Every Mother’s Day, we’re given an opportunity to thank the woman in our life responsible for raising us as children, for guiding us as young adults, for caring for us our whole lives, and for loving us unconditionally. I couldn’t be more grateful for my wonderful mom, the person I call for everything from career advice to recipe troubleshooting. But on the annual holiday dedicated to praising the mothers who shaped our lives, it’s impossible to ignore all those other women who played a part.
You know what they say: It takes a village, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the one that raised me.
I have spent most of my life surrounded by loud, loving, strong, and opinionated women. The second of three girls, I did not only have an immediate family full of females, but a big extended family and network of family friends — mostly women — who all had a hand in raising me.
I’ve always been close with my mother, but without these other women in my life, I’m not sure I would be the person I am today.
There was the nanny I had as a child, a vivacious 19-year-old woman who left her childhood home to strike out on her own — and found herself a part of my growing family instead. She used to blast loud 90’s R&B music and dance around in her pajamas, unafraid of who noticed how much fun she could have. She loved to tell jokes and play pranks, drive with the windows down and the music blaring, and soak up every ounce of sun the summer had to offer.
She is the one who taught me how to laugh, especially at myself; she taught me that family goes beyond blood.
But of course, my family was there for me, too. There were my aunts — smart and courageous women who were cut from the same cloth as my mother, and their own complete people. I’m lucky enough to call my mom’s older sister my godmother. Without her encouragement over the years, without her pushing me out of my comfort zone and into my passions, I wouldn’t be the writer I have become. I have seen her live her life fully, take risks, change jobs, lose love, find companionship, and chase her dreams until she can hold them in her hands.
Whenever I feel like giving up, whenever I feel like throwing in the towel for something easier, I hear her voice in the back of my mind telling me that a life lived without passion is no kind of life at all.
And there was my mom’s younger sister, the aunt responsible for all of the loud, noisy toys in my house as a child, the woman who loved to show up on a random Friday night and take us for mystery drives to carnivals or the beach.
When I was younger, I looked to her for proof that adulthood wasn’t all work and no play. She proved that being a grown-up could be just like being a kid, if you tried hard enough. Before becoming a mother to her own daughter, she had plenty of practice with me and my sisters. She was the only woman brave enough to take us not only prom dress shopping, but practice driving for our licenses.
To me, she was the example of what sisters were to one another: support systems, vacation buddies, last-minute babysitters, the voice on the other end of the phone in the middle of the night.
Seeing the way she supported my mom and loved me and my sisters shaped how I now support my own sisters and their beautiful, growing families.
Outside of my own family, there were the mothers of my friends and my boyfriends growing up, the women who let me sleep at their houses all weekend, raid their cupboards, and play in their backyards. They were the cool, hip moms I asked for dating advice, the smart moms who looked over my college essays, the driven moms I still email whenever I need career advice.
They were the women who showed me that motherhood doesn’t have to start and end with your own children — it starts with love, and love is always a choice.
The truth is, there are too many people to list in one place — too many women who came into my life and molded me, supported me, and loved me in ways I could never pay back. From the teacher I had in second grade who told me I was good at writing, to the middle school dance teacher who told me that being good and having fun aren’t always the same thing, to the boss who told me when I was 23 that it was okay to try out a new career — each of them taught me about the incredible strength and bonds between women.
My village was made up of strong, independent, loving women who showed me how to be exactly like them.
I have always known how lucky I was to be around so many incredible people, but it wasn’t until my sister got pregnant at a young age that I realized those wonderful villages of supportive women don’t exist for everyone. I saw the way she was chastised, how she was shut out by people who claimed to love her but chose to judge her instead. Slowly, I saw her village shrink away from her, and leave her standing in the dark without someone to hold her hand.
So I stood there with her, and when I saw my nephew for the first time, in the arms of my 17-year-old sister, I knew.
It was time we started making a village of our own.
I am so grateful for the ways the women in my life raised me because I understand what it means to pitch in and support each other, and to love each other unconditionally. I am lucky to be a part of my nephew and niece’s life. Because of my village of women, I know how to be the fun, silly, crazy aunt who makes candy pancakes and picks the kids up from school early for a beach day. I know how to be the kind of aunt my nephew can call to talk about his teenage feelings. Even more importantly, I know how to be there for my sister. I know how to be that voice on the other end of the phone in the middle of the night.
So to every woman in my village: thank you. On Mother’s Day, I’m thinking of you, too.