It’s Mother’s Day, but which mother? I had a mother; three of them, in fact. I have a son and a daughter, so I am also a mother. The mother who gave me life could not keep me. The mother who raised me was childless. The person who gave me a mother’s unconditional love was not my mother. It’s complicated.
The mother who adopted me gave up her career on the stage to marry the man who became the heart center of the rest of her life; it was a loving marriage, but childless. She’d had a turbulent and painful childhood, then went on to study theatre in New York. After the 1917-18 flu epidemic upended her efforts on the dramatic stage, she turned to a career as a vaudeville comedienne and did very well. Leaving theatre to live as a country wife was life-changing.
The mother who bore me grew up with a divorced single mother, and she spent most of her time away from home in private schools: 7 years near her Wisconsin home, 2 years in New England, a high school graduate at age 15. She was a beautiful young woman with a love for music and theatre, and the man who shared those loves probably never knew he’d made a baby. I interrupted her study at UW/Madison, and afterward she returned, completed her degree, married a good man, and had a son.
The mother who embraced me with full-hearted love was abandoned when she gave birth to the child who would become my life-mate. Her husband wanted no competition. As a single mom, she struggled for survival, always rejoiced in her son, and opened her arms to me when I entered the family. Her love was milk to me.
I honor them all. These women: amazing women, vital, fierce, loving, and totally different. Life threw them curves, and they all had to struggle. But all three gave me gifts worthy of fairy godmothers. My birth-mother chose to give me life, and she gifted me with her music and theatre and love of languages, as well as her wonderful bone structure. My adoptive mother gave me great pain, but she also showed me what a committed marriage can be and how performing can light up your life. And my borrowed mother gave me a warm nest, honored me by blessing my union with her only beloved, and called us both her kids.
Three mothers: I celebrate them. And I celebrate me too, a mother who nursed two kids on the road, changed diapers in the Dodge van, managed years of home-schooling, and let go when the time came.
And today I also lavish love on the mother of us all. She has been abused and is hurting, and we would all do well to become warriors in her defense. One way or the other, all my mothers did that for me. It’s only right to give back. Happy Mother’s Day.