On Mother’s Day at St. Gabriel Parish in Chicago, the tradition was for the men and older boys to march the five blocks from the Knights of Columbus hall to the church proudly wearing their blue Holy Name Society badges with gold fringe led by bagpipers. As a boy, I liked to watch the houses on either side as we marched. Not all the neighbors appreciated the screeching of pipes before 9 a.m. on a Sunday. The scowling faces appearing in parted curtains may have been non-practicing Catholics, but being Irish-American and rather sectarian then, I assumed they were Protestants.

When we arrived at the church, the mothers waited for us on the steps, smiling as we entered. All the men and boys sat on the right while the moms and girls took the pews on the left, more like an Amish meetinghouse or mosque.

Breakfast followed Mass. We males plodded down to the church basement, plopped down at the long folding tables used weekly for Bingo nights, and waited for the mothers who had cooked breakfast to serve us.

I instinctively knew there was something wrong with the picture when the wife of one of my father’s best friends, pregnant with her 12th child, came up behind me to ask if I wanted more pancakes. I was culturally conditioned to believe the universe was ordered so dads worked and mothers cooked and cleaned, but even at the age of nine, never having heard the term “feminism,” it occurred to me that maybe the men should give the frying and flipping duties a shot and serve the mothers on their special day.

Not too surprisingly, that Mother’s Day tradition didn’t survive the end of the 70s even in our Irish Catholic nirvana.

But it’s not the only example of moms putting up with dumb stuff that doesn’t make a lot of sense. That’s the starting point for the definition of a mother.

Wisdom begins with a mix of patience and discretion. It can take a kid a long time to realize his or her mother is shrewder and her capacity for putting up with foolishness much greater than any child bag of tricks — or the blunderings of a thick-headed husband.

Mothers typically are better at hitting figurative curveballs too. Perhaps even literal curveballs. I could be wrong as I’m not an expert when it comes to pregnancies, but I haven’t known many to come at convenient times. I’d be surprised if even the mom working on number 12, who made it a baker’s dozen 18 months later, glided through two decades in a Zen-like birthing groove.

Jesus’ mother, whom we revere this month, epitomizes the point. She may have gotten an extra boost of grace, but no one ever got thrown a sharper breaking ball than she when the angel came hailing her as being filled with it.

Often we associate holiness with the dramatic tales of martyrs and mystics, but it is more often manifested in a good woman’s — or man’s — ability to persevere with the wacky and mundane details of daily life. Dad’s day is coming soon enough. This weekend, make it special for mom – no cooking, no cleaning, no foolishness, just a piping parade of appreciation and affection for the one who loves you, like Mary treasured her son and persisted in faith that the best way to glorify God was to give all she had to him, from the chill of the manger to the trials of his maturity.

Fr. King is an instructor of theology at the University of Portland.