What Is A Mother?

She is the calming hand over yours when you are afraid. She is the soft circles rubbed on your back as you drift off to sleep to her singing. She is the tucking in at night—the 30th glass of water you need to have before you can really sleep. She is the silent prayer for your safety that you’ll never know about but somehow always feel. She is protection. She’s the adjustment to the car seat to make certain it is anchored right and the drive to the fire station for the firefighters to double-check the anchoring to make sure dad knew what he was doing. She is 100,000 silent tears over mistakes she’s made with the children she loves, and 10,000 hopes that tomorrow she’ll do better.

 She is grief over harsh words spoken in haste, fear of failures, screams of frustration over what she has done or the peas spilled on the floor. 

She is regrets over choices she wishes she had made. She is hope that maybe she made the right choices anyway. She is oranges at soccer games, band-aids in her gigantic purse somewhere under all those receipts, and tissues, and snacks. She is your favorite color of flowers, gardening, and sweet tea with mint in springtime. She is lemonade, sprinklers, and trips to the lake with a picnic lunch in summer. She is leaf piles to jump in, pumpkin spice, and costumes in fall. She is hot cocoa after building snowmen and sledding down hills. The piles of Christmas gifts that she agonized over. She is “Please bundle up and drive safe in the snow in the winter.”

 She is bouts of enthusiasm for eating healthy, fussing that you don’t make gagging sounds at vegetables, and spontaneous trips to the ice cream shop. She’s “eat your food, so you grow big and strong.” She is bedtime and bath time and your morning wake-up call. She is your biggest cheerleader and somehow also your greatest source of defensiveness. You don’t even know why you are angry at her, but, for some reason, you think of her and feel rage at something she said when you were in sixth grade. She is story time and prayer time and snuggles on the couch. She is jello, and Sprite, and noodle soup when you are sick—even when it is only heartsick or exhausted-and-don’t-want-to-go-to-school sick. She knows your thoughts before you do. She hopes that she’s wrong when she thinks you’ve done something that will hurt yourself or others but knows in her gut something is strange. She is 1000 sleepless nights worrying if you are breathing and sneaking into your bedroom to check to make sure you are. 

She is 5000 more sleepless nights worrying if you are safe, happy, and doing okay since you aren’t living where she can sneak into your bedroom and check on you. She is selflessness personified but also  “No, you cannot have this last chocolate, it’s too spicy, you wouldn’t like it anyway.”

She is weeping when no one can hear or see because the baby she treasured, carried, wanted, and waited for died. She is the difficult decision in the pregnancy center to go through with the pregnancy and choose adoption. She is the whispered prayers that you will get to her safe and unbroken from the caseworker—the prayer that maybe she won’t be needed after all of her training classes to be a foster mom—the fear that you are being hurt and there is nothing she can do but wait for you to arrive in the arms of a caseworker.

 She’s “Buckle your seatbelt and be good and be careful” and “Please call me when you get home. I don’t care what time it is.” She is “Oh, baby, I’m so sorry. You’ll do better next time.” She is  “Go back to your room and put on something decent. That outfit doesn’t fit.” She is “Oh my darling, you are beautiful, more beautiful than you could ever know.” She is grief in her lack of ability to be a perfect mom. She is confusion over how you grew from a tiny baby to this grown adult in the blink of an eye. She is the woman who answers to “mamamama, mama, mommy, ma, mom, MOTHER.”  

She is “Tell me about the grandkids, put the baby on the phone.” She is “Are you sure it’s warm enough for her to wear that outfit?” She is “You’re not eating enough” or “You’re eating too fast, slow down.” She’s the smell of cut grass, perfume, deodorant, garden dirt, coffee, dinner cooking, chapstick, scented candle, and perfume she puts on for special occasions. She is the maker of birthday cakes, giver of special presents, emcee at birthday parties. The manager of where every dang thing in the house goes even if she actually has no idea or opinion. 

She is taller than the sky and bigger than life when you are young, then shorter than you and doesn’t know anything in middle school. She’s the woman you will judge all other women by—good or bad. She is love you don’t understand and hate that you can’t put your finger on. 

She is the woman who carried you for nine months. She’s the woman who filled out reams of paperwork and logged hours of training to get to bring you home from another continent or an adoption agency down the road. She is the gasp over your sweet little face when she sees you for the very first time—the tears that well up in her eyes when she hears you call her mommy. 

She’s the woman who carried you through school dragging you along against your will. She is the kind woman next door who checks in to make sure you’re doing okay after all of the snow. She is the dorm mom who has no kids of her own but loves you like she has known you from infancy. She is the foster mom who has known you for a month and will remember you for the rest of her life. She is the adoptive mom who only met you when you were eight, but she has longed for you in her life for 15 years. She is the grandmother, aunty, and family friend who took you in when your first mom made choices that caused you harm. She is the hopeful woman sitting on the doctor’s table waiting to find out if this pregnancy took. She is the distraught woman lying in bed for the last month after her miscarriage unable to make herself get up and walk past the nursery she so desperately wanted to fill. She is the hope to try one more time only to have it not work. 

She is flying kites at the beach, exasperated sighs, screams of “Get down from that tree you, will break your neck! Oh my goodness, I can’t look!”  She is gasps of fright and shouts of pride when you manage that backflip in gymnastics. She is “You did your best, and that’s enough” when you just squeak by with a passing grade in science. She is “Let me call the teacher, we’ll work this out.”  She is “Don’t talk to me like that, young lady. Who do you think you are?“

She is the birth mother who kissed you goodbye and baptized you with her tears on your forehead when she handed you off to the mother who raised you. She is the foster mother who thought you would be hers forever but only got to keep you for a little while. She is the adoptive mother who read every book she could get her hands on to try and not screw you up and still feels like a failure. She is the mother who should have asked for help, but because of her depression, anxiety, drug abuse, or fear never did. She’s the faraway face that you stare at and long for, knowing she’ll disappoint you again but hoping she won’t.  She is the one who got help and was a different mom to you than she was your older sisters, and now they resent you. 

She is singing the same song 100 times a night to get you to sleep. She is Goodnight Moon, and Hop on Pop, and Sam I Am, and ABCs.  She’s Ramona Quimby, Winnie the Pooh, Junie B Jones, and Frodo. She is “Let me see your report card”, “I got a call from your teacher”, “ I’ll be right there. I love you.”

 She’s “Let’s practice this one more time for your try out,” “ Let me check your math homework,” “Let’s practice your sight words,” “Are you sure you don’t have homework?” She’s “Oh no, I burnt your grilled cheese because I was watching your very impressive cartwheel,” “I boiled over the soup because you needed me to wipe your rear end,”and “I was late to drop off because you couldn’t find the right shoes.”  She’s “Please stop hitting your brother,” “Stop spitting at your sister,” “Please be quiet, I’m on the phone.”

She is a special trip to McDonald’s for ice cream after vaccinations. She is wiping your forehead with a cool rag and catching your vomit in her hands. (She may never let you forget that she has done that.)

She is a phone call on Mother’s Day where you find yourself apologizing for all of the stupid things you have ever done because your kids are doing them now. She’s the voice in your head cheering you on or whipping you into shape. She is the basis of most of your insecurities and many of your aspirations. 

What is a mother? She is all of those things and so much more for so many. But maybe yours wasn’t any of these things. Maybe she disappointed you in every way you can imagine. Even so, when you thought of your answer to this question, something, someone, a scent, a thought, a moment in time that defines for you who she is and what she means came to mind.

For me, it is a lady I respect and slightly fear. As I age and she ages, our relationship changes as I learn every day more to be a mom, and she forgets more about my childhood. She is my tone of voice when I’m angry, the way I fidget with my hair when I’m distracted, and biting my nails when I’m anxious. She’s my depression, my face shape, and my hair color.  

To my children, I wonder, when they think of me, what will they dwell on? I dearly hope that when they think, “What is a mother?” The answer will be something like this: She is someone who loves inexhaustibly (but is often exhausted in every other way).

She is kisses goodnight and clean pajamas. She is home-cooked meals and frozen chicken nugget nights. She is “Let’s play hairdresser” and “Let’s paint something” and “Let’s bake cookies” and also, “Um…go watch cartoons,” “Go play video games,” “Go outside and let me think for 5 seconds alone.” She is drives to therapy reminding us to be honest and making excuses why she doesn’t have time for her own therapy appointment. She is rocking us to sleep while stroking our hair and decorating our room with bed canopies and 1000 glow-in-the-darkstars, and pretty ruffly curtains. She is “Let’s build a fort out of scrap wood,” and “Here, you screw this in with your drill.” She is “Let’s go on a mountain bike ride. Let’s go on a hike. Let’s go on a run. Let’s walk with the dogs.” 

She is “Please. Please, for the love of all things holy. Stay. In. Bed.”

She is permission slips signed last minute in the car with crayons she scrounged from the bottom of her ridiculous purse. She is school registration and remembering to set up doctors and dentist appointments.  She is the chauffeur, the nurse, the tutor, the chef, the maid, and the launderer. 

She is  “Go match some socks,” and ”I don’t know where your uniform is.”  She is also, sometimes, shouts of rage when she found fruit snacks hidden under the bed for the 100th time. She is time ins privileges revoked, and “no more video games tonight, just turn it off.” She is “Oh my goodness, why are you  covered in mud?” Aad also “let’s go jump in mud puddles.”  She is trips to the park and the zoo and the children’s museum. She is adventures out of doors with homemade granola and hours of stupid cartoons with piles of junk food. She is  “Let’s catch butterflies, and frogs and crickets and lizards.” But also “Ohh. Leave the stray kitty alone.” She is “Please smile for a picture” and “Don’t spend so much time in front of the mirror.”  

She is “Let’s play with sidewalk chalk and blow bubbles,” “No, you don’t need another toy,” and “No, we aren’t stopping for sodas right now.”

She is the keeper of promises and the outright lies that she forgot because she was hoping we’d actually forget. 

Mothers are magic and terror and mystery and blunt honesty. They are heroes and villains in our personal narratives. They can be overlooked for their flaws or blamed for everything from bad skin to trouble in English class. 

Women are all capable of being mothers to someone even if it isn’t the way we first think. We can do this because our mothers, good or bad, present or absent, made an impact on who we are as people.  Mothers are all around weaving together the fabric of society by loving and laughing, and learning with the people around them. Even if you don’t feel like you are a mother because your child is somewhere else, is being raised by someone else, died before you could hold them, or grew up and moved away you are a mother. If you love someone in such an unimaginably huge way that you cannot fathom what not loving them would be like, you are a mother. Even if you don’t get flowers and a syrupy, pink card. Even if your kids forget your day, or don’t appreciate you. Even if you’re all alone, you have made a difference by being a mother. For your contribution to society, be it large or small, for minutes, or months, or years, you are a mother and I applaud you for it. The world could not run without mothers. We would not exist. 

Everyone has a mother. Even if they don’t know her, she existed. If our mothers didn’t meet our needs, we spent our childhood looking for someone, anyone, to take her place. No one really ever can, completely because mothers are something special and unique. As different as snowflakes and as personal and un-alike as our fingerprints.  That’s what a mother is. 

Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.

Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.