Monica gave me a topic assignment for today's post (which is also a contest... in case you want to join in) one that I've been putting off writing because I have such mixed feelings on the issue. Ironic too, because just a couple of days ago, The KingofHearts and I were discussing just this thing: When was it that I became a mother?

It's an interesting thought -- what makes a mother. I don't really know when it happened for me.

According to

Mother is one of the surviving words from Anglo-Saxon (starting as modor), which are among the most fundamental words in English. Mother has many cognates in other languages, including Old High German muoter, Dutch moeder, Old Norse mothir, Latin mater, Greek meter, and Sanskrit mat. These words share an Indo-European root. Mother is one of the Anglo-Saxon nouns that has an Anglo-Saxon adjective as well as a Latinate adjective — motherly and maternal — and motherly also came from Old English (modorlic). Mom, a shortened form of momma, was recorded in 1894; momma was first used in 1884. Both are chiefly North American uses. Mamma and mama, created by children reduplicating an instinctive sound, are much earlier terms showing up in the 1500s. In between came mommy (also North American in usage) in 1848, which was a variant of mammy (also 1500s).

Also fascinating, is the sheer number of definitions that exist for the word mother:

  1. a female parent.
  2. (often initial capital letter) one's female parent.
  3. a mother-in-law, stepmother, or adoptive mother.
  4. a term of address for a female parent or a woman having or regarded as having the status, function, or authority of a female parent.
  5. a term of familiar address for an old or elderly woman.
  6. mother superior.
  7. a woman exercising control, influence, or authority like that of a mother: to be a mother to someone.
  8. the qualities characteristic of a mother, as maternal affection: It is the mother in her showing itself.
  9. something or someone that gives rise to or exercises protecting care over something else; origin or source.
  10. (in disc recording) a mold from which stampers are made. –adjective
  11. being a mother: a mother bird.
  12. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a mother: mother love.
  13. derived from or as if from one's mother; native: his mother culture.
  14. bearing a relation like that of a mother, as in being the origin, source, or protector: the mother company and its affiliates; the mother computer and its network of terminals. –verb (used with object)
  15. to be the mother of; give origin or rise to.
  16. to acknowledge oneself the author of; assume as one's own.
  17. to care for or protect like a mother; act maternally toward. –verb (used without object)
  18. to perform the tasks or duties of a female parent; act maternally: a woman with a need to mother. —Idiom
  19. mother of all, the greatest or most notable example of: the mother of all mystery novels.

It's a verb, it's an adjective, it's a noun, it's a proper noun, it's a superlative... I only know of one other word in the English language that fits into more forms of speech... but that one's got four letters in it.

For a lot of women I know - many who struggle with infertility, may not live with their children, have gone through a divorce, may not have children or be married - Mothers' Day is a difficult day. I know I've felt... well... uncomfortable receiving cards, praise and accolades in the past. It was especially difficult after my first daughter died; Mothers' Day was pretty much an in-your-face reminder of how much I missed.

In church, they always do something ahem, "special" for Mothers' Day Sunday. Since it's Men who plan and execute this happening, it usually involves having some kind of special talk during the meeting and then after the meeting having little smelly pre-pubescent boys stand with their shirttails hanging out at the door of the chapel as everyone exits, shoving marigolds - purchased the day before from the Home Depot which are now pulled directly from the flat and wrapped in wet paper towels - into the hands of every woman over eighteen who walks past. One thing I think has been done well in congregations I've attended over the years, is the sensitivity to this issue of who is a mother. No one asks to see your mother's card to verify it - every woman just gets a flower (and then heads straight to the bathroom to wash the dirt off her hands). In recent years, the talks and orations I've heard at church on Mothers' Day Sunday have been more a celebration of Womanhood than of simply mothers... an acknowledgment that we all nurture and teach one another and that even though a woman may not be a mother in the traditional sense, they have the ability to affect children's lives. Though I realize that I am the ultimate person responsible for my child's welfare, I like and appreciate that It Takes a Village mentality too. It makes me feel less alone.

It's hard to pinpoint when I started to think of myself as a mother. I'm not sure I even do. I, more than most women, was eased into it, I guess.

When I got married, I acquired a ready-made family. I became a Stepmother. In fact, The KoH taught his son (five at the time) to refer to me as "Wicked Stepmother"... and he did...
all through our wedding day. He had no idea what it meant and everyone else thought it was hysterical... what five year old could pass up that kind of attention? He now calls me "Mom" and as far as I'm concerned, whatever he wants to call me is fine with me. But he has a mother, and while I consider it a great compliment that he feels that he can refer to me in this way, I still feel uncomfortable - like I'm stealing something from his "real" mother when he uses the same term for me as her. He's a great kid and I love him, but he's never lived with us in any permanent fashion and I don't have the necessary mothering (definition number 17) experiences to really consider me his Mother (definition 2). Other women must agree, because during the early period of our marriage, when moms would get together and talk about their kids, I'd sometimes try to join in with stories and anecdotes about my stepson. People were always nice, but dismissive, like these weren't MY stories to tell and I should know that I wasn't really a part of The Club.

My second foray into motherhood came with our first daughter. There's a very long, very drawn out story about that and how I was diagnosed with a brain tumor during that time and because that was a way cooler diagnosis than "Hey, she's pregnant" doctors completely missed the fact that I was - in fact, it was an OB-GYN that told me I was NOT pregnant - and for many months we didn't even know about this little girl growing inside me. I felt robbed of months of knowing and being excited about the fact that I was pregnant. Once an endocrinologist figured that part out, we knew almost immediately that there were problems with this child. She lived for two days and we buried her. I was definitely her mother in the most agreed-upon, biological, sense, (definition 2) but I still wasn't. I missed out on all the mother (definitions 10 & 11) experiences: raising a child, changing diapers, discipline, tripping over toys on the kitchen floor, that first "I hate you, Mom"... it was motherhood without all the trouble. Of course, it was motherhood without any of the good stuff either.
People aren't supposed to outlive their children.

Three years later, The Dormouse came along and cemented my motherhood (definition 1). Now no one questions my membership in The Club; it's obvious from the tiny tornado that circles around my legs everywhere I go. But I still don't necessarily consider myself a part of The Club. I refer to the "moms at church" without ever considering myself one of them. I ask for advice from women I work with as the authority on a given subject without thinking to myself that I might have picked up a thing or two from my ten-plus years of exposure. I'm working on my second one and I still don't feel like a mother. When does that change? I thought it would come with the first spontaneous "I love you" or the first trip to the hospital, but I still feel as inexperienced and clumsy about motherhood (definition 4) as I ever did.

I guess part of it is in not really internalizing that schpiel given at church - about how all women are inherently mothers... how we all fit into those definitions somewhere, no matter what our individual circumstances... how we all affect one anothers' lives in so many ways and that is a part of what makes our femalehood wonderful. Women can do so much in this day and age, career, hobbies, etc... I love that about the era in which I live. I have so many choices. I try and pass this golden age of possibilities onto my daughter too - that she can do whatever she wants (except, perhaps grow up to become a flagpole). But sometimes I forget that probably the most important thing I have ever done or will ever do is to af-fect and ef-fect the lives of other children, mine or someone else's. As a therapist, I've gotten more experience than most folks before having children of my own, working to help children of others. But nothing can prepare you for the depth and breadth of emotions and experiences you have when you realize a child depends on you as one of the sole examples of all that is good and right in the world. It's daunting. I guess that why I tend to eschew the label. I'd like that to be someone else's responsibility. It's not. But it's not just mine.

And, guess what Men, it doesn't just belong to one sex either.