She patiently cleaned the chocolate ice cream off my shirt the first day we met, even as I vehemently asserted, “You’re not my mommy!”
She carefully laid out my new room, created an introductory picture book that I still have to this day, and kept calm in the volcano of my emotions that I angrily graced her with within days of my moving in.
She wrote me notes to remind me of her love—little sheets of paper with her signature flower drawing that I still have to this day.
She taught me basic skills no one else had shown me, even at 7 years old, like (not) brushing my mane of curls.
She believed in me when others underestimated my intelligence, leading me to excel at academics beyond my peers and eventually earn scholarships. She was my biggest cheerleader when I worked toward my bachelor’s degree.
She read every single Nancy Drew book with me as I painted by numbers. She played countless games of double solitaire with me. She bought me my first journal, which inevitably led to my writing today.
She persistently sought out answers when I struggled with years of medical issues; she cried when she administered those monthly intramuscular shots that I really think hurt her more than me. She always stayed awake by my hospital bedside and didn’t back down from doctors who would gloss over my case.
She introduced me to Jesus, and more recently gave me her book of prayers for her children, complete with tear-stained pages of her intercessions on my behalf.
She never gave up on me, even when I gave up on myself. When I joined the Army—despite months of my having pushed her away because of inner turmoil—she continued to write. Not the little notes from childhood, not the emails from my college years, but several pages of good old-fashioned letters, because that was all basic training allowed. Indeed, it was those letters that brought me back closer to her, and when I struggled physically and mentally, she was my 60-second phone call allowed to us during training.
She spoke grace-filled truth and attempted to give me my space when I married an abuser; and when I decided to break free, she was ready with specific measures to make a safe and clean break.
She was the one I wanted to celebrate with when I found a healthy love. She is the “Nonna” to my daughters, always one message away when I need advice or a hug. I am convinced my daughters, as little as they are, know the same thing I knew as a kid—she is intently keen on our needs and doesn’t shy away from “different.”
I could keep going, because who couldn’t when talking about their loving mama? But the question I’ve gotten throughout my life is this: “What about your real mom?” And to that I say: “She is my real mom.”
No, she didn’t give birth to me, and for reasons deeply rooted in trauma and boundaries, I don’t have a relationship with the woman who did. But the woman who took the pieces of my 7-year-old heart and patiently helped me put them back together, giving me a chance at new life . . . she’s my mama.
And she will always be the one I celebrate on Mother’s Day.