For the Birds Radio Program: Going on Vacation (Placeholder)

Original Air Date: Aug. 14, 1992

It’s tricky business escaping on a vacation when you have to make sure a dog, cat, bunny, and 7 birds are taken care of.

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This summer my family has been inundated with birds. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in over nine weeks, since Ginger the Nighthawk came with her cracked skull and patient, sweet disposition. For several weeks, as the dead eye withdrew, the pain would flare up unexpectedly and she would suddenly writhe on the floor. If I wasn’t around to help, she would get stuck under the sofa or in some other tight spot, and wouldn’t be able to right herself. Holding her and soaking her eye with a hot pack made her feel better. But I was in a permanent state of alert—I slept fitfully, as if I had a new baby in the house instead of a nighthawk, lightly enough to hear Ginger’s fragile wings beating on the carpet in the next room.

The prospect of a family vacation seemed almost impossible this year. Imagine having to find babysitters for our dog and cat, Katie’s pet bunny, Joey’s pet Mortimer the starling, our lovebird Rosie, Sneakers my education Blue Jay, Patty Crow, and three nighthawks. Fortunately, I have one thing that no one else in the world has, a perfect mother-in-law.

Now I know many other women and men who get along with their mothers-in-law just fine, but mine happens to be perfect. She gave me my first pair of binoculars and bird field guide for Christmas in 1974, starting a hobby that developed into a passion. And she is unstinting in her acceptance of her somewhat odd daughter-in-law. I’ve always been domestically impaired, and never feel quite comfortable in any kitchen. Once when we visited one of her friends, my mother-in-law brought some bars. Her friend asked me if I had baked them, and my mother-in-law quickly answered, “Laura has far more important things to do with her life than sit around baking.” Hillary Clinton should have such a defender.

My mother-in-law has a set of eight bird placemats which she sets out whenever our family comes to dinner. She unfailingly remembers which bird each of the children likes best, and never fails to set the Blue Jay place mat at my place. See what I mean? Perfect.

Anyway, she’s going to come to Duluth and babysit our bizarre menagerie for the whole ten days of our vacation. We didn’t even ask her—she simply knew we needed help and offered on her own. I typed up pages of explicit instructions for feeding and caring for everyone, with the full assurance that she would carry out my instructions to a tee. She’ll hand feed Fred a dozen or so times a day and put him in his shoebox at night and on his step stool in the morning. She’ll set out Sneakers’s and Patty’s and Morty’s and Rosie’s food every morning, make sure the mammals have food and water and that Sasha’s and Bunny’s litter boxes are clean and Bunter is let out. There’s a lot of work involved in babysitting at our house, even when the children are gone.

My mother-in-law has been living alone in Port Wing since my father-in-law died this January. He was President for Life of the Port Wing Blue Jay Haters Society, and today would have been his 76th birthday. He gave me many wonderful things in our time together, and was a jolly sparring partner in a long-running debate about Blue Jays. But the best gift he gave me was my mother-in-law.