Who’s Your Momma?

I grew up in a matriarchal household, with a single parent mom and a single parent grandma as my role models. They were capable, confident women who showed me that not only could I be anything or anyone I wanted to be, I should be. The debt I owe them cannot be paid in mere thanks; nevertheless, I’m grateful for their influence.

My grandma was not a cookie-baking sweetheart; she could freeze the heart of a lesser mortal with a glance and she swore so vibrantly it was impressive. She was funny, and flawed, thoroughly human. Her approval was not readily forthcoming. In fact, while so many people talk about wanting the beneficence of their fathers or mothers, I sought the approval of my grandma precisely because it wasn’t easy. Grandma was prickly, testy, and wonderfully cranky. She had the proverbial heart of gold and kept it well hidden underneath layers of sarcasm.

My mom worked 60-hour weeks at a job she did not love, and still did not complain whenever I wanted her to act as my personal chauffeur. She thought my brother, sister, and I were amazing, even when we were adolescents. She shared with me her love of books, and still impresses me with her intelligence. While grandma protected her heart, my mom wore hers on her sleeve. There was no doubt when she was pleased with us, or confounded by us – there still isn’t. I have a middle name which she used to communicate the depth of trouble I was in, and a longer first name to help her express her joy. “Elizabeth!” meant I had been extraordinary; “Elizabeth Diane!” meant I should prepare my apology.

Now I’m a mom. The only thing I am absolutely certain about regarding my kids is that I am profoundly grateful for their presence in my life. They are at once the ones I know most personally (obviously) while at the same time being completely themselves — they are my beloved strangers. I only know what they choose to share with me, but what they choose to share shows depth, humor, and kindness. I am by no means a terribly wonderful mother. I am capable of the same level of sarcasm my grandma possessed, and I have tended to act more as a momma bear than has probably been necessary. In fact, I’m sure of the last one.

The kids seem to forgive me for it, though. As young adults, they both tease me about my flaws, but it’s done with a smile and a hug to soften the blow of acknowledging that momma isn’t perfect; thankfully neither are they. I have no idea what kind of legacy I’ve raised. I do know their world is vastly more complex than the one I grew up in, but they give me hope.

I have no need to wait for a greeting card holiday to ruminate on all that moms – parents in general – accomplish in raising their children. It makes no difference to me what the “mom” looks like, or even if she’s female. A mom is anyone who cares more for someone else’s well-being than their own. I am beyond exasperated with the stay-at-home vs. working mother debate (because, let’s be real, both are working), with whether a dad can make a good mom or whether there can only be one mom or dad per household. I think we have more important things to worry about, like these other people who need us.

If you are a person who is raising some other person with love and strength and grit, who would rather be hurt yourself than hurt them, who would gladly work that 60-hour week so that your person can make it through their childhood relatively unscathed, then you’re a mom and I thank you.

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