Growing up in a small town, where my parents owned a restaurant on Main Street, I often heard my mother called "Mom". Most of the regulars, ranging in age from their early 20s to 80s, would pop in daily and holler, "Hey Mom" or "What's cooking today, Mom?" So, I learned at an early age that one need not give birth to be called Mom. But as an adult my situation was different.
At the age of 32, I met a widower of four years (also in his 30s) who had seven children ages nine to 16. How we met is a story in and of itself. Why we met is anyone's guess! Call it fate, call it divine intervention, or call it right place at the right time; it really doesn't matter.I just call it lucky.
From the beginning we were inseparable. We just knew we were supposed to be together even though neither of us really wanted marriage at the time. When we finally became engaged, I never really thought about being a mom. His children and I were already great friends, and even though we did not yet live together, I knew that I was up to the task. I guess I was not only in love, but also very delusional. After all, how hard could it be? My mother had raised five children of her own and worked full time; therefore, so could I. I explained to the children that just because I was marrying their dad didn't mean that they should call me Mom. I gallantly stated, "You only get one mom. No one can take her place. We are friends, and now I hope we will become better friends. It takes two to build a friendship, and I am here if you want us to be friends."
As life would have it, the years have passed by all too quickly. It continues to be an amazing journey for us, as it is for any family, although our stories just may be a little different than most. One summer we decided to make our annual trip from Pittsburgh to Hilton Head Island via Disney World. As our big old van approached the Disney gate with our trailer of nine bicycles in tow, we were directed to the parking lot for campers and buses. As our gang scrambled out next to a bus full of eager day camp kids their driver looked at my husband and politely asked which camp we were with. Chuckling, my husband responded, "No camp, these are all mine." The driver slowly shook his head and with a bewildered look on his face said, "Oh my God! At least this bunch goes home at night."
While most of the stories we tell are steeped in humor that grows with each telling, we, like most large families, have had our share of crises as well. When our oldest son was in a horrible car accident at the age of 18 and three of the passengers died, we all suffered. He, being the only conscious person at the scene of the accident, was found pulling his closest high school friends from a burning automobile. He suffered both physically and emotionally and like any mother I cried. I cried for his bravery (I was so proud of his actions) and I cried as I thanked God that we hadn't lost him as the other parents had lost their children.
Like most moms, I can count all the times we rushed to emergency rooms (11 times in the first seven years) over football injuries, skiing accidents, and car crashes. When helping to choose prom gowns and wedding gowns I felt like a real mom. However, at church one Mother's Day our priest asked all the moms in the congregation to rise and be recognized; I couldn't move. My husband nudged me and whispered, "Stand up, you're supposed to stand up." I shook my head, "I can't. I'm not a real mom." There were so many times when I felt that I could have been a better friend.a better "Mom"; times when I should have intervened more, and times when I meddled too much, but maybe all moms feel that way.
In due time each of them headed off to college all over the country, and each time one left it got harder to deal with. When we visited the first one away at school and she introduced me as "Mom", I thought my heart would burst. I certainly hadn't expected that, or the reaction that I felt when hearing it. Later, when I asked my husband if he had prompted her, he shook his head emphatically and said, "Never! I think you know me better than that."
Five weddings have taken place and ten grandchildren now call me "Grandma". I could write a book about all the times that I have felt like a real mom, but sometimes we need the validation of those closest to us. For me, the incident that tugs most upon my heart happened while my husband and I were dating. It was Mother's Day, and as a single woman with no children, I certainly wasn't expecting the card I received that day from his children. It wasn't the fact that it read "Happy Mother's Day" in some swirly, fancy script, but rather the child's handwriting at the bottom that read: "I don't know what our family would do without you." I still have that card and treasure it to this day.