Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian

“Are You My Mother?” Mother Mary?


P.D. Eastman's "Are You My Mother?", 1960

P.D. Eastman’s “Are You My Mother?”, 1960

My mom did not read bedtime stories. Strangely my mom was often in bed before we were. We never quite understood why — but raising six kids is exhausting so maybe that was why. So my Grandma Cady would give us a bath. My sister would read us a book – my sister who was just four years older than me.

My favorite book was “Are You My Mother?”

The mother bird sat on her egg. The egg jumped.

“I must get something for my baby bird to eat!” She said. And away she went.

The egg jumped and jumped and out came a baby bird.

“Where is my mother?” he said.

Out of the nest the baby bird went down, down, down.

“Now I will go and find my mother.”

“Are you my mother?” The baby bird asked a hen. “No,” said the hen. “I am a hen.”

And so likewise it went with the kitten, the cow, the dog, and finally  — the Snort.

Now I had found my mother.

Scary and way up in the air. Precarious and out on a limb. And any moment she might come tumbling down, down, down to the ground.

I had found my mother.

At six I did not understand, but at nearly sixty now I do. I just lost my mom in her 88th year. She passed away just this past June. Her stardust is still stuck to my shoes. And I never want to shake it off – because my mother is myself – a very, very big part of myself.

For mom’s funeral my brothers and I sifted through old photographs. There were blurry snapshots and faded Polaroids and pictures curling up at the edges. Many old and yellow. Faded or blurry — it did not matter; Mary Lou came back to life in every single  one.

1950 Veiled and lovely in lace, white roses in her hand, her wedding day.

1954. There she is in black and white in a tam and car coat beaming in her mom’s back yard.

1967  Planting mums in the rock garden. Carefully coifed with gold earrings in her ears.

1969 Stretched out by the pool, a bathing beauty at 43 – with a drink in her hand.

1972 Grinning from ear to ear and dancing cheek to cheek with my dad – that handsome devil.

1983 Freckled and suntanned – a knockout at 57 – with a drink in her hand.

My mother often had a drink her hand. She favored Old Fashioneds and Heineken beer. We were quite the little bartenders when we were kids. My mom was more than just a social drinker. She drank to even out her moods – to tame the mania and lift the depression. A doctor’s wife she medicated herself the best she could.

Among the old photographs, my older brother found a half used steno pad. My mom’s cursive script is unmistakable. I remember it well from all those notes she wrote to the sisters at Holy Family School.

He sent me a page or two. Just a few notes, a prayer, and a grocery list. When I read the grocery list — bananas, coffee cake, and caviar — I laughed so much it made my stomach hurt. And when I read the prayer I just sat down and cried.

October 7 1992

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, please pray for me as I am very troubled and now that I am out of the hospital, I really do not know how to take my medicine… Lorazepam 4x a day; Dilantin 3x a day; Haldol 2x a day; Premarin 1 x a day; eye drops 2x a day; Imipramine and Dolmerine (?) at bedtime.” 

Seven medications in all — and all in one day. To keep the crazy away. All according to doctor’s orders.

My mother is myself.

June 14, 2003

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” I am just out of Dominion Hospital. I fumble and stumble with seven little prescription bottles in my bathroom: Lamictal, Depakote, Trazedone, Seroquel; Cymbalta; Lithium; Welbutrin. What to take when and why? What to take with food or not? What to take in the morning and what to take before I go to bed? A little of this, a little of that. And no matter what —  what difference did it make?

Well at the time not very much it seemed. So I confess  –sometimes I washed it all down with a Corona. To calm my mania. To put myself to sleep. A very bad idea. A very dangerous cocktail. Never to do again. But…

My mother is myself.

So now, Mom, I understand. The shopping, the spending, the streaking, the yelling, the drinking, the sleeping, the confusion, the delusion, the staying up all night, the staying in bed all day, the darkness and the light. Now I understand. And now I love you more than I can say.

So my dear departed, not quite blessed, beloved Mother, Mary Lou…if you can hear me…. with the words the Beatles taught us….let us pray…

“When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

And in my hour of darkness

She is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

Let it be, let it be

Let it be, let it be

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”


Author: celticjlp

Episcopal priest, 24 years. 15 years, balanced and bipolar. "Associate for Liturgy & Hilarity" @EEC. Bibliomaniac desk jockey and docent at Library of Congress. Washington DC born and bred. Half marathoner and avid pedestrian. Friend to many and mother of four. Blogger, Storyteller & Mental Health Evangelist.

11 thoughts on ““Are You My Mother?” Mother Mary?

  1. Pingback: It’s a 61-derful Life! | Unorthodox and Unhinged

  2. You touch my heart and soul in a way that can only be the Holy Spirit. Thank you.

  3. Beautiful. We are our mothers, even if we don’t fully know that until they are gone. What matters is the whole picture, not just the snapshot memories that haunt us. Not until we can look at our mothers through a wide-angle lens, good and bad, happy and sad, blurred understanding and clarity. I love my mom too!


  4. Oh she hears you all right, Joani. Believe it. How could she not? She’s alive and well and transformed! And she loves you now more than ever! And I love you too!

  5. So beautiful Joani!!!

    I am not my mother, but I am very much my grandmother – also Mary Lou. I just need ECT and that might make me happy like she was – kill off the bad parts of my brain. She too liked the drink, but after the ECT the doctor told her she was allergic and she believed him… and stopped drinking.

    Oh Mary Lou….

    “A man walks into a doctor’s office wrapped in nothing but clear plastic wrap…
    Doctor says, “I can clearly see your(‘re) nuts”

    She knew… I know. We get it.

    • Maureen, our mothers, our grandmothers, it’s all part of our DNA. Sometimes knowing the way ahead is first by looking back. Your grandmother Mary Lou was a wise and funny woman and so are you!

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