There’s a rabbit under the red maple in front of my house. It’s standing in a funny position, back legs on the grass, front legs up on the mulch. I’m about to turn away when suddenly there’s a flash of gray under its belly. A wiggle. Another flash.
You know that cliché about hearts stopping? Ridiculous, of course. Nobody’s heart stops beating–not when shocked, not when hurt, and not in moments of exquisite perfection, either. But at this moment, my insides flip over as I realize I’m looking at a nursing mother.
Enter Cliché #2, the one about tugging at heart strings. Also ridiculous–except there’s a deep, visceral pull, as if something is trying to yank the center of my chest out through my rib cage. I’m standing at the picture window in the upstairs hallway, scarcely able to breathe, and thinking how weird this reaction is.
To understand why, you have to know that I hate rabbits. The war began when they ate my tomato plants, lovingly grown from seed the first spring of our marriage. I used to throw things at rabbits. Chase them. Yell at them. Try to scare them to death. Once, I even ran over a nest of babies with the lawn mower. That one was an accident, though. They were hidden so well, I didn’t realize it until the damage was done, and I was sick about it.
In this moment, though, with Mama Bunny perched in watchful stillness while her wiggling babies nurse themselves to sleep, I can’t think what I was so bent out of shape about. They were just tomato plants, for crying out loud. After a decade of kid drama, tomato plants hardly seem worth mention.
“Guys! Look!” I call. “It’s a mama rabbit nursing her babies!”
The boys come running to the window. “WHY DOES THE BUNNY HAVE A SCARED LOOK ON HIS FACE?” asks Nicholas in his usual tone of voice, which could be heard somewhere in the vicinity of Mars. They’re fascinated, until they get distracted by play and bickering. I drift downstairs to get a closer look from the living room window. I kneel there, looking out into the coming twilight. Mama rabbit keeps constant vigilance; the only part of her body that moves is her head, which jerks toward every suspicious noise. Her default position faces the cul de sac, where half a dozen kids are playing basketball, but when Alex joins me and taps the window with a pica stick, she whips around and stares directly at us for a full five seconds.
Newborn, nursing babies. The longing catches me off guard, so strong it wants to crush my breath, and yet it’s exquisitely beautiful. I don’t understand how so many women can have a baby or two and then say with finality bordering on hostility, “That’s IT! I’m done.” Don’t they ever ache for more of that sweetness that comes only with those fresh from Heaven?
My rational mind is yelling, “Whoa, girl!”, reminding me of my beaten-up, scarred insides, of Michael Mayhem and Nicholas the strong-willed, of Julianna’s homework, the completion of which frequently is like pulling teeth, and five nights out of seven committed to work or child’s enrichment activity. And yet as I watch that mama rabbit, I don’t care. I want what she has. Oh, how I want it.
At length, the wiggling subsides into stillness. Mama rabbit stays in place, but she grooms her leg, nibbles at the grass. I’m the only watcher now; Alex is playing Star Wars with a pica stick, and upstairs the little ones fight and giggle by turns. Methodically she pulls mulch over the nest, and soon, the babies are invisible. We would have no idea they were there if I hadn’t happened to be looking out the window at the right time. Then she hops away, across the driveway and down the side of the house, and the moment is past.
Over the weekend, the kids play outside. We mow the grass, plant flowers. I venture no closer than four feet, afraid to taint the nest with a human smell. I know what I’m feeling is cyclical–my womb recognizing there is no baby in it this month, and mourning the loss. Maybe I’m making more of all this than there really is. And yet I know that in the years to come, when I pull out the box of motherhood memories to turn them over and ponder them in my heart, this moment will be among them.