Karen Rivers

Red light, green light.

Karen Rivers

I'd been hearing banging in the walls again, the sound of scurrying.  Rats, obviously, I thought.  I was filled with dread and angst and a kind of fury towards this house and its easy accessibility for wildlife.  I kept thinking of the scene in Ratatouille when the old lady starts shooting her gun at the ceiling and thousands of rats poured out and I was glad I didn't have a gun because I like my ceilings where they are, separating me from falling pine needles and bird droppings.  

I sat and worked and listened to the thumps and got increasingly worried.  Could I afford to pay an exterminator again?  Did I want to?  Maybe I should just sell and move!  But nowhere is exempt from rats.  My exterminator told me once that the worst place for rats in town was also the most coveted neighbourhood, one of those places where all the wives are willowy and do pilates and all the men have good jobs and nice cars and their children wear crisp white shirts that always look clean and no one is ever sad on the outside.

I lived in that place once and maybe people thought that about me.  I never did Pilates but I did have the requisite Hunter gumboots and long hair.  Inside the house, there existed the darkest place I've ever been.  I was reading to my son one day, and a rat tail suddenly appeared from under his closet door and flicked back and forth before disappearing.  I'm just saying, I should know better:  Things aren't always how they appear.   There are rats in the attics there.  Far more than you'd guess, based on house prices and appearances.

Anyway, I couldn't stand it anymore, not knowing if the rats were gathering forces outside, having their babies in my weed bucket, drowning in the murky winter water in the kids' pool.  I stayed quiet.  I listened.  Finally, I followed the sounds to my front door.  I opened the door, and there, in my son's outgrown helmet (which is still hanging there, as though his head might one day shrink again enough to wear it), was a nest of baby birds.  Each time the mother came and went with food or more nest-filler, the helmet thumped against the wall.  

The birds and their funny nest are a miracle.  They are a thing that makes us exclaim when we come home each time, "Oh, look!"  Each time I look at it, I'm in disbelief.  I mean, I'm happy it's not rats, but more than that I'm happy the birds made this their home.  It's like validation:  Your house is a safe place for us.   I know that sounds ridiculous.  But we didn't have birds nesting at the old house, that's for certain.  

My kids' therapists try to teach them to manage their anxiety by using red light green light thinking, which is to do with not automatically assuming the worst.   I like to think of it as rat/bird thinking.  Why do we always assume rats?   I'm trying to relearn how to do this, so I can model it better for them and so I can just be better, in general.  I'm trying to always assume birds, even when it doesn't make sense.   Especially when it doesn't.

The daffodils that I planted turned out to be miniature.  I've never seen tiny daffodils before.   Daffodils are my favourite.  I planted three hundred bulbs.  The bulbs were regularly sized.  They're pushing up all over the front border, in between the weeds, which are also sprouting.   I think of November and all those hours I spent burying them in the cold ground on my hands and knees.   Every spring I regretted not doing it, so I made myself do it, even though it seemed awfully optimistic.   

Scattered among the tiny daffodils are a few regularly sized ones.  They look like giants, wise elders, bent at an angle over the tiny perfection of their miniature replicas.  

Anyway, everything is a miracle when you think of those baby birds in a bike helmet, don't you think?