What is “Mom”?

Over the past few weeks I have resumed my role as creativity demonstrator, tantrum manager, compromise officer, aka. your daycamp supervisor. It’s within this role that I create, plan, and execute a summer that will knock children’s socks off. To add to the mayhem, I also have a team of staff that make the plan come to life but they do it so brilliantly. Last year I shared all the cool and neat things we were up to and it was my commitment to sharing the camp with everyone that kept me motivated to continue to come up with out-of-the-box ideas. This year is different. I am trying to do it. I am trying to share but I went into this season way more tired than last. The ‘new car’ smell of the job is a little more expired than usual. I have seen more. I have higher expectations of myself and those I work with. During the year I worked with students who had a variety of learning challenges and needs. I considered my role to be just as much about providing a safe haven as it was helping them get their school work done. Never did I think I would have my heart stuffed so full. The light and happiness that these kids add to my life makes life so much better and worth living. There is a cost, though. You have to learn their stories and you have to see what’s not always obvious and this is what can kill your heart. Even more, you have to try and band-aid several different wounds that are almost likely never going to heal and you have to try and love that even though they sting. Some kids you will get and others you will not. If that wasn’t hard enough you have to deal with adults who perhaps are the worst of it all. Yes, I am an adult but at heart I also strongly feel that my ability to work with kids is because I’ve never lost the character that a child brings to the world. The adults are sometimes non-believers or one-way see-ers. They’ve heard a few stories and that’s what that kid is to them. They judge each other and then teach kids to do the same thing. My heart hurts every time I hear a little girl get rejected by her peers because she’s been labelled as someone that nobody wants their kid around. Adults have let these kids down and then others try to build them up. It couldn’t be a more confusing, complicated relationship with the adult species.

I remember during the school year I had a mini-hallway cry because a girl wrote a poem that ended with “Mom” when asked to describe me. Obviously I was touched and loved this girl deeply and the thought of being considered any type of mom-material at the age of 22 was kind of shocking considering it wasn’t until recently that I started to even enjoy kids. Every now and then you get the awkward and accidental name-calling of “Mom” that nobody is ever really prepared for and there is just silence and awkward stares hoping that nobody noticed. Then you actually get called Mom, actually Mommy. It happened as we were playing a water gun game. Then she told me I should be her mom and her siblings mom too as we were walking along the water. Yes, this happened. It was sweet but I went home and mulled it over a glass of wine. I was adopted and I call my mom, mom. She is the mom who raised me even though she didn’t have to endure the biologically sickening adventure of passing a desk through the birth canal- but she is mom. She made me go to school when I was faking-sick. She packed all food groups into my lunch bag each day even though I threw out the organic yogurts. She forced me to finish things I didn’t want to (ahem-Cello Academy) and I had to do my homework and school projects well. She got emotional with me and had her own flaws we all had to work through. For 16 years her roof was my roof (I mean technically it still is but you know, the adult-child had to move out sometime). To me, the definition of mom is very obvious because I had one.

Now, going back to the girl who called me Mommy. I’m not mom because I force her to go to school or pack her lunch or make her do her homework. I care, cuddle, hug and enjoy her company-that’s it. That’s not enough mom to me. I came to the sad realization that to her, a child who has had quite a few “moms”, her definition of mom is literally just another name. It’s not like the moms we think of, it’s the name for someone who just pays attention and cares. Maybe she’ll move and have another “mom”. Again, we have let her down. Adults have let her down. In a world where a life is supposed to be given its best shot, we award life by giving them moms and dads. The title is special and sacred. It’s all encompassing and means foundation, protection, love and care-until it doesn’t. Shit happens. “Mom” and “Dad” get in trouble, it’s a little less care, a little less attention. Then shit happens again and it’s enough this time that this precious little life has to be taken away and go somewhere else for trial number 2-we call them foster parents. The idea of “mom” or “dad” hasn’t been lost yet. No, that doesn’t happen until about trial number 7. By trial 7, not only has their foundation been lost but now that precious little life is just another number with just other foster parents. However, life is brilliant and resilient. It’s amazing how long kids can stay strong but there is a cost and the cost is that they will call complete strangers mom or dad so long as they can meet even just one of the original criteria of the title. Their expectations have forcibly been lowered. I am not saying that they will never find true moms or dads again but the idea that their life was supposed to start and end with one mom is sad. I have parents but I know that my life could have been different, too. My greatest wish for these beautiful lives is that one day they get to call someone mom that is all the things again: the foundation, the protection, love and care. For now, all I can do is fulfill what I can and when I’m called mom, say “I care about you so much and I will forever and ever.” It’s easier that way until maybe one day being all of those things is more of a possibility.

To good Moms, good foster moms, good step-moms, good school moms: Love your title and live it well because there’s little lives out there who are learning that being born was just the first of the many, many hard, things that they will have to ever do. They’re waiting for a mom, again.



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