on birthdays and presents

I had about 11 birthdays from the time I was born until I was 11 years old.

For my 7th birthday, when I was just starting grade 2, we had a new live-in nanny who started in early September. She was really nice. Her name was Lily and she was from Mexico (I think). Lily used to sit with me and colour with me, talk to me, teach me stuff. I remember she taught me how to draw a tree with little lines for leaves. She made me feel really great. For my birthday (late September), Lily made me a really cool birthday party at home. She decorated the house with some streamers and balloons and she made a pinata out of a balloon and paper mache and we got to hit it. A whole bunch of friends from school came over and my mom baked a cake that looked like a clown. It was a really fun birthday. Lily moved out a week or two later.

For someone who was in my life for 6 weeks when I was 7, I have a lot of really positive memories of Lily. It makes sense that someone nice wouldn’t last long in our madhouse. But sometimes I wonder if she had stayed, if things would have turned out differently for me. But it’s a moo point. (yes, i said moo) My mother would never have allowed me to forge a connection with another adult who was not squarely under her thumb.

Because so many kids from school came to that birthday, I got a lot of presents that year. For my 7th birthday, I remember I got two of the same gift. It was a purple box with little plastic pretend high heels, lipstick, purse, sunglasses, perfume bottle. Super silly and wasteful. But I was secretly so excited to have one. I think the gift was deemed too silly to keep but because I got two, I was allowed to keep one of them. The other box, was put in my bedroom closet to be re-gifted to a friend.

Now here’s the problem, 7 year old me had very good restraint. I knew better than to open a toy that my mother put in my bedroom and told me was not for me. I could have looked at that toy every day until I died. But then my neighbor friend Laura came over and wanted to play dress up together. She pulled out the box and started to open it. I stopped her right away. I told her I wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t mine. She reasoned that it was my present anyway and if my mom didn’t want me to open it, she wouldn’t have put it in my room. She told me she was going to go home if I wasn’t going to share with her. She also didn’t seem to think it was a big deal if didn’t obey my mother. She was wrong.

For me, getting in trouble meant a “lecture”.  This meant sitting face to face with my mother (without touching) for as long as she deemed necessary while she questioned you on all aspects of the crime, not really giving you a chance to answer, and then you just had to listen to her go on and on about how wrong you are and how it affected her negatively. I remember having to listen to how I disappointed my mother with my weak character. She thought she had raised a daughter who knew right from wrong, who wouldn’t be led astray by a friend or a shiny toy. She was crushed that my integrity was not strong enough to stand up to the peer pressure that I gave in to. If I couldn’t hold my own around my friends, maybe I shouldn’t be around them. The “lecture” ended when she got bored of talking or a tv show that she wanted to watch was on. Then I was allowed to go to my room and cry alone for as long as I wanted. It was a beautiful learning experience.

That day I cried of shame that I chose appeasing my friend over obeying my mother. What kind of person was I anyway? Maybe I shouldn’t have even been born – 7 years ago.

Guilt says, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake.” Shame says, “I’m sorry. I am a mistake.”*(Brene Brown)

My mother was a fuckin bitch.

p.s. For my 8th birthday, my mom took me to see my first broadway-style play – a special matinee of Les Mis, which she had already seen and thought I would like. Set in 19th century France, Les Miserables is an inspiring play about abject poverty, prostitution, imprisonment, corruption, war, and death. I found the play surprisingly relatable.



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