The memories we have as children are grossly underestimated. The experiences, people, sayings, jokes, smells, foods, books… it’s really amazing that all of this fits so well as it’s swept under a rug. Until it doesn’t fit, and one by one each memory or book or food grows legs and crawls out, peeking its head out to see if we notice it.
And once you notice it, you can’t not notice it. And then you have to decide what to do with it. Ignore it? Try to shove it back under the rug? Good luck with that, because all the other things under the rug have already spread out a bit more, just like you do when your spouse leaves you and the dog sleeping in the bed. It’s the nature of living things to spread out and take up more space when they can.
So then you have this thing to deal with. You can decide what to do with it. Deal with it immediately? Hold it and inspect it for cracks and lies? Set it on a shelf to collect dust? Whatever it is, your brain has a neural pathway for that, I promise.
My neural pathways have made detours and new paths with lots of gravel and potholes, but new inroads nonetheless.
Upon learning of my impending transition to teaching high school again, I judiciously curated my collection of items I’d acquired over the past four years of teaching elementary. This included a box of books that is now on the floor of my office closet. Many of those books were ones I purchase to have a copy for when I was working on students with the prescribed curricula – books about Biscuit and Little Bear and rocks and Willy Wonka.
Where this overlaps is that many of these books I had on the bookshelf in the nursery in my mind. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of my gifts for their children knows that I am a pusher of literacy. You will read, and you will like it. Or at the very least, know how to do it and use it to your advantage. In teaching elementary students, I found many books I added to the bookshelf in my head. One that was already there was Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman.
And thoughts and memories of this book are what catapulted me into an ugly cry at 6:05 AM after I’d been laying awake for at least an hour and a half. It was triggered by something as innocent as my husband telling the dog to “give your momma a kiss, no not me, I’m not your momma…”
Are You My Mother? is a children’s story about a baby bird that falls out of a tree and thus is separated from his mother. He spends the whole book walking around, trying to find out where his mother is. We can assume that he’s so young that he’s not yet imprinted on his bird mother and maybe this is a reason he’s having trouble figuring out that no, the dog is not his mother. And the boat was not his mother. And so on.
Some descriptions of this book call the baby bird’s wandering “hilarious,” but fuck me if this isn’t one of the saddest books out there. I never realized this sad perspective until the memory of the book came back to me. How sad for the mother and the baby bird to go through this event.
I could not tell you why this was one of my favorite books when I was young, and one of my favorites to introduce my students to (most of them were Spanish-speaking and I had the bilingual edition). I knew who my mother was, and I never questioned it. I was never separated from my mother like this baby bird was. I’m sure there’s more I could explore about being emotionally separated for a period of time.
I wanted to read this to my child. Over and over. To teach them the basic names of certain things, and to indirectly teach them how invert the subject and verb to make a yes/no question (linguist here). I wanted this book to get lots of handprints on the cover and maybe some crayon marks throughout. I wanted this book to have a wobbly name amateurly written inside the front cover.
So yet again in this journey that I 0/10 would not recommend to anyone I have found something else to mourn. For awhile I could hold off on it because I was sharing books with my young students, and sending books like this to nieces, nephews, and niblings. Most of the children in my life are getting older and ready for novels and fantasy stories and maybe poetry compilations. I have so many books to share and nowhere for them to go, except a box in my office closet. At least they’re not under the rug anymore.