The Theater of the Brain

The play of consciousness.

Where the Wild Things Are and Where They Belong

As much as we loved our parrot Lulu, we learned a wild bird should not be a pet.

One day as I stepped into the kitchen from my home office I heard my wife calling me, "Bobby." Still preoccupied with the patient who had just left I mumbled "What?"

"Bobby."

"What?"

And then again she said "Bobby!"

Now exasperated I said "What."

"I love you." …And then I knew it was the bird.

Lulu, our blue front Amazon parrot, had Nancy's voice. She had Nancy's laugh. In fact, once they got going (and it didn't matter who started it) they kept going. Nancy made Lulu laugh which made Nancy laugh which made Lulu laugh, which made me laugh even though I was out of the loop.

She was most attached to Nancy. I was next. She liked the kids, and was kind of fascinated by everybody else. Her attachment to Nancy was very powerful. Lulu would put her beak in Nancy's mouth, pick at her teeth, fluff all her feathers out, and regurgitate as the highest form of parrot love. In fact I think she thought she was Nancy. She knew everybody's name except she never said "Nancy". We never taught Lulu to talk. We knew that blue fronts were good talkers. But she just picked it all up on her own. Nancy learned parrot talk and Lulu learned Nancy talk. She disabused anyone of the notion that parrots just imitated. She was always purposive and hilarious. She particularly loved opera and had quite a soprano voice herself, albeit with a slightly heavy Wagnerian tremor. She also loved the vacuum cleaner and sang wobbly opera duets with it at top volume.

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Lulu's name recall was so amazing that if you came for a visit and then showed up again a year later, she would say hello to you and address you with your correct name. She took particular delight in making a fool out of our collie, Sasha. She'd call him, with Nancy's call and voice, of course, "Sashie, Sashie, Sashie." He'd come bounding into the living room. "Here Sashie, Sashie; here Sashie; come on boy." And he'd run around looking for Nancy. Once Lulu had him going in circles under her cage she'd laugh, "He, he, he" (with Nancy's laugh of course, but a touch more evil), and poor Sasha would know he'd been had again.

When the front door bell rang, Lulu would call out,"Hello… Hello… Come in." The plumber came into the front hall.

"Hello."

"Hello."

"Where are you?"

"I'm in heere!" and he'd walk into the kitchen.

"Where are you?"

"I'm heere!" as she lured him into the living room right up to her cage where she was hanging on to the bars, nose to beak with him. And then the evil laugh, "He, he, he."

We rarely shut the door to her cage, except at night. Lulu would fly around around the house as she pleased. We were initially worried about bird poo. But within months she always went back to her cage and never made a mess in the house. We ate dinner with a bird walking around the table pecking at our food. Not every dinner guest was as pleased with this arrangement as we were.

We got Lulu in the 70's at a reputable pet shop. We were excited to have a parrot as a pet. We were told, and wanted to believe that everything was legal, above board, and humane. We were told she was raised in captivity. Of course, we didn't really know. (If not her, then her parents had been poached and cruelly shipped to America.) Before we got her we asked if she would be safe with two cats and a dog. The pet store manager said, "Don't worry about her. She'll pick up a cat and throw it out the window." That was a bit of an exaggeration. But the other animals knew to leave her alone. Lulu was very strong. Her beak was powerful. She could could break a bone with it if she wanted to. And you didn't want to mess with her claw grip. We thought we knew about parrots, but we really didn't know anything. We hadn't even figured out, at the time, that since she never laid any eggs, she wasn't really Lulu at all. She was Louie. (Too late now, she's Lulu to us.)

Despite the fact that Lulu could be iffy with strangers, she was remarkably two-faced. We'd bring her into our boys' school where she would put on a show and do her her tricks. She loved to perform. And then she'd go from child to child and perch on their hands, and make cute little sounds, to their delight. They all thought she was the sweetest thing.

However, things took a dark turn. We had a new baby, Lily. There, right in front of Lulu, Nancy showered that same maternal attention onto another creature (who couldn't even talk). Lulu was incredibly jealous. She lunged at Lily. Our baby was in danger. We had to keep Lulu in her cage. When Lily cried, Lulu mocked her cry with derision from her cage. It was scary. She turned on Nancy in her rage and bit her down to the bone. We had to face that Lulu really was a wild bird reacting according to her wild nature. A parrot is not a family dog who'll welcome a new child into the family. It was too dangerous to keep her with a young baby. We had to make the quick and painful decision that Lulu had to go.

Fortunately, Gail, our house cleaner, offered to take Lulu. Gail was like a member of the family. They knew and loved each other. Gail had a personality very similar to Lulu's, and she ran the vacuum cleaner. So we reluctantly parted company. It wasn't easy, but we knew Lulu would be happy. Gail gave us reports. Anytime a dog was in her presence, she always gave her dog call, "Sashie, Sashie, Sashie, Come'ere Sashie, that's a good boy, he-he-he."

Parrots are extremely intelligent, curious, and very social flock birds. Blue fronts live for eighty years, and mate for life. It is wrong to coop them up in a cage, or even a house, alone with only humans to attach to. And we wonder why parrots get moody when they are too alone. Don't get me wrong, we loved Lulu and she loved us. She was beguiling and beautiful. And nothing made me happier than to extend my arm towards her, and have her fly to my shoulder, and nuzzle into my neck. But we learned the hard way that its not right to keep a wild animal for our pleasure. Parrots are wonderful and amazing birds. Blue fronts have their unique and magical qualities. But was this best for Lulu? She needed to take to the skies and be free. She should have been with her flock flying around Brazil—laughing, clowning, playing parrot games. Parrots need other parrots. The truth is Lulu would have been the same drama queen in her flock where she belonged, as she was with us. After all, she is a diva.

There certainly is a difference between ignorance and malevolence. But the consequences are the same and the responsibility is the same. The last thing that Nancy and I ever expected to do was abandon an animal. We were fortunate that Lulu went to a home where she was loved. But we were her family, her flock. And Nancy was her mate. As hard as it was for us to lose her, it was worse on Lulu. She was innocent. This was thirty-two years ago and she is still out there someplace. We still think about her and wonder how she is doing. We carry the responsibility; the stress and harm we caused her haunts us to this day.

Robert A. Berezin is the author of "Psychotherapy of Character, the Play of Consciousness in the Theater of the Brain"

www.robertberezin.com

Robert Berezin, M.D., is the author of Psychotherapy of Character. He taught psychiatry at Cambridge Hospital, Harvard Medical School for thirty years.

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