Parents

Natalie Morales: My 'survivor' mom deserves a little bit of glamour

If Natalie Morales had to describe her mom in just one word, she would pick: survivor.

That’s because her mom, Penelope Morales, who grew up in the tiny town of Minas Gerais, Brazil, had a tough childhood.

“Her own mother wasn’t ready to be a mom and gave her up to her grandmother,” says Natalie. “I think she often felt in life like she wasn’t wanted and wasn’t loved.”

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Natalie Morales and her mother Penelope Morales and her sister.

Penelope Morales put herself through college and it was there she met Natalie’s dad, who was serving in the military. They fell in love and married, and her life as a military mom of three children became a great adventure.

“She basically raised us moving from place to place. I was born in Taiwan…We lived in Panama, Brazil, Spain. All over the world. And my mom was the constant.”

“She would always make sure that when we got home from school, that we felt like we had our number-one fan, our champion right there, you know, waiting for us,” says Natalie.

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Natalie Leticia Morales is the daughter of Penelope Morales and Lieut. Col. Mario Morales Jr.(retired Air Force, Persian Gulf and Vietnam War), was born in Taiwan.

Along the way, Natalie learned many things from her mother, which she carries on in her role as a mother to two sons.

“I think I've learned from my mom to always know where you come from, and stay true to who you are. She is somebody who has never wavered,” says Natalie.

“She is humble to the core. She is strong. She’s just magnificent,” says Natalie. “My mom is, simply put, the most amazing woman I know… the person I strive to be.”

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Natalie Morales' mother Penelope Morales in a photo from her youth.

As a Mother’s Day gift, Natalie treated her mom to a day of pampering. “I want my mom to feel like a queen,” she says, “So I thought let’s surprise her with a little bit of glamour, because she deserves that.”

And as part of the surprise, Natalie brought along an old photo of her mother, which she wanted to recreate.

“I think it was taken in the mid-'60s. So she was in her early to mid twenties. She's just absolutely a beautiful, gorgeous woman. But she's looking in the mirror. It's like not knowing really her future, but knowing where she's come from,” describes Natalie.

“That picture just speaks so much to me. I want her to now see what she created in that mirror, and to see that she gave us all something so great.”

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Natalie Morales and her mother Penelope Morales in a photo taken to resemble an older photo.

By the reaction from her mother, Natalie’s Mother’s Day gift was a success.

“It's just an amazing experience to take this picture and have Natalie do it. I could never imagine in my entire life,” says Penelope Morales, who adds that she’s very proud of her daughter.

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Natalie Morales and her mother Penelope Morales

“All I want her is to be happy and to raise her children the same way, to be happy also,” she says.

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Like mother, like daughter: Natalie and her mom Penelope Morales.

For TODAY's complete Mother's Day Guide, click here!

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