My sons' play dates were always low-key. I wasn't one of those overachieving Pinterest moms who turned a few hours at our house into a carefully planned mini-event.
Instead, I opted for seat-of-the-yoga-pants activities that required minimal planning and zero stress. My sons' best play dates were the ones that demanded little to no effort on my part.
Like the one that required nothing more than a shovel, a dead animal, and a trumpet.
A few weeks before my younger son's most memorable play date, my (then) husband rolled the garden hose holder off the porch and spied a rabbit behind it. A dead rabbit. As my sons rushed out the back door and raced toward their dad, he quickly shoved the lifeless ball of fur under the wood fence, apparently determining the exact time – like some kind of animal hit man – that he'd come back and dispose of the body. Explaining the circle of life to 5 and 7 year old brothers just wasn't on his schedule for the day.
My bunny-stuffing husband may have told me about the cottontail cadaver but between sports, carpool, Cub Scouts, and music lessons, I forgot. Or, more likely, I wasn't paying attention. My lack of listening skills are legendary – leading me to drive for hours in the wrong direction despite my talking GPS, or agreeing to feed my neighbor's four incontinent dogs while she was out of town because I thought she was inviting me over for dinner.
I hadn't given the rotting rabbit another thought until I heard, "Mom, hurry up! We found a bunny!"
Dashing to the backyard, I nearly stepped on the lifeless rodent stretched halfway underneath the wooden fence like a failed limbo contestant. I pulled my phone out of my pocket, ran to the other side of the yard and called my spouse's office.
"Didn't you say something about finding a dead rabbit in the backyard?" I asked while eyeing the bunny and intermittently dry-heaving. Between the time he was jammed under the fence and eventually dragged out again, another animal mistook his ears for a late-night appetizer.
"Yes, I pushed it under the fence," he answered, wondering why I would bother him at work with such a dumb question.
Turning away from my son and his friend, I whisper-yelled, "It's back! Now I have to deal with it!"
Grabbing a rusty shovel from the garage and failing to find a shoebox to use as a coffin, I eagerly announced our next activity with the excitement of a bartender proclaiming: Free drinks for everyone!
"Hey, guys,” I said in a voice a few octaves higher than normal, “we're having a funeral!"
In my mind, my exaggerated enthusiasm was going to convince my son's friend that it was normal, possibly even an honor, to come to our house and bury a mangled animal.
I contemplated leaving the rabbit in its new resting place alongside the fence, bringing the boys inside, and forcing their dad to handle digging detail. But, like the bunny, my idea was short-lived as I noticed our brazen, 40-lb. dog tying on a bib and grabbing a fork.
I chipped away at the ground that felt more like concrete than dirt, and created a hole as large as a flattened basketball. All those years I had avoided doing yard work — random back spasms, only when faced with lawn care, are a real thing — left me with no digging skills.
The hole wasn't deep enough.
"Can't we fold him in half?" I asked the boys, putting efficiency over empathy. “Mom, NO!” my son shuddered.
I plunged the shovel into the ground and jumped on the metal part with both feet. Finally, the ground split wide enough for me to carve out a bigger space.
Being squeamish, and once again confirming that I had made the right decision not to follow in my dad's footsteps as a physician (I also once passed out due to a bloody nose), I asked my son to scoop up the bunny with the shovel and drop it in the opening. He gently lowered the contorted bunny into the compact grave and we tossed what small amount of earth I had excavated on top of it.
My son rushed inside and returned with a white piece of cardboard and a blue permanent marker. On it he wrote: RIP Bunny. Neither he nor his friend knew what the initials meant, but they may have seen them on, of all shows, Bugs Bunny. They attached the note to a short stick and plunged it into the minuscule mound of dirt.
I wondered how much of the day my son’s friend was going to share with his mom when she picked him up, and whether she was going to bill me for the therapist he'd no doubt be required to see. But there was no turning back. Unlike the deceased rabbit resting under a thin layer of dirt, we were in too deep. It was time for the eulogy.
"You seemed like a good guy," my son offered.
"I'm sorry you had to die that way," I said.
"Um, do you know when someone will be picking me up?" asked his friend.
A few minutes later, my older son came home from his own play date that I'm confident did not include a burial and a wake. He grabbed his trumpet and played Taps. The song was a fitting tribute to a stray animal and the first time I met my next door neighbor who, it turns out, is not a fan of trumpets, Taps, or children.
Throughout the years, we’ve buried a variety of pets, from hamsters to goldfish, from garden snakes to geckos. I hadn't thought about our assorted pet funerals until my niece found a bunny less than five days old. (How did we accurately determine an animal's age before Google?)
She placed a heating blanket in a small box and during the night she peered inside to see whether or not her patient was still alive. Despite her efforts and her family's inability to sleep as my niece provided hourly updates, the bunny died the next day.
My niece put the deceased in a box and with my sister's help, buried it in the garden near her front door. They set a small concrete bunny over the grave and next to it placed a small American flag. She and her family concluded the ceremony by parading around the yard blowing bubbles.
My sons have advanced from scheduled play dates to simply hanging out. Still, several years after our last pet funeral, I keep every shoebox I acquire, neatly stacked in the garage. I don't anticipate any more pet funerals at our house, but just in case, I'll be ready.
I have Taps cued up on my phone.
It takes a village!
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