Thursday, January 22, 2015

Je suis Flopsy

Oh, rabbits. Lots of people are talking about them. Their cuteness, their reputation as prolific procreators, their improvident nature.

The term, "rabbits," is well known by faithful Catholic women. When directed at a Catholic woman who has been given the gift of fertility, is taken to be a slur because it is a slur. I remember hearing this metaphorical term attributed to irresponsible procreation for the first time in college.

A college friend of mine was showing me around the campus. Our dorm was situated on the top of the hill. As she guided me along, she pointed out a row of broken-down, sad-looking buildings that were littered with dirty toys and tricycles.

"Those are the rabbit hutches," she pointed out with a nod and a wink.

"Rabbit hutches?" I asked.

"Yeah, you know, married student housing. Breeding like rabbits?"

It was my introduction to a mentality that would strike fear into the hearts of all young women who ended up with an unplanned pregnancy. The rabbit hutches served as a sort of cautionary tale, a symbol of derailed dreams and compromises.

"Oh, God, I don't want to end up there," I remember thinking.

Fast forward a year and a half later. A trip to the student health center. What was one of the images that flashed through my mind as the health worker read me the result of my pregnancy test?

Those stupid rabbit hutches.

I had earned the insult, I thought. I was one of them. I became a rabbit, and I was making other rabbits. I was irresponsible, impulsive, and extremely fertile. And so was my boyfriend who I ended up marrying as soon as we had our baby bunny.

Fortunately, we were able to prepare for our marriage with a pretty fantastic priest who had us read encyclicals about marriage. We attended Natural Family Planning courses that helped form us in God's plan for married love as being open to life while having the knowledge about fertility.

I am glad that we got to have such fantastic formation, but what is sometimes left unsaid is that NFP can have a bit of a learning curve. And it might take a few bunnies to master. And, gosh darn it, isn't that a huge part of marriage anyway?

That being said, the narrative of the out-of-control mindless rabbits, I would suspect, is one that hits a nerve with many faithful Catholic women. Because we've heard it whispered in the grocery store as we pass by with a cart-full of kids. Because we've been shocked by our own fertility. Because we've had to sacrifice and give up marital relations on the only days that we have desire (ladies, you know this to be true). Because we've struggled with difficult pregnancies. Because we've been mocked by our own family members. Because we've been haunted by the image of a house that is dirty and in disrepair...and how would we be witnessing to life if people saw how our children have torn clothes and run recklessly through the streets causing mayhem?

Just today, I read a delightful post by Father Dwight Longenecker about the March for Life. His post reformed this slur into an image of adorable humility and bravery...and humor. Just picture it... hundreds of thousands of bunnies marching for life. Demonstrating the beauty of fertility. In your face. Many other women, after getting through their initial hurt at an off-the-cuff and I'm going to say rather reckless comment, have joined in on the teasing. It is a good and healthy thing to find humor in these situations.

Another one of my friends wrote a little comment about Flopsy bunny. For those of you who may not be familiar with Flopsy, I urge you to read the Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies by Beatrix Potter. It's in the second grade curriculum for many homeschool and independent schools. Potter describes Benjamin and his wife, Flopsy, to be "improvident"...not concerned about the future. From a human standpoint, the reader might be tempted to feel superior to these foolish rabbits. 

Instead of feeling superior to Flopsy, I have found myself warmly united to her in all her "rabbitness." Perhaps she and Benjamin had too many children too quickly. They didn't have enough to eat, and they had to scrounge for food. Benjamin had been killed trying to do just that. Maybe they weren't always "responsible." But one thing is clear. Flopsy loves her children. She grooms them, she disciplines them, and she does so with great care and concern. Benjamin and Flopsy had four bunnies..Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter...and probably would have had more if not for the untimely death of Benjamin. They were, after all, rabbits.

It is said that the best way to conquer an insult is to transform it. So let's talk about rabbits. So what if the rabbit hutches are laughed at and the eye-rolls abound when we bring all of our kids to the store at once? Rabbits. So what if the society and even some in the Church suggest that I am being irresponsible because I'm trying to live according to how my well-formed conscience and the Church have encouraged me throughout two thousand years of doctrinal consistency? Rabbits. In entrusting my fertility to God, I have to call myself improvident, in the sense that I trust in God's providence. Any amount of planning could be derailed by another, better plan that God has for my life. Married life has taught me that. So call me a rabbit. I am like one. And if you knew what ultimate joy there is in being "like a rabbit," you'd hope to be like one too.

Je suis Flopsy! And I love my rabbits.