“Are you his mom?”
It’s a fair question, and I’m quite used to it by now, especially from kids (or others) who are trying to make sense out of this white-skinned woman with a brown-skinned child in tow. When I’m out and about, I will do everything I can to refer to myself as “Auntie Lorraine” (because I *am* becoming THAT person–talking to him non-stop in the store, narrating everything–so basically talking to myself :-o), and if people say something about how cute he is, I often respond with, “Thanks; I wish I could take credit for him!” I also try to make it clear to people that he belongs to someone, that he has a mama . . . when one woman remarked about how beautiful his eyes were, I smiled and said, “Yep, he has his mama’s eyes!”
Again, it’s not as if the question is out of bounds–certainly when I am out and about with him, I give every appearance of being a mom . . . when I walked into church on Mother’s Day this year, with a toddler trying to squirm out of my arms and a diaper bag slung over my shoulder, I had to stop myself when one of the ushers wished me a Happy Mother’s Day . . . started my usual, “Thanks, but I’m not . . . ” and then realized how preposterous that would seem. Too much to explain . . . so I just said “Thank you!” and left it at that.
Today, the question came from a girl at my apartment complex’s pool . . . one of those needy kids that always seem to glom onto me in public places, seeking my attention . . . her mom was sunbathing, and she was in the water and asking me a zillion questions. “Do you know how to swim? Can you show me how you can swim? Does he want to come in the water? What’s that on his face?” (answers are “yes”, “not now because I have to keep an eye on the baby”, “I think he needs time to get used to it”, and “boogers”.)
She was the one who asked me if I was Elijah’s mom . . . but then later, when I was talking to another little boy, who was about four years old and was doing that “kid” thing of “I’m not getting out of the water even though my teeth are chattering and I’m turning blue!”, she looked at me again and asked, “Are you his mom?” And again, I said no, but this was a little too much for me . . . I had to bite my tongue to resist saying, “I’m not anybody’s mom”. And in that moment, I was overcome with sadness at the thought of this. No matter how many times my friends tell me that I’m “like a mom” or a “second mom”, no matter how many diapers I change or baths I give or how full of little clothes my closet becomes, the fact remains that I am still not anybody’s mommy . . . I do not have primary responsibility for any of these little lives. And I don’t know if or when I will ever have that privilege, and yes, sometimes that makes me very, very sad. I don’t even know that I subscribe to the “it’s better to be an aunt because you can send them home to their mom” idea anymore . . . the more time I spend “playing mommy”, the less I *want* to send them home. What I want, more than anything, is to BE “home” to at least one child.
People ask me if I want a man . . . often, this question comes from some of my single friends who are my age or older and who themselves feel that lack deeply . . . but I am old, and stuck in my ways, and can’t even imagine myself in a relationship at this point in my life. But a child? Yes . . . I still want a child of my own. Although giving birth myself seems more and more unlikely, I keep telling myself that “when I get my life together” I will adopt a child . . . but because this is *my* life, it’s not likely that I will ever get it together, so I don’t know if it will ever happen . . .
I am grateful for the privilege of having so many precious children in my life, and I don’t take that privilege lightly . . . but there is still a hole in my heart, a space waiting for the chance to be called “mommy” . . .
I hope that someday that hole will be filled, but for now, I will love the children God has placed in my life, and I will try to tell myself that this is enough . . .