Words mean different things to different people. For instance, “marzipan” to me is an almondy confection. To my husband, it’s the name for everyone whose given name he can’t remember. “You know…Marzipan.”

While we’ve heard quite a few alarming words and creative strings of expletives, the word that caught me by surprise was “mommy.”

I never thought about how complex that word could be. How much it could hold and not hold. Birth mommy, foster mommy, adoptive mommy. It’s a lot more complicated than most first words.

We decided to let the kids take the lead on this one.

So when three foster kids who lived with us for six months began calling me mommy, I went along. And when they moved into an adoptive home and called someone else mommy, I followed suit.

But now, as we care for a purely delightful just-turned-three-year old for four days (while his long-term foster mom attends a funeral), and he bursts into my arms singing “mommy!” I’m taken aback. This little fella with the most contagious laugh you’ve ever heard, has an amazing foster mommy. Who loves him and delights in him and is making plans to adopt him.

And yet, to him, “mommy” describes whichever woman is caring for him at the time. It is not an exclusive term. He has many mommies. And doesn’t even know that that is not the way it is for everyone.

That mommies are meant to last for more than four days.


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  1. Pam H.

    When my adopted son and his wife ended up not being able to care for her then 4 yr old daughter and their 14 month old son, I was the one they called. By the time seven months had passed with no hope in sight of seeing their parents again, my granddaughter who had begun attending kindergarten asked if she could call me “mommy.” I told her no, I’m your grandmother; you can keep calling me grammie. I did not want to have her own mother upset when and if they returned. A week or two went by and she asked me again if she could call me mommy. I finally asked her why she wanted to do that and she said it was embarrassing to her to have to explain why she lived with her grandmother, that all the other kids had mommies and she wanted me to be hers. My heart broke in a zillion pieces that day and I’m so glad I went ahead and told her it was okay to call me mommy since she is now 19 and her brother 15 and they never left to live with their own parents (though we don’t live far from each other and see each other regularly).

    Liz, beautifully written.

    • Liz

      What a powerful story of your love and commitment to all your children. Thank you for sharing. It is such a gift to learn from and be encouraged by stories like yours. Thank you!

  2. Kitty

    Tears to the eyes again. Stab to the heart.
    When Chandra first arrived, she told me, once she had the words for it (that courageous tiny seven year old arrived in a strange land knowing maybe three English words…) that I was her fourth mother. (Or was it her fifth?)
    After swallowing hard, I began to think of it from her point of view. I asked her who her other mothers were.
    The one who borned me, the social worker, the workers who took care of me in the home.
    So I was merely the next in line.
    Eventually, we grew beyond that, but it left its mark, I believe on us both.

    • Liz

      Thanks so much for sharing. Hearing each others’ stories gives us eyes to not only see each other better, but these precious children.

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