Looking back, Mary Martelli always thought that having kids was “something my mother did.” The now 91-year-old had little idea that life would bring her nine children, six girls and three boys.
“Patience, a lot of patience,” Martelli said describing her journey as a mother.
The secret to being a good mom is to “just chill,” and “love each for who they are,” she said, a piece of advice she offers her own children who are parents themselves.
Martelli raised all her kids in Wilmington, Delaware, with her late husband, Guido Rosario Martelli. Over the years, the couple also opened their home to seven foster kids.
Now as she spends her days at the Rockland retirement community home, Martelli still remains close to all her kids despite being briefly disconnected during the pandemic. She said her children, some of whom live as far away as Taiwan, still call her from time to time for advice or when they simply need to talk to their mother.
That is why the 91-year-old mom sees Mother’s Day as just another day. She does not need a holiday to remind her children to talk to her because “that wouldn’t have much meaning,” she said.
Even so, on the morning of Mother’s Day, some of Martelli’s children joined her for tea at her Rockland Place residence to recognize and celebrate their mother’s “unconditional love.”
Daniel Martelli, Mary’s eldest son, had a child-like giggle as he poured his mother some hot tea while she recounted tales of his childhood mischiefs.
“She was just like any mother except that she had a bunch of kids and a wooden spoon which she would often use on me,” Daniel said, grinning.
In between small sips of tea and ventures down memory lane, Mary asked questions about her grandchildren. She smiled proudly when Daniel showed her pictures of her youngest granddaughter’s graduation day.
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At 91, Mary said she was simply “grateful and thankful” for the opportunity to celebrate Mother’s Day with her children.
Growing up, their mother was a blend of “strict and nurturing,” said Eileen Martelli, Mary’s fourth child. Mary was actively involved in their lives and made sure they were involved in hers, Eileen said.
“She did a lot of community work where she would take us with her and we always saw that as an adventure,” she said. “She was very clear and consistent in her parenting style and had a terrific sense of humor.”
Mother’s Day’s tea party conversations reminded Daniel how growing up their mother always encouraged them to have open discussions at the dinner table about “religion, sex, politics and everything in between.” The family also had no gender-specific roles, Daniel said.
“We were a very progressive family and everybody in the house helped with the cooking and cleaning,” Daniel said. “My mother never assigned us gender roles so I learned at an early age how to iron my own shirt and do my own laundry.”
Mary managed a large household by setting clear expectations for her children. But according to Anne Louise, Mary’s sixth born, her mother was much more than a “manager” of the house, noting she was “actively parenting” and “present” throughout their childhoods.
“There was a selflessness to her,” she said. “My mother never had her hair or nails done and she always ensured there was a balanced meal on the table. Her time went to either caring for us or others in the community who needed help.”
Motherhood for Mary was not limited to her own children. She even opened her home to foster kids, six babies and one teenager.
“As the Irish say, ‘It’s only one more potato in the pot,’” Mary said.
Being a mother has been a significant part of Mary’s life and her identity, but she said it was “not always sunshine” and there were days when she was not “as patient as many would expect from mothers.”
According to Mary, there are all kinds of mothers in the world, and “they are what they are.”
“Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are not so good, sometimes they are patient, and sometimes they are not,” Mary said. “The world should not limit them to an ideal vision, just love them regardless.”
Contact the reporter Yusra Asif @ firstname.lastname@example.org