Friday, January 16, 2009

The size of one rabbit

One of the gifts I've received while being John's mom is an increase in caring; in appreciating how everyone has difficulty and pain because those things are simply part of life; and acknowledging that we all, often, fall short of what we hoped, tried, or were expected to do, and a little slack cut for us goes a long way. When I say increase, I mean a huge increase, not because I possess those qualities in huge quantities, but because my abilities to begin with in the areas of caring, appreciating, and slack were practically undetectable.

Today is Friday. On Wednesday night and most of Thursday, I was in the ER and the kids were at home with their dad. I'm okay and the rest of it will go into a different post. While I was there being checked out, I did think of my family frequently and told everyone who walked into the room that I needed to get out of there because I had to get back to them and especially to helping John. I did miss them, and I was sure happy to see them when I was finally released to freedom. There was some caring in there, but much of my desire to get out was not from caring but from a sense of duty, and I only discovered how much this morning when I went to let the rabbit out.

Fluffy the rabbit lives in a cage in the kitchen. It's the biggest cage that would fit anywhere in our house, and it fit her best when she was supposed to be a dwarf rabbit. She was an unexpected gift, actually, from a neighbor to big sister last spring. She was young and small when she arrived, just smaller than the size of the dwarf rabbit I had in my early twenties. We went out and purchased supplies for her, including two books on rabbit ownership. It took a few days for us to get to the breeds section of one book and we finally looked through the pictures and names until we found a match for the breed name the rabbit farmer had told our kind neighbor. The paragraph began, "One of the largest rabbit breeds, the xxx is...."

We soon found out the book wasn't kidding. Fluffy grew to be the size of a small cat. And, probably as another breed-related characteristic, she seemed to enjoy peeing on household items much more than my dwarf rabbit of many years ago, so she couldn't roam the house 24 hours a day.

As a solution, we worked out "Free Time for Fluffy." In the morning when I get up, I close off the kitchen with a makeshift gate, and let Fluffy out to romp around the bathroom and kitchen/dining area. Until John gets up, she stays out and has a chance to run, jump, and dig into the little area where I keep the paper bags and brooms (sometimes we also take her out in an exercise pen in the yard). She likes her free time, not only because she gets the amount of space she deserves, but also because she gets a special rabbit massage. When she first comes out of her cage, she snuggles up to where I am sitting on the floor and I give her head a simulated rabbit-grooming by petting it with a moistened finger all over, then massage her ears firmly, and last, use my hand to make long strokes starting at her jawline and going all the way down her back.

She loves it. As we got to know each other better over the past 8 months, she began to participate too, by licking my other hand all over as I gave her this daily social grooming. When I'm done, she stomps her foot loudly, jumps up, and begins biting me all over my legs and trying to climb on my knees with the mating intentions of any respectable rabbit. This leads to me getting up to a standing position as quickly as possible and trying to get my cup of tea fast while she often continues to nip my ankles, before I leave the room entirely.

Yesterday morning I wasn't here, and Fluffy didn't get her massage or free time. This morning, though, I went to her cage first thing. Opened the door, let her come out and sit against me, and began the grooming ritual. I noticed that Fluffy was a little more snuggly. She seemed relieved that I was back to groom her again and as she was licking my hand, she kept sticking her nose inside the large, open sleeve of my sweater to get even closer. As I went through the little rabbit-grooming motions with my thumb all over her fur, I almost grasped her disappointment, her deprivation, and her relief and now happiness. I felt fully satisfied, not with my rabbit-stewardship as a whole, but with my ability to touch her and be with her for those few minutes. Without going into the issues of animal captivity, solitary social animals, or pet ethics, it was possible to almost contain in me for a few seconds, both of us and our connection. Not like the feelings and experience of my other family members - what we mean to each other, what it means for us to be apart for even one day or together for any length of time. And I guessed, at first, that my compassion must be barely the size of one rabbit. More accurately, one rabbit and five minutes are the size of my ability to be with someone and know I have been present enough.

When I stopped grooming, Fluffy didn't stomp her foot and jump up. She stuck her snout deep into my sleeve and stayed still for a long time. Then she got up and went off on her own business of kitchen investigation. Whether or not any of my interpretation is correct, at least I know my arm is warm and good-smelling, Fluffy is soft and alive, and it's good to be back.

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