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One Mom’s Story

In 1968, I gave birth to my son Mark. I was 21. He was completely reliant on me and I had to learn very quickly.

At 3 months, Mark’s little face came alive. His blurry eyes became clear blue and opened wide. Smiles, then laughter. Mark turned into a little chubby person. He laughed all the time; at my funny faces, when I tickled him or when we’d play airplane. Mark’s learning to roll over, sit up and crawl were precious milestones to watch. Quickly, his little feet ran. He thought it was fun to run away from me and see if I could catch him. It all happens so fast.

Like all moms, I envisioned Mark growing into a strong, reliant, prosperous and happy young man. So much promise. So many challenges along the way. I worried that I wouldn’t be up to the task. But there was no choice. God gave Mark to me. I had to give my all to Mark.

Blog-post author Sister Mary Tomlinson with her son Mark. (photo © Artlynn Photography)

Becoming a Working Mom

When Mark was about 8 months old, his father came home one night and said he was going back to school and that I needed to go to work. He wanted to get a master’s degree. We lived in California at the time. Parting with my little boy, even for the daytime, was hard.

So, I found a babysitter and got a job at a clinic working for three pediatricians – at least I got free doctor visits for Mark. I fell into the world of being a working mom. After Mark’s dad got his degree, we moved back to Chicago. I got a job at an insurance company downtown.

Mark did well in kindergarten. While he was an average student in the early grades, his grades fell as the years went by. The teachers would tell me, “He’s so bright. If only he applied himself.” I had no idea how to make that happen.

I divorced when Mark was 12.

Rising up to challenges

All through elementary school and into high school, he never rose to his potential. I was so tired at night, that I hardly had the energy to help with homework, so it just didn’t get done. When I went for parent/teacher conferences, it was the same story.

People would ask me how Mark liked school. I would joke that he was a solid D-student. All that changed when he was a junior. The school offered a college night. Something lit up in him. He came home and announced, “I’m going to Illinois State University and majoring in marketing!” I was shocked! The prospect of Mark going to college was something I never believed could happen. The representatives from Illinois State University told him he could probably get in if he improved his grades.

One day soon after this, I went to the school for parent/teacher conferences. Every teacher I went to told me how smart Mark was and that his future was bright. I wondered if they were talking about my Mark. After the conferences, I left the school crying, overwhelmed. Mark was on the steps waiting for me. He said one word: “So?” I hugged him so hard, cried, and told him how proud I was. He turned it around! All by himself. God was watching over us.

Mark finished high school on the honor roll and went to Illinois State University and got a degree in marketing. I could hardly believe I was there watching Mark graduate. There were tears of joy and tears of relief. What marvelous things can happen!

He worked hard and was able to have those extra things in life. He had a beautiful home. They went on vacations, sometimes twice a year. He grew into mid-life and felt settled. All his hard work had paid off. He was proud of himself, as he should have been.

He grew into the strong, reliant and prosperous young man I had hoped for. He wanted a family; the one he never had. He wanted kids and to be a good dad. He has four daughters, my granddaughters. They are all delightful and different from one another. Cameron is 19 and a sweet young woman. Samantha is 13 and cheerful and energetic. Bailey is 12 and clever and upbeat. Mia is 10 and such a darling.

Overcoming adversity to be hopeful again

Six years ago, Mark’s wife left him for another man. He never saw it coming. He was shattered. He was gripped in anger, depressed and his confidence was reduced to rubble.

As the painful divorce unfolded, he was in great pain and couldn’t see any window of hope. I spent many hours with him, often days at a time. I gave him a strong shoulder to cry on and listened as he vented. He just needed for me to be there with him. Slowly, he was able to see light and life. A life he is still carving out for himself. He’s such a good dad to his daughters. He’s hopeful again. He’s made a lovely new home for his girls.

I’m a much better mom today than when Mark was young. He tells me I’m his “rock” and that he never would have come through the last few years without me.

We are closer now than ever before and that makes me feel really good. So many adult children shy away from mom’s voice, believing her to be out of touch. I don’t experience that with Mark. My attentiveness to him gives me life as I’m proud of my growing into that rock he can rely on. Mark needed his mom and I was pleased that my hard-won strength was there for him.

We have come through the bright spots and faced the darkness that sometimes clouded both our lives. Both of us have faced life head on, with whatever our journeys threw at us. Despite the 21-year difference in our ages, today, both of us are hopeful for the future.

Being Mark’s mom. Life-giving? Absolutely! A challenge? Absolutely! A gift? Beyond measure!

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Sister Mary Tomlinson

Sister Mary Tomlinson

Sister Mary Tomlinson has been a Sister of Providence for 30 years. She is currently retired and ministers doing freelance grant writing work. Sister Mary works from a home base in the Chicago area where she lives near her son and his family, including her four granddaughters.

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  1. Avatar Mary Montgomery on May 9, 2021 at 8:02 am

    Happy Mother’s Day, Mary! Thanks for this wonderful article of love, faithfulness family, etc! 🙏💖🌻

  2. Avatar Donna Butler on May 9, 2021 at 9:48 am

    What a wonderful Mother’s Day story!

  3. Avatar Paula Modaff SP on May 9, 2021 at 10:16 am

    Mary, your gifts of resilience and compassion empowered Mark and continue to support him. Thank you and praise Providence!

  4. Avatar Kelly on May 9, 2021 at 9:27 pm

    What a great story of motherhood ; so relatable and hope offering.

  5. Avatar Marilyn Kofler, SP on May 10, 2021 at 3:51 pm

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful Mark/Mary story! Only a devoted mother like you knows the amount of sacrifice that goes into raising a child in these days….and the 70s and 80s were no cakewalk….May you continue to be an inspiration and blessing to Mark and your four granddaughters! And may the future be filled with many tender moments and tears of joy as together you and Mark move forward with ever-deepening care and love for one another!

  6. Avatar Denise Wilkinson on May 11, 2021 at 2:33 pm

    Mary, this reflection is well worth the time and prayer you put into it. More worthwhile are the experiences you share of motherhood.

  7. Avatar Peg Benson on May 12, 2021 at 8:15 am

    Mary, thank you for your generosity in sharing your personal motherhood story which is oh, so relatable. Hoping that one day Mark is enveloped by the love of a woman who adds even more love to your beautiful family.

  8. Avatar Susan Paweski SP on May 12, 2021 at 8:34 am

    Mary, this is an inspirational account of your journey as a loving person. Your continued “yes” to Mark and, eventually to the Sisters of Providence, attests to your “yes” to the movement of Providence in your life…and to our Providence Community.

  9. Avatar Mary Pat Dailey Cross on May 12, 2021 at 9:11 am

    Dear Sister Mary,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story that inspires and encourages. How wonderful that you are able to share such a bond and offer love, kindness and guidance to Mark and as a Grandmother to Cameron, Samantha, Bailey and Mia. Your words of Motherhood – A gift beyond measure says it all!
    I will always be grateful to you for your mentorship and longs rides that you made to my house so that I was able to be a Providence Associate.

  10. Avatar Trudy Schwartz on May 22, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    Hi Mary
    I’m so glad to have discovered your ‘blog’ and get caught up on you and your family. Many memories of the early part of your journey and so much more! Would love to reconnect. All my contact information is the same so please reach out when you can. It’s been too long!

    • Avatar S. Mary Tomlinson on June 7, 2021 at 5:44 pm

      Trudy! What a surprise! I’m on retreat and pondering the year. I read my Mother’s Day piece. I could hardly believe seeing your name. I enjoyed reading your comments. Yes there are many stories that went into “went to work for an insurance company downtown. “. And I remember those days frequently.

      I just tried to send an email and alas, I don’t have your email address. Don’t know how I could have lost it. Can you send it to me? I’d love to reconnect.

      When retreat is over I’ll fill you in on what’s been going on with me. And of course I’d be happy to hear of your journey.

      I finally had that back surgery last October. Will tell you about it.

      More later. Please send your email address.
      Love Mary
      I just saw below that my email address won’t be published. Here it is. mtomlin@msn.com. Phone 773-456-7886.

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