Sarah’s mom had a sauna. It stood in the backyard of her house, high on a windy hill. We would change into our bathing suits in the house and then run, squealing, clompy boots flapping, through the snow to get to the steamy little oasis. Sometimes Sarah’s mom would join us, and she had no qualms about changing into her bathing suit in front of us. She taught me about body confidence and the healing power of steam in the middle of a Maine winter. She made me crepes with maple syrup, and never seemed to mind having me around in her house, in her yard, in her life.
Becca’s mom let Becca eat junk food. All the time. We would have Happy Meals for dinner and brownies for breakfast. I thought it was heaven. Becca was allowed to watch more TV than I was, but her mom also read to us. She would read old stories about stern little animals before we snuggled into our sleeping bags for the night. She happily brought me along with them when they went places, too, including once to a friend’s pool where she jumped in, fully clothed, to save me from drowning when I got over-confident in the deep end. She kept a bag of gumdrops and a pile of romance novels by her bed. She taught me about kindness, letting go of the little things, and laughing out loud.
Mike’s mom was an artist, with a room full of canvases – nudes, sketches, splashes of color – in her old farmhouse. She helped us make posters to raise awareness about the rain forests. Mike and I marched in the fourth of July parade with our handmade posters that year, and she cheered us on. She gardened and made her own bread and listened to NPR.
Ellie’s mom’s kitchen was usually filled with things like skim milk, Special K, and broccoli, but on weekend mornings she’d let us mound whipped cream from a can on top of our bowls of cereal. She gave us old bras and scarves and eyeshadow to use for dress-up, and left us to our own devices to make up ridiculous games and share our deepest secrets.
My own mom always made us homemade things – chocolate chip cookies, blueberry muffins, and banana bread. She let me host gaggles of girls for sleepovers at our house, and drove my friends and me back and forth countless times. My mom always made our house feel the coziest; it was homey, bright and clean, but not too clean. She taught me about giving and sharing and cooking and loving.
And the amazing thing about spending so much time in and out of friends’ houses as a kid, is that every one of these women who fed me and took care of me like one of her own had something to teach me about being a good mom.
You can be divorced, and be a good mom.
You can work full-time, and be a good mom.
You can have a tasteful home that’s tidy and scrubbed, or you can have piles of laundry on the floor and dirty dishes on the counter.
You can bake a homemade birthday cake with almond flour and honey, or you can let the grocery store take care of it with bright blue frosting and explosions of sprinkles.
You can play with your kids a lot, or give them space to do their own thing.
You can let them see you in your birthday suit, or you can keep your spots and lumps under wraps.
You can read to them, and swim with them, or paint with them, and laugh with them.
You can take them on exciting trips, or let them create their own excitement in your backyard.
All you have to do is be yourself. Love them your way. And that’s how to be a good mom.
Note: I changed my childhood friends’ names here because, you know, privacy.