I have been staying at my parents’ house for the better part of a week now, mostly without disaster. But when my mom called to check in this morning, I had to admit that there had been a household disaster: I killed the birds.

For most of my life, my parents’ household has included among its members two small finches in a big white cage. The colors and breeds have varied over the years, but their deaths and subsequent replacements were usually done as seamlessly as possible so as not to upset us kids. No one really ever pays much attention to them, but they always provide a background of sound, which becomes louder in protest over some loud noise or exclamation. They are kind of like a mobile houseplant, inconspicuous yet vital to the general landscape of the house.

Perhaps because I’ve spent less time at the ancestral home over the past decade, this current pair seemed more or less immortal. Until yesterday, when the housekeeper yelled upstairs to me, “Did you know one of your birds is dead?” I was saddened by this news, but didn’t think too much of it at the time. I know they’re old and these things happen. My husband and I spent at least an hour last night trying to figure out what to do with the carcass — how many years of education does it take…? Eventually, we put it in multiple bags and hid it until such time as I could consult with my mother. A sad event, but inevitable, in the grand scheme of things.

Then this morning, my husband came up to me while making breakfast and whispered, “The other bird is dead!” Oh no. I was mortified. To be entrusted with my parents’ house in my mom’s absence, and to have not one but two ancient birds decide that now is the right time in the near decade of their lives to shuffle off… well, that just won’t do. One bird dying can be blamed squarely on old age. But having two birds die on my watch implies some kind of neglect on my part.

Honestly though, between trying to ensure that my dad doesn’t fall down, the cats don’t get eaten by a bobcat, and feeding the appropriate medications to the appropriate human and/or feline parties at their respective times, all while trying to ensure that they are well fed and taken care of while doing my job from home… well, let’s just say that the mobile houseplant was not high up on my priority list. I feel terrible for saying it, and may be accused of neglecting my pets, but really… between all the life forms on this hilltop that I have been responsible for this week, neither myself nor my mother were much worried about this particular loss.

But that reminds me… perhaps I should go water the plants before my mom gets home. And feed the cats. And my dad. And my husband. Oh, the burdens of responsibility — or should I say… bird-ens????