I once had a conversation with an old lady of deep convictions. I’ll call her Carla. Most of the time, she ricocheted from point to point. She was hard to follow, but as you might imagine, always interesting. One day,  she told me this: “Miss Sarah…you know me. You know my family we don’t gotta lotta money, but I tell you one thing. We don’t give up our own.”

She told it to me, too. Her concern was possessive but hardly judgmental. She told me who she was without telling me how I should be, and when this sort of conviction has the kindness that it  did—well, I listen. “All my babies call me Momma,” she continued. “It don’t matter if they my grand-baby or my nephew…to me, all my kin, they just like a child that came right outta me.” She was the truest momma bear. She was deliberate about her dedication and her eyes were warm and fixed. Soulful.  And speaking of souls, I would like to see hers, because I think it would be very beautiful.

When I think of mothering, I think of lots of things but one of them is usually Carla. Carla never had biological children of her own.  She took in distant relatives and friends of friends. She’s a matriarch and people came to her just because they could.  Newborns, teenagers and even grown-ups who had lost their way…Carla made room as if she’d been waiting for him or her all along.  She had not been pregnant in the baby bump way, but she was certainly pregnant with so many lives– stuffed full of her babies and glowing with admiration.

The non-conventional mother is important in thinking about vulnerable children because it makes room. It makes room for the littles whose mothers forgot the mothering part.  Women like Carla replace the desolation of abandonment with the power of belonging; and in so doing, they give great gifts to our children, our communities and our world. To be an unconventional mother you don’t have to be a bear like Carla.  Some mamas speak softly and listen more than they talk. Some might even do their mothering from afar with encouraging words or letters in the mail. Perhaps some will teach them how to make cupcakes or plant a flower or swim the backstroke. I think it takes a village. And I can find my role here, in this village, for these littles. And this makes me feel like I can help.

I suppose when it comes down to it, we can all relate, can’t we?  I hope I have babies someday and I know I will want to pick them up and smother them with kisses. But still, the village will be important for them.  And I hope people step up.  And the hardest, most important thing? It might be teaching a grown-up baby to mother herself.  To be her own parent. To nurture herself, not orphan herself. To whisper to herself when she is on the edges: “Go ahead…be born….LIVE.”


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