Modern Mami: Lessons from My Mother

Today show host Natalie Morales has joined the Latina magazine team! Natalie will be contributing a monthly column about what it means to be a modern mami as well as answering your parenting questions starting this February.

This month, Natalie opens up about her own mother and shares precious lessons she learned. 

Lessons from my Mother

There is a picture of my mom near her bedroom, which I've walked by many times but never really saw clearly until recently. It’s my mother as a toddler—around two years old—the age of my littlest guy, Luke. As a young girl and even later as a young woman, my mom was the spitting image of Natalie Wood (In fact, I was named after her because of my dad’s schoolboy crush). In the photo, she's wearing a pretty dress, stylish faux fur around her collar with a bow in her hair. She's sitting so prim and proper, and her big brown eyes are so full of hope. Yet her expression is much more mature than that of a young child. She looks so serious and sad, as if preparing for disappointment, which she in fact was.

It was right around the time of that photograph that my mother was “given up” by her mother. My grandmother had her at 19, was separating from her husband and didn't want to be a mom yet. So she left her two-year-old to be raised by her own mother, who was busy raising 13 children of her own in a very poor household in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Despite the little my mother had growing up, she thrived with the love of aunts and uncles, who were like her siblings. Her grandmother was tough and not the loving type, but I guess with 14 kids of all ages in one small house you can’t blame her.

What my mother wanted most in life, she didn’t have—a loving mother to hug and kiss her, wipe her tears away when she was sad, encourage her when she felt insecure, and make her feel like she was the most valuable treasure in life. I can’t imagine what that must have felt like as I try so hard to give that attention and love to my two boys.

My mother got where she is in life by teaching herself or pushing herself to achieve. She put herself through college at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, learned English, and met and fell in love with my father—who is Puerto Rican and was in Brazil as a Fulbright Scholar and young lieutenant in the Air Force. That would set her new life in motion as an officer's wife. Imagine going from having nothing to a life that would allow her to see and experience the world, and to finally become the mom she never had—and now the doting grandmother who wants nothing more than to be with her grandkids as much as possible (though sadly distance doesn’t allow her to see my boys as much as we would all like).

For the full story, be sure to pick up the latest issue of Latina!