03/16/2012 03:01 pm ET Updated May 16, 2012

Her Name Is Mom

I could never imagine what it would have been like to grow up without my mom. What would life have been like for the four of us kids without our mom making our bologna school lunches or having dinner ready at our big round table? Who would have waited with us for the school bus on that windy, snowy corner... walked us to Morley's, the store with fresh fruit and produce stacked up in crates on the sidewalk... or sewn our Girl Scout badges on? Mom tied our shoelaces, wiped our runny noses, made bacon and eggs on Saturday mornings and let us sleep in her bed when we were sick. And at bedtime she tucked us in and read us our favorite story -- the one she made up about a little boy whose candy bar had a live peanut in it who squealed, "don't eat me, please don't eat me" each time the boy tried to take a bite. I thought all children had a wonderful mom like mine... Didn't they?

A little boy whose class collected pajamas for some of our children once asked me, "If the children don't have moms, how do they grow up?"

He looked very puzzled. It was a good question and I didn't have an answer for him.

Tucking a child into bed is, I believe, the most intimate time a parent and child share. The little one feels safe as her mom or dad pulls the covers up to her nose and places a soft kiss on her brow. All is right with the world in those last few moments of the day. Bonds form and trust is at its peak with mom on the edge of her bed. I have heard from thousands of moms in the past 11 years who have regaled me with their stories of special bedtime memories. Some have spoken to me about the moving last words their children told them before falling off to sleep, and some have shared their own feelings as a child in bed before the lights went out. Bedtime moments can be sweet and tender, but sometimes they are sadly revealing. I remember one mom telling me her child chose bedtime to whisper his fear to her of contracting his dad's life-threatening disease.

So many of the children Pajama Program serves don't have a mom or dad. Even when we sit close together and read with the Pajama Program children, we could never be a replacement for a loving parent, no matter how much a child needs us to be in a desperate moment. I will never forget such a moment on a Friday afternoon.

We read with many children from group homes, ages 5 to 12, at the Pajama Program Reading Centers. A few of the children are fortunate enough to have a member of their family take them "home" for a weekend once in a while. This particular Friday, Ricky, a seven-year-old boy we regularly read with was going home to his aunt's for a weekend visit -- his estranged mother would be there and we all hoped reconciliation was on the horizon. It was all he could talk about all afternoon.

Sitting beside me was another boy named Roy who lived in the cottage with Ricky. He never had a visit home. Roy and I were reading about bears when everyone heard Ricky holler, "I'm going home now to see my mom," as he scooped up his duffel bag and headed into his aunt's waiting car.

Without saying a word, Roy scooted closer to me, put his arms around my waist and gave me a big hug and a kiss on my cheek. He stayed as close to me as he could until his reading time was finished. My eyes filled with tears and I wished he were going home to a mom too... even if it would only be for a weekend. I guess I was the closest thing to a mom for him at that moment.

"Mom" is a small word for a woman with a colossal impact on a child. My sister and brothers felt that impact every day and it was easy for strangers to see it too. Francesco of Francesco's Auto Body in my home town recently told me that years ago on a plane trip to a soccer tournament he sponsored with my young brother on his team, my mom spent the entire red-eye flight going up and down the aisle of the plane keeping the boys covered with warm blankets as they squirmed in their seats trying to sleep.

"I will never forget that night," Francesco said in his broken English. "That is something only a mother would do."

Now I ask you, "If the children don't have moms, how do they grow up?"