Who could say no to my eight year old’s cute puppy face? As much as I tried, not giving in felt impossible. The look dug into my soul. That is why we ended up bringing Paolo the Parrot into our home, which I regretted right away. My wife, Ingrid, was also not happy with the choice I had made. Ingrid’s face when she saw Alice and I walking in the door with a Paolo flailing around in his bird cage will always be unforgettable. I was nervous that her jaw was going to fall off and hit the ground.
Alice hopped into the house and screamed, “Mommy, meet Paolo the Parrot!”
“Wow, this is quite the surprise!” My wife stared at me and I knew she was angry. I felt like she was staring into my soul. Under her breath, I think she said, “Quite an unpleasant one.”
“I love him! Don’t you love him?” Alice admired the bird and was oblivious to my embarrassment and my wife’s silent rage.
“Uh, sure. Go take Paolo to your room. I’ll be right up.” Confused, Ingrid rubbed her forehead and furiously asked, “When did this happen? Why did this happen?”
“She did the face. You know how cute she is.”
Ingrid exclaimed, “Sam, she will do that for the rest of her life if she doesn’t learn the word ‘no’! She’ll keep doing it until we buy her a house! And you know who will be in charge of taking care of it? We will. We already have her and a fifteen year old and a baby on the way. I don’t mean to sound like a jerk, but you know that we can’t handle this right now. Chester is the only pet we need. He’s quiet and likes walks. He’s much easier to take care of.”
“Honey, calm down. I understand that you’re upset and I’m really sorry. We’ll find a way to get rid of it. I’ll fix this. Just give me some time.”
She rolled her eyes groaned, “Okay, fine. But don’t expect me to help you get the other things out of the car.”
While heading back outside to my car a few minutes later, my son, Caleb, shouted, “Dad, what the heck?”
He rode his bike up to the driveway and stopped. I took a deep breath and asked, “Did your mom tell you?”
“Yes!” Caleb got off his bike and began to pace. “She yelled on the phone about the bird. Like, really yelled. And you know how scary the mom yell is. It was terrifying. I am glad I took the call when I took a break from riding or else I would have crashed.”
“Caleb, she did the look.” I admitted.
“I know she’s adorable. I know you can’t say no to it. But she’ll never learn if you always give in.”
I sighed and said, “You sound like your mom. It’s scaring me.”
“I sound like mom, because I have common sense.”
I sarcastically replied, “Thanks, Cal. Go inside and for heaven’s sake, avoid your mother.”
He placed his bike in our garage and ran inside. He was wiser at fifteen than I was. Deep down, I knew that my son and my wife were right. While carrying the other pet store goodies into the house, I thought to myself, “What’s the worst that could happen? It can’t be too bad.”
I was wrong.
I noticed right away that Paolo had long periods of silence followed by bursts of sound. Truthfully, I thought nothing of it at first. Paolo was surprisingly quiet at night and I was thankful for that. Sleeping next to a pregnant wife and also worrying about the bird was not an easy task, but I was glad that I was able to sleep. That morning, I wanted more than anything to get out of the house as soon as I was able to. The bird’s chirping woke me up a lot earlier than I thought it would. I tried my hardest to clear my mind and be optimistic. After waking up, I was taken aback by a conversation between my daughter and Paolo. I leaned my head against her bedroom door and heard her say, “Is that Spanish you’re speaking, Paolo? Good job!”
Paolo chirped, “Yes Alice. Hola, Alice.”
I knocked on her door and asked, “Can I come inside, sweetheart?
She opened the door and I entered.
Speaking in his incredibly high pitched voice, the bird said, “Guten Tag.”
“What?”I did not know the bird knew German.
Alice smiled and answered, “Paolo seems to be quite the world traveler. I thought some of what he was saying was gibberish, but now I think he knows many languages. What do you think, Paolo?”
“Ja. Yes.” Paolo happily chimed in.
At that moment, I definitely regretted allowing Alice to bring that bird home. And honestly, I will always regret it. Even though Alice was happy to have Paolo, nobody else in our household felt the same way. I did not expect that the bird knew different languages. In a state of shock, I asked Caleb and Ingrid to come in. They rushed in and were clearly confused.
“Bonjour.” Paolo screeched. Alice smiled while the rest of us covered our ears. As soon as he greeted them in French, Caleb and Ingrid were just as shocked as I was. Paolo asked, “Wie geht’s euch?”
“What does that mean? What language is that?” Caleb questioned. “Dad?”
With wide eyes and a scratchy voice, I replied, “He asked us how we are doing. It’s German.” I cleared my throat and said, “Sehr gut. Wie geht’s dir?”
“Gut, danke.” Paolo scared me with his changes in pitch. I felt like we had a bird version of Chucky.
Caleb and Ingrid looked at me and I clarified, “I said we’re doing very good and I asked him how he is. He said ‘good, thanks’.”
My wife exclaimed, “Honey, that is a very special bird! How talented! We have to go now, but maybe Paolo can teach you some languages. Wouldn’t that be cool?”
Alice laughed. My wife pulled Caleb and I out of Alice’s bedroom and angrily whispered, “Downstairs. Both of you. Now.”
We rushed down the stairs and she anxiously yelled, “Oh crap! The bird knows more than English!”
I sighed and said, “Yep. Now the bird won’t just sing in English. He can greet us and chat in different languages. He can annoy us in different languages. A bilingual bird would be a lot more manageable than this polyglot parrot.”
Caleb asked calmly, “So what do we do now? The kid seemed so happy with the bird. I hate to say it, but I can kind of see why dad let her get the bird. But you’re still at fault, dad.”
“I know that. We just have to find a way to resolve this, ASAP. Any ideas?” I looked at Caleb and Ingrid. They both shrugged. All three of us moved to the dining room and sat at its table. I insisted, “We need to find a way to get that bird out of our house today or tomorrow. Preferably today, of course. I’m fed up and I feel guilty.”
“Dad, don’t you know the linguistics professor that teaches at the university? He’s that one younger guy who knows like a bazillion languages.” I nodded. Caleb continued, “You should call him. If the parrot says a bunch of stuff about where he is actually from, maybe then we can take him back to where he’s originally from.”
Ingrid exclaimed, “Good idea! Go ahead and call him.”
I quickly whipped out my cell phone and looked up his name in the university staff directory. I was unable to find a personal phone number for him, so I emailed him and hoped that he would write me back as soon as possible. In the meantime, I decided to sit in on Paolo and Alice’s multilingual conversation. Alice had somehow managed to sneak my tablet into her room and whispered, “I don’t want to talk too loud. I’ve got your translation app open and it’s been helping me talk to Paolo. He just said that he is hungry in Hungarian. Funny that he says he is hungry in Hungarian, isn’t it?”
I nodded and the parrot then chirped, “Merhaba. Konnichiwa. Hallo. Shalom, Mr. Sam”
“Hi, Mr. Paolo.” I rolled my eyes. I quietly clarified, “He’s saying hello in different languages. Turkish, Japanese, German, and Hebrew.”
As soon as Paolo the polyglot parrot started talking again, Alice held out the tablet. She said, “He said that he wants to fly around the room, but this time in Zulu.”
“Oh no, that’s a bad idea.” At that moment, I was anxious. I imagined the bird flying around the house and saying tongue twisters in languages in twenty languages. If he knew many languages, there was no telling how many particular skills he had. What if he could poop with great aim or dance cultural dances? The bird continued to amaze me, but he annoyed me more.
Alice sighed and disappointedly whispered, “Aw, that’s a bummer. He just said in Swedish that he wants to fly downstairs and doesn’t like his cage.”
“That’s too bad. Sorry, Paolo.” At that moment, my cell phone and tablet both received notifications. I stared at my phone and saw that Dr. Peterson, the linguistics professor and language lover at the university, finally replied to my frantic email. I read it and he asked that I call him back and explain my situation. I walked out of my daughter’s bedroom and immediately called him. After a few seconds, he picked up.
“So what can I do for you, Dr. Wagner?”
“Thanks again for calling.” I thanked him and cleared my throat. I was honestly expecting him to think that my problem was a farce. “Well, I’ve got a really strange situation going on at home. My daughter and I brought home a parrot yesterday and it’s a hyperpolyglot. I have no idea how it knows this many languages. We’ve heard everything from Portuguese to Icelandic to Mongolian. German was my first language, so I understand that and the English. But I thought maybe you’d like to see what’s going on. I didn’t know a parrot was capable of talking in many languages.”
He curiously asked, “That’s fascinating. Do you want me to come over and help with anything?”
“Yes, actually. I wrote my address in the email. I thought maybe you could help me figure out what Paolo is saying.” I hoped that Dr. Peterson was able to tell Paolo to be quiet.
“His name is Paolo?” He randomly questioned, suddenly sounding excited.
I said, “Yes, why?”
“I’ll be right over!” The professor exclaimed before abruptly ending the call.
I told Caleb and Ingrid about the call. I was left feeling puzzled as to why this random linguistics professor was suddenly excited after I said the parrot’s name. When he was at my house shortly after our conversation, I was even more confused. After hearing a few loud knocks on my front door, I opened it to see a panting and smiling Dr. Peterson.
“Dr. Peterson, thanks again for coming.” I thanked him and then briefly introduced him to my wife and son.
He excitedly asked, “Where’s the bird?”
“Upstairs in my sister’s room.” Caleb and I rushed up the stairs with Dr. Peterson.
I knocked on Alice’s door and stepped inside. “Honey, someone’s here to meet Paolo. His name is Dr. Peterson and he works with me at the university. Can he come in?”
She grinned and nodded. At that moment, Dr. Peterson shouted, “Paolo!” He ran over to the cage and hugged it tightly. I found his affection for the bird very peculiar.
Caleb whispered, “What the hell is going on?”
I shrugged and noticed that the parrot loving professor was nearly in tears while hugging Paolo’s birdcage. I cleared my throat and hesitantly asked, “What’s going on, Dr. Peterson?”
“Paolo was my parrot a few years back when I was roommates with a bunch of guys in New York City. My roommates were from all over the world. When we noticed that Paolo was picking up on the languages we were speaking, we introduced him to new languages. We named him Paolo because of his love of the Italian language. Anyways, I can’t even count how many languages he knows. It’s kind of magical how he does it. I never knew this was possible.”
“Me neither.” Caleb rolled his eyes.
Dr. Peterson continued, “After I left New York and came here, I dropped him off at my cousin’s house and asked him to take care of Paolo. I don’t know why he gave Paolo away. Paolo is kind of shy and doesn’t talk much until he gets to know who he is with. I’m quite surprised at how quickly he started talking to you all.”
“This was all a huge surprise. I am glad to see you two reunited again.” After seeing how happy Paolo was making my colleague, I had an idea. An idea that everyone would be happy with. “So, Dr. Peterson, I can really tell that you love this bird.”
“I really do.” He wiped a tear from his cheek and nodded.
With high hopes, I asked, “Would you like to have him back?”
“Are you serious?” He smiled and seemed to become even more emotional.
Caleb mumbled, “Yes, just take him.”
My daughter cleared her throat and said, “You should take Paolo. You two are meant to be together.”
I asked, “Are you sure, Alice?” She nodded and I said, “We’ll help you get everything to your car. I am so glad you are reunited with your pal, Paolo.”
Our goal was to get the nutty professor and his loud bird out of our house as soon as possible. Caleb and I hastily rushed outside to Dr. Peterson’s car with Paolo and his cage. He thanked us and insisted on giving us some money or paying for coffee sometime, but we denied his offers. The best he could do for us was to leave immediately and take the bird with him. Caleb and I walked back inside, feeling like a huge weight was lifted off of our chests. We stood behind the front door and noticed that Alice rushed back downstairs to say goodbye to Paolo. She waved at Dr. Peterson and Paolo, while saying goodbye.
From his car, Dr. Peterson yelled, “He’s saying in Italian that he’ll miss you, Alice!”
“I’ll miss you too, Paolo!” Alice shouted back.
After I closed the door, Alice walked back up the stairs to her room. I was surprised at how well she handled the situation and I was proud of her generosity.
My wife, my son, and I all collapsed on the living room sofas and simultaneously said, “Thank God that’s over!”
We peaked out the window to see the linguistics professor, emotional and overjoyed to have his bird buddy back. Hearing Paolo’s shrieks ensured that we had made the right decision. Paolo was talented and although he was a pain in the butt, he deserved to be somewhere where he was appreciated. For a few minutes, we enjoyed the peaceful silence. That was until Caleb and Ingrid made some requests.
“Dad, you know this was a painful experience. And you know it could have been prevented if you had common sense. So I think we should negotiate and make some deals. I want a computer mouse for my laptop and a new backpack. And I think we should get what we want today, because that’s the least you can do. What do you want, mom?”
Ingrid thought for a minute and demanded, “More foot rubs. All pregnant women deserve that. And I want you to buy me six new ice creams from the store. You should know my favorite flavors by now.”
“I know all of them, trust me. But that seems like a lot, doesn’t it? I fixed the situation, so I deserve a little bit of credit, right?” I laughed and looked at them. Although I managed to somehow save the day and myself, they still appeared disappointed. I did not want to give in to every demand that day. I was too tired for that, but then they did the face that my daughter used to get what she wanted. I sighed and decided to give in, because that was all I was able to do. “Fine, but that won’t work every time. You guys aren’t as cute.”