It was 68 degrees and sunny.
Still, the light wind was, in Mamusia’s eyes, a credible threat to my health, so I was forced to zip up. Anyone who grew up with a Polish mother or grandmother knows how much importance they place on “chronienia gardła” (protecting your throat).
It’s one example (out of many) of how paranoid our Polish mothers can be. But they do it because they love us. Although in these moments we may think that they are over-reacting and can’t handle a little cold, or whatever the situation may be, we should remember how strong they truly are.
Nearly every generation of Polish mothers alive today has experienced struggles and trials that few can match.
It all begins with that legendary World War II generation. Sadly, the mothers from that era are quickly leaving us, but some remain to tell their story. In their youth, they dealt with terror, famine, violence, and death as the Nazis and Soviets ripped Poland to shreds in their campaigns of evil. This generation went through hell and back. My late Polish grandmother was among them. The experience doubtless shook her to the core, but it also made her appreciative of every little thing after the war—because it was a gift from God. These women were, and are, mentally invincible and can handle anything life throws at them. If your mother is one of these, talk to her, learn her story—she’s part of the greatest generation. Ona jest kwiatem z tamtych lat.
The next generation of Polish mothers grew up in the post-war era. Although they didn’t have to deal with the horrors of war, a repressive, inefficient Polish government under Soviet influence made daily life a struggle.
It was during this time that my own mom came of age. She often speaks of how there was a total lack of basic commodities, such as toilet paper. Meat shortages meant waiting in line for hours just to get a slice of ham, and it sometimes turned out that after waiting all that time, the store ran out and you went home empty-handed anyway! I remember my mom also saying that you couldn’t even mildly criticize the government, or you risked getting arrested.
Aside from experiencing repression, this generation of Polish mothers sought to do something about it. Some joined the Polish Solidarity movement to protest the communist regime. It was there that they experienced the government’s full wrath during the period of martial law from 1981 to 1983. Many, like my mom, made the trip to the United States, often by themselves, in search of greater liberty and opportunity. Once here, they often had to work their way up from the bottom, taking any number of factory or cleaning jobs. It was a rugged life. It was an uncertain life. But they made it. Many eventually started families and are now nearing retirement. They pass on the values of hard work and persistence to their kids because they love them and want them to have an easier, more straightforward life (It’s probably why I wasn’t allowed to get B’s in school growing up).
Finally, there is the youngest generation of Polish mothers. These are new moms. Fortunately, they didn’t have to grow up during wartime or government repression. However, I would argue that they have to contend with an unprecedented period of flux. Poland is rapidly changing. Switching from communism to capitalism in 25 years, along with joining the European Union, opened many opportunities for young Poles, who must now navigate this new, globalist culture.
Although many now remain in Poland, others continue to emigrate to western Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States. Oftentimes, families are split apart as one parent works abroad, and the other stays home with the kids. This takes a new degree of mental strength and patience that, as we have seen, is second nature to Poles.
So on this Mother’s Day, I encourage you to learn your Polish mother’s story. I guarantee she has one, and it’s probably awesome. If nothing else, it may reveal why she is the way she is. See, to her, you are the fruit of all her struggles, the capstone of her life. You are the proof that she made it, that all the hardships she experienced weren’t for nothing, but rather, that they made your existence possible. To your Polish mother (and really any mother), you are the holy of holies, so treat her exceptionally on this Mother’s Day.