Sunday, May 13, 2012

Three's Company: The Mom Version

While not all of us are fortunate enough to have both our parents in our lives for as long as we'd like, many of us benefit from pretty awesome parents, one or the other, for a good chunk of time.
I'm sure you've heard how I feel about my mom, but you may not know that there have been other 'moms' in my life who have had an incredible influence on who I am as a person. These are just a few

Mima was a gorgeous woman, petite and powerful. She kept a clean and well-decorated home, fussed over everyone, loved intensely, dressed impeccably, smelled like face powder and cooked homestyle food like a gourmet chef before it was mundane to do so. She was refined and she was a gracious hostess. But here's the thing many people missed about her. Her hands. Her hands were tiny and probably when she was young, very delicate. The years had made them red and rough. She was this elegant lady with taste in classical music and fine chocolates with these hands of the woman who was dismissed arrogantly in English-speaking grocery stores and who washed floors on her hands and knees at the church.

I couldn't tell you everything she taught me, but this one thing has defined me: a woman is not all one thing, and she is never just what she appears to be.

Karen, also a beauty, with a porcelain face and a curvy figure, was in many ways everything my mom and Mima were not. Karen kept a beautiful home but different - it was comfortable and well furnished but it was being lived in and you knew it. She never panicked over a few crumbs on the counter, never scowled if you didn't put your shoes at the door just so, let you wipe the milk from your face with the back of your hand.  Her home had pets galore, a huge poodle aptly named Sugar, talking birds, fish, you name it. And she made the gold standard of BLT sandwiches - serious witchcraft in that thing - honestly. Karen never seemed to take anything seriously. So if you weren't there to notice, you may have missed how smart she was and how craftily she managed all the people (and pets) she cared for. She kept her mother and grandmother close, lived for many years in the same building as her sister, and had plenty of maternal care to spare on a scrawny little kid from down the street. She was this floating party of a woman but at her center she was serious and focused and intentional.

I couldn't possibly put into a line all the things this woman taught me, but I'll say this has made a difference: Being a mother is serious business and the very best of them laugh all the way through.

And Eileen. Eileen wasn't one of my surrogate moms. She's the mom of my daughter's closest friend. Eileen's this wispy, freckly lady with a shock of silky, dark hair and an imperviously young face. She walks faster than the average cyclist on a downhill run, drives like a NASCAR racer in a minivan and can't suffer a long meeting without complaint. But she'll take days upon days to painstakingly craft together long strands of individually selected beads for a birthday necklace. She'll guide your kid through the weeks-long process of making a miniature room out of popsicle sticks and felt scraps. She's a dessert maker (love that about her!), a closet pundit, an amazing party planner and a real, true and decent friend.  So she's great at the mom thing, but did I tell you that Eileen is at the top of her game in her field? She's a sought-after expert and draws people from all over the country, all over the world even, to her events. She's worked for governments and privately funded institutes and everywhere you go with her she's a gal people want to talk to.

So here's what I get, in spades, from Eileen: you can be a mom and have your own interests and your own successes and it doesn't make you any less of a mom. 

I once had my indignant, then 4 year-old, daughter tell me that if I wanted to be a better mom I ought to try to be more like Eileen. At the time I was completely crushed, but the more I've thought on it, the more I suspect she's exactly right. I'm trying. I'm also throwing a little Karen in there and a good dose of Mima and my Mom and a few other women. 

In the end, I can only be me as a mother. But I'm so glad to have had these women in my life to show me how to find the best mother in me.

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