Best. Ma. Ever.

My Mom Is My Village

What would I do without her?

Even when my house is spotless (rare), there’s always a little stack of clean Tupperware on the kitchen counter. My mom, who lives five blocks up and four over, is always stopping by with food for me, my husband, and our 2-year-old son. The collection of tubs and lids usually grows for a few weeks before I finally remember to return it. But no matter how long it takes, she never asks about her dishes.

My husband and I moved to our neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida — a historic district with a vibrant social life — in 2017. My mom moved in, just a few minutes’ drive away from us, in June 2020. She had fallen in love with the area after so many weekends of visiting us from three hours south around Melbourne, where I grew up. Finally, a little tipsy standing outside our local dive bar, she asked if we’d be OK with her moving here. She wanted to be a permanent resident, and more than that, she wanted to be closer to us. My husband and I were talking about starting a family, and she hoped to be here when we did. We were thrilled and said yes on the spot. I had been living hours away from my family since I went off to college and couldn’t wait to share a zip code with my mom again, still-hypothetical babies aside.

Mom slept just across the hall, checking on both her babies through the night.

This wasn’t the first time she’d based her living situation on her grandchildren. When my older sister, Ashley, had her first daughter, Mom moved in with them, helping with overnight wake-ups, doctors’ appointments, and all the “how do we do this” moments that come with first-time parenting. Home from college on Christmas Eve, I watched my sister sleep on the floor of her baby’s room, which was filled with humidifier vapor and the smell of Vick’s rub. Mom slept just across the hall, checking on both her babies through the night. She was there when Ash’s second daughter arrived and needed NICU care. She kept their older daughter and the family dog, prepped freezer meals, and made a big Thanksgiving lunch for everyone, which was the day Baby P came home from the hospital. Mom was there when they welcomed their third daughter in May 2020, too.

Two weeks after Mom moved to our city, I found out I was pregnant late on a Tuesday night. My husband and I invited his family to lunch that weekend and made special cards to tell them. I planned to do the same for my mom but just couldn’t wait. I drove over to her house the next morning and blurted it out while she made breakfast. My grandpa — in his 90s and often guilty of not wearing his hearing aids — lived with her then. He looked on from the living room, and asked why we were crying and jumping up and down in the kitchen.

Me, my sister, and my mom at my baby shower.
My son and his Ma dancing at an outdoor music festival.
Reading together in the afternoon light.
Ma is always down for a park play sesh.

Like so many who were pregnant during the pandemic, I attended all of my prenatal appointments and ultrasounds alone. When I got into my car after each one, I’d quickly call my husband and then my mom to spout every detail before I forgot anything. I yearned for someone to be there with me, but at least I got to describe it twice. Mom was always waiting by the phone, and I could hear the relief in her voice each time I told her things were progressing normally. We’d gush about the new ultrasound photos I texted her from the waiting room, trying to decipher whose nose the baby had and whether there was hair discernible from all the the black-and-white static.

Through my husband’s job at a hospital, high-risk family members of employees became eligible to receive Covid vaccines in January 2021. Mom and I went together to receive ours, both eager to protect the new life inside me from this new, omnipresent threat. I could tell she was nervous. She got her flu shot for the first time in decades, and updated her Tdap, too. “Anything for that baby,” she’d say. Then, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes late in my pregnancy, something my mom and sister had also gone through. But I never missed out — Mom made me strawberries stuffed with Stevia-sweetened mascarpone cheese and mini sugar-free chocolate chips, like little cannolis, and promised me a Funfetti cake after I gave birth.

Most days, on the way home from school, my toddler asks if we can stop by “Ma house” to play.

When my son was born, my sister drove up for the weekend, and my mom came over daily. They’d bring food, wash dishes, potty the dogs, fold clothes — if it looked like it needed doing, it got done. If you sat still for too long, they’d clean you, too. They asked what I wanted, what I needed, how I was doing with it all. Mom delivered on her cake promise. They offered me ease, a tidy space, enough washed bottle parts to rest through the baby’s next nap instead of slouching over the sink again. When I show up for new moms in my life, I try to do as they did.

Today, Mom’s house is her grandkids’ paradise. The largest bedroom is home to two daybeds with trundles, a chalkboard, toys, books, a ball pit, and a wall displaying all the arts and crafts her “littles,” as she calls them, make for her. My nieces love to have slumber parties there when they drive up for a weekend. Most days, on the way home from school, my toddler asks if we can stop by “Ma house” to play.

Soon, Ma’s house will be in our backyard. Her life, including ours growing up, has not been easy. She has been single by choice for many years, which worries us as she ages. My husband suggested we build her a tiny home behind ours, one where we can easily care for her in whatever ways she may need one day, and she can see her grandson as often as she’d like. The Ma Pod can’t get built fast enough. And yes, it really was his idea.

I wonder if the future will be anything like this for me and my son, or if that entangled way of being is reserved for mothers and daughters.

Being someone’s village can look like grand gestures when they’re needed, sure. More often, it’s contained in small, daily acts of bolstering, of shoring each other up. The 7:30 phone call from the car so my son can tell her about the cars he sees out his window instead of screaming at me. The surprise delivery of 3T shorts in the mail because “Carter’s was having a summer sale.” The text asking if we need anything from Walmart, she’s going later after her mani pedi.

I wonder if the future will be anything like this for me and my son, or if that entangled way of being is reserved for mothers and daughters. If nothing else, I hope his memories of our family — especially his ever-present, steady, adoring grandma — teach him how real support can change someone’s life.

For so many people, Mother’s Day is a reminder of a troubled, absent, or downright toxic parent (and believe me, I get it — you won’t catch me waxing poetic on Father’s Day). For those of us lucky enough to have a mom who has always been there, who still is, who accepts and helps and hugs, who is keeper of the spare key and always the emergency contact, let's marvel for a day at their ability to be an entire village inside one body.