It’s a valid question, in light of the impending holiday (Mother’s Day) and all. And, in all honesty, I’m willing to bet that most of the people that I know would never think of asking themselves this question. Why not? The answer is obvious: the woman who gave birth to them is, in most cases, the woman who raised them. A pretty simple concept, to say the least.
But, for me, that isn’t the case. And I didn’t realize that it wasn’t the case until I was 23 years old. You see, up until that time, I thought and believed that my biological grandparents were my actual parents, and that my actual biological mother was my older sister. All things considered, finding out the truth was quite an Earth-shattering experience to say the least, and the only reason I found out was because I needed my birth certificate as part of my application for the U.S. Air Force. At the time I found out, I had such an array of emotions – doubt, disbelief, betrayal, anger, sadness, rebellion, philosophic introspection – that I was literally a mess for almost an entire calendar year, if not longer. To some extent, part of me is still a mess, and a small part of me will always be a mess – if only because the process of getting your whole familial structure taken apart is something that takes some getting used to. Nonetheless, the struggles I’ve had in trying to get through this are for another post or another conversation, whichever happens first.
Almost five years removed from that life-changing discovery, however, I feel something different – I feel thankful. I feel such a sense of gratitude towards two women who, in conjunction and somewhat unwittingly, worked in tandem to bring me to where I am today. I was never without a mother figure; I was never abandoned, and I was never neglected. I was loved, I was disciplined, I was taught, I was encouraged, and I was supported. When I was sick, I had someone there to take care of me. When I needed something, I always got it. I had someone to show up for parent-teacher conferences. I had someone to sign my parental consent forms. I had someone to go to my football and basketball games, and to my high school, college, and Air Force Basic Training graduations. They sometimes were the same person, but often times they weren’t. At all times, though, I had a mother figure there. It just so happened that, when I think about it retrospectively, I had two of them to take on the role as needed.
Most importantly, though, I had a mother right there. Just like most everyone else. In that sense, I wasn’t any different than a lot of the kids I grew up with and went to school with.
But, as the heading of this post asks – what is it to be a mother? Is it just something biological, or is it something more? Obviously, many women in the world adopt children and take on that motherly role, completely eschewing the entire biological concept. But, in my case, the biological and the sociological were right there alongside one other – one woman brought me into the world, and another woman brought me up (for the most part) in the world. And I’m thankful to both of them for what they’ve done, in all proportions that they’ve done.
I don’t write this because I want to play the victim or gather sympathy points; I’ve made peace with all this a while ago. I write this because of the fact that being a mother is such a powerful thing, and is often taken for granted by people unless they face some sort of crises involving their mothers. Needless to say, this realization is not something that I would like to take for granted any longer.
My biological mother is a great and loving mother, as my two younger biological sisters (both of whom are definitely the best thing I’ve gained since learning about my “real” familial structure) can and readily will attest to. And while I never had that 100% direct mothering experience from her like they did, I can say that I’ve experienced enough glimpses of it over the years to have been a substantial benefactor of her mothering. She played the cards she was dealt as best as she could, and she was still able to ensure that her three children were able to grow up in a loving, healthy, and positive environment even though she had to relinquish responsibility of her eldest child (me) when she was just 16 years old. At the end of the day, I’d say she came out way ahead in the parenting department than many women in her same predicament. As such, she deserves all the credit in the world for what she’s done with her life to date.
At the same time, the woman who raised me (my biological grandmother) took on an extra responsibility out of a sense of love and obligation. She was the one who was there for me everyday – to help me with homework, take care of me when I was sick, to try and show me some semblance of faith, and to just, well, be a mother. And she did a damn good job of it, and did so because she cared - not just for me, but for her daughter (my biological mother) and her overall well-being. She did the heavy lifting for the sake of the family, and frankly I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.
So you’ll excuse me if I’m not too big on sending flowers or Hallmark cards – right? Who do I thank? I mean, really, who do I thank? This isn’t meant to start some philosophical debate about the concept of motherhood or whatever, but I really can’t be fair in saying “Happy Mother’s Day” to one woman and not the other. Frankly, it’s hard for me to do so. It’s awkward. I’ve had 23 consecutive Mother’s Days where I had one person to consider, and now I’ve had 5 where I’ve felt awkward about the concept of motherhood because I didn’t know what to define “motherhood” as.
But you know what? I don’t think that I need to fit the concept of “motherhood” into one pre-conceived category or another. For me, the concept of motherhood transcends biological and sociological statuses. For me, motherhood is simply about being there. And I’ve been fortunate and privileged to always have someone there, in one form or another, to be the mother that I need at that particular time. Frankly, the sentiment is doubled because of the fact that I have not one, but two, women who function in that motherly role for me.
So, I’ll sum it up with this to my mothers; Happy Mothers Day. Thank you for everything. And I love you.