“Do you have an extra mask?”
Is that even a question? Of course I do. I reach into my Mary Poppins purse of goodies and pull out an extra KN95.
“You’re the Jewish mother we all need.”
In every friend group I have been part of, I have somehow taken the place of the resident Jewish mother. I am 23 years old. I am not a mother — the thought of that at this stage in my life is personally terrifying, and yet people deliberately call me mom. I even call myself a “proud mom” in response to friends’ accomplishments. It is a role that I fell into, and will never be able to shake — it is now a part of my DNA.
I first noticed it when I attended a pre-college summer acting program at 16 and started to make new friends. Maybe it’s because I always carried sunscreen, but I immediately assumed a motherly role. I was the responsible one. The rule follower. The one who made sure everyone was OK and no one was posting anything compromising on social media. The most rebellious thing I did that summer was hop a fence to avoid Boston Fourth of July foot traffic, and even that took a lot of convincing.
One day, someone simply started calling me “mom” and it stuck. I returned home to find this role carried over into my high school life. I was recognized as a maternal figure to more than just my new friends, and as the tallest alto in my class who played every mother in school plays, this role grew beyond a funny summer nickname.
I’ve always been an old soul trapped inside of a body too young to carry it. I knock it out of the park when I meet my friend’s parents and when I’m with my parents’ and grandparents’ friends. Not to brag, but they love me. I should have grown up in the ‘70s and ‘80s; in high school one of my favorite television shows was “Cheers.”
I was never a rebellious teenager… I literally had a conniption hopping a fence. I was the queen of not giving into peer pressure. I always picked some form of cultural enrichment over the typical high school night out. I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t do anything that could compromise me in adulthood because I was already so focused on my future. When I got to college, though, I noticed my maternal instinct carrying over into my friendships there, too — people who I just met, people who didn’t know this part of my essence. While in college, I always felt the need to make sure people were being taken care of, even though I was never getting that in return and wasn’t taking care of myself as well as I could have.
After college, as I have begun to expand my community, I have noticed that I have fallen into the same motherly role time and time again, whether it be with new friends or old acquaintances. I understand that I have maternal instincts, and to me, it is indescribably gratifying to take care of other people — my love languages are quality time and acts of service. Even with an awareness of how this role evolved, my essence, and the way I express love, I am fascinated by the fact that I am known as “a Jewish mother” to a majority of my friends. It often feels like a massive weight to carry, given that I have so vulnerably offered this part of myself to others. It has forced me to put myself out there to get hurt.
Spoiler alert: I have. I so deeply feel the need to care for the people who hold meaning in my life, even if I’m going out of my way to do so, and sometimes my maternal nature bites me in the ass. I often care more about others than myself.
So, why is it that after all this time, after getting hurt, after cheering others on, after providing support and putting myself out there, do I still carry a Mary Poppins bag? Why have I assumed this responsibility to take care of others and be their resident Jewish mother? Because it brings me joy.
Being a Jewish mother often gets a bad rap. In movies and TV shows, they are broken down to their worst stereotypes: overbearing, nagging, hovering, too involved in the lives of their kids. But in adopting these maternal qualities, I’ve observed my own Jewish mother’s and grandmothers’ desire to make sure others are cared for. They have led by example my entire life, and I am confident their love languages have influenced mine. I see so many of the qualities that my own mother figures exude in myself, and I carry that with pride. While we could all do more to take care of ourselves, there is nothing wrong with caring so much for others.
I’ve become a Jewish mother for those in my life that have needed it, and when I am told “you are the Jewish mother we all need,” the only way I can respond, even with the vulnerability that comes with it, is to open up my Mary Poppins bag and my heart, and embrace it to the fullest.