Mary Oronte, "Grammy" to 18-month-old Harper. Mary has devoted her time to helping her family, moving from San Francisco to Vermont and Chicago, and frequently visits her niece battling cancer in Missouri. Mary volunteers with PAWS and Lincoln Park Zoo's Edible Garden Program.
Carrying a child for nine months, giving birth, and then setting aside your needs to raise a human being warrants a special “thank you” to every mother, not just mine. But I can only speak to the unending devotion my mother has shown to me, my family, and to many others. Now that I am 32 years old and have started my own family, I have become mindful both of the incessant demands that come with motherhood, and of the grace and steadfastness with which my mother has met those demands. It has become clear to me that my mother, through acts simple and extraordinary, has dedicated her life not only to me, but also to so many others. She is seemingly tireless.
In a page, I would not do justice to the way my mother raised me on her own, working full-time and setting aside her needs to provide me a strong foundation and comfortable childhood. Instead, I’ll focus on the tireless demeanor and everyday acts of kindness I have observed since my mother moved close by, a few years ago.
In 2010, my mom was living in Vermont, having left her life in San Francisco to care for her elderly mother. During that time, I was pregnant with my first child and preparing for life as a new mom in Chicago. My grandmother deteriorated quickly during the late stages of my pregnancy, and my mother struggled to balance her time between her dying mother and the birth of her first grandchild. She travelled back and forth, caring for both of us. Ultimately, she found a way to be at my grandmother’s bedside when she passed, and there to hold a cool washcloth to my forehead as I delivered my daughter. Like so many times before, she was seemingly ever present for both of us, content to play a supportive role during some of the biggest moments in her life.
Following my grandmother’s death, my mother moved to Chicago to be closer to me, and to assist with the care of her new granddaughter, Harper. She sacrificed her career as a veterinary technician, and embraced her new role as childcare provider, and Grammy. She and Harper spend their days exploring the city of Chicago, visiting the nature museum, attending music classes, and frequenting the Wildcat Den to play with other neighborhood friends. I continue to be amazed by my mother’s energy and creativity, true necessities for keeping pace with a busy 18-month-old.
In addition to the bond that she has built with my daughter, I have been impressed with the speed with which my mother has embraced her new community. In short time, she has befriended everyone from the garbage man to the dry cleaner, and knows the name and demeanor of every neighborhood dog. Applying her skill for working with animals, my mother has committed literally hundreds of volunteer hours to PAWS (Chicago’s top pet adoption organization). She volunteers at least twice per week, and has quickly been promoted from an entry-level volunteer to an adoption counselor. But for someone who finds joy in hard work, this hasn’t been enough. In addition to her childcare responsibilities and involvement with PAWS, she also volunteers as part of the Edible Garden Program at the Lincoln Park Zoo every Thursday. There, she educates children about the benefits of plants and vegetables and assists with the actual gardening of the zoo farm.
Apart from her local endeavors, my mother has found time to support even those who aren’t nearby. This year, my 26-year-old cousin was diagnosed with cancer. She has endured surgery and an excruciating course of chemotherapy, which has put a tremendous strain on my cousin, Mina, and her immediate family. Without a thought towards cost or personal convenience, my mother has traveled to Missouri on multiple occasions simply to lend a hand or provide a shoulder to cry on. She has been integrally involved in Mina’s care, and has found subtle, but effective ways to support Mina and all those suffering alongside her.
Though we are fortunate not to have faced a devastating tragedy, and while my mothers efforts and accomplishments aren’t otherwise newsworthy, my mother exhibits a tireless devotion to all those around her that is truly exemplary. She approaches her day-to-day duties with an energy that injects even mundane tasks with purpose and meaning. Yet, while she seems incapable of tiring, there is no one who is truly immune to fatigue. It would be a great honor to provide her with a day of rest and beauty- a day where she can finally be the object of others’ attention. I would be grateful for this opportunity to show my appreciation to someone who truly asks for nothing, and provides everything.