My mother turned 87 a few weeks back, so I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about her legacy—never more, of course, than around Mother’s Day. And I remembered a time a few months ago when a kind friend told her, in my presence, that she had raised wonderful children. My mother smiled in gratitude, but responded, “Well, I had a lot of help.” At the time I assumed she was referring to my late father, her partner in parenting and life for nearly 63 years, a memorable character and strong (to understate it considerably) father figure. I didn’t ask her to elaborate, but now I would wager that she was acknowledging much more than just the good fortune of marrying a man who became a good father. There were so many, many more people who helped shape the adults that her children would become.
The same has certainly been the case throughout my own journey as a mother. My best as a mom was only however good it was because I, too, had a lot of help. They were the scores of people who stepped onto the path with my daughter and me and walked some portion of it with us.
I became a single parent before my daughter turned four, and I am grateful that to this day that her father and his family play a vital and major role in her life. But as custodial parent and, well, her Mom, much was left to me to decide, to evaluate, to do. I remember so clearly how, over and over again, I turned for help to others who stepped up when we needed them. Or, in other cases, help was offered when I might not have been smart enough to know I needed it. Perhaps the smartest thing I did as a mom was learn how to find help, and how to accept it when it was presented to me.
So many faces and names come to mind. I hope I thanked them then, but it seems like the right season to do it again, for those I haven’t seen in decades and those who remain part of our lives. The list I started quickly grew too long to include them all here. Nevertheless, here are some snapshots of those heroes who performed what often felt like minor miracles, in ways too broad and deep to accurately describe. They deserve a cut, you might say, of any kind thoughts that come my way on Mother’s Day, and I send them all kudos for teaching me that parenting is perhaps the most fundamental of all team sports.
Starting in those intense early years, thank you to Miss Sheila, one of our first and most fearless daycare angels. When I choked back tears of stress to admit, pre-enrollment, that potty training was not yet behind us, Miss Sheila patted my shoulder. “Don’t you worry about that,” she said. “We’ll take care of it.” And she was right.
Warm gratitude to Miss Alice, who managed the after-school program and loved my daughter so kindly that she cried on our last day there, as we prepared to move out of state. How could I possibly have carried on a serious career without knowing those precious after-school hours were so well accounted for?
I can hardly summon sufficient words to thank my parents, for their hands-on help and the lifelong example they set. And my sisters, Jane and Kate, who (along with their families) took turns hosting her for summer trips, where they took her places she had never been, and enabled her to know her long-distance family so well.
Her stepmother, Lisa, once called to tell me something very difficult had happened, to make sure I could jump on it quickly. It was not an easy thing to do, I’m sure, and I’m forever grateful to her for it.
I had a time-intensive job when my daughter was in early grade school, in those pre-internet days when you couldn’t easily work at home. More than once I had to pick her up from after-care and bring her back to the office, with dinner in a sack. A kind co-worker offered to walk her around, and the next thing I knew, I found her drawing happily in the executive-suite office of the elderly founder of the company. I was mortified, but he was delighted. Speaking of that company, thanks to Rick and David for the award that became our first trip to Europe, where my daughter and I toured London and Paris in style. I could never have managed such a thing in those times without the company’s generosity.
Heavens, there are so many others. Thank you, Nancy, for running a summer camp where generations of girls learned brilliant outdoor technical skills and the risk-taking and bravery that comes with them. Nancy had to teach parents, too, and on one panicked phone call (note, it was me that was panicking), she patiently explained how the camp’s excellent safety training prepared my daughter perfectly when she was bucked out of a raft in the rapids of a North Carolina river.
Special thanks to Charla, mom of her high-school best friend, for choosing the tougher option, the hard but right thing, for calling me when you learned that my young teenager was experimenting with things that so many kids do. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to intervene at such a potentially crucial time. It could have changed so many things; who knows?
To the long series of stellar art teachers who encouraged her, thank you for inspiring skills and creativity that she continues to grow to this day. Stained glass, ceramics, mixed media, pen and ink, fabric collage, jewelry—she excelled in all those things, thanks to your guidance, and the evidence adorns my house to this day. That’s a particular kind of gratitude from a mom who does well to get the top off of the crayon box.
A special bouquet of Mother’s Day love to Cassie, a college student I hired years ago to ferry my daughter to sports practice and get her started on homework in those tender junior-high years. Cassie was (and is) a godsend model of common sense, practicality, and kindness, very happy virtues for a mom who now has four boys of her own.
I’m so grateful to Carol, an early boss in the first years after college, who ran a good, values-based family business that wrapped employees in team spirit and loyalty. My daughter has long since moved on, but when the business closed recently, the outpouring of good memories from my daughter and her friends spoke volumes about the kind of people who founded and ran it.
When they say it takes a village to raise a child, it is a profound truth that may be undervalued in our times, where independence and self-direction may often be prioritized above family-style collaboration and support. Maybe it’s time to re-think that status, as we renew these annual celebrations of parenthood. For me, this week, I’m celebrating my Mom, of course, But along with her, I’m raising a glass to all those villagers who helped make my motherhood journey what it was and continues to be.
I could never, ever have done it without you. Between us, we raised a fine woman, now a wonderful mother in her own right, but it took every one of us to do it. Happy Mother’s Day, everybody.