When my mother was younger, she worked as a nursery assistant in an assessment unit for children with various educational needs. When I had days off school, I got to go help out, and fall in love with the children.
My mother was adept at falling love with children. She had already fallen in love with my brother and me when we came to live with her as babies. When I was about thirteen, she fell in love with a little boy who went to her school, and she decided that it would do him good to visit our family one weekend, as a change from the group home in which he lived.
We spent a Sunday afternoon together, in the sunshine, on our patio, in our house, playing with our dog, playing at being a family to this little boy whom my mother loved.
Five years later, I volunteered for a summer at a day camp for children whose families needed a little help caring for them through the long weeks away from school. There was a little boy there who came with his social worker and who looked … familiar. And his named matched, too. So I talked to his social worker, who, after a little bit of totally appropriate initial suspicion, confirmed that this was the little boy whom my mother loved.
I went home that day and told her that I’d seen him, and played ball with him, and that the little boy who had left her school at age five unable to walk or talk much was now running and smiling and laughing and teasing his camp volunteers and that he was happy. And she wept for the love of him, with joy and aching loss.
Given her will, my mother would have mothered every child that needed a mother that passed her way. As it was, she made do with loving them.