Anthony Varallo

The Other Mothers

You’d see them sometimes, mailing a letter, or hefting a sack of groceries from the family car, or fixing your friend’s lunch, the Other Mothers.  All the mothers in the neighborhood who were not yours.  All the mothers in those other houses, those other families, those other lives.  They stood in driveways and cul-de-sacs, and offered you a friendly wave when you passed by on your Schwinn 3-speed, the same bike the Other Mothers had purchased for their children, who often rode alongside you, and who called these Other Mothers “Mom,” and who did not think it strange that the Other Mothers required them to wear helmets, as your mother did not, something you had teased your friends about, even though you secretly wished your mother would require you to wear one, too, all the more to gain the Other Mother’s respect, approval.  You’d do anything to win their admiration.  Anything.

The Other Mothers were a mystery you were never quite able to solve.  Why did they so often congregate on front lawns with the other Other Mothers, swapping stories and sharing laughs, their hands hidden beneath gardening gloves, their fingers clutching trowels, rakes, and sputtering hoses?  What was it that was so funny?  They shared some kind of Other Mother language, no doubt, known only to Other Mothers; if only you could crack its slippery code.  You pedaled by, listening.  The Other Mothers said things like “right” and “so true” and “mine are the same way” and “I know what you mean” and “absolutely” and “it’s the same way at our house.”  You watched them nod to one another.  Watched them make elaborate hand gestures and exaggerated facial expressions.  You heard the music of their Other Mother laughter, a tune you haven’t heard since. 

Sometimes your friends would invite you over and then you would be in the homes of the Other Mothers.  Thrilling, to see them folding laundry or watching TV or talking on the phone, a half-eaten tub of cottage cheese resting on the coffee table as the Other Mothers calmed an angry client or scheduled a meeting or handled another crisis at work, where the Other Mothers were bosses, supervisors, administrators, and branch managers, as your mother was not, something you were secretly ashamed of, although you felt guilty even thinking that.  Thank God no one knew your thoughts, save for the Other Mothers, who always made a point of asking, at the exact moment you were feeling ashamed, how your mother was doing?  Fine, you’d tell them.  She’s great.

That’s good, the Other Mothers would say.  Tell her I said hello.

I will, you’d say. 

But you didn’t.  Upon returning home, you hung your jacket on a chair, grabbed a quick snack.  No one was home, or so you thought.  And then you heard your mother calling your name.  Was that you?  How was your day?  That was your mom calling you, you realized, not without happiness, love.  Yours, and none other.