When I was growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a mother.
I remember thinking that if I didn’t have a husband, I would just be a single mom.
I was going to be a mother no matter what.
I also thought of myself as a “girl mom.” I would daydream about me with my mini-me in matching outfits.
I had a Hope Chest full of delicate, beautiful pink dresses, exquisite hats, embroidered blankets, and adorable little shoes. My treasures for my future daughter had meaning and stories behind them.
Many were purchased when I was traveling abroad in Europe: dainty floral dresses from Belgium and tiny hand-crocheted shoes from Italy. Anything I fell in love with for my future daughter I purchased and carefully tucked away in my Hope Chest.
There was nothing in my chest for boys. It just never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t have a girl—at least one.
As life continued, I married and started a family, and one by one out came: boys! Every two years, another boy. And each time, I fell more and more in love with boys! I completely and totally embraced being a “boy mom.”
I dressed them in matching clothes for as long as they would let me, and they were charming and adorable and amazing. And they were athletes—a blessing and a curse. I was a working mom with three athletic boys. These were the hardest, most challenging years of my life.
Soccer, baseball, football, and lacrosse consumed our lives. Each kid had somewhere to go. There were games, games, games, and practices every day of the week. Then came tournaments, traveling, and the never-ending cash flow of uniforms, team gear, airline tickets, and hotel fees.
It was the busiest, craziest time of our lives. It made the newborn era, toddlerhood, and going to the park, look relaxing. I didn’t need a house cleaner or a cook. (Well, actually, I did.) What I needed most was a chauffeur.
I was completely stretched. I couldn’t attend many games because I was too busy making up for rides on my days off work. I felt like I was going in every direction, dropping off and picking up. I had become a ping-pong-ball mom, and I couldn’t complain because my kids were athletes—the teams needed them. My cup was constantly empty. I soon realized that being at work was a break for me. At home, I was exhausted.
Sitting around the dinner table one evening, my husband, a teacher, calmly brought up the story of a girl at his school whose mom had terminal cancer. He went on and on about how wonderful she was.
Then came the bombshell:
(Him) “Would it be possible if she came to live with us?”
(Me) “What? What did you say? Come to live with us? Temporarily or what exactly are you talking about?”
(Him) “Well, she wants to come live with us, with our family.”
My heart dropped. We had our family. Everyone was tucked away in their own rooms. I was already pushed to the limit with responsibility, and this was a person with wants and needs and feelings and thoughts and tears for her mother. And an athlete and a teenager. And…and…and…
No, no, no.
And then I met her that next weekend. Her mom was in the hospital, and she came for a couple of nights. She was quiet. She was scared. I was shattered for her. I thought back to when I was in grade school and a friend’s mom had died. I’ll never forget standing outside my home waiting for my mom to give us a ride to school and thinking, “I’m so happy I have my mom.”
I looked at this beautiful girl, sleeping on our couch, her beloved mom in a hospital bed. She was someone’s daughter, someone’s beloved child, and my heart just burst into a million mommy pieces.
Fast-forward a month:
My brother and I were going to Peru to scatter my father’s ashes in a remote town named Cabanaconde. Again, I was in a race against time. Going on a trip with my crazy-ass schedule was insane, but it had been planned long ago. I had a million things to do. I was driving and speeding and in a hurry when I got a phone call from my husband saying, can you please stop by her mother’s apartment and meet her, just in case something happens while you’re gone.
(Me) “No, I don’t have time.”
That meant changing my whole route.
(Me again) “I thought you said she was doing okay? I’m only going to be gone for 10 days.”
I got off the phone and pulled over. I was so ashamed. I felt sick to my stomach. I just started weeping.
Is this really happening? How can I take care of her? I don’t even know her. I can barely take care of my family. How can this all be happening? I’m so selfish. She deserves so much more.
Here I was, healthy as can be, about to go on a trip and now inconvenienced. What an awful mode I was in. I still think of that and quiver.
I called my husband right back:
“Of course I’ll go.”
I stopped at Trader Joe’s and picked up some pretty oranges roses and put them in a jar with a wire-trimmed bow wrapped around. I detoured off to the city. Still so worried about me!
I parked my car on the city streets and walked up to the door of the little apartment. Her brother was visiting from out of town. The door opened, and he welcomed me in. This was our first meeting. I had only heard of this whole story a couple of weeks ago, and all of a sudden, there was this huge shift in my life.
I walked into the bedroom. There she was, lying on the bed, under some warm covers. She was petite and bald. A big tattoo decorated her scalp. She sat up and adjusted her pillows as I took a seat on her bed. She had a slow controlled voice. She spoke softly and clearly; she spoke to me about her daughter; she thanked me for accepting her into our family. She told me, “I’m her favorite person,” and I loved that. It was so true.
This girl was deeply loved. This mom and this girl were bonded for life.
Those words, as a mother, I understood so deeply.
The small room had cookbooks and photo albums on all the bookshelves. Her mom spoke of healthy food and thoughtful concerns for her daughter. My trip to Peru became less and less on the forefront of my mind the more I spoke to her. What was slowly making its way up was the importance and depth of what was really happening before me.
This brave lady had stopped begging for a miracle; she was seeking refuge in her suffering in me, and she was actively participating any way she could in her last wishes for her beloved daughter.
As I got up to leave, we looked at each other eye to eye—mama bear to mama bear, defeated-selfish-alive-mom-warrior to defeated-vulnerable-loving-cancer-warrior—and we embraced. I wrapped my arms around her small, frail body, feeling her vertebrae as my arms closed in.
It was a massive hug. It was an “I will not let you down hug.” It was an “I cannot believe how f*cking strong you are hug.” It was a hug that I will hold close to my heart until my dying day. It was a mother-to-mother, soul-to-soul hug.
I remember thinking: this has got to be the hardest thing in the world to do.
I could not imagine the bravery I was witnessing. I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t worthy. It was truly a sacred bond of motherhood, and I felt so undeserving.
She passed when I was in Peru. She passed the day my brother and I watched the condors fly. I thought it was my dad making his presence known, but there were two condors in that miraculous flight right over our heads. And we were all in awe.
That’s how I got my girl—the girl I’ve dreamed of since I was a girl.
It really all came out of a hug—a mama hug!