Are you my mother?

No matter where my mother lived, three of her five children were always on the other side of the country. As the years went by and the family grew in number and size and grandchildren enrolled in sports, Scouts and summer camp, family reunions became increasingly difficult. Instead of the weekly visits with grandparents, that I knew as a child, we established a weekly chat on the phone followed up with a newsy family letter of each family’s activities.
In June 1992, we reunited – at the funeral home which took care of my mother’s arrangements.
A month after mom’s funeral I attended a small women’s retreat and met an out-of-state woman who, like me, had four children. We had other common interests and experiences and ended up talking for many hours. I teared up as we said good-bye, shared phone numbers and addresses and pulled away. I knew I would rarely see this woman again. She lived too far away for frequent visits.
I chatted on the phone a couple times with my new friend, saw my son off to college and settled into the school year. Every couple Saturdays, I wondered how she was and called her. In the fall, a crisis descended on her. I could not keep her crisis from happening, but I could listen … and she listened to my more routine upheavals.
My sons came home for the holidays. When the oldest was ready to go back to college, I volunteered to drive and plotted a return route near the home of my summer retreat friend. I figured if I drank coffee I could make it in time for breakfast. I spilled coffee on my sweatshirt, but I stayed alert and arrived in time to wait impatiently to share breakfast with her at a fast food place.
She arrived dressed for a day at the office, did a double take of my disheveled “all night drinking and driving” apparel and greeted me with a hug. She was as warm and welcoming as ever, but she was not the person I anticipated meeting.
The entire next week, I called up one girlfriend after another and asked if there was a good time for me to stop by and visit. They found time. I went. We talked.
One afternoon driving to yet another friend’s house, I realized I was living in the midst of the children’s book “Are You My Mother?” where the baby bird falls out of the nest and wanders around asking one creature after another, “Are you my mother?” The cow, the pig, the duck and other creatures each in turn shake their heads ‘no.’ They had their own baby. Finally, the baby bird finds his mother and they return to their nest.
Lucky baby bird – my mother will never return to the nest.
No matter how many women I looked at and silently asked, “are you my mother?” No matter how many surrogate mothers I found – my mom would never call up again to ask about her grandkids. She would never again send her grandchildren a card and a $5 check on their birthday. Nor would I receive a card (without a check) on my next, or any subsequent, birthday. My mother was gone.
With that insight, I quit looking for my mother, steeled myself for my first birthday without a birthday card in the mail.
A card came, anyway. Not from my mother, but from a friend who saw my name on a list of birthdays, addressed an envelope and dropped a birthday card in the mail to me. It wasn’t a card from my mother, but it did take the edge off the void of that first birthday without her.
My friend not only surprised me, but eased the pain on a difficult day by unwittingly becoming my final, surrogate mother.