A Tale of Two Bunnies

Bunnies One and Two! Can you guess which one is "real?"

Don’t ask me to read Margery WilliamsVelveteen Rabbit in a clear voice. I can more than guarantee you that before I reach the end of the opening sentence, there will be a catch in my voice accompanied by the inevitable welling of tears in my eyes. Stuffed rabbits, or bunnies as we like to say at my house, hold a dear place in my heart. This is a tale of two such bunnies. The first is old and worn, and frankly hardly recognizable as a 1988 Fischer-Price Puffalump Special Edition. The second has yet to complete his mission.

Bunny Number One was an Easter gift to my four month old daughter, Kalah. I clearly remember purchasing him on the Thursday before that holiday, my payday. Money was tight and I wavered between buying her one gift, a lavender bunny nearly half her size, or several small rattles and a chunky board book. Perhaps it was his soft brown eyes, or the “magic” that still resides in his egg that called to me, but I ignored my usual philosophy that more is more and I chose the rabbit. Right from the start Kalah latched on to him. From four months of age through toddlerhood

A thumb and a bunny; a winning combination!

she could be found with the thumb of her right hand planted steadfastly in her mouth and the fingers of her left hand firmly clutched to Bunny.

As Kalah’s perpetual pal, Bunny experienced life with her and regularly bequeathed his vast wisdom as they navigating the world. He was an expert on sharing, on taking turns, and on table manners. He always picked up after himself, said excuse me when he burped, and, like all good rabbits, ate his vegetables. Bunny, like Kalah, loved to play. He built block towers and put together puzzles. He soared to the moon on the swings and climbed Mount Everest on the monkey bars. He was a lover of nature and was always the first to sniff a flower or spy a toad. He liked to travel and soaked up knowledge as Kalah did when we visited the library, the zoo, or the Smithsonian museums. Perhaps one of his best attributes was his expertise in all things associated with bedtime. It could be counted on that Bunny always became incredibly sleepy exactly thirty minutes before lights-out time. He would insist on telling stories that more than often detailed adventures that he’d had long before he’d been chosen to be Kalah’s constant companion. Often these tales featured times when he’d slept all by himself without waking up Mother Bunny before 8 a.m.

Bunny was darned near perfect friend, yet he had two clear downfalls; he had very poor hygiene and a propensity to get lost. Because prying him out of my daughter’s clutching paws was often a trick, Bunny only got washed about once a month. Kalah would lovingly place him in a pillowcase, watch me knot the top, and then stand by the washer as it whirred through its gentlest cycle

Look past the dirt and see the love!

until Bunny was once again sanitary for human use. She held vigil at the dryer, as well. Clean or not, Bunny was a wily critter who would often seek his own path. The phrase, “Where’s Bunny?” accompanied by a frantic glance from my tiny daughter would strike fear in my heart. Many is the time I  combed through a toy box, searched through cabinets, and dived into dumpsters in search of Bunny gone rogue. And somehow, no matter how bizarre his journey, he always found his way back home.

Though Kalah gave up the thumb, and the constant need to carry her rabbit to every destination, Bunny was still there for her. He saw her through becoming a big sister and through our divorce. He waited patiently for her on her first day of school. He’s slept with her through every peaceful, fevered, or sleepless night. He’s been sneezed on, confided in and has soaked up tears. There is no doubt that he has long been “real” according to Velveteen Rabbit standards.

Bunny turned 23 this past March, which has to be something like 161 in rabbit years. He no longer tags along on my daughter’s every mission. He mostly spends his days in an honored sunny spot on Kalah’s bed, often with a purring kitty nestled near him. On the chance that he’s feeling spry he fills the role of sagacious Jedi Master to his young Padawan, Bunny Number Two; a recent EBay find. There is not much to tell about my daughter’s second Bunny. He’s spent most of his time in a plastic container atop her closet. Although he’s 23 years old, he looks as good as new. He’s never been clutched, or loved, or sneezed on. He’s never helped to build block towers, or been the keeper of great secrets. For now, he’s a stuffed rabbit in a box, lacking wisdom, and hoping for the day that a little boy or girl will love him and make him real.

You have much to learn, young Padawan.

Did you or your child have a special stuffed animal?  Tell me about it!

Hufflebergers and Snipes (or, How I got My Ass Kicked Each Easter)

As a child our family’s Easter traditions were nearly the same as the other families in our small West Virginia town. I would be roused before dawn for sunrise service, always slightly miffed at Jesus for rising so early that He interfered with my sleep schedule. After church, we would go home to diligently hunt for our Easter baskets that had been expertly hidden by the Easter Bunny. We never had to look very hard, as they were predictably in the dishwasher or toy cubby. We’d then gorge ourselves on chocolate rabbit heads, never making it past the necks, until our grandparents arrived for Easter brunch. After tucking away slivers of baked ham, pink pickled beet eggs, and homemade potato salad, my brother and I would drift back to our Easter baskets. As we rescued and ate stray jelly beans that were in danger of drilling their way down the mounds of plastic grass, lost to us unless we dumped our entire basket, the grown-ups would wash the dinner dishes and chat. One would think that this would give my brother and I a drowsy, homey feeling that would last the rest of the holiday, as our family pleasantly talked and we complacently browsed on the bounty of treats left to us, but this was not the case. Our tiny stomachs were in knots for the Easter activity that was to come. It was the event that the entirety of well fed, well groomed, and well-mannered children of our small town feared; the annual Chamber of Commerce Easter Egg Hunt.

This affair took place in the small park in the center of our town, and expectedly everyone turned out to participate. The chamber members had taken special care to hide hundreds of plastic eggs, filled with candy, small toys, and money, in every nook and cranny that our minuscule park possessed, including the coveted first prize golden egg that contained a fifty dollar bill. Because this was one of two major social events that my town had each year, our mother had taken special care to make sure my brother and I looked our absolute best. I can still see myself in my pink, hand-smocked dress with its stiff crinoline petticoat and my perfectly polished white Mary Jane’s with ruffled lace socks. My face was scrubbed to rosy perfection and my hair was in perfect blond ringlet curls. I looked just like type of little girl that nothing bad could happen to on such a perfect spring day, but I knew my appearance provided a sense of false promise. Pain was coming, and it was coming in the form of the Hufflebergers* and the Snipes*.

The Huffleberger and Snipe kids lived on Berry Hill, an area of our town near the only cemetery. As I grew older I suspected that the “Berry” must have once been “Bury” in reference to its location. Berry Hill was the roughest area in our town and home to a few families that could easy provide excellent case studies to any geneticist wishing to observe the outcome of interfamilial breeding. The Huffleberger and Snipe families kept to themselves, not even sending their multitude of unregistered children to our town’s two schools. There were scores of sordid stories about the criminal activity that occurred on Berry Hill and these tales were often confirmed in our local paper’s Magistrate Report section. At school the words Huffleberger and Snipe had become eponyms that we would often hurl at a classmate during a playground scuffle. In truth, we knew less about them than we proposed, as the only two times we ever saw them was when they left Berry Hill twice a year to attend the Fireman’s Carnival, and the annual Easter Egg Hunt.

So here I stood with my brother and our classmates in our best Easter finery, holding fast to the delicate handles of Easter baskets that our parents had lovingly intended for us to fill with plastic eggs, staring certain defeat in the eye. Our opponents, brought roughly down Berry Hill by a collection of sister-mothers and daddy-cousins, held a motley collection of pillowcases and buckets that were sure to be brimming with booty at the end of the battle. The mayor, dressed in a tired Peter Rabbit costume, blew the ceremonial whistle and the egg hunt began.

The beautiful thing about children is their eternal sense of hope even in times of certain despair. For even as I knew that I every egg I procured would bring a kick to the shins or a punch to the gut before a Huffleberger or Snipe purloined it, I still had scoped out several brightly colored ova to make a run for when the bunny blew the whistle. My predictions were soon validated as a Snipe, who appeared to have been born with an extra earlobe bent my fingers back to filch my first find. I quickly retreated to an area behind the bandstand where I found my brother nursing a bruised shin. From the corner of our refuge we spied our parents, happily conversing with the parents of our classmates. All of the adults seemed blissfully unaware that their tidy offspring were being bludgeoned by a group of mutant graveyard dwellers.

When the last egg had been found and the Mayor Bunny had heartily congratulated a skinny blonde boy in a dirty Dukes of Hazard t-shirt and torn jeans for finding the fifty dollar egg, we climbed into our Buick and drove to complete the last tradition of our Easter holiday; a visit to Dairy Queen. As I slowly licked the circumference of my dripping cone, my mother commented on how glad she was that the boy who won the fifty dollars had been from Berry Hill, because his family so needed the money. I quietly savored my ice cream, noticing only the well-scrubbed well-dressed members of my community in the booths surrounding us. I supposed she was right, as always. The Easter routine that I had taken so for granted hadn’t happened on Berry Hill. The egg hunt was the only thing those kids had, and even then they had to fight for it.

Ideally, I’d like to end this story by saying that I never ever again called a boy, picking on me on the playground, a dirty old Huffleberger, or that the following year I made a trek up Berry Hill to donate my own Easter goodies, but I can’t. I was subject to the same peer pressures, egocentricities and lack of introspection that most kids possess. However, in the years of my youth that followed, I smiled inwardly while rubbing a sore shoulder or shin, as the mayor held up victorious the small, scruffy hand of a Huffleberger or Snipe grasping the golden, fifty dollar egg.

Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate!

*names have been changed to protect my ass

Naughty Girls on Ice

Despite the provocative title, this is not a “pay-per-view” type of story. It is a tale inspired by my blogging buddy, Deborah, at The Monster in Your Closet. After reading about the mischief that her son got into I was mentally catapulted back to a simpler time (actually not simpler at all—my life is pretty damned easy now) when my daughters were younger and only slightly more mischevious!

It was the Sunday after Easter, and my daughters had just arrived home from a visit with their father. I had made the mistake of going on a 20 mile hike the day before, and when my two little sweethearts energetically bounded through the door at 8 a.m. I wanted nothing more than to kiss them hello and sink into a very hot bath to soothe my sore muscles. Anyone who has children knows that a four and six year-olds’ needs must come before their own. They needed to tell me about their adventures with their dad. They needed their hair brushed, and they needed breakfast. So, over toast and scrambled eggs we got caught up. After brushing and ponytailing their silken locks, I told them how sore my muscles were and let them know that I would be soaking in the tub for a bit while they watched a movie. At first they picked out an educational video about sea life that only lasted 30 minutes. I encouraged them to take the sea theme a little further and watch The Little Mermaid since it was nearly an hour longer. While I was drawing my bath, my oldest asked if she could play with the bubbles from her Easter Basket. I gave her permission as long as she played with them over the area rug in the living room and not over the hardwood floors. I then remembered that this was a kid who, at four, had put on her snow boots and masterminded a “blizzard” in the nursery with a very large container of baby powder. I decided to limit her time with the bubbles to five minutes and set the kitchen timer. After she promised to put the bubbles away with the timer “dinged,” I slid into the bath with a good book.

In a few minutes, I predictably did what I always do when conditions are warm and cozy; I drowsily dropped my book to the floor and fell asleep. I know this is not the greatest parenting on Earth, but the apartment was child proofed out the wazoo, and the girls were being babysat by Walt Disney himself. What could go wrong? I awoke to silence. All parents know that silence is a double-edged sword. Silent children could either be angelically napping, or plotting a government takeover. My mind raced from one dreadful scenario to another as I quickly dried off and wrapped myself in my fluffy robe. I called through the bathroom door. “Is everything alright out there, girls?” I heard whispering and scurrying. “Yes, Mama, you can keep taking your bath.” My naturally egocentric children willingly offering me time to myself was not a good sign. They were up to something. I decided to question no further and catch them in the act. I quietly opened the bathroom door and moved stealthily down the hall where I was greeted by my very out of place sofa. On top of the sofa, rolled up like a burrito, was our very large area rug. When small people have move big furniture the result is usually never very good. I braced myself for the worst as I climbed over my misplaced couch, and there in the center of the living room were my two daughters, dressed in last year’s Halloween costumes, barefooted, with soapsuds up to their ankles. “We’re skating, Mama!” my youngest said gleefully as she completed a toddler-styled double axel near the entertainment center. My oldest dressed as Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, and always the negotiator offered, “We made Disney on Ice, from the bubbles. Don’t be mad, Mama, remember how you said you couldn’t afford to take us?” I stood there amazed; both at their ingenuity and at how much liquid one quart of cheap bubbles could produce on a floor. I wasn’t sure whether to whip my slippers off and join them or slide their slippery little bodies to the time-out chair. I decided on neither. The damage was done. The floor was already a sudsy mess and their enjoyment was so pure that I propped myself against the sofa and watched them.

When they began to tire I emptied the linen closet of our towel supply and instructed them on clean up while I sprawled out on the sofa with my book. After every bit of soapy slimy amusement was wiped from the floor, I tutored them in the mopping and drying of it. I then marveled at their strength as they replaced the furniture and the rug. “I think the floor is the cleanest that it’s ever been,” my oldest said confidently. I confirmed that she was probably right, but reminded both of them of the enormous amount of towels that stilled needed to be laundered. I walked with them to the laundry room as they lugged the overflowing basket of towels down the steps. My oldest offered 3 quarters from her piggy bank “since she helped make the mess.” I took them and let her sister gently push them into the machine. When we went back upstairs they didn’t bulk when I asked them to straighten their bedroom while the towels were finishing. Later, as we folded them together on the kitchen table, my oldest asked me if they were in trouble. I told her that I was disappointed that she hadn’t put the bubbles away when the timer chimed, and that she hadn’t been a very good example to her younger sister by disobeying me. Both girls apologized and all was forgiven. “How did it feel to clean up that bubble mess?” I asked them. They both agreed that it was a lot of work. I reminded them that when they make a huge mess they have to use valuable time, which could have been spent playing, to clean it up. My oldest looked at me with a hopeful, impish grin. “Does this mean we can make an ice rink again, if we clean it up?” “Absolutely not!” I said as I scooped them both up in an enormous bear hug, and thankfully my living room was never host to “Disney on Ice” again!

Author’s note: My daughters, who are now, 20 and 23, had a good laugh over this story this morning. Because I was usually not an overly permissive parent, my daughters remember being certain that they were going to be in trouble for their hijinks and were pleasantly surprised that their punishment was merely cleaning up their mess!