Growing up, I loved playing with dolls.
One of my all-time favorite Christmas gifts was a set of plastic baby bottles with liquid that looked like real milk and juice. The magic of having my dolls “drink” was so fun.
I also had a doll that drank water and wet a diaper, but the water usually ended up going into her hollow legs. I hated watching my dad perform a temporary amputation so that he could remove the excess water. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
Even when I was 9 or 10, I still played mama, only it was with our Manx cat. He didn’t have a tail, so he fit perfectly into infant-sized clothes, and he let me push him around in the doll buggy.
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Oh, sure, he was mean and bit and scratched other people, but Thumper was an extremely patient and loving baby for me. He purred as I swaddled him in blankets and spoon fed him canned cat food. He loved sitting with me in the rocking chair. He even slept in the baby buggy at night.
During middle school and high school, I babysat a lot. It always seemed like on-the-job training. I never wanted to be a teen mom, but I knew I’d have a big family some day. Washing other people’s dishes and reading to their kids sort of felt like an advanced version of playing house.
When I began college, I got to experience the joy of being an auntie. It was the best of both worlds: I got to buy cute clothes, rock babies, attend preschool graduations and watch tiny-tyke soccer matches without the full-time responsibility of raising children.
We had four nephews and two nieces before our kids arrived, and sometimes I wonder if the reason we didn’t have children for the first decade of our marriage was because being auntie and uncle was so much fun and helped alleviate some of those “I want a baby right now” urges. Plus, what better way to torture a sibling than to get their kids hopped up on sugar and send them home with some really loud toys? We knew our sisters would probably want to get revenge for that some day.
Now that we have three kids, I can’t imagine our lives going any other way. My life up to this point was a rehearsal for being the best parent that I could be. I proudly wear the “team mom” sports sweatshirts and jerseys. The theme of my home decor is my kids’ artwork. I plan my life, and sometimes job, around those three pieces of my heart that are trying to find their way in this world. I honestly can’t imagine my life without them.
Of course, now that they’re getting more independent — one of them is a teenager, although for the life of me, I don’t know how I can possibly have a kid that old — I shouldn’t be surprised that some of that extra mothering energy is now going toward my friends.
I’m the one who hands out extra napkins and cleans up plates at restaurants or potlucks.
If we go out together, I’ll expect to get a text from you when you make it home. If I drive you home, I’ll linger in your driveway until you’ve unlocked the front door.
If you tell me that you haven’t talked to your mom in more than a week, I’ll gasp, and give you a good what-for. Hey, I can’t help it, as a mom, and a kid who called her own mama every day, I take those types of things personally.
One of my friends recently had to take some antibiotics for a cut, and I found myself feeling her forehead for a possible fever and reminding her to eat a snack with her medicine so she wouldn’t get an upset stomach.
“OK, thanks Mom,” she said, jokingly.
I smiled because it reminded me of all of the times I had heard my mama’s adult friends call her that too.
My mama has been gone for nearly a year now, but I think she’d be glad to hear that I’ve been taking care of my friends, and they’re taking excellent care of me, too.
She would be the first to remind me that those babies of mine are going to grow up quickly and might move away some day, but good friends will stick around for a lifetime.