My Tiny Feathered Family Is Getting Smaller
It's funny where we find sentimentality. Our nature forces us to place emotions on certain things because they remind us of a place, time, or person. And the things that are sentimental to us, for whatever reason, can range from a blanket to a piece of furniture. In my case, it's Zebra Finches.
Years ago, my oldest daughter was having a terrible go at school, so her mother and I decided that she should come move in with me. She was 14 at the time, and lived with her mother and stepfather in Pensacola, FL. I drove down to Pensacola to gather her and whatever belongings she could shove in my Trailblazer. One of the things she brought was a pair of tiny Zebra Finches.
Now, I've never been a "bird person," mainly because I think keeping things that can fly in a cage is pretty cruel, and I'm not one for all the squawking. Turns out the Zebra Finches were pretty quiet, with small little "meep" noises and the occasional song from the male. The pair was aptly named Mama Bird and Daddy Bird.
My daughter and I lived together for a little over two years. In that time, we got her back on track in school and I bonded with my child like I never had before. It was great, and I thought I was doing a good job as a single dad. In the meantime, Mama and Daddy Bird did what birds do, and made lots of little birds. We gave some away, sold some, let a few go, and a couple died. So it goes. Finally we were left with Mama, Daddy, and a female baby I named Watermelon...just because.
One summer, my daughter went to visit her mom and family in North Carolina, where they had just moved. While my daughter was away, Mama became very sick. I called my daughter, in tears, to tell her that Mama was not doing well, and I didn't think she was going to make it. My child talked me off the ledge and told me it was OK. I said my goodbyes to Mama and went to bed fully believing that I was going to bury a bird the next day. Turns out not. The next morning Mama was hopping around the cage, right as rain.
During her visit, my daughter decided that she wanted to move back with her mom and family. I was devastated, but if it is what she wanted to do, I couldn't really stop her. She was 16 and could make that decision. Before she left, my daughter told me to take care of her birds. I took that seriously.
A few months after she left, Mama came down ill again, but this time she would never recover. I told my daughter, and she was sad, but she told me that I was a good bird parent and that she was happy I took care of Mama. I buried Mama Bird in the back yard, next to two of her babies. So now it was just Daddy and Watermelon. That was about two years ago.
This morning, I went to the birds to feed them and talk to them, like I do everyday, and Watermelon seemed very agitated. When I saw Daddy, I knew why. He was unable to perch, his breathing was labored, and he couldn't really fly to where he wanted to go. I knew right away that Daddy Bird is not long for this world. I gave them fresh water and seed and talked to Daddy for a few seconds and left. In all possibility, I may come home to a dead Zebra Finch.
What does all of this have to to with sentimentality?
When I said I would keep my daughter's birds, I thought of them as extensions of my daughter. The birds came with her, and as long as I had them, I still had a little piece of her in my home that I could look after. As each of them die, I have to recognize the fact that nothing lasts forever, children grow up, nests become empty.
My daughter will be 19 years old in May. She is planning on joining the military. She is an adult, fully capable of making her own decisions, and she's doing a pretty good job at being a decent human being. I hope that the two years she spent with me helped put her on a productive path, but I still have to come to terms with the fact that she's no longer my little girl. And I can't take care of her anymore.
The death of Daddy will make me sad, but I will keep Watermelon safe and happy and full of fresh seed until she passes away. Why? Because my little girl asked me to, and as long as I have one of those cute little birds, my nest won't feel quite as empty.