Typically, people have one mother.  That is the person that births them, changes their diaper, loves them through the teenage years, cries at graduation and beyond.  Sometimes life isn’t easy and there may be a step-mom that is added to the equation.

I have been blessed to have a multitude of female parental units to nurture me.  I think I learned something different from each one.  Some I learned about how to be a good mom, others provided excellent examples of what not to be as a mom.  Some have left this planet, others have stuck around long enough for me to reconcile my childhood expectations with the realities they faced while trying to mother me.

First mom – bio mom – Sheila

In addition to birthing me, she was wise enough to give me up for adoption when she was 18.  Just after I turned 13, I went to live with her.  She found it incomprehensible that I didn’t know my way around the kitchen.  I lived with her for two and a half years and she did her best to rectify that oversight.  Sometimes we had very little food, but she taught me the importance of making things stretch.  If you mix a half a pound of hamburger into a couple of boxes of Mac & Cheese, it seems like a meal.   She taught me to make all the Southern food, gravy, fried potatoes, dump cake, beans & cornbread.  It doesn’t seem like much, but I can see how it gave me confidence that I could feed myself.

Second mom – adopted mom – Kay

Kay couldn’t have children, so she cheerfully adopted her sister’s baby and raised me as her own.  As I have shared, I don’t have a ton of memories of Kay and I think it’s because she and I were very close.  She taught me the importance of family – even when they make you crazy.  She was loyal, steadfast and clearly everyone in the family’s favorite.  After she died, I feel like I stepped into that role as the favorite, maybe it was just because I lived with so many different family members. Despite her husband’s inability to keep a job, she continued to take him back again and again.  She usually lived fairly close to some family or another.  I used to lament losing my mom at such a young age, however, I know my life would have been very different had I only lived in small town Arkansas.

My aunt – my guardian for 5 years – Mary

By the age of 8 I met female parent number three, Aunt Mary, already a mother to two girls, who were four and two.  To say she had her hands full is an understatement.  Aunt Mary used to say I was an instigator.  For the longest time, I didn’t actually know what an instigator was.  It didn’t sound good by the tone of voice she said it in.  There were two girls that lived down the street and the five of us found mischief all summer long in our next door neighbor’s apple orchard.  I got in trouble more times than I can count for sharing snacks with the whole neighborhood and coming up with very fun adventures for us to have.    I called her when I was an adult and told her that I finally figured out that all those years she was trying to say I was a good leader with excellent sales skills.  Uh, yeah, that’s what she meant.

Aunt Mary taught me about faith.  We were literally at the church every time the doors were open.  She also made sure that we went to good schools where we were taught faith, first a Baptist school and then a Catholic school.  I was very bright and devoted to my faith.  I often questioned the priests and the theology they taught us in religion class.  Aunt Mary showed me that there was more to life than trailer parks and changing schools constantly.  She showed me stability.  I never missed a meal, went without clothing or shoes, or even moved houses.  I often credit my 5 years in Ohio as the reason I am as well-adjusted as I am.

My grandma – Geneva

My grandma had seven children; five from the first marriage, two from the second.  When Kay was sick and in the hospital, I often lived with grandma and her two youngest children who were 7 and 8 years older than me.    After Kay died, grandma came to Ohio at least once a year to visit.  I always slept in the living room with her when she visited so we could talk late in the night. It was well established that as the oldest granddaughter I was the favorite, as long as my cousin the oldest grandSON wasn’t around.  When I was nearly 16, I moved in with my grandma.  She was a great encouragement to my extra curricular activities.  She also taught me about compassion when she would wake me up in the middle of the night to bail someone out of jail.  She taught me the importance of being kind to people despite their circumstances.

I was named after her, Geneva is my first name which I don’t answer to because I think you are a telemarketer.  She taught me some bad habits too, but this hardly seems like the place. You’ll have to read the book.

My best friend – Robin

A social worker by trade, nurturing is practically Robin’s middle name.  She began nurturing me early in our relationship and we had a fair trade because I loved her unconditionally and wouldn’t let her talk poorly about herself ever.  She has taught me what it means to be steadfast and forgiving.  We’ve survived being roommates, living across the continent and working together.  It’s interesting how our relationship naturally ebbs and flows to who is nurturing and who is receiving the nurture.

My mother-in-law – Betty

Once Barry’s mum got over the shock that he wasn’t moving back to Canada, she accepted me arms wide open.  When we were first married and mom would come visit for several weeks, inevitably we would have some sort of dispute that became, tell your mom that she shouldn’t blah, blah, blah…tell your wife that she shouldn’t blah, blah, blah…. Poor Barry.  Eventually he was in school full time and worked full time, he wasn’t around enough to be the mediator so mom and I had to actually work things out.  Mom taught me the importance of family.  She was so loyal to her family that it was very difficult for her to admit they had faults.  She gave freely of her time and energy.  During Josh’s pregnancy, she took two-year-old Sami to Canada for 4 weeks to allow her to get to know her family up there and give me a break.  She brought her back and stayed for the first 3 months after Josh’s birth.  Later, she also took all three children to Canada when they were 2, 4 and 7.   She loved to cook and passed that on to her son, much to my delight.

My mentor – Paula

When my oldest daughter was around two, I was in therapy…again.  I had quite possibly the worst counselor ever.  He would say things like, “She’s two, what do you expect?”  Not helpful.  He had one great suggestion.  He said, “You clearly have not had a consistent mom. I’m not sure you understand how to be a mom, you need a mom mentor. Someone that will just let you see what it means to be a mom.”  I was telling my friend from church Paula about this suggestion and she said, “I’ll be your mom mentor.” I was completely shocked and said, “You will?”  For the next year or two, I would take Sami to her house after women’s ministry Bible study and just hang out while we did life.

She taught me to say yes as much as you can.  When her kids were riding tricycles around on her hardwood floors I freaked completely out.  She said, “Don’t you think it would be so much fun to ride your bike in the house?? That’s why I let them. They aren’t going to get hurt and watching them have fun brings me way more joy than perfect floors.”  Wow.

She taught me complete steadfast devotion.  I am pretty sure when she said she would be my mom mentor, she had no idea that she was signing up for an almost 20 year commitment (so  far).  She has been an advocate for my marriage, there were many days she reminded me not only of the good of my husband, but that I wasn’t always a ray of sunshine for him either.  She allowed me to see how she dealt with a divorce, remarriage and step family.  She has loved me through some of the darkest days of my life and knows where all the bodies are buried (it’s an expression, jeez).

Every year we bake cookies for Christmas.  Although our children might argue if they didn’t get their favorite baked, it has nothing to do with cookies and a whole lot to do with 8 hours of therapy.  I truly don’t know where I would be without her.

Passing it on

As I look back on all the mothers, I realize that I have tried to pass on many of these lessons to those that have come into my life and needed the different traits.  I believe our lives are like trains on a train track.  When we meet people, they can serve as a switching yard. Some of them nudge us gently in a slightly different direction while others actually create turns in our life that dramatically enhance our journey.  I believe these turns and nudges assists in our healing and reaching our full potential.