I tend to ignore Mother’s Day. My mother has been gone 30 years. My mother-in-law has been gone just shy of 10. I’m not a mother. For me, Mother’s Day has become a nearly guaranteed quiet day with no obligations, because everyone else is engaged with family and special tributes to the mothers in their lives. And I have come to enjoy it for just that reason.
This morning, however, historian Heather Cox Richardson, in her Letters from an American, wrote:
“Those of us who are truly lucky have more than one mother. They are the cool aunts, the elderly ladies, the family friends, even the mentors who whip us into shape.”
I, too, had “mothers” other than the one who birthed me. I considered my Aunt Charleen my second mother. My mother’s cousin, Ann McWilliams, always included us in family gatherings during the holidays and made us feel special. When I was in college, one of my piano teachers, Mimi McClellan, invited me to stay in her home one summer while I worked nearby. Each of these women, and many others, offered different perspectives on how to live life, how to embrace family, and what is truly important. I don’t remember having conversations about any of these things. I just watched them. And I pocketed the treasures offered by their examples.
All of these ladies are now gone, too. I have to look to my own generation—or the ones that have followed—for role models. I imagine I can still learn a thing or two from my friends and my neighbors and my relatives who demonstrate compassion and generosity and the sort of joie de vivre that makes life worth living. I’m still trying to learn patience and acceptance and forgiveness—traits critical for all mothers, and the very traits I lack, probably in part because I never took on a maternal role. From the time my mother pulled me onto her lap when I was an out-of-control five-year-old and said, somewhat sarcastically, "I hope you have six just like you," I knew I never wanted to be a mother. And I never had any ambivalence about that.
In her letter, Richardson claimed she “had at least eight mothers.” She goes on to describe one, Sally Adams Bascom Augenstern, a strong-willed widow who had lived near Richardson in her youth. Being the eldest of six siblings, Augenstern had already done her share of child-rearing by the time she was an adult. Said Richardson, “I've never met a woman more determined never to be a mother, but I'm pretty sure that plan was one of the few things at which she failed.”
Today, for all you mothers who wittingly—or unwittingly—took on that important job, thank you. Those of us who lacked the courage are grateful for the burdens you bore with such grace. We are still watching, and we are still learning.