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2012 Mother’s Day Cover Mom Contest winners

1st place: What I learned from my mother about being a great mom

By Mary Weisse • Photos by Daniel Friedman

My mom played with her kids. I don’t just mean in the normal ways every mom plays with her kids. She got down on the floor and played with us. I know a lot of moms who never do this and they are still great moms, but to me this was something that made my mom special.

Our house was where all the other kids wanted to come play. She once let my best friend and me turn our entire living room into a fort that literally used every couch cushion in our house. To top it off, she let us keep it up for a week. I knew that was pretty awesome at the time, but it really sinks in when you stop to contemplate this situation in your own home.

My 4-year-old son Jimmy and I are pretty frequent fort builders, and when he begs me to let him leave them up for “just one more day,” I can’t help but give in. Thank goodness living in an immaculate house would be unnatural for me. I would much rather live in a messy one where kids are having fun.

I would hardly put myself on par with my own mother’s patience and kindness (I still work on those quite a bit), but I like to think her playfulness rubbed off on me. In my house we make massive pretend-play setups of everything from LEGOs and Little People to cardboard boxes turned into airports. Currently, an entire room of my house is dedicated to a Playmobil Swiss Family Robinson island. I am confident my mother would be proud.

We were never spoiled because we never had enough money to be, but my mom had a talent for finding ways to make things special. We would wake up on birthdays or holidays to find decorations and treats. She would let us play hooky from school to go to a spring training game. She managed to plan creative birthday parties and take us on amazing vacations. She knew that family time should come above all else. We never had a beautiful house or nice clothes or fancy meals. As a kid sometimes I was embarrassed about that, but now I can’t thank her enough for giving us wonderful and happy memories instead of lots of “things.”

I wish I could talk to her now and ask her how she did it all, but I can’t. She passed away more than six years ago. My greatest sadness is that she will never get to meet my two boys, Jimmy and Gus. I think the only way that they will ever get to know even a piece of her is through me. When they grow up I want them to be able to brag to their friends about how awesome their mom was in the same way I still brag about mine.

Mary Weisse, of Phoenix, is the mother of Jimmy (4) and Gus (18 months).

About our contest
This is the fourth year Raising Arizona Kids has conducted an essay contest to select a Mother’s Day Cover Mom. For her winning essay, Mary Weisse of Phoenix and her family will enjoy a LEGOLAND California adventure, including four two-day Resort Hopper Tickets (valued at $400) and a three day/two night stay at the The Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa.

Our runners up
Margaret Caldwell of Gilbert and Bonnie Chowaniec of Phoenix, will receive valuable gift certificates from promotional partners Desert Ridge Marketplace and Westgate City Center.

RUNNER UP: bonnie chowaniec of PhoeniX

The treasures my mom entrusted into my safekeeping have taken a lifetime to unpack and to polish, and I know there are even more left to discover. Some of the most important riches she offered were simply invisible until I had children of my own. Others were bright and shiny, like the best new toys. And still others, the ones that would become my most prized, looked for the longest time like big old, misshapen rocks that I figured to be stuck lugging around for the rest of my life.

Bonnie Chowaniec with her two sons. Photo courtesy of the family.

One of my mom’s most fundamental teachings, which has become visible through the years, is that it takes great, enduring effort to build a beautiful life. Daily, she demonstrates that if you fix your sights on that beautiful life and stay optimistic about your chances of building it, then there’s nothing that can stop you; that time is wasted on complaining — whatever obstacles and disappointments may arise – and better served through responsibility and determination. The brightest and shiniest gift was the one she wanted so much for herself but believed her early experiences had placed out of reach. She would point it out to me though, over and again through the years, saying, “Take this one! Take this one and fly!” What was that tantalizing gem, the one that seemed beyond reach until recently? Passionate independence: The ability and self-confidence required to follow our highest and best dreams. Neither of us could figure out how to grab hold of that one and still maintain the intimate families we also fiercely desired. But, look mom! I’m finding my way, at last. I’ve learned that to be the best mom I can be, I have to be my whole self.

I thought those big old misshapen rocks were the one legacy from my mom that I could definitely live without. Heavy, awkward, none too pretty, they always seemed to be getting in my way. Of course, she had unknowingly hurt me in the ways she herself had been hurt. I spent longer than I care to admit convinced I always would be held back, chained to these damn rocks. To get free of them, I finally started chiseling away and, to my astonishment, I found they were diamonds, rubies, emeralds. I had to put in the work to reveal their deep and lasting value. And now, of course, I have even more treasures to pass on to my sons.

Claiming the treasures of our hearts is hard work. It requires a sort of invisible sweat, an abundant number of tears and other difficult feelings, and above all else, a commitment to love. It’s the last bit that makes all the rest of it possible. And the commitment to love is my most cherished treasure from mom. No matter what pain we’ve inflicted on one another, what’s always mattered most to her, and to me, is that the bond of our love remains healthy and strong. That’ll get you through anything.

RUNNER UP: Margaret Caldwell of Gilbert

When I was four years old, my father died from a sudden heart attack. My 33-year old mother was a housewife, taking part-time nursing classes. As the youngest of four siblings, I don’t remember much about my dad. I have lots of implanted memories my mother has kept alive by telling vivid stories, although she sometimes confuses which kid the story was about. But when I look back on my childhood, I don’t feel cheated; I only have warm memories and immense feelings of love.

Margaret Caldwell with Cameron (2) and Callum (7). Photo courtesy of the family.

When my father passed away, my mother began working to make ends meet while going to school full time. She worked nights and went to nursing school during the day so she could be with us when we got home from school. I still don’t know when she slept. She made every school game, performance and recital. I’m sure she would rather have been sleeping, but to her kids, she never complained. My mother graduated Summa Cum Laude with her Masters in psychiatric nursing, teaching us what you can achieve with hard work and determination.

When my grandmother became too ill to live alone, my mother took her in. She cared for her ailing mother for several very difficult years. The stress of working, four children and elder care must have exhausted her, but I rarely saw it.
My mother has faced hardship and knows how to appreciate life and family. Over the years she’s shared her experiences in speeches to grieving widows, stressed parents and burdened caregivers. In a recent speech about parenting stress she said “Children don’t know about your stressful day, and shouldn’t, they only know that they want you and need you now.” I guess that is why I only have loving memories of my childhood because she worked so hard to make that the reality.
My mother recently retired and has become a full time grandma. Visiting each child and grandchild, she’s careful to spread herself evenly. As a mother and grandmother she continues to show me how love can keep a family together and make it flourish.

My mother’s wisdom enters my life daily. I learned to treasure my children and see things from their perspective. I learned to take care of those you love. I learned laughter can be the best medicine. I learned to be a good role model and forgive the driver who cuts you off; they could be having a really bad day. I learned to celebrate life’s little victories. I learned that life happens, people die, so say “I love you” often. And most importantly I learned that a mother’s love can comfort, heal and strengthen.

Now that I have my own children I find her shoes awfully tough to fill. As amother of two, I yell, tire and feel frustrated. I try to handle situations with all the skills my mother taught me. But if I don’t know exactly what to do, she is just a phone call away.