My Hopes, Memories and Dreams

Are You My Mother ?


I sometimes wonder when it was I first realised my mother was “different” from other mothers. I haven’t been able to isolate a specific time or place but generally recall the gentle wave of acknowledgment that slowly seeped into my knowing. It has forever left me questioning why I was born to this woman.  I remember reading the children’s book titled Are You My Mother?, and being absorbed by the tale of a baby bird that hatches whilst its’ mother is out foraging for food. The baby bird sets out on a journey to find its’ mother and comes across a cat, hen and even an excavator, asking each “Are you my mother?” until eventually it is reunited with the mother bird. I remember my response to the story, even as a very young child, was that I would have chosen the excavator if I’d had a chance.

As I began to spend more time at the home of friends for play dates or birthday parties once I started at school, I would observe the “naturalness” of the rapport shared between my friends and their mothers, so free of the tensions I experienced with mine. I observed my friends act boldly at times, challenging their parents with a resolute stance, hands on hips and steadfast in their agenda. I would stand back in awe…literally removing myself from the exchange, finding a firm footing a few steps away in anticipation of the eruption that I predicted would ensue. In most cases I was left stunned as the mother after a momentary pause, would throw her head backwards releasing a hearty belly laugh, clutching her sides in hysterics. She may also have been in a state of awe, but more so for her child’s ability to stand their ground, to exhibit the strength and confidence they would need one day when they flew out from under her wing.

Over the years I encountered many other mother figures and they always fascinated me. They almost appeared to float around their homes with a lightness that was so new and refreshing to me. Shadowed by their children as they busied about their chores, their conversations were candid and uncontrived.  They were not infallible creatures…they each had their own source of distractions, but they were mostly present and attainable in an authentically loving way.

I truly believe that even amidst this stage of tender childhood innocence I was still discerning in my assessment of what constituted normal rhythms of interaction and was not lulled into a false idealisation of a picture that in reality, was less than perfect. I witnessed the tears, frustration, illness, stress and isolation that peppers the lives of all women as they struggle to balance the competing roles of wife, parent and in some cases “career woman” at a time when this role was still trekking a path through new terrain. I felt the tensions that arose between parents on the verge of separation; in families where the father was late home from work night after night and in the households stretched by dwindling budgets, tested as additional babies arrived home from hospital. Yet I encountered a vibrant honesty flow through these families whose inner and outer worlds were generally at peace with each other. Mine however was the exception…unpredictable and closeted…the ebb and flow of energy spiraled in a constant whir of negativity, creating a fluctuating climate that was depended upon the emotional whims of my mother on any given day.

By the early years of my primary school education, around the age of seven or eight, the awareness of my mother’s strange demeanour  had became an ever-present strain. I tried to disassociate myself from her at every given opportunity. I enjoyed my walk to school in the morning which in hindsight,  I recognise provided an opportunity to relax into a meditative state in preparation for the day ahead, as I pounded the footpath and reconnected with the rhythm of my heart.  It meant I could walk through the gates, un-tarred by the heavy aura she dragged along with her.

For a time, although I acknowledged that my experience of my mother was quite distinct from that of my friends, I was content that it remained largely uncommented on. Although I sometimes caught the quizzical expressions of other adults in response to her odd demeanour and inappropriate remarks, I felt safe that my friends and their families had not yet tuned in to her oddity, allowing me to blend in to the playground without prejudice. Then the day after I had a friend over to my house for a play date, the child approached me at school and stated with an accusatory air, “My mum said your mum looked at her very strangely when she came to pick me up”. I was devastated. My secret had been exposed. There was no way to respond other than to offer a faltering retort of “I..I don’t know what you mean”. But my heart sunk with the realisation that other people could really see it too.  I pondered what it would mean for me. Little did I imagine that her behaviour would have such a devastating impact upon my peer relations that in a few years time, the teenage me would be left with no option other than to retreat into the school toilets at lunch times in a desperate state of isolation.


14 responses

  1. Now, you have a choice if you ever plan on being a mom. You either rebel and become the light, airy motherly figure or you follow the footsteps of your own mother…choice is yours…and sometimes you make it without even realizing what you’re doing…

    August 5, 2009 at 12:41 am

    • Hi Jessica,

      Thanks for your comment. I am a mum now to two fabulous girls and you’re spot on….the choice was entirely in my hands to not repeat the cycle. I am so grateful that I had such insight from such a young age and became determined that I would become a ‘conscious parent’ to my children. It hasn’t always been easy and sometimes I think I’ve grappled with fears and insecurities, but now my girls are ten and fourteen I can acknowledge I’m on the right path. Nothing else I’ve tried has been so theraputic as my mothering role that has helped me to heal the sadness for the ‘child me’.

      Thanks for stopping by. I’ll pop over and check out your blog now !

      Best regards,


      August 5, 2009 at 12:49 am

  2. Hey are you using your blog to develop a larger work about your childhood experiences?
    Asking because you go into such careful development and presentation that it seems to move beyond you specfically to something others can identify with also. Painful and yet engaging–your voice makes it engaging.

    August 5, 2009 at 5:05 am

    • Hi there, well in answer to your question…I started blogging initially for the creative outlet but I think it appears to be unfolding towards a forum to start collecting my thoughts and memories about my childhood, that were otherwise just stored in the memory vault. I’m enjoying the cathartic process of unfolding the emotions tied to the memories and it’s just brilliant to have people appreciate the story as it unfolds, as this is so new and unexpected for me. So thank you for your kind words. I have no plan of attack…I just wait and see what comes next !

      Thanks again,


      August 5, 2009 at 11:13 am

  3. Oh Dear Heart, what to say to hug those tears away. And yet the incredible writer you have become could never have been without those experiences. That you have come so far and created so much joy as a Mother yourself. What was that Ghandi said about being the change you wish to see in the world. That you are Dear Heart, that you are. Beautiful and brave. Courage is contagious and so is joy.

    August 5, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    • Thank you Sara ! Your warm and giving words brought a tear to my eyes. The joy of mothering has definitely helped to strip away the pain. I still find it confronting though to witness the mother-daughter bond some of my friends enjoy but I’ve learnt just to “feel the feelings” and move on. Thank you again for your heartfelt words. ox

      August 5, 2009 at 11:15 pm

  4. I forgot, age has it’s advantages. Watching Regis & Kelly a little while ago. And they read the results of a world wide study. #1 worst husbands in the world, drum roll, Australia. Sorry kid you are just going to have to come to the states (US of course) 🙂

    August 5, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    • I know ! I heard that too ! I have no argument considering my own experience of marriage so far !!! Shout me a ticket and I’ll be over in a flash 🙂

      August 5, 2009 at 11:16 pm

      • Watch what you ask fer…you just may get it!

        August 7, 2009 at 10:40 pm

  5. Gabrielle Bryden

    This is very well written. I find writing very cathartic (that is the poetry I write) and after finishing a poem I feel absolutely exhausted but then a bit lighter (shedding the layers of crud that have encased me over the years). Then I have to have a good rest before I can start again. But my sleeping dreams change, in a good way, and I know I’m on the right track.

    August 6, 2009 at 2:00 am

    • Hi Gabrielle, thanks for your comment. This is all new to me in that I have only started writing via my blog in the last month but I am certainly finding that once the words grab hold I am somewhat possessed until I feel satisfied I’ve said what I need to. The exactly as you say, I feel the lightness again. Thanks for stopping by.

      August 6, 2009 at 2:14 am

  6. Hi Colleen,
    When I saw, Are You My Mother?, my heart twinged for you. That book and, No More Elephants!, were my daughter’s two favorite books. We read them hundreds of times, so that she could speak them as I read them. I loved the little bird’s hunt for its mother–it’s something so many of us have to do.
    Only in the last five years or so has the relationship with my mother begun to really heal. Today I’m 57, she is 78, and we’re both aware that our days for healing are numbered. She suffers with alcoholism–your mom must suffer with something, too. When I was younger, I hated what she said and did and stayed away from her acid comments as much as possible. Still, they affected me and I am still healing today.
    Yet, as I’ve aged, I can see those dark seeds within myself–I know we all have a dark side that is capable of horrendous things–and I understand more, about what happened to her as a child and young woman. I don’t accept the behavior–in fact it was only through standing up for myself and my children that the healing began. But I am more tolerant of human nature, of weakness and addiction, and have the sense this life is a boat we’re all in together, and that as any of us heal, we open a way for others to heal.
    I just wanted to share this so that you will know miracles are possible. I used a specific technique for healing–click on Forgiveness in my categories, if you’d like–that I haven’t been able to do with all my hurts, but I have in other parts of my life. It’s a one day at a time process, that’s for sure, but we forgivers are the recipients of the best blessings of forgiveness when we take off the links, one-by-one, from the chains around our necks that weigh us down.
    Take care, beautiful daughter, mother and seeker.

    August 7, 2009 at 1:59 am

    • Hi Pam,

      Thank you for your loving comments and sharing of your story. I understand my mother is hurt and damaged, I truly do. I have never had the opportunity to learn about her childhood and suffering…maybe one day I will but I am no way near ready yet. Forgiveness is definitely a challenge and I am still in the process of forgiving myself ! (What exactly for I’m still working out !). To say the words ” I love and accept myself, I forgive myself for whatever part I played in this”, is incredibly difficult still. But I’m getting there !

      August 8, 2009 at 5:54 am

  7. You don’t have to tell me–I know! I was raised by an alcoholic person.
    The first time I used Mr. Irion’s 40-Day Prayer (on my blog under Forgiveness) it wasn’t with my mom. That was way, way, way too hard to tackle first.
    I started with a far easier hurt, yet I could barely speak the words, “Forgive me for all that I have done to hurt you,” at the beginning of the 40 Days.
    By the end of the 40 days, when the pain was gone, I had been shown so many things I had thought or said that had that kept the situation all tangled up. I can’t tell you how freeing it was when it was gone!
    In my case, using Mr. Irion’s 40-Day Prayer allowed me to let go of enough hurts that I was able to start writing, which is a real miracle for me. (I was afraid I was going to die a lonely, bitter old woman.)
    I only have to read one poem, or one essay you’ve written, Coleen, to know you are a Phoenix rising from the ashes. Love,

    August 8, 2009 at 7:56 pm

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