Thursday, December 15, 2011

On the Second Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: 2 Flightless Birds

"On the second day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me:
2 flightless birds
and an old farm in the country."
As I continue my revamping of the 12 Days of Christmas lyrics to make them more meaningful to me, I can't help but consider the two inhabitants of the cages that dominate the dining room.
Gatsby: Ringer of the Dingie-Bell

Gatsby is a Quaker parrot that we acquired from a friend who owns an eldercare home. Gatsby's owner died about a year after we lost our beloved Quaker Valentino. So we all figured this would be a match made in heaven -- two bereaved souls finding comfort in each other.

Yeah. No.

No one knows for certain how old Gatsby is or what his original name was. He had developed an unhealthy attraction to a bell in his previous cage, exhibited by stuffing his entire head inside the bell and shaking it violently back and forth. The end result was that he not only wore off all the feathers around his neck, but he so damaged the  follicles that the feathers won't grow back. It's been years since the bell has been removed from his cage. He's not a feather-picker. He's a feather-won't-grower.

Quakers have a tendency to prefer one person above all others. In Gatsby's case, all evidence indicates that his preferred person has shuffled off this mortal coil and the rest of humanity Just Doesn't Cut It.

He's irascible, opinionated, and sometimes he's just plain mean. The first year we had him, he'd rather bite your finger than take food from it. (This, happily, has changed. Banana, peanuts, and mango go a long way toward soothing the savage beastie.)

Gatsby lives in an enormous cage intended for a macaw. He patrols his cage and believes that every square millimeter of it requires defending with his life. So why am I grateful for him?

Well, you see, he has his moments. When out of his cage and, therefore, out of "Protect My Domicile" mode, he will occasionally sit on my shoulder for hours without once drawing blood. I cherish the times we can co-exist without the necessity for Band-Aids. Gatsby has taught me that nothing can be 100% rotten all the time.

His vocabulary includes a ton of things we've never taught him, like "Por favor" and "Wake up, little birdie. WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP!" I am unspeakably grateful that he was never taught any *ahem* colorful words before we acquired him.

He has an excellent ear for conversation, often joining in with a helpful "OK! Good-bye! Good-bye!" when he thinks I should either A.) get off the phone or B.) kick a guest out the door. When I call or talk to the dogs, he will piggyback on my conversation with a forceful "Good GIRL! Good - good - good!" He is my Word Monitor: a very real, living reminder that the words I say might very well come back to haunt me.

He loves water. The highlight of his day is taking a bath. If the bath doesn't arrive when he thinks it should, he attempts to cram his whole body into his drinking water. Then he laughs hysterically -- an uncanny imitation of me. He has taught me how easy it is to find joy in simple pleasures.

Max and his Special Friend.
The other cage in the dining room is occupied by my daughter's parakeet Max. Max is sweet, timid, soft, and kind. He's the AntiGatsby.

Max's very favorite thing in the world is his mirror. That, you see, is where his Special Friend lives. His Special Friend looks like him. He never tires of Max' s company. And he happily plays Kissy Face as long as Max wants.

Max isn't the brightest, perhaps, but as my daughter pointed out: at least his obsession doesn't result in permanently removing the feathers from any portion of his anatomy.

I'm grateful for Max for entirely different reasons than I am for Gatsby. My daughter wanted her own bird (a bird that wouldn't pierce her ears or disfigure any other part of her), so she carefully saved up her own money for months until she had enough to buy him. During that time, she researched different species, determined she wanted a parakeet, then read every book on parakeets she could find. Because of Max, my daughter now understands the joys of having a goal and making it a reality.

Because of Max, my daughter is daily confronted with the responsibilities that accompany caring for another living creature. Oh, sure, we have a whole assorted menagerie and she's helped with chores from the time she could walk. But Max is different. Max is hers. We wouldn't have him if it weren't for her. I am grateful to Max for teaching my child about important decisions and long-term commitments.

Gatsby and Max can fly -- sort of. Their wings are clipped in such a way that they can get enough loft to evade the dogs, should a Situation arise. But they can't get enough velocity to bash their brains out in our big picture windows.

Being flightless affects each bird differently. Max clings to the humans in the vicinity and hitches rides on them. Gatsby, predictably, takes a sort of perverse pleasure in going out of his way to get where he wants on his own terms. Each one feeds my gratitude. They offer me two very different ways to approach a perceived problem. Sometimes the answer is to enlist the help of someone bigger, tougher, and stronger than I. And sometimes the answer is to suck it up and do what it takes to get where I want.

Tomorrow: The 3rd Day of Christmas Revamped...

Do you have any Gatsby-like challenges for which you are grateful? Share them and we'll commiserate together. :)

No comments: