I believe in alternative families.
Born into a close-knit family in a sheltered suburb, I had what you would call a normal childhood. I attended my local public elementary school, took piano lessons, played tennis with my older sister, and wrote short stories for my school’s magazine. The only thing that was not normal was the fact that I was raised by Mima, who most people would see as a maid or housekeeper, but to my family, she is a second mother.
My parents are both lawyers who have always worked hard. In 1989, when my mother found out she was pregnant with my older sister, Jackie, she had a tough decision to make- stay home and be a full time mom, or continue her career. She made a decision that has affected my family for nineteen years. She decided to continue working and hire a nanny and housekeeper to cook, clean and take care of Jackie. At her baby shower, one of the older lawyers in her firm introduced her to Mima. Mima had taken care of his kids, who were just about grown, and he offered her services to my mom as a gift, telling her it would probably be the best one she would ever receive.
And it was. Mima did everything my mom couldn’t do, and calling her a housekeeper or a nanny doesn’t even begin to describe her. She was with us from sun up to sun down, every day, not only physically but emotionally as well. She was a part of everything we did, guiding us, helping us, supporting us, and even letting us fail once in a while, when we needed to learn a lesson. She did doctor’s appointments, piano recitals, car pools, school projects, not to mention taking care of the house, the laundry, the shopping, the dogs and all aspects of typical suburban family life. Once in a while it occurs to me that it was probably difficult for my mom to accept the fact that Mima was more involved in our lives than she was, at least on a daily basis, but if it was, we never noticed it. All we knew was that Mima, who loved us and took care of us, was around during the day, and mom, who also loved us and took care of us, was around at night and weekends. That may not have been the norm in our neighborhood, but it certainly seemed normal to us.
I believe it is impossible for any child to have too many people around who love them. Mima’s willingness to devote a good deal of her life to loving and caring for someone else’s children, and my mother’s willingness to let her, have enriched me, and no words, no amount of money, no thank-you’s would ever be enough to thank her for what she has done for my family. My relationship with Mima is truly inexplicable and no matter where I go, I will carry her in my heart for the rest of my life.
This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.