As we observe Mother’s Day this weekend, there are many kinds of mothers to recognize. My own experience is slightly different as it involved the raising of a sibling. When my youngest brother David was born in 1969, our mother was seriously ill with sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that primarily affects the lungs.
With four children, she needed help caring for a new baby. David had been what used to be called a “surprise” baby (albeit a happy one!), arriving six years after my third brother, John. I was eleven when given this responsibility, although it wasn’t as if my parents handed me David and said, “Lots of luck with that.”
Mom cared for David while I was in school, then I took over. I became an expert in changing diapers, giving baths, feeding, dressing, and entertaining. Preparing dinner and kitchen cleanup were other duties I assumed. When David grew older, I taught him to swim and other rites of passage.
My parents never shied away from saying, “Kathryn raised our youngest child.” Having the responsibility for another human being (as any parent will tell you) changes your life. I had adult duties at a young age, though many others, especially in very large families, have done the exact same thing.
Raising David defined who I am. I came away from the experience understanding that caring for a child is a lot of work, and you’re tied down. Because of that I made the conscious choice not to have children of my own – the best decision for me.
Still, I wouldn’t change my involvement for anything. I have a bond with my other brothers, but the connection between David and I is closer, deeper. We are sister and brother, and in many ways mother and child too. When David became a parent, I developed a special relationship with his three daughters, a surrogate grandmother, if you will.
As we celebrate the mothers in our lives, remember that they come in all varieties. My mom went into labor on Mother’s Day, so David has had to contend with sometimes sharing his birthday with the holiday. This year marks his 50th birthday on May 13. I am so proud to have been such an integral part of his upbringing, knowing I helped to raise an exceptional man.