Friday, February 21, 2014

A Bird in the Hand is Worth Thousands in Therapy

I've always had a thing about birds. I don't know if it's a full blown phobia, but it's definitely a “keep those things the fuck away from me” general attitude toward anything that flies. It started when I was about 10, and a sparrow flew full speed into our living room window, splattered on impact and slid down to the driveway in a slimy, spindly pile. I went outside to inspect it, saw the bloody feathers and limp wings, and became scarred for life. Since then, birds=gross.

Shortly after we moved into the new house last spring, JT and I noticed a gathering of twigs and gunk on one of the support beams under our deck. On tiptoes, I peered at the mass and saw it was a robin's nest. Every year, my parents spend endless hours removing such nests from their own deck, as their backyard robin is prone to placing her home directly above their porch table, leaving it dotted with white poo. This nest wasn't close to anywhere we'd be sitting or eating, so I let it be, despite my disdain for its inhabitant. I don't like birds, but that doesn't mean I believe they should be homeless.

For the next few weeks, every time I went outside to water the garden, I'd check on the nest, watching it grow right along with its occupant, Mama Bird. Pretty soon, she was spending less time out gathering in the yard and more squatting on the nest. One day, she flew off and I jumped at the chance to peer down between the two deck boards above it. There, huddled in a tiny furry mass were four babies, their teeny heads swaying back and forth while they waited for Mama to bring dinner. 

This was actually pretty cute and frankly the main reason I'd let their mother rent a space on our property to begin with. I was curious. I wanted to watch the progression as they grew before finally departing their home in a moment I imagined would be much like that scene from “Free Willy." Maybe watching all this would help me get over this whole bird hating thing.

The babies continued to grow, and Mama got less and less patient with my daily watering routine. I'd come out the basement door, say hello to the babies, then make my way to the other side of the yard to fill up my watering can. This went on for a week straight until one fateful evening.

I headed outside, as usual, to steal a quick peek at the babies, whose heads were now poking up over the side of nest. Mama was off gathering food, which was ideal as she had now taken to screech-squawking at me every time I was within 20 feet of the nest, despite my repeated efforts to tell her I was not interested in hurting her little family.

I offered my greeting to the babies, then took two steps before Mama swooped down over me, causing me to shriek bloody murder and fling my watering can skyward. The ruckus startled the babies, and in a heaving feathery mass, they propelled themselves from the nest.

“WHAAAAAAAA!” I screeched, as I ran back into the house, slamming the door closed behind me.

“What!!?” JT barreled toward me. “Are you OK? What happened?!”

I bent over at the waist, gasping for air. “The babies!” I heaved. “Committed suicide!”

“Um, what?” JT was not appropriately alarmed, so I grabbed his hand, led him to the door, and pointed at the now empty nest.

“Where'd they go?” he asked.

“I have no clue! I got the hell out out of there!”

“What did you do to upset them?”

“Nothing!” How could he insinuate such a thing? Had I not come this far in overcoming my bird prejudice? Why would I start committing hate crimes now? JT's eyebrows remained raised.

“I swear! I was just doing what I always do and Mama freaked the fuck out! The babies got so startled they jumped to their doom!”

“Well, did they fly away? Maybe it was just time?” JT peaked out the door again, and I spied over his shoulder. 

We scanned the yard. Not a single sign of the babies, other than a few feathers gliding across the patio. Cautiously, JT opened the door, and I followed him out. I spotted Mama Bird, perched on the garden fence and squawking to high hell. She was flipping out, jumping from one end of the fence to another, flapping furiously and generally throwing a fit. This was not good. Had the babies' maiden flights gone as planned, she'd likely not be convulsing with hysteria. We peered at tree branches, and eventually spotted one of the fuzzy haired babies, sitting a bit wobbly on a branch. He seemed dazed, teetering awkwardly when a slight breeze blew, but not overly worse for wear. I knew there had been at least three, if not four babies in that nest. So where were the others?

“Found one!” JT shouted, drawing my attention to the high grass on our overgrown hillside. Sure enough, there was one of the babies, the grass climbing higher than his head. He was flapping his wings, but had no room to get anywhere, so he resorted to hopping but even that wasn't getting him very far. I leaned in closer to get a better look when a blur of dark brown flashed within a half-inch of my face.

“Holy shit!” JT screamed as I hurled myself backward. “That Mama Bird is pissed! You better leave her baby alone.”

“But he can't fly! He'll die! He'll be stuck in these weeds until night when a raccoon or cat will come and eat him! I think we need to get him back in the nest!”

“You better get a second opinion on that one,” JT said. “If you touch the baby, won't the Mama abandon it?”

I frowned. Damn, I think I had heard that somewhere. I mean, in my book, touching birds is always a no-no, but I'm pretty sure touching baby birds is like the worst thing you can do in life. I decided to call an expert, one of my best friends, ironically named Robin, who has pet birds. The fact that I remained her friend after learning that she not only loves birds but WELCOMES THEM INTO HER HOME VOLUNTARILY is a true testament to my affection for her, I think.

“Wear gardening gloves, scoop him up, get him back in the nest and get the back in the house. That Mama is going to be mad,” Robin said. “Make JT swing a broom around your head to keep her from pecking your eyes out.”

“Jesus,” I whispered.

“You can do it! I believe in you!” Robin said.

“That makes one of us.” I hung up, grabbed the broom and sucked in a deep breath.

I gave JT his assignment, which he gladly accepted because it meant he didn't have to try to capture the baby. I personally thought picking up a teeny bird was better than essentially using an adult one for batting practice, but what do I know?

It took some doing, but JT eventually found the baby again. He'd managed to make it all the way down the hill and had reached our shed. He cowered between it and the fence, trapped. Do it now! I told myself and with shaking hands and gritted teeth, I reached down. He flapped his wing, and I screeched, hopping backward into JT, who was flailing the broom wildly at the insanely irritated Mama Bird hovering above.

“Try again! You can do it!” JT screamed, a hint of total panic in his tone.

“OK!” IcandothisIcandothisIcandothis.

I reached again and plucked him up in my cupped hands. “I got him!” I screamed, then took off. I propelled myself forward and made it up the hill in about ten long strides, screaming, “I got him! I got him!” the entire way. Once I reached the top, I lurched up on my tiptoes, dumped the baby in the nest, then backed away, hands up in the “I surrender” pose. This seemed to satisfy Mama, and she calmed down a bit.

I bent over to catch my breath, and when I stood up, JT was looking at me, awestruck.

“I am so proud of you!” he said, bringing me in for a hug, and I finally let myself relax. I had done it. I did good! Years and years of bird hating erased with one selfless act. As we released, I looked to the nest.

It was empty.

The baby had jumped again, and was hopping his way back to the grass.

“Oh, for God's sake,” I said, grabbing him and putting him back again.

Two seconds later, he jumped again.

“OK, so what the hell was the point of all that?!” I demanded from JT. “I overcome my lifelong fear, give myself multiple heart attacks and for what? Nothing!”

“Oh, it's not for nothing,” JT said, bringing me in for another hug.

“Just imagine the essay you'll get out of all this.”

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In the days leading up to our wedding, at least a dozen people told me that I wouldn’t remember anything from the day itself. I’d look back on the whole thing and see nothing but flashes of champagne toasts and table visits, nothing more. I hated that idea. I wanted to remember everything. This is one of the essays I wrote to make sure I never forgot the events of that day. Yes, even the all-day storm that threatened to ruin the whole thing. Effing nature.    

Like Ray-EEE-aiiin on Your Wedding Day! A Deluge of Good Luck

The instant my 10-year-old self saw “Father of the Bride” for the first time, I knew I wanted part of my wedding to be held at my parents' house. I love the reception scene, where George and Nina Banks’ Main Street house is transformed into a beautiful ballroom complete with white linens and twinkling lights. While I envied the fictitious family’s ability to pull that together, I decided to stick to a small, family-only backyard ceremony. Leaving the party for professionals at a reception hall would be much kinder to my worrywart mother.  

JT was totally on board with that idea as was Mum, who squealed with glee at the request. However, my step-dad/Weather Channel addict/eternal pessimist Kip was less than convinced this was a good idea.

“What if it rains?” he asked, the first of 18.6 billion times he would utter those words. We technically had an answer to that question, but unless it was, “The world will likely end,” Kip didn’t want to hear it. It’s an art, really, staying true to your innate grumpiness while surrounded by so many happy people.

The solution was to exchange vows super quick during the cocktail hour at the reception hall. Yes, that would cut into our party time and be super rushed, but it was a solid backup. We had a plan. Everyone was satisfied.

Except me. I hated the idea of JT and I sprinting through our vows like that. How hugely unspecial would it be to get married next to a buffet? Yes, I know the only thing that matters is that we would be married at the end of it all. But I wanted to remember the look in JT’s eye, not the smell of smoked ham.

So when I woke up around 8 a.m. on the big day and heard raindrops hitting my parents’ roof, I just knew it would stop in time for our 2:30 p.m. ceremony. It had to. I peered out of the window of my childhood bedroom and silently asked God for a little help with this one.

Turned out, He was being generous with the luck that day.

8:00 A.M.
My maid of honor, Nikki, who had slept over at Mum’s house with me, and I padded into the kitchen and sipped coffee for a few minutes of silence before the onslaught of dress steaming, hair spray and general giddiness began. JT and the boys were back at our house, likely nowhere near waking up. But here, at Hair and Makeup Central, there was work to be done.

As soon as my other five bridesmaids burst through the door with our hairstylist and awesome friend Steve in tow, their giggles and gossip filled the room with an energy more invigorating than my coffee. Within minutes, Steve was at work on my cousin’s hair, with everyone else flitting around and chatting. Soon, we were entrenched in a game of  “Who knows the funniest YouTube video?” and the phones were being passed around. I looked at my friends, having so much fun, and decided this was a great start to the day, weather be damned.

Then, a voice pierced the joy like a dart through a balloon.

“Radar’s bad.”

Three syllables uttered from Kip from his spot in the living room. He didn’t even bother turning to us when he said it. I felt a tug at my chest. This wasn’t looking good. But I didn’t abandon hope. We had hours before we needed a judgement call. It would be OK.

11:00 A.M.

Three hours and four gorgeous heads of hair later, and Steve was still going strong. The girls had started to steam their dresses, my three-year-old flower girl niece was lounging on my lap and I’d resumed a sense of calm. Everything was moving along. My photographer was on her way, and the florist was due in an hour.

It was still raining like a mo-fo.

I’m not talking drizzling. This was a full on downpour that hadn’t lessened in intensity from the second I’d woken up. I couldn’t remember that last time I saw that much water, aside from the time I flew over the Pacific Ocean. It was time to make a phone call.

“They say this is good luck,” said JT.

“Well then one of us should probably go play the lottery,” I said.

“We have a back-up plan,” he reminded me.

“I hate the back-up plan,” I sighed.

We decided to give it more time. During the next few hours:

  • My florist showed up, looking like he’d taken a dip in the Monongahela River on his way over. He laughed off the rain like it wasn’t that big of a deal. Or that it would in any way affect the six-foot tall tree and trellis he had in the back of his truck destined for the reception hall. His water-logged assistant remained silent.
  • My best friend and groomsman Jason arrived. I immediately sent him out to assess the likelihood of pulling this thing off on my parents’ covered back porch. He poked his head out the back door for approximately one millisecond before giving that idea a definite “No.”
  • Kip helpfully reminded me that it was raining every seven minutes.
  • I began to realize that I really needed to make a decision, seeing as how about 40 people’s immediate plans depended on them. I silently hyperventilated.
  • I paused my hyperventilation to look up at my surroundings. I was getting my own hair done at this point, sitting in the kitchen facing the living room. It looked so nice, the open space centered on the tall fireplace. In typical Mum fashion, it was clean within an inch of existence. A thought crept in. Why exactly can’t we just do the damn thing in my parents’ living room?
  • I articulated said thought.
  • Kip threatened to kill me. OK. He didn’t really, but his reaction to the idea was as if I’d suggested chopping up his beloved Shetland Sheepdog to serve as an appetizer. “You can’t do that!” he boomed. “Why not?” I asked. “There’s no room!” he was utterly incredulous. I looked at all the space around him in the wide open room. I felt like this was do-able.
  • I looked at my cousin, who was listening nearby. She saw my face and took charge. “Here,” she said. “Just move this table here, and this chair here, and look. Room!” She was right. A few small changes and we could totally make this work. I called JT and told him so.
  • “Ok, decision made, people,” Mum said as she and I frantically booked it upstairs to get ready.

Jason telling me the entire outside is basically under water as our pianist and good friend Sara wonders how I plan to have her plug in her keyboard in the middle of a downpour. Steve hard at work through all the drama. Credit: Kristina Serafini

The boys begin to arrive. The rain couldn't care less. Credit: Kristina Serafini

During all of the ensuing chaos, I tried my best to take as much of it in as possible. I remember gasping when I saw my gorgeous niece all done up in her dress with a big bow bouncing on her head. I remember my other bestie, Becca, helping me swipe on my makeup. I remember the girls rushing back and forth between the bedroom and bathroom, zipping up gowns, setting their hair with one more layer of hairspray, laughing and giggling the entire time. I could hear Sara, warming up on the keyboard she perched on one of Mum’s end tables, her gentle playing dancing on the air behind all the hubbub as the guests began to arrive.

I nearly teared up as Mum helped me into my dress, zipped me up and kissed my cheek. We posed for a few pictures. Then, it was time.

Smiling so I don't cry and ruin my makeup. Credit: Kristina Serafini

As Sara began to play the opening chords of “Time to Say Goodbye,” with Becca singing the beautiful melody, my girls gathered at the top of the staircase. One by one, they descended, each one turning to mouth “I love you” to me before starting down.

I made my way to the top of the stairs and waited for the OK from my uncle below before starting slowly down. I had crashed down (and up) those stairs enough to know they weren’t my strong suit, floor-length dress aside. When my heels hit the last step, I exhaled calmly.

I caught Mum’s eye. “Nailed it,” I said with a smile.

Kip came around the corner to collect me and guided me into the living room, where our bridal party was fanned out on either side of the fireplace. The guests had gathered in the kitchen, some seated, some standing, all smiling.

But the most important face was JT’s. He beamed at me as Kip brought me into the room. Our minister welcomed everyone and asked who was giving me away.

Love this moment. Credit: Kristina Serafini

“Her mother and I,” said a teary-eyed Kip, and as I leaned over to kiss his cheek, he placed my hands in JT’s. As my soon-to-be husband smiled wide, I knew everything would work out, that day and every other day.

Who gives a crap about the weather when your man looks at you like this? Credit: Kristina Serafini 

I felt luckier than I ever had. And that’s a feeling I’ll always remember.

In front of the fireplace in my parents' living room. Wouldn't change a thing. Credit: Kristina Serafini

Credit: Kristina Serafini