Fill in the blank: I am a ________. Did you say mother? Or was it woman or Jew or tax accountant? For a lot of us, I think the first word that comes to mind is mother. I am a woman. It’s what I am. I am a writer. That’s what I do. But a mother is what I am and what I do. It’s not the only thing, but it’s everything.
I am also a white, sort of Protestant, middle-aged, American woman. Unfortunately, that often leaves me feeling like I am nothing - not without value but without people. I’ve always been attracted to Catholicism and Judaism because I like the traditions and rules. It seems like everyone at the service knows exactly what to do no matter how complicated the ritual or prayer. They belong. I think my husband’s Jewish heritage was one of the first things that attracted me, but we are not Jewish. We light candles every night of Hanukah, but my kids think kosher is a flavor of pickle.
I find myself jealous of black women in that I’d like to consider my girlfriends sisters. If I called my best friend “Sister,” she’d think I’ve lost it. Still, I try. I give friends nicknames. It’s my way of saying: You belong with me. You are part of my club. I know you.
In Hawaii where we spend much of our summer, the local kids call their adult friends Auntie and Uncle no matter if they are related or not. I like it. We tried it when our kids were little. My girls still refer to a few of our old friends as Uncle Dan and Uncle Dave. When Uncle Dave started dating and eventually married Sharon, she didn’t appreciate being called “Uncle Sharon” so that kind of went out the window. What?! I didn’t make it up. My kids were little. They thought: Uncle goes with Uncle. Plus, it was funny. I still think Uncle Sharon is a term of endearment.
The truth is that I’ve always wanted people: a group that is special, that a person is part of simply based on who or what she is. None of my groups (white, American, middle-aged) really gave me that feeling of connection – until I became a mom.
When you are a mom, you are part of a society. You can say things like, “It’s a mom thing,” or “You’re a mom. You understand.” You have each other’s back. You get it.
I read in a parenting magazine that we should teach our children to go to a mom with kids when they are lost in an airport or shopping mall. It’s like saying, “These are our people. They are safe. They will always help you.” And it’s true.
I reviewed that lesson right as we arrived at Sea World a few years ago. Less than an hour later, we noticed that my then 6-year-old daughter Emma was missing. And I mean really missing, not just 10 feet away out of sight. My husband ran back to the sea lion exhibit and found her while I searched the line at the dolphin show literally dialing 9-1-1. By the time Brad got to Emma, a mom with kids had found her crying and clearly lost. The mom gave her a tray of sardines to feed the sea lions and stayed with Emma until we got there. When I arrived, I hugged that woman until we were both sobbing. It doesn’t matter if she was black, or Jewish, or a tax accountant. She was a stranger. She was my sister. She was a mother. She is one of my people. And so are you.