I just didn't feel like it that morning. I didn't want to feed a bird, look at a bird, clean a cage, hear any incessant chirping or listen to anyone whistle the theme from "Andy Griffith" yet another time. I was over it. I'd hit the wall. I was done. I'd had it.
It was one of those mornings where I had declared to Parker and Pepper, "Okay, that's it. It's toast for everyone!" I would then toast some whole grain bread, spread peanut butter sprinkled with a fresh, fine ground veggie mix on it and slap it into the bowls mounted on their play stands. My birds love these mornings because they love toast. They pick up the piece of toast in their feet while they delicately and joyfully crunch away. It is truly hilarious to watch. Then I would feel guilty because I was a lazy caregiver. To me, if they were human, it would have been like handing them one of those microwave breakfast sandwiches to your kid. (Oh my God! They didn't get their broccoli! No flax seed oil! I forgot about their calcium supplement! I am a horrible person!)
I'm thinking to myself, "What have I done?" I never used to worry about who would take care of things when I was gone. I could work a trip at my job as a Flight Attendant, come back 3 days later and not worry or even care if the place burned down. My electrical bill is sky high in the summer because I have to run the air conditioning all the time just for the birds. Before I got my African Greys, I used to just turn the thing off when I left. No more.
I am constantly chopping up vegetables, cleaning up bird crap, showering them and doing laundry. I'm training parrots, reading about parrots, writing about them, cleaning their cages, feeding them, and sweeping up after them. Website surfing consists of surfing for articles about parrot training, behavior, and looking for the perfect toy.
I'm struggling to even pay my bills not because of money but because I forget to sit down and pay them. I worry about spending enough time with Pepper, my relinquished older Grey to get her better socialized while worrying that this time devoted to Pepper is neglectful to Parker, my first Grey. I'm concerned when they don't eat all their vegetables. Clearly, I'm an idiot. I worry about the hideous diet Pepper was on and I'm having trouble with transferring her over to fresh food. I worry if I'm ever going to get all of this right. I concern myself with whether I should audit that positive reinforcement training class to make sure I really know the material I learned the first time around.
I only have 2 birds and I feel overwhelmed. I keep wondering how my friends who run and work at adoption and rescue organizations manage to get anything done. How in God's name do my friends who work at parrot rescue organizations manage? How do Ann Brooks or Vicky Clem of the Phoenix Landing Foundation make it through the day? Where do Leigh Matejka and Susan Kray at the Cleveland Parrot Education and Adoption Center find the moxie to get up every damned day and handle such challenges with about a million more birds than I do? Why am I such a wimp?
A few months back, I flew up to Washington to pick up some Cockatiels from Vicky Clem who works with Phoenix Landing. I had found homes for them down here in Florida and I had flown up to bring them back to their new home. The birds were being fostered at a senior citizen's home and after picking them up, we went back to Vicky's house. If I remember correctly, she had 29 parrots living in her home, along with 2 dogs, 2 kids and some hamsters. I couldn't believe it. I was in awe as I watched her whiz around the kitchen and take care of things like this was nothing. The phone was ringing, dogs were barking, parrots were squawking, kids running in and out of the house, and she's happily slamming something into the oven for her children's dinner while yakking on the phone with a couple of Phoenix Landing volunteers and making reservations for us to go out to dinner. I just stood back out of the way, petting Topaz the Cockatoo while watching in absolute amazement.
That morning, I sat on the couch and looked at the birds while Parker and Pepper happily crunched away at their toast. I watched Parker fling the rest of his toast over the side of his stand onto the carpeting, (which of course lands peanut butter-side down) and climb down to the edge of the stand. He hovers, squats and then craps on the toast like he was a B52 Bomber making a bulls eye hit. Looking up at me, he proudly announces "Parker!"
As I got up to retrieve the heavy artillery cleaner from the kitchen for the carpeting, (I haven't gotten around to installing wood or tile, but at this point I'd be willing to strip it down to the cement...) I think about Leah, Susan, Ann, Vicky, and all the other people I've met that have endless energy, boundless ambition and the hearts of eagles. They would laugh like Hyenas at me for feeling this way. They would think the way I'm looking at things this morning is a waste of time and if I want to get over it and move on, I should do something about it.
Sharing your home with a parrot is a never-ending cycle of cleaning, feeding, training, and preparing food. They don't move out when they are 18. They can't take care of themselves. They depend on you, and that can sometimes become frustrating and overwhelming. That was the way I was feeling that morning. After a while I got over it and moved on like I usually do. I realized that sometimes life gets to you. You want to have birds in your life, but it gets to be a bit much at times. Get up, get out, get on and get over it. The feeling will pass just like it did for me that morning. I realized that the carpeting didn't care if it got crapped yet again, and to be honest, at this point I didn't really care either. What mattered most was the big picture.
Edna St. Vincent Millay once said: "It's not true that life is one damn thing after another; it's one damn thing over and over."
I get more happiness from having those two birds in my life than having a clean carpet. The carpet doesn't give a damn about me, but Parker and Pepper care very much about me and demonstrate that to me every day. If my big problem at the moment was the daily tedium of taking care of my beautiful companions, then I was indeed a very lucky woman.
Don't let that, "I've got the blues" moment get to you. It will pass. And if it's one of "those" mornings, just remember: there's always toast.
Patricia Sund is a Columnist for "Bird Talk" Magazine and has a popular Blog called "Parrot Nation," where she writes about life, birds, and her adventures in the world of Aviculture, including volunteering as a Keeper at the Cincinnati Zoo. She has written for Phoenix Landing's "Phoenix Beakin'", "The Alamo Exhibition Bird Club," the AFA "Watch Bird,"as well as for the Rocky Mountain Society of Aviculture. She has written internally for American Airlines as well as having written, directed and produced a play called: "Loves People-Loves to Travel."
Patricia has completed Dr. Susan Friedman's online course: "LLP: Living & Learning with Parrots," and both Beginning and Advanced Levels of the "Natural Encounters" Companion Parrot Training Seminars.
Patricia Lives in Hollywood, Florida with her two Hoodlum African Grey Parrots, Parker and Pepper and her parrot-poop dodging, rescued ShihTzu: Mattie.
When asked why she has parrots in her life, she always responds the same way: "I've been a Flight Attendant for almost 23 years; I guess I'm used to serving food, repeating myself, cleaning up crap and getting hollered at."