Friday, October 7, 2011

My Other Mothers

My homecoming. I needed Mom then, and I
still need a Mom—or two—today.
First let me say, that God gave me a wonderful Mom from the start. We had our differences, as all mothers and children do, but I firmly believe—as in all relationships—that we were given to each other because we were uniquely suited to help each other evolve in this life.
   My mom was a wonderful baker of cookies and sewer of prom dresses. She showed her love for my sisters and me in many, many ways. When we lost our mother to dementia, and later to death, a big void opened up in my life. Even though I'm 48 years old, I still need a mother from time to time. In fact, right now, I need a mother's compassion and wisdom more than ever. I might even need TWO mothers, and actually, that's what I've been given: One Jewish Momma, and one Baptist Momma. Between them, they have my sh*t covered.

I've known both of my Other Mothers for almost 20 years, since my days at Turner Broadcasting. Kaye and Jenniffer came into my life when I worked in marketing for TNT. Although very different, they are both wise in their own ways, and for some reason I can't even fathom, they've accepted me as a friend.
   Kaye, my Jewish mother, is a few years younger than I, tall and gorgeous and outrageously funny. At first glance, you wouldn't take her for a maternal type. But she's one of those true-friends who will tell you that you have spinach souffle between your teeth, or toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe. At times this can be annoying because I don't want to know that I am not perfect.
   In 1995, when I left Turner to launch my career as a freelance writer, I planned a three-month road trip to begin my new writer's life. Momma Kaye gave me a thoughtful and practical gift: A year's membership to AAA. She might as well have given me clean underwear. I did appreciate the guarantee of roadside assistance, but it struck me at the time as a less-than romantic send-off. She could have given me a new journal or a sexy beret, but she chose a gift that would save my butt if my 13-year old BMW (with over 200K miles logged on it) broke down on some dark Mississippi backroad. There were times when I begrudged Kaye for her maternal ways—just as I resented my own mother. "I can take care of myself!" I'd say. "Don't worry about me!" But being a good Jewish Momma, Kaye gave me what I needed, not what I wanted.
   More recently, Kaye has become my emotional Triple-A service as I've stalled out on the dark backroads of my Do-Over Life. When we reunited last summer after almost 15 years of radio silence, she never questioned my calls for help, nor did she let me wallow around in self-pity or doubt. Sometimes she would provide advice I did not want to hear, and I would ignore it—just as I ignored the advice my mother gave me as a teenager. For example, when I started dating a guy a few months after my separation, and claimed that I was falling in love, Kaye simply said, "I'm so happy for you. Don't forget to buy condoms." (I'm surprised she didn't send me a gross of Trojans. And BTW I did not ignore this advice!) When that relationship tanked after a few weeks, she was there to listen to my rantings about how incredibly stupid I had been for thinking the guy was so special. She never said, "I knew he was a rebound guy." She didn't have to, because she let me figure that out for myself.
   Jenniffer, my Baptist mother, is about my age as well. She's African American, beautiful, quiet and gentle and never reprimanding. She has a wry sense of humor, and a twinkle in her eyes. In Jenniffer's kind countenance is wisdom that surpasses her years.
   Jenniffer and I were neighbors in Atlanta, as well as colleagues. We bonded over glasses of Merlot and long discussions about our spiritual beliefs. Once we volunteered to cook for a homeless shelter together and decided to make ham because it sounded like an easy entree that could feed a lot of people. We went to the grocery store and picked out what we thought was a large ham. Only upon opening up the package did we realize it was raw pork and in need of many hours of roasting. The scene that ensued as we baked the beast in her small apartment kitchen was something worthy of Lucy and Ethel. (It turned out delicious, by the way.)
  Like my bio-Mom, Jenniffer has great faith in God, which I admire. Over the past year, as I've shared the heartaches and confusion that my Do-Over has wrought, she's been there for me with warmth, compassion and love. And like a good Baptist Momma, she's prayed for me every step of the way. She has been a life-line in my darkest times. Almost every night she sends me a text saying, "Good night friend. I love you."
  Since my own lovely Mother is no longer here to guide me, thankfully my Other Mothers are there to step in to provide me just what I need. Sadly, many people never received what they needed from their biological families. Finding appropriate surrogates, who can offer unconditional love, goes a long way towards healing and forgiveness. Sometimes a friend is just a compadre, but sometimes a friend turns out to be a sister or brother or mother or father or even a child. (Neither Kaye or Jenniffer have children of their own, so perhaps I am that role for them. Goodness knows I often exhibit the emotional range of a toddler.) Yes, only through the miracle of friendships, could a 40-something year-old Black woman have a 48-year old white girl for a daughter.

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