When I tell my children a story about my mother, like how she used to share her cocktails with our golden retriever, or the time she tried to eat an entire pumpkin pie off the floor after I dropped it, or when I woke up in the middle of the night and caught her making a tooth fairy delivery in the nude, the kids always ask the same thing: Which mother are you talking about, Pop?
It’s a fair question. After all, I’ve had five mothers.
Only one of them is my biological mother, of course. (She’s the tooth fairy mom, and just for the record, she says she wasn’t wearing any clothes because she remembered her job only after going to bed, which she did naked, or so I learned on that I-wish-I-could-unsee-it night.) I also have a mother-in-law, aka the pumpkin-pie eater. And thanks to my dad’s can-do matrimonial motto—“If at first you don’t succeed, tie, tie the knot again”—I’ve also been the recipient of three stepmothers. That’s four wives for dear old Dad. Somehow, when they leave him, they stay attached to me. You should see all the I Heart Mom tattoos I have on my biceps. (Don’t miss the 11 quotes about mothers that will make you miss yours.)
I’m not complaining, mind you. With multiple moms, you get multiple birthday cards and holiday presents, not to mention a deep bench of low-cost babysitters. On the other hand, you also get a bumper crop of opinions on how to raise your kids, what you should and shouldn’t eat, and where you should spend your vacation. (The answer to the last one: at her house—not at one of the other mothers’.)
Having this many moms has made me something of an expert on the species, and I mean species in the horticultural sense. As different as my mothers are, each one’s personality bears a strong resemblance to a houseplant. (What, you never noticed that about your mother?)
For instance, one of my moms is a total gardenia. She brightens any room and smells wonderful, but she also demands precise care. She needs lots of son (me) and requires immediate adjustments if her environment turns hostile. This explains her weekly SOS calls when she forgets her Wi-Fi password as well as her short temper with waiters, other drivers, and her cable remote. I made the mistake of teaching her how to FaceTime on her iPhone so I could lend a virtual hand when possible. Bad idea. I am now the frequent victim of the dreaded purse dial. Purse dialing is the mom equivalent of butt dialing, only she accidentally calls you when she’s rooting around for her wallet or a tissue, usually when she’s driving with her friends. It sounds like this: “Snarfle rumble grbrrrr her terrible face-lift? No wonder she rumple frizzle clank sugar daddy. Of course jingle jangle play mah-jongg. Can you drive …” It’s no use yelling, “MOM! MOM!! I CAN HEAR YOU!!” When I’m lucky, her phone battery succumbs to an untimely death. (Speaking of, these are the phone battery myths you really need to stop believing.)
With one high-maintenance mom/houseplant, it’s frankly a relief to have another who is a cactus. Sure, she pricks if I get too close—no gratuitous hugs here. She has also been known to forget my birthday. On the plus side, this mom hardly ever requires a drink (thank you, Alcoholics Anonymous) and can take any heat I throw at her. When one mother gets on my nerves (see gardenia, above), it’s the stoic cactus I vent to.
Helpful in an entirely different way is my maternal dieffenbachia. Dieffenbachias literally suck impurities out of the air (get a few the next time you paint the house). True to form, my dieffenbachia mom tidies up my kitchen and does the laundry without being asked. Like Mary Poppins, she’s practically perfect in every way. In fact, she’s almost too good. What’s the point of having a mother if you can’t carp about her a little?
Without a doubt, my most entertaining mother is my Venus flytrap. She’s exotic—actually, she’s a show-off from her head to her toes. She used to go to a special pedicurist who would paint cartoons on her big toenails—X-rated cartoons. She thought they were hilarious; my fifth-grade teacher thought otherwise. (She would have loved Mom’s naked tooth fairy trick.) My flytrap mother is naturally a die-hard carnivore, and the more unhealthy the meat, the better. If the word nitrate isn’t on the label, she won’t look at it. The last time we went grocery shopping, she loaded up her cart with hot dogs and cold cuts. When I suggested that the low-fat options in her chosen food groups would be marginally healthier, she barked, “Over my dead body!” Perhaps those preservatives will keep her fresh longer too.
Lastly, there’s my aloe vera mother. She kisses boo-boos and makes them better, just like aloe gel can soothe a minor sunburn. Fussy isn’t in her vocabulary—she’s happy anywhere, indoors or out. She’s the perfect mom to curl up with on the couch to watch an old movie, snug under the afghan she crocheted. She also makes a mean lasagna. Flytrap mom would kill for it, which is why I never divulge one mother’s culinary gifts to the others. (Oops.)
I’m tempted to note that one anagram of aloe vera is love area, but that wouldn’t be fair to my other mothers. They all create maternal love areas. Some may have unusual taste in food or nail decor, but they all love me despite my own peccadilloes. So thanks, Dad. You may have dubious taste in wives, but when it comes to moms, you sure know how to pick ’em.