Wyokiddo and I were exploring in a nearby tree belt when I heard the scream. If you’ve ever heard it, it’s not a pleasant sound, or one that you ever forget. It was a rabbit screaming, and it meant trouble. My dog had found a bunny hiding under a tree and had it in her mouth, ready to shake it.
“Roxy, NO!” I yelled. She immediately dropped the bunny, but the damage had been done. A quick look told me the bunny had a broken hind leg.
We built a yard for our dogs for this very reason. To keep them safe and keep other animals safe from them. But I like to let the dogs run around with us when we are playing outside. I’d kept the dogs away from the areas I knew had rabbit nests, but we’d inadvertently found another. I scolded the dog, but was really scolding myself for letting it happen. Damn.
“What happened, Mama?” Wyokiddo was immediately at my side, crouching in the grass beside me. “Awwww, a baby bunny. It’s so little. Is it hurt?”
Ugh. Moment of truth with the almost 4-year old. Should I gloss it over or be honest? I chose honesty.
“Yes. Roxy hurt this bunny. She broke its leg, and there is nothing we can do to help it get better.”
“It won’t get better?” Wyokiddo asked with big eyes and grave concern in her voice.
And thus began one of those conversations I hate having with my daughter. We talked about how the bunny was hurt too much to help, and that the kindest thing we could do was to have Daddy euthanize it. I told her it is our jobs as people to make sure we are responsible enough not to let an animal suffer, even if it makes us sad to kill the animal. I told her killing the bunny was much kinder than leaving it to slowly starve to death or be found by another predator and suffer more. So we found a box for the bunny and some shade and texted Daddy for help.
On our way back to the house, Wyokiddo and I talked about what happens to an animal or person when they die. It is a talk we’ve had entirely too often at our house lately, after my father passed away last fall and we had to have one of our dogs euthanized.
“Is the bunny in heaven, like Papa and Archie? It went to be with God?” she asked.
“I like to think so, kiddo.”
It would have been so easy to lie to Wyokiddo. I could have left the bunny under the tree and told her all would be well. No questions about death or heaven or why dogs kill bunnies. But that’s not reality. As much as I want to protect my kid from the ugly side of life, I know she needs to feel sadness. Loss. Confusion.
She needs to feel those emotions because they are part of life. Animals will die. Girls will be mean to her. Someone will lie to her or hurt her feelings or try to take advantage of her. And she will need to know what to do with those big emotions – how to process them, how to deal with them.
Outdoor Guy and I use these moments to teach her how to deal with the tough stuff as a 3-year old so that she has the grit and emotional intelligence to deal with the tougher stuff as a 13 year-old or 39-year old. We talk about the tough stuff now to build trust and honesty among our family. We want Wyokiddo to know we will be open and honest with her and that she can ask tough questions. Yesterday it was a a hurt bunny. Someday it will be mean girls, cute boys, drugs, school shootings or worse. So we tell her the truth, in terms she can understand. Always.
“Is it okay to be a little mad at Roxy because she hurt the bunny?”
“Is it okay to be sad that the bunny died?”
“Is it okay to be excited that Grammie and Papa are coming to visit even though the bunny died?”
“Can I pet the bunny and tell it good bye and that I’m sorry?”
“I think that’s a great idea.”
I wish everything could be lollipops and sunshine in Wyokiddo’s life, but I know it won’t. My hope is that by dealing with the tough stuff now she’ll be better prepared to chase away the rain and spread her own sunshine in life down the road.