water and of having tea in a tin shack in Soweto.  Mom knows how to choose her words carefully in vividly recounting a story.  No doubt the precocious vocabulary of my sister’s seven-year-old son is, in some way, related.

I am now forty-four years old myself.  After living most of my adult life on the East Coast (with stints in the Midwest and Northern California), I moved back to Southern California in August, not far from where I was born.  I don’t live with my parents.  I’m a priest, and I teach at a Catholic university.  I actually live about forty miles away from my mom and dad, but I see them frequently.  We have lunch, celebrate birthdays and holidays.  They came and visited the campus where I teach one Friday afternoon.  This past semester, when I taught once a week at a remote campus in their county, we had a standing Tuesday lunch date.

Even though my parents are both quite self-sufficient, I worry about them—the inevitable role reversal of middle age.  I expected this.  The surprise has been the pleasant pattern of everyday companionship we have developed.

When I was a young man, naturally, my mom and I fought.  Especially in college, I tried out new thoughts in a probably frustratingly scattershot manner, and she had her opinions about all that.  Once on the telephone, I dismissed the desire of some women to be stay-at-home moms.  My mom’s response to my careless sexism was appropriately sarcastic; after all, I had directly benefited from her years as a stay-at-home mom.  But such is youth.  Somehow I wanted to rebel and to please her.  She wanted me to be my own person but to do so by following her advice.

All these years later, however, these ordinary parent-child tensions have disappeared.  I no longer have much to prove to her.  She, settled into her doting grandparental phase, has little need to restlessly self-examine her every parental move.  So instead of fighting we laugh a lot.  We gossip.  We take pride in the roster of kind people we call family and friends.  She and my dad ask about my work.  I tease them about the incessant bickering that has arisen late in their fifty-year marriage.  As with many couples, this is less a series of discrete arguments than a rehearsal of the same two or three lifelong disagreements.  My mom tells me it is an odd gesture of love, a sign of continued interest in the other person after decades of coping with the differences between them.

Easter week, my oldest friend, his wife, and their daughter (like a second grandchild to my parents) visited from out of town.  We drove down to my parents’ house for Easter Sunday dinner, sitting down together in what mom calls the “great room” of their downsized house.  “Great” or not, the room definitely functions as social center of their home, including the necessary addition of a lanky, squeaky cat named Maya.  Mom served a lovely dinner that afternoon, including a Persian dish made in honor of my friend’s wife, who grew up in Tehran.  Another old friend, a social worker, showed up with her law-student daughter, who is lethally bright and quietly charming.

As everyone talked there in the “great room,” I had one of those moments where I fell out of the conversation.  I felt that peculiar warmth that comes not from one’s own happiness but from observing the happiness of the people that you love most.

I often imagine, in moments like these, that God is another, half-invisible guest at dinner.  In my whimsical imaginings, God sits at the table with a glass of red wine in his hand, a counterpart to my mom with her flute of sparkling wine.  Other times, God has been seated at a restaurant bar, nursing a tumbler of scotch just like my grandfather used to drink.  For some reason, I often picture God wearing a fedora, as if Divine Mystery somehow belonged to 1940s film noir.

A courteous Supreme Being, the hat-wearing God of my imagination always raises a glass.  And then winks.


The Best Gift My Mom Gave Me by Sarah Reinhard

What’s the best gift your mom gave you?   Today’s reflection comes from the ever-insightful writer  Sarah Reinhard.  Sarah is one of the first e-friends I made when I started blogging three + years ago, and her blog  remains one of my very faves.  She is the author of a number of books for families and writes online at  Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here, Sarah!

The first and greatest gift my mother gave me is my life. As I’ve come to appreciate the unique circumstances that led to my very existence, I can’t help but thank her for that.

The second, and more recent gift, which I’ll spend more time explaining, is forgiveness.

I spent five years not speaking to my mother, not communicating with her, and being quite a jerk to anyone who had the temerity or bad luck to bring up her name to me. The reasons for this were varied and, as I look back, rather immature.

And yet, in spite of this, she didn’t hesitate to embrace me fully and completely when I approached her asking for her forgiveness.

It makes me think of the story of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-32) and how much the response of the merciful father touches me.

It makes me think of the pain ahead of me in my own vocation as a mother.

It makes me look to God and wonder at the pain I’ve caused Him throughout my life—heck, just today!

My understanding of forgiveness has grown, and my mom’s example to me has remained as a lesson in life and faith.

Sarah Reinhard blogs at amidst the chaos and joy of life in the country with kids and critters underfoot.

The Best Gift My Mom Gave Me by Mary Curran Hackett

What’s the best gift your mom gave you?  Today I’m delighted to welcome Mary Curran Hackett to share her thoughts.   Mary is the author of the bestselling novel Proof of Heaven, along with being a mom, a teacher, and many other things besides (see full bio below).   I had the pleasure of interviewing her last fall on this very blog.  Thank you for sharing your memories,  Mary!

Your time will come.

 There’s no way I could recall the first time I heard my mom say those words to me, because I am sure she was saying those words to my impertinent young self as soon as I started talking. Though I am sure it’s a stretch, it’s not too much of one to say that the first thing I ever said was: “When’s it my turn?” (Or some variation: “How come I can’t come/go?” “How come Val/Coleen/Sean/Maureen get to do that and I don’t?

I was born an interloper, a gadfly, a hanger-on. I joined the family long after it was well-established and “perfect” (or at least that’s how my older sister Maureen recalls it– “Two boys, two girls and I was the baby––I had my own room––it was PERFECT before you came along.”

And along, I came, trailing farrrrrr behind.

But it wasn’t always the worst place to be. While the older kids were running along ahead to ball games, parties, and movies, I had our mother to myself. I’ll never forget watching my dad pull our station wagon packed with all of my older siblings and an assortment of neighborhood kids out the driveway as they headed out to see The Empire Strikes Back, while hearing my mom assuage me,  “You’re too young now, but, don’t worry––your time will come.” (It was the beginning of a lifelong exchange: Me feeling like I was always the odd man out and my mother assuring me I was not.) But, I also recall it wasn’t the worst place to be. After the car disappeared around the corner, I remember looking up to my tall, vibrant mother as she reached out her hand to my little one and walked me back into the kitchen and said, “Now how ‘bout you and I have a chocolate milkshake?”

Not a bad place to be at all.

As I grew, so did our family, three little girls followed behind me in quick succession and my sister Maureen’s perfect family of four dissolved into a chaotic and rambunctious estrogen-laden eight. And before I knew it my mother was right, I was the one headed to ball games and movies––and it was my little sisters hearing my mother say the same timeworn words “Your time will come” as the screen door slammed shut behind me.

But still, I wasn’t happy. While I was headed to the movies, the older kids were well on their way to colleges, careers, foreign countries, bars, and weddings. Suddenly my “times” weren’t good enough. A couple of years later, when I was a single mom living in my parents’ basement, caring for my daughter, and working two jobs, I’d often complain to my mom (over coffee now, instead of milkshakes): “How come it seems so easy for others? How come all of this is so hard? What if I never find someone who loves me? What if none of things I hoped for myself or wanted to become ever become real?”

I could  tell she was about to say it: Your time will come. But she didn’t. Because she didn’t have to. I knew.

Have faith, Mary. Be patient. Your time will come.

And though I was far away from my mom when I walked into my first college class as a teacher, or stepped off a plane that landed in Italy, or beheld my newborn son with my husband and daughter standing nearby, or opened the box filled with copies of my first novel, I heard her ever faithful, confident, patient, encouraging, and wise words nonetheless. Only I didn’t hear “Your time will come,” but rather her other favorite thing to say to me:

See. What did I tell ya? God always has a plan for you.

Mary Curran Hackett is a sister, daughter, wife, mother, teacher, editor, and writer. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, Greg, and children, Brigid (12) and Colm (6). She could write a book about all the things her mother taught her, but only had space here for one story. She is eternally grateful to have learned how to be a mother from the best of them. Her bestselling novel Proof of Heaven  (HarperCollins) is a tribute to motherhood and is available in all bookstores and major retail outlets and on digital devises. To find out more about her or “Like” her on Facebook visit her website at or to see her book directly go to Booksamillion  or to

The Best Gift My Mom Gave Me by Victoria Q. DeBayle

What’s the best gift your mom gave you?  Today’s reflection comes from Victoria Q. DeBayle, a practicing lawyer and freelance writer for The Florida Catholic.  She is actively involved in her parish in Florida where she currently serves on the Leadership Team of the parish’s Young Adults Group.  She’s also a big Mary fan and a wonderful email buddy.  Thank you so much for sharing these memories, Victoria!


The best gift my mother gave me was presented to me wrapped in swaddling clothes on a January night in 1989.  My little brother.  Yes, I know my dad played a part in that too (for which he also deserves thanks), but it was mom who carried him in her womb and gave him life just four months shy of her 41st birthday.  It was mom who taught us to love each other and care for each other.  And mom is still the one who, when she calls either one of us, will ask, “Have you talked to your sister/brother?”

1989 was a time when having a child in your forties was not yet cool or popular or something often done by Hollywood stars.  Yet my mom, in her usual, don’t-give-up-no-matter-the-odds style, made it through all of the “I can’t believe you’re having a baby at forty” comments and the warnings from doctors of the high-risks associated with having a baby at her age.  She still jokes about the fact that when she would go to the doctor she would see all these women, fifteen to twenty years younger than her, complaining about everything, while she seemed unable to muster up a single complaint.  Indeed, she gave birth to a happy, healthy baby boy.

The night my brother was born is one of my first memories.  The thing I remember most was being in the hospital room with my mom, after the baby had been taken back to the nursery, and my mom giving me the chocolate ice cream cup the hospital had given her as dessert.  I distinctly remember thinking that if baby brothers came with chocolate ice cream, being a big sister was going to be great!

Of course, it was not always great.  As it turned out, having a baby brother meant that for a long time I had more decapitated Barbie dolls than capitated ones.  There were fights, toy thefts, an inordinate amount of name-calling and tattle-tailing…But I also had a constant playmate; a faithful friend with whom to build the world’s greatest blanket forts and go on trail-blazing adventures with in our yard.

These days, I can’t imagine my life without him.  My parents are, unfortunately, now divorced, and although it was one of those terrible situations in which you hope never to find yourself, in a lot of ways it has brought my brother and I closer together.  As I like to tell my brother, divorce isn’t even an option for siblings, so we’re just stuck together no matter what.  Knowing that has provided me with an amazing sense of stability under somewhat uncertain circumstances.

My mom raised two happy, healthy kids (not to mention my stepbrother and all of the other cousins and close friends who lovingly refer to her as their second mom) and while, neither of us are perfect, she truly taught us the meaning of what it is to love unconditionally.  I was always the goody-two-shoes, but no matter what, I never felt mom indicate a preference for me, even when my brother’s actions seemed to come straight out of a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.  She has loved us both equally and unreservedly our whole lives and, even more important, she reminds us of that every day in both word and deed.   It is always easier to notice how our parents look at or love our siblings than how they look at or love ourselves (always easier to glance outward than inward), and I am so grateful to have witnessed how my mom loves my little brother, how she has taught him to love others, and to have realized, that she has done the same for me all along.

I am so thankful for the gift of my little brother, my childhood playmate, my sharer of inside jokes, and my fellow witness to mom’s unfailing love.

The Best Gift My Mom Gave Me by Phil Fox Rose

What’s the best gift your mom gave you?  Today’s reflection comes from Phil Fox Rose,  a writer, editor and content lead based in New York. He writes the “What Works” personal spirituality column at Busted Halo and is assistant coordinator for the New York City chapter of Contemplative Outreach, helping promote centering prayer, which has been his contemplative practice for over 17 years. Phil has also been a political party leader, videographer, tech journalist, punk roadie, software designer, sheepherder, stockbroker and downtempo radio DJ. A common thread is the process of learning about stuff, figuring it out and then sharing that understanding with others.   I’m grateful that you shared your insights here today, Phil — thank you!

An Open Book in Her Lap

Many mornings growing up, when I’d drag myself out of bed and make my way to the living room, I’d find my mom sitting quietly in “her” chair. Sometimes she’d be reading; more often, just staring off into space with an open book in her lap. My mother liked TV fine — she told me many times that life was more boring before television came along — but she read daily.

Mom had been in school to become an English teacher before quitting to marry my dad as he headed off to war. She had her own library at home, mostly English novels, separate from my dad’s books (biographies, history and science) and the family reference library (an encyclopedia and lots of Time-Life books).

I don’t have many fond feelings for my mom. She tried, but didn’t seem to know how to show (or perhaps feel) love. And while I’m grateful now for her constant corrections of grammar and behavior, I bristled at them then. I wanted her and my professor dad to stop teaching me and just be with me, at least some of the time. But that image of her sitting silently, contemplating what she’d just been reading, or the day ahead, or perhaps nothing at all, relishing the silence, felt powerfully good, even to my busy 10-year-old mind. And it stayed with me.

It is the greatest thing mom taught me.

I was a night owl, like my dad, but mom kept farmer’s  hours; she rose at 5 a.m. without an alarm and was in bed by 9. Those hours in the morning between 5 and 8 with a book and a mug of Sanka were hers, and she treasured them. As my spiritual journey has taken me deeply into contemplative work, I realize this was her practice. Three hours of solitude and silence — a mix of reading and sitting  — every single day.  For decades.

My upbringing may have left me sadly unprepared for life in many important ways, but I always knew that, as they say, reading is fundamental. I knew there was no better escape than immersing oneself in a novel. And that if you wanted an answer to something, you could look it up. I learned these things not by being told, but by mom’s example.

You can follow Phil on Facebook here or on Twitter here.

The Best Gift My Mom Gave Me by Laura Kelly Fanucci

What’s the best gift your mom gave you?  That’s the question behind my new series of guest-posts.  Today I’m delighted to welcome Laura Kelly Fanucci to share her thoughts! Laura is a Research Associate at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. She also writes the wonderful Mothering Spirit blog, all about the vocation of motherhood and its many faces and phases.  She’s the proud mother of two boys, one who is 2 years old and one who is a wee two months.  Thank you so much for sharing your insights here, Laura!  

I was 12 years old, packing to leave for camp for the first time. Two weeks away in the woods of Minnesota, which now seemed like the far side of the moon. I was thrilled and terrified all at once. When my mom came into the room and sat on the edge of my bed.

“Do you have everything you need?” she asked gently. And I burst into tears.

She pulled me next to her and smoothed my hair from my forehead. I felt like a baby: wasn’t I supposed to be excited about leaving home for two whole weeks? Wasn’t I supposed to be grown-up and ready for an adventure all my own, at the ripe old age of twelve?

Instead of babbling about all the new things I would learn and friends I would make, as I’d done for weeks over the dinner table, I started blubbering about everything I would miss while at camp. “What about all the fun stuff you’re going to do while I’m gone?” I wailed.

She turned my tear-streaked face towards hers and smiled. “You know exactly what things will be like while you’re gone. It’ll be the same as it always is. So you can go and know that this will all be here when you come home. The same as always.”

Her reassuring words came flooding back when she penned a letter to me at camp the next week: “You can picture us here at home; you know exactly what we’re doing. So you don’t have to worry about missing anything – it will all be here when you get back.”

The best gift my mom gave me was a safe, sure place to leave.

As a mother and a homemaker, my mom worked hard to create a home that was warm, beautiful, and welcoming to all who entered. And it was also consistent – a gift that I now treasure after all the changes of my life.

Dinners were always delicious. Shelves were always stacked with books. Rooms were always filled with music. In the midst of life as a family of seven, we each had our own space to play, time to dream, and freedom to imagine.

So when my older brother got sick, and our family schedule shifted to include chemo appointments and radiation treatments, the consistency never changed. There were still warm dinners on the table, good books to read together, soft music playing in every room. Even as life slowly crumbled around us, home was safe, steady, secure.

Today, in the midst of the chaos of raising two small boys, I marvel at how she did it. How she had supper on the table on the day of his funeral. How she got us all washed and dressed and off to school every morning in the months that followed. How she never lost her joy in our family even in the midst of her deep grief.

So when she told my teary twelve year-old self that nothing would change while I was at camp, I believed her. When I hugged her at the airport as I left to study abroad and she told me that it was good to go, I believed her. And when I stuffed my worldly belongings into a U-Haul to move across the country, she let me leave, assuring me that I would always have a home here, too.

A home that was safe and sure. A home that stayed the same even as life changed. Just like the home that I now try to make for my own children. Full of good food and books and music and people who love them, no matter what.


The Best Gift My Mom Gave Me by Julie Paavola

What’s the best gift your mom gave you? That’s the question behind my new series of guest-posts.  This week, I’m delighted to welcome Julie Paavola as a guest-blogger!  Spiritual director and author Julie Paavola is a mother of two beautiful boys. She writes regular column at and is proud of publishing her first book this year: The Mother’s Calling:  Love in the Heart of the World. You can find a list of her retreat offerings at and you may contact her at  Thanks so much for sharing these memories of your mom, Julie!

Three Lessons from a Remarkable Woman

My mother grew up in Chicago. The oldest of three children and the only girl, she lived under the shadow of her brothers.  Her role was clearly defined: to be the dutiful daughter, working and taking care of things at home, which sometimes included taking the fall for her rowdy younger brothers. Once as a teen, after she had bought a car with hard-earned cash from her department store sales job, she woke up one Saturday morning to see her car totaled in the driveway. Her brother never paid for the damages and barely even got into trouble.  Yet over the years, she was always the one to be there for her family, for grandma when granddad died and for her brothers when they needed help.

Hold no grudges—she taught me that.

My mom loved life. She also really had remarkable taste and loved fine things and beautiful clothes.  This didn’t stop her from becoming an amazing student and winning a scholarship to Mundelein College. After graduation she became a teacher and later a partner in my father’s two businesses. Her hard work and dedication to learning were a symptom of something at work deep within her spirit: she saw life as an adventure. This was evident in the way she chose a husband. Dad was an artist and a non-Catholic, not someone her parents would approve as a suitor. Mom respectfully disagreed and married him anyway. Photographs linger in my memory, of them kissing in front of the Art Academy where my dad studied, or laughing on the balcony of a hotel in Cuba where they spent their honeymoon.  Mom is youthful and happy, a woman who owned her decisions and hoped in God no matter how life’s strange circumstances might challenge her faith.

Take life by storm—that was her motto.

After my parents had been married for five years and still had no children, they went to see a specialist. “Slow down your pace of life,” the good doctor told them, “How can you have children when you are working and playing so hard you don’t have time to sleep?” So they up and moved from Chicago to Alaska! Mom jumped into her new life with both feet. She had to learn a new vocabulary and way of life, from the city to the country, from the Loop to the Tundra, from the pet Pomeranians she kept, to moose and a little fox that used to wait outside her bedroom window for scraps.

Go your own way. Mom taught me that too.

My beloved mother died of cancer five years ago, but she lives on, breathing hope to me in my own daily struggles. My three sisters say the same. Mom helps us. It’s not always in the way we wanted (she answers to Someone else) but we still get the message:  she’s involved!  My mom made me who I am. When I find myself wishing to God I was a better person, or wishing for more out of life, I think of her and it gives me confidence and hope. Hold No Grudges, Take Life by Storm, Go Your Own Way: Three lessons from a remarkable woman.

The Best Gift My Mom Gave Me by Tarn Wilson

What’s the best gift your mom gave you?  That’s the question behind my new series of guest posts.  Today, I’m thrilled to share a reflection from Tarn Wilson.   Tarn’s writing has appeared online, in print, and on NPR (see her full bio below).   She’s also one of the most intuitive and generous souls I know.  Thank you for the beautiful food for thought, Tarn!

Sometimes the best gifts parents give their children come, not from their strengths, but from their weaknesses.

The moneyed parents at the high school where I teach want to give their children every meaningful gift: my students speak another language, follow politics, play an instrument, excel at a sport, and peruse the art museums in Europe.  They enroll in summer programs at Cornell or Columbia, where they write novels and splice genes.  They do community service. They are polished, intellectual, and gracious.  They don’t have time for a job.

My mother could give me none of those opportunities.  She was beautiful, energetic, intelligent, creative, funny, and loving.  She was also plagued by undiagnosed mental illness:  rages and deep depressions and paranoia which kept her single, isolated from her family, and on the run from town to town, job to job.  Our family teetered on the edge of some serious poverty.  And our instability required something of me.

I also had big dreams, but the requirements of my life were mundane and immediate.  Shake my sleepy mother awake in the morning.  Make her coffee.  Iron her clothes.  When her darkness was so deep she couldn’t move from the bed, make the necessary excuses to her work and appointments.  When she cried, listen, late into the night, homework set aside again.  Rub the knots out of her back.  Get a job. I started babysitting in fifth grade, dog sitting in sixth grade, and by the time I was fifteen, worked regularly at a variety of stores, so I could cover my own expenses and contribute to food and rent.

In contrast, the charming, privileged students of my high school live for goals in a distant future, burdened by the heavy weight expectations.  Sometimes, they feel lost and sad.  Always, they feel haunted, harassed by the Ghost of Potential Failure.  They never feel quite spectacular enough.  I still long to be as cultured as my students and sometimes grieve what I didn’t have.  But my mother gave me this:  the opportunity to be resourceful.  Capable.  A scrappy kind of resilience.  I knew that I was needed and useful.

So this is what I believe:  Spirit is our parent, big enough to bless us all, even through the broken places.


Tarn Wilson earned her MFA in creative writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop.  Her commentaries have aired on NPR, and her essays have appeared in the journal Inlands, the anthology Hard Love, the podcast A River and Sound Review, and the website Recently, her poem “The Brick Birds” was included in the anthology The Poet’s Guide to the Birds edited by Judith Kitchen and Ted Kooser.  New essays are forthcoming in the journals Inertia and Life Writing and the anthology What’s Nature Got to Do with Me?  She lives, writes, and teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area.