ioana birdu
Mum in her garden

For a big period of my life I couldn’t imagine my parents to be something other than just parents. My parents. As if they were trapped into a time frame where their only identity and purpose was to be just Mom and Dad. True, they happened to have jobs and parents of their own and funny and weird and sometimes annoying friends, but that was part of the package, I thought. The first time I pondered of my mother as being someone else, something more, was in my teenage years and it happened by accident.

We lived in a medium sized town in a three bedroom flat and now, with me and my brother gone, it’s just the two of them there. As you enter the house and turn right towards my brother’s and my old room, there’s a small hallway with shelves and cupboards filled with books and other stuff my parents kept. In one of those cupboards I found an old cassette and when I played it, I heard young women singing and talking about love and boys and their thoughts and wishes for the future. They were in college.

Among them I recognised my mother’s voice and her laughter and even though they seemed to have a good time, I felt sadness in her voice. After a while they stopped talking and she began to sing a song that even today is very clear in my mind and even if the memory of it will slowly fade, I don’t believe it will ever leave me. I don’t think she sings it anymore, or any other song for that matter.

That was the first time I stopped to think that before being my mother she was a student and someone’s friend and someone’s sister.

Before I moved to London I wanted to spend more time with her and try to know her better. I always saw her as a wonderful woman and as we talked I learnt she had been through a lot of history, real history, and I wish she could have had the freedom and opportunity to do what she loved and live the life she had dreamed of.

***

What did you enjoy doing as a little girl, did you have any passions?

I was crazy about radio and I listened to almost every show. I never missed the Sunday kids theatre plays. It felt like holiday and I used to listen to some of them for thousand of times.  

Did you later wanted to pursue this as a career?

I don’t really know. Since I was little my parents told me over and over again that I should go to medicine school and I don’t think I considered anything else. To be honest there weren’t a lot of options back then, being an engineer wasn’t exactly for girls and either way I didn’t like that. Teaching wasn’t for me, I didn’t like law so the only option left was medicine. It wasn’t my passion, it was something I did because I had to and that’s why I didn’t make any big efforts to have a career in that field.  

Was there something you liked from studying medicine?

When I was in college I liked psychiatry and I remember reading a book called Psychiatry and Shakespeare’s characters. I loved it! When I gave my secondary medic exam they had jobs for psychiatrists but I thought that all my life I would spend my time with people who had no chance of getting better and I didn’t want to do something that gave me no hope.

Has working in a hospital thought you something about people?

I was always aware of the fact that some people are good, some are bad. But I always took them as they were, never tried to change them. I judged them in my mind, I got close to the people I liked, I was reserved with those I didn’t, but always took them for what they were.

How was it like to grow up with two other sisters?

At first our parents said “be it boy or girl, we don’t care”. And it was a girl. For their second child they wished it was a boy and I was born and five years later they said “let’s make another one, this one is going to be a boy for sure” and they gave birth to my little sister. But my father was very proud of us, he used to call us his treasures. He said “ I have three cars”. Having a car back then was the most extraordinary thing, no one had a car in the countryside.

I was different than both of them [my sisters], at least that’s what they’ve told me. I think I was gawky, they say I was kinder, that I never liked fighting, chagrins, that I never started a conflict. For me it was good to have sisters, but I don’t believe they felt the same way. I discovered only later that they felt I was always protected and loved more by my maternal grandparents. They considered I was my grandparents’ but that happened because I spent my time with them since I was little. When my father was in prison I stayed with my grandmother. I got very attached to them, and my uncles and aunts also felt that way and I believe this wasn’t very pleasant for my sisters. Only now they’ve opened up with this and even if they weren’t blaming me, I admit it didn’t feel good to hear it. I never saw things that way and now that I think about it, it’s curious because my mother once told me she thought I was cold for not expressing my feelings.

What qualities do you admire in your parents and what have you learned from them?

You know, when you have them near it feels like something common, but when they’re gone it feels terrible. As long as my father lived he was a bit tough but open-minded. Only later I realised he was a great man, and my mother, even if she didn’t have any education (they took her out of school in the ninth grade) she’s full of qualities. She lived alone for 43 years and yet she knew how to raise and support us. She’s very tenacious, sage and easily adapting.

My father was a very fair and honest man. I don’t remember him giving me any advice but this is what I’ve learnt from him: to be a kind, honest and fair person. He knew how to treat us, he trained us, he played with us, he worked with us. I remember how much fun I had when, during winter time, he used to take each of us outside to cut wood with the saw. And he used to tell stories in such a beautiful way. The three of us would gather around him, on the floor, on the bed, wherever we could and listen to him telling us stories about war, his youth and the ways they used to have fun those days. There was no radio or television back then so their favorite activity was to gather all the young people in the village and those near by and dance or act in mini theater plays.

What events influenced or changed your life?

Oh my, lots of them. During communism there was the collectivisation, the electrification and the fonciere, when they came to ask you to pay taxes and people ran and hid in the forests because they were too poor to give them the little they had. I remember our neighbours had to give their cows and they died afterwards because those cows were their life. Tragedies.

Then there were the Trabant, Pepsi and the period when Gagarin went to Cosmos.

Then I got married. Marriage brought me things I haven’t had or done before. One of them was going on vacation in the middle of the mountains. I longed for that but I couldn’t do it before marrying.

What are your thoughts on motherhood?

First of all it was something natural to do. I think a life without children is barren.

How was it to raise a boy and a girl?
Different in the sense that having a boy was something new to me, considering I lived in a family with two other sisters. But that was a good different and besides that, I haven’t felt any differences. I’m sorry I wasn’t too close to you two and we didn’t talk about a lot of things but you did good on your own.

Tell me about one of the happiest moments of your life.

I was in my fourth or fifth year in college and I went to the seaside for the first time in my life. I laid on the sand under the sun all day long. It was then when I felt I was happy for the first time in my life. Then there were the holidays. It was eight or ten years ago. We went to a cabin, put our tent close to it and went for a walk up on the mountains. There was no one else, we got into a convex shaped area and I thought it was fantastic. Many times when I’m trying to sleep at night I picture that day. The connection I felt with nature and the sky that day was simply fantastic.

What makes you laugh?

Oh, lots of things, I laugh easily. Not of people though. For example when I watched Chaplin’s movies I got sad, those were sad comedies.

What do you hate more than anything?

Violence of any kind. I don’t like seeing it, I don’t like reading about it, I don’t like watching it, it makes me feel very anxious.

What keeps you awake at night?

Worries. If I go to sleep in an agitated state of mind or with the smallest worry in my mind I can’t sleep. If I pass my usual sleeping hour, which is ten-ish, I can’t sleep anymore. I had nights when I fell asleep only at four in the morning. To get to sleep I think about pleasant things: I re-see mountain trips and now another thing that helps is to pay attention to my respiration.

How and where do you find peace?

In things I like. Sudoku for example relaxes me a lot. I also love coming here [a house they have close to the mountains] feels like I’m in a different world. I avoid watching politics, I’m sick of that already. Sport also helps me relax and I watch those that I enjoy. But if I want a certain player to win, let’s say Djokovic, and he’s losing then I stop watching because it stresses me and I don’t want that anymore.

What do you think about the world we live in?

It should be better and better, I hope it is. I can’t really say it’s going down but seems like fear tends to appear again, fear of war. What I do like is that technology is developing and I’m frustrated I don’t know more things like you and your brother do.

Tell me about a moment you felt very vulnerable.

I think lately, having in mind that after my retirement I wasn’t interested to be up to date with the changes in my work field. After I retired I tried to work again for a while, but I got overwhelmed by technology, by the great deal of work and the fact that I wasn’t too good with computers. I felt very bad and I gave up.

What did you love doing and stopped?

I think I do more things now than I used to do before. I love working outside, in my garden and I don’t like that I stopped reading but I’m starting over. [she did]

What qualities do you admire in people?

Fairness, honesty, kindness and the thing I didn’t have, perseverance. I was superficial in my life and I always admired those who were thorough.

What do you like about yourself?

Can I say nothing? [She sighs.]

Maybe it’s the fact that I consider myself to be a fair person. I’m also a person who cares deeply about her home and family like every Cancer does. And now I discovered my passion to work in nature, to work on something and see the results.

Do you have any regrets?

I don’t think I was an exemplary mother. I think I should have been more perseverant and insistent with you and your brother.

What’s your biggest accomplishment?

You and your brother.

What advice would you give us?

To be kind and honorable your entire life.

How do you want people to remember you?

As a kind person.

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