“The kitten was not his mother. The hen was not his mother. So the baby bird went on. “I have to find my mother,” he said. “But where? Where is she? Where could she be?

I went to visit my mother’s grave the other day and was distraught that I couldn’t find it. Literally. I got lost on the winding roads through the cemetery that I have driven so many times before. And when I finally found the right section, there was no trace of my mother. She died in March and on this sunshiny morning in September, there was still no engraved granite marker, no remembrance of her at all.

I have since called for a status on the stone I ordered months ago and was assured these things take time. But it was significant that I could not find my mother. I have been looking for her my whole life. Maybe like the mother bird in the classic children’s book, she was off somewhere gathering food. I’m not sure. She just wasn’t there during my childhood.

Maybe that’s why I fell in love with my high school boyfriend’s mom. I think I stayed with him to be near his mother. She was kind and warm and made sun tea and broccoli casserole. She even made clothes with her daughter. I remember being over at their house once and coming upon Mrs. Clevenger and Jan cutting out a pattern on the floor together. It was this magical moment of mother-daughter togetherness that was completely foreign to me. I was transfixed. Mesmerized. Hungry for that kind of connection. Long after her son and I had broken up, Mrs. Clevenger stayed in touch, coming to see me in my college dorm room, meeting me for lunch. I clung guiltily to her as a surrogate mom.

There have been others over the years. Another boyfriend’s mother. Carolyn Clift cooked blueberry pancakes and liked to play the slots at Harrah’s. When her son, Philip and I were together, we took Carolyn, aka Mammo, to the beach with our children and to Vegas to gamble. She hiked with us. We watched sports together (she had a thing for LeBron). Our families spent holidays together. She and Philip were in the receiving line when my own mother died. And my son, Mac, still spends time at their house, aka Cornbread Castle.

Mothers are supposed to be soft bundles of love. Open arms for hugs. Magnets for children, their own and others. My mother was not like that. Although she mellowed in her later years, when she morphed into Gmamma and doted on my son, she was self-contained, reserved, standoffish even. If you hugged her, you couldn’t hold on too long. It’s like she couldn’t tolerate that level of intimacy. She was like a fluffy Persian cat that you could never pat.

I have always tried to be a different kind of mother to my son, who, coincidently, sometimes calls me “Mother Bird.” I have smothered him with love and affection and acceptance. And he, like Gmamma, keeps me at arm’s distance, allowing me to love him only from afar. I tell myself it’s because he’s all grown up. As a tiny child, he was attached to my hip, thumb in mouth, blissfully secure in our connection.

So while I miss my mother with an aching heart, I also miss the mother I never had.