Friday, April 16, 2010

Give and Take

Sometimes God gives you something you didn't even know you needed.  That's the way it was with Honey and--

"What do you mean you don't know where the kids are?"

Mom didn't look up from her crossword puzzle when I came in from having lunch with a friend.

"They said something about whiffleball," she said.  "Then a little while later, something about a white rabbit."

I stood on the deck and looked out at the spring drizzle.  I cupped my hands around my mouth.  "Kids!"

"Over here!"  Their voices came from the woods.  I followed the sound of whoops and hollers. 

"Come here, baby!"

"Missed it.  Missed it by a mile!"

"Don't be afraid.  We're nice." 

Thing one, two, and three darted here and there, trying to get close to the pale, zigzagging puffball.

"Mom! It's headed your way!  Get it!"

Coffee, white wine, and mineral water sloshed in my belly as I joined the chase.  Over logs, under cars, and into burrows the white rabbit went.  More than once I nearly fell as my feet slid around on my flipflops.  Finally, I held Mom's empty aqua trash can on its side, and the kids chased the rabbit into it. 

"Are you okay, Mom?" my son said.

I sat in the wet grass, wheezing and cradling my abdomen.  "Yeah.  Why?"

"Your face is a weird color."

It felt like my stomach was debating whether or not to give up my $30 French lunch.

"Can we keep it?" Oldest Child said.

"Ask Daddy."


Middle Child came tearing up to the third floor. "A rat broke into the basement and mated Honey!"

I looked at the clock--6:30 a.m..

I squinted up at her. "Honey's a girl?"

"Honey's a mom!"

I rubbed my eyes and sat up. "Honey's a mom?"

"And they're gross. All pink and wiggly, like worms. Seven of 'em!"

I knelt on the cool, concrete floor. 

"Get me a tablespoon," I told my son.

A  minute later I felt the spoon's chill on my thigh.  I warmed it with my breath.  I opened the dog crate door and carefully scooped up the one lone pink ranger and relocated it on top of its siblings.  They were all snuggled in a pile, on a nest of silky soft, white bunny fur.

I turned to Oldest Child.  "Go upstairs and google 'raising baby rabbits,'" I said.  "See if it's okay to touch 'em."

Honey Bunny hunkered in the back of the crate.  I frowned.

"She's not keeping them warm.  Not nursing 'em or anything.  She isn't very good at this mommy thing."

"Maybe it's her first time," Middle Child said.

Oldest Child returned.  "A couple of websites say it's okay to touch them if the mother's tame."

I counted days on my fingers.  "We've had her eight days and she's never bit anyone.  That means she's tame, right?"

I reached in and stroked the baby I'd put on top of the pile.  I cooed.  It was  soft and warm, like the back of a child's neck.

The kids huddled around me. 

"That one's gonna have black spots," Middle Child said.  "And I bet that one's gonna be all white."

"Let's name 'em," my son said.  "The biggest one should be Goliath."

"And we'll call that tiny little guy, Gideon," I said.

"The one that keeps leaving the pack," Oldest Child said, "He's an adventurer.  Let's call him Indiana Jones.  Indy for short."

"We should call the one with black spots, Domino," Middle Child said.

It took us awhile to name the others.  One became Pogo a few weeks later when it learned how to leap into the air, way before the rest. 

"Name something that's all white," I said.

"Alaska," Oldest Child said.  "And Juno's the capital of Alaska.  Let's call that one Juno."

"But what about the smallest white one?"  Middle Child said.  "How do you say white in French, Mommy?"

"Je ne sais pas," I said.  "Bianca maybe?  Or is it Alba?"

"Bianca Alba," Middle Child said.  "She's my favorite.  She's little like me."

I went to the Exotic Jungle on account of Bianca Alba.

"Failure to thrive?" I said to the pre-vet salesgirl.  "Does that mean she's going to die?"

"Not necessarily," she said.  "Follow me."

She stopped in front of a display.  "I've raised tons of baby rabbits by hand," she said.  "You need kitten milk.  And one of these tiny bottles.  And some of this stuff." 

She handed me a package of three small metal tubes.  "In the wild, they'd eat their mom's scat to get the healthy organisms for their gut, but since she's not bonded with them, give 'em each a little squirt of this once a week."

We headed up to the cash register.  "She's not taking to them 'cause you touched them.  You shouldn't touch them while they're pink.  Gotta wait until they get their peach fuzz."

I whimpered.  "Aw man!  The web--"

She put her hand on my shoulder.  "Don't worry," she said.  "They'll be okay. I do this all the time."

A week into the baby bunny experience, I took matters into my own mommy hands.  I'd been spying on Honey.  Not once did I see her nurse those babies.  I even set my alarm clock for the middle of the night.  I snuck down to the basement and peeked into the crate.  No nursing. 

I pointed and hissed at Honey in the dark.  "Bad mommy!"

"The website says they usually only nurse between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.," I told my husband the next morning.  "Sometimes only once in a 24 hour period.  Man!  Rabbits must have super mama milk.  Still, I haven't seen 'em--" 

My husband's eyes narrowed.

I tilted my head.  "What?"

"What are you up to?" he said.

"Nothing," I said.  That you need to know about. 

After school I called for the kids.  They followed me to the basement.

I pointed at them one by one.  "You, get a clean bath towel.  You, get Honey.  You, hold this strawberry basket while I get them and their fluff nest inside."

"What are we doing, Mom?" Oldest Child said.

"We're giving Honey lactation training."

I sat with my back against the dining room wall, the towel draped over my lap.

"Hand me Honey."

I stroked her and whispered gentle encouragement into her long, warm ears.

"It'll feel like a Shop Vac on your nipples at first, but don't worry.  You'll get used to it."

I flopped Honey on her back.  "Hand me two babies."

Each of the babies quickly located a teat.  They squirmed as they nursed, their back sides scooching left and right.  After ten minutes, the wiggling bodies relaxed.


"They look like piranhas on her," my son said.  "Like the ones on the Discovery Channel.  Are they hurting her?"

"Naw!" I said.  "She's fine.  Nudge Bianca.  She's asleep on the breast.  She needs it most of all."

And that's how it went.  Twice a day, for weeks.  We bribed Honey with apples and carrots, and plantain leaves from the yard.  She ate non-stop while they nursed.  I reckon it was 'cause she was eating for eight.

The babies grew quickly.  In the beginning, my husband could hold all seven of them in his hands.  Not a week later.  At first, we couldn't see their poo at all.  Then it looked like a period at the end of a sentence.  Then it was as big as bee bees. 

When they were first born, their pink cotton swab ears seemed pinned to their heads.  Then later the ears got fuzzy and began to stand up.  Their fur was mostly white, like Honey's, but eventually, black and brown skin spots became black and brown fur. 

I loved to lay on the dining room floor when they were out.  They'd crawl all over me.  I called it Bunny Therapy.  I'd close my eyes and smile.    I never knew I wanted or needed bunnies, but thanks. 

Bianca Alba was still a concern.

"You have to stay with your brothers and sisters," I told her, as I held her an inch from my nose.  "They'll keep you warm."

I gave her extra nursings.  "Thrive, Baby Bianca.  Thrive."

I fed her kitten milk a couple times each day, putting the tiny dropper into her mouth and squeezing the rubber part.  I sighed as most of it ran down her chin and chest.

"Let's stay up with her tonight, Mommy," Middle Child said one afternoon. 

"To keep her warm and to feed her."

I nodded.  And to pray for her.  I had this bad feeling.

Middle Child lay on the love seat under her purple fuzzy blanket.  I sprawled on the sofa under a zebra-striped throw.  We took turns feeding Bianca and holding her on our chests.

"I'm giving you another name," I told Bianca at midnight.  "You're going to be Bianca Alba Lazarus 'cause Jesus is going to bring you back from death's door."

I wiped my eyes and sniffed.  'Cause I think that's where you're headed.

She was so wee.  She'd fit in a quarter cup measure.  Her fur wasn't sleek like the others'.  It was usually streaked with milk and sickliness.

"Another name, " I whispered to her at three in the morning as she lay like a comma between my breasts.  "You need another name.  Bianca Alba Lazarus Miracle.  That's your new name.  Please live, tiny angel bunny.  Please?"

And then my prayer became my grief, and my grief woke Middle Child.

She sat up suddenly, her eyes huge.  "Is she--?  Did she--?  Why are you--?" 

Middle Child's breath sounded wheezy.  She held the sides of her face.

"Oh no!  But I prayed!  Why didn't God--"

I stroked Bianca with my pinky.  "See how peaceful she looks?" I said.  "She's all better.  Not here.  But better."

I slept until daybreak with Bianca on my chest and Middle Child between my legs.  She'd cried herself to sleep there.

I got up from the couch and covered her.  I took Bianca into the basement and wrapped her in some Honey Bunny fluff and a scrap of fuschia silk.  She looked like a Valentine, for a dead person.  I tucked her into a jelly jar and screwed the lid on. 

"Rest in peace, my pee wee darling." 

I set the jelly jar on the washer and fished in the laundry pile for one of my husband's t-shirts.  I covered my face with it, blew my nose, and sobbed.

Later that day, we all wrote goodbye love notes to Bianca and slid them in the jar. 

That evening, my husband and son buried Bianca Alba Lazarus Miracle beneath the chestnut tree at the warehouse, with all our other beloved pets.

"What did you say when you buried her?" I asked my husband when he came home.

He put his arms around me and spoke into my hair. 

"I said, 'The Lord gave us eight bunnies, and the Lord took away one.  Blessed be the name of the Lord."

I nodded and spoke with a stuffed up nose.  "That's good.  That's real good."


wvdiane said...

I don't know about this one, folks . . . Let me know if you think of ways it could be improved.

wvdiane said...

You all don't know this, but awhile back I tweaked this one. Much better. And now, three weeks later, I LOVE it! "Like a comma between my breasts." That's good. That's real good:)


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