Do you know what it feels like to fit in? It’s been on my mind a lot lately, especially as I’m about to start my second year of homeschooling my eight-year-old son. While the concept of ditching mainstream education has grown exponentially in the last ten years, being a homeschool parent still makes me seem a little odd in most people’s eyes.
The decision to pull my son out of public school was not easy. I get questions all the time, like, “How will your child make friends or know how to behave socially?” The thing is, he has lots of friends. He is outside playing nerf guns as I write this with no less than four boys who live nearby. I’m the one struggling, not him.
When my son was in school, I was a part of a community of people who had a shared experience—the flawed public school system. Nothing bonds a group together better than hating on something.
I feel like I’ve lost my tribe and to be honest, it has left me questioning my decision on more than one occasion.
* * *
“Mommy, I think there’s a weird turkey or something sitting on the fence up the street. Come look! Come look!” squealed my son.
Really, kid? Right now? I had just finished dragging my sweaty body on a power walk in the 95 degree heat and humidity. I needed water and air conditioning, not to be walking further uphill to see some bird.
“Come on! It’s going to fly away!” He took me by the hand. “Easy kiddo. You’re gonna pull my arm out of the socket.” We both jogged past several houses to get to the bird, which was perched atop a wooden fence. The first thing I noticed was how out of place it seemed.
“What do you think it is, Mommy? Take a picture! No! Can I take a picture? Get your phone! It’s a turkey, right? Or a chicken? Get your phone! GET YOUR PHONE!”
“Okay, okay. Hold on,” I said, as I struggled to get it out of the arm band holder with my sweaty hands.
“Mommy! COME ON! It’s gonna fly away!”
From what I could see from about 40 feet away, it was definitely not a bird I’d ever seen before. It was odd, but interesting. It reminded me of Bea Arthur, one of my favorite TV stars.
I took a photo, tip-toed a little closer, then took another.
“Mommy! What is it!?”
“Shh! You’ll scare it!” Good grief, kid.
As I moved even closer, it stood up and started to make a sound I had never heard before–equal parts honk and bleat. It was more of a throat clearing than an alarm though.
“Max, stay behind me in case it gets mad or something.”
“Birds don’t get mad, mommy.”
“Shh! Just. stay. back.” I was feeling very Steve Irwin.
The bird’s bleat-honking crescendoed the closer I got and it started side-stepping along the top of the fence. By now I was only about five feet from where it was standing. I wanted to take a picture, but I didn’t want to put the phone between my eyes and the hypnotizing beauty of this bird. What are you?
“Ohhhh, gross, it pooped!” said Max with a grin I could hear more than see.
When I turned around to shush him, I heard the beating of feathers like the sound of a thumb fanning across the pages of a closed paperback. Just like that, the bird was gone.
I came inside and Googled “polka dot bird” and learned that it was a Guinea Fowl. Guineas travel in flocks and are kept on farms like chickens where they are known for being excellent watch birds, alerting their owners with their noisy honking to anything that comes on the property that shouldn’t.
Clearly this bird had somehow gotten separated from its flock. I felt an overwhelming urge to find it, to save it. So, after I read up on how to catch one (never by the legs, like you would a chicken), I went back outside to search. I asked the neighbors if anyone knew anything at all about it, where it came from, or where it went. But, they were no help.
* * *
I named her “Bea-Bea.” I’ve searched for Bea-Bea the Guinea Fowl every day since she side-stepped her way into my heart. The only trace of her I’ve found so far is a single feather resting near a storm drain.
Bea-Bea captured my attention because she stood out so boldly against the hum-drum backdrop of my neighborhood, my life. I’ve been told she probably won’t survive alone in suburbia, but I need to believe otherwise. I need to believe, like me, she can still thrive despite being separated from her flock.
I need to believe that Bea-Bea is somewhere dancing on a fence and honking and thriving, because standing out has got to be more valuable than fitting in.