It is said that to have a child is to forever allow your heart to be walking around without you in the world. How could I know at twenty that I would be the universe and stars to a fat-cheeked baby, when I was still barely learning to mother myself? I learned the weight of the word mother is simultaneously a black hole and a star, collapse and expansion. It is knowing and second-guessing, turning inward and being forced open from the inside out. My first baby was born on a wooden floor in an old birth center. When she slid from my body, ecstasy followed so closely behind that for a moment, there was no differentiating one from the other. This was my first taste of being a mother. Joy mired in agony. My heart now lived outside of my body.

And then there came the second one, when I was more sure of myself, moving forward with a solid ground under my feet. This one was named after stars and trust, calling in a confidence I wished I owned. Two girls, matching homemade dresses, endless days of dishes and diapers, exhaustion. Fairy tea parties, magic wands, bubbles, watermelon and kitty cat birthday cakes. A broken marriage and a minute of losing myself, or perhaps I was already lost. How can we lead when we ourselves are lost in the millions of tasks that constitute a day? How do we sit with ourselves when our laps are so full? I suppose we rely on millions of years of evolution to guide us back home to our babies.

The third, a boy, spoke to me before he was even conceived. We communed as we grew together, this one was pure trust. We were safe, his father a good man. This child’s body could not contain all that he was, pure movement and action. Sounds, climbing the refrigerator, swords and trucks. With this one I gained surety, listening to the drumming of my own heart, walking roads less traveled. There were three. It was hard. Exhausted, I loved them all with the fierceness of a thousand burning suns.

The fourth came along with my call to mother the motherless. The word foster mom is misleading. We temporary mothers wear these babies tucked in our hearts, next to our own. After hours in the rocking chair together, your souls intermingle, your scent becomes the same. And so this boy was born of another woman, yet he is mine with his light beam of a smile and the wisdom of a million lives lived behind his eyes. There were other children whose hands I held in mine but he is the one who stayed.

God laughs when we make plans, and so near the halfway mark of my life, when I stepped into my power and out of other people’s expectations, the other half of my soul showed up. With him came a small brown boy with big feelings who became my teacher. This man made of stars and I gave birth to a dream to serve little people. Together, we reach hundreds of kids in our nonprofit. They are each our babies. It seems as if I am always and forever a mother. This call is both confining and comforting, a conflict and an honor.

There are a million ways to mother. Each soul comes through us, not for us. We are vessels of light, stewards to a journey, witnesses to countless bruises. Whether our children come through us or to us, forever or for a season, they teach as much as they are taught. This is the greatest lesson, to allow them each their own hero’s journey. We set tiny feet upon a path, it is up to them which way they travel. It is up to us how we witness the walk. We do our best, and when we know better, we do better.

My children, both the forever and temporary ones, stretched and challenged me beyond comprehension. In sending them out into the world, I found my own way. Together we grow. We love, and sometimes fight, our way through each day. They are my greatest joy and at times my deepest worry. I remain ready to go to battle for them but wait in the wings, so they may fight the good fight on their own. This is who I raised them to be- warriors of the light, of goodness and justice and peace, in service to the calling of their souls. My children and I walk this road together still, always growing into the fullness of who we are, and into the great becoming. They are my heart, let loose in the world.