Saturday, April 15, 2006

Baby ducks, bunnies, chicks and Jesus

Yesterday, my cousin Hannah and her friends helped Johnny and Richie dye eggs. We had 24, and minus the 7 that Johnny ate and the three that Richie ate, the Easter bunny has 14 to hide. Hannah called the boys over to watch the color pellets fiz in the vinegar. I used to love that as a kid. Or I would have. In my day, we had to use dandelion petals for yellow and our own blood for red. This was easy because the chickens bit us in several places as we stole their eggs.

As a kid, I actually had pet chickens. I think they were named Fred and Ethel. My pet finches were named that, but did you ever notice that kids name their pets the same thing over and over? We had seven turtles named Mac as kids and not a single Yertle.

On Easter Saturday one year, I found these pale yellow chicks in our kitchen in a cardboard box. My heart melted for those baby birds. Now I know that it was a weaker version of the feeling you have when you spend your first night with your newborn baby--an overwhelming sense of responsibility that doesn't scare you at all because the child is so darn cute. You can't think about all the things that could go wrong because everything feels so right.

I was about 10 years old. I'd been asking for Easter-themed baby animals for years and here they were. An answer to my prayers on a day that God had so much more on his mind.

But they never laid eggs. As they grew to be teenagers, I ached behind my eyes. At first, I thought I needed glasses. Yea! Something to make me look smart and call attention to myself, I thought. It turned out I was alergic to those darling, albeit awkward teenager stage, chickens. My uncle John and a kid who worked for him came to take them to John's farm to live in a coop.

John would tell me all kinds of stories about them. It was as if he spent hours observing my pet chickens among the dozens of other birds he had and farm chores he had.

"Yeah, they seem to be getting along with the other chickens," he'd say. "But I notice that Fred never lets Ethel out of his sight. They really stick together."

To this day, I dream of giving my kids baby animals on Easter. Anymore, it's not PC to give your kid a bunny on Easter. Apparently, when the bunnies become rabbits, they're not so cute and the families drop them off at the pound. But I think rabbits are pretty cute, too. So some year, when the boys are 10 or so, I'm going to give them one anyway. If you're going to get a pet, then why not on Easter?

It's kind of a wierd juxtaposition. The passion of Christ and pastel eggs and baby chickens. But it's all about new life. Something about baby animals makes us want to care for them. Are they cute so that someone would take care of them or is needing to be cared for the definition of cute? Which came first the chicken or the egg? Either way fragile things, like new life, inspire in us a call to do things right. To protect it and nurture it.

While my cousin, who loves babies more than anyone I know, and does a great job of taking care of them, dyed eggs and took the kids on a walk, carrying 30-pound J.J. in a front pack, I picked up an Easter bunny costume for her appearance after 9:30 Mass tomorrow. I say "her" because the costume is pink and white. My friend Jenny, who was in charge of getting an eighth grader to volunteer, didn't know that, so I hope that if a boy volunteers he is a very good sport. The kids will line up in their pastel shirts and ties and frilly dresses and bonnets to see the big bunny after they hear about a miracle that happened in a desert on the other side of the world.

My dad used to wake us up on Easter saying, "He is risen. He is not here" right before we searched for our Easter baskets, which held the sweet promise of Spring. And somehow it all went together.


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