Diary of a Parent: Rita Buettner

Diary of a Parent: Rita Buettner
Birds of a feather/photos courtesy of the author

Today is a day with an early work meeting, so it’s a bit of a scramble to get breakfast served before I need to be video-conference-call-ready and online. An hour later, I’m wondering why I’m dragging. It’s only then that I realize I never poured myself a cup of coffee.

Our two sons—ages 10 and 12—are playing video games during their usual morning routine. But this is no ordinary day. There’s excitement in the air, extra anticipation, because my husband and I have finally relented on our no-pets policy. Our boys have been asking for birds, and somehow even though today is a busy workday, I have promised that we will go to the pet store in the middle of the day to bring two zebra finches home.

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It’s almost time

Every half-hour or so, our 10-year-old comes dancing behind my laptop screen to mouth phrases like, “We are getting the birds today, right?” and “Is it almost time to get the birds?” and “You promised we would go for the birds!”

Diary of a Parent: Rita Buettner

In between listening and responding on my call, I nod and smile and give him the thumbs up, all the while wondering why I thought it was a good idea to do this today. But every day is busy, and weekdays seemed safer for a pet store visit in this era of COVID-19.

So, at the end of my last meeting of the morning, I message my supervisor that we are off to the pet store to get birds, and she responds with enthusiasm. We grab our masks, I find the car keys I rarely use anymore, and we are on our way.

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The boys are absolutely giddy, and I’m trying to pretend I’m not nervous. Birds. Pet birds. In our house. What am I thinking? I know next to nothing about birds. So much of parenting is making it up as you go, trusting your instincts, acting as if you know what you’re doing, and loving your children like crazy. I figure if we’re going to add birds to the family, we might as well do it during a summer when we’re all home. So, here we go.

Somewhere along the way, our rising fifth grader lost his heart to a picture of an adorable little zebra finch. His brother, who has decided he also wants a bird, is willing to get a finch, too. So, we know what we want, and there are only two zebra finches for sale at the store. This is our destiny.

Two boys, two birds

“We want to buy two of your birds,” I tell an employee. She goes to find a net and catches the two little finches and puts them in a cardboard box—oddly just like a Dunkin Donuts Munchkins box.

Diary of a Parent: Rita Buettner

I ask about their genders, and the question is brushed away. “You’d need a blood test to tell,” she says. We find out later that’s not true. But, in this moment, we’re too far down this road to hit the brakes. The birds are in the box.

“Now, these aren’t the kind of birds you can hold,” the salesperson tells us. “You don’t ever want to let them out of the cage.”

She doesn’t make bird ownership sound like much fun, but there’s no hesitation in the eyes of the masked children at my side. They’re joyfully selecting toys for the birds’ new home and debating whether we need a swing or a ladder.

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My phone has been dinging and buzzing with texts and emails the whole time because the world doesn’t stop just because you’re finch shopping. We pay and walk out of the store as new bird owners.

Settling in

Back at the house, my husband has been getting the cage ready. We slip the box inside and open it to free the birds in their new home. I fly back to my laptop at the dining room table, while our boys sit and watch their new pets. Everything the birds do is fascinating—the way they eat and hop and chirp and interact. The boys pull chairs up so they can sit right by the cage, taking it all in, discussing bird names, and marveling at everything their new pets do.

Diary of a Parent: Rita Buettner

The day—perhaps even the summer itself—is all about the birds, and the novelty seems unlikely to wear off anytime soon. As I handle work calls and texts and write, the birds are chirping nearby. Even when the boys finally run off to play other games, they keep popping back to the cage just to check their new little pets.

That night, after dinner and some family TV time, our boys decide to camp out on the living room floor. They want to be near their birds, and—after giving in on pet ownership—that’s an easy yes. We cover the birds’ cage and listen to them chirping quietly as we settle down for the night.

We say our bedtime prayers together, thankful for birds, thankful for summer, and thankful for sleep at the end of another very full day.

Rita Buettner blogs at Open Window. She is the director of university communications for Loyola University Maryland.

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