My son spent two years in Catholic elementary school. Before he went, he had an unquenchable spirit and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. I took him out about the time he said that if Catholics were all like the kids there, he wanted to be an atheist.
But those two years had some precious moments. His Arrow of Light ceremony; his week at Boy Scout camp; the time he protected a smaller child from the thrashes of a bully. The moments when he walked home alone and let himself into an empty house frightened me but they gave him something about which he would later write — walks down Holmes, where he saw things that you and I might not notice.
His first year there, I attended a Back to School Mothers’ Dinner at someone’s home. I wandered between the groups of women, none of whom I knew, looking for somewhere that I could insert myself. I hovered behind one group for a few minutes until someone told me their name. I gave her mine. “Who’s your fifth grader,” she asked. “Pat Corley,” I told her, using the shortened version of his name which he favored at the time. She looked puzzled.
“I don’t remember meeting a ‘Pat’ and I’m one of the home room mothers. Was she there for fourth grade or is she new,” the woman asked. I hastened to say, “Oh no, Pat stands for Patrick.” She looked askance at first, then a bit amused.
“These are the girl-mothers,” she told me. “The boy-mothers are in the kitchen.”
During Patrick’s pre-school days, I was known as “Mrs. Patrick Corley’s mother”. I’ve been called many things in my day: wife three times over; sister; friend; lover; daughter; lawyer; neighbor; and more. I’m proud of every status that I’ve attained, even those which I lost or which I did not seem to wholly embrace or properly honor. To some it might not seem that anything means as much to me as my maternal status, but that is far from true. It is just that like many women, I seem to have been born in part at least to serve as a conduit for my son’s passage into this world. I wanted to fulfill that role well, so that whatever it is that he is mean to do will be done.
I earned the label “boy-mother” through the accidental conception of the only one of five babies who quickened in my womb to make it to the world around us. Maybe the difficulty with which I finally became a mother made it seem more precious to me; I don’t know. Perhaps I will never know. Perhaps it is just that being a boy-mother was part of my destiny. That might upset some. That might resonate with others. It is what it is. His grandparents died before he could know them; his father walked away. I am what he had, and I have done what I could, as well as I could.
One Christmas, I stood in a discount store looking at the many action figures, trying to remember what Santa had promised my then-five-year-old son. I finally threw something in the basket, a bit discouraged by the endless stacks of colorful packages. A clerk approached me and said, “Ma’am, you’ve been standing there a long time. Did you get what you wanted?”
Without thinking, I snapped, “No, I wanted a girl.”
I didn’t get the girl I wanted, it’s true. But I have no regrets. I’ve gotten a bit of vicarious girl-mothering with my various borrowed daughters, from Jennie and Caitlin Taggart to my lovely stepdaughters, Tshandra, Kim and Cara; as well as from my nieces, like Chelsea and Amy, and my “First Niece”, Lisa. I thought I might adopt a girl, years ago; but that did not come to pass. I’m not complaining. I’m a boy-mother. It’s not my only identity, but it is one that has given me much pride, much discovery, and much satisfaction. Along with that, has come some worry, some anxiety, and some unabashed fear. On balance, though, it’s a role that I am glad to have been given.
This song came to me from Jessica Genzer, who has taught me much in the short time that I have known her. I’ve played it twice through, and cried both times; reading along with the lyrics that she also kindly sent me. If you are a boy-mother, or if you love a boy-mother, or if you are a boy who loves his mother, you might cry too. But they will be tears of joy.