Mom Hero: Widowed mom hid her tears, sang through the pain

May 10, 2012 at 10:51 AM ET

In honor of Mother's Day, TODAY Moms is celebrating Mom Heroes, those everyday wonder women who quietly change the world. More than 700 readers submitted essays for our Mom Hero contest, and we wish we could give everyone a prize. Ultimately, the winners told us beautiful stories about mothers who are unsung heroes. Check back every day this week for a new winner.

Do you know a mom hero who deserves thanks? Send her a e-card.  

Courtesy Donetta Pedroza /
"You and me against the world." Donetta Pedroza as a child with her mother, Karen Jennings.

My Mama, Karen Jennings, has faced some adversity, as many moms do, but I especially love her because she decided to endure because of her love for me.

As a baby, she got scarlet fever and nearly died. As a young girl and teen, she helped raise her eight younger brothers and sisters because both of her parents worked. She went on in the early sixties to marry my dad, facing some family questioning and occasional societal difficulties because it was an interracial marriage.

When I came along, Mama suffered a horrible infection and almost died in the hospital. Eventually, she got through it, although this disabled her from having any other children. The happy part is that a few weeks later, she was able to hold me and take me home.

Then, one unfortunate night, Daddy got in a car crash and died unexpectedly. I was five, but I could tell she didn't want to go on. Still, she would sing to me, "You and Me Against the World." Every day, she would wipe her tears before I saw her, get out of bed, put on her brave face, make me breakfast, make sure I washed, and send me off to school. Every night, she would feed me dinner and play music for me as we danced to her R&B, soul, Motown, brass, rock and funk favorites. She kept going despite years of feeling the anguish that was the missing piece of her heart.

Throughout the years, we remained close, and she continued to do things for me in any way she could, even sometimes overextending herself for my sake, but she never complained. We also had fun and exciting adventures together, sometimes traveling during school vacations.

Nowadays, Mama and I visit each other as often as we can as I live out of state. She is a wife to the second love of her life, Dan, who she met 15 years ago and they are still going strong. She is also a "Mema," or step-grandma, to Dan's 13-year-old grandson, a 2-year-old neighbor Eva, and now she has a third granddaughter, Ella, who arrived recently.

Mama is so loving, and the children who she has taken great care of, including me, have so much to be thankful for due to her attention, sense of humor, and sheer willingness to do the little, everyday things that keep us in great spirits.

(Editor's note: Winner announced subject to verification of eligibility and compliance with Official Rules. This essay has been edited for length and clarity.)

Each winner of the Mom Hero contest will receive a free Xbox. But wait, there's more! Anyone with an Xbox can be a big winner this Mother's Day -- download the TODAY app on your Xbox and use it to watch TODAY videos, and you could win a trip for two to a Beaches Resort. Click here for details.

For Mother's Day gift guides, video and more, check out our special section here.

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Your cute kids are... super-heroes!