“Bunny’s voice is quiet.” These are the first words my five-year-old daughter speaks to me after I open her door, peek my head inside, and gently say Good morning. Vivienne wears a mis-matched pajama set -- a Superman top and hand-me-down baseball print bottoms from her brother. She sits up, scoots off the bed with Bunny in hand.
“Oh,” I whisper back—then in a full voice ask, “Wait, what does that mean? Do I have to whisper or does she?”
“What’s wrong with her voice?” I say, hushing myself anyways.
“It’s just quiet,” she says with a quick shoulder shrug. If she were any older she might’ve said Duh, Mom.
Bunny was a gift given to us right before Viv’s adoption. Bunny traveled from our home outside of DC to China and met Viv on the same day she met us. Bunny’s been around since the beginning, but only recently has taken on a particularly prominent role in our daughter’s young life.
“Should we get the chicken?” I ask the blonde-haired blue-eyed baby boy settled on my hip as we walk through the store. At eighteen-months old, he’s barely talking, so (per the speech therapist’s recommendation) I narrate or ask him questions throughout most of our day. Despite the speech delay, his motor skills are on-track and, given his age, he’s naturally bent towards destruction -- which is why I hold him close through the narrow aisles with the bottles and boxes stacked in lovely mouth-watering displays.
We’re in a miniature store called “The Meat Market” but it might as well be called Bring All Your Dollars Market, for their selection of olives hand-picked by a woman named Cecilia, milk from two cows named Buttercup and Gertie, and pork chops which came from a pig named Frank (who loved sunsets and was allergic to whey).
The boy on my hip shakes his head. His long straight hair (the hair I refuse to cut) tickles my nose with each twist. “No?” I ask, smiling at him. “No chicken? What about pork chops?” (RIP Frank.) The boy shakes his head again, this time involving his whole upper body. I laugh, squeeze him close, and plant a plump kiss on his velvet cheek.
I side-step down the meat counter, eyeing it all, unsure of what I’m going to purchase. But I’m aware of the older gentleman nearby: I was here first, but if he’s ready, I want him to go ahead and order. I step away, making it clear he’s got the right of way. But the man moves closer to me.
“Excuse me,” he says, leaning forward so as to enter my line of vision. I’m prepared for him to ask me if I am in line and I have my apology ready: Oh sorry, please go ahead and order; I’m still deciding what I want.
“Is he yours?” the man asks. I do a sixth-sense mental scan around the store—who is the “he” that the man is asking about?
Then I realize: the man is asking about the boy—the boy on my hip, the one I’ve been loving on, kissing and hugging and laughing with throughout the store. The one over whom I cried when the pregnancy test was positive, the one who started moving at 14 weeks inside my body, the one I’ve held and fed since the moment he was born.
The one who looks nothing like me.
My youngest son has long, silky blond hair which contrasts with my thick, cropped brunette. His piercing blue eyes differ from my deep brown ones. His creamy pink skin doesn’t match my sunkissed olive tone.
It’s not the first time this has happened. And I’m not offended. I’ve been getting questions like this for years. My kids take after their father.
The first time I went to the grocery store by myself as a new mom, nearly eight years before this meat-market exchange, a woman peeked into my stroller where my fuzzy-headed, blue-eyed three-week old looked up.
“How long have you been watching her?” she asked, assuming I was a babysitter.
Since I reached down and pulled her out of my body with my own two hands, I wanted to say. But instead replied with an exhausted, “Since she was born.”
I never questioned my belonging to my children, or their belonging to me, despite the differences in how we look. And I wonder, I just wonder, if it was some sort of preparation. As if God was preparing me to have mental muscle memory of the objective truth: we don’t have to look like each other to be family.
These days, Bunny sleeps with Viv, goes potty next to Viv, eats breakfast with Viv, and rides in the car with Viv. Bunny isn’t allowed to go in to stores or to preschool (except for the time the Show-and-Tell theme was “Things That Rhyme” and Viv asked to bring Bunny and Money—a genius move after the last round—where Viv insisted her favorite color was no longer red on “Favorite Color Day,” but grey—coincidently, the same grey as Bunny’s fur).
Viv has been pregnant with Bunny more times than I can count. My sweet girl will waddle around the living room with that poor animal stuffed under her shirt or into her 4T leggings all bulky and bulging. Bunny is often sick—needing multiple shots and pretend sips of cold water. Bunny broke her arm once and her leg twice—but miraculously, all that was needed was some TLC and a plastic “C” shaped band-aid from the doctor play kit.
Bunny is now named Eliana (the same name as one of Viv’s older cousins) and I love everything about Viv’s attachment to this stuffed animal.
“Who is Bunny?” I might ask.
“She’s my daughter,” she’d say. “And you’re the grandma”—giving me a shoulder shrug and maybe a hand flip; obviously, Mom.
Toward the end of last year, I opened up my Bible to the book of Ezekiel and started to read. In the month or so that followed, I read through some pretty crazy visions, wild prophecies, and beautiful promises from God to His people.
When I got to the end, the book of Daniel was right there, so I kept going. And then, ohwhattheheck: Hosea, Joel, Amos. Before I knew it, I’d read the entire Minor Prophet section of the Bible for the first time in my life.
I’m no biblical scholar. But what I read, over and over was a message from God to his people: despite all the mess, I am yours, and you are mine.
“Bunny wants to go inside,” Viv says, holding her animal out by the neck with one hand and pulling down the collar of her dress with the other.
“In your tummy?” I asked.
“No, in my shirt,” Viv explained.
I help get Bunny situated. A fuzzy grey head rests just under Viv’s chin. It’s like a preschool version of skin-to-fur Kangaroo Care.
All my kids were hanging out together in the living room that afternoon. The boys teetered on the edge of a disagreement while trying to play chess. Do they even know how to play chess? Our oldest read a book, sprawled out on the couch.
“Come here,” I said to Viv and I sat down on a chair. I unzipped my sweatshirt and pulled her onto my lap. I hugged her tight and she started to giggle. Then she started a belly laugh when I zipped her (and Bunny) up into myself. Fur-to-skin-to-Mom Kangaroo Care.
“You have Bunny, and I have you,” I said.
“I have Bunny, and you have me,” she repeated in a voice that sounded like she was smiling.
We sat there. Her laughter settled down. Her body melted into into mine.
She doesn’t look like me. And Bunny doesn’t look like her. But we all belong to the other. The message of those prophets played in my head right then: You are forever mine and I am faithfully yours.
A few sweet minutes later, Viv started squirming and I let her out of my sweatshirt. Bunny wanted out of her dress, too. We set the table for dinner. The boys started to fight in earnest.
That night I tucked Viv and Bunny into bed, and kissed them both goodnight.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.