As a kid while my father was in school finishing a secondary degree, we lived on a street next door to a single mother and her five-year-old son named William Thomas. It was plain that this mother worked very hard, day and night, to make ends meet and if ever she had a moment to stand and chat on the driveway, she wasn't super discrete about discussing her night job at a local gentleman's club.
Every evening at about the same time, she would back her car from the driveway and inch down the street past the other playing children. We would watch as William Thomas ran behind her fading taillights yelling, "Mama, come back!" Feeling motherly to all of those neighborhood children, I'd go sit where he had crumbled on the curb and try to ease his heartbreaking sobs with enticements of playing with the other kids while we waited for some errant babysitter to arrive.
Once, I expressed my sorrow over William Thomas to my own mother. I'm sure I had plenty of questions and probably voiced some opinion. I can't remember.
I do remember my mom withholding all judgments and saying quite simply and directly, "Half a mom beats no mom at all."
Since beginning my journey into my own motherhood, I've spent a fair share of time laying awake at night feeling inadequate, beating myself up over opportunities missed, upended conversations, frustrations, and personal failings. At the end of each such self-evaluation, I can hear and understand the universal truth of my mother's words, "Half a mom beats no mom at all." And crazy as it sounds, I wonder if I can possibly feel just a little less judgmental of self, just as my mother felt for a struggling neighbor long ago.
These last few weeks have been hard even if social media presents events and experiences in a kind of glowing light. We've proudly wrapped up school with all it's programs, sing alongs, award ceremonies, graduations, continuations, convocations, meets, matches and more, even if I've fairly limped across the finish line. I've been grateful for teenage kids who've shown up to opposing activities to represent me until I could make it from one to the other. I've been even more in awe of kids who have been okay with my tardiness and absentminded behaviors. I've sunken when teenagers have needed me as littles clung to bedtime routines. I've wiped private tears in the bathroom at missed final moments with an oldest child leaving as others have pulled me in so many differing directions. I've regretted the loss of being every thing, every time.
One night last week, the house stood still as other children with remaining school had finalized the day. Final exams done, the last days of school behind, graduations complete, wrap up parties finished, friends off on senior adventures and all the hoopla quiet, Celia stood in the kitchen silence all alone as I made the rounds turning off the remaining house lights. We chatted for a bit in the late hour and finally facing an early morning for those still left to go, I had to say my goodnight. As I reached for our usual hug, she clung.
"Mom," she said turning tearful. "Thank you so much for everything. It just couldn't have been better."
To that, I held on tight. To that girl. To that moment. Just ... to that. How could I have ever been enough? Done enough? Been present enough? Yet, here she was. Such an amazingly better version than myself. And somehow, the half-a-mom in me could let go of those internal self judgements at least for a minute. Maybe when I had been there, I'd been able to give and be everything simply needed.
And maybe, just maybe, half a mom really does beat no mom at all.