Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mother Bird

After reading about the Apartment Talk Pronoia had with her NF, I found myself thinking about the feelings of indebtedness and ingratitude that ACoNs are trained to experience. Pronoia writes, "...normal children of normal parents normally expect the older generation to be helpful and supportive, as a matter of course, and there need be no shame in it. I used to think of myself as ungrateful; now I See that I've been conditioned to [think of myself that way]." Pronoia's recollection of her NF's callous disregard of her needs was shockingly and repulsively similar to our apartment battles, indeed our R-E-S-P-E-C-T battles, with NMIL and Naunt.

Let's define our terms: I believe that by "normal," Pronoia meant "unconditional love." So, her statement could be read, "Loved children of loving parents accept love through their expectations for the older generation to be helpful and supportive, as a matter of course." Simply put, "...loving someone is helping them when they get into trouble, and looking after them, and telling them the truth." (Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time). I am sad for PA, as I am my husband and other ACONs who did not experience this type of love, as I did. To make matters worse, ACONs are expected to pay the price of their parent's conditional love by continuing the legacy with their own children and forever remaining loyal to their abusive ancestors. Breaking the cycle is really hard to do, which is why I've had the displeasure of watching my DH suffer as he agonizes over his most recent choices. Like PA, and so many others, one of the first things he had to accomplish was overriding the feelings of guilt and shame that come as a result of cutting those strings.

The following story appeared in a collection of stories annotated by Steve Andreas, published by Real People Press, “Is there life after birth?”

At the time of the great flood, when the storm had just begun and the earth was beginning to be covered with water, a mother bird saw the danger. She realized that her three babies were no longer safe in their nest at the top of a high tree. Even if she remained with them, they would be swept away and drowned. So she picked up the first baby and started to fly through the storm, across the rising water, seeking a new place that would be high enough, so she might save at least one of her children.

As she flew, she spoke to the first baby, asking, “When I am very old and I can no longer take care of myself, will you dedicate your whole life to taking care of me, just as I am using all my energy and strength to take care of you now?”

And the first baby turned to her and said, “No. When your day has passed, when you can no longer take care of yourself, then I will not dedicate my whole life to taking care of you. I will dedicate all my energy and strength to taking care of myself.”

The mother bird said, “No! This is not the baby to save.” And so she let go of the first baby and it fell, helplessly flailing its tiny wings, down into the raging waves

Tired and wet, the mother bird turned and flew back to the nest, which she hoped would still be above the rising waters. She found the nest and picked up the second baby bird. Weary and wet, she struggled to fly higher, through the beating rain, against the driving wind. Seeking a new place that would be high enough, so she might save at least one of her children.

And as she struggled, she spoke to the second baby, asking, “When I am very old and I can no longer take care of myself, will you dedicate your whole life to taking care of me, just as I am using all my energy and strength to take care of you now?”

And the second baby turned to her and said, “Yes. When you have used all your energy and strength, when you are too exhausted to go further, I will dedicate my whole life to taking care of you.”

And the mother bird said, “No! This also is not the baby to save.” And so she let go of the second baby and it fell, helplessly flailing its tiny wings, down into the raging waves.

Almost exhausted now, bedraggled, beaten by the driving rain and raging wind, summoning all her remaining strength, the mother bird turned and flew back to the nest, which she hoped would still be above the rising waters. She found the nest and, just as the raging waves washed it away, she picked up the third baby bird. With barely enough strength to rise above the foam and spray, to move forward against the driving wind, she struggled bravely on. Desperately seeking a new place that would be high enough, so she might save at least one of her children.

And as she struggled, with her voice and body failing, she spoke to the third baby, asking, “When I am very old and I can no longer take care of myself, will you dedicate your whole life to taking care of me, just as I am using all my energy and strength to take care of you now?”

And the third baby turned to her and said, “No. When you have used all your energy and strength, when you are too exhausted to go further, I will not dedicate my whole life to taking care of you. But instead, I will dedicate all my strength and energy to taking care of my children, just as you are taking care of me now.”

And the mother bird said, “Yes! This is the baby to save.”And with renewed hope and renewed strength, she steadily flew higher and faster and further. Despite the beating rain, despite the driving wind, despite the raging waves. She flew steadily. And she did find a new place that was high enough to save the baby who must be saved.


I realize that a person could read this story and chose to focus on the aspect of conditional love that seems to be taking place: A mother bird is indeed choosing which baby to save based on the conditions that she has set. However, I feel the true meaning of the story is in the greater metaphor that a mother should live FOR her children, rather than teaching her children to live for themselves, or worse, to live for HER. I get a sense, after reading this tale, that the author wanted the reader to feel that he doesn't owe his toxic parent anything, other than to break the chains of abuse and grow up healthy and strong. If the legacy being passed down is one of sorrow and pain, then some different choices need to be made, otherwise we risk continuing the cycle for our own children. Bottom line is, it is not okay for anyone, but your parents especially, to treat you badly and then expect that you "owe them something" for the few "kind" things they might have done over the years.

Dear Reader, of the three baby birds mentioned in that story, which one became YOUR mother?

6 comments:

  1. I like this story. Every time I hear it. Admittedly, the first time I heard it I went right to the bird that would take care of its mother. How's that for training! I didn't understand that it coudl be another way. I now understand that it HAS to be another way or else there is no hope for a healthy fruitful relationship.

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  2. My NM would have loved to have baby bird #2 as a daughter. She got me, the "selfish ingrate", instead. I have several people in my extended family who were baby bird #2's and the rest of us were expected to live up to their unselfish saintly example. One of the baby bird #2's NM has passed on. This person is in her early 60's now, has no life, no friends, and is utterly alone. So unfair of her NM to have done this to her...she had every right to have a full life. Guess her NM never gave a thought to what would happen to her after she was gone.

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  3. My NM definitely groomed me to be #2. Fuck her!

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  4. My father was baby bird who took care of his mother, believed he was baby bird who took care of his baby bird, and officially groomed me, his baby bird, to be baby bird who would only take care of herself! Very confusing!

    I'm trying to be baby bird #3, but all the weird conflicting conditioning is messing with my brain!

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  5. Thought provoking story about the mother birds.

    Yes, I think my NM wants children who will take care of her.

    (sad little birdy face)
    upsi

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  6. Oh! Cheer up my dear birdies! I have seen your individual strengths. You are strong despite having parents who could not love you unconditionally.

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