Are You My Mother?

Maggie Beamguard, Insider Editor

May brings us Mother’s Day and maybe some mixed feelings. Not every mother is June Cleaver, after all. Some wield their wooden spoons in wrath rather than use them to stir up comfort. 

My own mother could do both. Many times she chased one of us around the island of her kitchen, spoon in hand, yelling stern warnings about how tan would be our hides.

But she also fed us good food, checked our homework, washed and sewed our clothes, checked our fevers, rubbed our backs and read to us daily.

One of the stories I insisted she read on repeat was “Are You My Mother?” by P.D. Eastman.

A baby bird is born into an otherwise empty nest, his mother having flown off to bring him some food. Before she can return, he goes looking for her. It is a frantic and sometimes frightening adventure in which he encounters a number of creatures and objects, inquiring of each “are you my mother?”

But the kitten, hen, dog, cow, car, boat and plane summarily dismissed him. A backhoe, which he calls a “snort,” eventually scoops him up and deposits him in the nest just as his mother arrives with a juicy worm and the words “do you know who I am?”

The world is wide and beautiful and also scary and unknown. And knowing and being known by someone, particularly by your mother, provides a roost of safety and peace.

As my mother grows older, she becomes more childlike. We now have the privilege of caring for her with the tenderness she provided us for so many years. 

On some days, she mistakes my sister and I for her own mother as we bring her meals and rub her back. 

I look at her and wonder sometimes “are you my mother?”

Her arthritic hands don a bright, red and yet still dignified nail polish applied by my daughter. They have become useless to her, but the gnarls and twists are beautiful vestiges of her former agility with a needle and thread.

Her eyes are hidden by heavy lids under a wrinkled forehead, but their sparkle still shines when she recalls a happy memory or sees a grandchild. 

Her stature is stooped — having lost her parents, a sister and two children she carried the world on her shoulders. But her presence remains formidable.

Yes, here is my mother. Here is my home in a world that is wide and beautiful but also scary and unknown. 

It seems right to dedicate a day to celebrate those who know us and mother us — for their arms that give hugs, their hands that tie shoes, their voices that call after ones that stray, their lips that kiss booboos, their eyes that reflect love, their feet that run all day long, their hips that carry loads of laundry, and their ears that hear over and over again those blessed syllables, “ma-ma.”

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