In 2019, I married my best friend. It was one of the happiest days of my life. What set this joyous day apart from many other people taking that step in their journey was that my mother and father weren’t there. I have never met my father and didn’t even have a name to attach to the role. My mother wasn’t invited. When she kicked me out of my home at 13 years old, I entered the foster care system. Over the years, our estranged relationship got worse to the point where we haven’t spoken to each other in seven years.
Leading up to the wedding, I faced many unexpected questions. There were a lot of complicated questions and feelings around our mother-daughter relationship, especially about the lack of one. My partner, Christy, and I were also navigating planning our wedding as two queer women and what tradition meant to each of us. I hadn’t grown up thinking about my wedding day and understood that many wedding traditions were rooted in patriarchy. While I understood that it was traditional for parents to be involved in the planning and present at your wedding — such as asking for a daughter’s hand in marriage, trying on wedding dresses, the father-daughter dance, and being walked down the aisle — I had only thought of them abstractly as something that I’d seen in movies and television. So, when these questions about my mother started to arise, I was confused. It was hard to choose my well-being over society’s expectation of what a daughter owes to her mother or what a mother should owe to her daughter. It made me doubt my personal boundaries and choice to stop communicating with her.
It was during my time in foster care that I learned how to maintain and nurture relationships with people in my life. When I was in the fifth grade, I was fortunate to have Ms. Leonard, a teacher who was very influential in my life. She praised my academic and artistic achievements and encouraged me to think and dream big despite the difficulties in my home life. Once I went to middle school, I kept in touch with her. After I entered foster care, Ms. Leonard often visited and always returned my phone calls when I needed to vent or needed advice. I was also able to maintain a relationship with my maternal aunt who called me regularly, helped provide things I needed for school, and helped me open my first bank account in high school.
In addition to Ms. Leonard and my aunt, one of my most important relationships started right before I graduated from eighth grade. I had signed up for a mentoring program and was assigned to Lori. I met her and her husband, Neil, a week before my 14th birthday. They were full-time professionals, had adult children of their own, and had previously volunteered with other youth in the group home. Over the years, they kept showing up in my life and also made memories with me. I loved hearing their stories about things they did when their kids were younger, like “batch cooking” on Sundays or their volunteering trips. Looking back, I could have felt envious, but instead, I was fascinated. It was like hearing a fairytale. I remember thinking that I can’t wait until Lori, Neil and I have our own stories.
I am not sure I would have been able to get through the emotional roller coaster of being engaged without Lori. Just like other big moments in my life, she was by my side. Lori drove to several Michael’s craft stores across town with coupons in tow to find the exact blue wooden box I needed for the centerpieces. She designed the save-the-date and wedding invitation. She was patient when I tried on wedding dresses for the first time and visited venues with me. Every time people asked us how we knew each other — a question we’ve never perfected the “short” answer to — she always answered proudly that I was like her daughter and that we are family. You know the saying, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants?” Well, for me, I have seen further standing on the shoulders of mothers. Their love has helped me stand still, tall, and confidently.
There was no shortage of mothers or motherly love at my wedding. Ms. Leonard, who had driven me to the venue earlier that day, sat in the front rows. When I walked down that aisle, Lori and Neil were by my side. This unique love that I learned later in life helped fill the absence of my own mother. As I glanced at my chosen friends and family, it was one of the most beautiful and surreal moments of my life, with love radiating from every corner of the chapel. The trip down the aisle ended at a chuppah, a Jewish canopy that Lori and Neil made and were under on their wedding day. At the end of the aisle, my partner was waiting for me. Both of my sisters were part of the ceremony. One of my sisters sang “I can’t help falling in love with you,” while I walked down the aisle, and the other sister read a poem whose first line is “Love is a great thing, a great and thorough good. By itself, it makes that is heavy, light; and it bears evenly all that is uneven.”
The meaning of what a mother is and should be hasn’t really gone away. Every Mother’s Day, it creeps back up. What is different this Mother’s Day is that the two sisters I took in eight years ago, after they, too, entered foster care, help me see the day through a new lens. To me, Mother’s Day is about celebrating the love we receive from the women who mentor, uplift, teach, and love us and about how we may be that for someone else. Lori and the other influential women in my life opened their hearts and families to me and were willing to go on a journey with me. They modeled to me that love is a gift to be shared with others, and is something that requires gentle care, healthy communication, patience and empathy in order to be activated. Love truly is the answer. These are the transformative lessons of motherhood that I will carry with me throughout my life.