Sometimes, a book can provide the clarity needed to understand one’s life. I discovered the story of my life in a thin children’s book, Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman
As a child, Are You My Mother? was my favorite storybook. It was the one I would read aloud to my brother each Sunday morning while my big sisters were getting ready for school. We would sit on the red recliner together, me only five years old and my brother just about three. I would eagerly turn the pages of the hardcover, reading aloud this sad story. Somehow, the poor baby bird’s search for its mother never failed to move me.
A Bird’s Tale
The story begins with the mother bird leaving the nest, in order to get worms for her baby bird, before it hatches. Alas, the baby hatches while the mother is away. So begins the baby’s search for his mother. He jumps out of the nest and starts walking, asking each animal he meets, “Are you my mother?”
After asking the kitten, the hen, the dog and the cow, the baby bird begins to feel desperate. He starts running, crying “I did have a mother… I have to find her. I will. I WILL!” He calls to the boat and the plane and the tractor. While standing on the tractor’s shovel, the baby bird is suddenly lifted up. In a panic, he screams, “I want my mother!” The shovel opens up and drops him back in his own nest. Just at that moment, the mother bird returns with a worm. Mother and baby meet at last.
The Story of My Life
I’m not five anymore, but the story still lives with me. I see myself approaching each loving figure in my life with that same question: Are you my mother? Will you love me and fill the deep, dark hole in me, where a mother’s unconditional love belongs? The loneliness, that bitter black hole in me, is something I fight each day. I feel so alone, and I wish there was some way to fill this yawning chasm.
Like the little bird in Eastman’s story, I cry, “I did have a mother!” I approach each person I meet with the dream of getting mothering at last. I’ll beg my therapist to hold me and will generally feel the yearning inside to be hugged, even if I don’t ask. A kind, validating neighbor makes me wish I can divulge all my deep dark secrets to her. Maybe she is my mother? My doctor, the exercise instructor, even the manicurist. “Are you my mother?” I ask silently.
Striving to be Loved
I’m so hungry for a loving touch, a caring gesture. I treasure each moment of love and care, placing it in a special place in my mind. Then, when I’m lonely, I take it out and look at it from all angles, holding it, caressing it and trying to recapture the feeling. Sometimes, I can access it, but most of the time, it eludes me.
Recently, I was on the phone with the coordinator of the psychiatric department at a prestigious hospital. After repeatedly refusing to see the doctor the staff was setting me up with, the coordinator herself was trying her luck at convincing me. She was so kind and validating; she even offered to accompany me to the new doctor I would be seeing. As I was taking her up on that offer, I suddenly heard it in my mind. “Are you my mother?” I felt pathetic about it. I did not know this woman talking to me any more than I knew the doctor she was setting me up with, and yet her warmth was pulling me.
What is wrong with me? Why is every person who shows an ounce of caring a potential mother? Will I ever be free to love myself? Can I ever give up the search for a mother I cannot have? Does the pain, the ache deep inside, ever leave me?
This is Borderline Personality. I have it. And I know it.
You know it too. You see it when I scream at you in anger, when I yell at close family in front of you, shamelessly. You see the monster in me. Maybe, maybe now, you can also see the baby bird in me.
I may never change, hard as I’m trying, but perhaps you can step back, take a peek into my heart and see that I’m really only screaming, crying, for my mother.
“Are you my mother?”
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