The Other Mother

by Heatherann Franz Woods

Family is not predicated by blood. We all have that neighbor, friend, boss, mentor or lover that feels like home. There exists somewhere in your present or past someone who would lay down their life for you. They would catch you when you fall, smack you,( metaphorically speaking) when you strayed from your path or cheerlead you while running beside you. We take people under our wing, reach out to care and fight for people. “Family”, whether you consider the nuclear version or a more philosophical idea, has been redefined and reworked over the years. Mine is no exception and may be one of my greatest accomplishments.

My husband, my seven children, my restaurant’s owner, friends, I have a wealth of family. However, one person in particular currently comes to mind when I consider this increasingly odd time and quiet Mother’s Day.

Recently, we have, in our unit, reconsidered what relationships constitute family. Why we separate “theirs” and “ours” and where and how we created boundaries. We came to the conclusion that these lines of demarcation are entirely up to us. Family, and how we present to one another, our children, the community and the world, is of our own construction, our own unique and creative design.

This person is my husband’s former wife. After six years of sharing custody, clearly assigning duties, responsibilities and privileges we have blown every bit of the hurt, the anger, and the frustration away. It started with one text. One person reaching out. That person was her.

In the two years since I read “I am done being a baby” on my phone’s screen, we have not only worked together to raise her three children, but expanded our circle to include my older kids, her step-children (we don’t even like the term “step” but I use it for clarification here) their parents and so on.

You may be thinking, “how awkward” or “this could never happen in my world”. I am telling you that it can. It was absolutely uncomfortable. We had no idea what we were doing. Stepparents are supposed to be unliked, right? Birth parents are to be feared, correct? The kids needed to choose, to have a favorite, to love one more than the other. We needed to prove our worth and value. It sounds so ugly to say it out loud, but when you really get to your reasons for behaving and believing, it is unattractive. If you can look at it, own it, and say “no more”, that is where the magic happens. She and I were done with that exhausting, damaging and obsolete life. This was not a consolation or a compromise. It was a birth, with all of the pain and struggle, and no epidural.

I heard something other than what she was saying more often than not, filtered through my past experiences and my fears. I have no doubt she would say the same about me. We run into challenging subjects still but not daily as we once did when we set out on this journey. This is absolutely not to say our efforts were not void of conflicting views, differing strategies and magnificent stories about how we “knew” the other, but our commitment to this new way of being and our intolerance for anything less than the life we want fuels our authenticity with one another. We forced our way through walls and how it had always been, we met for a drink, shared our first hug and kept communicating.

Two years later, this woman is my sister and my partner. She is my best friend. I am with her as I would be with my greatest confidant. I have no reason to hide, no cause to pretend I am anything more or less than exactly who I am. We call one another out without flinching. We show up vulnerable and open. We admit we don’t know something. We ask for help. We vent and encourage, cry and laugh. We together plan barbecues, lake days, Christmas and birthdays, graduations and Driver’s ED. We share resources and worries, thoughts and ideas, dreams and nightmares. We are together for the calm and the storm. Every single hug feels like home. She would, at the drop of a hat, come to my rescue as I would for her. If this is not family I do not know what is.

Happiest Mother’s Day ever to Deb Gaddess.

Heatherann Franz Woods grew up all over, collecting life experiences and old addresses, until settling back in Spokane in December 1999. A freelance writer, backpacker, gardener, plant lover, painter, mother, grandmother and want to be yogi, she is a self-described renaissance woman, still searching and still learning. She believes at the heart of being human is connection . Of living deliciously. Of being in life as love.

Owners of both Grounded Herbs and Edibles and The Missing Piece Tattoo, she and her husband Zack Woods, are cultivating different ways to participate in the community. With seven collective children and two and a half grandchildren, they keep busy but always have time for a chat.