Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Bunny Diaries: R.I.P Sniffles the 1st

The Country Bunny

The other day two well-meaning friends, our son Henry's godparents, sent our daughter home with a cage, dried hay for bedding, some pellet food, and a water bottle--oh yes, and a baby bunny. He was the most serene rabbit, soft and angora-like, with dappled gray and tan coloring.

"Henry, what are you going to name him?" "Sniffles," he answered, "because he sniffs." That seemed like a perfect name, especially for an on-the-spot decision for an animal whose nose rarely stops twitching.

Several days later our son Eli came down early, as he often does, to check on things. I, too, was up early (a rare occurrence). He came inside and with a look of terror, his eyes wide, he cried: "there is blood in the cage!". I tried to be calm, fearing the worst. "Eli, come in the house and stay in the living room." I went to the cage--oh, phew, the bunny looked fine...at first glance. He wasn't and I can't possibly describe the state he was in because I don't have that in me to describe, but I knew he was suffering. I found a cloth, gathered him up and held him close, and found my husband. Henry was still asleep and Eli, having heard the sound of fear in my voice, had remained upstairs.

My first thought was, this animal is not going to make it, my next thought was deep empathy for the wee bunny, and my final one was that Henry will be devastated. My husband came down, we went to the mudroom, and I just lost it. I couldn't hold back the tears. I felt like Fern Arable at the prospect of losing Wilbur the runt to the hands of farm fate. My husband, who grew up with more farm animals than I ever did, knew what to do so the bunny would no longer suffer. I knew that calling a vet at that point was not an option. It was clear that the poor animal had been tortured by a cat who could reach his long arms through the thin cage rails. In our ignorance at the cage limitations, we had left Sniff on the porch at night. Big mistake, even for a country village bunny like ours. [By the way, my favorite all-time Easter bunny children's book? THE COUNTRY BUNNY and the Little Gold Shoes by Marjorie Flack]

Henry soon came downstairs and we brought him onto our laps and gave both he and Eli the news. As it was Henry's bunny, we knew he would take it the hardest. My husband had buried Sniff under the arborvitae hedge where he (or she--it was too soon to tell) liked to play and hide, and placed a rock over his spot. The boys brought flowers to Sniffles for several days and we even had a small memorial service for the bunny. I remembered the many gerbils, turtles, chameleons, dogs and cats that we lost as children. But there is nothing like your own child's first pet death--an important lesson in life and love. These small tragedies in the animal world make us the humans that we are.

POSTSCRIPT: A few days after Sniff died, my husband went back to our friends who had the bunny litter and brought home not one but two more: one for Henry and one for Eli. It was a huge surprise for everyone. "Sniffles II" and "Bunny" as Eli named his white and brown-spotted bunny. Sniffles looks just like the first. I'll post a photo soon. Now we realize they may be one girl and one boy so separate cages will be our next quest...or we might be finding ourselves with a litter of our own.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


The other day, coming out of the driveway, I ran (almost) into my old boss and friend, Eleanor. We both live in the same town and as life in the country would have it, we haven't run into each other, so to speak, in several years. (Ironically, we also both grew up in the same local town, just south of where we live now.)

Eleanor worked for over twenty years as communications director at the New England branch of a national graduate school (ok, what's the big secret: Antioch New England). I was fortunate to work with her from 1991-1993 as her assistant and editor of the alumni newsletter. She and a team from the provost's office picked me from a group of over 90 candidates which was a big boost for the old ego at the time. The job also came at a time when my daughter was three and ready for preschool, when I had just finished graduate school myself, and needed a full time job with benefits. In many ways it was the ideal job and perfect nurturing environment.

I have never worked with someone as kind and compassionate as Eleanor. She had precision and a critical eye, both qualities of a fine editor. She knew what it was like to be a single mother, having had to return to work herself when her children were teenagers. She has personally overcome many health hurdles. Before becoming a mother, Eleanor worked with Thomas Hoving at the Met and I had nothing but respect for her talents.

I left Antioch because as a trained museum and history person, I was longing to return to the house museum world. On a whim in the summer of 1993 I applied to be an editorial assistant at the Getty in Los Angeles. I interviewed for that job and decided to step out of the running because upon further inquiry I discovered that my boss would have been a childless middle-aged woman who had risen the ranks and likely would not be too tolerant of single-parent issues. In sum, she was no Eleanor.

The same day I declined to be a part of the Getty process, I was offered a job as site manager at a small house museum in the Monadnock region, Barrett House, owned by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England). This came at a time when Eleanor was scheduled to have major surgery. I faced a dilemma and decided the best thing would be to stay at my job through the end of the year while she had her leave.

When I saw Eleanor the other day I realized that sixteen years have passed since I left her employ but that she hasn't aged a day in my mind! She has retired and there is no more deserving person of a more relaxing lifestyle. Antioch New England was lucky to have her. Perhaps now we can finally have that elusive lunch we've been talking about for years!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Addie's 18th

Addie and Lucy

My oldest child is 18 today. It was on a beautiful summer morning eighteen years ago that she was born. The air was clear and warm and I woke up at 5:30am having dreamt of a woman rowing a small boat with a little girl sitting in the prow. It was a dream version of the Impressionist painting with a brunette-haired woman with a young blonde-haired girl. I had no idea I would have a girl--well, not through science--but I certainly knew instinctively. My dream of the painting would become both a prophetic vision for her "birth" day and the years to come. For many years we have rowed together, Addie and I, and the way has been both choppy and smooth. I awoke on the day of her birth to my water breaking. When I was 25 there were still many unknowns in my life--Addie helped define and shape the "knowns". In many ways, she became my glue.

It is true what they say about childhood passing in a blink of an eye, but it is all so important--each and every minute. Like Emily discovers in the Thornton Wilder play OUR TOWN, you can never return or go back and it all goes by too quickly.

"Mama, just for a moment we're happy. Let's look at each other. Oh, Mama, just look at me for one minute as though you saw me."

My advice to anyone with young children: LOOK at them. Be in the moment with them. Otherwise, these moments are gone.

"Live people don't understand, do they?" Emily later says to the omniscient Stage Manager.

"No, dear. Not very much."

..."Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every minute?"

The stage manager shakes his head.

"No. The saints and poets, maybe. They do some."

I realize that 18 is not the end of our relationship as mother and daughter. But it is a big year for anyone. Addie now has her license and soon she will have a car. She is going to a foreign land to one of the world's most impoverished cities to help build houses. She will return to the relative comfort and prosperity of her life while being a well-paid, hardworking nanny for the summer. And her senior year and college await her...her whole life is ahead of her and it will be her life, less entangled with mine. But we mothers are allowed to savor the bittersweetness of this important threshold in a child's life.

If there is anything I hope to teach, or have taught, my children, it is that life is one glorious ride. There are good days and darker days but it is all truly wonderful if we embrace them fully. I hope my children will always embrace their lives and really LOOK at the people in them.

Thursday, June 8, 2006



There is a song on the new Pearl Jam album--their 10th and named just 'Pearl Jam'--that spoke to me today. I'm not one to quote song lyrics and haven't written any down since those adolescent girl scribbles one makes on the outside of a notebook.

While waiting in the car for my daughter I put in the CD again and read the lyrics and listened to the quiet and syncopated melody several times. [Eddie Vedder's deep and gravely molasses-coated voice is so seductive but there are times you can't understand each word, hence the need for the lyric book. The song is a counterpoint to the driving "World Wide Suicide," a rocking tune that is great in its own right.] In hearing "Parachutes" again while following along with the words, I think it is about mourning for another existence while seeking out the good that came from it: perhaps a lost love or a place or a family, with home used as a metaphor for loss and change. It's about closure--of doors, of hearts, of the past.

I long ago "left home" both in my mind and in the physical sense but I have been grieving for what I know will never be again. In my family of origin too much time has passed, too many untruths or hurtful things have been spoken, and much rancor has made us all lock and load into our respective positions. [I have learned the true meaning of the expression "Pride goeth before the fall."] In the process of what could have been great, a house and a place became an unwitting catalyst and focus point for everyone's "stuff". We've been trying to turn the other cheek for too long and not contribute to the discussion. Sometimes a retreat in "battle" creates the opposite effect: others are left with misinformation, misconceptions, distorted facts, and residual emotions that become as toxic as poison. I am a firm believer if you are part of the dysfunction or you can't fix it outside of yourself, then the best thing to do is to withdraw and go into self-protection mode: of self, of spouse, of family.

In conflict, some things are insurmountable--others are just plain misunderstood. As objective as I try to be in life, I will never be able to unravel what has happened and I refuse to point fingers at any one person or event in the process. But despite the loss and the pain, there is still the memory of something good and I think that is why this song resonates for me now. My daughter, who will be eighteen next week, said: "MOM! You shouldn't listen to 'emo' music when you are feeling sad!" But I found it somehow cathartic and if you have a chance to hear the song it will remind you of a haunting Beatles melody. It may just stay with you.

With all of the untied aprons in the past year with certain relationships and to some degree my childhood, I have been fortunate to develop several new close friendships with strong women. One of them told me the other day that sometimes as we get older we make our own families--with our partner and/or our children but also with friendships, the kind that stay with you no matter what. "You are now my people," she said. Very few things have ever meant more to me.

In our lives sometimes we form new tribes in new lands, we move on and often just have to let go of what can't be fixed. With those with whom it will never be the same, I say: "What a different life had I not found this love with you." At the very least, I am grateful and thankful for that. But I am also sorrowful, and I am sorry.

Children parachute play

by Eddie Vedder

Why deny
All the troubles when combined
With the missing links
It don't feel like
Home now...

That you're gone
All the troubles
Suddenly explained infinitum
You're always wishing and
Never here at

All the dreams we shared and
Lights we turned on
But the house is getting dark

And I don't want to know your past
But together share the dawn
And I won't need

Nothing else
Cause when we're dead
We would've had it all

And died
I would've fallen from the sky
Til you
Parachutes have opened now

Heaven knows if there's a ceiling
Come so low with the kneeling
Please know that
I got

All the friends I'm needing
Before my light goes out
As the doors are closing now

And far away will be my home
And to grasp this, I don't know
But I don't need

Further back and forth, a wave will break on me today
And love,... Wish the world could go again with love
One can't seem to have enough
And war,... Break the sky and tell me what it's for
I'll travel there on my own
And love,... What a different life
Had I not found this love with you.