We’re at that point during the year between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day when I start looking for gifts that are appropriate for the women that I know that do double duty, serving as both mothers and fathers to their children. I’m reminded that, not so long ago, that was me. I was always both to my eldest. It wasn’t easy, but he grew up to be a wonderful human being.

And it got me to thinking: a mother has to play many roles during her lifetime.

There’s a biological definition for the word mother, of course. However, providing DNA and/or a womb for a fetus to grow in does not necessarily make a woman a mother.  I’ve been a mother for almost thirty years now, and I’ve often tried to sum up what I do in bite-sized pieces. Here’s my analysis: what makes a woman a mother is how she handles the many roles she plays in the course of a day, how she uses her mental and physical resources to keep her family whole. A mother may even have to switch roles, evolve from being a treasured daughter to being a parental figure for her own mother, from time to time. The love and devotion a woman holds in her heart for those she calls family are the keys to earning the title of mother.

I’m a mediator. The combatants I mediate are not siblings. I bore the younger combatant, my son, almost thirty years ago. The older combatant, however, bore me almost fifty years ago. When they vehemently disagree, I spring into action. It’s my job to translate the views of Generation Y to the Baby Boomer. I prohibit them from fighting on Facebook. I negotiate ways for them to share their electronic toys. Finally, when the generation gap starts to resemble the Grand Canyon, I remind them of how much they love each other.

I’m a therapist. I’m permanently on call. Near 10:30 PM, just as I’m getting sleepy from my own hectic day, my mother calls with tragic news: a childhood friend of hers has died. Now, she’s realizing her own mortality. I’m there for her as she talks about her pain at losing a piece of herself. Later, I’m jolted awake at 2:30 AM by a call from Generation Y. He broke his glasses in an altercation at a campus party. He’s upset because he didn’t win the argument. His first thought: call Mommy; she can soothe a bruised ego with her voice. Mommy can also give advice on how to repair the glasses. At 4:30 AM, the baby monitor alerts me that the youngest one is having a nightmare. She needs a trip to the bathroom and reassurance that the shadow on the wall will not come and get her.

I’m a duty nurse. With the premature death of another family member, I inherited my elderly aunt. Although I love her dearly, and I owe her everything because she took me in for the first four or five years of my life, becoming her primary caregiver was not on my original “to-do” list. She’s ninety, a two-time widow, childless, cantankerous, and bedridden. While I mastered the basics of feeding and changing my own newborns, doing the same for someone who talks back in fully formed profanity laced sentences is a new one. I do my best to remember that somewhere under her anger at being old and helpless is the same loving woman who baked some mean apple pies and rocked me to sleep when she was able bodied.

I’m a teacher. No, I don’t mean that I just teach others to do things. I mean I really am a licensed middle school teacher. As such, I am the legal guardian of about one hundred additional children every year, and I treat them almost exactly the way I treat the ones I birthed. I have to soothe bruised egos, give reassuring pep talks, answer tough questions, settle disputes, make meal suggestions, and provide a safe environment in addition to teach curriculum. By the middle of the year, a few mistakenly called me “Mommy,” others screw up their faces and accuse me of reminding them of their mothers. I just shrug, and remind them that I was a parent long before I became a teacher. I’m reluctant to turn off that instinct because it’s the reason former students try to hug me when I return to the building to visit. They felt honest concern from me in the classroom, and trusted me as much as they did their own parents.

My office hours never end.

I think it’s safe to say I’ve earned my title a few times over.