When our friend Phillip was staying with us for a few weeks back in March, he left for a couple days to go to the desert for a new Israeli friend’s birthday weekend. When he returned, hot and dusty from the desert and the traveling, I took his pack, set out a basket for his laundry, turned on the water heater for a shower, got him some tea and cookies, and sat across from him to demand all the details of his adventures. He smiled at me over his tea. “You know, this is kind of like coming home,” he said. “It’s almost like you’re my mom.”
I thought it was a little bit of an odd thing to say, but then I caught myself on a recent Jesus Trail hike following everyone around to make sure they were all wearing sunscreen. Then I caught myself offering relationship advice to a young friend I had literally just met, someone who just needed someone to listen. And in an episode that has now been immortalized in legend, when a neighbor (that lived alone) briefly mentioned his flooded apartment on Facebook a few months ago, Rodolfo was still saying, “Oh, poor guy,” while I was already halfway out the door with a mop and bucket.
In the past few months, Rodolfo and I have taken in more than one far-fetched acquaintance in need of a place to hang his hat in Jerusalem: two Argentineans and an obscure friend-of-a-friend from Texas. They all arrived as strangers, and they all left as a part of the family.
Another new friend remarked recently that Rodolfo and I are good at taking people under our wings, that we have a home with a very “good vibe,” and that we know how to make people feel at home, even if they’re on their own in a strange land. Here in Jerusalem, with green army men, ceasefire celebrations, and, of course, limoncello to unite us, we have knitted an odd assortment of beautiful people together into a new, beautiful, eclectic and eccentric little family away from family.
And even though she is thousands of miles away and has never met any of them, and has yet to even set foot in Jerusalem, I thank my mother, Taria, for all of this. She is the matriarch of this beautiful family that she has never even met. And here’s why.
My mama has always been the kind of person to pitch in when help was needed, to offer everything she had, even if it was small, and to use her boundless creativity and talents to solve problems and alleviate the needs of others. She is open and generous and loving, even to people she has just met. (I remember one time that I was a little taken aback when, moments after meeting a friend of mine, she called her “Sweetie,” like she sometimes calls me, until I realized it actually made perfect sense. Her daughters’ friends have always been her daughters, too.) The doors of her home are always wide open, and she loves celebrations and high spirits, particularly if they’re in her home, and even if the people there are people she has never met before.
As a military wife, there was little else for my mom to do for years but be a serial volunteer, a mother, and a homemaker. But what a home she made; a home for all humankind. (And for more than her fair share of animals, too.)
I remember one time, years ago, that some family friends found an escaped parakeet on the point of death, exhausted and half starved, in a store parking lot and brought it directly to our house in the hopes that my mother would know what to do with it. Of course she did; our family was famous for rescuing strays. We nursed it back to health and it too became a part of our family, until it was completely restored to health and she gave it away to the young son of another friend, a kid who desperately wanted a pet.
In the course of my life, my mother has been brought a number of other “parakeets,” and she has always nurtured them, made them a part of the family and sent them back into the world better than they came. There was the breast cancer survivor who needed a place to stay for a few months to get on her feet, so my mom took her in as a roommate and another acquaintance became a part of our family. Throughout my childhood, our Thanksgiving table was always open to a number of young “homeless” Air Force guys saving up their vacation time for Christmas. Then, as a college student, I started bringing home a contingent of lonely foreign and out-of-state students to our home for the holidays. These beautiful people from the farthest stretches of the Earth also became part of our family. Even this past Christmas, during our limited time with my family when Rodolfo and I were visiting home from Jerusalem, when my mother heard that three of Rodolfo’s colleagues back in Austin had absolutely no plans for Christmas, she insisted they come to our home, where we stuffed them with great food, played card games with them, and sent them home with heaping plates of leftovers.
For my mother, the more is always, literally, the merrier.
I am not a mother myself (yet), but I desperately want to be, and for that reason, Mother’s Day makes me a little sad. (Okay, maybe more than just a little sad.) But then I looked a little closer at my own mother, and realized I have no reason to be sad today.
My mother bore two children, nurtured them, built a family around them, and sent them out into the world as better people for it, and for that we celebrate her today. That work took around 17 or 18 years for each of us (and, in many ways, is still ongoing), but… she does the same thing in a matter of minutes or hours or days with people she meets regularly. And she cares for even more people through her own quiet, private prayer and concern. She has a much wider circle than she will ever know.
And, without even realizing it, so do I, because of the beautiful example she has given me my whole life.
I may not have any children, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be a mother to the world, a mother to anyone who needs it at the moment, whether or not they have a mother of their own. In the same way that St. Thérèse of Lisieux became a mother of the world’s missions by praying for them without ever leaving her cloister, I continue to be a spiritual mother to a number of children that may or may not even be aware of my care.
I pray for every passing ambulance, overwhelmed mother and distraught teenager I see. I pray for dozens of people that I’m sure have long forgotten me: beautiful, boisterous children I met on mission trips and while leading children’s church, children I once babysat that may even have children of their own by now, my Longhorn Awakening children and godchildren, and girls that I have given all but life and limb for in attempt to mentor, counsel and inspire them at Girls State.
I am even a spiritual mother to children I have never met: to Angel David and Daniela, two Ecuadorean children that Rodolfo and I sponsor through Compassion International and the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, and to the hundreds of beautiful children in need of families on Reece’s Rainbow.
I am also a proud member of what childless author Elizabeth Gilbert calls the “Auntie Brigade” in Committed: A Love Story. Many of my beloved babies have their own loving mothers, but they still need me to take them swimming, to send them postcards, to make them tinfoil armor, to kiss their boo-boos and to help them feed the turtles and rescue the stranded worms, toads and bugs.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. We are, all of us, that village.
And today, Mother’s Day in the United States, is a day to celebrate that village: all the mothers in the world; those that have given us life and those who continue to give us life in so many important ways.
I give thanks to God for my wonderful mother-in-law, Luly, a strong and creative woman who loves me as her own daughter and should be sainted for her work in raising four strapping, boisterous, brilliant, beautiful boys to adulthood. Her oldest son is one of the kindest, gentlest and most generous people I have ever met, and one of the main reasons that our home is so full of life and strangers-turned-friends. In many ways, she is also a matriarch of our odd little cobbled-together family on the far side of the world. (Gracias, Luly, por ser como una madre para mí. Y gracias por el mejor regalo de mi vida: tu Rodolfito J. Sé que ya te decimos Feliz Día de la Madre hace unos días, en el Día de la Madre Mexicana, pero ya como tienes una hija americana, tengo que decirte también Feliz Día de la Madre Americana. Y muchas felicidades.)
And I give thanks for my own “Auntie Brigade,” related by blood, related by marriage, or related by love alone, for the love, the support, the care packages, the family stories and the late nights playing Bubsy that they have given me all my life.
To the mothers of my friends and to the friends of my mother who offered me a place at their tables, in their lives and in their hearts; to my peers, friends, mentors and loved ones that have cared for me in any time of need; and to that woman who saw me crying on the city bus once, years ago, and was brave enough to reach out to me, a stranger, and reassure me that God had a wonderful plan for my life: thank you.
To my own sister, who once gave me a Mother’s Day card and was only half joking about it; I’m sorry for sometimes “mothering” you more than “sistering” you. I know that you know that I do it out of love. And I know you worry and care about me too, and for that I thank you.
To my dear friends with the precious children that I love as my own: thank you for letting me be an auntie and sharing your beloved babies.
And to every feminine genius; to all the world’s mothers and the aunties and the sisters and the nuns and the consecrated women and the childless women, to all the mothers-to-be, the mothers-never-to-be, and the empty nesters out there: thank you for being a mother to humanity in so many important ways that have nothing to do with biology.
And, of course, to my own mama: the mother of two and mother of many. Some happy day I will make you a grandmother (which some say is even better than being a mother). Someday you will wish a Happy Mother’s Day back to me. But until then, allow me to speak for myself, for my sister, and for the thousands of other lives that you have nurtured, touched and changed through the power of love:
Thank you from us all. And Happy Mother’s Day.