Granby Park in Cayce, SC
My Quaker Parrot Petrie died.
You know those moments in life that freeze and replay on loop over and over in our heads, causing our hearts to yearn for a redo?
Last night was one of those for me.
After Kevin fell asleep, I began the nightly check on our animals and kids and the house.
Petrie had entered the egg laying stage a few days ago which has happened only 4 times in the past 15 years so I was worried. I had a bad feeling too as I entered the living room at 11:15 pm. As if the room itself had stilled.
I called out and received no response.
I hesitated. And approached the cage in the dim light. And there was my bird. In the bottom corner of the large birdcage. I ran to wake Kevin, ran back, opened the cage and pulled her lifeless emerald green body out. I sat in the middle of the floor holding Petrie, crying, for nearly an hour. Her bottom was bloody. Egg stuck, halfway in, halfway out. Claws already stiffening. Eyes dulled. Kevin sat in the middle of the floor holding me. As I held my bird.
Petrie, named after Rob Petrie on the old Dick Van Dyke show, came to live with me on August 23, 2002 as a sweet baby bird, around 10 weeks old. I was 19. And had just started college. I was still 3 years away from meeting Kevin. The bird breeder didn’t have Petrie sexed so we just made the assumption Petrie was a he. For four years Petrie was a “he” to us. And then he laid eggs for the first time. We all laughed SO hard the moment we discovered Petrie’s eggs.
Even Petrie laughed. “Jokes on you!” his eyes seemed to twinkle.
We never changed the pronoun. Petrie was (and forever will be) a “he” to us. So bare with me as I tell his feathered story.
I loved this silly emerald green bird dearly. “He” was obstinate. Hilarious. Chock full of life. Chatty. Overbearing. And ohhhh so smart. I taught him tricks. He learned to say “step up” the very first day I had him and climb a finger ladder. He would blow raspberries, give kisses on demand and stick out his tongue when I stuck out mine. He would wave hello with his tiny foot. And shake hands. And whistle. And laugh loudly at the world.
I had a male Yorkshire terrier in college named Banjo. Petrie would ride on his back. If I asked Petrie “Where’s Banjo?”, Petrie would perk up and reply “Banjo? BANJO? Ruff ruff!” Petrie associated barking with dogs all by himself. Such a smart bird.
My mom had a tiny parrotlet for a few years named Little Bird. Petrie would blow raspberries and call her. “Little bird! Oh Little bird, COME HERE!”
My Dad had a female yorkie named Prissy for a long time and she would whine a lot. Petrie mimicked her wines perfectly. So perfectly that we often couldn’t tell the difference in who was whining.
Banjo, Little Bird, and Prissy all passed away years ago but Petrie never stopped calling out for his friends. Sometimes his cries for them would break my heart. Why do we humans have to love animals like we do? It really messes with us at times.
And this doesn’t even touch on how occasionally Petrie would perk up and suddenly call out a friends names as if he were actually seeing them again. “Banjo? Oh! BANJO! Hi! Ruff!” or how chilling it would be to hear Prissy’s ghostly whines long after she had passed.
Petrie held to a strict bedtime.
By 9:00 pm at night he could be found curled into his cloth blue hanging Hidy Hut, making soothing bird noises and grinding his beak like an old man with teeth. If noise disturbed him he’d ruffle his feathers and yell out a very annoyed “GO TO BED.” I have one memory back in college where he was playing on his bird toy tray in the living room and I lost track of time that evening. Next thing I knew Petrie was marching across the floor towards his cage yelling out a super indignant GOODNIGHT! GOOD. NIGHT. !
He also liked to chat. If you weren’t paying enough attention to him he would let you know. “Hey. HEY. WHATCHU DOIN?! Come here!” he would say.
Oh and don’t you dare try to eat a chip around him. He would go nuts and squawk at you. He wouldn’t shut up until you handed over a morsel of your food. Birds are flock eaters so of course if his family was eating he expected to also. He loved chips. And crackers. And popcorn. Fortunately he was also mannerly and would say “THANK YOU!” if given a treat. Nothing like a polite pet showing appreciation.
And the sweetest thing he would say was his name. He would sing with me – “Petrie… ohhhhh Petrie… Petrie oh Petrie oh… PETRIE BIRD!”
Petrie went on our honeymoon in 2006 with us to the mountain cabin in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. And he traveled to Kevin’s hometown in Upstate New York the first time I ever went to visit.
Petrie saw me through College. My working years at Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD). Falling in love and subsequently marrying Kevin at age 23. The purchase of our first Little Blue House. And he moved with us to our current White House in The Avenues.
He was there when we brought baby Jack home. And Maggie. And Caleb. And Juli. And he learned to mimic each of their infant cries. My children have never known a life without our parrot injecting quirky humor into our day.
He defined my entire 20s decade and the first half of my 30s. He saw me through every major life event a young adult can possibly pass through. And now he’s suddenly packed in a tiny coffin, wrapped gently in a white wash cloth inside his blue hidy hut, surrounded by all of his favorite toys.
Stupid, glorious, indignant, territorial little spitfire of a bird. Died laying a stupid egg. “Petrie….Ohhhh Petrie! Petrie bird!”
He’s not supposed to be dead. Quakers are supposed to live 30 years. This wasn’t supposed to end like this. He was supposed to grow old with me. Biting my finger, blowing raspberries and pooping on my shoulder as he nibbled my hair.
The kids aren’t awake yet.
They don’t know yet.
I’m about to wake them.
And I have to tell them about Petrie all by myself because Kevin is at work.
I’m standing in Walmart having a slight panic attack.
I’m looking at an array of thick, glorious workbooks for preschool and kindergarten children. I love workbooks. Seven year old Maggie does too. Nine year old Jack, not so much.
But Caleb. Hrmmmm… He starts kindergarten in four weeks. Awwwwww they’re so cute. I should get a workbook for him! He’s never had one!Then I start flipping through them.
And I see the pages through the filter of Caleb’s eyes.
Oh. Wait. He doesn’t write yet. Does he? Hrm. Not really. He can spell out his name. His sister’s name. Mom. And a couple letters….maybe. I haven’t actually paid attention. He loves cutting paper and drawing. But it’s all self-initiated. He doesn’t read yet. I don’t think. I haven’t paid attention to that either. Oh heavens. I’m not even sure if he knows his whole alphabet. When’s the last time we sang the song??!
OMG….How high can he even count nowadays?
He’s entering Kindergarten in 2017 and his mother hasn’t actually paid attention to any of this? We all know kindergarten is the new 2nd grade.
:::cue panic attack as I flip through a work book filled with things my third child doesn’t care a rip about:::::
I try to calm myself.
He’s completed two seasons of U8 soccer. Three seasons of competition swim team. He does flips off diving boards. And tricks on his bike. He plays basketball with his big brother. Speaks very well. Can beat Castle levels in Super Mario World. Knows his way around technology. Can hack my passwords. He spends his days flipping on the trampoline. And finding bugs. Digging in dirt. And playing in muddy puddles.
Isn’t that what childhood is for? Isn’t that what I set out to accomplish when I first had children? To give them hands on life experience as taught by early childhood educational masters Maria Montessori and Charlotte Mason?
So why does this workbook thing bother me so?
My almost three year old is lying in my arms. She’s my very last baby and I feel her aging acutely. We are on the master bed watching Sesame Street. She’s singing along with Elmo. And clapping.
“What’s the letter of the day?” *clap clap*
And she’s completely naked.
Her fine blond hair is thickening. And curling. Her body is lengthening. Baby fat is gone. A few mosquito bites dot her thighs. Her bathing suit tan lines show how much time she’s spent playing outside this summer.
Oh my God. She looks like a preschooler!
Now she’s laughing at Grover.
Real sadness is foreign to her. Her older siblings dote on her every move. She falls? At least two other people swarm her with love and kisses before mommy even blinks. I haven’t lifted her from her crib in the mornings since school ended because her siblings always get to her first.
Now she’s somersaulting across my legs.
She knows nothing of heaven nor hell. She knows nothing of life. Nothing of what lies spread before her.
The social angst of adolescence. The struggle of achieving academically in high school. The apprehension of choosing a college. The exhilaration of a first kiss. The soul-blinding chest squeeze of true loss. The fierce competition of the workforce.
Beauty. Self-doubt. Marriage. Divorce. Religion. Government. Employment. Taxes.
She’s just in the moment.
Laughing. And naked.
I do what I can to protect her. Shelter her even. Give her a happy childhood to reflect back on when life finally dumps on her. But my time is limited.
Watching her age is different than when my eldest was this age. I’ve had time to reflect. Practice. Change my style. Correct mistakes (Sorry, Jack). The journey through our parenting years is certainly a soul-shaping mind-bender.
Yet, after 9 years as a mom, I still don’t know if I’m doing the right things. Sit and talk with adults and many of them either have strained relationships with their parents or none at all due to some issue the offspring has with the way they were raised. What if that happens to me?
So I still feel inadequate at times.
An imposter in the game of motherhood.
How do I instill in her everything she needs to be a successful adult?
Even worse, how do I face myself when she is an adult dealing with issues I failed to address during her childhood?
Surely someone else is far more equipped than I to raise this tiny human, so full of happiness and light.
The pressure not to screw her up bubbles like a lidded pot on high.
An infant’s wail shattered the morning.
My eyes dart up from the last bite of chicken biscuit and settle on a couple frozen in place 15 feet away. The crying persists.
An old, familiar tingle rises in my chest at the unexpected sound of a baby’s cry, forcing me to wrap my arms around myself. It’s been over a year now. I alternate sips of coffee and Chic Fil A peach milkshake. Some days call for more sugar than others.
“I miss those sweet, wonderful days!” I say to my mother who is sitting to my left. She doesn’t catch my comment.
“When do you pick up Maggie and Jack?” she says instead.
“Camp gets out at 12:30 pm.”
My father sits across from me eating a bagel. Caleb and Juli are playing inside the playground. I glance back at the couple with the baby.
A tired 20something woman with dark hair in a messy bun stares back at me as she stands beside their booth smoothing out her wrinkled clothing. I shift in my seat, adjusting my own blouse and teal stone necklace. Her chest heaves as a deep breath escapes, and her right hand shifts to her forehead pushing escaped frizzy hairs away. They fall back down aghast at her attempts to tame them. Angling her back to the booth, her countenance clouds. Brows knot up. Dark circles hint of sleepless nights. Her face, bare and natural. Lips, pale. A few light stains dot the shoulder of the maroon t-shirt covering her postpartum body. The skinny man sitting across the table turns wordlessly to the covered carrier and fiddles inside. The carrier begins to rock under his hand. Uneaten food lay spread on their table, crowded by an overflowing diaper bag.
“Mommy, I’m ready to go to the store now!” five year old Caleb says, interrupting my thoughts as he and Juli climb up beside me.
“Do you still have your three dollars? I will give you two more if you help clean!” my mother tells him.
“Yes! Hurray!!” He begins clearing the table with her, gathering trash for the tray and wiping up crumbs. I catch him and kiss his cute forehead, leaving a small lipstick mark just above his eyebrow where his blond surfer bangs fall. His wiggles and giggles.
“I lub you, mommy!”
“I love you too, Caleb.”
My parents and Caleb leave together hand in hand once the table is cleared.
“Back? Back?” Juli questions me, standing in the booth seat. Holding a milkshake, coffee, and the kids’ sweet tea, my hands are already full. I shrug and sit back down. Barefoot Juli brushes her hand over my freshly flat ironed hair, hops on my back and giggles her sweet two year old giggle. My dangly owl earrings catch her attention and she begins flicking one gently with a finger. Her little legs wrap tightly around my waist. Her shoes lay somewhere back at home, forgotten in the morning rush of herding four children out the door.
“I have a secret! Who does mommy love?!” I ask her as we pass the tired couple with the lone infant. The mom is still standing on the far side of their booth, her back to him. I notice a green pacifier bobbing on his now quiet lips. His eyes are big with curiosity.
“JUUUUUDY!” she squeals.
“Yes! Now hang on tight and mommy will be a horse!” I tell her. Then she laughs, wide and deep, as tiny hands grasp my neck, leaving me to feel as if she will always be this small.
Today is my Mama’s 75th birthday.
Her name is Priscilla. The second of nine born to a mill village worker and his beloved wife in 1942 era Winnsboro, SC. The United States had just entered World War 2. Pearl Harbor was bombed when Mama was in utero. Her earliest childhood memories involve air raid sirens, Hopalong Cassidy on the dime store TV display, walking 6 miles to church and doctors with black bags making house calls.
She goes by “Cill”. Her sisters call her cilly and sissy. Her four grandchildren call her Grammy. Occasionally when we are having a row, I’ll call her Mommy Dearest. That makes her laugh and she threatens to beat me with wire hangers. Old film buffs will understand.
She suffers from Meniere’s Disease and Vertigo, the same ear condition that is rumored to have propelled Vincent Van Gogh to cut his own ear off. As a child I remember watching her fall to the floor when a dizzy spell struck her while she was washing dishes. I remember my dad picking her up, cradling her like a baby, carrying her to bed. And she’s a breast cancer / mastectomy survivor. On occasion, unfairness of life will slap us in the face. Watching my mama go through hospital after hospital stay reeks of unfairness. Cancer rains on both the good and bad alike. The past few years she has also developed osteoporosis and macular degeneration, a degenerative eye condition that slowly blinds from the center out.
She’s been married twice, but only had one child. Me. She had already lived a full 40 years old by the time I accidentally showed up.
Deciding to make the best of her new role as mama, she decided that Time was her best offering. So she stayed home with me. She read to me. Night after night. Story after story after story. My first memories are of snuggling with her listening to her read. Every day after school, promptly at 4:00 pm she would have a homemade meal on the table for the three of us. Her specialties were spaghetti, vegetable soup, salmon stew, baked chicken, garlic biscuits, and sweet tea.
She’s never been on Facebook but she still never ever forgets someone’s birthday. And family ties are blood oaths in her mind. Family means everything. During my lifetime I’ve watched her lose her mama, numerous cousins, her brother, brother-in-law, and most recently, a sister. Watching the giants in our lives crumble under the weight of age, life progression and loss can be profoundly debilitating.
How do we support those who have always been the ones to hold us up?
Tonight we brought her favorites -pecan pie, banana popsicles and ice cream- over to her house to celebrate. When we arrived at her house, her sister Mae was just leaving. And a while later her brother arrived with a watermelon and bouquet of flowers.
“They’re very bright with a whole lot of colors so I figured you could see these easily!” her brother said to her.
How wonderful it is to have a sister and brother who can drop in on your 75th birthday!
Often, growing up as an only child, I found myself desperately wishing for a older brother or a twin sister.
But never once have I wished for a different mama. I love her dearly.
There’s a certain pair of my high heels that Maggie keeps stealing.
The four inch ones.
With silver studs.
I often catch her clunking around the house with them on. It always annoys me. And I snap at her. I tell her to stop. To leave my shoes alone.
Because shoes are supposed to stay in the mud room!
Because she could ruin them!
Because they’re my shoes and I already share my entire life with them – must I share my shoes too!
Because shoes in the house lead to a bunny trail of sand, dirt and clutter strewn everywhere!
Because I get exhausted picking up after kids every minute of the day!
This morning while the kids were packing their school snack, I walked into Maggie’s room to turn her fan off.
And tripped over those dang high heels.
The high heels that were in the mud room yesterday.
The high heels my six year old wears while playing pretend.
And I heard Maggie and Jack out in the kitchen helping Juli pack snack, even though she doesn’t attend school. Because they know she wants to be included.
And I hear the words of my daughter ringing in one ear: “Because I want to be like you, mommy!”
And I hear the words of my mother ringing in the other: “You’re raising a human. Not a house.”
So I turned off her fan.
And walked out the door.
Someday, maybe I’ll borrow her cute shoes too.
Did you know that the full moon in April has an ancient name in Native American culture? It’s called the “Pink Moon”. Last month was the “Worm Moon”. Next month is the “Flower Moon.”
I didn’t know this. It’s 4:25 am. I’m outside. Staring into space. Smushed in between my family. It’s getting chilly. The back of my phone case was damp with dew when I awoke and picked it up thirty minutes ago to google Full Moon facts.
To my left, Kevin snores. To my right, Maggie, Caleb, and Jack dream, snuggled deep in sleeping bags. And we are on our backyard trampoline. Well, except for Klaus. He’s asleep under the trampoline. On his back. Like all good dogs.
Around 9 pm, after tucking Juli in her crib, we headed out back with creature comforts and crawled in the trampoline, zipping the net closed, blocking out the world and its troubles. The kids have been begging to camp out here for weeks.
We jumped around. Flipped. Ticked. Giggled. Told ghost stories. And happy stories. We sang with crickets. And listened to an owl. Daddy and Caleb even had a burping contest.
As we settled down, I pulled out the Skyview augmented reality app to search for constellations. The kids were entranced as we spied Virgo, Ursa Major, The Big Dipper and Leo the Lion so high above us. We even found Jupiter. No moon though. It hadn’t risen yet.
“Mommy, you know you can never count all the stars in the universe?” said eight year old Jack.
“I’m gonna try!” said six year old Maggie.
Their birthdays will be here again in a couple weeks. Another year gone. Both childhoods, halfway complete.
We all finally dozed off, one by one.
My children’s faces are now bathed in a pale translucent glow, as if melted platinum spills from heaven onto them. A passing train nearby sings us a mournful lullaby. I even hear it’s wheels clacking in time.
But I’m wide awake. Of course.
Perhaps it’s my lifelong insomnia.
Maybe it’s just a mom thing.
Or it could very well be the lonely Pink Moon calling to me from an inky sky above.