“Who Let The Birds Out?”

 

 

The most concrete memory I have from when I was smaller than the kitchen counter for some reason occurred to me again today, and I was struck with a realization so profound that I’m still reeling from it.

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Once upon a time, there were 5 or 6 yellow, fluffy, and sweetly-singing ‘birdies’ twittering about cheerfully in a cage on a wall. It was a time before tweeting became a silent and isolated online method of gaining false praise and fans, and the noise alone could lighten your heart and brighten your day – until of course you realized that the notes were caged and these birdies may as well have been empty- tweeting without an attention-grabbing hashtag or tag symbol to be seen. They were voiceless.

The cage was quite small (even to me as a 2-3 year old). It hung on a wall that divided the old ‘side garden’ from the ‘main garden’, or our permitted ‘playing’ area, and functioned as a distraction from the forbidden ‘side-gate’ and escape to the main road outside (in a perfectly safe suburban housing estate).

One day, I vividly remember staring up at the birds. I was still FAR shorter than where it hung fastened to the wall, having only just passed the point of needing to be lifted up to poke pudgy fingers between the bars in futile attempts to hold the poor creatures.

This particular day, that was all I wanted. I clearly remember the innocence with which I stared longingly at my ‘pets’. The poor caged creatures; evolved to fly, yet held back by metal bars. I was too young to comprehend this injustice of course, but my intent was simple and clear – to hold one in my hands, and see if the fluffy yellow down was as soft and comforting as it appeared.

Like my friends could pet their dogs. Unlike most kids were allowed to do – I simply couldn’t hold, touch, or interact with my ‘pet’ whatsoever.

So I reached up.

I’d watched my Dad replace their food and water enough times to understand how to open the door.

POOF. A whoosh of air, tweets and feathers about my outstretched arm, and suddenly I was running inside.

‘WHO LET THE BIRDS OUT?”

I had quickly pushed the door of the cage closed and made myself scarce. I knew I’d done wrong. But I somehow didn’t feel guilty about it.

When the empty cage was noticed, I denied knowing anything about the curious disappearance. But as sure as any bird will fly when given the chance, my 3-year-old wobbly chin dimpled, whimpered, and gave me away as I feared for my ice-cream after dinner. I like to think it was to do with an ingrained honesty and incapacity to lie within me, but the truth was as childishly greedy as this, and all I was thinking about was the restriction of my dessert.

I cried like a baby…because that’s what I was.

I cried not out of guilt, nor at the loss of my pets. I cried because I had attracted trouble. I had attracted anger, frustration, and inadvertently made myself the target and origin of the negativity.

When I think about this on a deeper level, and in terms of what little life experience I have now to date, I find it incredible, and extremely telling:

 

My earliest memory is of releasing caged birds.

 

Quite literally, letting nature into its natural habitat, and releasing innocent creatures to a life they were born for, instead of caged in a garden, a house…it really does say a lot about me, and about my successes and failures to date.

I never properly believed in the influences of childhood events, environments, and seemingly unimportant occurrences in the past on issues and problems experienced today, yet when I consider this memory and the events which followed in context to today, and how the me of today would deal with them as opposed to how I dealt with them then, I can fully believe that we are the products of our environment. Mannerisms, practices, and personalities to which we are exposed as children become part of us far more easily than those we may attempt to adapt later on in life. Because they are our first experiences, our first time to encounter life events in a certain way….we come to believe that the way they are dealt with then is the ONLY way to deal with them. Anger breeds anger. Anxiety breeds anxiety. Paranoia breeds paranoid and obsessive thought patterns, damaging only when you realize just how much they have influenced you up until now. How much time I have wasted worrying about things that didn’t really matter; anxious to improve, to always be the best, to come out on top, because even though ‘we’ll love you whatever the result’, there was always a larger bowl of ice-cream for whoever came out on top.

On the Importance of Roots…

On The Importance of Roots… (and not the hair kind!)

 I recently had the pleasure of catching up with an old friend who moved away when we were both very young. Our families remained in contact, and as a result so did we through the years, seeing each other at staggered and unpredictable intervals every six or seven months when our parents decided it was time for a catch-up. Even though our lives naturally took different routes and twists that nobody could have anticipated, we remained solid friends, the advent of the likes of e-mail, Bebo and MSN in our early teens enabling us to stay in more regular and consistent contact, albeit rarely face-to-face. As such we now have the privilege of being able to introduce one another with the title of ‘one of my oldest friends’; a phrase I had previously never used, having thought it a cheesy and overly-emotive phrase reserved for American TV shows and chick flicks.

This time, however, after an absence of over a (fairly turbulent) year with only the odd Facebook or Snapchat message allowing us insight into the others’ busy and ever-changing life, it really hit home for me that this person has known me my entire life. Not only that, but she has stuck with me, an ever-present comfort for me to contact should the need arise, even if that contact consisted purely of a name on a screen. Although we share none of the same friends anymore, and live completely different lives from the days we played knick-knack on the neighbours around the corner, there is something extremely reassuring in the knowledge that there is always someone there to talk to that will give honest and objective opinions about things that are going on in your life, sit down and listen, even if it no longer has anything to do with them.

Going back to your roots and re-connecting with old friends, places, or even family you haven’t seen for a while really can help change the way you look at things. For me, it succeeded in bringing me back and reminding me of how I looked at certain things when I was younger – how easy things seemed, how little panic is actually necessary in dealing with situations I tend to make bigger deals out of than is required. The 5-year-old Jenny did not care how many calories she ate in one sitting. She was just happy to be sitting there eating them. It made no difference to her what she looked like leaving the house – she was just happy to be going somewhere.
In returning to this childlike state of thinking, sinking below the heightened sense of responsibility, anxiety and guilt that comes automatically with being an adult, there was such a freedom and respite that after we said our goodbyes I genuinely felt like I was floating on a sugar-buzz from the bags of sherbert flying-saucers and 10-pennys mixes we used to get in the shop down the road.

 For anyone struggling at the moment to find themselves, or to establish a firm foundation on which to build and take the next step from in your life, I urge you to first take a step backwards and look at where you’ve come from; who you’ve grown from – that little boy or girl who got excited at the mere thought of a trip to the cinema or playground, not needing to think into it or worry about the implications of such actions. Not needing to worry about what people would say if they did or didn’t go to the party that night; not needing to explain and absorb mountains of guilt and apologise for making mistakes.
Because it was natural; the next step forward, and the lead-on from the previous day at school to get up and go again in the morning. We didn’t question it, or dwell too long on the negatives – generally by lunchtime I was happy to see a packet of Iced Gems and carton of Ribena in front of me, and that was that. The simplicity of it astounded me to remember, but moreso the realisation that in reality there is no reason for us to not be able to access that purity again. The only difference is that we now have responsibilities, ‘expections’ to live up to that really have been placed there by ourselves, and a society that questions our purpose with every new acquaintance and shake of the hand enquiring a ‘polite’ “So what is it you do??”
Usually this question is not put out of any genuine interest or agenda whatsoever, and serves as a filler of a line that begs a concrete answer with each new encounter. Heaven forbid you respond with a semi-confident ‘I write’, or ‘I play music’ that has taken you years to get up the courage to undertake as a lifestyle– you’d be lucky to get an awkward nod of the head and an ‘oh, fairplay!’

What I’m trying to say is that meeting up with my old friend and talking as if it hadn’t been almost 2 years since we’d seen each other genuinely felt like the last few years of confusion and uncertainty in the post-college floundering to tread water and establish myself as a human being hadn’t happened. It reminded me that I’ve been me all along. I’ve been that child who ran to the shops to get another 50p bouncy ball from the machine outside Super Valu and chased it around the garden for the rest of the evening – I just stopped enjoying the little things about taking the trip there; the excitement of wondering which one would come out, and the delight when it bounced higher than I’d ever made it go before.
It reminded me that no matter where you go, who you meet, what friend-groups you become a part of, what sector you’re in or division or new team you play for, countries you travel to and time spent alone in strange new places, you will always appreciate that strong base of the first friends, family and experiences that shaped you as a child, where you ground your first roots and started to learn to stand tall by yourself.

It doesn’t matter if things got a little bit lost and mixed up along the way – some trees go years without any noticable growth or change. Each layer is built around the previous one, and is merely a reflection of what is actually contained inside. The reason your true self was so easy to access and embody as a child is because there were less layers to peel back to reach it. As we grow and become more accustomed to the world, people, relationships, habits and experiences around us, these layers become thicker, more complicated, and ultimately harder to see and retreat back through. In knowing now that this inner strength still exists as strong as ever, with all these new layers which I see now are there to protect instead of mask it, there is a potential and energy so exciting that I can barely contain myself.

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In memory of a time when the most technologically advanced item to be found in the yard was a Tamagotchi that had died 4 times already that week from shitting itself (and even then you told us to hide it in our pocket).

When billy roll and lunchables were the envy of the whole classroom, and anyone opening their Spice Girls lunch bag to discover the wonderous shiny wrapper of a Kellogg’s Winder inside was subject to gobsmacked-stares and whispered glances as green as the ever-coveted apple-lollies that counted down the days to Friday as intently as I do now from my office desk, sitting patiently in their plastic container on the shelf behind the teacher.

When the ten-minute walk to school alone was a thrill beyond any we had ever experienced, and although you followed cautiously at a distance behind, clearly worried out of your mind that the two road-crossings in between the house and the school would prove lethal just that one time when you weren’t there to make us ‘look-up-and-down’, we pretended not to see.

When you passed your driving test with flying colours and we made a cake as if it was your birthday and sang songs and although the importance of it didn’t resonate with my young and selfish mind at the time, the house was full of excitement and pride with how genuinely happy you were, and I knew this was a good thing. A very good thing.

When bringing us along to Dunnes Stores or Crazy Prices promised an inevitable return laden down with at least one extra shopping bag containing Barney-shaped crisps, Fruit Pastille Icepops, Andrex-Puppy toilet roll and ‘No More Tears’ L’Oreal shampoo (no more tears, my arse!) or Iced Gems – sugar rushes we certainly didn’t need, but that were better than the ‘teeth-rotting’ Pushup Pops that you downright refused to be associated with.

In Summer when we’d stop on the bridge and race our finished ice-pop sticks down the river to see whose was quickest, and cheer them on until they disappeared out of sight, lost forever to the swirling rapids of the River Liffey.

When you never once complained about the fact that my curly, matted hair added an extra forty-five minutes on to the time we spent getting changed after swimming, instead devoting the time to removing each and every knot – in hindsight, a completely fruitless and unecessary venture – curly hair is curly hair, it’s gonna’ knot! – but you tried your best.

When a trip to town at Christmas wasn’t complete without posting Santa’s letter carefully in the G.P.O, always followed by a half an hour gazing longingly at the display in Clery’s windows across the way, the vast expanse of O’Connell Street at our age seeming like the distance between two cities.

When Mother’s Day fell on your birthday, and this seemed to us to be the most wonderful thing that could ever happen – a double celebration; double the flowers; double the presents, and lots of cake. ‘Today’, I announced proudly, ‘you’re not allowed to get out of bed’, not even considering Dad’s lack of culinary skills, and that you might be necessary to figure out how to turn on the cooker.

When a chapter of Harry Potter became a necessity at bedtime, instilling in me the drive to learn how to read by myself – up until then ‘The Enormous Turnip’ having been the extent of my read-alone achievements. These nights quickly became the most attentive hours of my day, giving me a love and a passion for all things magical, literary, and opening my mind to the world of possibility that exists within books. For this, I am most grateful.

For these things, and for many many more that have escaped the random-selective memory of this overactive mind on this early morning, I thank you, Mum.

The little things never went unnoticed. They never were forgotten. They just get glossed under ‘things that happened’ and ‘things that were’, which is natural. But sometimes it’s nice to take a second and remember them; to remember you enjoying, as I prepare it now, your dry, butterless toast with tea on a Sunday morning– a preference of yours that I never understood. It’s nice now to be able to express my appreciation in words that I didn’t have at the time.

Because I do appreciate it. Every little thing. Even though it may not always seem obvious.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mum <3.