Portraits of Love on Mother's Day

Readers' essays offer a unique view into the heart and art of motherhood

"So why even have kids?" a friend recently asked. And I thought it over.

It's tiring. The three kids wake me up every single day before sunrise -- every day. They are up -- energy and light -- as up as a person can be until bedtime. The baby still naps, but he's the only one. The sisters just go and go until I can't believe how much energy they have. I put them to bed at 7, 7:30, and 8 respectively, but that usually drifts closer to 9 and then it's dark, every hour of my daylight given over to my little daykeepers.

It's backbreaking. Sometimes literally. I remembered the summer that our firstborn fell headfirst down the concrete steps. Without a thought I threw myself to her. I caught her, all 18 months of guts and glory, and set her upright. I bled. She didn't.

It's lonely. Many nights I've spent, alone on the bathroom floor, steam fogging up the mirrors, with a child in my arms. And it's painful too, how the toilet digs into your back at just the wrong angle.

But it's love, I thought. The love is the thing. You think you know how to love until you have kids, and then you realize that everything you loved before wasn't loved less. It was just practice for how you love your children: all of that love at once.

So, love. The reason? Love.

AJ Dilling
Mt. Lebanon

A Mother's Day confession to her 30-year-old son:

To mask my panic, I faked bravery ...

... when you had your first asthma attack and I rushed you to Children's Hospital's emergency room.

... when I locked myself out of the house and through a front window watched you climb onto the dining room table, turn your back to me, and devour a hidden bag of Halloween candy.

... when I had no choice but to hang a house key around your neck and officially make you a Homestead latch-key kid.

... when you got beaned with a baseball and had a concussion.

... when our whitewater raft on the Lower Youghiogheny River overturned and flipped us out into the river.

... when the downpour at Seneca Rocks, W.Va., turned your "rock climbing adventure" into your rock sliding nightmare.

... when you were thinking of refusing a soccer scholarship to Point Park College.

... every time I killed a house spider in front of you.

To cope with fear, I faked laughter ...

... when a North Side homeless man threw a dingy, stuffed dog into your stroller before I could intervene.

... when I found you fast asleep in a rolled-up rug after the entire carpet store frantically searched for you.

... when I sang and acted out "the people on the plane go up and down" during a terrifically turbulent flight to Sarasota, Fla.

... when I had a flat tire on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at night and we had to walk in a downpour to a call box with horn-blasting 14-wheelers splashing us until we were drenched.

... when I called the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department because my van's engine was on fire and you put it out with a Super Soaker before they got there. When one firefighter asked another firefighter, "Do you think the chief will get us some of those?" I finally really laughed.

Leslie Evans
Mt. Lebanon

"Mom, I heard the heartbeat!" was the joyful news from my daughter today. Immediately, I had a vivid recollection of the first time I heard her (my first child's) heart beat.

I recall the obstetrician appointment, barely showing my little baby bump. With a special stethoscope, I hear a sloshing, rhythmic sound that validates life. I am going to produce the next family generation and become a mother. It is an awesome feeling, but overwhelming at the same time. I realized a gift, a miracle, is taking shape within me.

I am saturated with emotions at this announcement because a few months ago, my mother passed away at the age of 89. She was the true matriarch of the family. She had nine children, 21 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. I feel a bit of sadness that I can't run to tell her that I will become a grandmother. I can only imagine the joy this news would bring her.

My daughter recalled at our Christmas gathering that my mother apologized to her for not having a present for the baby. At that time, there was no pregnancy. The statement was overlooked because of mom's declining health and confusion. However, now we realize she could have perceived a vision of the next great-grandchild.

In the sadness of my mother's death, I am excited and anticipating my first grandchild's birth and the continuance of our family. With my mom leaving this world, a new gift will be sent from above. Happy Mother's Day to Mom and to our Mom-to-be.

BarBara Lee Ungerman-Gruber

Mothers are always waiting. We marry, we have children, and yes, the love we can have for our children is almost indescribable. Suffice it to say, we put our needs last. This goes against the human instinct for self-preservation, but we do it over and over.

A new mother forgets. I did. I forgot to listen to music; it made too much noise and might wake the baby. I forgot to sleep; they may awake and need to nurse. I forgot my husband; his needs came even after mine. Your children forgive you for not being there all the time, your husband forgives you for forgetting him, and finally you can forgive yourself, for sometimes you can come first, too.

This Mother's Day 2013, I am going to wait once again, wait for my children's cards and phone calls, and now a new wait for me: I am going to wait for the phone call from my doctor giving permission to wait until after Mother's Day weekend for my chemo to begin.

I would not have changed a thing in my life,

Sandy McConnell
Franklin Park

I never had a chance to see the color of my son's eyes.

He was like a morning glory bloom, beautiful but gone too quickly. I gave him as much love and joy as I could in our brief time. Grief was for later.

He lived 2 hours and 19 minutes after being born at 22 weeks and 6 days. Weighing little more than a pound, he was lighter than my childhood dolls. He had fingernails, eyelashes and a wisp of black hair but unbearably tiny lungs and fragile eyelids that never opened.

My baby's arrival was sudden and inexplicable. Modern medicine placed him just outside the edge of viability where only a tiny fraction survive. I would have stolen my very breath to let him outlive me.

Not taking a family photo is my great regret. At the time, I was too afraid and didn't want to share him with anyone except his father.

Being a childless mother is a difficult concept to explain. I prefer the German term verwaiste eltern, or orphaned parent. It feels contrary to nature's order for parents to outlive offspring, regardless if a child dies at birth or at 41, like my father, the parent orphan. His adopted mother cried at the funeral.

I have found solace in the words "The morning glory that blooms for an hour differs not at heart from the giant pine that lives for a thousand years." My child still affects my every day. I work to make the world a better place and to live the life I wanted him to share.

I also think of him when as I again feel kicks in my belly. I'm lucky to have a second chance. Perhaps when this son opens his eyes, I'll see shades of the brother he never met.

Heidi Opdyke

On Mother's Day, we remember the women who have nurtured and nourished us, instructed and inspired us, sacrificed for us and shared their lives with us, cared for us in sickness and in sadness, celebrated our accomplishments and prayed for our needs.

As we honor the wonderful women who have "mothered" us in some way, I am reminded of Religious Women ("Sisters" or "nuns"). Many of us have experienced the care of a Sister who has consecrated her life to serve the children of God. No matter what our faith tradition, it is highly likely that we have encountered Sisters in our lives or in the lives of those we love.

Religious Women are "Sisters" (and "mothers") to us all. They find us and serve us, their neighbors and children, in classrooms and cafeterias, in social service programs and soup kitchens, in hospice centers and hospitals, in homes for orphans and for unwed mothers, in nurseries and in nursing homes, in shelters for the homeless and the abused. They pray for us in monasteries and convents, at Matins and at Vespers.

It has been said that the greatest love is to lay down one's life for another. Sisters daily do this, sacrificing all so that others may have life and have it more abundantly. Today, many Religious Women are elderly, infirm and in need of care, having poured themselves out in service to the people of God. Some are confused by current criticisms that they do not listen to the Spirit nor live and teach the Gospel message. All look forward to meeting the "Love of their life" sooner, rather than later, and hear Him say to them "Well done! When you served the least of my brethren, you served Me."

On Mother's Day, I acknowledge these "mothers" who have nurtured us because our Father commanded them to do so. I thank them on behalf of all whom they have helped and healed, inspired and embraced, taught and treasured as their own children.

Mary Hines
Carlow University president

Motherhood for me started with a baby boy with blue eyes staring up at me in recovery. I looked at those eyes and realized I was now responsible for someone else. I fell in love that day and can't imagine life without my son.

Through the years, I have watched him go from a preschooler who looked like he was going off to prison on his first day of preschool become the 31-year-old of today. I have watched him as he learned to tell time with an analog clock, learned to ride a bike and drive a car and find his passion -- biology and complete his goal of becoming a Ph.D.

With an only child, life is different. You have a little human being who listens to every word and watches everything you do. You are a tremendous influence in that life. You set the standards of what kind of man he will become. You help him understand how to treat people in this world. You teach him how to love.

My days as his mom have changed. He's grown now and married with a daughter of his own and owns his own home. He doesn't need me in the same way anymore. He lives hundreds of miles away, and I see him just three or four times a year.

I miss those talks across the breakfast table. I miss the conversations about funny things that happened at school and what his teachers did. I'll never have those days again, but I can always cherish them. I'll always be his mom.

LuAnn Mudrak
Mt. Lebanon

My two sons are both smart and, like their dad, handsome, but the ways that they relate to me can be quite different.

One son is sentimental. On Valentine's Day after his dad died, he wrote, "You know you were my first Valentine." On my 64th birthday, he, a Beatles fan, wrote, "I still need you and I always will."

My other son, on my 65th birthday, wrote, "Congratulations on reaching the legal speed limit in Pennsylvania." So much for sentiment. Once when I was visiting him, he was laughing out loud at a New Yorker cartoon. It showed a little king in his castle talking on the phone. The caption read: "But Mother, you're the reason I built the moat."

We laughed and I assured him that he needn't start building a moat because I would never willingly leave Pittsburgh! The following Mother's Day he gave me an entire book of New Yorker cartoons about mothers.

Although their approaches may be different, I know that they both love me, and I am greatly blessed to have them. One son knows instinctively how to touch my heart; the other, my funny bone.

Winnie Slatery
Penn Hills

I leaned against the white wall of the ER and sobbed so convulsively that I feared an imminent aneurysm. My 15-year-old son lay in the room to my left as the doctor placed a cast on his broken foot. My 13-year-old daughter sat in the room to my right as another physician placed a cast on her broken hand. A social worker -- small in stature but mighty with power -- stood before me, debating whether I deserved a jail cell due to child abuse or a padded cell due to a day of unfortunate dual accidents: a basketball teammate landing on my son's foot, a car door slamming on my daughter's hand.

Although I escaped incarceration and my children's broken bones healed, I spent the next years as a single mother of teenagers dealing with broken hearts and broken dreams. Animosity from a "you say potato and I say 'pattatah' " philosophy led to a total breakdown in communication, filling the house with a heavy silence that threatened to destroy my family of three. My kids turned to friends and school as an outlet for their frustrations about home, but as a teacher of eighth-graders, I found little solace with a population that mirrored my own children in terms of mood and attitude.

And then, as happens with all of life's moments, time passed. My children -- because of me or despite me -- emerged from adolescence with grace, confidence and consideration. They are now 30-somethings who make daily calls to their 97-year-old grandfather and me just to say hello.

I attribute our survival to humor -- to my son's quirky insights, to my daughter's sarcastic wisdom, and to my realization that laughter will give me maternal strength when all else fails.

With love added to the mixture, once upon a time can become happily ever after.

Ronna L. Edelstein

After the kids go to bed I can dream and be free

to eat a yummy snack that's only for me

to watch R-rated movies with sinful verbs

creepy TV shows with interesting pervs.

I listen to music that

never in a million years

I would let my 7- or 2-year-old get to their ears.

I always try to soothe, chill and also just BE,

in addition, it's time to tread lightly on me.

It's time to be selfish and also reflect

nurture and calm but not neglect.

But, time after the kids go to bed flies

and the early bright sun is now lighting the sky.

Marci Kiczan
Lincoln Place

When I was a child, my mother was the most powerful person on Earth. As the center of my world, there was nothing she could not do. Any problem I had disappeared when I took it to Mom. No bully, no fear, nothing could touch me. She made every hurt better with a kiss, soothed any fear by rocking me in the squeaky, overstuffed rocking chair, and ordered any nightmare to disappear as she tucked me into bed.

As I aged and my problems became more complex, I learned that my mother's power only extended so far. There were some problems that would not disappear with the wave of Mother's hand. My mother was mortal. That was not a disappointment but a shock. However, there was no fear because due to her guidance, I knew how to face my own problems, but not alone. My mom always stood by me.

Because of Mom's teaching and modeling, I knew that when I was a mother, I wanted to be able to solve all problems, to soothe all hurts, to be a haven. I wanted to be needed and necessary as my mother was to me. For a while I was that mother to my sons until they discovered my mortality. My aim was to teach them to stand on their own, to face their problems and overcome, and to celebrate their triumphs.

My sons have exceeded my hopes. Though I still want to protect them and make their hurts go away, I know I cannot. It is the hardest part of being their mom -- letting go. They need their independence to stand on their own. But they never stand alone. I always stand with them.

Karen Slaven

A 19-year career as a mom has never proven to be more challenging than during the last 22 months, when my only child lost her father and I buried my soul mate.

It came out of the blue. My daughter had just started her first part-time job at age 17 and was returning home with her first paycheck in hand to show her dad. As she backed down the driveway and looked in her side view mirror, she saw him lying in our shed. He was already gone. An autopsy would reveal a weakened and enlarged heart with blockages in three arteries, but he never had a symptom. Our lives changed forever. Being a mom changed forever.

My husband was gone the summer of my daughter's senior year in high school. He missed her final year of playing volleyball, her honors banquet, her election as Outstanding Senior in her class, her graduation. He missed choosing a college and moving her in and coming home to an empty house. And that's motherhood to me now. My biggest challenge as a mom is making sure my daughter knows I'm all right and she can leave and experience college and find her path and make her own life. And apparently I've done a bang-up job because she's having the time of her life and loving college life.

And then, as if life hadn't changed us enough, my dad died just a month ago, so the two men my daughter and I have loved our whole lives are gone. My job as a mom is now about treasuring memories and healing the hurt while trying to look ahead and find happiness and passion and joy in things to come. It's about rallying and overcoming and knowing you take one day at a time and pray for strength along the journey. It's about being the best person I can be so a 19-year-old phenomenal young woman can fly. It's about giving her wings. It's about finding my own.

Pam Kennedy

Mother's Day 1991, my extended family gets together at a restaurant along Route 30 in North Huntingdon for lunch.

The hostess seating our party gives a carnation to each "mother." Moms -- step, single, divorced -- each female was given a carnation except me.

What the hostess didn't know was that I was saddened by this simple gesture because I was four years into infertility doctor appointments and fertility prescriptions.

But what I didn't know was that by Mother's Day 1992, I'd be carrying our first and only child.

As we start to plan Jacqueline Joyce's 21st birthday celebration for May 25, I still remember as if it were yesterday the left-out sensation of that missing flower but the positive blood test the following October.

Nursing a baby, seeing her first Holy Communion, attending Girl Scout bridging ceremonies, seeing that high school diploma awarded, letting her select a university, traveling to study abroad, cringing as she passed her driver's test, anxiously watching her drive off to her junior year in her very used first car...

These milestones fly by. But the memories remain constant.

Karen Petrus
North Versailles

Every mother dreads "The Call."

It takes many forms but it is always enough to make your blood run cold with fear. I have received "The Call" at least once for each of my three children.

"The Call" for my youngest -- the boy -- came in the afternoon. "This is the school nurse. Your son has fallen down a flight of stairs. The paramedics have been called. It looks serious." I was in the car and heading to the middle school in a flash. I arrived just as his body, with a neck brace, was rolled on to the backboard. I had to remind myself to breathe until he looked at me and smiled. I knew he would be OK.

The oldest daughter made "The Call" herself. "Mom, I've been in a car accident." It was less than 2 miles from home. A van had broadsided the car in which she was a passenger. All were shaken but they had worn seatbelts and were OK. The car was totaled.

"The Call" from long distance is the worst. The middle daughter -- at college 5 1/2 hours away -- was the subject of many of "The Calls." "Don't worry, she passed out, but the paramedics are here," says the roommate. She was quarantined for weeks with the swine flu. "I am at the emergency room because I blew out my knee." "I have a 103-degree fever. Should I go to the hospital?"

Each time, all I wanted to do was jump through the phone line and start taking care of her. We had to rely on others to provide the care needed. I realize that we have been lucky and I am thankful.

Still, like so many mothers, I say to my children every time we part, "Be careful and I love you!"

Mary Alice Moore
Bethel Park

More than anything, motherhood challenges my soul.

I have found that most everything in my life takes a backseat to the needs of my children. That was especially true in the early years. The sacrifices have included my own goals in life at times. I've been human and so very imperfect in raising my two children, but one thing I have always tried to remain cognizant of is their well-being -- mental and physical.

These are non-negotiable "gifts" I must give to my children EARLY in their lives. It will be too late or at least much more difficult to provide these for them later in their lives.

However, I only learned this when more than once, I put my children's needs on the backburner in lieu of my own wants. My want to complete the task of refinishing a wooden bench, to talk a while longer on the telephone, to stay at the store just a little while longer. But after a few mishaps it became blatantly clear that although I have choices, I also have to be prepared to live with them.

My children are only mine for such a short time. And then the WORLD will get them. The challenge to motherhood is that the window of opportunity for laying the groundwork is fleeting. Even during the most frustrating or tiring moments with my children, I do my best to remind myself of that. I never want to look back and ask myself "Why didn't my time with them mean more to me?"

Karen Morris

"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child," the late singer Richie Havens once lamented in a quavering voice. With his lugubrious chant, Havens conjured up the soul of motherhood, for nothing is sadder than a child without a mom.

After my son Mark was born, he was almost motherless while I suffered from postpartum depression. Dead inside, I fed him, changed him and bathed him lethargically like a comatose zombie, feeling no emotion, no bond and no joy in motherhood. Nor could he bask in the ambient glow of motherly love because I had none to give.

For eight interminable months, my baby boy was a veritable stranger to me, both of us captives in the stony prison of mental illness from which I yearned to break free.

What jubilation when I was finally cured! Brimming with elation, I catapulted into motherhood as explosively as a rocket blasting into space. At last love for Mark surged through my veins like life-giving baptismal waters. At last I could snuggle him close to my heart and deluge him with kisses.

Perhaps to make up for lost time, I plunged headfirst into Mark's activities -- playground outings, picnics in the park, Easter egg hunts, cookies with Santa. I was ubiquitous at school plays and piano recitals. I dared not miss a track meet or basketball game.

During childhood traumas -- sniffles, sobs, scuffed knees, braces, scraped elbows, and broken bones -- I proudly cheered and comforted him, cherishing his exploits exponentially.

Now when I behold Mark at 16, happy and healthy, I'm perpetually grateful for the priceless gift of being his mom. Except for that first rocky start, may he never feel like a motherless child again.

Diane Vrabel
Mt. Lebanon

For me, motherhood has been about learning to live and love again.

In the fall of 2006, my husband and I found out we were expecting twin boys. We were elated -- a years-long dream realized. And then our world crashed just 5 1/2 months later in March 2007. I went into unexplained premature labor at 22 weeks, five days. My sons did not survive.

Although my world had shattered, I yearned to be a mom. I wanted to feel whole again. I wanted my own family to love and cherish.

In summer 2008, I became pregnant with a little girl who was born on March 10, 2009 -- exactly two years after our sons' funeral. I always say that our sons sent her to us on this day so that we could feel more sunshine than pain in March.

As emotional as that post-loss pregnancy was, I am forever indebted to my daughter for deconstructing the walls around my heart that had formed after my loss -- and for teaching me how to love again.

Today, my hands and heart are full. In addition to our now 4-year-old rainbow, we have a 19-month-old little girl. There are days when life is crazy with them, but I remind myself that this is the craziness I wanted so badly -- and that the challenging times don't last long. Because two little sets of arms pull me down for a hug and a kiss, and a whisper of "I love you, Mommy."

Erin Hart

Motherhood makes me do weird things and act in an irrational ways. Without hesitation, I will stand in line all day to get an autograph for my son, or drive five hours away to watch him play in a 30-minute volleyball game. I frequently do things for my kids that I would never do for myself -- or for my husband, for that matter! I will drop whatever I'm doing to bake cookies because my son forgot to tell me -- until bedtime -- that he needed them for school the next day.

By nature, I am a nonconfrontational person; however, if I find my child has been cheated or wronged, I become a woman possessed, consumed by a desire to defend him. And although I have never been comfortable tooting my own horn, I am embarrassed to admit that I have engaged in bragging contests with other moms about my children.

I am prone to tears of joy when I receive an unexpected hug or observe a moment of pride. I am also prone to tears of anger when my kids cross a line and I embark on a lengthy tirade.

Ultimately, however, motherhood makes me feel blessed, loved and humbled. My own insecurities vanished with motherhood as I realized that so many things in life were insignificant compared with the responsibility of being a guardian, a nurturer, a champion of another life. While I will always seek balance among my roles as a mother, a wife, an individual, it is my role as a mother that centers me.

Patty Langer

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Forget the crack in the wall of the garret apartment, the old, handed-down upholstered chair and the Swedish coffee cup set precariously on a book in the background. Just concentrate on the adoration beaming between the mother and the child.

Ignore the intruder on mother's lap. It is a moment to capture; a moment to remember. Doesn't it make you smile?

Of course, the intruder has been having dinner and big sister Jennifer is not about to miss out on being part of the action. Maybe we should notice how lovingly she is holding baby Ken's hand while beaming at her mother. Isn't it sweet? Oh, it does make you smile.

With perfect timing, the child picks up the intruder's hand and, with a determined look, declares, "Ken bite Mommy, me bite Ken!"

Well, I'll let you imagine the rest of the story. Let's just concentrate on the adoration(squared). Of course, it should really be adoration(quadrupled). This picture still makes all the people in the story smile.

Jean Peterson

The following essays appear online only

Mama Bear of "Berenstain Bears" fame explains the importance of being wary of strangers by cutting open a rosy apple to expose a rotten core. See kids, looks can be deceiving. And there you have it, an illustrated, credible, down-to-earth, non-threatening storybook approach to "stranger danger" my daughters embraced - no nightmares - as young children. Then, hats off to Mama Bear, when life presented a test, and I failed, they passed.

My 28-year-old daughter was 3. Thirling - tiny ballerina - in an open field at Penn Woods Festival, with each turn, she chanted "happy, happy, happy!" And, moved by her joyfulness, an elderly gentleman watching from the bench at the edge of the field send his wife as emissary to offer a gift.

"My husband," she said, pointing in his direction, "would like to give your daughter a quarter."

Ay my side, my 7-year-old wiggled. Stranger danger!

But his eyes were kind. And, reminiscent of my grandfather - a man so good as to be golden - he wore a straw fedora.

Italian probably, I decided, making him somewhat less of a stranger, and basing my assumption on how, as a child, visits to my great-grandfather's home ended with receiving a coin.

"That's very kind of him," I said, ushering my protesting 3-year-old across the field...


....where I instructed her to say "Say 'thank you' to the nice man" she didn't know from Adam.

Convincing myself how I hadn't broken an ironclad rule. Then, rationalizing how accepting money -- and, candy too, why not -- from strangers is OK when Mama is present to make a final call.

Returned to center field, however, my 7-year-old challenged, "Mama! I can't believe you let a stranger give our baby money!" (Heavy emphasis on "stranger" "our" and "money.")

Me either.

Lell Wood
Mt. Lebanon

Being a mother does not come with instructions nor does it require any type of licence but it does require:

1. M-management skills.

2. O-openness

3. T- thoughtfulness

4. H-honesty

5. E - energy and

6. R-relentless love!

Happy Mother's Day To All!

Nicki Jo Perfetti
North Side

Motherhood has many different roles. Sometimes you're a race car driver having to go from zero to 100 mph in a few seconds, often while switching gears. A little like Superman, but instead of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, you grab your toddler a second before he's flattened by a bevy of running children. With him tucked safely under one arm, you nab your first-grader by the collar to corral him home to finish his homework. The eyes in the back of the head work well during this stage.

Sometimes you have to be a master of the sleight of hand to avoid arguments between siblings, all the while trying to keep them on task to finish a project. Chaos can erupt at any given time with the constant battles of taking each others' things without permission. Then you're a referee.

Other times you have to adapt like a chameleon to their moods. It ebbs and flows, sometimes they need you, sometimes not... when to be a cheerleader, when to sit at home. The teenage years are famous for this dilemma. There are few mothers who have said motherhood is rewarding while her children were teenagers.

There are times when you're a prize fighter and beat yourself up for the things you did wrong. Then realization sets in that just as you don't expect your children to be perfect, you don't have to be perfect.

The best advice I can give any new Mom is to enjoy them because it goes by in a blink of an eye. Everyone tells you that, but you have to learn it yourself. Motherhood is not for the faint-of-heart; it's a role that's fraught with triumphs and tears and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Lee Ann Valetti
Bethel Park

"You'll never know until you're a parent" was one of my mother's favorite sayings.

Of course, she said it when she was frustrated when I came home past my curfew, or when I told her not to worry when I was meeting so and so, whom she didn't know. When you tell someone not to worry, they worry even more.

Now I have a daughter of my own so not only can I relate to the saying, I say it. My daughter went to college last fall and lives away from home. Both of our lives changed after she left and I don't get to make the curfew rules anymore. She drank a big gulp of freedom as did I.

A funny thing happened over her spring break when she came home for the week. I went out with friends, and as the night became more fun, and the hours went on, I never called or texted my daughter to let her know I would be later than usual. When I got home at 2 a.m., she was standing at the door with a relieved look on her face. The tables had turned.

"Now you know how it feels," I told her. My daughter has always been wiser than her years, so it's no surprise that she already has maternal concerns. Soon she'll be home for the summer break. We'll get used to each other again. We'll both do our fair share of worrying about the other. To me, that's the definition of mature love; mutual concern. The love between mother and child, in my opinion, is the greatest love of all. So if you are a mother, and you have a child, you know what I mean. And if you are not yet a mother, "you'll never know until you are one."

Susan Chikalla
Penn Hills

No, no one tells you what it's really going to be like when you get home from the hospital with the baby! I was one of the lucky mothers-to-be. Other than a few weeks of a queasy stomach, my pregnancy was a dream, perfect! I was very proud of my "natural" childbirth. In the hospital I was the queen bringing forth my princess. Elizabeth was an 8.9 pounds of beautiful baby who never required a 2 a.m. feeding. Could it be any better? Breast feeding ... Not so lovely. I tried for six months but gave in to the bottles after tears and bleeding nipples. And, why did I cry most mornings when my husband left to continue the same day-to-day lifestyle he had before we had the baby? My life changed drastically - his, not so much.

With the support of a wonderful mother and neighbors and friends also going through the trials of new motherhood, I muddled through infancy and a divorce and moved on to the joys of single, working motherhood. I did love being a mother, but was overwhelmed thinking about this little person who was completely dependent on me for everything. I took her to church, taught her to have faith and taught her to believe that with an excellent work ethic, she could accomplish anything.

It does take a village to raise a child. I've always been grateful for our village; it has changed over the years, but it has always been there. Elizabeth is a wife and mother, and this month will receive her master's degree. I raised a good woman ... not in spite of my failings, but more likely because of them. As mothers we are far from perfect, but we love hard and unfailingly; and our children benefit from our mistakes.

Lydia Cessna

Words forbidden in our home when our newborn arrived: shut up, perfect.

She's now 11 years old.

In my idealized world, Jaimee's born to my alter-ego, a rich and famous 30-something novelist. Alas, reality made her the only child of an Asian immigrant whose family lives halfway around the world. Worse, I'm not rich or famous. So?

With America's assertive influence on my docile Asian upbringing, I taught my daughter to speak up, to tell the truth even if others find her unpopular. To my delight, she asked many questions and defended her own opinions. In kindergarten, she was told that she talked too much. "That's because smart people have a lot to say," I explained to her. She kept on talking. And writing "I will not talk during class" many times in her lined notepad.

She brings home straight As in her report card. She plays clarinet and sings in her school choir. She performs folk dances with the Filipino American Association of Pittsburgh Dance Troupe. She's working on becoming a future famous singer-dancer-chef. Excellent! Fantastic! Not perfect. No such thing.

One Mother's Day years ago, she gave me a red ribbon inscribed with "#1 Mother." I smiled and kissed her. Thank you, I said, but I'm not that mother. Too much pressure! I told her that like most parents, I do my best in raising her; I told her that like other mothers, I make mistakes. I told her I knew this for a fact because I'm also a daughter and now a friend to my aging parents.

The red ribbon's hidden somewhere in our messy house. Someday I'd look for it. Right now we're too busy preparing for her upcoming choir, band and dance recitals. Then there's Kennywood, Raccoon Creek Park, Dairy Queen, summer camp...

Lorna M. Cabili

The call for essays by mothers attracted my attention due to the latest and most extraordinary and hilarious happening involving both my sons, one who just celebrated his 37th birthday and the offender (his older brother) who will be 40 in August. My older son figured he would take as much advantage as possible with his younger brother's birthday, knowing that he would be bombarded on his own upcoming birthday. He sent his brother a birthday bouquet of flowers with a card that read "Happy Birthday Sweet Cheeks!"

This birthday celebration followed up on a quick visit last month from the almost 40-year-old, who lives in Colorado. When my sons had brotherly time together in March, they went out beer tasting. The following morning I couldn't help but notice that they had made yellow designs in the snow in my backyard - just because. . .

When my sons were growing up, wrestling and mouthing off at each other, I feared that I would have to risk my life to separate them or throw myself in front of one of them to save his life. It seemed like I was always warning them to give one another space and less smart remarks. I doubted that I would ever make it as a single mom. As challenging, then fulfilling and satisfying as my motherhood is, I am so proud today of my two sons who have their master's degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, have great jobs and have presented me with three wonderful grandsons!

This may not be a Hallmark card but it is "our card alive!"

Marion Soranno Hunt

Motherhood is challenging especially when I developed Hodgkin's disease in 1972 while pregnant with my fifth child. My children watched me go through surgery, radiation, and chemo with all the after-effects. I think they grew up fast. If their tosseling ever turned into a fight, I explained that a hug was necessary. Needless to say, my children rarely fought. I just wanted my children to be able to brush their teeth and stand on their own two feet while reaching out to the world if I died. I can say now that we have only two fillings and as adults their jobs involve helping others. And I'm still here!

Patricia Orendorff Smith
Indiana, Pa.

Motherhood is the best gift. The minute you hold your first child, you understand why you were born. When the second and third come along, you worry that you will not have enough love or time to go around but, you do.

Then the fun begins: the sleepless nights due to feedings, teething, nightmares, potty training, speech lessons, swimming, little league, Boy and Girl Scouts and, camping. Now the TEENAGE YEARS!!

Childhood is a breeze compared to middle and high school. The fighting about what they can wear. The spats among groups of friends, swim meets (the gym teacher finding out she can swim), and touring prospective colleges. THE PROM (one attended with a broken wrist). GRADUATION!! YES!!

Now college and trade school. You worry about them getting to class on time, jobs while in college, not drinking (haha). One child going to Ireland to student teach for three months. One taking a break from college, and then surprising you by going back and finishing her degree.

First daughter got her degree in journalism and communications is now a legal assistant.

Second daughter with a degree in special education and a master's in drugs and alcohol and is a teacher for the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Son earned a carpenter's certificate and now has his own remodeling business.

You take a deep breath and realize you have three adults out working in the world. But the best is yet to come...

GRANDCHILDREN!! The biggest reward for raising three children, we have seven grandchildren (four boys and three girls). Now you can sit back and watch how they do it.

In the end, you wonder how you did it, but the best part of all: love, hugs and kisses.

Anna Reed Nichol

My reality of motherhood began with listening to the baby monitor while my first child slept. I realized I'd never sleep as soundly and easily as I had prior to becoming a mother - whether I slept lightly listening for my baby in case they needed me or listening for the teenagers and young adults to come through the door.

Motherhood smacked me into reality again when my second child was born. The doctor sat my baby boy on my pregnant belly and that baby turned and locked gazes with me and my husband with wide-open big brown eyes - it was as if he was connecting with me in a new way since we were no longer connected by an umbilical cord. Nineteen years later I can still see that moment completely clear. For me it reinforced that I had a higher purpose than just my own life. I brought a person into this world and it was mine and my husband's responsibility to assure that person would become a happy, responsible adult.

The reality of motherhood seized me again when my children turned 16. Mothers of younger children told me how lucky I was that my children were older and didn't need constant care. Those mothers were wrong. The worry of a dating daughter, of teenagers driving recklessly, of going away to college and of not knowing every move my children made and who they made those moves with was a thousand times worse than the constant needs of an infant and toddler.

My mother has told me that you never, ever stop being a mother. She's right. But I'm glad. I wouldn't trade motherhood for all the money in the world. It truly is the hardest, most important, and most well-paid volunteer job.

Carol Tignanelli,
North Versailles

While chaperoning my son's sixth grade class trip to Washington, D.C., I was initially overwhelmed with apprehension about being responsible for other children. By the trip's end, my anxiety turned to pride as I realized it was my son, and not me, who learned the lesson in responsibility.

For lunch one day, the entire class was dumped into an enormous food court with intertwining lines that seemingly stretched for miles. The children immediately split up based on food preferences rather than assigned groups, a nightmarish scenario for my fellow chaperones and me.

Taking my place in line on the far side of the food court, a chaperone flashed by me shouting that we need to hurry - as if there wasn't enough stress already! Several students came stampeding toward me to jump in line, but my son was not among them. I noticed him standing back in confusion, lost in the mayhem. It took all my strength to refrain myself from wrapping him into a huge bear hug in front of his friends, which surely would have been very embarrassing for him. I composed myself and beckoned him into the line with the rest of us.

On our return journey, we once again stopped for food in a crowded area. This time, it was my son who secured the spot in line and me who appeared lost. Noticing me alone in the back, my son took action and insisted that I join him and his friends in the front. I hesitated for fear of cutting ahead of others, but he remained adamant until I agreed. Though it was only a simple gesture, I realized my son had learned a very important lesson about taking responsibility for others. Fifteen years later, I still cherish the memory. I will cherish it forever.

Laura Schaefer

People say motherhood is like riding a roller coaster, but I think of it as visiting the whole amusement park.

It's true that we moms experience our share of heart-pounding thrills, those moments when exhilaration and panic meet. They include a child's many "firsts": His first steps. The first time she performs a solo onstage. The day you know they will leave you to go off to college or to live their own lives.

Raising kids makes us moms want to scream, too - but not in the hands-waving, "I'm having fun" way! (More like the Edvard Munch way!) From the time my kids were infants I've grit my teeth through stages I thought would never end, only to be surprised when a "good" stage of childhood ended far too soon...usually just as I had it figured out. I'm lucky, though. My frustrations have been over things like tantrums and missed homework assignments; maybe a few outbursts over my lack of time and sleep. Many moms deal with far worse.

People like to compare motherhood to riding a roller coaster, but a roller coaster can't convey the bumper-car silliness of watching your son goof around in the backyard with his buddies. Or the lazy-river-calm of rocking your baby in the middle of night. Or feeling like you've won the biggest prize in the world when you see your teenager show extra kindness toward a classmate who's a little different or, unexpectedly, toward you.

I'm amazed at how much I've learned as a mom and yet how little I know sometimes. Motherhood has its highs and lows, but it isn't a closed, predictable loop. With every sight, every sound, every ride, every day, I discover something new about my children and myself.

Susan Courtad

It's very difficult to for me to put into words all that I feel as a mother. I have four boys ranging from twin 3-year-olds to age 9. All four of my boys have special needs. Three of four are deaf and wear cochlear implants and two of four have an autism spectrum disorder. They are four very different boys who have defined who I am as a person, a wife and as a mother. Everything I am is because of who they are.

The challenges are endless but that goes without saying. What needs to be shared is because of those challenges I have a deeper understanding and appreciation of every little milestone they achieve. I don't take for granted the words that they speak or how often. I cherish them and remind myself of when they couldn't hear me at all. I cried when my 8-year-old heard live music for the first time and began to dance. I listen to my 9-year-old play Beethoven on the violin and walk to the keyboard and play it again. I laugh when my twins play teacher and doctor to each other because of the countless hours they spent with the ENT for their surgeries and language therapy afterward to learn to listen and speak with their new implants.

I find myself drawn to my husband more now than ever watching him read to our children or wrestle with them on the trampoline although he is exhausted from working so hard so that I can be a full time mother to our boys. He supports me fully so that I can go to their IEP meetings, doctor appointments, speech therapy, audiology appointments, school programs, music programs, play groups, and social groups. I can do all of these things so that they can be provided with every opportunity to succeed in life.

I don't need them to have the best. I want them to have values, respect others, and treat people the way they would like to be treated. But I also want them to be independent and to advocate for themselves and their needs. I know that not everyone will see them as the amazing, loving children that I see. Not everyone will understand why they act differently in situations; why they may jump or sing or bounce or talk to loudly and what those things are on their heads. But it doesn't matter if everyone understands. I am blessed to be given these four amazing children. And I know that others have been touched by them as well. This journey is not about me but them, their path, their struggles and their success. I am just grateful to have been given the opportunity part of it.

Jennifer Guthrie

I will be married 50 years this October. I have been a mom for 49 of those years. I have laughed, cried, smiled, hugged, treasured moments, hated moments and rejoiced all 49 years.

Our first child, our son, was born 11 months after we were married. I had never known such joy. Our second son, was born three years later, and died two days after his full-term birth, because the two chambers on the left side of his heart never developed. I had never known such sadness and pain. Our third child, our daughter, was born two years later, and I again experienced the unbelievable joy of being a mom.

I was blessed to be able to raise two children that loved me. I have seen my son marry a wonderful woman and share in the birth of their two beautiful children. This was a joy I had never felt; the love of your children's children. My daughter moved to Delaware after graduating from college and she is a wonderful teacher there. She has been living away for 20 years. I miss her every day even though I talk to her every day and visit her often.

I have shared the death of my children's grandparents with them, helping to comfort them. Children do not easily understand the loss of grandparents. I have also experienced the comfort of my children as they have hugged me during my times of sadness.

I would do it all again. I have been blessed to grow with my children. I have laughed, cried, smiled, hugged and treasured moments, hated moments and rejoiced in all those 49 years.

Dee Krugh

Mother's Day is not only for one day but throughout the year as my grandmother used to say.

I remember getting a homemade card from my daughter when she was little not only wishing me a Happy Mommy Day, but also Happy Pappy Day.

Yes, these same little hands that made the card and the ones I used to hold when crossing the street were getting bigger every day. No longer did she need my help with school projects and homework. She was getting independent. She used to say, "I don't need your help, I can do it myself," then falling down, getting up and realizing that help was needed and my helping hand was there.

Letting go of her hand was hard yet to see the struggle in life isn't easy. The memories that I hold dear are the Halloween costumes I made, baking cookies in the middle of the night because she forgot to tell me about the parties and the bake sales yet this thankless job keeps going throughout the years.

The rewards and tears are there but most of all there is the Mother's Curse may your kids do what you did to me. Sure enough it comes true. So beware future mothers that there is a God watching out for you so treat your mother well. You only have one and someday she might not be there to hold your hand. A mother's hand may be older and yours may be bigger but a helping hand is there, outstretched waiting to be held again. She gave you hugs and kisses, wiped your tears when you needed them so on this Mother's Day remember the laughter in your house was due to a mother's love and a hand that was outstretched.

Sherry Bulisco

When I think of my 2-year-old son, it often brings to memory a whole slew of movie analogies that could make you either laugh or cry at their accurate absurdities. With the "terrible two" tantrums, even the smallest NO leads to an apocalyptic, end of times meltdown in which my son must fight and conquer Satan...me. "The Bad Seed," "Chuckie," "Rosemary's Baby"; All of these movies surge to my mind in one tsunami-sized wave while I'm [im]patiently waiting for my son's blood-curdling, glass-shattering screams to subside.

"Why do you hate me so much?" "what have I done to deserve this punishment?" Those are my very own mini-tantrums I throw in my mind. Or how about Captain Hook's description of children in the '90s movie "Hook": "I want a cookie, I want a party; want, want, want, me, me, me, now, now, now". These are the lines you learn to quote as a child, and dread as a parent. It's nothing short of a miracle that my hair isn't entirely white and my blood level dangerously high. Where did the sweet, innocent baby who loved his mommy go? And can I get him back?

But then I think of those special moments that only he and I share, when we are alone: The small ways in which I see him blossoming from that helpless, tiny baby into a strong, charismatic little man. Instances when I realize he is exactly like me. Moments when he demonstrates the gentleness and tenderness I had hoped he would learn to emulate as a man: placing my face in his hands, asking me if I'm ok when I stub a toe and cry out in pain, a soft palm slowly caressing my arm, hugging and caring for his stuffed toys. I soak up the rich, organic scent of his sweaty hair, the sticky sweetness of his breath. I wish I could bottle them up and when I'm old and brittle open up that bottle and remember that I was, and always will be, a mother. From my body came the most perfect, sacred being; And he is loved more than he'll ever know. There is just too much pride in my heart to feel or think anything besides the deepest, most unbreakable love imaginable.

Sara Marmo
Highland Park

Reflecting on my experiences as a mother, my thoughts turn first to how very busy we always were, as a family. As a working mother, my biggest challenge was finding enough time for everyday chores and special events. The everyday chores could sometimes be overlooked, but we never overlooked the special events. Among other activities, we never missed a performance as my older son marched with the high school band, and I never missed any of my younger son's soccer games. I never realized how much I would miss these events until they ended.

My sons' college years brought new challenges, the greatest of which was emotional, with their absence from the household. We kept in close touch by sharing a meal, usually on a monthly basis, and always tried to have both sons present, even though they were not in college at the same time.

Our sons are grown men now, and when I see the success they have achieved in their own lives, I realize that my husband and I set an example for living, without even knowing that they were watching. My older son is a dad now, and it is wonderfully fulfilling to observe his parenting skills. My younger son has a nice career and has moved closer to home to be helpful to his parents. Life lessons learned in growing up are evident in both of these men. There is no greater pleasure in motherhood than to see your children grow into adulthood, while staying close to their parents and each other in mind and spirit, if not always physically so.

Carol Gordon

On the off-chance that I can help any other family, I want to share my son Harper's story.

In the summer 2011, while the kids and I were in Arkansas, Harper had two (possibly three) seizures. Knowing what I know now, I can call these complex-partial seizures, but at the time of the first episode, I and the local doctor thought that Harper choked on a pretzel. I did things that I shouldn't have done, like prying open his clenched jaw in a misplaced effort to clear his airway, and I did some things I should. I held him and comforted him and took him to a local doctor and called his pediatrician in Pittsburgh.

Let me be clear. These are not fall-on-the-ground-and-shake seizures. A child experiencing complex-partial seizures can, for a minute or two, simply lose awareness or appear stuck in a repetitive movement (lip smacking, tapping, etc.) or mutter or wander aimlessly. Often-and thankfully this was the case each time with Harper-they won't remember anything that happened.

While it was easy (and even comforting) to apply the 'choking' label to the first incident, his second seizure only a few days later was different. His breathing was so shallow it was nearly imperceptible. In fact, when I walked into the kitchen and saw my dad holding him, I thought Harper was dead. I held him. I took a deep breath. I called his pediatrician in Pittsburgh. She calmly but firmly told me to drive the hour and a half to Little Rock and Arkansas Children's Hospital.

We left the hospital with emergency seizure medication and instructions to follow up with our pediatrician and a neurologist and recommendations for an EEG and an MRI. Through the heroic (in my opinion) efforts and influence of our fabulous pediatrician, within three weeks of his first seizure Harper had an EEG, a neurologist and a diagnosis of epilepsy.

Although we don't know what caused the seizures, the MRI confirmed they are not a result of structural problems or damage in his brain.

Two years later, we are managing his condition with daily medication (and a supplement to manage the side effects of the daily medication). We put together a bigger team to help him - neurodevelopmental pediatrician, an occupational therapist, a neurologist, a preschool teacher. We are taking steps to address behavioral concerns and mood swings that have become a daily (or hourly, or every-minute) issue.

Please don't worry about Harper or feel sorry for him or wish that this hadn't happened.

Epilepsy hasn't changed Harper. And I am determined that controlling it and living with it won't change him either.

If this leaves you wondering what you can do or how you can help, we ask that you:

1) Support medical research and the scientists and clinicians who dedicate their lives to it. (Give to and participate in and vote and advocate for any medical research that appeals to you. You'd be surprised how many breakthroughs result from interdisciplinary and cross-disease research.)

2) Learn about medical conditions in your families. (Although epilepsy is generally inherited, we can find no history of it in our families.)

3) Get an annual physical and establish a relationship of trust with your primary care doctor. (Our pediatrician took the lead in ensuring that Harper got the exact care he needed-even when we were in another state.)

4) Love the people around you for every bit of who they are. (Love their overly energetic brain waves and their irregular heartbeats and their cancer cells and their depression. Just love them.)

Traci Weatherford-Brown
Brighton Heights

It's Mother's Day again. It only comes once a year, and then it's the forgotten profession. I never did quite understand it - no sooner did I bring my firstborn home from the hospital than people started asking "When are you going back to work?"

But this IS work!

It is physically and emotionally exhausting. I hated the colic and the temper tantrums, but I loved tucking them into their beds each night with their stuffed animals under their arms.

All through the school years I watched them endeavor; they would fall and pick themselves up again, and beam with delight as they figured out for themselves how to do things. But work and money are realities. Everytime I had a job interview I was aksed to write a short essay about my career goals. I would wonder if every woman had to lie as much as I did. Through all the years the girls were under my roof, I took in every stray cat they brought home. There were five cats in all, with a median lifespan of 15 years. The girls went off to college and employment while their cats remained with me to be cared for.

My daughters now live in the 21st century. Their greatest joy in life has yet to be determined. I am still in the 20th century. My greatest joy was molding their little minds and structuring their long days. My jobs and employers came and went. I collected my yearly reviews, my accumulated days off, my updated lists of contacts. I have a clean bill of health, an inherited IRA, a social security check, and a computer. None of these things bring me the satisfaction and gratitude that motherhood did.

Children don't remain children forever. Maybe this is why motherhood is given such short shrift. The world wants us to move on and tackle something else. I'm happy with my chosen profession. Even if the world acknowledges it for only one day a year.

Cheryl Potance

mobilehome - lifestyle

First Published May 12, 2013 4:00 AM


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