Last week Monday, my parrot Poco died. He was a couple months shy of 22 years old. He went quickly as birds often do once they show signs of illness, as it means they have reached a grave point. I did what I could to keep him comfortable and help him medically. In the end, it was not enough. It was just time.
What makes his death difficult compared to my other pets is that he will no longer be around for children, particularly those who were more challenged by life. I never expected that a seven inch avian creature covered with multiple colors of feathers would build bridges to connect me with others, who were hesitant to do so.
As I write now, I have trouble recalling the exact moment I started teaching with Poco but I know he came with me one day to a classroom with children to tell them about parrots, art and the rainforest. The children liked him for his dancing and talking and fiesty personality. And so the “How to Draw Poco the Parrot” workshops began and we were asked to visit libraries, art stores and schools. He worked with me for at least ten years, returning every summer to teach at a children’s summer camp on art and science at Wisconsin Lutheran College, where I currently work.
The summer camp involves junior high children from socio-economically challenged areas of Milwaukee. I’ve been hesitating to mention the latter half of the last sentence since I have found no difference between working with children from the wealthy side or the poor side of town. It is the same imaginative, energetic, intelligent and going through that awkward stage of life bunch of individuals. But it has been difficult knowing a child was not there the next day because their Dad had been shot or having a kid so sleepy because he had to help their pit bull deliver puppies – puppies as a means to make money and having a pit bull because “we can’t afford security.” I began to learn over the years what home meant for them. I didn’t like it nor do I still. For two to three weeks out of the year, I instructed them in drawing, painting and parrots, and did what I could to make them feel free to express what was inside them. Poco turned out to be a vital component in that process.
During the second week of camp, I would bring him to the classroom. This is when my relationship with the children noticeably changed. Yes, we had gotten along up to that point but it was not until Poco came that I saw the difference. The kids who made trouble would suddenly become polite and more focused in his presence; and the children who did not want to draw suddenly had multiple ideas when it came to making an image of a parrot. I could always count on him to open them up.
I remember one summer there was a girl who would not make eye contact, often looking out the window, generally unhappy and tired at being present. The day she walked in and saw Poco, I saw her awaken and her eyes fill with life. She willingly drew, even coming up to the front to study him more closely and to ask questions. She made eye contact. I got to know her better in the remaining days of the camp. She decided she wanted to work with birds when she grew up. I do not know where she is today but I think of her often and hope she has continued towards her dream.
A couple years ago, Poco had a serious foot infection, which can often be the death of birds but he healed quickly. I realized at that point he was the pet of many children, that he was not simply mine anymore. Students who returned to camp always asked me, “How’s Poco? When are you going to bring Poco?” Can he come every day, because you should really bring him every day?” They did not seem to forget about him. Poco was always voted one of their favorite aspects of camp. It impressed me how much they cared for him. In return, he exhibited much enthusiasm and excitement with them. He enjoyed showing off for the camera with spread wings, jumping around like a kangaroo, throwing things on the floor, chewing up my pencils (the kids especially appreciated the last two destructive activities 🙂 ), telling us he was a “good bird, a pretty bird,” he laughed with them, and he danced when they clapped and sang “Go Poco, Go Poco.” He seemed to be revel in the company of children as much as they with him. The little parrot with the spirited personality will certainly be missed.
The children’s drawings seem to be the best tribute to his life plus they are just really cool.