Messing with the Myth

Let’s review what we know about the Easter Bunny:

The Easter Bunny, a.k.a. Peter Cottontail, is a magical rabbit who brings candy and colored eggs to children on Easter.  Sometimes he likes to hide the eggs or a basket of treats and other times he simply leaves a filled basket for the children to find when they wake up.

In my experience, there are two primary texts which explain the Easter Bunny story:

Here comes Peter Cottontail hoppin’ down the Bunny Trail.

Hippity, hoppity, Easter’s on its way!

And “Meeting the Easter Bunny” by Rowena Bennett.

(My sister had to memorize this poem for an elementary school play.  She walked around the house reciting it for several days in preparation, so, of course, we all know it quite well.)

On Easter morn at early dawn before the cocks were crowing,
I met a bob-tail bunnykin and asked where he was going,
“Tis in the house and out the house a-tipsy, tipsy toeing,
Tis round the house and ’bout the house a-lightly I am going.”
“But what is that of every hue you carry in your basket?”
“Tis eggs of gold and eggs of blue;”
I wonder that you ask it.
“Tis chocolate eggs and bonbon eggs
And eggs of red and gray,
For every child in every house on bonny Easter Day.”
He perked his ears
And winked his eye
And twitched his little nose;
He shook his tail–
What tail he had–
And stood up on his toes.
“I must be gone before the sun;
The East is growing gray;
“Tis almost time for bells to chime.”
So he hippety-hopped away.

It’s a pretty simple story.  You can read an expanded variation in The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Dubose Heyward, but basically, you’ve got the rabbit, the basket, and the treats.  (I understand that some Europeans believe the Easter Bunny actually lays the eggs, but most Americans will remind you that a rabbit is a mammal and such notions are a perversion of Nature.)

So what’s with the New Easter that’s being shaped in my local retail store?

I ran smack into New Easter last week when I went to the Super Target.   Alongside the traditional wicker Easter baskets was the most amazing collection of candy containers I’ve ever seen.

There were plush “baskets” shaped like Hello Kitty heads, My Little Pony, Shrek’s head, Elmo with bunny ears, and even a Spiderman head.  (Imagine the Easter Bunny hoppin’ down the bunny trail with a Spiderman head full of candy!)

There were plush triceratops, plush Tonka trucks, footballs, soccer balls, monkeys, dogs, and ducks-all with a handle and a hollow space for candy.  There were even metal containers that looked like recycled wastebaskets with fuzzy bunny stickers and a handle stuck on.

“Halloween for Spring,” said my husband—and you know, I believe I did see some of these items sold as trick-or-treat bags a couple of months ago.  And while it may make a certain theological sense to link Easter and All Hallows’ Eve/All Saints Day, I don’t think that’s what the Merchandisers of the World had in mind.  They’re just re-tooling and re-packaging what worked in the fall.

Now I am generally tolerant of the, uhhh, creative impulses that accompany American Capitalism.  But dude, don’t mess with the Rabbit.

Here’s an example of Messing with the Myth:  Dove is selling a Fairy Bunny this year—a hollow chocolate rabbit that has butterfly wings and a little rhyme on the box, “Not far from Whispering Willows, just north of Rainbow Bay, is a valley few grown-ups know of where the magical Fairy Bunnies play….”

People, the Easter Bunny is already magical and he don’t need no stinkin’ butterfly wings.  The texts clearly refer to his “hippity-hopping.”  Even the Mr. Potato Head Spud Bunny hops.  A more authentic Easter product, in my opinion.

And what is Easter without eggs?  Once upon a time you dyed your own with food coloring and vinegar (I will never forget the smell of egg shells in hot vinegar water.)  Then there were Paas.  Then plastic eggs in bright colors.  This season there are metallic sparkle eggs and camo eggs (in green or pink camo), and chick, bunny and frog “eggs” (why do they call them “frog eggs?”  These are plastic frogs not frog eggs.)  You can fill your basket with bug eggs and velvet eggs, with Hello Kitty, Elmo, and Spiderman head eggs.  I hate to be a grump, but these are not eggs.  At least Elmo and the Superman shields are appropriately labeled as “Treat Containers.”

One aisle over, next to the bunny and chick costumes in Adult and child sizes (more Halloween) were the pre-packaged Easter Egg Hunts.  You can buy eggs pre-filled with Hershey’s products, or Wonka candies, or Twizzlers and Jolly Ranchers.  There’s a Disney/Pixar kit, a Troll egg hunt (only 4 eggs in this one; better buy two kits), Nick Jr., Sesame Street, Barbie, and the cool-looking “EGGZOTICS” with Hotwheel cars inside.  There are also non-character kits and games:  the All Star Sports Egg Hunt, Racing Eggs, Flower Power Eggs, Pin the Tail on the Bunny Egg Game, the Egg Scramble Game with musical timer (Don’t get caught without the egg!), and my personal favorite-the Nighttime Egg Hunt.  These eggs are hard-to-find black, dark blue, and dark purple with a special reflective stripe around the middle–flashlights and batteries included.  (Just wake up the children after Easter Vigil and you’re ready to go!)

Now I understand the impulse to buy the pre-packaged Easter.  We’ve all gotten used to individual servings from Halloween and packing lunchboxes, and who has time for vinegar and food coloring?   My people don’t even like hard-boiled eggs.

But Easter–even the purely secular Easter-Bunny Easter–is anchored in a story.  If you discard the story then the magic disappears, and all that’s left is brightly-colored packaging surrounding empty calories and cheap plastic trinkets.  Before you know it, there are only five movie plots in Hollywood, only ten different toys on the shelves, and only one holiday repeated periodically throughout the year.

Let’s keep the Bunny.  And the Basket.  And the Eggs.

Gifts and remembrances

One of the (very few) pleasures of moving is the chance to unpack and rearrange all the things in my curio and china cabinets.  The collection started with a shadow box I kept as a child and has moved with me ever since.  Now it is a cabinet of wonders, filled with items that seem to me beautiful or interesting or the product of human wit.  There are china dogs, dried flowers, a cloisonne teapot, a metal raven from the Tower of London, a doll-sized lunchbox (with thermos and banana), and a tiny pair of wooden shoes.  There is a ceramic giraffe my mother made in art class and a wind-up tin airplane from around WWI that belonged to my husband’s uncle.  There are gifts and remembrances–and all of them were simply known as “Mommy’s precious things” when my children were small.  

In one corner of the china cupboard is a painted mug given to my mother and to me by a dear family friend sometime in the 1980s.  Tucked inside the mug are two index cards held together by a paperclip with a red heart fixed to the top.  The ink is red and the handwriting is full of the loops and curls you often see in older women’s penmenship.  Here is the message from Mrs. Lynn (with a few of my mother’s annotations):

This mug was painted by Mary Brown Anderson of Rockbridge Baths, Va.  The mug is approximately 90 years old.   I have a picture she painted of the Natural Bridge.  In the corner she initialed (sp?) M.B.A. 1908.  So, I think a conservative estimate of the age of the mug would be 84 years.  [? –notes my mother]  I have no way of knowing whether [or not–adds mom] she did the mug prior to the Bridge paintings–She devoted her life to her parents, friends, Bethesda Presbyterian Church.  Altho’ she had tuberculosis she refused to go to a sanitorium; she outlived her parents.  She did a lot of art work, including painting china scenes.  The Andersons were beloved by their neighbors there in Rockbridge.  [Rockbridge County in which Lexington is located.] 

The first time I ever saw a willow tree was one afternoon I had ridden with an aunt in a buggy drawn by a favorite [“]Lucy[“] who stepped along in a lively manner as we went to see Mary Brown!!–While my aunt chatted with Mr. & Mrs. Anderson, Mary Brown and I walked down by the creek.  There by the water was my first willow!!     Evelyn Lynn

Mary Brown is now long gone, and Mrs. Lynn has passed on too.  But in my cabinet, inside a painted mug, held by a paperclip and a heart, is a memory of the two of them walking together. 


I am a recovering stuff accumulator. This is different from a collector. I do that too; but a collection has a theme and an organization while an accumulation does not.

One of the problems with being an accumulator is that people start to give you things they want to get rid of. “Oh, she collects stuff like that. See if she can use it.” These people are akin to those who offer you a creampuff when you’re on a diet. Or a cigarette when you’re trying to quit. You’ve got to learn to Just Say No. Don’t try to help them, they’re not helping you.

At the same time you’re being tempted with more things, other folks start to look to you as the person who has stuff when they need it. You become like the person folks go to with their trivia questions, but instead of asking “Do you know who played bass on ‘Midnight Train to Georgia?'” they wonder if you have something they could use to build a diorama of the Acropolis because it’s due tomorrow. Or “Do you know where to find the blue electrical tape we used to have? Not the black, the blue.” Hard to give up that good feeling you get when you actually have blue electrical tape and enough raw materials to build all of ancient Athens overnight, but it’s got to be done.

A lot of people see all this stuff as meaningless clutter. The real problem is one of too much meaning. I remember a conversation I once had with a friend where we talked about collecting and clutter. I picked up my just-emptied coffee cup and said, “You see this? This is a Styrofoam cup. But if I want, it becomes the cup that reminds me of this breakfast, and the time we shared on this committee. Now this cup has meaning, and it’s not just a cup anymore. And suddenly it’s tough to throw it away.”

It’s hard to let go of stuff. Hard to let go of your image of the newer, smarter, improved you that you could be if you’d only finish reading all those magazines on the night stand. Hard to give up all the sentiment and the potential attached to things. Hard to believe that throwing something away is not a condemnation. Hard to constantly be deciding, keep it? Or let it go?

Polecat Spring

Saw an article in the paper about how the scent of polecats signals the coming of spring.  I showed it to my children, and then I had to explain exactly what a polecat was.  “You mean that’s a real word?!  I thought it was just an expression.”   Good heavens, children.  Ain’t yer momma never taught you nothin’?

Well, being a modern mother, I looked it up on Wikipedia, and you know, there are more different kinds of polecats in this world than you’d think.  There’s critters, and rock bands, and aircraft–even barbershop quartets have polecats.  But I don’t know if their scent really signals the advent of spring.

Just in case you run into a polecat, here’s a recipe to keep on hand. 

Skunk Deodorizer

Mix together:

1 Quart 3% Hydrogen Peroxide

¼ cup Baking Soda

1 teaspoon Liquid Soap

Wet the animal down and then rub the soapy mixture on the fur (mixture will bubble); really work it in.  Do not get the mixture in or near the animal’s eyes, nose, ears, or mouth.  Leave solution on for three to four minutes and rinse thoroughly.

WARNING:  DO NOT STORE LEFTOVER SOLUTION – this chemical combination can be dangerous when stored.

What’s the trick?  When mixed together, these ingredients form an alkaline peroxide which chemically changes the skunk essence into sulfonic acid, an odorless chemical.  The soap breaks down the oily skunk essence, making it more susceptible to other chemicals.

Talking to my dog

When we first met Astro–our beagle-spaniel mix–we thought he was a beautiful dog, but probably a little dim.  He was a shelter dog at the local PetSmart where we had gone to pick up tadpole food.  The shelters around here are full to bursting with hound dogs, labs, and shepherd mixes.  This dog was a standout with a great flag of a tail, a big white ruff, and a happy expression.  He looked like a miniature St. Bernard, and he wasn’t barking like all the hounds and labs (big plus for a bookish family).  On the other hand, he wouldn’t really look at you either.  He seemed to regard people the way most of us think of starlings:  you share space in the world with them, but so what?  You couldn’t really have a relationship with one. 

Still, he was so cute, and small, and the kids loved him, and for a family with a fondness for outer space, his name was perfect.  The next week, when we learned he hadn’t been adopted, my husband said, “You know we can’t have a dog, but if you bring one home I’ll understand.”  And so Astro came to live at our house.

Our first clue that Astro might be smarter than we’d thought, came when he began to imitate our question to him, “Do you want to go out?” He would give a loud, high-pitched yawn: “eoowwww!” (a sound he only made when asked) and scratch at the front door or jump in the air.  At first his “word” only ever meant “I need to go to the bathroom.  Take me out.”  The dog never lied.  But over the years his usage changed, so that “out” came also to mean “I’m bored.  Let’s go out for a walk.”  Or  “There’s something out there I need to investigate.”  –still an imperative, but no longer tied solely to bodily functions. 

Recently Astro’s word has again evolved and he will greet us upon our return with a quick “eooww” that seems to mean “You’ve been out, but now you’re back. (Where’d you go?  Let me sniff.)” 

I find these canine linguistic changes fascinating.  Lots of dogs learn to understand some English–Border Collies have been known to understand well over a hundred words–and I’ve even heard of other dogs who say “out.”   The thing that interests me is how my dog came to believe that humans might actually be able to communicate.  That step is the one that changed everything. 

In the early days, we were to him as senscient as furniture.  Now he will look his empty food bowl and then at me, to tell me “You need to do something about this.”  Or sniff the air and look at me and sniff again to ask, “Did you notice that interesting odor?”  How curious that he should want to share an observation.

This language thing is humbling.  I thought my dog was dim, and it turns out he didn’t think much better of me.  It was only because we shared close quarters and had to depend on one another that we learned otherwise.  How many times have I dismissed other creatures on this planet–many of them human–and simply put them in the starling category?  How much might be different with a little more faith in the possibility of communication with those who are radically Other?  Something to ponder.  Funny what you learn from your dog.

Libraries and Pre-literacy

The Every Child Read to Read @ Your Library project ( has come to my local library, and as a librarian, I’ve been thinking lately about pre-literacy: getting children ready to read.  A lot of this is “common sense with a fancy name” for parents who already love books, but of course, those families aren’t really the ones whose children are at risk–hence the project.

While I am a firm believer in “Kids Need Books”, it seems to me that learning to love reading is not just about reading.  Learning to love reading is about learning to enjoy language and learning to be interested in other people and what they have to say.  If you’re not curious about what someone has to tell you, and you can’t understand the way they’re using language to talk to you, then reading will always be a chore. 

It’s a lot like opera or football, that way.  Until you have real sense of what’s going on and when it’s done well–until you have a favorite team–it can seem pretty boring.  Librarians and teachers have always tried to get children to appreciate books and stories, but these days, especially with so many non-print media available, I think the job is larger.  We need to think in the broadest possible terms to meet the needs of our youngest patrons.  We need to show them that a book is a place (one of many possible places) where someone has left them a present encoded into language.