A Mother's Help
by Allie O. Williams
Author’s Note: I’m writing this in a cautious way because I don’t want to seem glib. My relationship with our Blessed Mother has been marvelously enriched since I realized we shared experiences as wives and mothers. Her position in the Catholic Church as God’s most obedient servant was something well examined during my grade school years at Annunciation School in Cincinnati, Ohio. My early years told me that she and I didn’t have too much in common. I wasn’t an obedient child but I admired Mary’s love of God. After I married and had children, the Gospel accounts of Mary made me realize that she was also a wife and mother. Across 2000 years, I felt her anguish when Jesus was lost in the temple, I recognized her desire to help out at the friends’ wedding by asking her Son to “do something”, and I’m terrified to feel her anguish at the foot of the cross when her Son died. The Gospels report that, regarding her Son, Mary kept things “in her heart” to reflect on later. That line resonated with me, because whether you are caring for your family in the Middle East during the year 10 AD or in the USA today, mothers share the same emotions.
Over time, I began to see her as a “girlfriend” who hears, understands and helps me because she has experienced all the feelings of motherhood. She’s not hanging over the back fence to borrow a cup of sugar, but make no mistake, she’s a mother in the Vocational sense of the word. And as any good supportive friend, she’s there for us, encouraging us to seek intercession. So I do seek her counsel in family matters. While raising our children in this challenging culture, I often asked, “What Would Mary Do?” In prayerful consideration, I made many parental decisions based on her guidance.
So let me begin my curious tale of a deeply intimate relationship with the BVM that began on July 8, 1994.
I grew up Catholic, in the ‘50s and ‘60s. A little family practice, cultivated by my Irish grandmother, is “looking for signs”. It wasn’t needed as proof of God’s love but just as reinforcement of our faith.
When our children were 10 and 8, we were moving to a small rural town from our long-time home, due to a job change for my husband. We loved our lives in that place, and it was an effort for me to leave. The day before the movers came, I was packing up the last of the kitchen stuff, looking out the window and watching the kids and their friends playing one last time in our big back yard. The children had worked hard putting together a time capsule, which contained Legos and Barbie shoes and a note to the future discoverer describing the many happy hours that they had spent out there.
I was feeling pretty emotional about the whole thing and started to panic, worrying that we weren’t going to be good enough parents to help the kids through this transition. I have never felt more inadequate as a mom. Could I do it? “Mother of God, help me do this!” Our lives had been so blessed. We hadn’t faced any real challenges.
“Mother Mary, please help me”, I prayed as I packed and looked at the kids and their friends all huddled up and digging furiously to bury their time capsule at the distant edge of the yard, up against a fence we had installed years before. Suddenly, they stopped their work. I could see them exchanging some excited conversation. The five of them congealed into a single unit of twenty legs and arms flailing furiously as they ran together and burst into the house.
“Look what we found!” exclaimed our son, Rob. As the oldest and tallest he was the default spokesman, thrusting a muddy mitt in my face, his fist clutching a clay-encrusted hunk of plastic. “It’s Mary and I found it”, cried our littlest neighbor, Maggie, firmly asserting her role. “But it was in our yard”, hollered our daughter, Elizabeth.
You get the picture of the commotion and excitement. By now I was examining the statue. Sure enough, it was a cheap plastic statue of the Blessed Virgin. Where in the world did that come from? We’d been there for ten years. I was sure every square inch had been excavated in that time. Why did she bubble up from the yard at the very moment I was praying for help? Right as I was asking myself if I was “enough” mother, I saw the kids stop their digging and start examining. It was a sign!
In utter amazement, as I was fingering this six-inch, tan, plastic statue, I “heard” her respond to my query of being enough mother. “You silly girl, you haven’t done this by yourself so far and you won’t have to do it alone from here on. You’ve watched the children out the kitchen window while I’ve been against the fence. We’ve kept the children safely between us all these years. Now finish packing. We’ve got to move”. I was immediately filled with calm and confidence, humbled that I received such a strong, obvious answer to my prayer. I’m not devout enough to expect such a wonderful blessing but maybe I needed it more than my other friends. Unceremoniously, I put the statue right in with the kitchen stuff.
A few days later, when we had settled into the new house, I unpacked the kitchen goods that contained the curious statue and cleaned her up. I took the time to reflect on the experience and what I thought I heard the Blessed Virgin Mary say. She was right, we don’t parent alone. None of us is a good enough parent to take such competent care of our kids and deliver them to adulthood unscathed. If we think we’re the Martha Stewarts of motherhood, then we are participating in supreme arrogance. We have divine help and protection throughout our lives. If we’re Catholic, we even get some “bonuses”. We have the graces of a Sacramental marriage and we have the Blessed Mother to look out for us.
I decided not to re-bury the image of Mary in the new yard, but put her on the kitchen window sill. Backyard play sets gave way to bigger worries, and I was grateful to have the physical reminder of the little statue. Parenting requires careful, humble and prayerful contemplation. Discernment and wisdom are essential to lovingly guide children to adulthood, whole in body and soul.
I used the time in the kitchen with my companion to mull over decisions and directions that my husband and I were contemplating regarding our children. Once they started driving, I turned the image of Mary to face the general direction that the kids would be traveling, reminding them that in addition to their worried parents, the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose statue they had found, was doing her best to watch over them, too. I think their personal experience with the little statue made them more responsible and careful.
Now nearly grown up, it was time for college. Our son Rob went to Notre Dame. At the end of freshman orientation, as my husband and I were walking away from his dorm, we were struggling with the usual parental anxieties. Not in my kitchen, out of sight of my friend Mary, I went right to the loop of thoughts in my head centered around fear whether he was going to be okay without us. For one last glance, I looked over my shoulder back toward his dorm, and I saw him standing outside, meekly waving to us.
A glint in the sky drew my eyes upward, past Rob, as I was mumbling a prayer for his protection. The glint was the famous golden dome, which was shimmering brightly. Do you know what is on top of the golden dome? I didn’t until I received another of grandma’s signs. Our Blessed Mother is standing up there, with her arms outstretched over the students. She was perched on the dome, and as I was making my way to the car our boy was standing between us, at the very beginning of his adult journey.
Allie O. Williams is the mother of two children, who were educated in Catholic schools from kindergarten through college. She has worked as a nurse and college instructor in education, and did health education for a Catholic pro-life organization. She and her husband of nearly 30 years live in Portsmouth, Ohio.
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