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They may be adults, but superstar brothers Mark and Donnie Wahlberg still have a daily responsibility to their mom Alma: Call her.
“No big deal, just ‘Hey Ma, how are you? I love you. Gotta go,’” the 76-year-old matriarch tells anchor Sheinelle Jones in “Through Mom’s Eyes,” TODAY’s new digital-exclusive series. “That’s all I’m asking. Mark calls me from all over the world. Every single day for the past two and a half years. I don’t care if it’s 3 o’clock in the morning!”
Poring over photo albums in her home, single parent Alma candidly opens up about the highs — and lows — of raising nine (yes, nine!) successful kids: Oscar nominated actor Mark, 47, New Kids on the Block frontman Donnie, 49, and their siblings Michelle, 56, Arthur, 55, Wahlburgers’ chef Paul, 54, Jim, 53, Tracey, 51 and Robert, 50. (Oldest sister Debbie passed away in 2003 at the age of 43.) You can see more of the big, happy family on the A&E reality series, "Wahlburgers."
Just 18 years old when she became a mom, Alma felt as if she were growing up alongside her brood. “I was learning as they were,” she admits. “I wanted to give them the love that I always thought I wanted and never got. I wanted them to know I’m always there. Always, always. I may not like what you’re telling me, but I’m there for you and that’s it. That’s how they all are now. They’re there for me.”
Getting there wasn’t particularly easy, though. After she split from husband Donald Sr. in 1982, Alma, a bank clerk and nurse’s aide, relied on welfare butter and cheese to feed her young kids. “I invented the craziest meals. English muffin pizzas, that was the big treat,” she says. “I had no choice. I had to find them something to eat.”
Rather than focus on what they lacked, she chose to highlight her family’s strengths: Unquestionable talents, which she supported from the get-go. Recalling the first time an early New Kids on the Block performance at a neighborhood show, “I was like, ‘Whoa! Oh my God, they’re good!’” she raves, admitting Donnie now credits her for his success. “He said to me, ‘You know Ma, if it wasn’t for you, there probably wouldn’t be any New Kids because you encouraged us. You were pushing us.’ And I was.”
Youngest Mark, on the other hand, was her little monkey. Really. The former Calvin Klein underwear model was nicknamed “monkey because I bought him a monkey for Christmas. He loved that thing so much and he dragged it with him everywhere!” she says, joking, “I’m gonna get in trouble now!”
Looking back, when it came to parenthood, Alma simply went with her gut. “I didn’t know what I was doing right, you know what I mean? I was just doing what I felt like I had to do,” she confesses. “I didn’t know what was the right or wrong thing sometimes because sometimes it got really crazy because there’s nine of them all doing different things. As they were getting older, I noticed they were being nicer to each other.”
Which is all she ever wanted. “I look at them and every single one of them are good people,” she gushes. “They help people and I couldn’t be prouder.”