The Accidental Mother
Our Italian American family often served a large homemade, mid-day meal to accommodate my grandfather’s shift work as an electrician at the local sports arena. My grandfather was the sole provider for his wife, my recently divorced 22-year old mother, and me. Cooking together, sharing a meal and enjoying conversation were forever interconnected with love in my young mind. Even though my mom was in the midst of a difficult divorce, my memories of those years are some of the happiest of my childhood.
Flash forward many years to me running my own home with three children. A teenage boy in our neighborhood is spending a great deal of time at our house. Although he has an interest in my teenage daughter, there’s more. He makes a point to talk with me long after my daughter has started her homework.
“Do you cook for your family every night?” he asks.
“Most often I do,” I tell him.
“You mean you eat all together at the same table?” he presses.
“Well it is easier than sitting in different rooms,” I say smiling at him. But his eyes drop and his unspoken thought can now be read.
“Would you like to join us tonight?” I ask.
As he pulls up a chair and joins our table of five, we do something else he has never seen before. We say grace. He comes over almost daily and joins us for many meals. He asks about cooking, listens to our kids’ concerns, and offers to help clean up more readily than my own children.
Why is he drawn to us? I wonder. My family is digging out of a difficult-to-understand life circumstance. We would like nothing more than to retreat. We long for the same nurturing my grandparents gave years ago. And it is this young boy who holds up the mirror for us to see what we’ve taken for granted in our struggle to survive and rebuild. He helps us uncover the balm we have known all along. And in doing so, we begin to heal our wounds and his.
He offers to cut our grass. We feed him. He unloads our groceries. We encourage him to pursue his goals. We go sledding together when school is canceled, and he pulls the heavy wooden toboggan back up the hill, sometimes with one of my kids on it. We each think we’ve gotten the better end of the deal.
One day I find him and my daughter laughing their way through a failed attempt at baking cookies. He stays for dinner and asks if he can go to church with us. My accidental mothering of this boy birthed something new in him and in me. We’ve each lightened the other’s load often while enjoying a warm meal, eaten all together at the same table.
Kim Hedzik is a humorist both on and off the page. Her essays have appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Marin Independent Journal, Mothers Always Write, Funny Times, and on the refrigerator. She lives with her husband and their three children in a house in the South.