Category Archives: The Best Gift My Mom Gave Me

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.