There’s an old saying: “(Blank)–can’t live with them and can’t live without them.” Women often fill in the blank with “men,” and men with “women.” There’s another saying: “There’s a first time for everything,” and a recent Mother’s Day was my first time to insert the word “children” into the can’t-live with-them blank.

It started out innocently enough: I was sitting in church between my husband and my youngest daughter, Caitlin, in our usual penultimate pew. The church’s teenaged musical genius started the service with a sitar solo, which I had been begging him to do for weeks. The worship leader was rocking the house, and the newest grandchild, Aidyn, was bouncing in my arms. Primed by the sitar music, we were moving around like Holy Rollers. Old-time Baptists would have de-churched us on the spot. Several of our members tend to lean that way, and one reason we sit in the back is so we don’t disturb them.

Eventually, things settled down, and the pastor called the little kids up front for the children’s sermon. He began by telling them he wanted to know why their mothers were great but he first wanted to ask the adults. The old-time Baptists fired the first shot. “My mother isn’t with us anymore,” said one, “because she’s in Heaven with Jesus.” She went on about being brought up in a good Christian home. Before anyone comes unglued, let me say this is, technically speaking, the right answer. My mother isn’t with me anymore either, and she’s in Heaven with Jesus. But my answer would have been that she stuck the ends of okra on her face and growled like a space alien to scare eleven-year-old me and my best friend as we huddled in a pitch-black room re-enacting the monster movie we’d just seen at the Saturday matinee. Stuff like that. Details are always better than generalities, right? Our pastor smiled at the lady’s answer, but I knew this wasn’t exactly what he had in mind. Soon other people spoke up, explaining their mothers were great because they could do plumbing or electrical work or make the world’s best enchiladas.

Then my daughter’s hand shot up. I was expecting “my mom is great because she lived with us and took care of Aidyn and me a whole month when I had surgery,” or “she didn’t yell at me when I quit college to go to cosmetology school” or “she makes Christmas stockings for all the grandkids even though she hates every second of it.” But what does she say? I quote, “My mom is a sassy hippie, and that makes her awesome.”

A few seconds of shocked silence followed, broken by a few strangled coughs from the old-time Baptists and hysterical laughter from everybody else. What could I do but smile and flash a peace sign?

So the secret’s out, and everybody at church knows what I really am. The sitar player knew it all along.