There once was a time when home was the last place I wanted to be.
To hear my mom tell it, I divided my early childhood years fairly evenly between asking her repeatedly if I was adopted and voluntarily standing in the corner of our kitchen while placidly pulling on the extra-long spiraled telephone cord.
I was an odd child.
Things didn’t precisely improve as I aged. I was not even yet eleven when my body burst into bloom, so to speak, and I began to develop. First I grew out….waaaay out. Everyone noticed. My folks noticed. My teachers noticed. The bullies at school noticed out loud and on a daily basis.
Then, not at all surprisingly, I went on a diet. About the same time, I finally grew up….waaaay up. I went from “beach ball” to “flag pole” in short order – so much so that peers I’d spent every year since kindergarten with didn’t recognize me when I returned to school that fall.
My seventh grade year was the start of fleeting peer popularity and the end of family harmony. Suddenly all the kids who hadn’t wanted to be seen with me now wanted to be seen with me. I didn’t want to be seen with anyone, on account of how my new friend the eating disorder was the jealous type. Most especially, I didn’t want to be seen eating anything, anywhere, with anyone, ever.
Unfortunately, my mom’s passions revolved around the kitchen, where she labored for hours daily to deliver home-cooked delicacies. We ate around the family table in old school fashion – all together, right as Dad came home from work and us kids returned from school – no television, no phone calls, no distractions. Only, suddenly, I opted out, with absolutely all of the chaos and drama you might expect from such a secession.
Things only got worse from there as I got older and skinnier and became (frankly) probably more trouble than I was worth. After a series of mis-fires that lasted several uncomfortable years, I finally launched myself all the way from Texas to California, and then on to New York and finally India and Israel, where I made the life-altering choice to kick the eating disorder to the curb once and for all.
Then I moved back to Texas and did whatever it is a person does when they have just pushed the “reset” button on their whole life and have no idea what to do next.
The eating disorder’s exit improved my overall health, as you might imagine. My social life outside the family also began to improve. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much for my finances, and my family life actually got worse.
The recovery years were also the truly rebellious years for me, when all sorts of mostly very immature and ill-formed thoughts and feelings about it all came up and duked it out without much thought for how this was impacting those around me. It was a process and I went through it as best I could.
I took odd jobs, first for a year or two and then for a decade. I became a songwriter and a musician. Then I became a speaker. Then I wrote a book and founded a nonprofit. I also met the love of my life to date (although not for forever. snif.)
But none of this really helped me reconnect with my parents again. What helped was a trip my mom and dad took to Petsmart one day.
I had just lost my first cockatiel, a small and very sweet yellow and grey parrot named Jacob whom I will miss for as long as I live. I was inconsolable and, honestly, I still am. After he passed I vowed I would never ever EVER get another cockatiel. EVER.
Anyway, it had been several months since Jacob’s passing, and to say the healing process wasn’t going well would be an understatement. So one day my mom called me. I was at work as usual in the office building nearby. She insisted I must come meet them at Petsmart on my lunch hour.
To me, this was just one more example of why my parents and I weren’t getting along. But as usual, she pushed and pushed, so I finally said yes before my boss came in and caught me on a personal call at work.
When I walked into that Petsmart, I saw a huge round open area housing more than a dozen young cockatiels. I walked closer, already close to being ready to explode with rage….and then I saw him.
He was much younger than all the others and so plump and just covered with baby bird formula. Our eyes met. Something in me reached out my hand and he jumped on and crawled up my arm and under my hair. We stayed like that for nearly an hour before the department manager came looking for us, thinking he had gone missing!
This bird – his name is Pearl.
As of today, as I type out this very blog post, he is 20 years old. He is sitting beside me with his bestie, the bathroom clock, while quietly preening his feathers and uttering the occasional contented chirp. He is my soul bird, the avian love of my life, and the true reason my relationship with my parents no longer feels like a genetic obligation but has become a source of true and lasting joy.
And of course, as there always is, there is a lot more to this particular story than just adding a pet bird to our family.
There were lots of hard choices, a LOT of shared hard work, more than a few hard conversations, some very hard decisions, plus a ton of perseverance, dedication, discipline and love on an ongoing basis – and when I say this I mean decades, not just months or even years.
But this little one – this featherweight family member – this tiny grey and white angel – “love with wings” as we collectively call him – he has given us a shared point of connection that has kept us together, working on it, working it out, working our way forward, for 19 years and counting.
Today, my connection with my parents looks much like any treasured friendship where the friends also just happen to share some bits of DNA between them.
And our little flock is a little bigger today than it used to be – it also includes two precious shells, Malti and Bruce, and a certain wild and woolly family member, a standard wire-haired dachshund named Flash Gordon.
But flock life as we know and love it continues to revolve around our tiny feathery “alpha” – to the point where, when Mom invites us over for brunch, she doesn’t ask me what I’d like to eat. She asks me what Pearl would like to eat.
And not a one of us thinks there is anything strange about this.
With great respect & love,