I have been thinking about Emily’s post about the urban legends surrounding motherhood, and how we are led to believe that the fragmented pieces of your life will align like the planets simply by procreating. I thought that motherhood would transform me into this Zen earth mother, smiling adoringly at my little cherub while happily pureeing parsnips; waxing philosophical on how life has finally begun.
Imagine my surprise when 3 weeks into the whole gig, I found myself sitting on the front steps with leaky tits and an inconsolable infant, staring down at my puke-covered flip flops whimpering, “I want my mom.”
I am blessed to have an awesome and active mother. Unfortunately, she lives in NJ. But in that desperate moment on the steps, I just needed A MOM. Any mom would do. If the mailman had been a mailwoman, I would have held up the nasty bellybutton stump that had just fallen off my child and said, “Do you know what I am supposed to do with this?”
Being a mother is an impossible job to do alone. You simply cannot be all things for all people, especially not your kids. If you try, they will suck you dry.
This is why I think everyone needs “Other Mothers.” These are the women in your life who filled in the gaps of your own mother’s parenting. Other Mothers can offer a fresh perspective because they operate from a slightly safer distance, allowing them to be less
hysterical reactive when you were caught smoking pot skipping marching band practice.
I remember an episode of Oprah in which author Toni Morrison asks mothers, “Do your eyes light up when your child enters the room?” She admits that many times hers did not; she was usually looking at the stained shirt or untied shoe. As mothers, keeping the kids clean is part of the deal. Dirty laundry, however, is not the concern of an Other Mother.
Aunt Terry’s eyes did light up when I entered a room, quickly followed by the words, “Hi, Honey!” The way that she said those two words – gentle and lilting yet full of genuine excitement – made me feel that I was the most important person in the world to her at that moment. I must say it unconsciously to my own children, because when I go to get Phoebe up from her nap, she greets me with “Hi, Honey!” I can only hope that I pack those two little words with half as much love and tenderness as Aunt Terry did. Tragically, she died suddenly from an advanced form of cancer in October, leaving a hole in my heart that is beyond repair. Sometimes I still call her phone just to hear her voice.
Colleen: Colleen is my yoga teacher of 5 years, and now my “boss” at Seva Power Yoga. She’s not old enough to be my mother, but she has an old soul, and has filled the role of an Other Mother in so many significant ways.
When I first started practicing yoga after having Emma, I felt conflicted and overwhelmed. I knew yoga would be good for me…but I felt guilty about leaving and simultaneously elated to escape. From the first time I met her, Colleen had a calming effect on me (and NOT through magic crystals or lavender eye pillows).
As a yoga teacher, Colleen knows how to kick your ass without you knowing it…her teaching style is challenging yet compassionate. As a woman, she is the perfect combination of warmth and strength. She can sense your suffering and offers to share in it with you, making you feel less alone. She gives of herself fearlessly, and is teaching me to do the same.
Now, as our friendship has deepened, she affirms me not for what I do, but for who I am. My own mom is my biggest cheerleader, but everybody knows that compliments from your own mom are in a separate category. It’s in their job description to think you are The Cheese.
Colleen stands as the one person in my life who loves me just because. Not because she is related to me, or gave birth to me….just because.
My mother-in-law: I love and respect Phil’s mom – she is funny, feisty, and doesn’t take any shit. I value her opinion on raising children (she had 6) and I admire her quick-witted ability to unapologetically stand up for herself, South Philly-style. Living close by, she and my father in law are super involved grandparents and are always willing to help out.
However, it was my surgery last year that transformed my mother-in-law into my Other Mother. She had lost part of her colon to cancer a few years earlier, and she understood what I was going through. I call it The Colon Connection. In conversation I could casually throw out words like “rectum, “anal” and ”barium injections.” Because my mom lives at distance, I knew that hearing me upset made her feel helpless. So many times it was my mother-in-law I called when I needed to let it all hang out.
While many times she has allowed me to fall apart, she has also taught me how to pull it together. The morning of my surgery, Phil and I dropped Emma off at preschool. I knew little of what lay ahead other than major surgery and a 7-8 day hospital stay. As I walked Emma into school, I thought to myself, “Phil’s mom would not cry in this situation…she would be tough for Emma’s sake.” So I didn’t cry- and as cheesy as it sounds, it was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Becoming a mother does not make you perfect, complete or immortal. Even as women, we are still in need of mothering that -for many reasons- our own mothers cannot always provide. I pray that my own girls find their tribe of Other Mothers; trusted women who can perhaps give them something I can’t, or, one day, am no longer around to give.
Sometimes it takes an Other Mother to really hear what our children need to say; to see a side of them that perhaps we are too close to see.