Perhaps you recall the refrain from the classic P.D. Eastman book about a baby bird who searches for its mother: Are you my Mother?
My 9-year-old son Colt would find Eastman’s book a comforting story with a happy ending, but I could also interpret the text as archetypal journey — the search for mothers and even for home.
In Eastman’s book, the hatchling asks one animal after the next, “Are you my Mother?”
Of course, we all have mothers, but many of the important people in our lives are not biologically related to us. A professor, coach, piano teacher or a caring neighbor may be just as inspiring in a young person’s journey as one’s biological parents.
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Mrs. Page was my parents’ next-door neighbor. She and her husband, Johnny, did not have children, and at a time when her peers had grandchildren, Mrs. Page remained hopeful about having her own family, somehow instinctively knowing it is always too soon to give up on a dream. I have yet to meet anyone like Mrs. Page, and at 53 years old, she experienced the miraculous and “had” the baby she had always wanted.
I am told that my father would carry me wrapped in blankets across our yard, and then pass me over the fence to Mrs. Page, who would be waiting in between the tall rose bushes to take me into her arms. She took care of me for many years, while my parents worked, and we did everything together, from watching birds in the bird bath to planting pansies, marigolds, petunias and Red Lion Amaryllis.
We liked bouncing rubber balls against her garage wall, making Martha Washington candies and playing the game “Memory.” I used to wonder why Mrs. Page could sit criss-cross-apple-sauce on the floor with me while my parents, who were much younger than she, could not.
As I grew older, so did our hobbies, and we both learned to cross stitch, ride bikes and drive. I had my parents’ old blue Chevrolet Chevette, and she had a like-new vintage, hard-top burgundy Ford Fairlane 500. For birthdays, Mrs. Page would treat me to a restaurant and then shopping at a department store to discover the present of my choice. Even the store names were beautiful, like Woolworths, Ivey’s and Thalhimers.
Some of us are like the hatchling in Eastman’s book: We must also seek out our own special teachers in the world.
Mrs. Page knew everything, like how to bring poinsettias back from the dead, a process that required putting plants in closets and then bringing them back into the world at precisely the right moment. She knew the perfect lipstick, the right accessories, and she had the tiniest shoes. Mrs. Page was beyond comparison, and, besides my children, she was as close to perfect as I have ever known.
Mrs. Page did not have biological children, but we need not limit positive role models in a child’s life to a child’s parents. A child’s mentor could take many forms, just as home need not be limited to the place in which one was physically born or reared. It might be that place where one feels loved and happy. For me, such a person and such a place was with Mrs. Page in the little house on Kimbrough Street.
Some of us are like the hatchling in Eastman’s book: We must also seek out our own special teachers in the world, like Mrs. Page — those cherished, chosen family members with whom we share a kindred connection, in whose “nest” we feel at home, and in whose wisdom we may find comfort during storms.
Dr. Love is dean of the College of Arts at Lander University; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.