June 5, 2017

How a rabbit taught our family lessons

If you follow my posts, you know I write from the heart. When I first started writing for Charlotte Smarty Pants, I have to say, it felt a little uncomfortable. Why? One word: vulnerability. Once I post, I know I am potentially opening myself up to judgement.Andie

I have a story to share involving a parenting decision that has received applause and scorn at the same time – it’s a story that I haven’t shared with many because quite honestly, it makes me feel vulnerable, and it still has the potential to unsettle me. Here is the story of Andie:

Andie was a miniature Netherland dwarf rabbit, our pet of two years. Her runt size made her the smallest of the dwarfs and allowed her to live inside, in a cage, in our sunroom. Andie was ridiculously cute. Seriously. And debunking all rabbit truths, she never bit a single person, never chewed a single item, and even loved hanging out with our dogs. Andie possessed all rabbit perfectionisms. But we were not perfect for her.

Andie lived in a cage, in our sunroom, all by herself. If we didn’t seek her out, she in no way could seek us out. Although rabbits have very subtle ways of communicating, once we learned her subtleties, we knew when she wanted to come out of her cage (if we were paying attention), as well as when she was bored. Andie wanted to come out most of the time. Once “freedom” was found on our six by eight seagrass area rug (she never ventured onto the hardwoods), she rarely allowed herself to be easily caught to be put back into her cage. Who would? And when the dogs wondered over to look for the “treats” she left behind, Andie tried to sit as close to them as possible. She craved companionship. We would have left her out all the time, but it gets complicated; food, water, dogs, potty, and so on. Have you ever smelled rabbit pee?!

I then gave an ultimatum to our household: if I continued to be the only one to clean the cage, feed, and take Andie out, then Andie deserved to be rehomed. They had 30 days. Thirty days to release me from the guilt I had every time I looked at her inside of her cage. This proved to be a difficult bargain to uphold on their end, as their days pulled them from rabbit duties to school, sports, homework, friends, and you know the rest. Unlike our dogs, Andie couldn’t just jump on their laps when she wanted to be loved.

Here comes the part that made me feel like the worst parent in the world, the part that made me feel sick to my stomach: I upheld my side of the bargain and Andie was rehomed. I decided to stick to my word without reconvening about the rules or giving second chances. I’d like to say it was because I am a parent who always delivers my promises, the parent who never delivers empty threats. Part of upholding my end was in light of self-preservation. I knew I would cave in the wake of tears and promises to do better the next time. I just couldn’t go through it again. It hurt me to give away Andie, as I am queen animal lover. It hurt me to hurt my children, and it hurt me to see Andie so lonely. Am I a bad parent to say that that considerations for Andie trumped my kids at this point?

My daughter took the news the hardest. She begged through tears and sobs to give Andie another chance, to give her another chance. When I said no, she them blamed herself for not being what she needed to be for Andie. This pained my heart more than anything that had happened as a mother to her. I had never seen her in so much pain and I delivered the blow. Self-reflection was brutal and I questioned myself day and night for weeks.

I wanted my kids to learn a lesson from this experience, to turn it into a positive event no matter the suffering. I needed this chapter to turn the corner. So instead of meeting sobs with lectures and anger, we went for a run, we talked. She ran behind during moments of anger, alongside of me for comfort, and then ahead of me during moments of understanding. I knew when she met me at my side and then ran ahead that we would be okay. But I also knew that she would drop back several more times for days to come. Most importantly, I wanted her to know that she was a good person and did the right thing for someone she loved, Andie.

This all occurred last September, the day before my daughter had her only “sick” day. I think of Andie every now and then, but mostly about knowing how she is in a home more suited for her needs. Recently, a couple of friends asked for advice about owning a rabbit. I shared our story and wondered if the moments of silence meant I was being judged. But I know at the end of the day what was best for everyone involved, mostly Andie. We all grew from the experience and my kids learned lessons they will never forget.

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