Were you lucky enough to have a “second mother?” Someone who was in your life since you were a toddler; who stepped in when your mom was ill or was busy with work? Someone who realized that you needed a little more attention or an extra hug at those challenging times in your life?
I was that lucky. Twice. I had two of these special second mothers. One was my mother’s younger sister and the other was my mother’s best friend. I am still very lucky because I still have them in my life today.
My Aunt Jean was as beautiful at 17 as she is today. (That’s her portrait at the top of the page). I was only two years old and – based on all accounts of the adults around me at that time – an energetic handful. But Aunt Jean seemed to understand me. She accepted me as the kind of excitable, funny and curious child that can make some mothers crazy. I loved books and an avid reader by four years old, so Aunt Jean took me to the library every week and found books that were perfect for my ability level.
She let me sit in the driver’s seat of her very cool two-seater sports car and took me for long walks in Golden Gate Park. She even brought me on her dates – although I doubt her handsome young fellows were as thrilled as I was with her generosity. And she continued her role of second mother when I got married, understanding how scary it could be as a new bride in your early twenties.
My other second mother, Ernestine, was my mother’s best friend since grammar school and had a daughter two years older than me (so she was comfortable with motherhood). Some of my earliest life lessons came from her guiding hands.
I was not one of those kids who walked early. In fact, I was a bit delayed. So one day when I was at her home and my mother was doing errands, she put me into a pair of very stiff jeans, stood me up against her living room wall. She told me I was strong, that I would be a very good walker and asked me to walk to her. I did – and I still remember that moment of triumph as if it were yesterday.
Ernestine was also an only child (like me), so she was the first to teach me about fitting in and how to smile whenever I walked into a room. She whispered the magic lesson for only children: “When you walk into a room or onto a playground with other children, remember that most of them have siblings that will always be their friends. You need to walk in with a big smile and show kindness to everyone. That’s how you’ll bring people into your life that will always be your friends.”
Her advice was right then and is still right today. She is one of those amazing people who robustly loves life and lives with gratitude everyday. Even at the funeral of her oldest child, she encouraged all of the mourners to be strong and look ahead. She said life gives us sad occasions that we must learn to embrace so we can appreciate all the good times that much more.
Of course, I wouldn’t have had such wonderful second mothers if it wasn’t for the first. To her credit, my mom was never threatened or concerned that I needed a couple of second mothers. She was the first to realize that mothering was complicated and that very few women are Super Moms. In that respect, she was truly ahead of her time.
Motherhood is not an easy career and having children often appears so simple when your children are infants. But bigger kids bring bigger challenges and we all need support – both mother and child.
So, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Auntie Jean and Ernestine for being my second mothers. I am forever grateful for all I’ve gained from having you in my life.
I also know I’m not the only one lucky enough to have benefitted from second mothers. So I invite you to share your stories and recognize them in the Comments below. Let the whole world will know who they are and how lucky you are to have known them.