Timeless Advice From My Feisty Italian-American Mom
BOOK COMMENTARY: Teresa Tomeo pens book about how her mother knew all about ‘making common sense common again.’
Editor’s Note: Teresa Tomeo will appear on next week’s The World Over, airing on EWTN at 8pm EST.
My mom Rosie’s voice is always in my head.
But last week, her words of wisdom, Jersey-Italian style, were truly running through my mind more than usual.
I heard them loudly and clearly as I was reading the advisory from the surgeon general on the loneliness epidemic facing our country.
“Fuh (for) crying out loud! What do you need; a house to fawl (fall) on you? Ansa (answer) the phone when your friend or sista (sister) cawls (calls)! Invite someone to dinna, (dinner). Some big docta (doctor) has to tell you so? You can’t figya (figure) that out for yourself?”
I guarantee this is how my mother would have reacted, had I shared some of the specific steps Dr. Vivek Murthy outlined in his report, including his video message that accompanied the extensive advisory:
· Answer a phone call from a friend.
· Invite someone over to share a meal.
· Listen and be present during conversations.
· Seek out opportunities to serve others.
Apparently and unfortunately, we really do need a big wake-up call, as Rosie reminds us. And that’s why I decided to elaborate on what I call “Rosieisms,” in a book format, Everything’s Coming Up Rosie: 10 Things My Feisty Italian American Mother Taught Me about Living a Godly Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2023).
It’s obvious, any time we even glance at the news, that common sense, not to mention common decency, isn’t so common any longer. For years, I have been doing a presentation on the 10 things, and other teachings, Rosie passed on.
The talk resonated, and I hope the book will as well, since the more I follow what Church leaders, prominent Catholic commentators, along with our many wonderful saints, say about faith, family and the human condition, the more I see a familiar thread woven with timeless truths that people of my mother’s generation, known as the “greatest generation,” understood deeply: We need to get back to basics. Life isn’t always going to be perfect, but we can learn from our mistakes and grow through suffering, all while loving one another and maintaining joy in our lives.
During those tumultuous teen years, I would chuckle or roll my eyes, sometimes both, when I heard her repeat a Rosiesm for the umpteenth time. Little did I know that one day I would realize how the advice she was trying to impart as I was growing up was not only practical, but powerful, and so applicable in a society that’s lost its way.
Rosie, along with most of her counterparts who lived through the depression and World War II, may not have earned degrees in theology. But they were well educated in the school of life. They learned — and often early on, for example, as Rosie would say, in her strong Jersey City accent — “it’s not awl (all) peaches and cream.” In other words, as Our Lord reminds us, in John 16:33, “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart as I have overcome the world.” We live in a fallen world, and things aren’t always going to go our way.
How many times did I hear her other familiar quips as I was growing up, including, as I explain in the book:
· Awfa (offer) it up to God and put it at the foot of the crawse (cross).
· Rememba (remember) the Blessed Mutha (mother) is watching you.
· Listen to your Mutha.
· Nevva (never) get too big for those britches.
There are countless examples in our culture today where someone somewhere is crying a river; overreacting because things didn’t go exactly how they had hoped or planned, or trying to do whatever they can to control their circumstances to avoid challenges or discomfort.
Just recently, in late March, for example, members of Cornell University's student body assembly were pushing the administration to sign a resolution requiring faculty to provide “trigger warnings” concerning classroom content students might consider “traumatic.” But that’s not all. They also wanted administrators to allow them to freely walk out of class the minute they felt traumatized or offended, and they wanted to do so without being penalized. the university rejected the resolution and gave the students a Rosieism of their own:
“Learning to engage with difficult and challenging ideas is a core part of a university education: essential to our students’ intellectual growth, and to their future ability to lead and thrive in a diverse society. As such, permitting our students to opt out of all such encounters, across any course or topic, would have a deleterious impact both on the education of the individual student, and on the academic distinction of a Cornell degree.”
Or, again, as Rosie would have said, “Go figya (figure) it’s not awl peaches and cream.” Guess what boys and girls, not everyone is going to agree with you, and you are going to have to, like it or not, work and maybe even live with someone that has a very different point of view.
The problem of trying to avoid suffering and create a perfect world for ourselves doesn’t work. It leads to isolation, selfishness and, as the Pope pointed out in his May 3 general audience message, eventually those worlds start to implode.
“But when the only thing that counts is thinking about oneself and doing what one likes, the roots suffocate. This is a problem throughout Europe, where dedicating oneself to others, feeling a sense of community, feeling the beauty of dreaming together and creating large families are in crisis. The whole of Europe is in crisis. So let us reflect on the importance of preserving the roots, because only by going deep will the branches grow upwards and bear fruit. Each of us can ask ourselves, even as a people, each of us: What are the most important roots in my life? Where am I rooted? Do I remember them? Do I care for them?”
Rosie never saw herself as a brilliant catechist, but it’s not very difficult to connect the dots and appreciate that what my mom, and I’m guessing, yours too, tried to pass along is not all that different from the messages of the Vicar of Christ, or the surgeon general, for that matter. It’s not that complicated. And it’s not all about you or me. It’s about loving one another as God loves us.
Thanks, Ma, and Happy Mother’s Day!
EWTN TV and Radio host Teresa Tomeo’s latest book is Everything’s Coming Up Rosie, available from EWTNRC.com.
This post was updated after posting, to update Teresa’s appearance on The World Over.