I’ve learned never to take anything for granted in my life because I know how extremely fortunate I am to have gotten where I am today. Looking back, I suppose many people thought I’d end up becoming blended into those statistics where children were forgotten about or slip between the cracks of a tunnel-visioned system.
I’m sure you knew one of those kids who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks surrounded by chaos of one sort or another. Those kids who had no real way out of their situation or even had access to that one positive person willing to help pull them out from the undercurrents tugging them back in the other direction. For awhile, I knew exactly what it was like to be one of those kids.
My mother was a young, single parent raising two young children. She’d chosen not to include our father in our lives, not because he was a bad guy but more out of pride. Mom wanted to do it all on her own—unfortunately she wasn’t strong enough most of the time.
I always told people Mom was pulled in three directions: her bipolar that she refused to acknowledge or treat; her maladaptive ways of coping that she also refused to acknowledge or treat; and her music. Despite anything, Mom was one of the most talented people I’d ever known and yet she didn’t allow that talent to pull her away from the other forces. And it made life with her frustrating, confusing and, sometimes, very frightening—especially in the eyes of a child.
But unlike other kids in similar situations, I was lucky because I didn’t just have one person I reached out to, and who reached out to me—I had four. Four beautiful, powerfully strong women each giving me a piece of mothering I needed so desperately.
(1) A grandmother who was an accomplished artist and did everything a woman wasn’t supposed to do seventy years ago: traveled, went to school, lived on her own, had a career and had relationships before marriage. She battled breast cancer, twice, and survived it during a time when the odds were against her. And in the later stages of her life she fought an unforgiving disease that stole us from her memory. And she did everything with grace, strength and dignity.
Grandma gave me the gift of courage, wisdom and passion while teaching me that women had the ability to do anything, be anyone and go further than people of her era believed they should. And I hold her final words to me—when she still recognized my face—close to my heart, “You be true to yourself, Dumpling. I believe in you and always will.”
(2) An Aunt who shot-from-the-hip and never accepted, “I can’t!” from me. She taught me that a woman can be strong and feminine and self-supporting even while in a marriage. And she taught me to follow my heart and to do what I love, not what others told me was best for me or safest.
Aunt Dorothy gave me the gift of self-reliance, resilience, and self-esteem. And even in times when I believed my dream was too far away, she showed me how to get there.
(3) A Godmother whose pure, unconditional love and kindness restored my faith, repaired my soul and convinced me that my existence mattered. She taught me to trust the words, “I love you.” and that love didn’t have to hurt. She believed in me during a time when I’d lost myself and had wanted to give up. And she taught me to always see the good, even when things seemed foggy.
Auntie Lois gave me the gift of faith and love; not just for others but, most importantly, for myself because to love others we need to love ourselves—and our Higher Power (whatever that may be) first.
(4) A stepmother who loved me as her own from day one. She taught me a new level of friendship, trust and family I’d never known about before her presence in my life. She showed me how a woman can balance family, work and self while being true to each part. In her I also learned that a stepmother wasn’t a replacement mom but a “Bonus Mom.”
Robin gave me the gift of acceptance, self-respect and the importance of staying true to my values.
So, even though my birth mother wasn’t able to mother me the way she’d wanted to, everything turned out okay. My bitterness faded long ago because I realized things could have turned out so differently for me. Yes, I was a lucky girl and, now, a lucky woman because I had four fantastic women to mother me in their own ways and their combined gifts were the exact dose of nurturing I needed to survive, thrive and grow. And I credit each of them for helping me to become the mother I am to my own four children.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you mums out there. And thank you to those brave enough to be a mother in lieu.