When people learn I am the youngest of six girls, the comment I most often hear is, “Six girls?! Your poor father!” I have no desire to diminish the impact our father had on all of us, but I think when it comes to raising six headstrong girls, the parent who deserves accolades is our mother.
My mother, Caroline, was born in the Bronx, the third child of recent immigrants from Italy. She once told me the midwife who delivered her told her mother, my Noni, “She looks like a perfect china doll.” She has been “Dolly” to her family and close friends her entire life. The name suits her. This petite dynamo who stands 4 feet 11 inches on a good day and weighs in at less than 100 pounds is indeed a doll. She is an eternal optimist who doesn’t dwell on her problems but finds reasons to be grateful each day.
I wish I had known Mom as a young woman. We have so much fun together now, and I suspect we would have caused some trouble back then. When we look at old photographs from the 1940’s and 1950’s together I see a happy woman with a wide gap-toothed smile and sparkling eyes. From the many pictures with family and friends, it is clear she always enjoyed parties and socializing. My Noni was a seamstress who shared her sense of fashion with her daughters. The dresses, hats, and shoes they wore make them look like models from the pages of Life.
Mom is kind to everyone. I have never heard her say anything mean about anyone and I have never heard her swear. Her strong faith guides her actions of charity towards others. If you stop at her house, you will not leave without eating – even if you are not hungry. There is always room for one more at her table, and in Dolly’s house the best discussions always happen at the kitchen table.
My parents, who completed high school, were determined all of us would have the chance to go to college. We all went and finished, with half of us continuing on to complete graduate degrees. Mom wanted us to be able to stand on our own without depending on someone else to take care of us.
My love of socializing with others comes from Mom. She plans a great party and enjoys a chance to celebrate. Mom doesn’t worry about wine stains on her good tablecloths and when I was in high school would occasionally set the table on a weeknight with the ‘good china’ just because.
Mom has told me she knew something was ‘different’ about me soon after she brought me home from the hospital. I asked her how she felt and what she experienced when she learned about my disability. Her matter of fact answer has always stayed with me – “I figured if God gave you to me, He must have known I’d know how to manage. I’ve always just done the best I could.”
The lesson that we are never given more than we can handle and we always need to do our best is one I have always tried to keep forefront in my mind. Thank you Mom for encouraging us to always strive for excellence, to ignore those who try to limit our potential, and to be grateful for each and every day.