My mother died when I was in my early twenties after a long painful illness. Until I became a mother at thirty-two, Mother’s Day was an awful reminder that I was a motherless child. I was fortunate to have her as long as I did, but as I moved into my own motherhood journey, I had little day to day guidance or wisdom. I did have memories of the way my mother mothered, which were helpful, but there was no one to call when fevers spiked or milestones were met. I did fine. My children are grown and in the last stages of the launching process. They are no worse for the wear.
Not having a role model for growing older has been another consequence of my own mother’s early death. I had some amazing grandparents growing up, so I’ve always known what being old looks like, but the process aging has always mystified me. I am often told that I don’t always act my age and I am not sure that’s a compliment even though I have tried to reframe it to be.
I have wandered through most of my adult life looking for women who might serve as guides, even for a short time, throughout my journey of learning to grow older gracefully without losing the spark of youthful exuberance I hold so dear. The women I’ve collected as role models cannot shed light on the hereditary process of just what kind of gray hair I will end up with, but I am beginning to understand from them aging doesn’t necessitate leaving style, swearing or fiery passion behind.
I will be the recipient of Mother’s Day wishes from my own children in the next few days. My daughter has already begun the celebration with an early “treat yourself” basket of goodies and a custom-made card with her favorite photo of the two of us. I will have no gifts to give or expectations to fulfill this Mother’s Day for the mother I adored. Instead, this year, I plan to wish a Happy Mothering Day to the women in my life who’ve provided guidance, love and patience to a full-grown orphan in need of instruction, wisdom and common sense during the last decades of my life.
I hope, as middle age raises its head slowly and surely, I am able to make the women in my life proud of their investment in me as I hold a lamp for young women still finding their way on this journey we share. I am surer than ever that biological children don’t make us mothers.
Happy Mothering Day to the women in my life and to all women who risk the investment of their time and love in others.
Jo DeLosSantos is a people watcher, gardener, university professor and feminist.