One of my earliest memories is looking into my mother’s eyes.
I must have been a baby because I don’t remember much else other than that — well, that and feeling comfortable, warm, secure. I often wonder, even today, when I meet people who can’t or don’t make eye contact if it is because they did not have the first, warm mother-child connection when they were babies.
Feeling love and total acceptance through an affectionate gaze has got to be one of life’s grandest, sweetest things. And I think it must be harder to connect with people later on if one misses out on that early on.
Because of this early eye contact and knowing how important it must be in the development of a child, I tried to make a point with my own babies to initiate and maintain that loving gaze often. It really wasn’t that hard — I loved staring at my little ones in awe and in wonder anyway, even as I was pondering what on earth God was thinking to bestow such a perfect gift as this child on such an imperfect person and inexperienced mother such as me.
I enjoyed looking at my children, smiling at them and hugging them often. I told them that they were important, smart and good. Some nights I would sneak into their bedrooms long after they were asleep and whisper these things into their ears. “You’re such a good boy. Mama loves you.” Or “You are a sweet, wonderful little girl.” And I’d stroke their heads and hope that in their dreams they heard me.
The children know they are loved. I am sure. Did this make them grow into arrogant, self-centered human beings? Oh no. No, not at all. One can only give what he possesses and the first step to giving is receiving. In fact, I think the children have grown to be more sensitive because their “cup is full.” When one’s cup overflows he can more easily and freely give. This giving is not forced or stilted. It becomes natural. The children have confidence, and that is something, I am sure, that comes from those loving glances, those confirming words, that tender link tracing back to a legacy of love first initiated by my own devoted and caring mother.
I can give because I was given. And now, it is my hope and desire that my children can too.
A mother’s love is strong, impermeable and constant. When I underwent cancer treatment and my husband had to go to work to provide for us, my mother faithfully took me to chemotherapy every other Monday for six months. It couldn’t have been easy for her to watch the nurses poke me repeatedly (rolling veins) and take several vials of blood before I was seated and secured with an IV for a four hour drip of four powerful, skin-burning, nausea-inducing drugs, which eliminated my appetite, bloated my body and made me chemically depressed. Instead of caving into her own self and needs, my mother tried to tend to mine, lovingly, patiently and not unlike when I was a baby in need of simple food, care and attention. A mother’s love endures.
The devoted love of a mother doesn’t mean that she doesn’t discipline her children. In fact, love is an important aspect of the child-rearing discipline, whose goal is to help the child become self-disciplined. When a mother must be firm, she can. She must. She may empathize with a child’s infantile desires, but she remains steadfast in promoting truth to him. She does not give him junk food just because he wants it. She makes him clean his room to learn responsibility and order. She does not tolerate mean or disrespectful behavior towards others or immaturity in dealing with serious things.
In short, a holy mother’s love is tender but true, steadfast but strong. I want to offer the thought that the Catholic Church has often been likened to a holy mother because of her love, gifts of Truth and other maternal qualities. As Mother’s Day approaches, I invite you to ponder this.
Today, I sit in awe of the gift of a glance, the tenderness of a touch, the reality of sacrifice being the key to enabling the next generation to give and to love. I sit, basking in gratitude for my own mother’s example, and in awe of other mothers I’ve been privileged to know over the last 40-plus years, who selflessly encourage, care and correct.
Inspired by them all, every day, I continue to strive to be one of the “holy mothers,” one of those who empties out her heart for the good of those around her. When I look back into my mother’s eyes I see her, yes, but I also see beyond them to a future of possibilities.
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