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Reflection

Are You My Mother?

You are being held in a wider embrace, one more ancient than your own understanding.

Celeste Snowber

In 1957, P.D. Eastman wrote Are You My Mother? which was—and still is—a popular children’s book. Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents all liked to pick up this book and read about the antics of these magical and fun animals and people featured in the stories and read with a lyrical rhythm.

In this story, a baby bird is born while his mother is on the ground just below the tree branch where her nest sits, hunting for food. He begins to look for his mother. He looks up and down and all around. Not finding her, he steps out of his nest and plunks on the ground after a long fall. He could walk but not fly, so he decided he would now go and find his mother.

He begins his quest not knowing what his mother looks like. He doesn’t even know what he looks like. I read the story to my children often and to myself, alone, many times. I knew I was on the same quest, having so many unanswered questions about my own birth mother in the early 1970s. On a page in the book I saw an illustration of an eager baby bird on a search for his mother where he was often sad and alone, or afraid and brave at the same time.

The newborn bird is puzzled. He must find his mother and he does not know that he walked right by her at the bottom of the tree when he first began his search. He does not see her behind the rock pulling up a worm to feed him and he doesn’t realize she is close by all the time.

Asking a kitten, a hen, and a dog if they are his mother, he becomes somewhat discouraged because, of course, they are not his mother. He begins to question if he really does have a mother, but he is sure he must have one and is more determined than ever to find her. He begins to find mechanical things like a bulldozer, a boat, and a plane.

“Here I am, Mother,” he called out. But each thing goes on its own way, with no response. Except the bulldozer which makes a loud “snort” and picks the baby bird up in its shovel basket. The bulldozer lifts him up in the air and returns the frightened baby bird back to the nest from which he came. Just then, mother bird returns with the worm to feed her adventurous, hungry infant.

“Do you know who I am?” she asks baby bird.

And baby bird did know because she was not a kitten, or a hen, or a dog, or a cow, or a boat, or a plane. She was a bird.

“You are my mother!”

The pages of the story of this baby bird summarize the same quest I had been on for many years. I felt the uncertainty and the search of the small bird was like my own. I realized in small bits that it was all right for me to search—even necessary—to make me whole with my mother.

I felt the loneliness within the search that I needed to identify, wrangle with, acknowledge, hurt with, and eventually come to accept and make peace with. It did not pit one mother against the other. They each had their own space within me.

I had a mother, different from the one I called Mom. I was a daughter who became a mother. I would bring my mother, now a grandmother, back into our family-fold.

 

 Bird Watching

She lays

Hidden for the most part

Waiting and watching

With her beating heart

Her feathered body spread

Wide in the nest, an act

Of full creation.

One Mother

Bird, two eggs

Pulsing new life

Of wing-tipped grace

Into the world

And their own special place.

Procreation and expansion

As the fragile shell

Gives way

To life seeking life.

The rhythm of life

And love goes on,

     goes on

          goes on.

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