What makes mothers?

It’s interesting, the things that kindergartners say about their mothers.

I recently overheard a fragment of conversation at kindergarten snacktime, involving one of the kids I like to call “pop-up children” (teachers, you know the ones I’m talking about). This is what I heard:

“…and then she punched me! In the face! My mom!”

Wise little boy beside him, wisely contemplating his crackers: “Your mom would never do such a thing.”

In this case, wise boy is right. I’ve met the mom in question. In my school community, there is a preponderance of very attentive, highly invested moms – and parents in general. You can just tell by the quality of the snowsuits, the shoes, the lunches, and the attendance at school concerts.

But there are moms out there who do hit their kids.

With my second group of kindergartners, a different declaration reached my ears: “It has to be true, because moms don’t lie. THEY DON’T.”

Ooh. If only that were the case. I think we try hard not to, but as A.J. Jacobs illustrates in The Year of Living Biblically, parents end up lying to their children all too often, for myriad reasons. (Example: “Sorry, honey, we don’t have any more batteries for your obnoxiously smug talking ride-a-car.”) (Plus, there’s the Santa thing.)

But there do exist moms out there whose lives – with their children – are fraught with dishonesty.

A few weeks ago, I watched a mom become a good fairy. I saw her sneak into the classroom while I was teaching and put something in her daughter’s cubbyhole. Shortly thereafter, the daughter, who had been asking for weeks if she could have chocolate milk at lunch even though she wasn’t in the milk program, magically found chocolate milk in her cubby.

I couldn’t resist suggesting, “It must have been the chocolate milk fairy.” (This is a child who regularly tells her peers, “I have fairy dust on me, so I can fly – it just won’t work until I’m a little older. IT’S TRUE.”)

This girl is a little drama queen, but for once she was genuinely shocked – speechless, in fact. The look of dumbfounded joy on her face was just… the best. I wish I could have snapped a photo for her mom.

One of my tiny, elfin JKs knows more about the nuts and bolts of motherhood; she noticed that my belly was round and asked if there was a baby in there. When I said yes, she declared, “I grew in my Mummy’s uterus.”

So all this got me thinking about what makes us Moms, Mamas, Mummys, Mothers. What do we ALL have in common? It’s a harder question than I was originally thinking.

It’s not gestation or birth, because lots of moms don’t do that. It’s not even being the technical or legal mother of someone – because I know quite a few people whose “real” moms are actually their grandmothers or aunts, or someone else who mothers them (more effectively than their biological or even custodial mother).

What do moms do, then? What makes them mothers?

What’s “mothering”?

My dictionary says that to mother is “to look after kindly and protectively, sometimes excessively so”.

That seems fair. After all, if you don’t look after your child kindly and protectively, are you really a mother? If you get pregnant and give birth to someone you don’t care for properly, no offense, but I’m not sure the biology alone qualifies you.

There are lots of different ways to be a great mom. My mom is one – the mother of four. When she had us, he quit her job to take care of us full-time. In fact, she was also my school teacher from Grade 2 through Grade 8. She could find the learning in any situation. She is the kind of mom who sang to us a lot; she taught us to bake cookies; she made raisin faces on our peanut butter crackers; she trusted us to play and explore without her (from a reasonable age) as long as we were together; she drove us all over the place, to birthday parties and field trips and so many different kinds of lessons that I don’t honestly know how she kept her sanity some years. She got angry with us when anger was warranted. We never wondered whether she loved us or would protect us – we took that completely for granted. After all, she knew everything and could do anything.

I’m sure that she must have second-guessed herself often enough, as we all do. But we could never tell.

As for me, I try my best to snuggle my kid so much that he becomes addicted and seeks out snuggles for years to come. (E napped on me yesterday for the first time in ages. Priceless.)

E sleeping on Mommy

Love and Happy Mother’s Day, to all mothers and to all of us who have been mothered. Please share – what did – or does – your awesome mom do for you?



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3 thoughts on “What makes mothers?

  1. Mama says:

    Tears. Sighs. Thank you! You and your siblings were and are awesome kids. I loved it all – and I’m still loving it.

    More about my mom later…

  2. Auntie CL says:

    good questions, good answers, good more questions!
    my mother — well, i just wish i could have been or could be as good a mother to my children as she was to me. she loved me, taught me, protected me, supported me, encouraged me, held me close, let me go, celebrated me, scolded me, nourished me, sang to me, played with me, helped me, nursed me, never held me back, levelled with me, was there for me, understood me as much as she could, and did all these things anyway even when she couldn’t, and most of all was a truly wonderful example of good living: generosity of spirit, optimism, love between wife and husband, care for the earth and its inhabitants, seeking out the joy in life and letting go of the sad stuff soon enough. courage and honour, steadfastness, keeping the ability to find delight, even now when her life is so diminished. wow. what a woman! what a mother! that’s just for starters…

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