Growing up in a small town where my parents owned a restaurant on Main Street, I often heard my mother called "Mom." Most of the regulars, ranging in age from their early 20s to their 80s, would pop in daily and holler, "Hey, Mom" or "What's cooking today, Mom?" So I knew from an early age that one need not give birth to be called Mom. But as an adult, my situation was different.
At the age of 32 I met a widower of four years (also in his 30s) who had seven children ages 9 to 16. How we met is a story in itself. Why we met is anyone's guess. Call it fate, call it divine intervention, call it being at the right place at the right time. I call it lucky.
From the beginning, we were inseparable. We just knew we were supposed to be together, even though neither of us really wanted marriage at the time.
When we finally became engaged, I never really thought about being a mom. His children and I were great friends by then and, even though we did not yet live together, I knew I was up to the task.
I guess I was not only in love but also delusional. How hard could it be? My mom had raised five children of her own and worked full time; therefore, so could I.
I explained to his children that just because I was marrying their dad didn't mean they should call me Mom. I gallantly stated, "You only get one mom. No one can take her place. We are friends, and now I hope we will become better friends. It takes two to build a friendship, and I am here if you want us to be friends."
As life would have it, the years have passed by all too quickly. It continues to be an amazing journey -- as it is for any family, I suppose. Our stories just may be a little different than most.
One summer we decided to make our annual vacation trip from Pittsburgh to Hilton Head via Disney World. As our big old van approached the gate with our trailer of nine bicycles in tow, we were directed to the parking lot for campers and buses.
Our gang scrambled out next to a bus full of eager day-camp kids. Their driver looked at my husband and politely asked which camp we were with. Chuckling, my husband responded: "No camp, these are all mine."
The driver slowly shook his head and with a bewildered look on his face said, "Oh my gosh! At least this bunch goes home at night."
While most of the stories we tell are steeped in humor that grows with each telling, we, like most large families, have had our share of crises as well.
When our oldest son was in a horrible car accident at the age of 18 and three of the other passengers died, we all suffered. He, being the only conscious person at the scene, had to pull his closest high school friends from a burning wreck.
As he began to recover from his own injuries, both physical and emotional, I, like any mother would, cried. I cried for his bravery. I cried as I thanked God that we hadn't lost him as the other parents had lost their children. I cried in my pride at what he had done.
Also like most moms, I can count the times we rushed to emergency rooms after football injuries, skiing accidents and car crashes (11 times in the first seven years).
Choosing prom gowns or wedding gowns, I felt like a real mom, and yet, when one Mother's Day sitting in church our priest asked all the moms to please rise and be recognized, I couldn't move. My husband nudged me and whispered, "Stand up, you're supposed to stand up."
I shook my head, "I can't. I'm not a real mom."
There were so many times when I felt I could have been a better friend ... a better "mom"; times when I should have intervened more and times when I meddled too much, but maybe all moms feel that way.
In due time each of the kids headed off to college, and each time one left it got harder to deal with. When we visited our first college student away at school and she introduced me as "Mom," I thought my heart would burst. I hadn't expected that, nor the reaction I felt when hearing it. Later, when I asked my husband if he had prompted her, he said emphatically, "Never! I think you know me better than that."
Five weddings have taken place and 10 grandchildren now grace our family photo, and I could write a book about all the times that I have felt like a real mom, but sometimes we need the validation by those closest to us.
I think back to some years before my husband and I got married. It was Mother's Day. As a single woman with no children, it was not a day for me.
But I got a card from one of his kids that said "Happy Mother's Day" in swirly, fancy script. A child's handwriting at the bottom read, "I don't know what our family would do without you."
I have that card till this day.opinion_commentary
Jacalyn Thomas is a real mother. She lives in Upper St. Clair. First Published May 13, 2012 12:00 AM