Mother’s Day Musings: My Mom Has Nothing to Do With Blood or Biology

For obvious reasons, we’re writing about our mothers this week on Blisstree (and particularly about any health-related lessons we may have learned from them). And while I could write about my actual mom (a damn fine woman, if I do say so myself), right now I’d rather celebrate someone who doesn’t have her own holiday: My non-mom.

You may have a non-mom in your life, too. A non-mom is anyone who (obviously) is not your biological mom, but with whom you share a maternal-like bond that doesn’t have anything to do with bloodlines, biology, race, religion, or even geographical distance. If you have a non-mom, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and you know how lucky you are. (Especially if you have both a mom and a non-mom.) But even if your life doesn’t contain a non-mom, I’m hoping somehow you’ll be able to relate.

Helen was my non-mom. I hesitate to tell you that she was also our housekeeper when I was growing up, because then you might get the wrong idea. True, Helen did start out as our housekeeper, but she became so much more than that. She came to work for my parents when they had six children. (They would go on to have two more, including me. I told you my mom was a damn fine woman, right? She was also damn fertile.) Now, at that time, Helen had lots of other job offers from wealthy Washington, D.C. residents who did not have six children, and were able to offer her a much quieter, cushier gig than my oversize family ever could. In fact, Helen was so sought after that these potential employers essentially engaged in a bidding war in the hopes of winning her over to their side. (Not to sound crass, but it’s true.) But after meeting us (well, them — I wasn’t in the picture yet), Helen told the other potential employers in no uncertain terms that there was a family with six children who really needed her, and she just couldn’t let them down. She was right. That’s my non-mom for you.

Helen never lived with us, but she came to our house every day, five days a week. And, growing up, I was far closer to my non-mom than I was to my paternal grandmother, who did live with us, for many years. (I think I can speak for my siblings on that matter, too.) I was the baby of the family, and my non-mom always made it a point to refer to me as “her baby,” even when I was well into my 30s. I pretty much spent the first five years of my life following my non-mom around. (Perhaps to her periodic annoyance? If so, she never let on.) I excitedly waited for my non-mom to arrive each weekday morning. I “worked” along side of her, “helping” her to “clean.” We ate lunch together every day. (Tuna fish was my non-mom’s fave; I preferred PB&J.) We played imagination games. I trailed her like a puppy, and she never seemed to mind. When 3 p.m. rolled around and it was time for my non-mom to go home, disappointment set in. Later, when faced with the grim prospect of entering first grade, I wept. How on earth could I leave my non-mom every day, just to go to some stupid school? I was inconsolable. Finally, both my actual mom and my non-mom had to resort to blackmail: If I tried first grade, Helen would gamely drop me off and pick me up from the school bus stop, which was about 100 yards from our house. After much deliberation, I reluctantly agreed, but only because my non-mom made the idea of hanging out at the bus stop sound really fun and cool. Which, with her, it was. Still, school sucked compared to hanging out with Helen all day.

So what was so great about my non-mom? She was the kindest, sweetest, most generous person I’ve ever known. My non-mom smiled brightly and often, and had a distinctive, infectious laugh that she unleashed all the time. She was effusively affectionate. I never heard her say an unkind word about anyone (okay, unless they really, really deserved it). When she asked you a question about your life (which she often did), for some reason you couldn’t wait to tell her the answer. And, perhaps most astoundingly, my non-mom loved every single one of us unconditionally, even though I’m pretty sure we didn’t deserve her love much of the time.

And here’s the Mother’s Day twist: You’d think that my actual mom and my non-mom would’ve been competitive, or that they wouldn’t have gotten along, or that they would’ve hated each other outright. (After all, what actual mom wouldn’t feel threatened by such an awesome and beloved non-mom who was always around and available and sought after?) But the happy truth is that, many decades ago, my mom and my non-mom quickly became best friends for life. I don’t think either of them expected that to happen, but when it did, the lines between employer and employee instantly disappeared. My non-mom had already been a part of our family, but now it was official. My non-mom spent holidays with us (along with her sister), and we often visited my non-mom at her house. (How annoying must that have been for her! Here we are again!!!) My non-mom could not escape our clutches, even if she wanted to. But thankfully, I don’t think she wanted to.

Lest you doubt the depth of the connection between my non-mom and our family, when my father died four years ago, my non-mom told me that, even though she was actually a few years older than my dad, he had been more of a father figure to her than her own father.

Two years later and well into her 80s, my non-mom died. One of my older sisters delivered the heartfelt eulogy through frequent, genuine sobs. I was really glad she volunteered (she was the baby when my non-mom came to our family, so it seemed fitting), because there was no way in hell I would’ve been able to get up there in front of all those people and verbalize what my non-mom meant to me — and everyone else. That’s the problem with having such close and special relationships with certain people –  how you feel about them is almost indescribable.

My non-mom was an integral part of our family for more than 40 years. And she still is. In many ways, she remains the single best part of our family. Now, I certainly don’t need Mother’s Day to remind me of Helen, but I’m seriously thinking of petitioning whoever’s in charge to formally create a separate springtime holiday. It will be called, appropriately, Non-Mom’s Day.

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