It is no secret that I have a special mother; she has countless admirable qualities. She is a positive role model, an open-minded and open-hearted friend, a generous spirit. She tries to be a good person, on purpose, every day. She doesn’t like to gossip, but she does like to laugh. She loves shopping and shoes and chocolate, but at the same time she is not materialistic. She is always learning, trying new things, choosing to be productive every day when she wakes up, even after losing my dad last year. She was a fun mom to us: she once brought strappy Easter sandals to school recess so that I could wear them for the rest of the day with my school uniform because I loved them so much (luckily, that was before Instagram). She yelled at us when we bickered, she tucked us in at night, she bought our favorite foods at the grocery store, and she was always willing to be the one who drove our friends around. My mom was devoted to her children, and then to her grandchildren. She is a lady. Where I came from, I have no idea. I had to teach her most of the bad words she knows.
What is most remarkable about my mom is that she was never “mothered.” Not the way that we were. She was raised by her Polish-speaking grandparents who loved her and her sister, but she missed out on the more traditional mother-child relationship and nurturing. There were no sleepovers, and no one came to her school performances. She always said that the reason she knew how to mother, how to love, cuddle, advise, and provide security for a child, was from her Aunt Dot (my Godmother). Aunt Dot has been gone for years now, but as Mother’s Day nears again, I’m reminded about all the important ways in which we are mothers to each other.
Someone took the time to be a positive influence on my mom when she was a youngster, to show her fun and discipline and family ties. Aunt Dot spent time with Dolores and Midge, which is all that they really needed. I know how lucky I am to have the mother that I do, and I’m reminded of it often by friends and acquaintances who joke that they wish they had a mom like mine. That’s because my mom has mothered other people, as well. She mothers every friend of hers, every friend of mine, and most strangers whom she comes across. Despite having the gold standard in moms myself, I can’t help but reflect on some other wonderful women who have mothered me as well, in ways large and small.
Of course my sisters were forced to mother me, since I’m the youngest in the family, but they also put forth effort of their own volition. When I bounced my first check at around 18 years old, I found a twenty-dollar bill on my dresser, not realizing until weeks later my sister Coleen had silently put it there. And Judy still doesn’t make soup at home without bringing a bowl to my house. My best friend Steph got on a plane with her kid to fly home to visit me just because I was having an emotional crisis about fifteen years ago.
But even people who might deem themselves as ancillary in my life have made contributions that have truly shaped my character. My high-school cheerleading coaches, a mother-daughter duo themselves, didn’t allow us to miss practice, ever, without the punishment of sitting out a game. They didn’t let us talk to boys when we were in uniform, and I will never forget Mrs.Toth’s advice: “when you have a problem, whatever it is, talk to your parents. No one else has only your best interests at heart.” They were parenting us, teaching us how to act appropriately. A high school teacher who had formerly been a nun signed my yearbook and made a comment about me having inner dignity. Dignity? Me? (I guess the stress was on the word inner). But it has stuck with me. She was trying to tell me something, to lead me to follow the right thoughts. My childhood pediatrician told me, plainly, “Don’t be such a brat.” My co-worker Mary Helen made a big deal of my birthday even though I was in my twenties. My seventh grade teacher has asked me one thousand times over the years when I was going to go to college (I can finally shut that one up)! My co-worker brought me a rosary, blessed by not one but two Popes, from her visit to Italy. A friend of a friend at a jewelry party sat me down and told me, when my dad first got sick, that I must take feelings out of it and do what is best for my parents, even if they got mad at my sisters and me. Another friend sat all day at the hospital with us almost twenty years ago when my sister’s baby was having heart surgery. My next-door neighbor kept a key to my house on her windowsill, knowing how often I forgot mine. Another neighbor once climbed up a weeping willow tree to get me down. An insurance company representative brought me a gift card instead of business documents when I was having a bad day. My mother-in-law sends me newspaper articles that remind her of me; her sister is constantly handing me beautiful leather goods like jackets and boots, items she bought but decided weren’t for her. The lady at the library lowered my fine to whatever I had in my purse that day. Someone, somewhere, may have lit a candle for me and I don’t even know about it.
There are countless more instances, more than I could ever commit to paper, of women taking the time and effort to mother me, and others. My own mom is not perfect (just today, we had a role-reversal conversation, in which she apparently played the sulky teen):
Me: Why do you make me yell at you?
Doe: What now?
Me: There are two newspapers on your front porch. If you leave newspapers on the front porch, someone will think you are away and break into your house. How many times have I told you that?
Doe: Many times.
Me: I tell you to pick up the papers. And you say “I will!” But then you don’t!
Doe: I will.
Still, I don’t even want to entertain the idea of what kind of person I would be if I had not been blessed with the devoted, sacrificing, savvy mom that I have. But because of her, I do understand the importance of other sources of mothering, as well. I’m not advising anyone to discipline their friends’ children, because that would undoubtedly end badly. Let’s just take care of each other when we have the opportunity to do so.
I’m not a mom, but I so appreciate the opportunity to be a Godmother, a step-mother to adults, an auntie, and soon, a granny! Thank you for letting me sing to your babies, “ride” the MRI machine with them, hold their chubby hands, check their homework…even clean up their barf. Somehow, I also managed to be the adult on duty when someone got her first period. Thanks for that. I’m not a mom, and I’m in awe of all of you who are moms. May your children not grow up to embarrass you in print.
Happy Mother’s Day all!!