Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Are You My Mother?" by P.D. Eastman: The Early Reader Of Hope

I read this book "Are You My Mother?" to my children at least fifty times. To be honest, that includes me reading it long after they couldn't sit still any longer. I remember being alone, no children around, when the baby bird's sad words struck me-- "Where is my mother?"

Yeah, where is my mother? I wondered.

I'm not stretching the truth when I say this book became my first attempt to understand Mom.

When I first began reading "Are You My Mother?" I wasn't sure why I was so enamored with this book. I felt silly sneaking moments to read it while my children played outside or were at school. Wasn't there a law that a child should be present at the reading of a children's story? What was it about this book? Was it the illustrations? Darling ones for sure, but I knew the answer came from the words and their meaning to me. I kept pouring over what P.D.'s baby bird decided. "Now I will go and find my mother.

You may be wondering why I needed to find my mom.

She left my siblings and me when I turned ten. Not physically, but she was gone just the same. I watched her eat, drink, and move about the house, but the mother I knew was no longer. She had changed in a way I didn't understand. And as my teen years drew closer, Mom became a stranger and more lost. Then, right after my thirteenth birthday, Mom had a severe mental breakdown, from which she never fully recovered. What caused it? A house fire that took the life of my baby sister.

I am grateful that I had ten good years with Mom. Being the eldest of eight children, I was more blessed than my younger siblings. Some of them never remembered her any way except for the new, sad Mom. Still, I suffered, watching Mom disappear.

When I began having children of my own, I missed my mother with a passion. To make matters worse, my friends talked about going to lunch with their mothers. How, afterward, their moms bought them a thing they wanted or needed. My face would burn from jealously. At these times, I left with feelings of regret for what I didn't have and what my children lacked not having a grandmother. And the even stronger emotion of longing, which turned into self pity.

By then, I had to own a copy of P.D. Eastman's "Are You My Mother?" (I got too anxious, waiting in between the times I borrowed it from the library). It was one of the first books for children that I bought. I soaked in every word and page. And kept reading P.D.'s words, "I have a mother," said the baby bird. "I know I do. I will find her. I will. I WILL!"

I would think, "How do I find my mother when she's not physically lost?"

The years flew, and Mom left this world a month before my first granddaughter's birth. The moment I saw Morgan Ann, the terrible ache in my heart flew out of its nest. I had been diligent, reading up on mental illness between "Are You My Mother?" and the day a new life joined our family. Those long years of searching naturally flowed on to an end. I reached a sort of peace about Mom.

The baby bird says in Eastman's book, "You are a bird, and you are my mother!"

If I were to write a book about my mother, it would end with, "You are broken, and you are my mother."

Over the last ten years, I struggled, again, with the issue of a loved one and mental illness. My son suffered with both physical and mental problems and died by suicide six years ago. You may follow my journey of love and loss and know there is hope in love.

Thank you, P.D. Eastman, for the book with a baby bird hero. It helped me begin a flight that moved me to here.

Until next time . . . Onward Ho!


  1. Oh, sweet Jean--how your story moved me. I shed tears for your pain, and gloried in your strength and acceptance. Thank you for sharing your journey so others may heal as well. Rebecca Langston-George

  2. Rebecca, thanks so much for reading and commenting. So glad you enjoyed my story. Aren't children's books wonderful?

    Jean Ann

  3. Jean Ann,
    this moved me to tears. I am so sorry for your loss and marvel at your strength.

    I too love this book. My mom would read it to me using different voices for each character. I can't tell you how many times I had her read it. When my kids were born, it was one of the books they wanted me to read to them--voices included.
    Hugs, Jean.

  4. Jean, you have shown in such a powerful and personal way just how important children's books are! It sounds as if you have many stories to tell. Hooray for your courage and hope.

  5. Your story brought tears to my eyes as well, Jean. It's a wonderful testimonial to the power of books to touch us unexpectedly, cause us to think about our lives differently and heal--even a picture book. :-) I think you should write that story that ends with your mother being broken--but still your mother. It could be powerful.

  6. Thank you, Kim, Barbara Jean, and Joan!

    I appreciate your taking time to comment on the story. I hadn't thought to expand on this story. I just wanted to give praise to children's books and how they can help. I'll keep that in mind for sure.

    Jean Ann

  7. Jean,

    I read "Are You My Mother?" to my boys over and over and over. They loved the book, too. Isn't it amazing how a story can touch us in ways the author never intended. I'm so glad the book helped you. What a blessing.

  8. Beth, it's so true. Thank you for stopping by.

    Everyone, thank you!

    Jean Ann

  9. This is a beautiful, achingly heartfelt post, Jean Ann. Thanks so much for sharing it with us all.

  10. What a powerful story, Jean. It's amazing how books are often one of the ways we begin to understand our lives and find a way to acceptance and peace. Your honesty and openness surely hint at the power behind the stories you have written and those you have yet to tell. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Thank you, Alexis and Dianne. So appreciate the time you took to read "Are You My Mother?"

  12. I can relate to your story and your mothers, and your son's. I've survived having a mental illness, but there are so many who don't. Thank you for sharing and being there for your loved ones.

    Cherry Pedrick
    coauthor of The OCD Workbook

  13. Cherry,

    You're gift to others is your overcoming of mental illness. God bless you, dear one. Keep churning out those wonderful books on OCD.

    Hugs, Jean

  14. This is beautiful! Thanks for sharing. I love children's books too. People look at me funny when I suggest they read this or that particular children's book.

    Books have always been a big part of my life. I love to read and reading was a great escape during the years my dad battled alcoholism. Thank the Lord that is all over and now I share books with my dad.

  15. Reda,

    Thank you for stopping by and adding your thoughts.

    We should start an Adults Love Kids' Book Club. I get the same looks, but here you are in good company.

    Blessings to you!