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What it means to be a mother

Mother’s Day: Three Santa Clarita Valley mothers reflect on love given, love received

Posted: May 8, 2010 10:07 p.m.
Updated: May 9, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Connie Acevedo at her Newhall home with pictures of her two eldest sons, 21-year-old Andrew and 19-year-old Peter, both Marines. Acevedo also has a 15-year-old daughter, Paulina, who is now in the Young Marines program.

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Jeny Vazquez endured 36 hours of labor - then, an emergency cesarean section after the baby had turned herself sideways in Vazquez' pregnant belly.

But Vazquez, who struggled off and on with depression since she was young, didn't feel much like a mother once Miranda was born. For three months, Vazquez said she struggled through postpartum depression.

"Everyone was telling me, ‘You're fine,' but I didn't feel like I was fine," she said. "I felt like I was playing with a doll."

But as she prepared to head home from her first day of work since the pregnancy, she said, she suddenly snapped out of it.

"I realized, ‘wow, she's mine,'" she said. "I have a reason to get up everyday, go to work everyday and to be happy everyday."

She went home and smothered her daughter with hugs and attention.

The Newhall mother, 27, is now raising her 4-year-old, Miranda Mejia, as a single mother. But she never feels sorry for herself - there is no room for sadness anymore, she said.

"It's hard for me to think of myself as being in a hard place because (Miranda) is such a great kid," she said. "I can't be selfish anymore. I have to be selfless."

‘All worth it'
When Newhall resident Connie Acevedo, 37, realized her sons wanted to join the military, she geared into hyper-mom mode.

Acevedo moved rise-and-shine time to 5 a.m. for the unsuspecting 9- and 11-year-old boys. Their rooms had to be spotless before they left.

Secretly, she hoped a regimen of strict rules year after year would change their young minds and eventually send the boys to college. But if the plan didn't work, at least they'd get a taste of rigid structure.

"People looked at me like I was so strict, but if (joining the military) is what they say they want to do, my job is to prepare them for that," she said.

Her responsibility was not to be the boys' friend, she said, but to be their mother.

"You're only going to have one mother, you're going to have plenty of friends," she would tell them.

Children are not born with perfect instructions and there's no simple recipe for parenting, Acevedo said. The most important responsibility she has as a mother, she said, is to equip her sons and only daughter Paulina, 15, with resources and knowledge.

As the boys grew older, she sent them out to interview veterans about military life. Once a decision was made, she'd try to her best to prepare them and leave the rest in God's hands, she said.

Acevedo's oldest son, A.J., is now 21 and serving as a Marine in Afghanistan, following his first tour in Iraq. Her other son, Peter, is a 19-year-old Marine currently based in Washington state and soon to be a father.

Her daughter Paulina is also considering the service. Paulina has always had to endure the same strict rules as her brothers, Acevedo said.

"The way I grew up - I think not training them, you do them less justice," she said.

Acevedo, who grew up in a troubled home with young parents, was on her own at age 13. She worked her first waitressing job at that age, posing as an 18 year-old. Unable to turn to her parents, she looked to older friends for guidance.

"I had hard times, but they made me stronger," she said.

The day her first born, A.J. left for the military was the longest day of her life, Acevedo said.

But after a while, she stopped fearing for her sons' lives. The hallway leading from Acevedo's bedroom to her living room is covered in photos of her sons, plaques and their military yearbooks - daily reminders to pray for her sons, she said.

"I get afraid because they're in a dangerous situation, carrying a weapon and in a time of war," she said. "But they could die anywhere. I just believe God's going to protect them and when it's time for him to call them home, he will."

Acevedo said she might have been considered a "mean mom," but she never let a day go by without telling her children that she loves them.

"When you're a drill instructor like I am - you think they're going to hate you," Acevedo said. "But when they don't, when they're thankful and they get it, then it's all worth it."

Grateful grandmother
For 75-year-old Iris Suarez-Villamil, it's the simple things that bring her joy as a grandmother.

She likes to slice up a batch of oranges, peel the skin, remove the seeds and place them in a bowl for her only granddaughter.

"She won't let anybody do that but me," Suarez-Villamil said.

The greatest gift she can give her grandkids is being there for them, she said. But she needs them too.

"They call me every day to make sure I'm okay," she said with a smile. "I visit them quite a bit, too."

Suarez-Villamil raised three sons - a sheriff's deputy, a Los Angeles Police officer and a business owner.

Her own children have never had any major arguments and for that, she is thankful.

After 55 years of marriage, she credits her and her husband's strong relationship for its positive impact on her sons.

Her sons' families all live in the Santa Clarita Valley - one son lives on the same block.

Suarez-Villamil, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, finds comfort in the fact that she can see her children and grandchildren at any time.

"I'm grateful to God that I have those kids," she said.

Selfless heart, open eyes
Being a mother has opened Vazquez' eyes and being a single mother has strengthened her, she said.

"I'm not number one anymore," she said. "I have to be a stronger person. I have to wake up to go to work every day, not for me but for my daughter."

Vazquez volunteers often with Single Mothers Outreach, an organization that came to her aid during a time when she could barely afford a room the size of a walk-in closet.

Vazquez, who manages a small house-cleaning business, attends a finance management class through a program offered at Single Mothers Outreach.

She has begun to pass her budgeting lessons on to her daughter.

Vazquez recently asked her daughter what she wanted to do with the $25 she'd saved up from doing her chores. To the mother's surprise, Miranda took $1 and asked if she could put the rest in the bank.

"Those little moments make you realize you did a good job," Vazquez said.

Motherhood molded her into the woman she is proud to be.

"It's something that either changes you or you change it," she said. "It's something I'm glad has changed me."

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