Sunday, May 11, 2014

Other Mothers

"I didn't know I had another mother."
"Of course you do. Everyone does."


Today being Mother's Day, I will, of course, honor my mother. She was a good one, and I owe so much of who I am to her. But I also want to honor my other mothers; those women in my life who had no genetic or societal obligation to me and my raising but who loved me, fed me, and cheered me on even when I was falling over hurdles/singing off-key/making questionable hair and clothing choices.

In this spirit, I want to wish a happy Mother's Day to Other Mother Jayne, my childhood best friend's mom, who did not freak out the first time she invited me over for dinner and I put cottage ham and green beans (the first time, but not last time, that I had that greasy-good Cincinnati specialty) onto one single paper plate which the cottage ham just sort of...dissolved.  God love her, she still didn't freak out later that same weekend when I ate an entire jar of Klaussen pickles from her fridge. Basically what I'm saying is there are a lot of times Jayne should have freaked out on me when I was at her house, which was almost daily. I was not big on social graces at the time. She gave me rides home from everything her daughter talked me into participating in and cheered for me when I ran the last leg of the girls' 4x400 relay in 8th grade, even when every team but ours had already finished the relay before I even started my leg, leaving me to do the loneliest 400-meter "dash" in the history of awkward athletics. She was always patient, always kind, always welcoming, and still looks out for me to this day.

I also want to say "Thank you" to the Other Mother who is, actually, my older sister. Eleven years my senior, she filled in the gaps that my mom couldn't or wouldn't. I didn't realize it until years after I left home, but my mother was borderline agoraphobic. Especially in those early years of our move to northern Kentucky, which must have completely overwhelmed her, seeing as how she had spent her entire life previous in rural small-town one-street-light Appalachia. My sister went to school open houses, spelling bees, school plays, parent-teacher conferences, and even visited my kindergarten class last-minute when my mom bailed on her plans to talk to us about her job for Career Day. (For what it's worth, my classmates were just as enthralled by my teenage sister's description of working the cash register and baking potatoes after school at Ponderosa as they would have been by my mom talking about giving wash-and-sets to ladies in their 60s.) When the UAW went on strike and Dad wasn't working, Joanie made Christmas for me, buying all my toys that year and asking nothing from my parents in return. My childhood would have been rather bleak without her in it.

And finally...Other Mother Kathie. THE Other Mother, from a marriage standpoint. She raised a good boy who turned into a good man who turned into the best father. She made me believe I was pretty--she was the first female I wasn't related to by blood who told me so, and sometimes this made me think it was possibly true. I learned so much from her, everything from the importance of spring cleaning to making milk gravy to grieving with grace. She and my mother were two very different people with two very different personalities, and each balanced the other's world views during my impressionable teenage years. Some women have mothers-in-law from hell and see their significant other's mother as the enemy; I am grateful that mine treated me as one of her own. Like my own mother, I miss her deeply.

The saying, "It takes a village to raise a child" has become more controversial than it should be, perhaps due to the politics of the person who most famously said it in a public forum. In my mind, it is absolutely a true statement. No one mother can be everything her children need. Sometimes you have to call in an assist to fill in a gap you either temporarily or permanently can't provide. I am lucky that I had women who stepped up for me those times and in those unfamiliar areas where my own mother couldn't.

After you have celebrated the fabulousness of your own mother today, take some time to remember your Other Mothers. They didn't care for you because you share half their DNA; they cared for you simply because they wanted to. Even when you ate all their pickles.

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