When I was about two years old, we had a budgerigar that was so tame we could let it out of its cage to fly around the house. We also owned a cat. Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but the budgie was smart enough to stay near the ceiling and the cat was happy enough to leave it alone. That is, until the day the cat decided to try out for the role of Supercat and took a most uncatlike flying leap, catching the bird in its mouth. I was hysterical.
I only learned about that little piece of family history recently. I just thought I had an irrational fear of birds or, more specifically, cats with birds. And dead birds. I’ve been known to call my husband at work to come home and dispose of the latest gift from our cat. Once he was away and I had to go next door and ask if the neighbour would come and get rid of a bird in my house. Now, of course, my boys are old enough to deal with them for me. Except the youngest. He was trying to help shoo the cat away from a bird it had brought into the house and he accidentally stepped on the bird. He’s now as freaked out by cats with birds as I am. Who knew childhood fears could be hereditary?
I was out walking with friends in the bush and was in the lead. All of a sudden, to my friends’ immense amusement, I did a funny little hoppy dance down the path. “What were you doing?!” one of them asked. To my shame, I had to confess that I had come across a spread of bird feathers on the path. The hoppy dance was because I couldn’t see where the potential carcass was. Yep, I can’t even cope with feathers on the ground. If I come home and see feathers on the floor, I head straight back out the door and hang out in the garden until someone has scanned the whole house for a body.
The boys once asked me what I would do if I didn’t have them to deal with the birds. My answer was, “I wouldn’t own a cat.” In those circumstances, I’d rather own a pet spider.
It has been well documented that the effects of childhood trauma can have an impact on the psychological wellbeing of an adult and in cases of extreme trauma such as abuse or the death of a loved one, it is understandable. But it is clear, from my experience at least, that even the smallest event can have lifelong consequences.
There was a boys’ school near my childhood home and I was regularly bullied by boys from that school whenever I walked home from my own school. To this day, if I see a boy in that school uniform, I get nervous.
All of us are a sum of our experiences – good and bad – whether we consciously remember them or not. The trick is to accept that it is a part of you, it is who you are and to travel your journey as best you can with all your emotional and psychological baggage – whether it’s a steamer trunk or a cabin bag.
Just so long as I don’t have to visit the bird park.