Mothers and Others

“Moooommm!”

When the call goes up from Missy, it’s an all-hands-on-deck summons. “Mom” can be Heather. “Mom” can be me. “Mom” could probably be Chewbacca if he lived in the house, took care of Missy and made her tea at least five times a week.  

For her, it’s a job description. And ever since Heather and I became her guardians and caregivers, it means us – no matter what the dictionary and Mother’s Day cards may say.

And as we pass through the “family” holidays again, it’s a potent reminder that family is what you make it.

Mind you, that’s been a longstanding lesson at Chez Rochat, where the word is so flexible it practically does backflips. On my side of the aisle, my family is nuclear enough to qualify for a supporting role in “Oppenheimer” – growing up, we had Mom, Dad, three kids, the family dog. All we needed to become the next great American sitcom was a wacky neighbor and a guest appearance by a C-list celebrity.

Heather, on the other hand, has a family that’s more blended than a Dairy Queen Blizzard, full of “steps” and “halfs” and very long Christmas lists.  It makes for some really fun get-togethers … as long as you’ve got a nice big living room available.

And of course, we’ve had our share of friends whose family is one of choice, not blood – folks who have found more acceptance among close friends than they ever did at home.

Each is a different facet of the same thing, all of them shining when held to the light. But it’s easy to forget that, especially during the card-and-flower holidays that tend to hold up one image of mothers, or fathers, or families to admire as the standard.

So this year, in the time between Mother’s and Father’s Day, here’s to all of us.

Here’s to the ones who never knew their parents – or wish they hadn’t – and have tried to be the best Mom or Dad they can without an example to work from.

Here’s to the ones who can’t have kids, but have adopted or fostered or otherwise made their own family in their own way.

Here’s to the ones who are happy without kids and have found their own paths to sharing love and guidance: as a mentor, as a volunteer, as a caregiver of any kind.

Here’s to all the families in all their combinations with all the connections they forge. A crazy-quilt of love and trust that could never be imagined, only demonstrated.

All of us, together, have made something bigger than ourselves. And when it’s solid, it can be the foundation for something bigger still – a neighborhood, a community, a world.

And that says more than any Hallmark card ever could.

So whether the calendar takes us to Mother’s Day, Siblings Day, or just one more Monday with too much to do, I hope you make the most of all of them. And that your version of a family is one you’ll always be proud to share.

I know I am. Just as soon as I finish making this pot of tea, anyway.

After all, a “Moooom’s” work is never done.

A Mother by Any Other Name

The siren call takes many forms. But the intent is unmistakable.

“Moooooooommmmmmm!”

“Mo-mo-mo-mo-mo-mom!”

“Mommy?”

And when the call goes up, so does Heather. To get Missy some more tea. To hunt up some art supplies. To listen to a question, or unlace a pair of shoes, or smile at how Missy has dressed herself with two odd socks and an inside-out shirt.

It’s all in the job description. Even if it’s not necessarily the traditional job.

For our developmentally disabled ward Missy, “Mom” has always been more of a job description than a literal relationship. Her own birth mother, Heather’s grandma, died 10 years ago, three years before Heather and I became Missy’s guardians and caregivers. Missy has certainly never forgotten her, something we’re reminded of each April when she becomes a little sad and quiet around the time Grandma Val passed.

But Missy – who sometimes seems to be 4, sometimes 14, and sometimes 44, depending on the situation – takes a very practical approach to life. If you are living with her, loving her, and providing her with the care she needs, you are “Mom.” Sometimes regardless of gender – I’ve been “Mom” a few times in the grocery store (along with “Daddy,” “He,” and many times “Frank,” the name of her late father).

The more I think about it, the more I figure Missy has it exactly right. If you are taking on Mom’s role, you are Mom. Never mind the genes. Never mind the spot on the family tree. Never mind how a dozen dictionaries define the word.

Wil Wheaton once said that being a nerd isn’t about what you love, it’s about how you love it. I think you could say something similar about being a mom – it’s not who you care for, it’s about how you care for them.

And so, mothers everywhere, by any name and description – each year, Mother’s Day is for you, too.

You may be raising the children you brought into this world yourself.

You may be raising a family that’s more blended than a Dairy Queen blizzard, with “halfs” and “steps” and other prefixes that only matter to a genealogist.

You may be the guardian to someone who needs your care and attention to get through the day, whatever their age.

You may be the grown child who has suddenly had to become the parent to a parent, keeping a heart-wrenching watch that could never be fully described to another.

For you, and for the many others besides – you have claimed the name. You have taken up the mantle. You have assumed the duty with all its care, pain, and sudden crises at 3 o’clock in the morning.

You are Mom. And Mother’s Day belongs to you. (Heck, every day belongs to you. But Hallmark and FTD have to make their money somewhere.)

So this day and every day, thank you.

It’s not enough. Somewhere between “Stop yelling at the dog!” and “Why are you being so quiet?”, you get taken for granted. That’s the way of most good things in life – we assume they’re just there, invisible and vital as oxygen, until the moment reminds us how vital, how essential.

And in that moment, we don’t care what anyone calls you.

You are Mom.

And that’s enough.

Thank you, Heather my love.

Thank you, all.