I was walking down town in San Francisco earlier last month. It, like most major American cities, has a large number of people sleeping rough, living on the edge in the streets. Often they bounce between shelters, odd jobs and asking for change.

Walked past one woman, short hair, rough cut leather jacket, clothes too big – but I smiled at her as we passed in the street and she said, ‘Hey, momma.’

I replied, ‘Oh no, I’m nobody’s momma, much as I’d like.’

Kept on walking.

She said, ‘Hey Momma – I’ll bet you sure is somebody’s momma, maybe you just don’t know that you love’em like they need a momma to love’em.’

Then the crossing was done and I walked on but her words were left banging in my head for an hour or so, til I sat down to write this.

A friend of mine is 29 years old, married a year or so to a good, good man. Her mother just died, meaning she’s now going to be momma and sister to four teenage girls.

Another friend is in a love with a man who has some daughters of his own, a couple full-grown and some halfway done growing. Having kids of her own blood hasn’t been an opportunity for her,  but these ones came to her through love. She wouldn’t dream of turning that gift down and she’s learning how to be a momma and a friend in her own way. She will always have to share motherhood, however it comes to her.

My friends who’ve wrestled with infertility, hope, grief, second chances and loss line up around the block.

And then there’s me – somebody’s momma, because somebody needs loving the way that a momma can love.

Firm, kind, true, hard, long and enduring but never easygoing.

My own mother is a wild woman – full of love, kindness, fire and wind. You don’t ever want to mess with her. She is relentless in her love, in her demands, in her generosity. She gives ’til she’s turned inside out. When she loves you, you know exactly where you stand. I long to be a fierce, soft, kind, hard momma like my mother is.

I’m the kind of momma that hopes to be full of wisdom and laughter. To make a game of every rainy day, fill little bellies with nourishment and imaginations with wild dreams. A house filled with music and the rustic, endless noise of making little humans into fully grown people. It takes a lot of noise to do that.

But I wait. I press my motherhood and love into nieces and nephews, adopted sons and daughters. I change nappies, sing lullabies, play games and cook dinners, teaching young souls how to make magic with salt and heat. I press motherhood into the teenagers my house is filled with, that cram my Sunday mornings with Saturday night mischief and I long, long, long… for motherhood to be my daily occupation.

Woman on the street says, ‘Oh, you somebody’s momma, they just don’t know it yet.’

I pray, woman on the street, that you are right and that my kindness might endure until I find them.

We are, so many of us, enduring, waiting, mothers by surprise, mothers by envy, mothers by striving – but all of us, Mommas.