Green Parrots, Rats, Dogs and Boys

In my neighborhood are a pair of wild, green parrots. If you go for a walk around sunset you can see them flying high overhead, chattering back and forth to each other.

They have only visited my yard once, to my knowledge. Shortly after I bought the house, my sister came to help me move. As she trimmed the bamboo and vines on the side of the house, the two green parrots were flushed from the bush on the other side of the fence. They landed in the tree in the neighbor’s yard. We paused to watch them. 

I like these parrots because they remind me of something my ex-husband taught me. Some might say he taught me patience, but I have grown to hate that word. I prefer mindfulness. The birds were one of the ways he did this. 

He loved birds. As a kid he would catch pigeons under the overpass and keep them, with dreams of training them as homing pigeons. He had parakeets and cockatiels.  

When we went out into the woods or the desert, which we did quite regularly. He brought his binoculars so he could view the birds and wildlife. He loved to use binoculars. I hated them. I didn’t like how still I had to be to look through them, how it was difficult to locate the distant bird through the narrow lenses.  At first I would humor him, accepting the binoculars and taking a view. But eventually I realized that me not liking to use binoculars should be okay too, so I stood next to him and observed the birds with my naked eyes for much longer than I would have cared to if I were on my own. 

I did this for 12 years. 

I learned to listen, watch and wait. 

Now, when I walk I hear the birdsong. I notice. I like to pause to look up into the tree for its source. 

My little purse dog notices the birds too. He is quite the outdoorsman. He keeps busy patrolling the yard, exploring the space beneath the deck and the back corner where the palms grow in a dense cluster.  

I got his hair cut a few weeks back due to the sheer amount of yard debris coming in on his long fur coat. Sticks, flowers, leaves. He was like a reverse Roomba. One evening I was trimming the orange tree. When I descended the ladder, I asked R where the trimmings had gone. The outdoorsman had drug the tangle of branches into the dining room.  

But that’s not the worst thing he brought in.

As I was settling down to relax on the couch for a minute before bed, Rio came trotting in from the backyard. In his mouth was a full-sized rat. I realized the scream I heard was mine and my feet were now crouched beneath me on the couch cushion. He dropped the rat on my living room rug and looked up at me with confusion. 

I contemplated my position, my scream, my options. I grabbed a poo bag to protect my hand, plucked the rat by the tail and removed it to a bucket in the backyard. I was disgusted by the weight of the creature. It’s length was probably twelve inches, nose to tail.

But that’s not the worst thing he brought in.

One afternoon, as I was conducting my weekly therapy appointment via Zoom on my couch, Rio again emerged from the backyard. He was carrying something that looked grey and linear, maybe like a strand of dryer lint. I was occupied so I carried on for several minutes, talking to my therapist. Then I smelled it. Putrid flesh. Armed with another poo bag, I collected what I speculate to have been a decomposing rat spine from the space beneath the piano.

I debated how I should process these intrusions. 

This scene from Schitt’s Creek hit especially close to home. Read An Open Letter to Dog People if you are confused.

Something I hold sacred is that we, all creatures great and small, are here to fulfill the measure of our creation. To be as thoroughly ourselves as we can be.

Should I be annoyed when my dog, bred to catch rats in Yorkshire, achieves his purpose here in our little oasis? 

I think the answer is YES, because removing two rat carcasses from one’s living room in the space of a week—WITHOUT ANNOYANCE—is a big ask. 

But I noticed, I still love the dog. I love that he is a little outdoorsman of a purse dog. I love his presence. I love that he is fulfilling the measure of his creation. I can make space for that. 

Since we moved to our new house, R has been sleeping with me in my king-sized bed.  He was scared to be in an unfamiliar house, which seemed really reasonable, so I made this concession—plus I was tired! from moving and remodeling and yard work and day job—and it has stuck. 

I realized a while back that I have a lot of difficulty sleeping in the same bed with another human. I developed a kind of hypervigilance, not to intruders, but to the person in the bed next to me.  I was so nervous about waking the person next to me, farting, breathing too loudly, god forbid—snoring. There are probably lots of reasons for this, and I can think of two without trying. 

Even when R was a nursing baby, he rarely got in bed with me. I felt protective of my sleep and his sleep, and help us all if the other one in the house had a bad night. My nights of crying babe were handled with the rocking chair or the stroller.

So, with R in my bed, I decided we could both benefit from the new sleeping arrangement. He would be comforted, and I could learn to sleep in the same bed as another human.

At first I put a blockade of pillows down the center of the bed. I didn’t want to end up with his appendages in my face. I have enough trouble with early morning awakenings that I didn’t want to risk him waking me and then me not going back to sleep.  Most nights he would stay on his side of the barricade. And I rested peacefully. I never kissed him as I climbed into bed, an hour or more after he fell asleep. It felt too risky to wake him. 

But over the last few months this has evolved. I haven’t forced anything, except that initial decision to allow him into my bed. I have grown to trust him. To trust that he will go back to sleep if I wake him with my goodnight kiss. To trust that he will sleep, even if I wake up early and the floor creaks as I get up to make coffee and journal or read. The door to the bedroom doesn’t have to be shut as he drifts off to sleep, because he is comforted by the noise I make cleaning the kitchen, talking to my sister or watching TV. 

My presence is comforting.

I’m actually tearing up as I write this. 

My presence is comforting. 

I wonder how this would not be intuitive for a mother to believe about herself. I know why. 

This is the result of years of being on. Walking on egg shells—no—dancing through glass shards—to prevent the next five days of silent treatment.  Always fearful of committing the unforgivable. Never knowing exactly what that might be. Understanding that my intention, however benevolent, was not a factor in judging my missteps. 

Me, just being me, could be comforting?

I’m sitting on my back deck writing this. The green parrots have just flown overhead. There are two orange butterflies sunning themselves on the palm fronds, and now they are up circling each other, and now they are gone.  The heat of the rising sun is circulating the cool, morning air. I feel it on my legs, feet, face and arms.  

Maybe I will always listen, watch and wait. 

I don’t want to unlearn that. 

Maybe a little boy and a little dog can help me learn that I am safe and loved and wanted, just as I am.