Mom and Dad:
I have been thinking about what you said and I want to present my argument to you in writing so I don’t miss any of the points that I think are really important. I know I’m only 12 but I believe what I’m arguing is right and I hope you see that.
I am the youngest in this family and I’ve only had 12 years of Easter baskets. That means that Rick and Robby have had many more years of Easter baskets than I will. It’s not fair to just cut off Easter baskets and then I get gypped because Dad thinks we’re too old. I’m not. No one asked me what I thought. Why can’t I have two or three more? I haven’t heard a good argument for that yet.
It's not my fault nobody ever told me there was no real Easter Bunny until you decided to just say it’s time to stop. Who makes up these rules. I’m sorry, Dad, I hope you’re not mad but how do you think I feel? I think it makes sense and it's like my thoughts don’t mean anything. Why do Robby and Ricky win and I lose? And I’m the only one making any sense.
I hope you can see my reasoning and change your mind.
Your Only Daughter
* * *
It took me a whole day to write that. I was so angry and frustrated, it took me a long time to get my thoughts straight. How would you feel if, one day, your mom told you not to expect any more Easter baskets because Dad decided we were too old for them. What kind of place is this?
Okay, first I’d better explain what’s been going on around here.
It all started when Robby broke the butter dish. That’s the first time our babysitter, Mrs. Norman, had something to report when mom and dad got back from their night out. We were all supposed to be in bed and Mrs. Norman was downstairs watching Jack Paar. I could hear Rick and Robby talking in their room and then I heard Robby get out of bed.
I didn’t see what happened but Ricky told me later that he dared Robby to sneak the box of Girl Scout cookies out of the cupboard while Mrs. Norman was watching television. I guess she fell asleep, at least until Robby knocked over the butter dish, and then there was a lot of racket and I covered my head under the sheets until morning.
Boy, did Robby get it the next day. I guess the butter dish was a bigger deal than I thought. I mean it didn’t actually have butter in it. But I guess it was some kind of big deal French thing. I never found out exactly what. I wasn’t about to bring it up.
And I didn't do anything.
Anyway, and so then the next thing was we were out in the cow field playing Combat. It’s a stupid boys’ game, but we didn’t have any close neighbors and, living with two older brothers, I had to join in if I wanted to do something other than read, which I would do all day in my room if they let me. But no, “the fresh air will do you good!” Well, this air was full of cow feed and manure. Mom always said, “To me, it’s like perfume.” But I happen to know Mom really liked to wear Taboo. I stole some from her makeup table one day. But I’m really not sure about any of it. I thought they both stunk.
So, anyway, the boys are in their made-up combat uniforms with paper taped to their shirt sleeves that looked like stripes and medals. They had combat helmets made from old football helmets. I chose to be a nurse so I didn’t have to do much. I had a couple band-aids in my pocket. Mom wouldn’t let us take any of the good gauze or tape from the first aid kit.
So, the guys are pointing planks of wood at each other that look like yardsticks. They’re pretending to take cover behind either end of the trough where the cows eat. It smells like spoiled molasses and moldy grain. I don’t usually go near it. I like to visit where the cows are laying down, half-asleep and chewing. I don’t go near any of the calves, even though they’re so cute I could die, but the mothers get really mean and mom, dad, and even Mr. O'Connell, the owner of the farm next door, tell us all the time not to go near the baby cows.
Anyway, so now I can see that Robby and Ricky had stopped shooting at each other and they look up to no good. I run over to see and I can’t believe my eyes. I already know what it is but I ask anyway.
“What is that?”
“Nothing.” Ricky doesn’t even look up.
“You should probably go back to the house,” Robby adds.
“I’m not going anywhere ‘less you want me to tell.”
Ricky and Robby look at each other.
“All right, just stay out of the way.”
“Where’d you get that?” I ask.
“You mean this?” Robby held up the firecracker.
Just then Ricky pulled a book of matches out of his pocket.
“Where’d you get those?” I gasp.
Robby just smiled and said, “Stand back and watch.”
The two of them run over to a cow pie that looks pretty recent. I then became interested and more than a little fascinated. The two of them huddled and I couldn’t hear or see what was happening. Then they ran towards me and the three of us hunkered down behind the trough.
When I opened my eyes, I looked at Robby. He had cow pie in his hair! So did Ricky! Then I realized that I did, too. Ugh, gross!
“What kind of firecracker was that?” I yell.
Robby brought out the firecracker he’d had before.
“This is a firecracker. That was a cherry bomb.”
Ricky had a handful of manure covered in cow feed.
“No, you’re not.”
And that was the beginning of my first, and only, cow feed and pie fight. Notice though, I didn't start it.
Now, I should probably mention that my mother used to say that, when I was born and they learned I was a girl and not a third boy, my father had said something like it was a good thing, because otherwise they were going to send me back.
But just being a girl, I guess, wasn’t enough; I had to look like one. Even though I climbed trees and mostly wore my brothers’ hand-me-downs and rarely any shoes, I had long girly hair that hung loose that my mother spent most of my childhood trying to detangle.
Now, picture me coming in through the back door into the kitchen covered in smelly cow feed. Then picture two boys in crewcuts and cheesy grins.
For a while after that, I had shorter hair and was allowed to read in my room for as long as I liked. I thought it worked out pretty well.
* * *
Now, this next thing really, truly isn’t my fault. We always had pets of all sorts. One of my favorites was rabbits. In other words, they breed all by themselves and I take credit. Our first intro to rabbits was Whitey and Smoky, named after the color of their fur. They were given to we three kids to take care of, but I loved them from the first second and, from that moment on, was never without a rabbit in my life until . . . well, you’ll see.
Then I had Belvedere, a Dutch bunny who was an Easter gift. It didn’t take long before we were witnessing the miracle of birth, again and again and again. We had built a pen with hutches for each new litter. We sold or gave away some of the babies. We had to, for obvious reasons. I showed some of the special beauties at the state fair. My mother loved the bounty of fertilizer, as did her rock garden. It was all good until the night the neighbor’s German Shepherds got loose.
I’m glad none of us kids were home when it happened, and it was terrible hearing about it from my parents. My dad was especially upset and ended the conversation with, “No more rabbits!”
Well, I didn’t think that was really fair. I hadn’t done anything to be punished for. It took time for my heart to heal and I cried buckets, sure, but then I began wanting rabbits again. I just wasn’t me without a rabbit.
Besides, I’d already found one. A friend of mine had a new litter and the babies were almost ready to leave their mother. Mine was white with black and brown fur around the eyes and the tip of her ears and her tail. She was an absolute dream. I’d named her Waffles. No real reason why.
I set up a litter box in my closet with a cage just for when I wasn't home. I had towels and food and water dishes all together in a nice, cozy space. And I was convinced I could pull it off. Waffles was small enough then to fit in my pocket so it was easy to sneak her up to my room. Rabbits are notoriously quiet and I made a sign for my door that said Do Not Enter with a skull and cross-bones. I would lie on the floor reading with Waffles hanging out on the small of my back where she fit perfectly.
And it was perfect, for almost two months. Two things gave us away. One, the odor. I got so I didn’t notice anymore. I cleaned the litter box but I hadn’t given my mother enough credit for having a good sense of smell. And then, you couple that with all the carrots and lettuce disappearing from the refrigerator, and me, the Chef Boyardee and ice cream princess claiming that I took it? Once again, I had underestimated my parents’ common sense.
So, the evening my dad called me into his den, I glanced at my brothers. Had something happened? Robby just shrugged and went back to watching the Honeymooners. I slowly responded, “Yes, Dad,” and poked my head in the doorway. My father was in his usual after-work place: papers spread all over his desk, a Manhattan sweating on a coaster, a cigar smoking in an ashtray. My dad was not a farmer, he was a utilities executive. We just lived the rural life and it was what he wished to come home to. Maybe he thought it would be idyllic.
“Have a seat.”
Uh oh. He had his stern “what I have to say is important” face. He was on his first drink so that was not good. He always had two. Halfway into the second and I would be granted anything; that was when he was the most approachable. So, I braced myself.
“It’s come to your mother’s attention that you may be harboring a rabbit in your closet. Is there any truth to that?”
Oh no. What’s my best tact here? I tried my sheepish “well, kind of” expression.
My father’s eyebrows went up and he appeared to think, and then he nodded.
“I’m impressed. Now, get that thing in the garage and I don’t want to hear another word about it.”
I hightailed it out of there quick, but I would swear he was smiling.
* * *
So, Waffles was relegated to the garage but that was fine. Life resumed pretty much as it had been. My hair had grown out so I agreed to keep it out of the cow trough and my mother had opted for braids to keep it somewhat under control.
Then came the Easter basket fiasco, what felt like punishment. I placed my campaign letter on my parents’ bed, and spent the rest of the evening in my room, waiting for the verdict. Around dinnertime, the knock came.
It was my mother. Not a good sign. She was the peacemaker. My dad was more the executioner but he was also the high judge, the Grand Poobah. At that time there were no children’s rights and we all knew where the buck stopped.
She sat on my bed.
“What are you reading?”
“The answer is no, isn’t it.”
My mother did what she always did when the answer was no. She lovingly brushed the hair away from my face.
I began crying. Why was I crying? It was just a basket of candy. No, it wasn’t! I’d used my best logic and I’d failed!
"But that’s not fair!” I cried.
My mom then looked at me and said something, calmly and rationally, that changed my life, then and forever after.
“Sometimes life isn’t fair.”
* * *
I was different after that day. I remember being less inclined to trust certain things that I’d always taken for granted. Santa Claus was certainly out of the picture. I'd lived a secluded rural existence, but it was time to get with it.
Everything was changing.
This probably had something to do with why my dad hadn’t allowed me to sit in his lap the other evening.
For the first time, he hadn’t welcomed me onto his lap when we were enjoying an evening outside to watch the fireflies. My mom and dad would have drinks on the patio and the boys and I would toss a baseball or a football. When I got tired of that, I’d join the grownups and sit on my dad’s lap like I did when I was little. This time he said, “Why don’t you go sit over there,” and pointed to an empty lawn chair. I did but I was confused, and hurt.
All of this meant something – but I didn’t know what it was. I felt lost. The foundation I hadn't realized I counted on was gone. I knew I was no longer a little girl, but that didn’t mean much by itself. If tradition, such as Easter baskets, were over and I couldn’t be like I used to be, what was next?
So, I kept quiet and hung back, until the next thing happened.
* * *
I was in school, sixth grade music class. I was sitting next to my friend Sandy. We both played clarinet. We’d known each other since Kindergarten so we were comfortable together and super silly. We giggled a lot more than we ever talked, and I loved her.
At one point, I leaned over to grab a fresh reed out of my clarinet case on the floor next to my chair.
“Um, I think you might want to go to the nurse.”
I straightened and looked at my friend. “Why?”
Sandy looked at my seat behind me and then at me.
“Go ahead. I’ll take care of your things.”
I grabbed my sweater and wrapped it around my waist. I whispered thanks to Sandy and snuck out while the teacher's back was turned.
I had some notion of what was happening but I was still stunned. I had visions of Nancy Callahan, who’d started screaming and ran out of class convinced she was going to die. And there was Emily Henderson who was afraid to move. She just burst into tears and everyone had to leave the classroom so the teacher could deal with it.
At least I knew “it” was going to happen eventually, so I wasn’t scared, just stunned.
The Nurse, Mrs. Hoyt, was in her best professional mode and gave me what I needed to “fix” the issue.
“I’ll call your mother to come get you. Is there anything you need from your homeroom? Books, assignments?”
“Sandy knows what I need.”
“Sandy Mitchell? All right, let me make a call. You just stay here and rest.”
Shortly after that, Sandy came in with my bookbag and handed it to me.
“I’ll call you later and let you know if you miss anything this afternoon.”
“Thanks, San. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Sure, I think so.”
* * *
On the ride home in the car, my mother was acting so strange, I almost laughed. I didn’t understand her at all. She didn’t look in the least concerned. Nothing. My mom was grinning, smiling even.
“So, how does it feel?”
Yep, she was outright smiling.
“Ugh. I know you told me about it and I’m glad you told me before it happened, but you didn’t tell me how it would feel.”
“And how does it feel?”
I thought this was the strangest conversation I’d ever had in my life, next to the Easter . . . oh, forget it.
“How does it feel to be growing up?”
Oh, so that was what she was getting at.
“Is this something really honestly totally necessary?"
“You won’t always mind so much. It takes some getting used to.”
I looked out the window.
“You’re not going to school tomorrow.”
“Am I that sick?”
“No, I’m taking you shopping and then we’re going to have lunch at the Birdcage. This is something we should celebrate.”
I stared at my mother.
And that’s just what we did. My mother bought whatever I wanted and spent most of the lunch expressing her delight with my blooming independence and all I had to look forward to. It was when we toasted my most recent development with glasses of lemonade that I not only began to truly accept what had already happened, but also to look forward to whatever was around the corner. Maybe it was all going to work out after all. At least I knew I had someone in my corner who would give it to me straight. I could live without the Easter baskets.