Mom always knows the precise moment to start her sales pitch. She waits until I’m placid, unsuspecting, and sated after a big meal. I’ll be sitting there drinking her coffee, nibbling her cookies, and perusing her huge stacks of mail-order catalogs, chatting with her about this and that, when she says, “Oh. That reminds me of something. Let me show you something. I think you might want it.”
Before I can fully brace myself for what’s about to happen next, she hands me Something Awful.
Whatever the Something Awful is, I don’t want it. Because of course I don’t. It’s awful.
But Mom is undeterred.
She explains that my opinions about this Something Awful aren’t wrong exactly, just a bit too narrowminded. I’m failing to see The Big Picture. Actually, I do want this Something Awful, she says. In fact. I don’t just want it, I probably really want it. Then she gives me her reasons. There are many reasons. If Mom was more technically savvy, this would be the moment she’d break out the PowerPoint.
Long story short, I’m driving home with the Something Awful belted into the backseat to make sure it doesn’t get jostled.
Since my Don Quixote post, I have hardened my resolve against such gaslighting. Mom’s most recent “Take My Crap” overtures were met with a polite yet firm “No.”
But Mom is Mom. She is persistent and German. She does not drift gently into the night.
The other week Mom had to run an errand near where I lived. She told me about it, and I, being the wonderful son that I am, offered to take her out to lunch afterwards. She happily agreed.
At precisely the scheduled time (remember, German), I heard her car pull up. I peeked out the front window and there she was, trundling up my driveway weighed down with some framed artwork.
This was an egregious escalation in the “Take My Crap” battle of wills. In the past Mom would only push stuff off on me while I was visiting her. Now she was bringing stuff to me? This kinda felt like a violation of the Geneva Convention. How can I be expected to defend myself against this? Am I supposed to tell Mom to take the stuff back? Should I make her lug all that crap back to her own house? But what about her bad hip?
And even if I did tell her to take the crap back, she wouldn’t. She’d leave it with me and say, “Look, if you don’t want it, throw it away,” knowing very well that I never would.
So I was blindsided. Miffed. And a little impressed, actually.
“Is grandma here?” Alex called from his room.
“She sure is,” I replied.
I couldn’t see the artwork she was carrying to my front door, but I recognized the frames. This was my art. Mom wasn’t just bringing me crap, she was bringing me crap that only existed because of me.
“Let me show you something,” Mom said as she breezed into my foyer with a spring in her step far more suited to someone without an artificial hip. “I think you might want it.”
Mom smiled as I accepted the art without argument. She handed me two pieces; a watercolor of a bicycle and a charcoal drawing of a pensive chimp.
“Ooh. When did you do the monkey?” Alex asked.
“Fifth grade. It was one of the first things I did when I started taking lessons.”
“Wow. It’s good.” he said. “I like it!”
“Want to hang it in your room?” I asked.
And so more unwanted crap from my past joins the pile of unwanted crap I’ve been unwittingly collecting. My attic is getting very full.
Mom and I went out to lunch as planned. We had a lovely time. We enjoy each other’s company. She’s fun to talk to. She really is a good person, mostly.
She even picked up the check; Mom is nothing if not generous in victory.
I’ve never been a big fan of birds. I’m unnerved by the parts of them that are dangerous. Look at those feet! So pointy! And their faces also come to a point! A super-sharp, eye-pecky point! Seriously, they’re like little, feathery weapons of war.
I also dislike birds because in the movie, The Birds, those avian psychopaths killed sexy schoolteacher Suzanne Pleshette while sparing the lives of personality vacuums Rod Taylor and Tipi Hedren.
I mean, really, birds? Really?
But the main reason I’ve never liked birds is because they poop. They poop on my car, they poop on my lawn furniture, and, many years ago, when I was window shopping in Ridgewood, NJ, a pigeon pooped on my head.
So birds suck. Everyone who knows me knows that I think birds suck. The innate suckiness of birds is one of my favorite discussion topics.
So you can just imagine my wife’s and son’s surprise a few months ago when I told them what I wanted for Fathers’ Day.
“A birdbath?!” Alex sputtered. “You want a birdbath? I thought you hated birds because of that movie where they pecked Suzanne Sommers or whatever.”
“Suzanne Pleshette,” I sighed. “Birds can peck Suzanne Sommers every day for eternity, for all I care.”
“They poop, you know,” Ellen added. “I vaguely remember hearing a story about a pigeon pooping on your head. I might be misremembering it. You’ve only told me about it four million times.”
“The birdbath wouldn’t be for birds,” I explained. “It would be for my squirrels. I want a birdbath without a pedestal so it can be on the ground, near where I throw their peanuts. They can drink from it.”
Oh, how I love squirrels. Everyone who knows me knows that I love squirrels. I love them almost as much as I hate birds. They’re so sassy and funny and full of personality. I could watch them all day.
Also, squirrels don’t poop on my car, so they’re kind of perfect.
“Birds are gonna show up,” Ellen warned.
“Not if my squirrels have anything to say about it.”
The squirrels in my yard are ornery and territorial. I’ve personally seen my favorite squirrel, Serpentine Shel, backhand a crow. I knew I could depend on my rodent pals to maintain the status quo.
Fathers’ Day arrived and I got my birdbath. I was ecstatic. I wasted no time setting it down and filling it up. I tossed a few peanuts nearby and waited for my squirrels to enjoy their new watering hole.
And they couldn’t have cared less.
Even lazy Fatty McGee, a squirrel seemingly designed to lounge poolside for hours on end, wanted nothing to do with it. Fatty and Company just ate their peanuts and split.
I was miffed.
But not nearly as miffed as I was when all the birds showed up.
They came from everywhere. Robins, cardinals, blackbirds, blue jays, doves, a woodpecker, and a bunch of tiny yellow and brown ones I couldn’t identify. Jillions of them! A simple cement saucer turned my side yard into Bird Disneyland.
“Dangit!” I grumped.
“Told you,” Ellen said.
So now I was stuck with a bunch of stupid birds fluttering around right outside of my kitchen window. Worst Fathers’ Day ever.
But as I crabbily watched them each and every morning, I noticed, perhaps for the first time ever, that birds are kind of pretty.
I also noticed that they were kind of fun to watch, too. They were messy, splashy bathers, yes, but I was charmed by their enthusiasm. They loved my birdbath. They appreciated its existence. And because they appreciated it so much, I started to put in an effort to maintain it. I kept if full of cool water, I scrubbed out the algae.
And maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I could totally tell that they were grateful.
Dang! I thought, birds are kind of cool.
I soon started to recognize the regulars. I’m especially fond of a chunky robin who shows up every morning at the crack of dawn to avoid the crowds. He plants his butt in the water, floofs his feathers, and zones out.
If I have a bird spirit animal, he’s the guy.
Long story short, I’m a changed man.
I have been unfair to birds. They’re not as bad as I thought. Not even close. I’ve even come to accept that the reason Pleshette died in The Birds and Hendron didn’t was because Alfred Hitchcock had a thing for blondes.
Every morning I take pleasure in peeking out of my kitchen window to see my birds all happy and flappy. They make me smile. I like birds. I like them a lot.
But if any of them even thinks about pooping on my head, all bets are off.