The other mothers on this day

By Billie Johnson

For me, Mother’s Day is a day of remembrance. During a visit to New England last summer, I caught up with my mom’s old college roommate. I love to hear people’s stories about my mom. Her friend Kaye told me how excited my mom was to become a mother — how there “never was a more wanted child.” Mom’s former co-workers have told me how she displayed my report cards at work, kept everyone apprised of any athletic accomplishments and how she always called me “my Billie.”

My mom herself told me that when she encountered my dad at a bar in Hailey, Idaho, the booming of her biological clock was deafening. After meeting his children from his second marriage, she decided he “had good enough genes,” and they were married six weeks later at the Elko, Nev., courthouse. I came along three and a half years into their marriage, and they divorced before I turned 4.

Although I saw my dad maybe one weekend a month, my mom had full custody and was the parent. I really just played when I hung out with my dad. Mom did all the school shopping. She took me to school. She picked me up from daycare. She cooked dinner until I was old enough to scramble eggs and master Hamburger Helper. She held the stress when I outgrew shoes and had to wait until payday to get a new pair, and she handled all the questions about God and sex and politics with candor and a comfort that led me to think everyone talked like we talked.

One of my favorite things my Mom ever made me do was in the days before Mother’s Day when I was 6 years old. She had me pick out a Mother’s Day card for my first-grade teacher. I thought it was weird at first, but then she explained. Who did I spend my days with? Who was helping her raise me the most? She sat me down and had me write in my best D’Nealian handwriting, “Happy Mother’s Day to my other mother.” I can remember giving them to a couple other teachers and the lady who ran my daycare over the years.

I thought this was normal. I thought everyone, too, viewed teachers and other childcare works as secondary parents, but the older I get, the more unique I realize my mom’s perspective was. Mom viewed her relationship with my teachers as a joint venture. They were in it together. Raising me to be a happy, healthy, confident, contributing member of society, although it truly fell on her shoulders, was a mission assumed by every adult who worked with me. She knew she couldn’t do it alone, and she sure as heck knew they couldn’t do their jobs without her doing hers.

It was a brilliant motherly move. We want kids to feel loved and nurtured and constantly supported, and in framing my teachers as part of a mothering network, I never felt alone. Another element of this brilliance was what a diverse group of “other mothers” I had. Some were more nurturing than others. Some more disciplining. Some imparted humor through their teaching while others focused on harsh realities of the world I was growing up to live in. I consider myself to have had some of the best “parents,” and because most of them were women, “mothers” in the world.

I’m sure an Internet search could let me know the origins of Mother’s Day in May in seconds, but I think it’s uncanny that it occurs toward the end of the school year. Moms and teachers always love to hear a grateful or encouraging word, and at this time of year, it’s especially appreciated.

I naturally miss my mom each Mother’s Day, but I know I’m surrounded by so many other mothers who continue to nurture and scold and coddle and correct when we need it, just like she did. Happy Mother’s Day to all the other mothers out there.

Billie Johnson of Pocatello holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree from Idaho State University. She works as an engineer, is an avid community volunteer, and maintains a blog about her adventures in a cow suit at

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