• Otter Views: Big Bunny Goes Missing

    Many baby strollers ply the sidewalks of the long, gradual Lighthouse Avenue slope that runs between town and what I call “butterfly hill.” Occasionally, things fall out of the strollers.

    Mostly these are generic toddler items – pacifiers, nappies, sets of plastic keys. But one recent morning, Big Bunny fell out.

    I didn’t know Big Bunny’s name on first acquaintance. I was walking down the hill to work when I came even with a shoulder-high apartment utility box that stands between the road and the sidewalk. Atop the box someone had set a handsome brown stuffed rabbit.

    Care had been taken to place the rabbit upright and facing the sidewalk side so pedestrians might notice its soft fur and alert ears. From this lofty vantage, the rabbit’s golden eyes could also gaze dolefully up or down the hill seeking its lost owner.

    “Bummer,” I thought. “Somebody’s going to miss that rabbit big time.” But what could be done had been done, so I pressed on down the hill to work.

    The next time I passed the utility box, I was happy to see that the rabbit was gone and that a sheet of paper had been taped to the panel. I wasn’t smart enough to copy the message, but the gist was:

    “Thanks so much to whoever saved Big Bunny. And thank you for putting him at eye level so we could find him! Jack is very happy again. Jack’s mom.”

    I returned Monday to copy the exact text, but all that remained of the episode was a ghostly rectangle of tape outlines. I hope the thank-you message reached Big Bunny’s rescuer, but if not, the deed was its own reward.

    Parents will recognize the situation’s inherent drama. Big Bunny falls out, and the stroller bumps blissfully onward. The disappearance goes unnoticed for hours, or at least until naptime or bedtime. Then wailing and lamentation rise to near-Biblical levels, and the All Points Bulletin goes out. Big Bunny is gone!

    There are likely other stuffed animals in the child’s domain, perhaps even entire Noah’s Arks of stuffed animals. A clueless non-parent like myself might think: “Why all the fuss? Just choose another animal for nap time.” But that would be very wrong, and also shameful to admit. For there is only one Big Bunny, and Big Bunny is missing.

    On the Piagetian continuum of early childhood development, there must be a period between infancy and youth soccer where toddlers bond with a particular cuddly thing. It could be a ragged baby blanket, a sock puppet grandma knitted, or a cherished stuffed animal. At the PG Farmer’s Market Monday afternoon, one little girl lovingly cradled a naked rubber dolly as bald as an Egyptian cat.

    To the undiscerning eye, these cuddlies may seem threadbare, drab or even tatty, but they go everywhere their owners go and are vouchsafed great power. To their owners (and thus the parents), they confer comfort, security, love, caring and companionship. There’s even an element of understanding.

    In the bewildering world of toddlerhood and “no no no’s,” the cuddly does not judge, snap or scold; it only offers its abiding zen-ness. It can also become a sort of “mini-me” for the owner, who may subject it to terrible adversity in times of stress. But whether receiving embraces or dropkicks, the special cuddly accepts it all.

    That’s why, as parents know, there can be no substitutes. By the time a child and a cuddly have bonded, there is simply too much shared history to gainsay. If Big Bunny goes missing, it’s not like you can just order up a duplicate of the same model, drag it around the yard, stain it with mashed carrots, put it through the wash, and blow-dry.

    The moment the toddler peers into its guileless glass eyes, the cry will go up. “This not Big Bunny! Waaaaah!” In all likelihood, the imposter step-bunny will feel just as bad, and the parents will get zero points for trying.

    The Big Bunny moniker suggests there may be other bunnies nearby – maybe Little Bunny and Middle Bunny, or Granny Bunny and Baby Bunny. One of them could presumably hop up to fill Big Bunny’s missing paw prints. But if Big Bunny is part of a family line-up, there will always be a lonesome gap where he or she used to sit.

    I know, “always” is a long time. Kids grow out of the cuddly toy stage pretty quickly and move on to ballet and martial arts. Soon a new gi is more important than a lost teddy bear. But to a toddler whose special cloth friend has gone missing, an hour can be always.

    In a few years, Jack may not remember Big Bunny, but Jack’s mom will.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 13, 2015

    Topics: Otter Views

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