Remember that Bee Eye Are Dee my mom and dad were thinking about getting for me for my fifth birthday?
Well, it turns out bee eye are dee spells ‘bird’ and that’s what I got for a present. He was a green and white parakeet and I named him Charlie. He lived in a cage in the corner of our dining room, next to dad’s chair by the window. The cage had a pull out tray lined with newspaper to catch Charlie poop and seeds he scattered.
For breakfast most mornings, I’d fill my bowl with dry cereal in the kitchen and carry it to the dining room table to add milk and sugar and eat.
One morning, when I was feeling a little sleepy and not quite coordinated, I tripped, knocking the bird cage and my cereal bowl onto the floor.
I guess mom wasn’t in a very good mood. Maybe on second thought, she was in a mischievous sort of mood. Parents are humans too after all.
Whatever, she took the broom and dustpan and swiped everything up, cheerios, bird seed, bird poop, feathers. She dumped it all back into my cereal bowl, slapped the bowl on the table in front of me with a bang and said “eat it.”
Time stood still.
I remember staring at that cereal bowl, a tiny parakeet down feather stuck to one of the Cheerios, wafting gracefully in slow motion in the breeze from my breath. And the smells of bird poop, bird seed and Cheerios.
I don’t know how long I sat there. It felt like forever. I remember thinking, she’s not really serious is she? Was this some kind of joke?
I like to think that this was followed by a second edible breakfast, but I really have no recollection.
My mom lived with cyclical depression and mental health issues. I didn’t really understand that as a child. I just felt that something was not right and, as children often do, I blamed myself. I learned to silence myself, my needs, in order not to upset someone else’s equilibrium. Most of the time that someone else was my mom.
I learned to put others’ needs before my own, and I used this strategy for most of my adult life.
All I knew back then was that my mom wasn’t always there for me in the ways that I needed her to be. I got the silent message that my job was to be there for her, to take care of her, and I took on that role with fervour and skill.
I was reluctant to shed the role of parent and go back to being a daughter in the times when she was feeling stable and well. As you might imagine, that in itself was a source of conflict.
I have the greatest compassion for my mom and the life she lived without adequate mental health resources to support her. She was a brave, incredibly strong survivor who did the best with the circumstances she faced. She experienced discrimination and isolation and judgement and shame because of her mental health issues.
My mom brought a lot of joy and music and laughter into my life. She shared a fierce and loyal love with my father that I held as my standard, unwilling to settle for anything less.
I know how much my mom loved me. I cherish my memories of the smile that brightened her face every time I showed up to visit unexpected. She thought I was the most beautiful daughter in the world. I know this because she told me often, and I believe she believed it.
Whenever I’d complain about the behaviour of a male colleague or co-worker, she’d reply “Well it’s obvious isn’t it? He’s in love with you.” Every single time, and there were many. I suffer no delusions about her accuracy of assessment, but it says a lot about the way she loved me, and I cherish that.
I am proud of myself for entering into a personal journey that allowed some healing of our relationship over the years leading up to my mom’s death in 2019. A couple of years before, on her 80th birthday, I thanked her for teaching me the meaning of unconditional love. I wrote it in a card and watched her read it across the room. I know from the light in her eyes and the smile on her face that she heard me.
I have learned to forgive my mom. I’m learning to forgive myself as well. It’s a layered process. I get the sense that mom learned to forgive me too.
I am resourcing that incredible strength of character and unconditional love I’ve inherited from my mom, and I am grateful.
I’m learning that putting my own needs first allows me to have something to offer the world. I’m learning to reparent my inner child and to walk more gently in the world. I’m learning to redraw personal boundaries. It helps to feel less alone. I’m learning to love myself and love life.
I can tell you, though, that at the age of almost 60 years, I’ve never eaten another bowl of cheerios, and most likely never will.
One day a while after the Cheerios incident, Charlie caught a cold and got all puffy and didn’t live much longer. I’ve never really felt the urge to have another bee eye are dee either.