Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mundane Mothering......NOT!!!

As this day rolls around every year I'm always at a loss as how to embrace the sentiment! You see it was clearly designed, promoted, and merchandised for a 'traditional' mother child dyad and we are far from 'traditional'. Even generations back on both sides reflect a unique mother child dynamic so do I take what 'fits' and glorify it or do I try to remold it to fit? Every year is different and until bedtime tonight I can't even tell you how this day will evolve for the Mahoney's! It's very likely that the stories go generations further back than I am aware of but as of today our story starts in rural Ireland in the dark desperate days of the turn of the last century. Noble and moral even then, the O'Mahony family in County Kerry stood strong against the injustices still being inflicted by an English occupation on their less fortunate neighbors. As a reward for offering food and shelter to those targeted by greedy foreign landlords, the family was physically forced from their fertile valley farm and relocated high on a windswept mountainside with more bog than arable fields and with more daughters than sons it was an arduous existence. Precious little survives from those days in the early 1900's but one worn and tattered photograph is left to show the woman who would become my mother-in-law! So precious little of her seen! Just her face as it peers over her little sister's head from the back row. Hidden from view the rock hard muscular build of a girl doing man's work in an effort to keep her family alive! The hint of the hard work showing in the rocky rough field in which they stand proudly smiling for the 'Yank' relative who had come 'home' for a visit with the unheard of luxury of a camera!! How does one describe a woman who laboured like a man so that sister after sister could have the fare to sail off to America? The woman who so loved to read that a book could always be found tucked into the pocket of her pinafore but who never made it to high school because there was work to be done? The woman who then had to watch as seven of her eight children boarded a plane for America?!?!?
Patrick has so very few photos of his mother! They were poor and photography an expense far beyond their imagination. Most of the pictures are like these taken by his brother on a visit back with his children. She is always in a 'work bib' standing in the back row just like the earliest picture we have of her! One is tempted to use the rock of the family analogy but.....
this rock had a human heart at it's core. A human heart that must have lost a piece every time one of her children came home for a visit only to leave again! This is the last picture Patrick took with his Mother on rare sunny fall day in Kerry. On Valentine's Day only a few months later, Bridget O'Mahony sat down at her kitchen table after morning chores and pulled the ever present book from her pinafore and opened it on the table. A few faded photos of children far flung slid from the pages as her heart finally broke for ever. My girls and I never met her as she died long before we were a family but we are the beneficiaries of all her hard work and sacrifice.
While Bridget was toiling in the fields of Ireland to send her sisters to America, another family driven from that land by starvation generations before had made their new home in Chicago. Ironically, just as George and Margaret Sullivan started their little family the Great Depression reared it's vicious head. Suddenly a generation poised to grab their American dream was pushed to the edge of survival. Hungry bellies and threadbare clothes accompanied the young Sullivan children to school every morning but to school every morning they were sent! One wonders sometimes just how fate impacts the trajectory of a life? The eldest child was a whip smart daughter with a backbone of steel who talked her way into school at four years of age. I do believe that born in my generation, this woman of the depression could very well be one of the jurists being considered for the Supreme Court opening!!! But the fates do not do our bidding and when World War II erupted during her high school years she went off to work instead of college.
Returning soldiers and sailors meant lots of weddings and Loretta Sullivan joined her peers in creating the Baby Boom!! The backbone of steel never softened nor bent and all nine of her children were EXPECTED to get an advanced education even without financial resources!! Her children number nine only in the legal definition and even then one of the nine was denied the piece of paper due to his age! Over 63 wards of the state slept under her roof at some point in their battered lives and some decided to keep hanging with her crazy crowd. The definitions of brother, sister, and family were far from 'traditional'!! In a uniquely Irish tradition, the daughters were expected to do as well if not better than the sons..before the ERA there was the Irish mother!!! Barbie was forbidden in my youth as she epitomized the glorification of physique over intellect. Men were for companionship and love not support and domination. Cheerleading was 'beneath' us Irish girls since it was idolizing macho males instead of competing with the intellectual men. Marriage should come AFTER you have seen the world and made a career.......little did we know the consequences of those decisions!
Now in her eighties, Loretta is showing some signs of bending. The backbone of steel is brittle but the spirit never wavers. I have her name as my middle name and ruefully I must admit the comparisons can be very close more often than not! As her eldest daughter I have the best and the worst of her in me but since the Best far exceeds the Worst I'm delighted to call her my Mom!
So I saw the world....sort of....and I had my career. The lovely son of Bridget O'Mahony came my way and we married. Then it became apparent that our delayed lifestyle had cost us parenthood! A very brief dabble in the field of fertility proved not to be the answer for us. The physical and financial toll of fertility treatments with no child guaranteed was not how we wanted to proceed. So where does that leave us? Do we just become the 'fun' Aunt and Uncle and continue to travel the world? Do we want to wade into the emotional quicksand of adoption? ....and then Patrick opened a fateful e-mail!! Somewhere far away in a country called Guatemala there was a little toddler hoping to find a Mom and Dad.
"You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them." Desmond Tutu
How do you actually 'thank' God for this woman?!?! Mercifully we were blessed to find Josefa, the woman who's selfless love for her daughter made me a Mom! Another woman in my life who worked hard under extreme circumstances to keep her family alive. Twelve babies to feed and raise on less than a dollar a day does not make for an easy life! Like Bridget who watched as those pieces of her heart emigrated, Josefa watched five of her twelve babies leave in the arms of adoption lawyers! How great must be your trust in God and mankind that those five babies would find a loving family and a better life? Only time will tell how her strength and my guidance will shape Mari but in the meantime we both get to love her!
Then there is Leda! The foster mother who held our Mari close to her heart for the two years it took to slog through the legal process. This picture was taken on the occasion of our return to Guatemala to visit with baby Julia and it is beyond obvious the love this woman shares with Mari!!!! Yet another woman in my life who toils in a bitter vineyard where the fruit of your labor leaves for another family in another country!
On this Mother's Day we are waiting for another miracle! Life in Guatemala is not long and the fates are not kind to the Mayan people but can it be possible that after eight years one can find yet another poor woman?....
Sadly, this is all we have in the way of a photo of Julia's mother. A dark and smudged Xeroxed copy of the DNA Polaroid taken on April 2, 2001. This is Julia. Yep, unbelievable as it can be we received a call from the attorney the morning after Julia was born telling us that our new daughter was born and that the birth mother was giving us the gift of choosing her name!!! With absolutely NO knowledge beforehand I called Patrick at work and told him we had TEN minutes to pick a name before the attorney had to go and register the birth. We wanted a name that fit in both the Hispanic and Irish cultures so after tossing around Anna and Rita we decided on Julia. Two weeks later when we opened the referral packet it just JUMPED out at us...."Julia Margarita, daughter of Julia..."!!!!!!!!!! Yes, Rev. Tutu, this was God's gift to us! Now that we can be blessed to find her alive and well..............
Marina, too, works in that bitter vineyard! Julia's foster mother 'only' needed to care for Julia for six months before the adoption was completed but she did it with all her heart and it shows!! Julia was clearly a well loved and secure baby when Marina placed her in my arms that summer morning in July 2001 as well as WELL FED!
So here we are on this Mother's Day with all the schmaltzy media coverage and I'm thinking this year I'll just sit sit back humbled by the acts of the women in my life who've done more than I can ever hope to do...and in doing so made me a Mom!
"Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country." Anais Nin


  1. What a awesome post! Thank you so much for sharing it with us! I loved reading every word!
    Happy Mother's Day!

  2. Suzanne, This is an awesome tribute to the mother's who have made your life as it is today!! I'm praying Julia's birthmom will be found!!