Right up there with Dr. Seuss is the author of “beginning to read” books, P.D. Eastman. Although not nearly as prolific as Seuss, Eastman’s books Are You My Mother? and Go, Dog, Go! are easy to read classics on par with The Cat in the Hat and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
Eastman’s story about a baby bird hatching while his mother is gone from the nest foraging for food, and his subsequent quest to find her, leave an indelible and anxious mark on many a four and five year old. The baby bird did not know what his mother looked like so he inquired of a kitten, hen, dog, cow, car, boat, jet, and SNORT, asking plaintively, “Are you my mother?”
I am fortunate that I did not have to ask this question as a child. However, both of my maternal grandparents lost their mothers in adolescence and my father-in-law, The Headmaster, lost both parents at a very tender age. This is why, although the waves of grief billow over me threatening to capsize my equilibrium, I try to have only the occasional pity party. I was blessed with knowing my mother Sally and liking her, to boot.
But even my mother threw me and my sisters out of the house.
“GO OUTSIDE!” she yelled with alarming frequency. Sometimes she’d even lock the doors so we couldn’t come in and bug her. Reading a book in my room was not an option. She needed the nest CLEARED.
When this happened, I would ramble in the neighborhood, visiting my “other mothers”. Estelle McDowell, a married, childfree woman who looked liked Mrs. Claus, read me her childhood books, books written in the late 1890s and early 1900s by Josephine Scribner Gates. She entertained me with stories of the pet monkey she once owned. Even if I couldn’t come inside to visit, she would hand me a piece of Almond Roca candy and kindly tell me to skedaddle.
Then there was my “Nana”, Lois Watson, to whom I was not related but who was present when my mother brought me home from the hospital, who knit my Christmas stocking, and taught me to bake.
Finally, there was Thelma Willard, who taught my mother to garden, kept a basket of polished beach agates on the hearth, and whose husband’s garage was filled with hundreds of clocks with which he’d tinker.
All of these women’s houses were their own special kind of Wonderland and the people who inhabited them were lavish lovers of children.
The absence of my mother Sally has obviously created a tremendous void. There is no upside in this. But is there, perhaps, more space for others to tuck themselves in? Skipping around my Florida neighborhood, I ask myself, “Are you my mother?”
There is Winnie, my mother-in-law, who has given me space and healing hugs. There is Carol, my next door neighbor, who gives me gardening and household tips, a friendly wave across the driveways. There is Sandy, who invited me to the Daytona Beach Symphony Fashion Show. There are the women of Sally’s bible study at Trinity Episcopal Church who welcomed me into their circle when I was forlorn. I gravitate to their experience, wisdom, and open hearts.
The baby bird at the end of the book Are You My Mother? cries out, “Where am I? I want to go home. I want my mother.”
Baby Bird gets his wish. And in my own way, I am too.