Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman

IMG_2332Try thinking way way back to your earliest memories. What do you think of? Do you think of parents and siblings? Favorite toys? Maybe teachers and friends? Books and television shows?

In playing this game with myself, memories of my early childhood in Morristown Tennessee came rushing back. I remember the joy of sharing a bag of M&M’s with my dad. We would separate them by color before eating them. I remember the disappointment when our neighbor’s dog chewed up my plastic, toy camel, and the shock of being scolded for the freshly applied grass stains on my pants moments before leaving for church. I remember my Sesame Street cassette player, my Jonah and the Whale action figures, and my impressive collection of cowboys & indians & army soldiers & zoo animals (war is complicated).

Most mornings, after Dad left for work, I would ride on the arm rest between the driver’s and passenger’s seat on Mom’s way to drop off my sister at school. After we passed the intriguing tree with white bark (by far the weirdest thing I had seen), my sister would fling the door open, but couldn’t get out before hearing Mom say, “Don’t forget who you are.”

Don’t forget who you are. Mom would continue the tradition when I started school, and I heard that everyday before school until I got my own license… and probably afterwards. Each morning, Mom imparted into her children a reminder that they had the ability to succeed in difficult situations, that peer pressure was not a means of decision making, and that faith and prayer were never out of reach. She was reminding them each morning of where they came from and the values they had been taught.

Another early memory I have is sitting in my Mom’s lap in my bed reading books. In particular, a story entitled “Are You My Mother?”, a story in which a baby bird hatches and falls out of the nest while his mother is out gathering food. Immediately, the bird begins searching for her.

“He came to a kitten. ‘Are you my mother?’ he said to the kitten. The kitten just looked and looked. It did not say a thing. The kitten was not his mother, so he went on.”

The kitten was not his mother, and neither was the hen, the dog, the cow, the car, the boat, nor the airplane. He kept searching. Eventually, he finds what looks like an industrial crane known as the Snort, which after terrifying the little bird brings him back to his nest.“Just then the mother bird came back to the tree. ‘Do you know who I am?’ she said to her baby.

‘Yes, I know who you are,’ said the baby bird.

You are not a kitten.

You are not a hen.

You are not a dog.

You are not a cow.

You are not a boat, or a plane, or a Snort!’

‘You are a bird, and you are my mother.'”

Comparing this little bird’s search for his mother… for his identity… for revelation of his kind and who he is… to my own story, I see that Mom wanted me to know my identity. Both of my parents worked hard for me to understand our tribe, and the principles and values we believed in.

P.D. Eastman meant to have red-bellied robins.

P.D. Eastman meant to have red-bellied robins.

These thoughts were furthered confirmed to me when flipping through the pages of “Are You My Mother?” for this post. At some point in time, I took it upon myself to color the little brown bird’s belly with a red crayon on every single page. Dad use to take me into the yard to watch the red-bellied robins searching for worms in the grass, and through this routine, I realized this little brown bird was suppose to be a robin as well.

When my son was born, I often wondered if he realized he was human. Why would he know? As far as I know, he just knew how to eat and sleep, and my wife and I were the ones providing an environment for these things. But then… why would he look at us in the eye? How did he know that was the epicenter of our point of view? Did he know his field of vision came through similar organs? Slowly, he came upon an understanding of his nature. He plays with his toes, scratches his hair, and can point to his own nose after pointing to ours.

So my son is starting to understand physically what he is, but there is so much more to the human identity. Once a child, I am now a parent, learning and growing in that regard, and now I will begin to pass the torch to my son. I will strive to help him learn about the world, scripture and our faith, social interaction (maybe the most difficult part), and who he is.

Looking through this book again has once again renewed my thankfulness for good parents. And as the book has brought back an appreciation for what my parents invested into me, it has also made me look forward to reminding my son to not forget who he is.

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