Today is Mother’s Day in America, and while the UK version already came and went before Easter, I like to spend this day thinking about my own mom as well as other female figures who have loomed large in my life over the years.
It’s funny turning 40, because at this stage I’ve observed a wide sampling of “female life” that ranges from The Anxious who are fixated on their ticking biological clock to others in the category of Bemused Mothers of Ninja Children whose offspring dazzle the house in Sharpie during second-long gaps in surveillance. There are zillions of ways that a woman (or a man, for that matter) can live— and I don’t believe offspring to be the sole qualifier that allows a person to stand under the Mother’s Day umbrella. The definition of “family” has broadened for the better, and with that, I think it’s only fair to modernize Mother’s Day as well.
Growing up, I always felt incredibly dumb. It didn’t matter if I was sitting in a classroom or if I were treading the fringes of a neighborhood frog pond meetup— I always felt that I wasn’t organically “getting” everything that was taking place. Regardless of whether I was developmentally delayed or simply an extra cautious kid, none of this ultimately seemed to matter. This is because I always kind of had at least one woman in my life who served as a trusted agent of comfort.
My mom, she of course was always our first port of call for guidance. God bless her— because she devoted so many hours to wrangling five a-hole kids who really should have been chained up in the backyard as soon as we demonstrated proficiency in peering out from the top of the crib. They really need to give out gold plated dark chocolate medals for the kind of crap that she put up with. So I definitely want to give Mom her due.
But I also want to recognize some other women, and the first person I think of is a Portuguese-American lady named Sandy. While she is the mother of my childhood best friend, I’ll be damned if she wasn’t also the de facto mom for all of the drifting children in Mashpee town. I remember once riding in the back of her Ford Escort Wagon, going about 45mph down Route 151 when she spied on the other side of the busy road one of her son’s friends. No one ever walked that road and he was clearly walking too long of a way on his own. “Do you need a ride??” she hollered across traffic without thinking twice about how we were going in the opposite direction from him. Another time, while riding to the Falmouth Mall on a rainy day, her son uttered a double entendre where he advised the lot of us to “wear our rubbers”. This precipitated Sandy giving us girls in the backseat a talk about safe sex, and further advising us to “keep our legs closed” for good measure. I swear to god I couldn’t have been more than 11.
To this day I still love Sandy so much.
And then there’s another person, a woman who never happened to have any children of her own, but still managed to provide for the safe and confident passage of at least a dozen young people (by my unscientific count).
Jan and her husband served as a volunteer “sponsor family” to many young people knocking their way through the US Navy’s service academy in Maryland. I didn’t do my naval training at this school, but my various associations did pull me into Jan’s orbit when I too was a very young and impressionable ensign. From the beginning Jan was smart, direct, and always extremely openhearted. She understood so much about the world I inhabited—and this was because she worked for the Navy as a civilian and grew up with a submarine skipper dad that brought her to many parts of the world.
From the moment I met Jan up until this very day, she has always been someone I gravitated toward and unconsciously leaned on. And what’s even better is that she always allowed this. She just gets things— and this comes in particularly handy when I struggle to navigate the murkier aspects of life. It’s funny because I never concretely thought about our relationship until we met up in Mozambique a few years back. One morning I headed out on a 16 mile run while she attended a HIV/AIDS Prevention conference. When I got back to the hotel safe and sound, I texted to let her know my whereabouts. She immediately responded with profuse thanks, while also letting me know that my “mother” was starting to get worried. Up until that moment I hadn’t completely appreciated how our close our bond had become.
It’s funny, but no matter how far or wide I travel, I’ve managed to surround myself with a cadre of femmes puissantes who make me feel both protected and reassured— and these woman really do comprise many different age groups and backgrounds. Now that I’m older and reflect on what each woman has meant to me, I honestly don’t know how I’d have gotten as far as I have without each giving one me a boost when I needed it. Or even when I didn’t know that I needed it.
So this is a Mother’s Day post, but it’s also written a bit for everyone. It’s for my Mom, it’s for Sandy, it’s for Jan, and it’s for the people that come to mind when you read these sketches of people you probably will never know. I look forward to tackling whatever comes next for me, because I possess an incredible foundation that was provided by these woman. And more than that, I look up to them and sincerely hope that they too can string together a network that mirrors the one that they have managed to create for me.
The world doesn’t appear to be getting any less mysterious, so on days like Mother’s Day, I want to let these people know how much I appreciate their interpretation of it all.