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The Bittersweetness of Mother's Day

 Most women I know have many feelings about Mother's Day, some sweet, some sad, some happy, some bitter, the whole gamut of feelings I think.  Lot's of reasons for that I'm sure, not the least of which is the 'traditional' view of what makes a mother.

In my book, while conceiving, gestating, and giving birth certainly creates many mothers, it isn't the defining factor in being a mother.  It's hard to say what I feel clearly and simply, but I think it's mostly about how you take care of and care for others that truly makes a mother who makes a difference.  That makes many women who haven't given birth mothers and I've been blessed to have many of them in my life.

First and foremost, of course, is my own dear Momma.  Odetta Garder West.

For me and my two brothers and two sisters, she was an amazing mom.  She gave us magical experiences and a very rich up-bringing.  She was ALWAYS there for us - attending every single event, performance, game, and swim meet.  She was there to celebrate the highs and comfort us in our lows.  She demanded a high-level of integrity and work, but never ever as much as she demanded of herself.  She was literally always there to catch us when we fell.

She was, to her sorrow and anguish, never able to carry and birth her own children, but that didn't stop her from being the best mom for us.  Like I said before, giving birth doesn't define being a mother for me, in fact, I didn't even know that babies came to families any way other than adoption until I was in Jr. High.  I always knew that my parents picked me special to bring home and take as their own.  I thought everyone just got a phone call, left, and then came home with a baby or two.  

Next in line, has to be a mother I never met in this life, at least that I can remember, but who is vital to me.  That's my birth-mother, Susan Lee Ungerman Jancovich.  

She carried me and gave birth to me.  Then she gave me an amazing gift.  The chance to be adopted by parents who had the means to raise me and were ready for me.  I know it was hard for her.  It was all so very hard, especially in the early 1960s.  A book that really tells the story of how it was then is The Girls Who Went Away, by Ann Fessler.  My birth-mom was young and not ready to be a single-mother.  She blessed my life and that of my entire family when she made the choice she did, no matter how hard it was.  While I never met her, I learned some years ago who she is and was incredibly blessed to be welcomed with open arms by her family.  I got new wonderful birth-step-dad and mom (Steve and Edie!), two amazing brothers (James and Dave!), three aunts, two uncles, and a whole bunch of new cousins.  I've met most of them and spent some wonderful hours with Steve, Edie, James, Nikki (Jame's wife), and Dave.  

Even so, until I found this amazing family, my heart always ached a bit for her, my birth-mom.  Obviously I had questions, like where was she, why did she surrender me for adoption, how was she feeling now?  For the longest time, every birthday I had was pretty sad to me because I couldn't get out of my heart or head how sad she must be and how worried she might be about me.  I used to dream about meeting her just so I could tell her 'thank-you' and show her how her sacrifice gave me an amazing life.

When I did find out who she is, she had already been gone from this life for many years.  She was taken way to young due to breast cancer, leaving a huge hole in the hearts of so many.  Everyone I talked with who told me about her and her life, all told me that she never quit thinking about me and wanting to find me.  I'm sure she was one of the many angels who watched over me when I was so sick years ago.

Next I have to talk about my incredible mother-in-law.  Mary Beth Child Lauritzen.

She has never ever treated me as anything other than her own daughter.  I smile inwardly whenever I hear others talk about difficulties with their mother-in-law.  In my case, the old trope of the mean, nagging mother-in-law is simply as far away from the reality of my life as is possible.  Given that this year John and I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, I found my birth-mom after she passed, and my mom died when I was 37, my mother-in-law has been in my life more years total than any other of my mothers!  

I only knew one grandma in my life, and not for long.  She died when I was 20, but I have many memories of watching her rice potatoes, open a jar of bottled peaches, giving me a hug, and telling me to eat all my dinner. Margaret Alvira Rigby Gardner Holme was my mom's mom.  Here she is with the grandpa who died before I was born, Earl Guy Gardner.

Here's my dad's mom, Margaret Foutz Walker West - she died before I was born as well.

Knowing how wonderful both of my parents were, and hearing the stories they told me, I know that these were great, hard-working, loving, mothers.

My daughter, daughter-in-law, and my daughter's partner all come to mind along with the beautiful, wonderful children they are raising.  We are so blessed to have so much joy with so many!

Next I think about my sisters and sisters-in-law, and my aunts who have all been amazing mothers to those in their lives.  

Besides these two beauties, Jodene and Julene, who I grew up with, played with, fought with, mourned with, laughed and cried with, I found three new sisters a few years back when I found my birth-father's family.  He doesn't want to meet me, but the two sisters who are living, Diana and Jennie, both welcomed me and John when we took a trip up to Washington State a couple of years ago.  I'm sad I never got to meet Suzanne who died right before I found the family.

Plus nieces, aunts-in-law, nieces-in-law, and so many other amazing women I'm blessed to know and call family.  Then there are all my friends over the years who are great mothers to me, their children, friends, their parents and aunts, each other, and who simply make the world go around.

Kristen, PJ, LeAnn, Shawna, Stephanie, Sheri, Chris, Mickey, Christine, Mareen, Kathy, Danette, Debbie, Cindy, Nancy, Nancy, Nancy, Alisa, Nina, Sharon, Patsy, Sue Ann, Robyn, Shauna, Shawna, Ruth, Jennifer, Britt, Nola, Cathy, Wendy, and so many others.  I know I simply can't name them all - I'll just say thank you, I love you, and I wish only the very best for you all on this beautiful Mother's Day.


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