The original spirit of Mother’s Day–to honor one’s own mother, whether she is with us or not, whether we know her or not–is noble (though that honor shouldn’t be reserved for one day a year). But today, the holiday celebrates all women who have had children. My favorite women who have had children grace this page. I love them all, and I celebrate them all today.

But “mother” is a word, like many, that is too narrowly defined. Every woman I know is a mother, but not every woman I know has children.

Being a mother goes far beyond the ability to produce a child–an ability that comes too easily for some and not easily at all for others. Some women want children and some women don’t. Some women can have children and some women can’t. Some women adopt children and some women don’t. But all women create.

I think about this every Mother’s Day. It’s probably because of the challenges Ellen and I faced to have a child, and the possibility that we might not, and then that we did, and then that we might not have another, and then that we did again. That experience placed into sharper relief what a day celebrating women who have children must feel like to those who can’t, or don’t, or won’t, or once did but do no more.

The women who have shaped me and don’t have children are actors, writers, librarians, public defenders, professors, editors, art historians, and museum directors. They think and they act and they choose. They raise hell and they raise chickens and they raise vegetables. They make me laugh and think and feel. They create every day, and they make the world safer and friendlier and better.

Of course, these women have mothers, and most of these women learned how to be in the world from their mothers. And many of them have partners, and those who have partners also live with that person’s mother and the way that mother taught the partner to be in the world. And those ways don’t always match, and a good part of that woman’s creative potential is spent negotiating the differences, and sometimes all they get in return is a broken heart or an empty bank account or a wet towel left on the floor.

And so, they go back to creating a world that either goes in another direction or forgives and starts over, but it is a world that is still creating. Each act of creation leaves scars, and over time scars show as wrinkles, and the wrinkles show more with smiles. Because smiles are often needed to hide the cries that bring new things into the world.

So again this Mother’s Day, I’m thinking about all of my mothers, especially those who create in this world without a special day or cards or flowers or gifts, because they don’t need them. They are the day, the flower, the gift.