Sitting in my lofty perch high above the playground, my two nephews happily playing in the lower branches of the tree beneath me, I survey the parents of the children playing in the sand. The moms in clusters, gossiping with each other. The dads on their BlackBerries, doing business or playing Solitaire—hard to tell which. A few moms are actively engaged in their children’s play, pushing kids on the swing set, hovering over the smaller ones as they attempt to scale playground equipment more than quadruple their size. It all makes me wonder what kind of a mom I would have been.
I miscarried twice when I was married. The first time was physically hard, but not mentally; I was just glad at that point to know I could get pregnant. The second time was emotionally devastating. I broke down after the morning faculty meeting, then sprained my ankle as I tripped going down the stairs on a field trip. When I got back to school, one of my friends and the school nurse told my principal I was going home. No one asked me, but that was certainly a great kindness.
I always pictured the kind of mom I would be. Strict, but loving—a lot like my mom. I once was told by an aide in my classroom that she thought of my discipline style as mom-like: “The kids know that you love them, but they also know when you mean business.”
It was a great compliment.
When I think of the children of my heart—my beautiful goddaughter Manuela, who was emotionally deserted by her mom when she was 15, and my 5-year-old nephew Colin, who I believe my sister really had for me—my heart swells and I know I couldn’t love them any more if I really was their mom.
I’ve come to realize, though, that I’m actually luckier not to have to be!
Because I’m not Manuela’s mom, I’ve been invited to hang out with her and her friends ever since she was a teenager. (They’re all looking forward to seeing me this summer, even though they’re now in their 20s with boyfriends.) Because I’m not Manuela’s mom, I didn’t have to go through any stages where she hated me as she tried to establish her independence (a process I well remember putting my own mom through).
Because I’m not Colin’s mom, I get to be his partner-in-crime. We can run around in Halloween costumes in the middle of April, eat junk food all day, and tell “secwets” that his mom doesn’t get to hear. Because I’m not Colin’s mom, I can lie awake next to him all night when he stays over so I can be sure I’m there if he needs me. It’s okay because I know I’ll get to sleep the next night, when he’s gone. I’ll miss the sounds of his rhythmic breathing, but I’ll know that he’s safe and sound in his own bed with parents who will be there for him if he has nightmares.
I always thought I was going to be a mom one day, and no one was more surprised than I was that it never happened. But being a babysitter all the way into my 40s and a teacher for more than 20 years means I get to be a lifelong mentor. My hand has helped to guide more than a few children. This year’s class has quite a few students I hope will be friends for a long time to come.
“To teach means to touch a life forever” is true. I look out on the playground and can’t help but sigh with contentment. Though I’m not a mom, I have children. I couldn’t be any more blessed than that.